DIY Interconnects review

Category: Cables

In an attempt to live up to a comment I made on a thread that was discussing interconnects and the over inflated costs, I agreed to do some research and try to build my own interconnects. I could then use fact in my discussions of the value of the manufactured cables. I did intense research for about four months, reading as much as I could on Audiogon, Audio Asylum, web sights dealing with designs by Chris VenHaus, Jon Risch and Allen Wright. I also attempted to go to all the manufacturers web sites and read what they had as a philosophy. Please forgive me for the length of this post, but it was important to me to be thourogh in my methodology so as to help those reading this understand the mission.

It should come as no surprise to most of you, there are as many opinions on what makes a good interconnects as there are companies. Dispite this fact, most every interconnect made today both profesionally and DIY have common methodogy in construction. Most every design I read about starts with a core, has any number of wires coming in a wide array of materials that are wound around the cord. Then the dielectric is created, again using most any material one can dream of. This is followed by most companies and DIY’s using some type of EMI/RFI sheilding. Then some type of fancy casing is used so that the cable looks nice. The casing is generally connected to the connector with shrink wrap and often some type of reinforcement to allow for the users who pull out their interconnects by the wire and not the plug.

Great I thought! Clearly these are all logical components that are being used, and of course I figured there was some science behind all this construction. In fact Cardas is using the Golden Ratio (first dirived in Ancient Greece) so this must be good. Not only is every wire praportional to the other, but the shielding (all nine layers) are also applied using this ratio. Now don’t get me wrong, The Golden Ratio is often used in my profesion of Architecture, it was conceptualized my DiVince the was incorporated in Michelangelo’s St. Paul’s Cathidal, and it has been used ever sense, but audio cables???

Well I took all the ideas I could find and went off to my (three) local Radio Shacks to buy their entire inventory of gold plated RCA connectors. I also picked up a better solder station, a good de-soldering devise, copper wire of every size as well as robbing my local hardware stores of foam backer rods, Teflon tubing, Teflon tape, cottom rope, poly-something tubing and any other thing that looked cool. Total cost of components was roughly $300 ($20 each pair of interconnects) and enough stuff to supply every friend I know with interconnects.

So my first generations started with the pholosophy that more is better, so I built some interconnects using 14 ga wire twisted around a 1/2” teflon tube. I tried one two and three wires per positive and negitive run in equal and unequal combinations. I then built the same concepts using 18ga, then 22ga, 24ga, 26ga, 28ga and finally 30ga. I then repeated the process using a 1/2” Teflon and 1/2”, 3/8” or1/4” cotton rope. On these mock ups I wanted to hear the wire and core intraction with no other variable so I used only cotton thread to hold the bare wire to the core. In each case I listened for a short time to get some concept of what these designs were doing, but only in comparison to one another. I was not yet listening for musicality nor even technical aspects, only an overall concept. I often dragged my friends into this to get a second opinion, but really this was easy to distinguis.

FIRST MYTH EXPOSED: WIRE DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Do not allow anyone to tell you otherwise. If they clain wire is wire, then they either have no experience with a decent system, or no experience trying cables.

It became clear to me that the thicker wire was woolyer , fuzzier and slower as a general response. I quickly drew my attention to 22ga and smaller wire for the next round of experiments. This round was bringing in a preconceved notion of my own that goes against vertually every cable design I researched. Almost without exception the only concept explored by manufacturers and DIY’s alike is twisting the wire around the core. My friends and I theorized that this allows the cable to be more flexable without fatuiging the wire. (like a spring) Spacing suggestions very, but almost without exception the cables are twisted. I used to own Nordost Valhalla cabling for about five years. The speaker cables are made up of forty very fine conductore that run parrallel to one another. This made me explore running my interconnect conductors parrallel as well. So in my next set of mock ups I tried variouse combinations of cable sizes and wire numbers either twisted or straight. Straight won every time! This was not subtle, it was very clearly less congested, and smoother sounding. The winding tended to make the sound feel constraned and mechanical. My personal explaination is wires running parallel on a two dimensional plane have only one chance to interact. Twisting around a core creates a three dimensional interaction and in sometimes many points of interaction. Someone once said, “keep it simple” and I think this advice fits pefrectly here. It also became clear that a single conductors in each direction was prefered every time over multiple conductors. (One conductor could be multiple stands bound as one conductor) The multiple conductor mock ups tended to be edgier or brighter, so I ended up focused on single conductor designs with 30ga or 28ga positive wires and 20ga to 24ga negitive as my prefered sound. I also determained I much prefered the cotton core to the Teflon.

