Welcome to the club of reluctant believers. Believers because it's real; reluctant because it's expensive.
While more expensive is not always better, and there are some lower-cost competitive cables that have surfaced over the past decade, I would not buy anything costly without having worked with a retailer or local dealer to demo it first.
After my local dealers inventories shrunk, thankfully working withe TheCableCo, TMRAudio, and MusicDirect, I was able to demo and return some and buy others on my last go-around of upgraded cables, in a reasonable and effective way.
One thing I don't do any more with friends voluntarily, is to bring over some of my better cables for them to try on their systems. This can trigger instant confusion :)
Once you have a compatible set of components that sound great together, speaker wire, interconnects and powercords can make a very significant improvement in sound quality. The better your system, in general, the bigger the improvement you are likely to experience. But also, experience developing listening skills will reveal aspects to sound quality you will unlikely have even noticed when you started out.
One truth that has shown itself to me over and over again is that there are lots of good sounding systems, but all the truly great sounding systems have been meticulously tweaked through wires, vibration control, and room treatments in order to get their sound.
While the is no real wrong way. Most of us do components, wires, then room treatments.
The question becomes what is the incline of diminishing returns for cables?
My own guess is that it's pretty steep, because compared to other elements in the system, cables make a smaller contribution.
Thus, the killer question for anyone spending on cables is: Are cables more deserving of your upgrade dollar than anything else in the system?
For example, if one were to spend $4k on interconnects, the question I'd ask is whether $500 in interconnects and $3500 elsewhere in the system would be a better investment. That's just the form of the question, and everyone would fill in the amounts with whatever suits their situation.
@hilde45 your perspective is similar to mine - assuming your interconnects and cables are half decent to begin with - the reality is that many are not. Steeply diminishing returns after say $500/m or so.
Now a brief rant about digital cables - these in particular are not worth spending more than a small investment ($300?). I’m a computing expert but not a networking expert but had a hunch that error correction in the protocols (plus the digital binary nature of the information) negates the traditional benefits of better copper and interconnects. One of my good buddies is a networking expert for one of the largest SPs in the USA. He cannot conceive of how say typical electrical signals could change the digital info enough for protocol correction to not work. if this were true, the Internet would not work - voice calls would not work, etc.
"How are cables that we don't like explained without a double blind test".
Just possibly, some folks have better critical listening skills than others. And with sonic differences for wires, which are often subtle, and reveal themselves over long(er) listening sessions, perhaps the differences will manifest themselves only if you have good critical listening skills. Some folks can't hear any differences, and think they don't exist.
Personally I just listen to the cables after they have been up and running for 24 hours before I attempt to analyze their performance, always using equipment and music with which I'm intimately familiar.
BTW I think the value of A/B testing is flawed, not so much in the theory but in the execution, and of little real value. FWIW.
One of my early jaw dropping experiences in audio were with digital cables. I had already learned how important they were to optimize the analog components. Around 1990 I had a two box CD player. I happily thought, finally a cable that will not matter, it’s digital. But I am a scientist and it comes out, I wanted to prove to myself it didn’t matter. So I borrowed a decent quality digital interconnect. I remember the feeling of complete embarrassment as the first few notes were played… it sounded like someone had come in and upgraded both component boxes with much higher level ones. I was just speechless. Also, what a screaming deal it was… while expensive… nothing like it would have cost to upgrade the player and DAC.
Some components are highly dependent, some less so. Good quality equipment require carefully chosen interconnects to get the best out of them
100%. And not just for cables. For components as well. To properly assess the changes you need to have several listening sessions 3-4 days in a row each day with a new component only. Let everything settle including your initial reaction. Then go back to old component or cables. Whatever it is you’re evaluating.
Ear sensitivity, critical listening focus and perception, personal sonic preferences, etc all add up to a sound system add, say a new interconnect, being an upgrade to one person, a downgrade to another person and not discerned at all by yet another person. This is why for this discussion there are interconnects at almost all price points that will sound good or great to one person and potentially horrible to another person. Trust your own ears because the listening experience in your listening space should primarily only be for you, not what someone tells you you should like. Also, whether naysayers like jasonborne or kenjit want to believe it or not, every single element within a sound system impact the sonics in some way whether it’s very subtle or glaring.
Achieving “different” sound quality with cabling is certainly possible.
Achieving “better” sound quality is in the ear of the listener.
I often chuckle when I read of one component killing another. And making a purchase recommendation as a result. One can spend a lot or a little to make their system sound different than it did before. Whether it’s better or not remains purely a matter of perception and bias.
In my humble opinion.
