cable directionality

I've always heard that single-ended, directional interconnects (e.g., AudioQuests) should be installed with the arrows pointing away from the source. Is that really true, though? It seems like it actually doesn't have much to do with signal travel, but with grounding: normally, the shield is connected to ground at the end the arrow points toward. Therefore, it seems that the cables should actually be installed with the arrows pointing toward the system ground (normally the preamp). This makes a difference (or does it?) for the cables between the preamp and power amp. What about directional speaker cables? Should the arrows point back toward the preamp, too?
You are absolutely right re: arrow points to ground, with some notable exceptions (Magnan and Purist being two I'm aware of). The general rule (for IC's) is all arrows point to the preamp, which should also be the only component whose ground (third AC plug pin) is connected to ground at the wall.

With SC's though, it doesn't generally matter (there's no ground or shield) except that the dielectric will take a "set" after a while, so unless you want to have to break them in all over again, it's best to follow some protocol and always install them the same way.
AudioQuest ICs, "The plug with a single printed band at the sending end and the plug with the double printed band at the receiving end". > goes in the direction of signal flow. CDP > Preamp > Power Amp. This is the correct way to install the Lapis and Diamond ICs. Below is some info on AQ design.

Oh boy! There is some confusion here. I always heard that the arrow points in the direction of signal transmission (preamp to amp), which means that, for conventional grounding practice, the IC shield would be grounded at the TAIL of the arrow. I use my ICs this way. However, depending on your particular electronics, it may make no difference, or be better the oposite way around. Grounding is not an exact science, and a little experimentation is appropriate.
Frankly, I wish the arrows had never happened in the first place, but maybe a bit of history will serve to clarify the current situation.

The first instance of the use of arrows that I recall was on the Bruce Brisson-designed shotgun-type Monster Cable IC's back in the 80's. (Bruce then left Monster to start MIT, which also had arrows imprinted on the jacket)

These (single ended) cables had two identical signal conductors (both barrels of a "shotgun") surrounded by a shield. The shield was connected to the "ground" conductor (the one connected to the "ring" of the RCA connector) at only one end of the cable, meaning it could carry no signal but acted as a "floating" shield to protect the two signal conductors. This design far surpassed the traditional coaxial single ended design in its resistance to hum and rfi, and basically put Monster Cable on the map.

The arrows were meant to indicate the direction of signal flow from a SOURCE COMPONENT to the PREAMP. The arrowHEAD thus pointed to the end of the cable that had the shield connected to the ring of the RCA connector. That way, when the cable was installed with "the arrows pointing in the direction of the signal flow", the shield's ground potential came directly from the preamp ground and not via some circuitous route through the source component.

However, if all the cables' shields were to be connected at the preamp end ("star grounded" with the preamp at the center of the star,) that meant that the cables connecting the preamp to the amp, STILL HAD TO HAVE THEIR ARROWS POINTING TO THE PREAMP, EVEN THOUGH THAT WOULD MEAN THEY WERE POINTING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION OF THE SIGNAL FLOW. This produced a lot of confusion (and arguments) at first.

Eventually, folks realised that the significance of the arrows was not really signal flow, but the fact that they indicated at which end of the cable the shield was connected.

Unfortunately, arrows were soon sprouting up everywhere, even on cable that did not incorporate Brisson's shotgun design, particularly speaker cable. There was a certain cachet if a cable had arrows on it! In a call I made to Straightwire in the early 90's regarding the significance of the directional arrows on their Maestro speaker cable, I was told that they were "auditioned" before leaving the factory to determine which orientation sounded best. Yeah, right!!

Now, when arrows indicating signal flow are shown, there are many exceptions to the rule of the arrow head indicating the end of the cable where the shield is connected. I don't know them all (the exceptions) but I do know that in the case of Magnan's and Purist Audio Design's single ended IC's, the shields are connected at the arrow TAIL end of the cable. Jim Aud at Purist told me he did it that way because he felt (at least when connecting a source component to the preamp) that it was best to take the ground potential from the quietest end, which according to him would be the source. However, I think it's important to remember that both Magnan and Purist use their own hybrid topology (layout of the conductors) which is very different from Bruce Brisson's original shotgun design.

Hope this helps.


Fortunately it rarely makes any differencs!!

I once installed shielded 300 ohm twinlead (not a common wire) for a TV, and was surprised to discover that the "proper" grounding for the shield was not grounded at either end.
I always use the direction of the signal from front end to amps. The most satisfying rule probably should be what sounds best, but some cables don't mind which way you use them but switching them around makes them sound worse at least for a while.

Most preamps in my experience are ungrounded making the star grounding idea impossible.

Recently I have just followed the manufacturer's directions, which are usually one of two: it doesn't matter but don't change or source to load.
I understand that sometimes the arrow indicates the direction the cable came off the cable machine and nothing else.
Nerspellsner, this may be true but the manufacturer may find that all important. Most do not go to the extremes that Mikro Omega does and construct cables with the direction of both the hot and neutral taken into consideration. The way they came out of the wire machine is reversed for the two.
Post removed 
The way they came out of the wire machine is reversed for the two.

This is something the late Bob Crump really extolled; he is the first person I was aware of doing this.

Wire is directional. Making up an IC in this fashion, signal and return running in opposite directions, will give a distinctly differing sound and soundstage height depending on which end is at the source and which is at the load. The correct orientation will have a higher soundstage and more extended HF. Wrong way sounds like there is a ceiling on the soundstage, HF is somewhat MIA, and the bass is overblown. Solid core silver is the easiest to hear the difference with. I myself use this method as do a few other mfg. that I know.

BTW Bill Lowe I believe also makes his cables with directionality of wire in mind, if you go into the tech. part of his site there is a paragraph on it

Tel Wire
Tvad with most shotgun IC's, the shield is connected at the arrowhead end, which is why if one connected all their source-to-preamp pairs with the arrow pointing to the preamp, all the shields would drain to the preamp's ground, which is what you want because it's the shortest path to ground without any loops; AKA "star grounding" with the preamp being the center of the star. This scheme works of course as long as the preamp is the only component that's connected to panel ground (thru the wall socket) and also if you remember to point the preamp-amp IC's arrows to the preamp also.

I learned of the Purist and Magnan deviations in discussions with Jim Aud of Purist and Dave Magnan. My conversation with David was so long ago, I can't remember what he told me other than that his (single ended) cables had several ground conductors connected at opposite ends (was he foolin' with me? who knows!) Jim Aud simply said that he felt the cable's shield should connect to the "quietest" ground, which to him would necessarily be the component end (a real head scratcher as far as I'm concerned!) and therefore his shielding is connected at the arrowTAIL end of his SE cables. But both of those are exceptions to the rule; and just to confirm your conclusions, I also point my Purist single ended IC's toward the preamp and think it sounds best that way too.
Post removed 
I'm going to have to try all my single ended Purist IC's pointing toward their sources, and I'll let you know.

I use XLR's for the DAC and the preamp/amp connections though, so that only leaves the outboard phono preamp and the old tube tuner that are connected with single ended IC's ;-)
Post removed