SECOND MYTH EXPOSED: TEFLON SOUNDS BRIGHT! There has been quite a bit of discussion over the past couple years regarding the posibility that Teflon is adding a brightness, or a ringing to the sound of cables. This was bourn out in my mock ups to hold some validity; so next up was determaining what the best dielactric might be. I tried Teflon plumbers tape, cotton, paper, electrical tape and even wool on bare wire, teflon cased wire and enameled wire.. Again I tended to like the cotton, and it became even clearer that Teflon was an issue. Next step was to determain sheilding (if any) Now I know much has been talked up by manufacturers about sheilding, and I supose if you live next to a radio transmition tower… but if you look inside your components, wire is never sheilded, and these wires are running in, out and around transformers, power supplies and digital curcuits. I can not think of a harsher enviroment for EMI/RFI than this. So I must admit I entered this stage with serious reservations. I tried woven steel shielding, woven copper sheilding, copper foil wraps, aluminim foil wraps as well as some mock ups based on the Cardas Golden Ratio. Every one of these had some influence on the sound, but in my opinion always negitive. Shielding is a very dificult thing to do in a repeatable fashion for hand made cables, and I suspect one large area of cost for cable manufacturers. I ended up with no sheilding as my prefered direction.

Next up, two parallel wires run at different spacing. I decided on my own that even consistant spacing was important, so I tried a number of methods to build up a larger cotton core. This included multiple cotton ropes tied together, then in some cases covered in a cotton jacket with wire applied to that. Then another layer of cotton jacket… What a hassle, and clearly not repeatable. I did determain that their was a limit to spacing. Wires further than 7/8” apart began to lose cohenrency and naturalness to the sound. Less than 5/8” sounded brighter and more conjested. I settled on 3/4” spacing as the perfect compromise.

THIRD MYTH EXPOSED: INTERCONNECTS DO NOT NEED A CORE! I must be among the dumbest men on this world, luckly I have a lot of company. It finally hit me, interconnects can be flat. This was ground breaking for me. I’m sure everyone else already knew this, but hang in there, I’m a bit slow. I had purchased this 9mm (approx. 3/4” wide when layed flat) cotton sleeving from Audio Consulting. (Way too expenxsive) It comes as a flat sleeve, so I simply took my two wires, now in cotton jackets and sewed them into each folded edge of this tube. This was a sinple easy way to get a constant and repeatable 3/4” spacing for my wires. It also meant the least dieletric interface with material, leaving the majority of the dielectric as air. Air of course is the best dielectric, but bare wire hanging in space equidistant apart is hard to do, so given the makeup of cotton weave, it allows for about 90-95% air, with very little of the cotton even touching the wire. Perfect, NOT! Ever try to attach a cotton sleeve to an RCA connecter with two super fine wires holding it all together? The issue became painfully clear as I began breaking 30ga wire trying to devise a solution.

FOURTH MYTH EXPOSED: THE SCIENCE AND LOGIC OF A CABLE DESIGN IS OUT THE WINDOW THE MINUTE WE TRY TO MAKE THE CABLE INDISTRUCTABLE! Just take a moment and page through your favorite audio magazine and look at all the cables. Heavy outer jackets made from Kevlar, carbon fiber, Poly-something-man-made, indestructible Teflon uncoated… You get the point. Now look at the interface between this less than desirable dielectric jacket and the RCA. Heavy rubber shrink wrap as a minimum is used, often in layers. Air has a dielectric value of 1.0, Teflon is 2.0-2.3, (I know, they say 1.2 but I’m using a scientific table, not “what they say”) cotton is 1.3-1.4 and rubber is at best 3.0, Poly-something –want-a-cracker is 3.0-4.0 and so on. This means they claim to go through all this science and end up using some less than perfect materials because they need to, in order to make them stand up to us, the guys who pull out our interconnects by the wire. “OH YES YOU HAVE TOO, WE HAVE ALL DONE IT!” And yes, it makes sense that any manufacturer would build the product to withstand some abuse. So despite all the careful planning, the connector and wire interface is an issue.

