Are cable “upgrades” just as likely to make your system sound worse?

Many of us with highly resolving systems have found that speakers cables and interconnect cables can improve the sound quality of our systems. But are they also just as likely to do the opposite?

A few months ago, I “upgraded” to a renowned speaker cable, and immediately noticed more detail and resolution. I was so pleased I also “upgraded” the interconnects. But with more time I realized that the trade-off for more detail was a thinner sound with diminished tonal richness. Thus began a maddening series of attempts to fix the problem – different speaker cables, different DAC, different streamer, and now even a 30 trial of a new amplifier to try to overcome the thinness and find a more natural tone. It finally occurred to me to replace the out-of-sight-out-of-mind interconnects (with my original interconnects), and immediately the problem was blessedly solved.

Have others experienced this frustration? What recommendations do you have to avoid such fiascos?

I've had that happen, but it's been rare...I only buy cables I can return...

According to the rules of placebo effect , it should sound better if that’s what you had hoped for! 😁

Honestly, what we prefer is always subjective, but I’ve definitely had cables that I didn’t like, or at least that had traits I didn't want in the system, and couldn't live happily with.  A good return policy from your seller can be really useful....or better yet, a dealer or friend who will loan cables.



I have had a similar experience. I needed a little more sparkle at my top end, and the obvious choice was a Nordost Valhalla II. It did exactly that, but they took a little warmth from the midrange, albeit the midrange is now clearer. It was a tradeoff that I was happy with. I think many cables sound different, but not necessarily better. Although frustrating at times, that's what makes this audiophile disease kind of fun!

@wester17 - Were you happy with your DAC, amp and streamer  before you changed the cables? 

I say cables can change the sound of your system, like components changes do too. You may or may not the change, or need to give it some time to decide what your next step will be. My 2¢

Very seldom do people report a failed upgrade.  There is a lot of confirmation bias and often people who don't even know what good sounds like often report great improvement, often directly proportional to how much they spend and how much they had to drink during the testing. 

If they make the report the same day they did the upgrade, I don't trust it much.

Once you have upgraded to high quality cables, I think the difference is exaggerated.  I look for real technical differences in the cables I upgrade to.  For example I like low mass connectors and super high quality copper or copper/silver/gold allow for analog.  (note that allows generally degrade conductivity so if you're looking for higher conductivity, avoid sterling silver which has a lower conductivity than copper. Avoid any alloy.  That said, conductivity isn't always the key and Mundorf has done some good research).  for digital I like solid silver wire as I think digital has such high data density that the improved conductivity helps.  My ears confirm.

Of course I validate with my ears.  I never consider an upgrade to be successful until I've listened to it for a week, return to the old component, and can clearly conclude the old component is inferior.  If I'm not sure, then I call them equal and this happens more than you might think.


I think it most often happens with budget systems. This happened to me when I was just starting off. If you have high quality components, typically a better cable or interconnect will be more transparent and impart less of a tonal shift… so great interconnects just tend to improve things. But if you have doubled down on highly resolving a real transparent interconnect can tip you over. But if this happens, then you likely have component mismatchs. The mark of synergistic components is you want more transparency in the interconnects and this should be what you are getting by upgrading.

High-fidelity sound reproduction, psychophysics, and auditory neurophysiology

"Cable pathways between audio components can affect perceived sound quality", M. N. Kunchur, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, vol. 69, pp. 398–409 (2021). pdf file  (also please see the paper's official AES Forum)

All good cables sound different to me, some better than others. I stay away from silver wired cables. 

Happened to me where the new version of a high end cable was not as well rounded and musical as the prior much less expensive version.

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"I think it most often happens with budget systems."


Happy Halloween.




Very seldom do people report a failed upgrade.

People report disappointment here all the time. Many tout how they take advantage of 30-day return privileges, or are willing to churn used gear until they find the synergy they seek. The whole audiophile quest is built on bettering what we have now.

... if you’re looking for higher conductivity, avoid sterling silver which has a lower conductivity than copper ...

