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Audiophile cables, an interesting question.

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by viralrazor, Sep 20, 2011.
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  1. ViralRazor
    Well, debate has been going on for a while, do "audiophile" cable upgrades actually work, with a stronger debate going on for actual analogue signals.
    I've just got a short post and a interesting question to share:
    Assuming that changing cables changes sound signature and that its true, why do we never see people talking about how their sound quality from their headphones/speakers took a turn for the worse when they changed out from stock cables to "audiophile" cables. Would transmitting a slightly with ever so slightly less interference improve subjective sound quality at all? If the sound signature is changed, surely there must be some people who are disappointed with this change in sound. And yet we never see this when someone changes from a stock cable to a custom cable.
  2. Parall3l
    Well these so called "Audiophile" cables tend to have better build quality then standard cables and might sound better because for example, a unshielded coat hanger is going to be affected by the environment around it therefore fail to transmit the signals properly.
  3. Willakan
    That the change in sound is almost always positive appears to support the strong effect of expectation bias in how cables "perform".
  4. JadeEast


    But the coat hanger has a purity of sound from the lack of micro-capacitance in a multistrand cable, and it lacks the coloration of a standard cable's plastic (and unnatural) dielectric insulation and shield.   
  5. Head Injury
    Exactly JadeEast! You don't find wire wrapped in insulation and rubber in nature, therefore a coat hanger must sound more natural [​IMG]
    As far as cable sound signature, it is very suspect that the results are almost unanimously positive no matter what headphone is recabled. Surely there's a headphone out there with an expensive stock cable? What would recablers think of it? Is it simply the fact that it's "stock" that makes it bad? Do the manufacturers really not know how to get the best sound out of the drivers they spent months developing?
    What's also suspect is the descriptions of the sound signatures. With headphones, you get a lot of descriptions like "lots of mid-bass, rolled off treble, extended sub-bass". All of these descriptions are easy to prove or disprove, just look at a frequency response or waterfall graph. With amps and DACs, you get less of that and more "detailed, full-bodied, smooth", which are harder to quantify. With cables, descriptions are almost exclusively ones like the latter, often even worse ("textured", "etched"). Is it because cables do something beyond alter frequency response? Or can audiophiles not accurately describe what they're hearing because they're hearing their own biases?
  6. Willakan
    My least favourite word, after musicality, is soundstage, when used in the context of anything but speakers/headphones. How people think amplifiers are designed to shrink or expand the soundstage God only knows...
    It is also frequently used to distinguish the "super-high end" improvements of cables and so on - of course, spending the extra thousand massively expanded the sound stage, which was further opened up by the addition of a $300 power cable. Presumably the sound stage further improves when you smear the amplifier with audiophile vaseline (only $50 a pot!)
    Of course, the more expensive and unlikely the differences seem to become, the more nebulous the vocabulary used to describe them becomes. 
    Vkamicht and abhishekSPS like this.
  7. MaciekN
    Well, cables do have parameters such resistance or capacity, shielding also plays a role, take a look into a datasheet of any popular op-amp and see how it likes driving capacitive loads. The cheaper the headphone the worse cable sold with it. Better headphone comes along with a better cable. Take a cable from a high-end headphone and use it with a cheap entry-level headphone, differences granted.
    As for happy recablers, I wasn't really happy when I recabled my portable akg k414p (previous cable died at the connector) and then heard for the first time noise of my portable player, or when they presented me with details I have never heard on ms-1 from a stationary DAC. Are ms-1 detail-less headphones or are k414p detail monsters?
    So I used the same cable for Alessandros and lost some of the brand signature, the hump in midbass is far less prominent and mids lost some peakiness, there has shown some distance between the perfromers and the middle of my head, they gave more details. So it was not a clear improvement, it would be a step back for poeple who prefer aggressivier presentation. And the cable I used was not even audiophile grade.
    If it's your hobby then you don't care if the cable cost 5 or 10$ per meter, you need a few meters so the difference in price won't be big. But if you have to buy a cable for 10000 headphones then the difference grows huge, that's why recabling ofter brings improvement, silly as it may sound you can afford a better cable than the manufacturer.
    Cables do make a difference and yes, not every expensive cable is worth its price.
  8. Head Injury

    And resistance, capacity, conductivity, shielding, all affect the sound how? Surely there are patterns in cable sound signature if all of that is true.
    Generalizing stock cables based on the cost of the headphone to which they're attached is a little silly. I thought the sound depended on resistance, capacity, conductivity, and shielding, not price tag?
  9. Uncle Erik Contributor
    MaciekN, you are making a false assumption.

    You are assuming that inexpensive wire has sound qualities different from expensive ones.

    I'll buy that argument in terms of durability. Sound quality, no. If wires measure the same they sound the same. Placebo and expectation say otherwise, but those have been disproven - repeatedly and consistently - with blind listening tests. No one has ever passed a blind listening test for cables.

    Debunking aside, a cable manufacturer would have a huge marketing interest in having people hear a difference with their cable. They could have a great ad campaign about how people can tell the difference with their cables while the competing cables can't be differentiated from a coathanger. They'd make millions.

    Since cables have been fought over for 30 years, you'd think something like that would have happened by now.

    Curious that it hasn't, isn't it? Testing only seems to be done by skeptics while those selling cables are terrified by a whiff of objectivity. Strange, because some objectivity would dramatically increase their sales.

