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Comparing electrolytic capacitors - May 2008
Last revision on June 2008

Comparing electrolytic capacitors - May 2008, by Eric Juaneda

  It is difficult to choose good smoothing electrolytic capacitors. Across forums each one gives it own recipe. Black Gate, Elna, Panasonic... what is the best for my audio device? In theses pages, I give a listening comparison between famous series.

For this tries, I use my model 3 preamplifier with following power supply. I observe many weeks of heating before listening comparison. I use switches to perform A-B test. I listen one series at a time. One switches ON, the others OFF. Pull-up resistor maintains tension even when capacitors are not under listening. Outside listening session, all switches are ON.

Power supply
Technical data from manufacturer
Manufacturer Series Value V I ondulation
Panasonic ECA 100µ 50V 250 datasheets
Panasonic FC 120µ 50V 615 0.162 datasheets
Panasonic FC 100µ 100V datasheets
Panasonic* FM 100µ 50V 870 0.061 datasheets
Rubycon ZL 100µ 50V 724 0.074 datasheets
Nichicon HD 100µ 50V 724 0.074 datasheets
Sprague 515D(M) 100µ 63V 300 datasheets
Elna* Silmic II RFS 100µ 50V 380 datasheets
Elna Silmic II RFS 100µ 63V 415 datasheets
Black Gate (Rubycon) BG 100µ 50V
* Not tested
First remarks
  • Real series of Panasonic ECA is Panasonic M
  • Purist prefer Black Gate BG-N or BG-NX than standard series BG
  • Black Gate series are out of production
  • Panasonic FC 100µF 50V not exist
Listening test
  • ZL - Rubycon ZL
  • FC - Panasonic FC 50V
  • SI - Elna Silmic II
  • BG - Black Gate
  • SP - Sprague 515D(M)
  • HD - Nichicon UHD
  • EC - Panasonic ECA (Panasonic MA)
  • FD - Panasonic FC 100V
Comprehensives diagrams. Only given to understand which solution sound better than another one. Diagrams are not drawing to scale. Do not compare between us. Only comparatives values, no absolute values.

Note about listening test
Softness Tone realism
Dynamic Definition
Bass level Bass depth
Space clarity voice position
Listening test (sorted by quality)
Picture Reference Result
Rubycon ZL Rubycon ZL
reference : 50ZL100M8X11.5
It presents a very low ESR but sonic restitution is poor, very clear and bright. This device is not interesting for audio.
Nichicon UHD Nichcon UHD As Rubycon it presents very low ESR but sonic restitution is poor, very clear and bright. Better (a bit) than Rubycon but not enough quality for audio.
Panasonic ECA Panasonic ECA
(Panasonic M)
This device is designed for audio. It prevents all excess; it is one of the softness capacitor, its dynamic is a bit flat. It will keep good place on low cost devices.
Sprague 515D(M) Sprague 515D(M) I put this standard capacitor to compare with newer one. All other device has los ESR or designed for audio. Sprague 515DM is standard purpose. I arbitrary choose this device because I have a stock of its. I thought it will present the modest audio render. Not at all, it presents a good choice for standard audio device.
Panasonic FC Panasonic FC
With FC, we are coming to high end devices. Sonic characteristics are very good. It is a very nice and pleasant device. It has well tempered personality, with little coloratura.
Panasonic FC 100V Panasonic FC
I put this device on the test to compare same capacitors with different isolation. Higher isolation introduces less DA (Dielectric Absorption). It is as pleasant as 50V device with more linearity and less coloratura.
Black Gate BG Black Gate BG With black gate we are coming to top-end devices. Sonic performance is far away from all precedents devices. All parameters are superior. Tones are very realistic. Music seems to get out from fog. Many people think that it is the best choice for audio. In fact BG is not very neutral (a few). Voices are pushed up and bass are very rounded. Theses ‘defaults’ suites very well with middle end designs, it flatters modern and jazz music.
Elna Silmic II Elna Silmic II Elna Silmic II is the best device of this test. Comparing with very good Black Gate, Elna sounds better. There is as difference between Sprage and Black Gate than Black Gate and Elna. It is certainly the best choice on electrolytic capacitors for top end devices. Good sound for classical, baroc, jazz and modern music.
Standard capacitors (like Sprague) still good choice for standard audio devices. It sounds better than inadequate low ESR capacitors.

This test confirms good reputation of Panasonic FC. It is the best no-audio grade capacitors.

Audio grade capacitor (Elna, Black Gate) sounds better than all over. Theses devices are designed for high end audio. They have particular internal structure, which seem to be very important for audio render. While, very low ESR doesn’t seem to be quality argument. Elna gives detail and pictures about internal structure (Silk Fiber). Jump to Elna's web pages

If you search for better capacitors from Elna, look for metalized polypropylene capacitors.
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