Are there any constants in speaker wire designs?

I've been looking at different speaker wires and the different designs and am wondering if anyone has listened to enough different speaker wires to know if there are any constants. Is there any "signature" sound that goes with similar designs? For example, does a four or eight wire braided (think Kimbel) have a particular sound quality compared to a basic two strand wire?

It seems that there should be some similarities amoung cables of similar design. The number of strands, braided vs. straight, gage, etc...

If there wasn't some truth to this it would mean that speaker wire designs are just random configurations.

Any thoughts?
Yes, all speaker wires use metal wires.
Elizabeth, that is untrue. Van den Hul The THIRD speaker cable conductor is made purely form Carbon fibre, and thats not metal.

While speaker cable designs can possibly be RANDOM, I believe in these constants that fit my taste and system: separated and insulated strands (#1 to avoid strand jumping) of very thin (#2 this gives "speed" to the sound, better controls speaker drivers) silver plated copper (#3 IMHO this blends all the best from copper and silver) wires.

Everything is IMHO, to my taste, and within my system.

wire..."designs"....are just random. the magic happens when a random result sounds to someone, and if they are then able to get certain other someone's to say so in public/print thus convincing other someone's to exchange their own monies for it...well, an angel get's its wings.


oh wow! i just designed a straight line on a piece of paper using a straightedge and lead pencil...
Oakleys: better patent that straight line! who knows what great value it has?
Agree with you on the wire.
Yes, in the hi-end they are all overpriced and yield no significant difference in what you hear. This has been proven time and time again in the gold standard, which is double blind tests. Stick with home depot stuff and buy more media.

actually we are working on a special edition, latent desire mk2 version of our Straight Line using a #33&1/3 unleaded pencil....very hard to find and VERY able of objective straight lines, turns out our #2 lead pencil lines were only subjectivly straight.
Double blind tests, more like the tin standard, LOL!
Why is "strand jumping" bad?
"Why is "strand jumping" bad?"

Strand jumping is related to skin effect that forces current to jump constantly to outside of thick speaker cable (where resistance is lower at higher frequencies). Copper impurities reside on the surface of each strand. Copper oxide is a semiconductor.

Isolating strands prevents jumping but skin effect still exists because strands are still in each others magnetic field (surface is increased though). Here comes helical winding on hollow tube (used by many companies like AQ or AZ) making each strand to be only in magnetic field of adjacent strands. Some companies use flat-woven design or flat copper tape to achieve the same. Flat copper tape is often used in crossovers inductors (for the same reason).

Don't ask me how significant skin effect is because I don't know. From electrical point of view it most likely doesn't have any effect but I don't pretend to know more than cable companies. Solid wire with limited gauge might be an easy compromise. Since skin effect starts at gauge 18 for copper at audio frequencies (20kHz) it is probably safe to assume that even 14 gauge solid wire (like very popular AQ type4) will do job nicely. It has a little more resistance but inductor in a series with the woofer has most likely as much as 0.1 ohm anyway.

On the top of these exotic geometries purity (and type) of metal might play a role as well as dielectric used that changes with the price of the cable with foam Teflon being the best.

My take on this: If it is all placebo effect what is wrong with it as long as it works? You paid for something that sounds better to you whatever the reason. On the other hand I installed once brand new AQ Indigo speaker cable and had for the first hour very muffled sound that changed for next few hours to overly bright to become smooth and balanced within few days. At the same time I read at this forum posts stating that there is no such thing as cable breaking.
buconero117...i competely agree with myself while I disagree with your point of view, except about buying more media, and...maybe?...also about cables sounding different.

my truth is that a cables, is going to make a systems sound someway...and the very same cables is going to make another systems sounds anotherway. i consider that suggestable, i mean significant.

when the monies gets involved, obviously its only up to me to judge if you paid too much.

you should also research/check out the silver-plated special edition gold standard, whereby we listen and use our own ears/judgement to decide what we like and are done with it and on to enjoying listening to music!

by the way, where do you find the double blind tester? I've only ever been able to find the once blind person/tester. is there some sort of gov't research study going on whereby once blind persons are given sight only to have it ripped away all at once by argumentative audiopiles to prove a pointless point involving the double blind?
Seems like it would matter but all the cables I have auditioned over the years sound different. Lots of theories and of course it depends on your gear and what you 'think' you are hearing.
Kijanki, skin effect isn't considered significant at audible frequencies. At 20KHz it'll be less than 0.2db, which is truly insignificant in the context of real speakers in a real room.

