Yeah I can see what you're getting at. From my perspective I keep in mind if you end up spending $$$ for an aftermarket cable the opportunity cost; you could spend that $2-300+ on another headphone, source, amp, whatever. When you factor in that a cable is just conductors, solder, heatshrink/strain relief, and plug the value proposition is not so strong.
Of all the things I could accuse a cable of being, a good performance-to-cost ratio is not among them Though I can accuse any flagship headphone, dac, or amp of the same.
For me, cables are the absolute last priority, and I made the mistake of not realizing that when I started out. I bought my Cardas along with my HD650s and I should not have done so. I bought into the cable hype of what a difference it makes and was disappointed. My rig was not of sufficient capability to even resolve the difference in the cable. I think cables only matter once you have your "end game" setup for your source/amp, and you're committed to keeping a set of headphones. I can now appreciate the difference between the Cardas and stock cable on that setup. Many years later. And I have no intention of upgrading beyond Bifrost/Lyr/O2, and even were I to buy additional headphones I would not be ditching the ones I have. And that's where they're beneficial. Upgrading source and headphone will always be the better value and the bigger effect, I agree 100%. Once you're reached your stopping point there, minor tweaks like cables, once you learn the hype is all wrong, is worth the hype At least assuming the cable you have is of sufficiently low quality (meaning I don't know that cables do as much for, say HFM or Denon headphones as Senns and AKGs for example since the stock ones are much nicer, and you get them cheap by virtue of mass production.)
One other big factor in cables, and it's demonstrated very well by Moon (just mentioning them because I'm shopping for cables there at the moment.) As with most things, it's not the parts it's the labor you're paying for. Moon sells the bare wire, connectors, solder, etc. You could build your own identical cable to theirs for half the cost or less, and they'll even give you minor help in the process. But building cables by hand is a PITA that costs almost as much as the materials themselves (as our Chris here can no doubt attest.) If it were a bigger industry and this stuff were automated and machined, costs would be much less. BJC is the key example there. Essentially they're selling what the boutiques do, but they do it in such volume they've machined most of the assembly process and what a boutique charges $200 for, they're charging $40 or $50. But they make stuff in such bulk they actually have custom cables fabed and their name printed on the jacket. Also, it's not as pretty, but I love their interconnects.
Some of it is profit padding, but most of it is just paying for someone's time and for access to a product there's little demand for. On the other hand if super magic headphone cable were $50, I'd probably have a huge collection of every type....
Balanced on the other hand...the talk is all about keeping the return/ground separate to eliminate crosstalk. Makes sense, but if the cable is properly shielded on each conductor to begin with there should be no issue there. Any cable can run separate returns with 4 conductors, though cheap stock wire (AKG!!!) tends to use a shared one. The brief interconnecting of the signals in the amp/dac should be too minimal, and ultimately is more about topology than balancing (RCAs aren't balanced by design, but keep the signal separate through most of the path.) The brief encounters with potential crosstalk within the gear itself is so trivial. The entire purpose of balancing was to difference the loss at the other end of long cable runs. Unlike signal distorting analog cable issues, in short runs on properly designed equipment there should be no reason to have to difference the signal at the other end. If there is, you've got bigger problems with your gear It saddens me that Schiit, who's engineering skill I respect, has taken to balanced gear for their high-end. It's nice that the option exists, and I suspect their "top end" product will actually be for stereo, not just headphones, so I don't mind it there, but I hate the hype around it. It's funny that not even their marketing FAQ tries to spin it as superior, they just explain why their implementation of it is better than others. I still stand my ground on balanced: Useful for moderate runs, essential for long runs, pointless on short runs. The technology isn't useless, it's the application of it on 5ft cables that is