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The effect of cables - A sane debate

Hari Iyer

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Moderator's note

All the cable discussions viz merits, demerits, snake oil, psychoaccoustics et al can be freely discussed here. Have a ball. :)
Again the cable debate begins. Some other viewpoints from other forums for all to consider,

Audiophile cables, an interesting question.

Do 'High-End' Audio cables matter?

This will be a never ending debate for millenias.............

BTW, 2 weeks ago FM sprivous was at home with a 'Monster cable' costing Rs.1800/- . I really could not make out the difference between that and my Rs.28/- cable sound quality other than the cost.
 
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rohitmusic

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Re: Mega IC Shootout

Hi,
I have always refrained from putting my thoughts openly on any forum. For the benefit of all I would like to take the liberty with due permission and state the following:
Please treat these as notes to myself and more about my own journey and experiencs.


Some hard facts:
1) I have tried the mogami cables discussed in this thread in my setup. (I have used other ICs too in my setup)
2) The cables costed me $ and are not cheap
3) After listening in my setup I decided to keep them. I have 2 pairs. I sold some stuff so I could buy these! So it is definitely not my hallucination or mind :) I'm fairly honest with myself :)
4) I am lucky enough to have a fairly resolving and transparent setup so any change shines through immediately. The chain is pass B1 -> pass F5 -> DIY Philips Alnico drivers in open baffle (JE labs). I dont hear much difference if I use in my second setup which uses a vintage pioneer amp with smaller speakers. This is an important point to understand.
5) I prefer calling an ace of spade so without any preconceived notions and always prefer first hand listening at least when it comes to audio. (I have in the past gone with recommendations only to have lost a lot of time and money, so now its better to use the hear and decide yourself policy)
6) I have heard major difference due to interconnects. Yet to vitness similar magnitude of difference in speaker cable although its audible. As I haven't yet tried many.

My learnings?
Q. Is there snake Oil?
YES. I think majority of stuff I spent $$ on earlier was snake oil! These were well known and branded stuff. it simply did not do its intended job.

Q. does good sound always have to be expensive?
Not at all. In fact my current setup costs 1/4th of my shiny branded setup which costed me literally in lakhs!

Q. Are alternate solutions like DIY, pro audio equipment inferior, snake oil?
Majority are not! Majority are so good VFM as pros dont spend like crazy like audiophiles like me do :) you get what you pay for.
I have seen consistent pattern that many setups that have these implemented sound very very good than off the shelf or a randomly put together setup. Tweaking and finetuning can take it to new heights.

Q. Do cables make a difference?
There are different scenarios here:
1) Setup does not allow cables (especially ICs) to do their job. Already sound is screwed up so adding a transparent IC wont be much good.
2) person can not hear or analyse the difference. Either due to lack of active listening or ear not able to process thise frequencies (age,etc)
3) person hears/or doesn't hear the difference because of personal bias (belief engine??)

Out of all the challenges the biggest challenge I continue to face is how to be purely unbiased and "true to sound" (True to source ;) ) still learning. :)
The biggest audible rewards came from letting go of biases and perceptions and exploring and experimenting without any expectation or rejections. Its a trial and error which some people actually even enjoy!
Disclaimer: I'm not a believer nor a non believer but as an average person who is trying to get better audio fidelity in best VFM the best bet IMHO is to be open and use what works for me and ignore if It doesn't. If there is actually difference that not just single person but multiple people In their own indivudual setups report to be true then it is even more comforting.

Having said all this I completely welcome, whole heartedly accept and humbly respect everyone's individual opinions as we all are unique and that is beauty of life. Else the world would be black and white. I prefer it to have shades.

Cheers,
Njoy your music!
 
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Nikhil

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Re: Mega IC Shootout

Again the cable debate begins. Some other viewpoints from other forums for all to consider,

...

BTW, 2 weeks ago FM sprivous was at home with a 'Monster cable' costing Rs.1800/- . I really could not make out the difference between that and my Rs.28/- cable sound quality other than the cost.

With all due respect quoting references to a cable discussion on another forum is OT and simply misleading.
Josh has credibility on this forum - as an audio enthusiast you should know better.
 
