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The ultimate DIY recable!

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

Dear All,

 

After gathering a lot of information on this forum about headphone amps and headphones this is my first post. I would like to share with you some interesting findings as a thank you to all the things I have learned on this forum.  

 

So here it goes:

 

There is a lot of debate on this forum about whether or not a headphone cable (or any other audio cable)  can improve the sound.

I have been researching the phenomenon of audio cable sound since 20 years and have discovered which parameters make a good cable to my ears.

All cables I build are my own design and made of solid core silver wire with cotton isolation and these will outperform any commercial available so called “high end” cable on the market.

I understand why a lot of people argue that there is no sound improvement in using a “better” headphone cable. This is mainly because (apart from not believing in the phenomenon) a lot of the commercially available after market cables are really not (or marginally) better than the standard cables on your headphone; the so called “snake  oil” hyped cables.

There is however a simple way to build extremely good performing audio cables with minimal cost (especially compared to commercially available designs). If you are interested and not afraid to experiment please read on, otherwise stick to your stock cable and don’t complain anymore…………

 

So what are the important design goals for a sound conducting cable?

 

1) Silver wire over copper wire.  Reason: not so much the higher conductivity but more important the lower resonance because it is a softer metal (use a heat treatment in your own oven, or cryo if you have money to spend, this  does help a lot). The + and - wire that are next to each other in a headphone cable do attract and repel each other when an electric signal (AC) is being applied to the wires. This causes resonance also called “wire cry” that influences the electromagnetic field and impairs sound quality.

 

2) Solid core over stranded. Reason: the conductive path in stranded wire does jump from one strand to another, thereby crossing a more or less oxidized surface of the strand.  Copper oxide is a semi-conductor and has a memory effect. This does degrade the sound. There is however an optimal wire diameter due to the “skin effect”; if you need a bigger wire diameter just use several single coated wires in parallel.

 

3) Isolation with the best possible dielectric value. A well known cable isolation material is PTFE or Teflon which has the best dielectric value of all plastics as far as I know.  But there is a more simple and cheaper alternative that has a dielectric value that is twice as good as PTFE and that is plain Cotton! Just buy cotton cord (the one used in hoodies) where you can pull out the center piece, slide it over your conductor and you are ready.

 

4)No braided mass or -  conductor around your signal carrying conductor. Best way is to twist the + and -  wires together.

 

To understand sound transport in cables you must know that the “sound” travels not exactly through the conductor but also in the electromagnetic field around the conductor.  Let me explain: An electric AC signal generates an electromagnetic field around itself that travels through the isolator of the cable. This electromagnetic field will be altered (damped) by the material it must travel through. If this field is influenced than it will also influence the electrons travelling through the conductor; thus changing the signal. This is the exact reason why the isolator is more important than the conductor. This is also the reason why braided isolated cables are no good to audio.

 

Please use this information as you wish and report your results in this thread for us to learn.

 

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Kind regards,


Edited by Supersurfer - 9/28/11 at 11:47am
post #2 of 27

Somebody told me an interesting thing the other day - that cotton actually is NOT a better dielectric than teflon unless it's under ideal conditions, keep in mind cotton is affected by humidity, cotton sleeving is very different than pure cotton pads or balls, the way different sleeves contact the wire, etc.  Putting your wire in raw fibrous cotton is not the same as putting it in a woven cotton sleeve.  

 

See:  http://www.swicofil.com/products/001cotton.html

 

Cotton is actually a much, much worse dielectric usually than even PVC or silicone.  People may like putting silver into cotton, because it seems natural and holistic, vs. some un-natural plastic.  

 

Disclaimer - dielectric constant and sound quality are not the same thing.  This is simply to inform everyone that cotton does not in real-life situations, have a dielectric constant lower than Teflon.  

post #3 of 27

Supersurfer: If you've found all this out for yourself with little spoiler digging I'm impressed. I pieced it together and then experimented myself. And yes Scooter; cotton is the most ideal di-electric, right behind air, and behind cotton is teflon, but it's somewhat 20-30% less ideal than cotton. However, cotton has it's own flaws and sometimes the best results can be from comibining cotton dielectric and shielding + a good geometry + quality metals. And if you look at the crystal piccolino design -the ultimate no cost design cable- that's a whole new beast, albeit so expensive and marketed that it's "not worth it's weight" in gold.

