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Cables, the role of hype and the missing link.

post #1 of 284
Thread Starter 

Cable makers and many of their customers state they can hear a difference in their cables. They are correct as they can hear a difference in the cable. However, what causes that difference?

Here I argue it is not down to the cable itself, there is nothing inherent in a cable that changes sound.  What I will show by various examples is that cable makers are continually missing the link needed between how a cable is made and how that affects sound quality. Cable makers have failed to show a connection between their products and  not just sound quality but any audible difference at all.  

Instead I will show that it is the hype, (by both cable makers and many of their customers) about cables working to change sound quality that causes some people to hear a difference. Hype about cables is a better explanation for hearing differences.

Much of that hype is to suggest new knowledge and R&D that has resulted in evidence cables do affect sound quality. However, what follows is a series of  non sequiturs. Even the basic argument of ‘cables are different, I can hear a difference in sound, therefore cables cause the difference in sound’ is clearly potentially flawed. But that is what cable makers rely upon.

The ability to harness and transmit electricity and turn it into something useful is just about the biggest and most influential scientific step taken by mankind. The likes of Benjamin Franklin, Alessandro Volta and Thomas Faraday were conducting experiments and learning how to harness the power of electricity in the 18th and 19th centuries. Various laws of electricity have been known for a good length of time, such as Ohms Law published first in 1827 and have not found to be flawed.

The electric power that we need to power our hifis was first distributed to houses in NY in 1882, though before that individual wealthy people had their own power supplies.  Since then with the likes of the  current war between AC and DC, experience of and knowledge about the transmission of electricity down a cable has increased dramatically.  (2) But we are still using the original discoveries of the 19th century as the basic principles of transmitting electricity down a cable, such skin effect first noted in 1883. (3 )

It was in the 1970s that the idea that cables could be used to improve the  sound quality of hifis. QED cables were founded in 1973 and state by 1978 their speaker cable was considered a serious Hifi component.  ( 4) Now that idea is common place.  There are numerous companies making and marketing cables. A lot of study has gone into the construction of these cables.

What is clear in the following is that cable makers are still using the knowledge that was first being found back in the 19th century. There have been no new discoveries about cables and their inherent properties.  It is instead hype.

What is also clear is that they can show different cable construction means differences when it comes to transmitting a signal. But the science runs out when it comes to showing whether those differences are audible or not and how cables can affect sound quality.

In 2008 Russ Andrews claimed and then backed up that claim by measurements that they could show reduced RFI by they way they made their cable. But, they could not link reduced RFI to a better sound, they could only suggest it. As such in 2011 they had to stop advertising their cables as improving sound quality by reducing RFI until they had more ‘robust substantiation’ (5)

Tara Labs have a paper on Constant Current Impedance Testing (CCZT) which shows that there is a measurable difference in differently made cables frequency response. They are not alone there, as such has been shown with various studies.  (6) There are measurable differences between cables. Tara Labs say that such differences ‘highlight’ the reason why cable sound different. They say the measurements correlate with what ‘we can hear’. and they can ‘reliably correlate the listening experience to the test bench experience’. But there is no evidence presented to back up how they directly link a difference in the cable to a difference in the sound, beyond they can hear it.  They introduce the part of the paper correlating the cable with what they hear simply as ‘the sound…‘.

In 1995 QED published their ‘Genesis Report’ on loudspeaker cable. (7)They comment on the mysticism and pseudo-science around claims about cables. As with Tara Labs, there is a lot of evidence presented to show how a cable can measure differently. Again , that is little doubt. However, there is the issue of linking construction to sound quality.

They put forward an argument that applies to many cables, not just their own that accurate and consistent sounding speaker cables will have low capacitance, inductance, resistance and dielectric losses. They state that certain factors are unlikely to be audible such as skin effect. They also say that blind testing has shown that listeners are unable to discriminate cable directionality. The actual test is not shown and they do not apply blind testing to anything else in their paper.  Why use blind listening in one part only, why not use it for all of the claims made by QED?