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Hari Iyer

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Re: Mega IC Shootout

In the interest of this post, please find links of good cables that can be purchased locally. I am replacing my earlier cables and will be using the 'Flacon super high conductivity' 22 AWG digital audio cables (its written on the cable) now for all my IC. I have purchased the gold plated RC male connectors from 'Spectra Electronics', Lamington Road, Mumbai around a year back and was using over the shelf cables till yesterday.

Audio Cables - Audio Video Cables, Microphone Cables and Speaker Cables Manufacturer & Exporter from New Delhi, India

Co-Axial Cables - Audio-Video Coaxial Cables, Rg-11 Coaxial Cable, Rg-59 FPE Pure Copper Coaxial Cable and RG-58 Coaxial Cable Manufacturer & Exporter from New Delhi, India

for other cable requirements you can browse the site.

The one i am using is DATA-017 in this link http://www.wireandcableindia.com/special-audio-video-cable.html

Cheers,
 
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captrajesh

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Contrary to my request to remove my comment you are putting it in a spot by creating a dedicated thread for this!

Jokes apart.
Second request: Please kindly remove my post as it does not serve its original intended purpose anymore and is subject to miss-interpretation in an out of context setting.
There are quite a few members on the forum who have experienced huge differences in cables but some more haven't.

And to add to the jamboree, there are many more wannabes who have no clue and come to the forum seeking information.

In that context, your post is very helpful to those wannabes who have an open mind and willingness to learn.

Mind you, one has to train the ears and it is hardwork. I'll give an example. Recently FM Trittya shared a link on a facebook group. Here it is: How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality? : The Record : NPR

I was listening to it on rather inexpensive IEMs connected to my notebook. I got the first one wrong and said to myself, hey buck up buddy. I then got the second one wrong too and I went bonkers. I listened to the high rez track and the one I guessed wrong back to back to figure out the subtle nuances. I then proceeded to listen to the rest 4 tracks and have got them all correct. I then went back to the first two and got them correct too.

Having said that, I admit that the differences were so subtle that I had to listen to them atleast a couple of times each and listen very keenly to get it right.

Of course, this has got nothing to do with cables but thought of sharing it here as we are discussing about listening to differences in music playback.
 
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bhagwan

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Hello All !
I have not been a part of nor have I been following this cable thread, so maybe my inputs are less than half baked.
That said, I am of an opinion that cables make a difference & at the same time do not make a difference.
It all boils down to the listener.
If a particular set up is 'tuned' to play well with the corresponding gear in a room that it 'syncs' with then cables will come into their own, the difference will show - better or worse is a whole new chapter altogether.
What I can suggest here - first is - try to get the hardware in the room to sync with each other & then let all of it 'lock' with the room, only then will the cables / isolation devices / power cords / power conditioning etc. [its a long list]
come in to show what they can do.
Also remember - Cables are only 'messengers / conduits'
They can only deliver what was given to them - without addition / subtraction etc.
However, the method of delivery changes & that is where the magic lies !
:D

[I do not want to offend any FM in any manner - so if I have said something incorrect or obtrusive - please do get it to my notice. I will have it retracted immediately] I do not want to make any enemies on the forum or with any FM or Moderators.
 

SuhasG

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Good find. I took the test and came out 5 out of 6. I listened each sample twice . I used quite a good setup , so could hear the difference. Of course some training is also required, which , luckily I had.


Based on several cable swapping exercises done by me in the past, I finally concluded that:



  1. Ideally a real cable should do nothing apart from connecting one component to another, but in reality, cable acts as a 'Tone Control' , it modifies the signal on its own and we hear difference! This might balances the weaknesses of a particular system but it can spoil the show also. That's why sometimes a $800 cable fails while $50 cable takes the prize!
  2. Cable is important in any audio chain but certainly not that important as the hype made for it. After a certain price point the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and then after it is nothing but pure , extra virgin , triple filtered 'snake Oil' !
  3. One should not spend more than 5-10% of your total system cost (source, control & monitor) on cables (all cables combined: I/C, Speaker cable, Power cord etc). There is no point in replacing a $70 cable with a $300 one for a $500 component. If at all you are so keen to spend those extra bucks, better keep the $70 cable and get a $800 component instead.
 
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asliarun

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Since heavy caveats are of the order, mine is that my current setup is suboptimal (kids, small aptt, space constraints) and as a result, I am not capable of being in the race. I used to have an entry level system that was somewhat resolving - Squeezebox -> Audio GD DAC -> Parasound -> Totem Model 1, and yes, Blue Jeans IC and Transparent speaker cables (the budget ones).

