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Would cables actually make my headphones sound better/different?

post #1 of 86
Thread Starter 

I'm still at a loss for words trying to understand how cables of all things would make a difference in sound for a headphone. The impedance of a cable is usually negligible right?
Yet there's tons of people who say that a cable upgrade for the hd650 is imperative. Or at least recommended. It was even recommended by that guy who did battle of the flagships!

Any science on how this works?


Edited by wafflezz - 8/13/13 at 7:53pm
post #2 of 86
Quote:
Originally Posted by wafflezz View Post

I'm still at a loss for words trying to understand how cables of all things would make a difference in sound for a headphone. The impedance of a cable is usually negligible right?

Yet there's tons of people who say that a cable upgrade for the hd650 is imperative. Or at least recommended. It was even recommended by that guy who did battle of the flagships!


Any science on how this works?
Nope.
post #3 of 86
Thread Starter 

That was an um...articulate response

hehe straight to the point huh?
 

post #4 of 86

you can find lots more words with search

 

the outline of the argument that cables to headphones likely don't matter audibly runs from electrical properties of cables, amps, headphones over audio frequency to comparisons with Blind ABX thresholds for hearing small amplitude/phase changes with frequency

 

try cable, LCR, ABX, threshold, EMI, wire, conductivity, microphonics, skin effect, psychoacoustics

 

 

I put a fair amount of tech content in my posts so if returns from keyword search are too big you could narrow to search by user: jcx

 

and likely I posted to threads with other worthwhile technical content contributors participating so scroll some too

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jcx View Post

few people actually say that no cable material/construction whatsoever never makes a difference with any signal, equipment

 

people who have the engineering background and experience in precision measurements will say that cables can have effects - and conventional LCR, and coupling/shielding effectiveness numbers combined with signal, source and receiver circuit details can "explain" differences - "transfer impedance" describes shielding effectiveness against EMI - in high impedance, DC measurements triboelelctric and "induced piezeo-electric" effect with high polarizing V "microphonics" are also known

 

in audio, at consumer line levels the biggest difference in SE cables like RCA/coax is the resistance and coverage factor of the shield - use better grade video cable with heavy shield and not much more can be done

 

for speaker cable LCR, skin effect can give measurable differences - but at or below most accepted psychoacoustic estimates of JND frequency response thresholds

 

https://passlabs.com/articles/speaker-cables-science-or-snake-oil

 

 

 

Quote:

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jcx View Post

a old JAES paper gives the following just detectable difference thresholds - as you can see it is a function of how big and how wide both, as a function of frequency too

 

http://home.provide.net/~djcarlst/abx_crit.htm

 

 

abx_crit.gif

 

 

 

and:

"shielding for headphone output cables isn't usually necessary - it does depend on amplifier EMI rejection quality - EMI intercepted by headphone cables as antenna won't create audible sound in the drivers by themselves

 

since cable stiffness, mechanical microphonics from heavy, stiff cable dragging on clothing, the weight pulling on cups are real audible detractions - and the extra shielding adds both - headphone cables seldom use shielding

 

( I always cringe when I see fat cable to the headphone - not that I don't cringe at any mention of aftermarket/diy headphone re-cables too )

 

( please accept my condolences for having listened to

 

 

the short sample I could stand seemed like they were being careful not to sound like loons - but their profits, entire industry really does rely on FUD, marketing, mythology much more than engineering, psychoacoustic science )

 

 

any wires connected to the amp electronics can work as antenna to couple external EMI into the circuit where RF energy may be "detected" like a crystal radio and converted to audible signals, noise

 

it is fairly easy for the amp designers to include EMI protection on input and output

 

externally you can add common mode ferrite interference suppressors - helps knowing the EMI "threat" frequencies, some thing about the circuit EMI resistance, I/O impedances

 

http://www.audiosystemsgroup.com/AESPaperFerritesASGWeb.pdf

 

fortunately the "best" place for these is right up against the amp housing/connector so they shouldn't be a problem mechanically

 

 

amp input is usually much more sensitive to EMI and depending on system, power configuration there can also be conducted mode EMI

 

its way more worthwhile treating input, power before headphone cables given the common order of EMI problems in typical audio systems

 

superior EMI rejection for source-amp interconnect could use http://www.neutrik.com/en/xlr/emc-series/nc3mxx-emc

"


Edited by jcx - 8/14/13 at 5:04pm
post #5 of 86
The audio science Templars will be here shortly as they do in every thread that's asked this question in this forum (which is a lot).