Chord Cables claim lots of links between cheap cables which come free and ‘destroy‘ the information conveyed by music and their own which allow you to ‘really hear and enjoy your music‘, but as for evidence, none. (8)

ALO cables are superior because they are ‘built by hand’ and they ‘use only the finest materials available’. That is hype about build quality which is then contradicted when they acknowledge the Jena Labs cables copper discolours over time, but that does not affect sound. Yet later they state copper oxide is detrimental to sound. (9)  So which one is it? They do not evidence any link to sound quality.

Cardas provide a history of the development of cables from the earliest telegraph systems.  By the 1970s, like QED, Cardas state cables were seen as a part of the Hifi chain and along with that came ‘the scream of nay sayers’ who had  managed to ‘lose the lesson of our ancestors’.  By 2000 the ‘overall depth of knowledge is now at a new level’.  That is not the case. I have shown what they are speaking of has been known about for decades or longer. Cardas say that the most important issue is conductor/dielectric transition time differential. But no evidence of how that works or how audible it is, is put forward.(10) Their use of the ‘Golden Ratio’ in cable design is not linked to any claims about audibility.  Their use of ‘ultra pure and homogeneous metals’ are supposedly proven to produce the best sound. But no proof is shown. (11) Instead it is hype about build quality. Overall there is a large section on Cardas’ insights into cables, but none contain evidence on how they make their cable is linked to better sound. (12)

Blue Jeans Cables have again gone down the route of showing how there are differences caused to a signal in the way a cable is made. (13)  But, again they cannot link that to audibility and only say
“It's fair to say that people differ greatly in their ability to tell the difference between cables or components.” Yes, that is fair, but it is also suggesting the link without evidencing it. (14)

Instead of evidence to show the link we get hype that build quality and differences in cables cause improvements in sound.

Something else lacking in all of the cable company’s claims is peer reviews. If you are going to present white papers, Genesis reports or even insights, a second opinion would be nice.

So, if cable companies cannot show what it is inherent in cables to improves sound quality, then what does?

For examples of  how there are listener influences on cable sound quality check out this and many other Hifi forums and Hifi magazine reviews.  There you will find many reports that one cable sounds better than another.  That just adds to the original hype by the cable makers.  All of it is hype. You can also call it placebo, buyer justification and expectation.  It better explains why people do hear differences. That those reports of differences are inconsistent and contradictory and are often down to flavour of the month is further evidence they are subjective, they are present only in the listener.  


One company who has studied the link between claims about sound and audibility is Harman International who own various speaker brands and AKG. They do not do cables, but since no cable company does similar testing, or will publish their listening test results, we need to look elsewhere. Instead with speakers what they have shown is that blind and sighted tests yield different results. With blind testing the differences are smaller than when you can see what you are listening to. (13)

What Hifi have conducted some blind listening tests where differences have been described between cables. The level and type of difference varies with the person taking part. That suggests the differences are to do with the listener than the cable.  (No reference is available as such tests are only published in their magazines).

Then with ABX testing of cables there is no identifiable difference. The evidence for that is here on Head-Fi in a list of  ABX tests. (14) There is yet to be a positive ABX cable listening test.

All of the above takes the influence over sound away from the construction of the cable and onto the listener. If the listener knows what they are listening to and they know about the claims of the cable maker and other hype chances are they can hear a difference. If the listener does not know what cable they are listening to in a blind test, those differences are reduced as some of their own influences on listening have been removed. If the listener is then the subject of an ABX test, there is no difference any more as all of their influences have been removed.

It is now up to the individual to decide what to do about that. You can chose, contrary to the evidence that cables inherently do cause sound quality differences and you will likely hear them in your own mind, so giving you pleasure. Or you can decide that the cable itself makes no difference and gain pleasure out of your Hifi as it is as you lose the worries you are not getting the best sound since you don’t have ‘audiophile cables’.