Discussing cables is akin to discussing other things that are deemed controversial - fuses come to mind, for example. At least capacitors seem to be less controversial - or only perhaps because it is more difficult for people to replace by themselves.

My only thought on this subject is that my own knowledge/judgment in this field has been derived by a combination of experience (listening, component swaps, audio shows), and by theoretical knowledge of the technology and theory behind the components and component pairings.

For me to get a holistic understanding of the subject, the two have to go hand in hand. The theory and basic principles have to match the listening experience. And it is indeed in most things. For example, an amp or DAC with a well built power supply makes a big difference to sound quality. Possibly more so than the DAC chip itself. Same goes for speaker build quality.

And this is hard stuff for a lot of it is arcane and detailed and fairly technical. Still, it is rewarding.

My only struggle with speaker cables and power cables has been the technology claims, or specifically - mismatch between technology claims and results. I will freely admit that I have not been able to listen to a lot of cables myself.

So my personal understanding on this subject falls flat. And we are only left with experiential learning or subjective viewpoints.
 

spirovious

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There are quite a few members on the forum who have experienced huge differences in cables but some more haven't.
I not only believe but can strongly say that cables make difference.I have tested some speaker cables like analog IC,Digital coaxial and speaker cable,yes they do sound different.It was not only me but other FMs who were with me.
The difference can be heard if the system is good enough, speakers are the most important to express it.We used pr- power setup.We just believed our ears and its not placebo.:)
 

AVM

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This is from my experience with the ICs.
I was never bothered by cables until I heard it in my setup. I tried them in different setups to be sure and the results were noticeable each time.These ICs changed the presentation - coherence, bass slam and smoothness are the words that come up.
Upnext on my list are power cables.
Happy listening.
 
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ghatgepatil

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Just to clear any confusions for beginners.

ICs, to my understanding (rest too, I hope) stand for the cable connection between any source to the amplifier, or, source to the DAC and the DAC to the amplifier. Here, I have found tremendous changes to the sound dynamics. Does not mean any hi-end or expensive IC doing any wonders to the sound. In fact, a few hi-end ones degraded it. It is more to do with 'a' cable or 'an' IC matching to what one intends or likes to hear, be it bass or smoothness of delivery or highs.

The one connecting amplifier to speakers (speaker cables) is where I barely heard any changes! Had always had to make serious attempts to distinguish any improvements, if any.

Logic points to the 'weak signal' (between source & amp) being more susceptible to changes, while the 'strong signal' from amp to speakers just doesn't bother much about critical conductor specs.

So, why bother spending northwards for speaker cables?? I won't.
 

Fantastic

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As has been mentioned many times , cables do sound different due to very practical reasons. None of them being of a magical kind. Many different characteristics affect the response and so if the variables keep varying wildly with different tests, the cables 'will sound' different. If you keep all the parameters the 'same', there should be no difference in sound ! In practice, this is not possible and so we have a happy state of affairs with each one claiming different cables to be 'superior'. This leads to a community making merry on various forums. :)

What could be the bottom line ? I'd say that if you don't want to spend a lot of money on cables that 'might not' make any difference in 'your system' , the best thing would be to go back to simple old engineering principles ( from decades ago !). This always works well .
Start with all connectors and connections being electrically CLEAN always. To achieve that you may need to clean them every 3 months or so , even if they LOOK clean.

Then you could use plain copper wire without any complications. While there are LOTS of arguments that skin effect does not affect audio you can see from the calculations or charts on the Net that as the wire diameter starts to rise the actual area of the conductor that carries current decreases with increasing frequency. Typically lets take 21 swg wire. After 27 KHz the area of wire that actually conducts current starts to decrease ! You can cross check this on the Net. So thicker wire will conduct less at HF. You will find that guys who have used single core thick cables 1 mm and more find the sound more mellow !
So if you need to use thinner wire to retain the HF you can use a bunch of them soldered at the ends. You cannot use plain copper wire as they will touch each other and ruin the requirement of keeping the conduction area low. So you use enameled wire . Maybe 14 strands of 28 swg ? to keep the dc resistance down. The cable resistance should be much less than 1/20 th the lowest resistance of the bass driver. So for a 4 ohm speaker the dc resistance should be lower than 0.2 ohms for both runs ( + and - wire) . Most systems with large quoted damping figures like 100 to 800 etc. or much more doesn't really happen in practice. With contact resistance and cable resistance typically at about 0.1 ohms ( 4 connectors and two cables ) a maximum of 40 or thereabout ( damping factor) probably the best achievable.