They will tell you why there is no science justifying sonic differences because there are no differences. I just thought I'd condense it. popcorn.gif
post #6 of 86

I point out where the numbers compared to psychoacoustic knowledge do show possibly audible differences - headphone cables aren't very likely audible by those numbers

 

 

if you want a run down on why it might be possible that many people believe things that don't appear by engineering, psychoacoustic science, controlled human listening testing to be true...

 

 

you might consider which subforum 1st banned any discussion of psychoacoustics, engineering measurements, with even cable electrical measurements without any audibility editorializing being axed by "moderation"

 

or how the "thread crapping" card was played against those few single digit % of posts from a science or measurement perspective when the majority of the forum's "naive subjectivist", "believer" members were the source of the much larger numbers of vitriolic reactionary "off topic" "thread derailing" posts - despite then current forum rules on all opinions being welcome and the ignore feature available for those too immature to tolerate seeing alternative viewpoints, explanations

 

 

so now we have our very own ghetto - and still the protected majority "naive subjectivist", "believers" come to taunt, sneer, deride and provoke


Edited by jcx - 8/14/13 at 11:42pm
post #7 of 86
Quote:
Originally Posted by wafflezz View Post

I'm still at a loss for words trying to understand how cables of all things would make a difference in sound for a headphone. The impedance of a cable is usually negligible right?
Yet there's tons of people who say that a cable upgrade for the hd650 is imperative. Or at least recommended. It was even recommended by that guy who did battle of the flagships!

Any science on how this works?

 

By any chance, are you headphone cables made from 15 feet of this stuff?

 

Otherwise, it takes some pretty serious bending of the laws of physics for typical a typical headphone cable's electrical performance to have any room for improvement in the range of audio frequencies.

 

EMI can't directly affect your headphones in an audible way, the cables are orders of magnitude too short for transmission line effects to matter, the resistances and capacitences and inductances are too small to be a "audio filter" problem.

 

I think a good set of headphones are totally worth a cable upgrade if you fee like it---a high quality cable with good mechanical durability and well constructed connectors, with the flexibility that you prefer, with the visual aesthetics you want, and/or with the appropriate terminator to match with your favorite amplifier (balanced xlr, TRS, 3.5mm, etc...) are all excellent reasons why one would like to upgrade a cable.

 

A crappy cable is prone to shorting or breaking from corrosion, stress, fatigue, etc.. ive burned through several cables on previous cheap headphones in the past. My 5-year old HD-280s have a significantly higher quality cable that every previous headphone I've owned, and only now can I tell that the extensive use is starting to affect the mechanical behavior of the cable. It's starting to have a little bit of "memory" where I can tell it feels a bit kinked here and there, and the coils are starting to loosen up, etc... So yes, it makes sense to upgrade the cable from time to time. Personally, I'm okay with the stock cable on the HD-280's and I like the coils, so I will eventually upgrade my old cable to a new stock replacement. If I ever get the itch and the means to get a balanced amp, then I would totally upgrade the cable to balanced cables to match (well, maybe not the HD280s.... but if the Paradox headphones I ordered ever actually ship, I would put a balanced cable on those)

 

Hope this helps clear up the physics of cables!

 

Cheers

post #8 of 86

Recabling imo makes sense if

- you need a longer cable and don't want to use extension cables

- you need a shorter cable

- the original cable is too flimsy

- the original cable is too thick, heavy, coiled for example

- you prefer single/dual entry

- you are turned on by colored cables

 

 

Either way, if you have a bit of skill you can make one on your own and compared to what some companies offer you might not even end up with a better cable, but a magnitudes of orders cheaper one as well.


Edited by xnor - 8/15/13 at 8:29am
post #9 of 86

Thanks for posting those articles JCX. The "science or snake oil" one was really well written with a very neutral scientific view. I guess my semester and a half of electronics engineering helped me out for once hahaha. I wish I still had access to the equipment back at school, I'd love to test the set of DHC cables I'm going to order versus my stock cables for my JH16. Cables still seems to be in the category of fringe science where we still don't know what's true and false.