Sterling silver is an alloy and I’ve never seen it used for audio cables. Most silver audio cables are nearly pure silver, which has better electrical conductivity than copper. But even sterling silver (which usually contains copper in the alloy) would likely be a better conductor than pure copper alone:

Table of Resistivity and Conductivity at 20°C

Material ρ (Ω•m) at 20 °C
σ (S/m) at 20 °C
Silver 1.59×10−8 6.30×107
Copper 1.68×10−8 5.96×107
Annealed copper 1.72×10−8 5.80×107
Gold 2.44×10−8 4.10×107
Aluminum 2.82×10−8 3.5×107
Calcium 3.36×10−8 2.98×107
Tungsten 5.60×10−8 1.79×107

Worse is a judgment and in the ears of the beholder. 

Different may happen and the difference is based on the ‘system’. 

Cables are upgrades I experimented later in my journey and it had an impact I liked. And I started with speaker cables, the interconnects and finally power. Enjoy the journey. 

“Likely ?” ….. no …. Not generally likely, IMO.

” Possibly?” …Yes … Let me expand on a real-life example.

I contacted Josh Meredith at CARDAS AUDIO for guidance on new speaker cable upgrades: thinking CARDAS CLEAR to either match my CC interconnects, or alternatively recommend another CARDAS model with expert guidance with their experience reasons please.

I mentioned that I had a new listening area and new speakers with a lot of big windows,  and my prior incumbent NORDOST FREY cables array was being now upgraded , because it sounded overly “bright” and with a “digital edge” to be tamed .

Josh responded that he and his wife, ANGELA CARDAS , had the CARDAS CLEAR and the very top CARDAS CLEAR BEYOND spesker cables in their listening room with similar very large windows and a like “ brightness” et al introduced that was irritating. One of the CARDAS AUDIO plant engineers suggested that he swap in CARDAS CARDAS CLEAR REFLECTION speaker cables (“CCR”) (…3 models down from the very top CLEAR BEYOND model): as a better choice in their home’s bespoke big window listening arena, The CCR model has a “warmer” audio sonic signature that successfully tamed the excess room “brightness” and digital “”:edge whereas the CC or CCB more expensive cable models could not due to a different sonic audio performance and new listening arena bespoke acoustic sound warts thst cannot be ignored or minimized .

That was his recommendation to me to first scope out the CCR line in my heavy windowed room too. I did, and I bought them as the top performer for MY system (emphasis added)


All high-end components have their own bespoke sonic signature, including cables. It requires a careful synergy search and careful matching derived from substantial research, experimentation, and hands-on auditions to maximize the product choices to distill out the contenders from all the many pretenders.

There is no one-size-fits-all “silver bullet” solution in cable upgrades either. Any and all casually assumed or like capricious changes as assumed upgrades …offer no assurance of improvement success . Choose wisely.



@cleeds I don't think I see many of the disappointed posts but I'll agree I've seen a few.

thanks for agreeing with me on sterling silver.


That happened to me when I upgraded to more expensive silver cables.  They were far brighter in my system which led to listening fatigue.  I mostly stick with copper and my system sounds better than ever.  I noticed a big difference also when I went from good CAT6 to my streamer to fiber optic cables.  There was a bit more detail, but the sound was thinner with less bass and tended towards brightness.  You can ABSOLUTELY use cables to tune your system.  Anyone who says otherwise probably just hasn’t taken the time to really listen.  

The break in time for speaker cables can be quite long. When I made my own cables using Canare 4s11, I waited 100 hrs, before making any determination about their sound. They have certainly gotten better with time.

@OP. It certainly can. I've seen several people move towards more analytical sounding cables and then spend a fortune longer term trying to rectify imbalances in their systems. What tends to happen is that people are impressed with the additional detail and resolution after making the change. Then over time they find that the system is less natural sounding and they become frustrated and start to change things in the system to get back to the sound they had previously.

My experience was a little backwards. Years ago I bought a whole used system that included Synergistic ICs and Speaker Cables. Since their original price was pretty high, I always assumed they were "better" than what I was using, mostly Tara Labs. No issues with the ICs but I always thought I was lacking in bass. I upgraded gear but kept using the SR speaker cables until about a year ago. For fun, I decided to swap out the SRs with my old pair of Tara Labs Prism Bi-Wire cables. I got all my Bass back and other noticeable changes. I never thought a $300 set of cables would out perform a $1200 set.