I have listened to Hifi’s with expensive audiophile cables, bought a few relatively expensive audiophile cables and at different times heard and not heard a difference between them. I have made my own cables, I have blind tested and in my own experience the above holds true. I also secretly hope that a cable company can one day find the missing link, the quality in a cable that makes it inherently and provably sound different to other cables. But at the moment there is none and I doubt that there ever will be.

 

EDIT - Further evidence of the lack of a link is here in a paper submitted for an electrical engineering degree at MIT http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/46225/41567257.pdf

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_engineering
(3 ) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin_effect
(4) http://www.qed.co.uk/2/about.htm
(5)http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2011/1/Russ-Andrews-Accessories-Ltd/TF_ADJ_49597.aspx
(6) http://www.taralabs.com/images/stories/whitepapers/Constant-Current-Impedance-Testing.pdf
(7)http://www.qed.co.uk/genreprt.PDF
(8)http://www.chord.co.uk/news2.php?id=3
(9)http://aloaudio.com/cable-faq.html
(10)http://www.cardas.com/content.php?area=insights&content_id=54&pagestring=History+of+Audio+Cable
(11)http://www.cardas.com/content.php?area=insights&content_id=5&pagestring=Why+Cardas?
(12)http://www.cardas.com/content.php?area=insights
(13)http://www.bluejeanscable.com/articles/whatwiredoes.htm
(14)http://www.bluejeanscable.com/articles/doeswirematter.htm
(15)http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/04/dishonesty-of-sighted-audio-product.html
(16)http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/486598/testing-audiophile-claims-and-myths/855#post_7502372



 


Edited by Prog Rock Man - 6/14/11 at 3:09am
post #2 of 284

Hey, weren't you banned for awhile...?  What happened there?

Anyway, interesting article you wrote there.  It would be nice to see more blind tests out there...I'm shocked there are as few as there are.  If I had the right equipment, I'd do it in a heartbeat.  Maybe it's just me, but if I ever bought, or obtained an "audiophile" cable the first thing I'd do is blind test it.

 

Also, I'm looking forward to the day when superconducting cables become widespread in audiophilia. :P

post #3 of 284
Thread Starter 

Why would you want to blind test it? You could buy into it and get better sound out of your system instead. It suits my personal views and my budget not to believe the hype and to question the reasoning as presented by cable companies and their customers, but that does not mean it suits everyone.

post #4 of 284

Good point regarding hype, but I think the existence of diy cables that are lacking in commercial hype undermine this idea slightly. Over all I think you're on the right track. It's seems more like the relation that people have towards the object, along with an expectation bias of change steers people towards a change in perception. Hype can certainly be a part of how people relate to an object; however, so can things like: investing time and effort in construction, a feeling of security in spending $X,XXX on something, the aesthetics of the item, influence of group consensus, even the logical idea that things shouldn't sound different could alter perception.

 

An ABX test changes the relationship that people have with the cable. It doesn't just mask hype it also masks a whole bunch of other information as well.

The original relation to the cable has been changed, and this is where the difference lies. Hype is part of the story but it there is allot of bias that can be packed into the space between a subject and object.

 


Edited by JadeEast - 5/31/11 at 10:44am
post #5 of 284
Thread Starter 

I picked on hype as a generalisation to cover all the reasons why cables sound different that are within the listener. It is the hype that causes such, even with 'DIY' cables. For example Silver High Breed was a DIYer who decided he could make enough cables to sell and from there SHB became flavour of the month on What Hifi so that the prices and hype rocketed. I was a part of that, until I heard the cable alnog with others and for the first time had a choice of ICs to compare.

 

Where there is little hype is with pro-audio cables where prices remain reasonable and you get good quality cables, often better than audiophile as they have to cope with a much tougher environment.

 

I like your comment "The original relation to the cable has been changed, and this is where the difference lies".

post #6 of 284
Check the various studies of wine. Generally speaking, people "prefer" wine that is supposedly more expensive, whether or not it is actually a more expensive wine. People conflate price with value.