Any proof ? I just got a 3 meter length of (SWG14) Canare 2S9F cable for each channel. Sounds very good and better than my stock Taiwanese copper OFC cable ( 3.5 sq mm). Bass is more taut and HF is cleaner. Might also have improved when the connections were cleaned up ! :)

Compared it with 21 swg enameled wire ( 4 wires in parallel per wire). Currently no other insulation used. Will insulate with cotton sleeving later to avoid any accidental short circuit. Enamel is quite hardy actually !
I think it actually improved a bit. Bass might be a bit more taut ! So I made an additional set using 28 swg with 10 strands for bi-wiring. DC resistance is 0.1 ohms but this is for the HF and it does not matter so much. Treble improved a lot . Not sure if that was due to the removal of the ( imperfect ?) jumper between the HF and LF connections or actually due to the cable. But those with a tight budget and dying to use a good speaker cable could try this method of making your own high quality cable.
DC resistance can be reduced by using more wires in parallel. It's a pain twisting them. You can use a drill or electric screwdriver at slow speed to help with that. You need two people ! I soldered standard banana plugs to the wire. ( plugs are Rs 10 each at any industrial component shop in the electronics parts market) . You can add jackets and sleeves and make them far more expensive and impressive to look at !
Have fun. ;)

Check out the fun at another forum from a few years ago ! Arguments for and against the experiment !
https://www.avforums.com/threads/results-of-speaker-cable-experiments-shocked-me.755673/
 
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spirovious

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Upnext on my list are power cables.
.
Just to add,I have tried changing power cables of Marantz AVR and yes the changes are audible.With default cable sound was very warm and large sound stage.When used a local cable ,sound became sharp and detailed,but soundstage reduced.
I will still say that one need good speakers(not necessarily costly)to hear the difference whether its IC or speaker cables.Trusting ears is believing.:)
 

square_wave

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http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

I got 5 out of 6 missed the Jay Z electronic pop music chose the 320 kpbs mp3 with this music, the wav and 320kpbs sounded pretty much the same due to the nature of music and limitations of setup.. The setup is very midfi - fiio dac on a RHA 750I headphone. I could not run it kernel streaming since this is a web based thingy. So the sound is also affected by the windows mixer.

If you get hold these files and run it on foobar, kernel streaming through a very high end dac into some planar magnetic headphone, you can 6 out of 6 each and everytime. I am sure if you plug some random headphone into the jack of a laptop, they will all sound the same :D. bottlenecks are great levelers ;)

Also, testing with these kind of short bits of music is just the tip of the iceberg. In a high end setup, the difference in the effect a 320 kpbs mp3 and a wave file has on the listener at many levels is significant.
 
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asliarun

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Just to add,I have tried changing power cables of Marantz AVR and yes the changes are audible.With default cable sound was very warm and large sound stage.When used a local cable ,sound became sharp and detailed,but soundstage reduced.
I will still say that one need good speakers(not necessarily costly)to hear the difference whether its IC or speaker cables.Trusting ears is believing.:)
The main challenge with pure subjective (and anecdotal) experience is that it is very difficult to establish cause and effect. Especially since there are many variables that could have gone unaccounted for.

What I mean to say is that in your case, it is difficult to establish if your cable experience will ever translate to a more generic recommendation. Was it your AVR specifically that was more vulnerable to powerline noise? Was it your house power supply itself? Was it other white goods in your house like fridge etc. that was contributing to the noise? Or was it digital noise being fed back from your audio components back into the power line?

Please don't get me wrong. I wasn't making a contradictory post at all. In fact, I have been fascinated by power line products - even at the budget end. Like the Blue Circle PLC "Thingee" - which has an inbuilt low frequency filter module to specifically filter out powerline noise.

But the struggle with purely subjective experience remains. Why did the sound change? And was it really the power cord that caused it? To put it another way, are we better off with a dedicated filter product like this one (that costs about $150) instead of buying a $100 power cord that only does shielding? My gut instinct says "yes" but I have no basis to make a claim one way or another.

