Cable Controversy

I love the cable forum. Discussions about cable can really generate sparks among the mature audiophiles. Regarding cable design: Other than the basics of resistance, impedance, and conductance, it seems that there is very little firm ground upon which one can form convincing conclusions. Witness the bewildering array of cable designs, incoporating network boxes, magnets, biased shields, liquid conductors, solid core, braided strands, exotic metals, air dialectrics, to name but a few. In contrast: Regarding balanced cables, at least one experienced poster and equipment designer has stated here that all balanced cables perform identically, once a few basic design parameters are met.  I ask for the voices of experience and sanity to offer their theories and experience on the topic of cable design and performance. Thanks in advance.
IMO cables are worth exploring.  Sometimes the difference between good and fantastic is the cabling.  
The one thing I've taken away from just about every thread on cables is that:
1) No single type of cable that works well in one system is going to work
    as well in another.
2) Since there are no absolutes due to all the variables, try different  
    cables until you find the one(s) that work best in your system.  
3) Cost is a consideration only in what your limits are, knowing that there
    is a law of diminishing returns with all things audio.  

All the best,
And the difference between outstanding and breathtaking is using an Audiodharma Cable Cooker to fully condition the power cords (including the ground), fully condition the Interconnects, and condition the speaker cables. Add to this the modestly priced Jim Hagerman FryCorder which conditions the house wiring all the way back to the utility transformer.

These two devices allow your wire to demonstrate their full potential!

David Pritchard
First, if you can't hear the difference in cables, good for you.
For the rest of us, I consider cables to be similar to spice in a recipe. You have the main ingredients, but without the spice's it just isn't finished.
As previously stated, I too have found cables to be very system dependent.
I have not found that this or that particular conductor or dialectric has a set signature.
A PCOCC cable from Mfg A can sound very different from a PCOCC cable from mfg B. etc.
Some silver cables can sound bright while others are smooth. 
As has also been suggested, just keep trying different cables until you hit on that magical combination in your system.
Heck, I just built a pair of interconnects from some vintage 18Ga cloth covered wire that blow away any/all the other interconnects I have in my system. Some of which retail for $1500+.
You never know what will work until you try it.
Have fun with it.
Just my 2 cents.
Some light reading.....

BTW - these are extremely good cables.

But if you are not into DIY there are some great alternatives...
- KLE Innovations
- Anticables

No surprise that WW recommends KLEI...!

As previously mentioned cables are system dependent & there is a limit to the capabilities of your system from which cables can extract. 
Here's another example: At least one popular manufacturer of speaker cables and interconnects claims that the goal of cable design is to do no harm to the signal, or as little harm as possible.  Is that is indeed the goal of cable design? And if so, then what type of cable best achieves that goal?
Psag, it's all system dependent. It's a great goal to come up with something that won't hurt the signal but isn't that the goal of most cable makers? There's no magic bullet of a cable that can be all things to suit everyone's needs. Simply changing out a speaker or amp can render a great SC to a merely good SC since you've now altered the output of the amp or the input characteristics of the speaker.

You can have the "best" wire and mess it all up with lousy connectors as well. Not to mention should they be cold crimped or soldered or just bare wire.

Try as many as you can until you're satisfied. You'll know it when you hear it. :-)

All the best,
IMO, there are numerous things to say about cables in general.  First, absolutely no one, perhaps outside The Cable Company, has heard even a fraction of what must surely be hundreds, if not thousands, of brands and designs.  I would include from this observation that there is no "expert" when it comes to having vast knowledge of cables.  Just be prepared to get as many answers as responders when you post questions on online forums as to which cables are best.  Second, the single biggest reason for all of the cables is that they are of relatively standard designs and require little capital investment.  Recently, at a medical device show I wandered over to a medical cable manufacturer's booth during one of many slow periods, and they told me they private label manufacture cables for numerous audio companies.  Third, everyone changes the basic designs to some degree to have a marketing edge.  Fourth, I am confident that price markups on cables are among the highest among products in the audio industry.  Fifth, in my experience I am absolutely terrific at buying cables at a good deal and pathetically poor at selling them without taking a big financial bath.  So that indicates the used cables market is a buyers' market.  Sixth, yes, cables can make a significant difference and finding the best is probably a lifetime project.
Most discrepancies in results or abberations in SQ can be easily explained by wire directionality.
I have tried many different brands of high end cables in my system. As far as speaker cables I ended up making some home made ones out of 8 gauge mil-spec Silver plated copper wire with good terminals. Out of many different brands I have tried these sound the best by far.

rvito, I am using a 12 gauge silver plated copper wire, although not "home made". Question for you, are you using a high number of strands (i.e. somewhere in the low hundreds each of which are extremely small gauge and when combined the effective gauge is 8, or very few larger gauge)?
" many answers as to which cables are best."