    It doesn't make any sense. Unless you suppose that cable manufacturers know they're selling a bogus product.
    Rebel975 and FlyingKiwi like this.
  10. DaBomb77766


    They already do, man.
  11. MaciekN
    Cheaper = worse was a generalisation, my fault. My point was that the manufacturer does not include thicker/better shielded/blessed by the shaman cables with their less expensive models. There are some inexpensive cables with decent parameters. I can only comment on the quality of the cables I used/replaced, and subjectively I heard a difference in two out of two headphones recabled, but placebo never sleeps.
    As for measuring differences, as I've mentioned before, among other things cables have their capacity, and in datasheets of many audio opamps you can see how do those chips fare driving capacitive loads of x or y pF.
    Here is an example taken from opa227 pdf:
    So there is a measureable difference in how will the opamp perform with driving cables of different capacity. Sure, not every opamp in every circuit will react the same but in some there surely can be a measurable difference. Whether it's audible or not, well, that's a subjective thing.
    Cables can aslo act as filters, and while they are still just copper their build can suppress some interference. Below is a quote from the cable catalog of KLOTZ, a german cable manufacuter:
    In audio applications, StarQuad cables are primarily used for highamplification
    microphone lines if powerful electromagnetic fields
    occur in their surrounding area, generated by e.g. lighting control
    equipment, power lines, transformers, transmitter masts and so on.
    Microphone lines are particularly sensitive, because their signal
    amplifications can extend up to 70 dB so that any interference effect
    to the cable will be amplified in the same way.
    The name StarQuad refers to the cable design, featuring 4-core
    stranding, with opposite cores forming pairs to create a balanced
    line. This kind of cable is also used as a compact data cable in
    Design and function:
    The cable's outstanding interference reduction properties (low noise
    pick-up) are created by the use of external wiring connecting the
    opposite cores. The result is a parallel connection of two balanced
    lines twisted together, geometrically halving the length of twist
    compared to a single pair. The shorter the length of twist of a
    balanced line, the more effective its suppression of interference.
    So high capacitance cables can cause overshoots or oscillation in some systems, and there are different types of noise and interference reduction, each suited for different applications. Again, whether you hear it or not is totally subjective but there are means to scientifically differentiate cables of different constructions and materials (like higher conductivity of silver over copper). Or when a given cable is too thin to deliver enough current, same thing happens- it plays a role and can audible.
    Saying that ALL cables sound alike is a generalisation, and is false. Some setups may require that the cable is of low capacity/inductance or twisted this or that way. Sure, by the time we reach high-end cables territory all the basic requirements are probably fulfilled and some magic (marketing) starts to take place, although I have never heard high-end cable on an accordingly expensive system, so that's just my guess.
  12. tvrboy
    A great question that really has no answer from cable believers. Just like how burn-in never has negative effects, only improvements.
  13. gregorio

    I'm sorry to be rude, but that's one of the most ridiculous arguments I've ever seen. Your graphs show a difference of a few thousandths of a volt, over a duration of a few 10s of billionths of a second. And you state it's subjective whether or not that difference can be heard! There's no question that we have measurement tools which are incredibly accurate and that differences in cables can be measured, but to say we can measure a difference and therefore it's subjective as to whether or not we can hear a difference is a logical fallacy. We can measure voltage so accurately that we can scan a surface and construct an image of an atom. Would you therefore say it's subjective as to whether or not we can see an atom with the naked eye?

    No one is saying differences in cables can't be heard. We are saying differences in cables are not audible under the following conditions: 1. Both cables are the correct type of cable for the application, 2. Both cables are of decent quality construction and 3. Both cables are of roughly the same length.

    In other words, in normal use there is no audible difference between a stock cable and an after market cable.

  14. Iniamyen

    The transients shown there have about 2 cycles per 400ns, which corresponds to a frequency of 5MHz [​IMG]. So you most definitely can't hear either transient (this is very proven), much less the difference between the two. And this is with a difference in capacitance of 200x.
  15. MaciekN


    Yea, that was not the best example but example nonetheless. My intention was to show that most opamps, which are often the heart of most headphone amps, distort when driving capacitive loads, the difference is presented in % of overshoot. Square wave is just a way to clearly show this overshoot, and while opa227 is not the most vulnerable opamp in this respect it does show some differences. Now, even though we know that there is some difference since we measured it, as we all hear differently, it can not be said that if something is measured to have x or y of something then it is audible. Some poeple have bat-ears and some have impaired hearing, some use equipment that is poorly designed and distorts heavily when presented with even small amounts of x or y, and finally some use well designed equipment that is not very cable reliant. This is what I meant by writing that it's subjective.
    Gregorio, it is indeed hard to disagree with your statement about cables, sadly many head-fiers are not as specific as you were and simply repeat the short version "cables make no difference".
    Consider this: how often is the stock cable the correct type for that specific circuit it used in, or how often has it better construction quality than an aftermarket cable? Maybe this is why recablers hear differences. As I wrote in my previous post, headphone manufacturers do not supply their low-mid tier equipment with very high quality cables since these are costier than medium quality cables, which should do the job more or less.
    I don't want to sound ignorant, surely placebo plays a role in some cases, just sometimes an after market cable might be less of a challenge to drive.
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