Anyone needing a rationale for experimenting with new cables in their system and/or feeling dissuaded by the Church of Denyin'tology's antiquated electrical doctrines: take heart!
It is evident by experiment that cables can make a difference...
I bought my Morrow interconnect three because i was unsatisfied of my SYSTEM , I was not unsatisfied by my past cables as such at the times but by my system qualitative impression... I want an easy upgrade and did not know what to do first ... I experimented it with the Morrow and "i dont even remember the name" of the few cables i compared it with ...The Morrow at 100 bucks pleased me...
No need of a doctorate in science to experiment it...No need to ask Heinseberg to prove it ...😊 The ears are if we study psycho-acoustic able to detect acoustical informative quality WHOLENESS no simple physical instrument can detect and NAME... The timbre perception for example is a psycho-acoustic and acoustical concept irreducible to pure physical measurements of any kind...It is a subjective-objective QUALITATIVE phenomenon....
Sound is not a mere atmospherical simple physical wave, we can detect BUT as claim in an ecological auditive perception theory, sound is ALSO a REAL INFORMATION created by the vibrating sound sources and any interference with it...A cable is something acting electrically but also physically ( copper is not silver for example ) upon the audio system "vibrations" through the speakers/room...This action is perceived as a new quality, negative or positive quality according to the specific ears filters of the owner and according to the state of his actual system/room and according to his peculiar audio learning journey...
But i bought the upgrading Morrow cables which made a sensible small positive difference FOR ME BECAUSE i did not know anyway what to do FIRST to improve my audio system at the times...
When i had learned how to embed properly , mechanically ,electrically and acoustically my audio system , the improvements became HUGE not small as changing a cable ...
Then i never tought again to upgrade any cables...Because the ratio S.Q. improvement/cost would be too high to do it...
Conclusion : Cables matter but are secondary upgrades if they are basically good as the Morrow 3 interconnect is now for me at a relatively low price proportionnated to my system cost...If we know what to do with a system we dont invest in cables generally, and when our audio system is optimized, it is already so good, we dont invest in costly cable for a small improvement...
My remarks are valid for people with a limited budget and acoustic knowledge not for Bill Gates infinite budget..
We must learn how to listen by acoustic experiment not by buying cables...
Cables matter. That said, the biggest upgrade worth having is simply to buy a good grade of cable engineered for what is needed, and that does not have to cost a lot of money. Once you get past the basic stuff that comes free in the box, and move to a connection that covers all the basic of conductivity, shielding, durability, etc then the benefits of going past that are truly minimal. You can't go beyond the laws of physics and electricity no matter how much hype you add to the product :-) Good cables matter.
A few years back, I bought some "acclaimed" cables. Yes a difference. Worse. I did some testing. My sonic results were good old Belden Brilliance 75 Ohm stranded on decent ( non-Ferris) RCA's made as short as reasonable. With cables, less is more. The old free cables were often well over 100 Ohms and the shielding well less than 100% so I do not blame the emergence of quality well designed cables. Seems like Monoprice, Belden, Amazon WBC etc. can produce the 99.99% as good as it gets only missing the .01% ego factor. Won't go wrong with Blue Jean but they seem to have moved the price to add ego to the mix. I at least respect their engineering as they are real engineers. Some cables have marked "direction". Now for a simple cable, this is total marketing, but it is possible with cap coupling of the shield or single shield ground in a balanced cable for it to make a difference. Not magic. Tricks we use to combat RF and ground loops. Which end depends on testing. A wire does not know the difference. AC or DC.
How big a difference? Well, if everything else is SOA, maybe if you are still in your 20's, have been trained in listening, not damaged your hearing with ear buds or the defective Army ear plugs, the source material is good enough, yea, probably audible. I am old. I have "decent" equipment and listen to CD's ripped to FLAC. Amazon Basics is better than I can hear.
I also tested USB cables doing a loopback through my Focusrite. Clear differences in noise, rise time and jitter.. Free garbage and all the rest. Again Belkin, Belden, Monoprice etc. I also use short as possible. My music server to DAC is 8 inches. Less is more. Now, does it make a difference with todays DACs with vastlly improved USB receivers, asynchronous communication, and better internal clocks? Not sure it does. Walmart-DAC running WMP? Maybe. JRiver into a Schiit Unison or Cord? Probably not. Lesson is to put your experience and bias to todays situation, not yesterday's.
