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Blind cable testing: initial report

post #1 of 128
Thread Starter 
Moonboy helped me carry out a blind cable test today. We compared two configurations of cabling:
  • (1) Stock power cables on CDP and amp, Rat Shack interconnect
  • (2) Cardas power cables on CDP and amp (about $800) and Cardas interconnect ($700)

The reason we changed out three cables at once was that for these initial tests, we wanted to create the biggest change conceivable (from a cable-believer standpoint). If we ever have time, we'll do tests on individual cables. As things stand, the process is slow.

Due to the lengthy protocol we only had time for two trials. I stood a 50% chance of getting each right by guessing. I got both right, and in fact was quite sure of the differences I heard, which is a promising start---though in all truth, statistically insignificant.

I don't believe in using an ABX box or quick-switching. Instead, I had Moonboy hook up a cable configuration while I wasn't looking. The entire system was hidden behind a large sheet, with a small slit in it, out of which ran the headphone cable. I also reached in through the slit to operate the CD player. I was careful to keep my eyes down or closed as much as possible, just in case some visual hint was lurking.

Because we didn't have an ABX box, it was not practical to "switch at will" between cables. Instead, I decided that each trial would give me four chances to listen, two chances to each cable, and that the goal for me was to identify the ordering of the cable choices. There were two possible orderings: ABAB and ABBA. I was not required to guess the identity of A or B. That is, I didn't have to say "A was the $700 cable." All I had to do was distinguish these two possible orderings.

For each "sub-trial" (A or B), I left the room while Moonboy hooked it up. I waited for five minutes outside the room to give myself a little listening break. Then I came into the room and listened to several music tracks for 5 -10 minutes. I left the room and process repeated.

So here's how trial one went: I was quite sure the ordering was ABBA. To me, cable A was superior---more excitement, better microdynamics, more compelling and involving. After the trial was over, I said... "I guess ABBA." Moonboy said that was correct. I said, "Also I'm guessing A was the Cardas cable because I greatly preferred it."

Guess what?

"A" was the Rat Shack and stock power cord.

I was shocked. I listened again to it, this time sighted, and had to admit it sounded pretty damn good. Also, reflecting on my memory of "A" and "B", it seemed like "A" (Rat Shack) was significantly brighter. It might be that a simple difference of FR explained the greater excitement and involvement.

For trial two I chose different music. I also decided to be aware of an FR difference, but pay attention to more subtle things, with the possibility that differences beyond FR might stand out.

In trial two, the brightness difference was pretty obvious, although this time I preferred the subtlety of the less bright cable---it had more emotion, greater beauty in the vibrato of the singer, etc. I guessed ABAB and was right. This time I said, with trepidation... "I preferred B" hoping it wasn't the Rat Shack again (because my world view would change pretty radically). Turns out "B" was the Cardas.

Before we continue, we may need to consider the possibility of some relatively large FR difference between these cables. It is not clear whether they are quite different electrically, or whether it is those "magical cable properties" that make the brightness stand out.

In the meantime, here's what I've learned:

To the extent cables matter, it seems that one can get the most enjoyment when one understands the strength of that particular cable and focuses on those qualities. When I was truly blinded as to the identity of a cable, I had to "forge a relationship with it" with no preconception. I found that a number of qualities could come to my attention and be enjoyable, and those qualities weren't necessarily in the more expensive cable.

Also, the differences were definitely more subtle than the impression one typically gets from sighted A/B comparisons. This could be (1) cables don't matter as much as I think, or (2) cables matter quite a lot in the long-term because of the "relationship" one has with the better cable deepening over time.
post #2 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by mike1127 View Post
it seems that one can get the most enjoyment when one understands the strength of that particular cable and focuses on those qualities. When I was truly blinded as to the identity of a cable, I had to "forge a relationship with it" with no preconception. I found that a number of qualities could come to my attention and be enjoyable, and those qualities weren't necessarily in the more expensive cable.

So you mean it's all placebo. Thanks.
post #3 of 128
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LingLing1337 View Post
So you mean it's all placebo. Thanks.
I hope you put more thought into your daily life than you did into this post.
post #4 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by mike1127 View Post
I hope you put more thought into your daily life than you did into this post.
Thank you for your concern, I truly appreciate it.
post #5 of 128
Nice work! It reminds me of various comments people have made about how a lot of music and gear is made to sound brighter, so it's more attractive to listeners.
post #6 of 128
Thanks mike1127, 1 out of 2 ain’t bad.

It would have been nice to list all the associated equipment involved. For such an expensive cable the system would have to be very resolving. I wouldn’t spend $800 on an amp and pair it with a $700 interconnect.
post #7 of 128
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by johnwmclean View Post
Thanks mike1127, 1 out of 2 ain’t bad.
I was 2/2. What may be confusing in my write-up was that I discovered the Cardas cables did not have the properties I thought they would have, but I distinguished them from the Rat Shack 2/2. I didn't identify them 2/2, but my test protocol did not require me to identify them in order to prove I heard a difference.

