Fact: all cables have complex impedance, so do all loads, though orthos are very close to ideal loads.
Anytime you have a complex impedance transmission line feeding a complex impedance load, you effectively have a filter inline. This can alter frequency response, it can also create ringing, introduce a notch filter, or worst case, drive the source amp into oscillation (yes, I have seen high capacitance cables trigger oscillations in consumer amps).
I spent a LOT of time measuring and testing cables to use inside my speakers and came up with a few observations:
1) I could easily measure differences in cables.
2) Better cables were usually more capacitivie and lower inductance. I ended up really liking the Goertz cables, they were really the least "intrusive" in the signal because they were virtually a RC filter with a very high rolloff.
3) There was no correlation between price and performance. Many pricey cables tested like crap, and I learned to easily hear the ringing as "hash" or "grain" layering false-detail in the high frequencies.
4) Most of the cable manufacturers had utterly outrageous and unprovable claims about why their cable had some magic. Besides bottled water, I can't think of any worse-case of snakes-manship that I've seen. There were "magic" copper crystals that somehow (and through means totally unknown, undefined and unmeasurable) allowed more music to pass through, exotic windings of multiple gauges to ensure signals "arrived time coherently" (sorry, that was the worst case of silly marketing I've ever seen, and as I also am in marketing, that's saying something!)
The bottom line with cables is this: they absolutely and measurably do change the signal. HOW they change the sound is totally dependent on the load and can not be predicted (I'm talking speaker cables and headphone cables, etc. Line level is another topic because the loads usually are simpler to drive and less cable dependent in impedance interactions).
So I really do believe people hear a difference, but I also believe that it's going to be hard for many people to isolate "grain" from "extra detail," and further to dissociate themselves from bias due to price.
Just remember, price is NO indicator of performance, and for phones and speakers wires need to be auditioned in your individual systems....
At least that's my POV...
EDIT: said inductance can create oscillation, should have read capacitance. Don't drink and type.
Edited by mrspeakers - 7/10/11 at 12:03am