I ended up trying a few designs; the one I settled on (if I felt the need to address this issue) was some very puffy cotton “piping” from a fabric store. (Thanks to my friends wife, I have not been in a fabric store before, there are some very interesting people hanging around in them) I used a ¾” rope cut in half (length wise) and put the flat cotton interconnect in-between the halves. I then wrapped a thread around the rope to hold it together. At the RCA I shrink-wrapped the last four inched of cotton rope to the RCA. This allowed for the rubber to remain as far from the wire as practical. It looks a bit goofy, but it’s remarkably strong. I did not feel the need to go to this extreme and instead pulled the 9mm cotton sleeve over the RCA and put a piece of electrical tape around it. Half the tape’s width hitting the RCA and half hit the cotton, I figured electrical tape was at least twenty times thinner than rubber shrink wrap, so it should have one-twentieth of the impact to the sound.

SO NOW WHAT? Well the design is complete, now I needed to determine the wire material and what RCA’s to use. For RCA plugs I tried Audio Note, Cardas, Connex, DH Labs, Eichmann, Monster, Neutrik, Radio Shack and WBT. There is not a great deal of difference between the Cardas, DH Labs, Neutrik, Monster and Radio Shack. The Audio Note and WBT were a bit more natural and certainly less congested, but in further testing I could not find a repeatable difference between Radio Shack’s $5.00 gold plug and WBT’s $70 connector. To my surprise the Eichmann was quite a step up. The sound opened up with clarity and speed not found in the others. (I should add that I used both the Silver Bullets and the standard copper connectors. I could not hear a significant difference between the $20 and $50 connectors) If anything I may prefer the copper, a bit more natural and not as bright. I guess it all makes sense that the Eichmann sounds different in that they are the only one with a different design. They use a pin for both the positive and the negative connection, so rather than a whole circle of signal connection on the negative it comes to single points. I assume this makes for a cleaner, more effortless signal transfer??? At any rate the Eichmann was my choice. I ended up with one set of silver and one copper out of default. If I had not already owned the silver I would have used copper for both sets of interconnects and saved a few bucks.

Selecting wire was a bit tricky, in that it can cost a lot of money and there are still a lot of variables. Rather than go through the entire process I will skip to the wire I settled on and hope you believe if it’s possible, I tried it! As a very quick overview I’ll make some general observations. Copper tends to be full, rich and makes for a nice neutral sound. Silver adds PRaT and dynamics not possible with copper. Silver also adds clarity and extension not possible with copper. Silver is also brighter, edgier and at times has an artificial tonality on the top end. Gold was the best of the copper and silver without the bright thin signature of silver, and the clarity was even better than the silver. I attempted to use silver on the negative run in order to keep the cost down, but the improvement between gold and silver is substantial, and worth the expense (my opinion) I did not try stranding silver and copper together nor did I try silver coated copper, (like Nordost) so there is plenty of room for experimentation in these areas.

I ended up using all gold wire, and because of cost I made some assumptions (meaning I did not try every combination possible) For the positive run I ended up using three strands of 99.99% pure 30ga gold wire (not twisted but loosely bound together in a 2mm cotton sleeve) and for the negative conductor I settled on one strand of 24ga 99.99% pure gold wire. How I concluded this set up was some trial and error and some faith on the articles I had read that fit my experience to this point. If I had the money I would have tried a cable using three 28ga for the positive run, I suspect this would be even better, but I used what I had already purchased (bulk purchases lower cost substantially) If someone want to buy me wire…

Much has been said about gold having a significantly lower conductance than silver and copper, but given the distance of one meter, it really is not an issue!!! Gold has a very low resistance as do the others, so my selection was based on sonic quality rather than scientific characteristics. The side benefit (but not my reason for choosing gold) is it does not tarnish and therefore sonically degrade like silver and copper.