I've done some extensive sighted listening since then and discovered that the Cardas Neutral Interconnect is really rolled off. That seems to be why I disliked it so much that I preferred the Rat Shack. Later I compared the relatively inexpensive Cardas Twinlink ($100) to the Rat Shack---they have similar tonal balance, so this will be a better test next time.

Meanwhile I'm trying to find someone who knows what the hell's up with this Cardas Neutral Reference being so rolled-off. Doesn't make sense to me.

Quote:
It would have been nice to list all the associated equipment involved. For such an expensive cable the system would have to be very resolving. I wouldn’t spend $800 on an amp and pair it with a $700 interconnect.
"would have been nice"? It's never too late, my friend!

Source: Naim CD5x with Flat Cap PS upgrade
Amp: DNA Sonett (a single-ended triode tube amp)
HP: AKG K601
post #8 of 128
Why did you choose the K601 over the K701 & DT880 for the listening test?
post #9 of 128
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Donald North View Post
Why did you choose the K601 over the K701 & DT880 for the listening test?
K701 not broken in yet (sounds thin compared to K601).
DT880 would be an interesting choice. I feel the K601 is higher resolution and provides better ambience retrieval. If the test were more focused on dynamics only (maybe a PC shootout?) I would probably choose the DT880.
post #10 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by LingLing1337 View Post
So you mean it's all placebo. Thanks.
reminds me of the FiiO amp guy


is that what you use as well?
post #11 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by mike1127 View Post
I was 2/2. What may be confusing in my write-up was that I discovered the Cardas cables did not have the properties I thought they would have, but I distinguished them from the Rat Shack 2/2. I didn't identify them 2/2, but my test protocol did not require me to identify them in order to prove I heard a difference.

I've done some extensive sighted listening since then and discovered that the Cardas Neutral Interconnect is really rolled off. That seems to be why I disliked it so much that I preferred the Rat Shack. Later I compared the relatively inexpensive Cardas Twinlink ($100) to the Rat Shack---they have similar tonal balance, so this will be a better test next time.

Meanwhile I'm trying to find someone who knows what the hell's up with this Cardas Neutral Reference being so rolled-off. Doesn't make sense to me.



"would have been nice"? It's never too late, my friend!

Source: Naim CD5x with Flat Cap PS upgrade
Amp: DNA Sonett (a single-ended triode tube amp)
HP: AKG K601
I stand corrected, thank you for the component listing
post #12 of 128
Lol, such test with so little trials and without and ABX switch gives us a clear piece of information. Your test is completely INVALID.

Since when an ABAB test only has two probabilities? ABAB, ABBA, AABB, BBAA, BABA, BAAB, ...
Then what is that thing about "not believing in switches"??? It does not make sense at all.... If you think an ABX switch can change the SQ of the cables, first, if it is the case it will do so for both cables in the same way, then there are some ABX boxes like this:

Google Traductor (Translated via google translator so expect some mistakes)

That do not change SQ at all...
post #13 of 128
Thank you very much for the report. I hope that you will have the possibility to go on.

Since you already know if your answers are right or wrong, you must have decided in advance the total number of trials. How much are you going to do ?

In case of success, it would be very interesting to measure the roll-off of the Cardas cable, or the treble boost of the standard one.
post #14 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bullseye View Post
Since when an ABAB test only has two probabilities?
Since Mike designed his protocol, here : http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f133/c...tocols-429868/

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bullseye View Post
Then what is that thing about "not believing in switches"??? It does not make sense at all....
That's just rigorous testing. When you test a hypothesis, you should not assume it to be true or false before running the test.
A switch is actually a bit of interconnect. Assuming it to be transparent is assuming that the hypothesis under test is true.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bullseye View Post
If you think an ABX switch can change the SQ of the cables, first, if it is the case it will do so for both cables in the same way
Since we must assume that interconnect cable behaviour is unknown, we can't assume it to be cumulative. The effects of shielding, for example, are not cumulative.
post #15 of 128
In general I find cable differences are more audible in speakerbased system; a difference in treble output has a clear inpact on the size of the soundstage.
If I go from the Kimber Silverstreak (bright) to my Audioquest Coral (treble roll off) the soundstage gets clearly smaller, loosing a meter on the sides (my dynaudio 122s have a soundstage that is very broad, in other sets things could be different).

There were some amateur blind tests done here in Holland a few years back, contrary to common 'scientific' thinking here differences were usually significant.

But those experiments mirror your findings, cable differences are subtle and there doesn't seem much of a progressive relation between cost and SQ; IMO chancing cables only makes sense if the set is good enough and the owner knows it well and want some subtle chances, like f.i. slightly more sparkle.
OTOH these small chances can chance a set from "acceptable" to "enjoyable", just don't expect miracles.
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