Yes, and its very system-dependent. I would like to believe that some designs are better than others, but what makes one cable better than another?

For example, if a cable makes a mediocre sounding system sound better, is that a better cable? My guess is that such a cable would sound lousy in a superior system.
Cables sometimes defy all rules and logic.  It's best to try a couple different brands and see which one you like best.  
The Cable Company is a great resource if you want to borrow a variety of cable types from their lending library to see what clicks with your particular system.

For the most part I have concluded that online discussions of cables as per the OP are fruitless. Everyone sits smugly with their perspective and not often is there a true exchange resulting in action. In all the years I have been here I have seen only three instances where someone was motivated by discussion to actually try comparisons of cables, then came back and reported their opinion changed. 

That's too low of a "success rate" in terms of willingness to invest my time on such matters. That's not a mark against the use of designer cables, but confirmation of the stubbornness of people who could explore things at marginal cost, but are pig-headed. Imo it usually comes down to money, and there are some no matter how much argument, will not part with a buck to try something. It's wasted breath on such people. 

 The cable discussion has been done to death so this is basically a troll post.....some hear cable differences,some don' would be foolish to spend ones hard earned money and not judge for yourself as opposed to debating , stating which is best or stating its all snake oil
I was hoping this wasn't another troll thread. To be safe I will cut up my fancy wires and cry myself to sleep for being so foolish....
I would love to sit down and talk with this person, and I will make it worth their while:

He/she would be an experienced listener with intact hearing, and a good working knowledge of acoustics and electrical engineering.  He/she would be in possession of an excellent playback system, having used it to evaluate cable looms from the most highly regarded brands. He/she would have excellent communication skills, in order to describe his/her findings and conclusions. And finally, he/she would be completely rational, objective, and unbiased in forming these conclusions.

One thing I discovered about some pretty high profile cable manufacturers is - their speaker cables can actually degrade an amp’s performance to the point of failure.

This applies to speaker cables that have a high capacitance - they should NOT be used with some high current solid state amp designs because they can actually drive the amp into an "oscilation state" resulting in blown components.

Naim, is one company I know of that identifies this issue on their web site, but there are several other amp manufacturers who’s products would also be effected by high capacitance cables, but they do not publicly warn of this issue.

And cable companies never suggest their cables are only suited to certain amplifier designs - it would be disastrous for their sales.

It’s up to the customer to discover this - normally at their expense.
- It happened to an acquaintance of mine who blew two high end amps

On another topic....

Infection wrote - "No surprise that WW recommends KLEI...!"

Yes, I promote their products shamelessly because I was fortunate to be able to try pretty much their entire line of cables, and Keith Louie Eichman and I have exchanged numerous emails back and forth on the subject of his approach, theories and cable/connector designs.

However - I have also had the opportunity to compare their performance to a few other well known brands of cables on both my own system, on friends systems and also in-store systems (yes, I take my cables to the store :-) - and I have no problem recommending KLE Innovations products simply because of their level of performance and their cost effectiveness.

They may not be anything fancy to look at, but they are extremely good at what they contribute to a system’s performance - once you burn them in.

Are they the ultimate cable? Probably not, but they seem to consistently improve the performance of the few very varied systems I have tried them on to date.

Back to the music :-)

psag, you forgot something.

He/she would be extremely wealthy, to the point where spending hundreds of dollars per foot is no object.
In contrast: Regarding balanced cables, at least one experienced poster and equipment designer has stated here that all balanced cables perform identically, once a few basic design parameters are met.
I know I subscribe to this.

And its not because I can't hear differences in cables! I used to play the cable merry-go-round a lot in the old days. I knew Robert Fulton who, more than just about anyone else, founded the cable industry. So I've been playing with high end cables since the late 1970s.

I first got exposed to the technology in high school. I had been recruited to play bass in a local college orchestra as they were short that year. While at a concert, I noticed the Neumann U-67 mics hanging over the orchestra and traced the cables back to their source, the inputs of a Crown reel to reel run by a local engineer. Over the years I saw this done many times in various venues. So of those resulted in LPs.