Sonically gold was clearer, smoother, richer and more natural sounding than the other two. People have claimed gold is slow or too warm. Neither of these comments matches my experience. One reason for using 30ga was the pace it produced in my trials. This held true with the gold as I used it, and as I commented on in the paragraph above I suspect 28ga gold would continue to have excellent PRaT. I also suspect anything heavier would indeed tend to slow and warm beyond my goals. The interconnect I built is every bit as dynamic and fast as my Valhalla’s were, but with a much fuller and richer top end. I have not experienced the warmth issue either; in fact I believe the 28ga gold positive strands would be a possible improvement if it did add additional warmth. As of this writing I am still trying to determine if this is necessary, a bit more warmth would be welcome, but it might be too much if I tied to achieve this. Over the past two weeks I have spent over six hours every day enjoying music I have not pulled out in years. In ever case, I have no thoughts of what more to do or what is lacking. No fatigue at all and so musical! So altering this design might only degrade the success, but it might be better. Money would answer this…

SOOOOOOO you ask. How does it sound? Well thank you for asking, but as often with me, before we go there let me add a couple more comments.

As I said earlier, I owned the Nordost Valhalla cables for many years. Prior to settling on them I auditioned most every medium and high end cable made at the turn of the century. It is no exaggeration to say I became an expert on cables during a two year period of testing cables. I also learned there are a lot of cables being sold today that are inherently flawed sonically. Over the last six years the amounts of cables that have come to the market have increased many times over, and my personal experience has proven that most of these cables are no improvement over their predecessors. As the sonic quality has improved very little, the costs have climbed to an astonishing degree.

This is not to say that there are not some truly magical cables that have been developed. This topic has become the source of heated discussions on this site as well as Audio Asylum. I have heard so many people who call everything they do not agree with snake oil or an illusion. These people I have turned my back on for comments like this neither are mot worthy of answering nor correct. Cables make differences, and I have a very extensive background to back my claims. When I hear someone say they would never pay more than $100 on cables, I roll my eyes. When I hear people claim they can build a cable for $100 that matches the performance of, (fill in the brand) I get physically sick. These comments are made from people who either have very limited experience or a system that is not capable of appreciating what is possible. In fact this entire experiment began from comments like these. People claiming they can build a cable as good as (fill in the blank) are endless. Let me say hear and now, they are right. I too experienced the level of AudioQuest, Cardas, JPS Labs, Kimber Kable, Shunyata or any other brand you prefer. This is not too difficult, but is that the goal, to match the sonic quality of inferior or flawed cable designs? If that is the goal, I can offer any number of design options that will match that of the mass market cable companies. In fact if the goal is to match the performance of 90% of the cables available, then I suggest you can do this for $25.

My goal here, and in my discussions of this topic is to match or better the best Interconnects available. I have invested countless hours and money to build the best system I can afford and/or justify. I spend the time needed to fully understand the topics I discuss here and I offer my opinions to educate not brag or be the top dog. My ego is fine without this audio site, and therefore I enter this hobby for the enjoyment of music. I would hardly classify myself as an equipment junky or an ill informed audio nut.

My personal experience says that Nordost Valhalla’s are the quickest, most transparent cable made. The bass is so highly defined and the impact of the bass is beyond reproach. The downside of Valhalla is it tends to be thin and bright on the top end. My Reference cables today are Kubala-Sosna Emotion. These are the most natural and neutral cable in all frequencies that I have experienced. They are the best overall performer I have ever heard, the super black background, perfect extension and definition are beyond reproach, but they do not carry the slam and dynamics of the Nordost. A truly magical cable is the Purist Dominus line (both Rev B & C, with fluid or Ferox) of interconnects. The midrange and upper bass are so rich and believable they force you to overlook the lack of clarity on the top end and the lack of bass compared to the best in this area. These cables cast a three dimensionality to the soundstage like nothing I have experienced before.

I bring this up not as some have accused me of bragging, but to help you understand what I was attempting to match in this experiment. I wanted the speed, dynamics, bass and slam of the Valhalla along with the naturalness and blackness of the Emotions and the colour, hues and dimensionality brought out in the Dominus. My goal was to combine the three best I have owned. Along the way I discovered the formula for Valhalla’s detail and speed. I discovered a midrange equal to the Dominus and I found a naturalness of Kubala-Sosna but combining these attributes and then bettering it was not as easy.

So here’s the deal, and a source of disagreement with many at this site. People say:

“Cables do not make a difference.” This is wrong, naive and foolish and clearly not arguable in a logical discussion.