On to speakers. Here bigger differences ( damage) is common. Because you hear a difference does not mean it is better. This application is very component sensitive as the amplifier behavior does change depending on the oad. When I was investigating why my wife liked my 800 series Rotel amps over my Parasound 1200s,( made John very upset) I had pictures of the current into the driver that showed clear differences. FWIW the real difference she was hearing is how dominant pole compensation vs Miller compensation changes the distortion distribution. With a better tweeter, Mr. Curl was right. This added to the testing we dis back in the 70's when the crazy cable stuff started. Original Monster ( 11 ga, twisted, slightly higher L, slightly lower C) came out and remains an excellent choice. One member of the testing was an engineer that had designed wire for a living.
My money? Quite surprised how big differences in DACs are. Of all I have listened to in my desk system, the JDS Atom+ is still the smoothest. I have further testing with JRiver settings that may reduce the differences, Topping Schiit, JDS, SMSL etc. I plan on testing a Qutest. Output reconstruction and filtering is 99% of DAC differences and that is exactly where the brands differ.
Summary: Yes a "bad" cable can sound bad, but there is no esoteric magic cable can actually improve the signal transfer. They can filter it which may mask a problem and it sounds better. Cables have kept a lot of stereo stores in business, so maybe that is their greatest worth. :)
Your 8th post is great...😁😊
That same “filtering” is what can also hold back a component and you will never unleash its full potential.
WELL: the Cargo Cult's building another runway.
Time for a rewind:
The adherents of the Naysayer Church will never accept that there exists a multitude of variables, when an accurate simulacrum of performers and their performance in a particular venue, is the desire/goal.
If their result differs from that of others, the aspects that they can't discern CERTAINLY MUST BE the product of the others' imagination.
Of this they are certain: it CAN'T be THEIR system, room, or ears!
Perish the thought!
@roadcykler “…things people believe… You can’t prove things with facts or objectivity so you have to have faith.“
I believe Audiophilia is more like a science, careful and systematic observation reveals important nuanced real world changes in sound quality produced by different components, and venues. Very little is taken on faith. It is not that science cannot explain these things, it is that there are so many variable… hundreds operating at once that science is not a useful way to a simply explain performance.
Consider five components, each made up with hundreds of parts with different materials, connected by wires with dozens if different variables, gauge, material, dielectric. This is not a situation that lends itself to say some five variables will explain the output, sound… and even if it did, the sound you get out highly depends on the speaker and room acoustics. I was a practicing scientist for over ten years… anything more than a few variables and simple prediction models become difficult… hundreds, useless. Look at the horsepower thrown at weather prediction. We don’t have supercomputers and dozens of measurement devices at labs developing electronics and in our homes to work out what effect a new preamp might have.
If that is not complicated enough, then you have folks with different listening skills and values in what they want to hear.
Then there is music… it is not a single test tone… but dozens of different tones… all varying in loudness and frequency over time and with harmonics effecting the sound in higher and lower frequencies.
Instead of all that, electronic designers listen to different designs and components to tune their products to perform a certain way. Audiophiles develop listening skills, developed and use a common terminology to describe sound quality in musical reproduction (see Robert Harley’s book, The Complete Guide to High End Audio), and we have professional reviewers review the sound of components and audiophiles on forums try to communicate general attributes of different components and how they might operate in each others systems.
In addition experienced folks try to coach those new to high end audio the ways of the Force… I mean audio.
My favorite speaker cables are 10 AWG, cloth covered, 32 strand tinned copper with a pvc liner salvaged from a 1980's telephone transfer station and had relatively high voltage going through them on a daily basis for years, ie they were very thoroughly "burned in." I don't think there is anything more important than a very thorough burning in.
I have found all types of audio cables to be very necessary to be optimized for the best sound quality of the system. Once the sound quality of the system is brought up to at least a good level (and the audiophile ear becomes a little trained in identifying these effects), then sonic differences due to the cable design and construction become obvious and very important. This is regardless of whether blind tests were done to verify the cable evaluations. Blind tests are not reliable in finding the subtle effects of conductor purity and crystal size, dielectric, conductor construction (solid core, Litz,, ribbon), cable topology, etc. The trained human ear-brain system is vastly more sensitive than conventional electronic instrumentation. The meter-reader mindset ignores this fact.
Concerning the question as to whether digital cable quality is unimportant beyond a $300 or so retail price: The answer is that digital cable quality is very important, despite there being error detection and correction designs with many digital cables. The explanation for this in my experience is that the sonic differences with digital cables are even more important than with analog cables, and (unfortunately) the benefits of very expensive designs are immediately apparent.
I think the reason for this sensitivity of digital cable sound characteristics to the quality of the design, is that much or most of the sonic distortion in digital cables is due to pulse timing issues, which are generally ignored in conventional mass-market digital audio cable design. This is where the error logic of the cable interfaces is looking for the presence or absence of pulses within allowable time windows. Accordingly, fine errors in pulse timing within the overall error margins are not corrected for. Exact timing of the data bit pulses is very important to cable sonics, but low cost digital cables don’t try to optimize this parameter.