Here is the thing about balanced. What is happening here is that nearly all recordings are done using balanced lines between the microphones and the microphone preamps. The reason is long ago the industry developed a means of preventing the cables from having an effect on the sound.

So when it came to working on a preamp years later, I realized that if one were to get the maximum benefit possible the interconnect cables would have to be taken into account. So instead of a single-ended preamp, I developed a balanced line preamp so you could use balanced cables at home and get the same benefit.

A number of cable companies sent us balanced cables, so we had plenty of cables on hand to do comparisons. At first we used a balanced passive volume control driven by a balanced phono section. As a control, I had a set of interconnect cables that were decades old. Using this setup, we auditioned the cables. The high end cables had various strengths and weaknesses but overall sounded pretty good. The control cable made the system literally sound like it was broken.

After that we introduced an active line section to the auditions that supported the balanced standard. The standard (now known as AES file 48) outlines how a cable should be driven- its operating parameters so to speak. Using this line section (and the amps being able to accept a proper balanced line) what we found is that not only did all the cables seem to sound better, we also could no longer tell them apart, including the control.

The whole point of the balanced line system is to eliminate cable artifacts. That is why it was created. Now you would think that is a good thing, that audiophiles would want that. But there is this thing called the Veblen Effect. That is the idea that if you spend more for a thing, that it should be a better thing. This certainly extends to cables! You can spend a lot on a balanced interconnect (length being irrelevant) and **if the system into which it is going supports the balanced standard**, the result will be that it will not sound particularly better or worse that a much less expensive cable. I've seen this and demonstrated this many times. 

But take away that support of the standard and this is no longer the case! And no mistake- this applies only to balanced lines (there is no way that you can get single-ended cables to be sonically neutral, so you always have to audition them until you find the right one for your system). The thing is, most audio manufacturers in high end audio don't seem to recognize the balanced standard, although there are a few that do. So that means that even if you have a balanced setup you may still have to audition the cable. It shouldn't be that way. But high end audio is what it is.

The fact is that speaker cables can have a huge effect (BTW, the lower the speaker impedance the more profound the cable impact) so its to your advantage to keep them as short as possible. By using balanced lines you can keep the amps near the speakers and the rest of the system where you want it, and actually get *more* resolution (even though the interconnects might be quite long) and impact, as that is what you get from short speaker cables.
OK Atmasphere

Which brands meet the balanced standard, and can use pro XLRs for best sound?

ARC, Pass Labs, John Curl’s, BAT......??? system is all balanced and can tell you that all balanced cables sound very different from each other in my system.

The design of your Ayre amplification obviously does not meet the balanced standard!

Interesting post. Your views certainly are in contrast to many of your peers. Obviously, many well regarded designers believe the benefits of a single ended topology significantly outweigh the benefits of common mode noise rejection (a view with which I strongly concur as is evidenced by my Soulution preamp). But saving that arguement for another day, I don’t see how you can claim that a cable's sound is not impacted by variables other than cmnr. Even at the most fundamental level, you must acknowledge capacitance and inductance are frequency dependent and as such can be designed into a wire to filter analog signals to taste?

"Obviously, many well regarded designers believe the benefits of a single ended topology significantly outweigh the benefits of common mode noise rejection"

That's news to me. Quite different from the commonly expressed view that for short runs, balanced cable offers no real advantage over single ended cable.
Psag, I guess I was not clear. That is the same point I was trying to make. For short runs cmnr is inconsequential ergo inclusion of a a phase inverter is a net loss (all else held constant).
Ok, but even for short runs, I don't agree that a single ended cable will outperform a balanced cable. There may be exceptions, but in general, I think its accepted that balanced cable is an advance over single ended.
Psag, I, like you, believed balanced were the best solution.

Then I  got the opportunity to compare a 2 meter Kimber Kable silver balanced IC to a 1 meter KLE Innovations gZero3  single ended IC on a very  nice Ayre/Magic system.

The gZero3 sounded better with respect to clarity, dynamics, bass extension, bass control,  Imaging and neutrality. They were also free of any colouration.

Not only did it surprise me, it surprised the owner of the system.

Just another person's observation 😊

But it made me change my view of single ended cables, which is all I use now.