“Cable manufactures are overcharging for their cables.” Yes they are crazy expensive but I can not say they are over charging. My simple little cable takes hours to build, and if a guy is to market, travel, inventory, purchase the equipment needed to produce a repeatable product… then I’m not sure they are so inflated. Yes I agree it’s silly, but my design has about $655 in materials, (approx. $300 in 30ga wire, $285 in 24ga wire, $40 RCA’s and $30 in cotton sleeves) maybe eight hours, so what is that worth? If any comment is true it would be the low and mid priced cables is the scam. Charging a few hundred dollars for a $25 value is the rip off. The top end is closer to a bargain. So yes they are all pricy, buy not out of line if a business is expected to make a profit.

“People buy expensive cables to brag or whatever.” Give me a break; people buy expensive cables to improve the sound. Not everyone wants to do what I just did, and yet they deserve the best sound. It is not the consumer’s fault that it costs a lot, we continue to demand more from our systems, and the manufacturers continue to push the designs. It’s just a fact, cables cost money to build.

“You can get the same sound from a DIY cable at a fraction of the cost.” Absolutely correct, I have tried most every cable made over the years, and I can unequivocally state that in my experiments I would be willing to guess I matched most every cable made. That is not to say this is a good thing, but just that I too can build glare, brightness, poor imaging, bloated bass, slow methodical pace… I can also build bloom, warmth, blackness and silence, natural… I can build it all, good and bad, so? So what does that prove? Nothing to me. If I had not heard the Nordost Valhalla, and the Kubala-Sosna Emotion and The Purist Dominus I would have no way to judge what I was building. If all I had heard was a Cardas Golden Reference, then I guess I would be satisfied when I had duplicated it. It is not right to chastise those who continue to explore the possibilities just because someone thinks cables are too expensive.

We can not judge life without experience. How do you know you’re happy if you have never been sad? How can you judge success until you have failed? You can not, and it hold true in audio too. Without having heard most every cable made, I could not properly judge the results, and thus I could not have ended where I am. So for those who choose to pock the fire, fine, but it is you that is missing out, not me…

Enough soap-box, now let’s talk about the sound.

The sound is quite close to a perfect blend of the three best cables I know of. This design is stunningly fast, excellent slam, highly emotional, very full and rich, fully open and extended. The imaging is tight with great depth, dimensionality and soundstage. The background is more liquid and blacker than any cable I have experienced. The clarity is the best I have ever heard. There is a tonal richness that is hard to believe. Piano is tonally perfect although one of my local A’gon friends wants a bit more bloom around the notes. The colour and hue around all stringed instruments is so perfectly natural and portrays an endless palate of tones.

To this point I still had one complaint, the high frequencies although fully extended and extremely clean, had a slight haze remaining around the highest frequency notes. This haze was not apparent when compared to the other cables; it only became apparent when I tried one more component in my design. I used a Bybee Slipstream Purifier ($75 each) on the positive conductor at each RCA. (Four total or $300 on one pair of interconnects) When I compared the one with the Bybee vs. the one without the haze became apparent. When I added Bybee Slipstream Purifier to the second set of interconnects the top end remained extremely transparent but now without the slight edginess first sensed. The entire presentation took on yet another dimension of realism. This got me to the goal; I now have bettered every single aspect of my system, but all at once! The final produce costs me almost $1000 in materials.

So in the final analysis

As many of you know my health continues to be a problem and time is all I do have. Not only that, but as many also know I have been forced to keep down sizing my system repeatedly over the years. This experiment is successful enough that I will be selling my manufactured interconnects and will be able to pay a few more medical bills!!! As for speaker cables and power cords I do not believe it is as beneficial to build my own, at least right now. My lessons learned in this project do not apply to either the power cords or speaker cables, so it would take another extensive research and a lot more money. My next project is to research power conditioners. This is where I think the true robbery is taking place! So if you care to contact me about the interconnect project or my coming research I would be happy to share what I know

Below are links to some of the research and material suppliers I used. I hope this thread will help settle some of the controversy about cables, and possibly help some find a better cable than they ever dreamt of.