An average Joe decides to take his wife to a fine high end restaurant for a nice anniversary dinner. He stares at the menu, sees salads and appetizers start at $25. He is thinking to himself, I can get two dinner size salads at Zaxby’s for less than that. Then he sees the steaks with the prices starting at $75. Of course he is thinking about how he could have gotten a whole steak meal for the two of them at Longhorns for less money. Nearing the end of the meal he is hoping his wife is too full to enjoy a dessert. The tragedy here is multifaceted. First, he missed out on a fine dining experience with his wife and likely stayed quiet or didn’t listen to her very well because he could only think about the prices. Two, he missed out on enjoying the best meal he is going to have all year. (Yes, this used to be me.) If you go out for a nice meal, count the cost ahead of time and then enjoy a really special time.
My point is: If you want to play in high end hi fi you have to pay. Everyone loves showing off their gorgeous new speakers or shiny amplifiers but do not want to put much money into cables. I don’t like buying expensive cables either but they are a vital part of a hifi system. People spend big money on speakers and amps, dac’s etc and then wonder why the system sounds no better than a good mid fi set-up. Well, power cords- which were my last hold out, are the most important consideration, I found followed by speaker cables and then interconnects. If streaming then, the USB cable and ethernet cables matter too.
If you want to go hifi then it’s either all the way or don’t bother. This is a big boy game. Count the cost before even starting. I really didn’t think I would ever spend half the cost of my new speakers on amp power cords and speaker cables but that is what it took to get the sound I was after.
You are not even wrong , and not right either...
It is acoustic whch give us audiophile experience not the cables at any prices...Nor any pieces of costly gear...
But i never wanted to play high-end gear... What you call hi-fi is not synonimous with high end gear... Acoustic and the rightful mechanical and electrical embeddings matter way more than high-end costly gear price...
"big boy" do you mean big consumers wallet?
My game is acoustic learning.... It is for another kind of "big boy" ... 😊
If the gear system is like a F1 formula car , i can assure you that acoustic understanding play a role even bigger than the price of the tire in the car metaphor under my post... Acoustic in this metaphor is the tires of the car and the ROAD itself... Because sound experience evaluation need the ears/brain and this is psycho-acoustic...This is the road in the car metaphor...
Most people using this erroneous car metaphor focus on the price of a F1 compared to a Toyota...They forget the way the road will be designed... This is the acoustic factor... Audiophile experience is when the F1 race car or the Toyota are coupled to the road (the acoustic field) .... In the 2 cases there is audiophile experience, but where do people go with a F1 car and with a Toyota ? ...There is a trashold of minimal or optimal acoustic satisfaction, after that it become a game of money more than an acoustic experience...
In audio those who play with price to define S.Q. are completely off the race...
Acoustic is the sleeping princess in audio , the kissing prince is your ears/brain , and the working pieces of gear are only the 7 dwarves...😁
Similar to a few buddies who bought expensive sports cars with special suspension and handling packages, and when the tires need replacing, they cheap out and go for the budget performance replacement tires.
Now wondering why the car handles poorly or does not drive the same as it did before. Next they realize they just bought suboptimal tires, and have to dismount them as a throw-away situation - and a total waste of money to realize this. .
Next, to go back and buy the proper level of tires required to get their expensive sports cars to drive, handle, and function as it was originally designed to do.
The response is the same, if you can afford the car and insurance, you can afford proper replacement tires too. Otherwise the whole thing is a waste of money, and go buy a daily driver car where budget replacement tires do just fine.
mahgister is correct. The music starts with our ears and brain. The room is the next most important component followed by the gear and then finally the choice in music. Careful selection of the gear is required to get great sound. Tube amps, for example must be carefully matched to speakers and the speaker cables more so than SS amps. That's because the damping factor of tube amps is much lower typically than SS amps. Tube amps work better generally with higher impedance speakers and short, thick speaker cables- due to their generally lower damping factors. That is all about bass control. Preamp to amp matching is another important consideration. But most importantly is the room. Muddy mid bass, lack of deep bass and even sibilance can be caused by the room and speaker placement. The room also affects the soundstage and imaging. Sometimes the amp or the speakers or even the cables are blamed for the system sounding too bright or too dark when the real culprit is the room. I know first hand how true this is. My current room was difficult to get right. It has dormers and sloped walls. Corner traps not only in the room but also in the dormers made a significant improvement in the bass. I had diffusers on the front wall which improves the imaging but not until I added diffusers to the sloped parts of the walls did I eliminate the last bit of pesky brightness. Absorbers at the first reflection point on the side walls also help with clarity and brightness.