BTW, KLE Innovations only make Single ended cables because they believe them to be superior for shorter cables.

Just another opinion.
psag OP349 posts07-29-2016 9:49amOk, but even for short runs, I don't agree that a single ended cable will outperform a balanced cable. There may be exceptions, but in general, I think its accepted that balanced cable is an advance oversingle ended.
Not true. If you start with the condition that cmnr is not needed in your application as dictated by your particular environment (i.e., because of short runs, low emi/rfi, etc.), then the benefit of a balanced system is zero (by definition) yet the inclusion of phase inverters in the signal path to achieve balanced has a negative consequence. 

Each application should be evaluated on this basis. As I said earlier many very well regarded electronics manufacturers eschew balanced for this reason.

As an aside, it always amazes me how the 6 db delta alone in balanced output is mistaken by some for an improvement over single-ended cuz the person fails to properly adjust the volume in a properly designed experiment. I am not saying this is applicable here but it happens (a lot).
Even for short runs, I believe the benefit of eliminating cable-induced noise would outweigh any theoretical losses from restoring phase.
I see the topic of discussion on this thread is dealing with balanced cables at the moment so forgive me if I take a slight detour from that.  However the OP asked about cables in general, and requested to hear "voices of experience and sanity", so here are my two pennies.

It is my opinion that the community is greatly mistaken about cables.  While I firmly believe that different cables sound differently from one another, I am equally convinced that audiophiles are wrong about what the cables are actually doing in a system.  For example, in the amplifier/speaker relationship, if you really want to hear what your amplifier sounds like, your speaker cable should be exactly the same wire that is inside of your amp going to its binding posts.  Right?  All these high end cables we put as the interface between amp and speaker that give us tremendous air and expansive soundstage, etc., are all DOING SOMETHING to the signal to give us the ILLUSION of air and expansive soundstage.  Anyone who believes that expensive cables are unlocking something magical from your amplifier is a fool.  You can't get something from nothing.  If you have some generic wire inside your amplifier and speaker, insert a $4,000 speaker cable between them and VOILA!  Now you have successfully unlocked the amplifier's full potential.  Or, my favorite, "found a cable that gets out of the way of the music".  Give me a break.

So just to recap:  Yes, I believe different cables sound differently from on another, but it's because they are manipulating the signal to give you the illusion of more this or that.  They DO NOT unlock your amplifier's greatness.  If you truly want to know what your amp sounds like, use the same wire inside your amp as speaker cable.  

This is what makes most sense to me.
devilboy says "For example, in the amplifier/speaker relationship, if you really want to hear what your amplifier sounds like, your speaker cable should be exactly the same wire that is inside of your amp going to its binding posts. Right?"

Uh wrong.  I have read much in the ongoing discussion of the role of cables in an audio system, but I don't recall ever hearing that argument before.  Open up your power amplifier and look around a bit.  You will find several different types/gauges of wire in there geared to a specific task that wire is designed to accomplish.  The wire going to your binding posts is just one of that many designed for a specific purpose.  Is that wire important?  You bet.  After breaking a binding post on my amp, I took it to an audio designer who also repairs and modifies equipment.  When he saw the cable in my amp, he recommended that he replace it with a cable with a purer conductor and superior dialectric that would more faithfully and effortlessly transport the signal (music) to the new binding posts.  I followed his advice.  Did he send 16 feet of that same wire home with me to be used as speaker cables?  Of course not.  That wire was not designed to faithfully transport the music signal for such a distance.  

All I have been trying to accomplish with the wires in my system is to faithfully transport the music signal from one place to another with as little negative impact as possible.  I do agree with you that different cables do alter the resulting sound of a system.  And cables can't create something that isn't already there in the music, but.... they can, do to their relative quality of transporting a signal, preserve more or less of that music signal's integrity.

"found a cable that gets out of the way of the music". Give me a break. 
I guess I can't give you a break after you made the statement quoted above.  That is EXACTLY what the goal of all the cables in a system should be.  Get out of the way and let the music flow!
Good points all around guys! Keep the information on cables/cords a-flowing.
I agree that, in theory, the role of cable is to deliver signal 'faithfully' (for lack of a better word), with as little degradation to the signal as possible.  Audioquest for one espouses this type of philosophy in some of their ads. It would stand to reason that I would like the Audioquest sound, but there are other wires on the market that sound better to my ear, in my system. I have no idea whether my wires of choice are more faithful (than Audioquest) to the original signal. Perhaps they are introducing good-sounding distortion into the playback chain.
@hifiman5, I think you need to read my post again.  