 

Supersurfer; I've found all this and more to be true, however - there's hardly anyone around here who debates the benefits of analog cable upgrades, (speaker/headphone/line-level) geometries or designs, accept the noobs. The cable that's hotly debated is digital signal cable or line level cable, such as usb or fiber optic..

 

But even though fiber optic is a digital signal it's still traveling through an analog line. (cheaper fiber plastics and alloys often have imperfection). As such quartz / Glass are the best fiber cables. Usb is a little trickier, but many here (including myself) have found small to large differences between usb cable.

 

Edit; Btw, Welcome to Head-fi!

 


Edited by Hennyo - 9/21/11 at 2:07pm
post #4 of 27

In counterpoint to that, cotton is very resistant to picking up a static charge since it's at the center of the triboelectric series, and it's also a great dampening material, so in all it's a great material to put into any cable, for whatever reason.  The dielectric constant of the insulator of the wire isn't the only important thing, with other layers, the signal is extending into them too.

post #5 of 27
Thread Starter 

Don't forget that a woven cotton sleeve has a lot of air into it; this increases the dielectric value of the cotton isolation.

And I entierly agree with your statement that sound quality is not directly (and only) related to dielectric value.

 

 

I have been using the same cable designs for digital (SP-dif) and with very good results. This winter I want to experiment with a separate DAC coupled to the drive via I2S and an USB interface for the computer; will also listen to different cabling on these interfaces.

 

Optical interfaces do not have my preference because of the detrimental effect of changing electrical data into light and vice versa at the input side.

post #6 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hennyo View Post

Supersurfer; I've found all this and more to be true, however - there's hardly anyone around here who debates the benefits of analog cable upgrades, (speaker/headphone/line-level) geometries or designs, accept the noobs.


No, quite a few experienced members who have spent years in the hobby don't buy into analog cables. Further, several tests have been run here. No difference was found. Please see Nick Charles' experiments for more information.

You'll also see disregard for magic cables among those who actually build and design gear. Noobs? Hardly. It's the noobs who can't tell the difference between a resisor and a capacitor who are most likely to buy into the mythology and oral tradition of cables.

If the dielectric is so critical, then how about some measurements of each? Show where they differ and then show how that difference relates to actually changing the signal. If the signal itself doesn't change, then it might be better to look at human psychology instead of claiming that physics is wrong.

Further, air is a highly variable dielectric. Moisture content (and water is a conductor) changes constantly. It cannot be precise without strict humidity and temperature control. If wires are that sensitive to the dielectric, using air would mean that the cable would change its sound properties depending on the weather. Though I'm sure there is a lame excuse as to why something doesn't change when it actually does change and the measurement of that change doesn't matter because it sounds the same even when it is different.

Also, cryo isn't some some super-expensive process. You dunk something into liquid nitrogen. It's cheap. I can get handplane blades cryo'ed for $4. Cryo actually helps with physical durability and edge-holding; last I checked durability and edge-holding aren't important to passing an electrical signal. The only reason cryo appears expensive is because certain people have realized they can jump the price by a few hundred percent for a few dollars of treatment. They know that their typical buyer will guzzle marketing buzzwords before actually checking to see how much something costs.

Finally, what does accepting noobs have to do with any of this?
post #7 of 27
Quote:

Originally Posted by Supersurfer View Post

 

I understand why a lot of people argue that there is no sound improvement in using a “better” headphone cable. This is mainly because (apart from not believing in the phenomenon) a lot of the commercially available after market cables are really not (or marginally) better than the standard cables on your headphone; the so called “snake  oil” hyped cables.

 

I hate to say it, but you follow this up with quite a lot of "snake oil."