Or should one go one step further and buy (in this example) a significantly more expensive Blue Circle power conditioner that completely decouples powerline power from the power that is fed into the audio components. They design their audio components with so much excessive capacitance (often 5x or 10x of even high end amps) that their components are running off this source instead of being dependent on the mains power.

Sorry for the example, just wanted to use it as an illustration.
 

spirovious

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What I mean to say is that in your case, it is difficult to establish if your cable experience will ever translate to a more generic recommendation. Was it your AVR specifically that was more vulnerable to powerline noise? Was it your house power supply itself? Was it other white goods in your house like fridge etc. that was contributing to the noise? Or was it digital noise being fed back from your audio components back into the power line?
Well not only in my house,but same tests were done to 2 FM houses too.Tried total 3 power cables.Even tried a cable of professional power amp with AVR and result was audible to us.:)I am not going in details as many of FM may not use dedicated power line or a dedicated room.Its worth trying different power cable and check results ,may turn into favor.:)
 

BV100

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Just to add,I have tried changing power cables of Marantz AVR and yes the changes are audible.With default cable sound was very warm and large sound stage.When used a local cable ,sound became sharp and detailed,but soundstage reduced.
I will still say that one need good speakers(not necessarily costly)to hear the difference whether its IC or speaker cables.Trusting ears is believing.:)
Thanks for your observation. I will now try and change the AC power cables before going for a new set of stereo speakers. If the audio changes happen for good then i can be certain that my speakers are also good as i could hear the difference.
BTW - do i need to change only the AC power cord or any other part of the wires?
 

arj

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just a word of caution. In the end the Room, the speaker, the source and the amp are the most important. cables come only after that.

In order to get any value out of cables your components must have the resolution to show the differences and must be setup correctly and without that any money spent on cables is an absolute waste..

Keeping cable cost as < 10% of your overall system cost is a great thumb rule for most of ones audio journey
 

jls001

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just a word of caution. In the end the Room, the speaker, the source and the amp are the most important. cables come only after that.

In order to get any value out of cables your components must have the resolution to show the differences and must be setup correctly and without that any money spent on cables is an absolute waste..

Keeping cable cost as < 10% of your overall system cost is a great thumb rule for most of ones audio journey
Totally agree that cables will NOT bring quantum jump in improving sound as some of us wrongly expect, or as some OEMs may like to have us believe.

The first and foremost thing is to get your speaker placement right. Experiment. A lot, if needed. Experiment till you can no longer better the sound through speaker placement. Don't be shy to make markings on the floor with removable tape. And please use measuring tape liberally to measure the distance of your speakers from front wall (the wall behind the speakers) and also from the side walls. Don't trust your eyes to enable you to accurately measure distance. For most symmetric rooms it is best to have symmetric distances from front wall for both speakers. Ditto side walls. Get a friend/girlfriend/spouse/kid to help measure the distances with measuring tape. Then play around with the amount of toe-in to focus your soundstage width and depth. Here too, symmetrical toe-in usually helps unless you have non-symmetric room. After you've been through this, your speaker should be fairly optimised and you will hear a much improved sound. Then bring in a "better" cable, and see if it brings improvement in the sound. Do remember that the introduction of a new component like a cable might warrant some further re-arrangement of speakers, may be by just half an inch or perhaps slightly more in front/back or sideways directions to optimise the sound with the new component in place. This is especially true if you already a strongish bass in the room.

A good starting point for speaker placement is to try and place the front baffle of the speaker at a distance of 1/3 length of the room length (one can try 1/5 too if 1/3 is impossible). By length I mean the length along which the speakers are firing. 1/3 distance is measured from the wall behind the speaker. In my limited experience, the distance from side wall is much more forgiving, though having more distance from side walls usually work better (room width permitting, of course, and speakers not placed too close to each other to make the soundstage width too narrow).

After you bear the above personal cross, you may start "tuning" your sound by using different cables. And remember that costlier cable is not always gonna be better sounding. A matched cable is better for your system. And that match is what you need to figure out by experimentation.

Sorry if all this sounds a bit like a wet blanket but I feel we need to get our priorities right.
 

afj

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copper being the preferred conductor, when i choose cables i look at the quality of the copper used. as long as its good virgin copper, of desired dia etc it does most of the job. for all of the expensive cables that are being marketed around, ive never read a scientific explanation behind why they are better.
 
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