Keep in mind, the quality of your components and music files can impact what you hear. Many times high quality cables can be more revealing. This should not be confused with being bright. It’s the old garbage in, garbage out theory. There is a synergy between all three. 

There is no "absolute sound" that everyone would agree is perfect. Therefore it's all about listening preference or bias. I think most here would agree that cables can and will make a difference in our audio systems. Whether that difference is an upgrade (preferred) or not is totally up to the taste of the individual listener. The listener who "got his bass back" by re-installing his less expensive cables may have muddied his system or subtracted detail to the ears of another.

Choosing cables is all about synergy with your room (#1) and your equipment (#2).

When I decide to upgrade a cable, I usually test out 4 or 5 (returnable) cables before choosing.  Give them all at least 100 hours of break-in time and test them with ~10 tracks that you are VERY familiar with that test sound stage, tonality, transparency, speed and emotion.  The one that makes you just want to keep listening is the winner.

Silver cables are definitely the best to me, but good ones (high purity OCC) are very expensive.

The worst part is cables do need ample burn-in time. Patience is key and buy only good reputable cables so resale will be easy because there is usually no way to properly test a cable within the return period policy.

Taking the OP’s question literally: "Are cable “upgrades” just as likely to make your system sound worse?" the answer is a solid "NO!" They are not just as likely to make your system sound worse." In fact, it is highly UNLIKELY that they will make your system sound worse.

To quote William Low: "Cables can’t make a system sound better. They can only make it sound worse. It’s all about damage control." My take here is that the "perfect" cable would be NO cable. Anything in the signal path will degrade the sound to some degree. We’re just trying to minimize how (badly) they mpact the sound.

To address those who do not feel that cables make a difference, I would submit that it is impossible for 2 cables with different materials, geometry, gauge, dialectric (insulation), shielding, termination method, termination, etc. to sound the same. I’m not asserting that there will be a sledgehammer difference in those cables, but there will be "some" difference(s).

Comparing cables:

One attribute of cables can be dynamic compression. They simply hold back the energy presented to them. When "better stuff" is put in the signal path, dynamics can get more pronounced (louder). This may, or may not, be a good thing depending on the system -- and, the listener. "Opening up the top end" sounds like a great idea. Except when it reveals "warts" in the signal path -- or issues with the room acoustics. Or, the changes are simply not appealing to the listener. So, we decide to "dumb it back down" because the cable is "too bright" or "too forward", etc. I’m not saying that this IS the case in every system, but it could be the case in some.

As some have suggested, cables need burn in time. So, your first (negative) response to a cable may be a bit premature. Patience.

Yes, upgrades can definitely create "mission creep", and present the perfect storm in our pursuit of better sound.



I like how it you don't have a system that is supposedly highly resolving, you probably won't notice differences with new cables. "Highly resolving"being code for, "really expensive." 

@waytoomuchstuff   Lowe is right in my experience.  "Cables can’t make a system sound better. They can only make it sound worse. It’s all about damage control." 

This entire paper (website) is a real good read and addresses some of these findings.  

"Cable pathways between audio components can affect perceived sound quality", M. N. Kunchur, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, vol. 69, pp. 398–409 (2021). pdf file  (also please see the paper's official AES Forum)

Any cable if they don’t match your system ? It will make the sound worse.

Everyone that has experimented with cables has likely run across some that are a bad match for their system. I suspect that many "deniers" keep the same cabling and go the opposite route - replacing equipment to match their wire.Which is ok too,just different.


Thanks for reminding us of nocebo effects with subjective performance assessments.

Having term Likely it's very easy to determine that UnLikely anything gonna happen with cable upgrades or downgrades.

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@czarivey a denier disciple. Should read the AES papers by Dr, Kunchur. As should have that other guy. But hey you decide.


The number of books on that I've read is sufficient enough to be aware of Likely vs. Unlikely. 

AES papers by Dr Kuncur will only add some fraction of percent to my established knowledge base coming from LIBRARY of my educational sources on maths physics and electro-engineering, Forget about one miserable single book or paper that is trying to prove the point of "cable upgrades". 