 

Quote:
1) Silver wire over copper wire.  Reason: not so much the higher conductivity but more important the lower resonance because it is a softer metal (use a heat treatment in your own oven, or cryo if you have money to spend, this  does help a lot). The + and - wire that are next to each other in a headphone cable do attract and repel each other when an electric signal (AC) is being applied to the wires. This causes resonance also called “wire cry” that influences the electromagnetic field and impairs sound quality.

 

While I've heard my share of capacitors "cry," in all my 30 years I've never heard a cable "cry." Maybe you could pull it off with with some large flat ribbons delivering very high levels to some terribly inefficient loudspeakers, but beyond that I don't see it happening nor have I seen any evidence of it happening, even though it would be rather trivially easy to demonstrate it.

 

Quote:

2) Solid core over stranded. Reason: the conductive path in stranded wire does jump from one strand to another, thereby crossing a more or less oxidized surface of the strand.  Copper oxide is a semi-conductor and has a memory effect. This does degrade the sound. There is however an optimal wire diameter due to the “skin effect”; if you need a bigger wire diameter just use several single coated wires in parallel.

 

Oh dear. The old "strand jumping" Bogey Man.

 

Without any signal present, the electrons in your wires are bouncing around randomly in all directions due to the thermal energy in the wire (i.e. the thermal energy in the wire causes the crystal lattice to vibrate, like so many pimps slapping around their ho's). In other words, without any signal present, there are billions of electrons moving from one strand to another. With a signal present, the electrons will take on a net drift in a given direction depending on the direction of current flow in the wire. The drift velocity is literally at a snail's pace. So the increase in "strand jumping" due to the signal will be very small compared to the strand jumping already going on. Which means that whatever the effects there may be of strand jumping due to the signal will be buried far below the thermal noise of the wire itself.

 

Quote:
3) Isolation with the best possible dielectric value. A well known cable isolation material is PTFE or Teflon which has the best dielectric value of all plastics as far as I know.  But there is a more simple and cheaper alternative that has a dielectric value that is twice as good as PTFE and that is plain Cotton! Just buy cotton cord (the one used in hoodies) where you can pull out the center piece, slide it over your conductor and you are ready.

 

I'm afraid that the dielectric constant figures for cotton that have been circulating in audio circles for some years now are highly misleading. They're taken from a large table of dielectric constants of unknown origin that you can find on numerous websites. The figures given are between 1.3 and 1.4 which is indeed a very impressive figure compared to Teflon's 2.0.

 

What the table doesn't tell you however is that those figures are for cotton in its raw fiber form, NOT its textile form. The figures are for cotton sliver, which is the cotton that comes out of the carding or combing machine. It has a very low packing density, which means lots of air which is why the dielectric constant is so low. Here is an image of cotton sliver. As far as density goes, think cotton balls. 

 

Cotton_sliver.jpg

 

So unless you're loosely wrapping something like this around your wires, you're not going to get anything like those 1.3 to 1.4 figures that are bandied about.

 

Here's a graph of dielectric constant versus packing density:

 

cottondielectricconstant.jpg

 

It goes up to a packing density of 10.6%, which was the natural packing density of the cotton sliver used for these measurements (Dielectric Properties of Various Cotton Varieties, Lyons et al., Textile Research Journal 1973 43:110).

 

When spun into thread, the packing density of the cotton goes WAY up. And as you can see in the graph, it goes up exponentially with packing density. So for cotton in its textile form, such as braided sleeving, the dielectric constant is significantly higher than 1.3 to 1.4. And of course it's also affected by moisture content. The top set of curves is for a relative humidity of 63% and the lower curves of 34%. And the effect of water also goes up exponentially with packing density as the dipoles in the water are closer together.

 

Anyway, if you like the sound of your cables, great. That's ultimately all that matters. But I would recommend that you stick to how they sound to you and not try and "explain" it with "snake oil."

 

se

post #8 of 27

Well, I know moon audios cables are virtually crystalline boundary free and he uses sliver cotton around all his wires.... "crappy copper" has more crystalline boundaries, so that's the end of that. A higher purity copper along with OCC allow for far fewer cyrstalline 'lines' or 'shards...