Chris VenHaus's DIY Silver Interconnects: The original web site for the DIY interconnects
John Risch's DIY speaker cable and interconnect web site
Allen Wright
Allen Wright’s web site
Make Your Own Audio Cables: some reading on DIY cables
Radio Shack Magnet Wire ICs: great sounding diy interconnects on the cheap
The $2.99 Silver Wire Trick: a quick rundown of DIY interconnects by the late Dr. Harvey Gizmo
The Science of Cable Design;
Wire Gauge Calculator
Interconnect and Speaker Cable Design:Part IandPartII at
Dielectrics Constants
Dielectric Constant Reference Guide

VH AudioSupplies, wire, RCA, casings...
Reference Audio Mod’sAudio Consulting wire and cotton sleeving
Parts ConnexionHuge audio parts supplier [url/]Tweek Geeks[/url]ERS/ RFI absorbent sheets
Home Grown Audio: Supplier of Teflon insulated silver wire, braided wire, and silver cable terminators
Myron Toback, Inc. Supplier of uninsulated 30 gauge fine silver wire
McMaster Carr:Supplier of Teflon spaghetti tubing for insulating bare wire
A-M Systems, Inc:Supplier of Teflon insulated silver wire
Michael Percy Audio. Supplier of all types of high end, exotic, and esoteric components
Parts Express Suppliers of various wire and cable terminators as well as other components
Scientific Instruments Services, Inc.Gold and silver wire.
Surepure gold, silver, copper wire
Well, JD, thanks once again, a legendary posting! (It's been a long time since your "Winter's lessons" -- remember that post years ago?).

I have been experimenting with diy IC's along similar lines -- but in no way as thorough as you.

Finances permitting (one day) I will be kindly requesting you to make me yr ICs (I need sets of two -- 2 sources, bi-amping) -- rather than try to make them myself.

I will pm you with some ideas from a recent (lightweight)search on power.
Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us JD. This passion involves a big learning curve for most of us, and your write-up was very very helpful, and carries a lot of credibility.
I suspect most of those who claim that cable doesn't make any difference simply do not have resolving enough systems, have not explored the issue directly, or haven't yet learned to listen. I hope your review will open some ears for the better. Best of luck to you.
Top notch reading, I am sure you also had goodly amounts of the hidden joy to be found in our audio passions.
I to am sorry to hear of your malaise,and wish you Godspeed, and many more hours of enjoyment pursuing your interconnect nirvana.
You have now awakened my do it yourselfers curiosity.
Wow, not only an awesome and informative post from JD but it also dragged Sean back to the forums. Great to have you back Sean and nice job JD, enjoy the cables!
JD, first, I'd like to say thank you, and second, to wish you better health soon. What I think you've discovered is what most cable manufacturers already know. While there are certainly some that strive to produce quality products at different price levels, many are really only producing one or two very good cables, and the rest of their lines are just money-makers cashing-in on their reputation. This of course is a common business model, but it doesn't make you feel better if you've bought a $300 cable that is essentially the same sonically as a $50 DYI job. I've gone through much of the painstaking research as well, but on power cables instead of IC's. And some of the conclusions you've reached hold true in that area as well. But since I'll be introducing my own line of power cables soon, I won't get into that, as I don't want to be seen as pimping my products here in the Agon forums.
Just a quick thought about the costs involved in cable production; I think folks should be aware that the costs you see in a retail environment don't reflect at all the costs major cable companies see. Part of the reason you see so many 'twisted' geometries is that cable is far cheaper when manufactured in very large quantities, and the twisted design can be churned-out easily by the companies that produce these cables for most of your audio cable vendors. Of course, even at a low per-foot price, buying 30-40 thousand feet of cable is still a large investment, and must be repeated for each product in the seller's lineup. So this does make for a substantial investment, with an equal risk if the cable isn't favorably reviewed by one of the glossy mags. Of course, if the cable(s) is a success, then the company will use up it's stock, and it's NEW MODEL TIME!!! Which in most cases is just as well, as we Audiophiles are a fickle lot, and need new products to drool over and fantasize about. (Some of us at least, be honest). Unfortunately, not all of these new models will be an improvement over their predecessor, but merely different, or sometimes (ick!) worse. (But usually 'prettier').
Okay, so I expended alot of words to say 'caveat emptor'.
Thanks again JD, you've made it that much easier for us to trust our ears, and ignore the marketing hype.