 

One thing I can say is that over a 20 foot run of electric guitar patch cable the differences in cable quality starts to become apparent but only just. It's not like it's a miracle or anything, softer high notes, a tiny bit more of over all clarity, and it becomes easier to overdrive the amp for distortion. I've never checked what the impedance difference is from my old cheap 20' chord to the new high quality chord but I would suspect it is lower. Another bonus as stated above by xnor and Ab initio is the durability of the cable. Through attrition the higher quality cables I own have out lasted cheaper ones by nearly 2-3 years.

 

So if not for sound quality, there's a bunch of reasons to switch to upgraded cables.

post #10 of 86

scraped some more about quitar pickups and cables:

 

... no engineer ever said no cable's electrical characteristics never ever makes any difference in any circuit whatsoever - cables between transducers and their preamps are often significant - mm phonocartridge wiring capacitance is another example

 

guitar pickups are highly inductive, resonate with cable/preamp load capacitance in the audio frequency range, the impedance peak is so high that the preamp input R up to MegaOhms also affects the peaking - they do sound different and the reason is clear in any engineering analysis - put the preamp on the guitar and the cable after it makes no audible difference at all

 

http://web.archive.org/web/20110525060505/http://online.physics.uiuc.edu/courses/phys498pom/498emi_guitar_pickup_results.html

 

where audio IC are not expected to make a difference is where the electrical properties of the cable combined with low output Z line driving circuits like most preamps, DAC outputs give < 0.1 dB difference over 20Hz-20KHz with all "reasonable" construction cables, loads - which is the majority of home audio applications

 

post #11 of 86

<Happy Camper style rant>

I'm waiting for the subjective anti-science peasants to arrive with rage and pitchforks and tell you that you cannot measure the performance of a cable and that there are hidden parameters in another dimension which only the audiophile ear can perceive.

They will tell you why you can dismiss any science and to trust your infallible hearing instead, but perish the thought, never do a blind test. Those are evil! popcorn.gif

</>


Edited by xnor - 8/15/13 at 4:15pm
post #12 of 86
Thread Starter 

lol

post #13 of 86

The recording studios (even my own tiny stock of equipment) regularly use balanced cables to reject any possible interference that might arise in a cable. But my balanced cables are TRS just to carry one mono signal. I need two to transport a stereo signal, both balanced.

The headphone cable on my relatively nice DT 770's is stereo TRS, so it can't provide balanced cable functionality.

Seems like it would address cabling noise with proven technology, at reasonable cost. I don't recall seeing any balanced headphone cables, though. Is there such a thing? Of course, you'd have to have balanced connections on the signal-providing device as well.

post #14 of 86
Quote:
Originally Posted by jcx View Post

scraped some more about quitar pickups and cables:

 

... no engineer ever said no cable's electrical characteristics never ever makes any difference in any circuit whatsoever - cables between transducers and their preamps are often significant - mm phonocartridge wiring capacitance is another example

 

guitar pickups are highly inductive, resonate with cable/preamp load capacitance in the audio frequency range, the impedance peak is so high that the preamp input R up to MegaOhms also affects the peaking - they do sound different and the reason is clear in any engineering analysis - put the preamp on the guitar and the cable after it makes no audible difference at all

 

http://web.archive.org/web/20110525060505/http://online.physics.uiuc.edu/courses/phys498pom/498emi_guitar_pickup_results.html

 

where audio IC are not expected to make a difference is where the electrical properties of the cable combined with low output Z line driving circuits like most preamps, DAC outputs give < 0.1 dB difference over 20Hz-20KHz with all "reasonable" construction cables, loads - which is the majority of home audio applications

 

That article is mind bogglingly complex. Here I was thinking that they were simple coils with a hand full of pole pieces... 

post #15 of 86

"balanced" headphone connector rewiring is a requirement when using bridged output "balanced" amplifiers

 

unfortunately there is no connector standard for them

 

and again as in my earlier post - the overall shield is seldom needed in amp to headphone cabling so most just bring 2 pairs out to the 2 headphone drivers with one of several 4 pin connectors or a pair of connectors like HeadRoom's early abortion of 2 3-pin XLR for balanced headphone termination

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