 

So everything Supersurfer's written seems about right to me.. I've also heard a large variety of Headphone manufacturers cables on the market, which I'm guessing helps reaffirm these theories when A/B'd.. (I need to hear the Q and DoH cables someday though..) Although the designs are very different...

 

 

The Q design is what interests me most, it's intriguingly simple, Yet more complex in it's Litz X2 than other wires... My theory is that this would sound better than a solid core of the same gauge / treated metal. Probably just does a bit 'more with less,' although I'm still very finicky as to the design. It is different. I can't generate through theory how it would sound... It would be nice to hear.

post #9 of 27
..are the MOTs allowed to debate the benefits and detriments of their cable design? rolleyes.gif Anyway, the page title is misleading. It says the ultimate DIY recable and I come here to find people debating the merits of insulation, wire material and cryo. And the only pictures I see are seven posts down D:

On an unrelated note, welcome to head-fi, OP, and while I encourage the DIY spirit, I'd have you know that your time might be better spent researching headphones, sources and perhaps amp circuitry if that rocks your boat (:
post #10 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nightslayer View Post

..are the MOTs allowed to debate the benefits and detriments of their cable design? rolleyes.gif


I'd like to think MOTs aren't prohibited from discussing such general things as objective technical issues, and I don't see any prohibition of such in the rules for Members of the Trade.

 

se

 

post #11 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hennyo View Post

"crappy copper" has more crystalline boundaries, so that's the end of that. A higher purity copper along with OCC allow for far fewer cyrstalline 'lines' or 'shards...

 


And the practical result of that is... what exactly? At best all I've seen is a miniscule difference in the wire's resistance, all else being equal. Meaning there would be absolutely no difference between some "crappy copper" and a miniscule amount less of OCC copper. In a typical cable, the difference in resistance would be rather swamped by the contact resistance of the headphone plug.

 

While different people will inevitably prefer different types of wires, I think if anyone's going to make any technical claims as to WHY a given type of wire sounds better, they should be substantiated with something meaningful.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1fKzw05Q5A

 

se

 

 


Edited by Steve Eddy - 9/23/11 at 10:07pm
post #12 of 27

Sigh.....

 

Peete.

post #13 of 27
Thread Starter 

@ Steve Eddy: I tend to fall into the trap of trying to analyse why the cable design sounds good. I notice you are of the same kind..........................

 

I only want so share with the community a very good sounding cable design that everyone can build with very little investment (silver wire is only a few Euro/Dollars a meter maximum). And I do not feel the need to defend my choice anymore to anyone in this thread; build it and than write about it, otherwise keep silent.

 

@ nightslayer: I have done everything from designing loudspeakers, amps (mostly tube), CD players, cables, resistors and capacitors to mention some. Building a good cable is equally rewarding sonically as building a super tube amp so and I can recommend it to anyone.

 

 

I have put some photos in the opening post.

 

Regards,


Edited by Supersurfer - 9/28/11 at 11:44am
post #14 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Supersurfer View Post

@ Steve Eddy: I tend to fall into the trap of trying to analyse why the cable design sounds good. I notice you are of the same kind..........................

 


But I don't analyze why a particular cable design sounds good. In order to do that in any sort of meaningful fashion, I'd first have to establish that the cables made an actual audible difference in the first place. And I really don't have any particular interest in doing that because at the end of the day, I really don't care. All I'm after is the subjective experience, whatever the reasons for it may or may not be.

 

se

 

 

post #15 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Eddy View Post

But I don't analyze why a particular cable design sounds good. In order to do that in any sort of meaningful fashion, I'd first have to establish that the cables made an actual audible difference in the first place. And I really don't have any particular interest in doing that because at the end of the day, I really don't care. All I'm after is the subjective experience, whatever the reasons for it may or may not be.

 

se

 

So you're a cable seller that believes cables don't make an audible difference? (Vegeta voice) "How bizzarre."

 

So you make the Q just for cosmetic / Aesthetic purposes from the LCD-2 stock cable?... Is this right to assume?.. There's no audible difference in sound?

 

 

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