Try to reference chat-gpt on words Likely and UnLikely and you will find a lot more information than on AES papers

@czarivey Well the good doctor is a PhD in Physics and I am sure you could learn something either way. Chat-Gpt is your deal not my source for information. Very likely that Chat Gpt more wrong than right. 

Milind N. Kunchur, Ph.D., APS Fellow
Governor’s Distinguished Professor
Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor

Cheers old boy.



I'm probably considered an idiot here, but I bought 12awg OFC copper wire with silver tinning from Amazon Silverworm 12 AWG Real Silver Plated Flexible Copper Wire 12 AWG by ACER Racing : Electronics

($29 for $25 feet, bought 200 feet), braided it myself, covered with nylon sleeve, and then put on WBT silver banana plugs WBT-USA ( because I love their screw-down tight connection.

Afternoon of work, sound amazing.

I think, all in, it was $400 to bi-wire, bi-amp, most of the cost being the WBT plugs (which are costly, as such things go).

Considering buying pure 11 gauge silver wire and figuring out how to insulate.

@davetheoilguy not at all, lots of folks buy quality components and build their own cables, IC, Power, Speaker. I have the patients to set suspension SAG on race cars and motorcycles, dyno tune and build engines. When it comes to audio I am a plug and play guy. For what it cost to build your cables I bought OCC,(better than ofc some say) Silver Center, Litz Constructed speaker cables with WBT connectors, under $400.00.

Now I do not have the personal satisfaction you do, unless I go the race track and watch a client wring his stuff out. Been building snow machines as of late. IE 500 is coming up soon the Indy 500 for Snowmobile racers.

I’ve generally not liked the sound of anything with silver in it, whether it’s touted as an upgrade or not. OCC or OFC is where it’s at for me.

Cable deniers: If i passed a blind a/b comparison 20/20 times (statistically significant) in my rig+room on a couple of tracks between 2 cables i own, i.e. i’ve passed such a comparison before... You would refer to me as a scientific anomaly, i.e., there ends your science.



Absolutely, and more money doesn't mean better sounding cables. Only buy from folks who will give you an entire refund.

Clearly cables can sound different, some of the differences are predictable by their construction and the materials used.  But 'good' or 'bad' I don't know. Just different for sure and it all depends on their synergy with your components and your sonic expectations. That's it folks. Inexpensive v expensive, as far as I'm concerned that is either in your ears or between your ears and does not make what you hear predicitible. If I can I'd rather spend my money on stuff which is clearly more audible such as better amps, preamps, cartridges, speakers, etc. But, that's just me for sure, and I admit I'm not a major tweak freak. :-)

With regard to the Kunchur paper, do note that the comparison is between an XLR ($$$) and RCA connection ($) between the DAC and amp. This was done to avoid complicated switching arrangements, but it certainly adds a confound to the better comparison that would be budget XLR versus expensive XLR, for instance. Or, perhaps, reversing the experiment and using budget XLR versus expensive RCA.

Of course, if cable manufacturers provide test data it would help everyone.

There ya go!!!!!  Easy one.......Only buy cables that you can return, as trial and error is almost always the order of the day in high end audio.  

Some cables make it worse. I seen Nordost Odin 2 make grown men cry and not in a good way!

The answer for me at least and probably all of us, is room, system, music and personal preference dependent.  We all need and prefer different sound characteristics. And to those who say the problem is more evident in less reveling systems, that’s incorrect. I ‘fixed’ my cable issues with Wireworld’s top solid silver cables which, by design, are warm with accurate detail. 
My cable merry go round started some years ago when I thought it would be cool to hear more detail in this higher end system.  I run Wilson speakers, all top Conrad-Johnson electronics and a dCS front end.  We had just moved to Florida and my room is large and highly reflective glass, tile and masonry.  
Nordost cables give lots of detail at the expense of musical richness.  For some systems, their top lines are great but didn’t work for me.  I was thrilled to hear all that detail but over time missed the richness of the music.  Their Valhalla 2 speaker cable was way better than their lessor lines but the Wireworld platinums gave me just what I wanted.  The detail is still there but in balance with the richness.  Acoustic guitars have a real wood sound as does the big bass.  I have finally arrived.