I had my stereo in a 24x36x13 great room in my last house. It sounded magnificent- especially after putting in a hardwood floor. The 7/8" hardwood stiffened the floor which made the bass sound better. I finally have this room figured out, I think. I've been in this house 6 1/2 years now. (slow learner, I guess).
I will give an example of what is audiophile experience for me...
I lost my dedicated homemade acoustic room selling my house one year ago...
I am mostly on headphone without too much despair because my AKG K340 is the best kept secret in headphone world... I drive them with my Sansui alpha which is almost perfect...But i plan soon to buy a microzotl amplifier partly because the noise floor level will decrease a lot.... I already use a battery dac +music bank....
Then i recovered happiness...
But how about recreating an "acoustic corner" and optimizing my self powered M-audio RV40 desktop speakers (100 bucks) , i decided to arrange the corner of the basement using foldable screen and some absorbing and diffusive material... I use my homemade shungite+copper plate on the speakers with my quartz and minerals pieces on critical spot...
Now i have an "audiophile for the poor citizen" corner where i can listen from my computer....It is astounding what some tweaks and especially acoustic can do....There is no relation between before and after...For sure the basic specs of these 2 way little box dont change , but i had bass and clear highs and very pleasant mids and a soundstage and good imaging...
i will call that a miracle at no cost ? yes... 😊
It is the farthest system computer based with a Hifimedyi dac the farthest from high end one can imagine...😁
But surprizingly not the farthest from audiophile experience someone could deduce from the speakers cost and specs...😉
The optimization and acoustic installation take me few hours...
I am in ectasy because i can now listen to speakers too ....Peanuts cost...
But i will be in more serious audiophile ectasy soon , i plan to upgrade my marvellous Sansui alpha with the Berning microzotl....Then i will have one of the best amplifier and one of the best headphone.... I already have an "out of the head" experience " with a bass i hear with my feet by resonance... Think about any other high end headphone able to give me that .,...The zotl will give me more dead quiet noise floor and probably more fluidity compared to a S.S. amp so good it is...
Audiophile experience need acoustic but the right optimization and the right gear synergy...
Here my problem was electrical noise floor ... I could buy a battery and a converter +a purifier ... But it is as costly as the microzotl2... The zotl by design is dead quiet ....I could add more subtles soundfield from the tubes too ... We will see...
What is the link with interconnect?
I will keep my Morrow interconnect .... upgrading cables is the last thing to do....When you have a good one in the ratio S.Q./price...
Although I’ve been involved in audio for decades, I never really went down the high end cable rabbit hole. That’s probably because when I built my biggest/best system, in the mid-80s, the uber-expensive cable market was just getting started. Then many years later, most of my audio gear that matters is jammed into a home office/desktop system that’s cramped and difficult to swap cables in/out of.
But recently I picked up a used pair of speaker cables (Virtue Audio Nirvana) and wired them in place of the inexpensive AQ cables I’ve used for 4-5 years. There were immediate and positive sonic changes, pretty easy to hear. Especially obvious was the greater depth, impact, and timbral nuance of the entire bass range. Big success.
Last week I finally picked up a use interconnect I’d read very positive things about, the Harmonic Technology Truth Link, a heavy, overbuilt RCA IC. Wired that in between DAC and tube headphone amp (Icon Audio HP8), and damned if that very good transformer-coupled amp suddenly sounded better. Another big success.
(I’m headfirst down the cable rabbit hole now...)
My experience has been that I can get various very inexpensive interconnects that all sound indistinguishable. Fortunately I subjectively find that sound to be good, and I enjoy the consistency, dependability and readily available supply. I’ve tried more expensive cables that struck me as possibly sounding different, but never in a way that evoked a clear preference.
For those who do perceive and prefer the unique sounds of certain cables, perhaps that can be seen as an unfortunate expense. Or, a fun and rewarding avenue for exploration.
I don’t see much review of cheaper cables. You’d think there’d actually be a lot more variation between inexpensive cables, resulting in a lot of very interesting perceptions to report on, with more expensive cables becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another on account of their approaching perfection.
I should point out that I have heard some degradation in signal quality from running single ended interconnects that were very long, and from attempting to use in-line attenuators between my DAC and pre-amp. Both of these introduced well understood and easily measurable problems. I am kind of curious to know if a 30 foot expensive single ended interconnect could sound noticeably better to me than a standard cheapy 30 footer. It seems if it is well shielded and low enough in any form of impedance, it should work.