Cables are status symbols. That's about all there is to it.

The more expensive, the better they "sound."

Until, of course, you ask people to differentiate unsighted cables. Then no one can tell the difference.

Sure, you can make complicated arguments about science "not knowing everything" and the inadequacy of unsighted tests.

But the bottom line is that no one can "hear" a difference unless they know what they're listening to.
Edited by Uncle Erik - 5/31/11 at 11:44pm
post #7 of 284
Thread Starter 

This thread is also very quiet compared to others on the same subject. Various people moan about a supposed lack of information, studies, evidence and how we don't know what is going on and may never know. Bull****. That is just to protect the hype about cables, by ignoring the evidence. Start to present evidence and many stay away to try and preserve their beliefs.

post #8 of 284

It would be interesting to do a few polls both in the sound science and cables forum to see how the responses differ.  Or maybe not, it'd probably be pretty predictable...

 

It would probably be more interesting to do the same polls in various different forums and all over the web.

post #9 of 284

People need to do research on their own and come to their own thoughts. How do cars never get the gas millage they post on the window? The last thing we need is window stickers on our cables. You are pretty sure you are never ever going to get the millage on the window. Go down about 5 miles per gallon and your there.You never get the truth until the car gets driven for a while then the true gas millage is known.

 

Some things will never be tested. Drink makers know a generalization of what taste people enjoy. They use their data to make soft drinks. The human taste is another perception just like hearing. They do market testing which is implementing the taste perception to define the final product. If there was a machine or a formula to it, it would be easy. At the end they do what shop owners did 1000 years ago by placing a drink in front of some one and asking "What do you think?". This is a perfect way to run cable tests.

 

If cable metal did not make a difference they could use maybe a mixture of 99% aluminum and 1% copper to make a cable. Electricity flows though different metals in a different way. If it did not make a difference you could hook up a wire as thin as a human hair and power your amp or speakers. We know the electricity would blow the wire like a fuse. If it didn't matter all fuses would be the same size but they are not.

 

The fact that folks do not seem to realize is that the human testing machine is 1000,000 times more sensitive than any machine. Sure we can be fooled by fancy packaging and placebo. At the end of the day some systems respond to cables and some do not. Some folks can hear a difference and some can not. End of story.


Edited by Redcarmoose - 6/1/11 at 3:51am
post #10 of 284
Thread Starter 

My last poll on what to say to a newbie who cannot hear a difference with their new aftermarket cable was removed. It was, at the time the thread was removed very much a win for the response, 'cables make no difference, your ears are fine'. And that was in the cables section of the forum. The guy was genuinely worried that there was something wrong with him because he could not hear a difference that other make out to be clear. Yet, his ears were the most accurate of all, as he correctly identified that cables in themselves do not sound different. He was new and he had clearly not been totally influenced by the hype. But others were determined to make sure he did become influenced.

post #11 of 284
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Redcarmoose View Post

People need to do research on there own and come to their own thoughts. How do cars never get the gas millage they post on the window? The last thing we need is window stickers on our cables. You are pretty sure you are never ever going to get the millage on the window. Go down about 5 miles per gallon and your there.You never get the truth until the car gets driven for a while then the true gas millage is known.

 

Some things will never be tested. Drink makers know a generalization of what taste people enjoy. They use their data to make soft drinks. The human taste is another perception just like hearing. They do market testing which is implementing the taste perception to define the final product. If there was a machine or a formula to it, it would be easy. At the end they do what shop owners did 1000 years ago by placing a drink in front of some one and asking "What do you think?". This is a perfect way to run cable tests.

 

If cable metal did not make a difference they could use maybe a mixture of 99% aluminum and 1% copper to make a cable. Electricity flows though different metals in a different way. If it did not make a difference you could hook up a wire as thin as a human hair and power your amp or speakers. We know the electricity would blow the wire like a fuse. If it didn't matter all fuses would be the same size but they are not.