Regarding your post, you say "the wire in the amp is one of many designed for a specific purpose" (or more realistically, price point).  Also, when your binding post broke, you followed someone's advice and replaced the conductor.  That's fine.   Replace the conductor with whatever you want.  Replace it with something that's $1,000 per inch.  MY point was, in order to hear the most truthful representation of your new and improved amplifier, theoretically, you would need that same conductor going to your speaker.   You repeat the word "faithfully" numerous times in your post, also mentioning the word "integrity".  The only conductor that will do so, is the one in your amp.  NOT some boutique cable costing thousands of dollars.  Obviously no one will do this, I'm just trying to make a point.  

When used properly, cables can balance out a system very well.  If an amp is too warm or dark sounding for the owner, he/she may add a cable that livens up the highs or opens it up a bit, and vice versa.  That's the beauty of cabling.  

Thank you for ending your post with, what I consider to be, the most annoying, misunderstood line in audio.  
@hifiman5, one more thing regarding your post, specifically your use of the word "faithfully". You say you want to transmit the signal as faithfully as possible. Ok. Faithful to what?

Let’s say you purchase a cd. You take this cd home and you want to get the music from the cd to your ears as faithfully as possible.
Great, however your very first link in the chain is adding its own sonic signature to the signal. Every step of the way, something is coloring the sound somewhat:

1) cd player/trasport
2) digital cable
3) DAC
4) interconnects
5) preamp
6) interconnects
7) amplifier

So, now hifiman5 wants to reproduce the signal as faithfully as possible. I ask again, faithful to what? The cd? Pa-lease. You’re already so far away from what’s truthfully on that cd that you cannot be close to it at all. The only thing you can be faithful to at this point is get the sound as close to what’s leaving the amplifier. Now, you want to add some boutique speaker cables between your amp and speaker to be "faithful" to the cd? Gimme a break.  The damage has been done. 
Something else just occurred to me. For the sake of argument, let’s use the number 100. It could be more, it could be less, but let’s just use 100.
Using the seven components I listed in my last post (transport, digital cable, dAC, interconnects, preamp, interconnects, amp), that means there could be as many as 700 different manufacturers of 7 different components in the chain. I don’t know how to do the math, but I’m assuming the possible combinations would reach into the billions.
Think about that.....
By the time the signal leaves the amplifier, it could, theoretically, have billions of different sonic signatures that differ from what’s on the cd. Now, hifiman5 wants to put a fancy speaker cable on the amp to be "faithful" to the cd?

This was my whole point from the get-go. I understand your point, hifiman5, but with all due respect, I think you failed to understand mine. "Faithful" goes out the window the moment the music sees the first link in the chain.  

Not to mention the speaker interaction with the amp.  You may have a speaker cable that's close to faithful of what's leaving the amp, but it may sound like crap going to speaker A, but on speaker B it sounds wonderful.  

So, finding a cable that works well with amp and speaker is the real goal.  
So devilboy... according to your position there is no faithful reproduction of music.  It will be colored by the very microphone and microphone cables as it is recorded.  No argument about that from me.  My point is all we can do in this endeavor of ours is to minimize the damage to the musical signal as it passes from one component to another and then ultimately to the transducers to which we listen.  Heck, many would argue that even hearing a performance live in a music hall of some sort is colored by the acoustics of the hall and your relationship to the hall based on where your seats are located within that venue.  This is on my mind as I just purchased tickets for a live show last evening and was thinking about how our location in that hall will impact our listening experience.

That's why (for instance) changing the wire in your speaker cabinet is like designing a new speaker.   I spoke to Vandersteen who agonizes over all the different wire that goes into his speakers to make them what he wants them to be.
3,852 posts
08-01-2016 9:28am
That’s why (for instance) changing the wire in your speaker cabinet is like designing a new speaker. I spoke to Vandersteen who agonizes over all the different wire that goes into his speakers to make them what he wants them to be.

I would be quite interested to know if Vandersteen agonizes enough over wire inside his speakers to worry about wire directionality. Or if ANY speaker manufacturer considers wire directionality. I will give Tannoy props for cryoing their flagship speaker's crossover network, at least that's a step in the right direction.