 

The fact that folks do not seem to realize is that the human testing machine is 1000,000 times more sensitive than any machine. Sure we can be fooled by fancy packaging and placebo. At the end of the day some systems respond to cables and some do not. Some folks can hear a difference and some can not. End of story.


I have always been more interested in why some can hear a difference and others cannot. So it is not the end of story for me. I agree people need to do their own research, but it suits many not to as they do not want to face a challenge to their beliefs.

 

Your analogy with cars and drinks does not work for me as there are measurable differences between them that people can readily identify. Hence the difference is in the car or the drink, not the consumer.

 

I would love someone to present an evidenced response to the first post.

 

post #12 of 284

There is a great company out there call MTS. They found that there are four different types of thought in people. Each set thinks a different way. Each one of us is a combo of a part of these four types. My way of thinking is people also have perception differences. This is natures way to make sure we survive. That we all do not fight over the same female and nature goes on to reproduce. In the mental thinking world each form of human will proceed and solve a problem in a different way. This allows for better success as a life form.

 

We in a work place used this type of relationship skill to communicate with our coworkers of a different type. The perception of one form of communication can come off as abrupt and to another be non decisive. The same may hold true for the perception of sound and color. I do know that each human sees and hears life in a very different way.

 

This all goes back to the early 60s when they put tone knobs on stuff and sold a boat load.


Edited by Redcarmoose - 6/1/11 at 4:13am
post #13 of 284

Dominate/ Direct         CEOs of companies. They talk direct and only care about the end results.

Ego                            Movie Stars, Salesman, Rock Stars. They like to talk and get attention.

Structured                  They make good accountants. All their socks are in order!

Paced                        For these types the time and schedule make all the difference.

 

 

 

 

You can see that a combo group of each type of profile in a mix of people would make the group stronger than a single member!


Edited by Redcarmoose - 6/1/11 at 4:25am
post #14 of 284
Thread Starter 

Atlas cables have a technical paper which includes the claim that their Asimi cable probably transmits a signal along its conductors faster than any other cable used in the audio world. I would love them to continue to explain how differences between cables and the velocity of the signal in relation to the speed of light affects sound quality. But, sadly they do not. What they do do is make a partial admission that cable construction has nothing to do with the sound as 'ultimately the listener will make his or her own judgement on the success Atlas Cables ahve achieved with the Asimi interconnect cables'.

 

http://www.atlascables.com/assets/files/pdfs-technical/Asimi-Tech-White_Paper.pdf


Edited by Prog Rock Man - 6/1/11 at 6:11am
post #15 of 284

One problem I have with the "make your own judgement thing."  Locus Design sells a $3500 3 foot USB cable.  Their "trial policy," however, states that there will be a 20% "restocking fee" and you have to pay for all shipping charges.  That would bring the total price of the "trial" to over $700.


Take what you will from that, but I think it's a scam given the rather ridiculous amount of money the cable costs to even just try out.  Not to mention that some of the parts of the description for the cable are dubious at best...some of the materials they used for "insulation and damping" are as follows: carbon fiber, cotton, SPC braid, ERS fabric, teflon, nylon, and "many more."  It says that these layers "damp the conductors themselves, and prevent micro vibrations inside the cable from affecting the signal," then goes on to say, "These layers are one of the reasons that the cable takes a while to "settle" back in after it has been moved, or unplugged."

 

And yet, not a shred of evidence or any data is there to back any of this up, nor any explanation given as to why they used such extravagant materials.  Clearly, this is exactly what you mentioned in your thread - hype.  Show people that you put a lot of different materials into it, and a lot of work, and it must be good, right?  If you hype someone up to the point they'd actually spend that much money, they'll feel that there will definitely be a difference - so to them there will be a difference.

 

Anyway, this is the page all of this info came from right here, read it for yourself:

http://www.locus-design.com/index.php/cynosure-usb-cable

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