Strand jumping sounds like quasi-technical mumbo-jumbo to me.

In your final paragraph I think you touch upon the real issue - it is all just a placebo effect? From a technical perspective the answer is that there are no audible differences between well designed cables for any purpose, with the emphasis on "well-designed". For speaker cables you must have sufficient gauge and conductor quality, a reasonable trade-off between inductance and capacitance, and proper termination can be important, but beyond that you are paying for mechanical characteristics. Complex layering, individually insulated conductor strands, and fancy woven outer casings can be expensive to build and terminate. The fact that these features may not improve sound quality over 10AWG zip cord is beside the point. If you want a very luxurious and expensive-looking cable it will likely be expensive.

I'm not so judgmental about expensively built cables, at least no more than I am about, say, expensive watches. They don't tell time any better, but if someone is excited about a $50K watch and is willing to pay, I say go for it. My 10AWG cables look like the cheap zip cord they are, and they do not look awesome like expensive 1/2" diameter Audio Quest stuff. But if you choose to believe that these fancy cables sound better, well, there's no evidence *at all* that these cables are better than zip cord. The differences you hear are almost certainly imagined. So is cable break-in.
Irvrobinson - I can make argument as well, that if you want to believe that top cables don't sound any better than cheap lamp cord - they won't (negative placebo effect).

Long time ago when I had thick stranded Monster speaker cable and amp with tone control I had treble always set at +2dB. After change to AQ Indigo I had to move treble to 0dB position. Nothing else changed.

I agree that looking at dB scale skin effect is not important in audio but remember that we are able to distinguish sounds of different violin brands so subtle that difference cannot be even measured. 0.2dB might be nothing in terms of volume but can have effect when harmonics are summed differently (frequency smearing). Cable companies not only know more but also design very similar cables (came to similar conclusions).

You cannot possibly explain different sound of copper and silver but if you scan this and other cable forums you'll find that 90% of people found silver to be brighter/faster sounding. AZ Absolute IC that I use is silver with 1% copper. Why would they do that (adding copper), if it doesn't make any difference. It requires making special alloys. Important here is that it is not a marketing ploy since they don't advertise this and I had really hard time to dig this out.

My AZ Satori speaker cable is a class above previous AQ Indigo (transparency, smoothness, speed) but has one characteristic absolutely necessary with lean sounding class D amp - pronounced lower midrange (try to explain this in terms of RLC). Indigo sounds, in comparison, thin and flat. Satori adds fullness and chestiness to male voices. It is pretty big difference that even my wife noticed (sorry honey). You could say again, that it is placebo effect but I bought this cable because somebody else complained on the cable forum about this midrange fullness and sold the cable.

As for differences between cables that are "almost certainly imagined" - my friend says the same about amplifiers and CD players.
Kijanki - "I can make argument as well, that if you want to believe that top cables don't sound any better than cheap lamp cord - they won't (negative placebo effect)."

While I'm someone skeptical about the real sound difference in speaker wires I'll admit to hearing a difference in other audio related things that I wasn't expecting it. I think I'm fairly objective in the sense that I'll admit hearing something when it's not expected. An example was the difference in the sound of a CD player with the addition of Nordost Sort Kones. I did point out that even thought I could hear the difference on Focal Scala speakers and associated hi end gear I would have to guess if the Sort Kones were installed if I left the store and came back later. There were others that considered the difference to be more significant that I did. I'm starting to look for an excuse to demo some different cables and see for myself, but I'm not really to commit to a financial investment quite yet (i.e. 5% down at the Cable Company).

Should I be able to hear a difference between my Monster wires and say a large gage cable from Home Depot? What should I use to do a cheap in home comparison to verify theory for myself?
Mcelio - AFAIK Nordost cables offer specific "house sound". Let just say that if you're looking to add warmth to the sound or suppress sibilance Nordost isn't the one. On the opposite side is Cardas that is warm sounding but does not have transparency of Nordost. Try both if you hear the difference. My Monster speaker wires (thick stranded in clear insulation) were suppressing treble - Nordost should add treble and extension.

Can you borrow cables from the the local audio store for a few days - just to see if you can hear the difference? Ideal would be to borrow completely different families like Cardas and Nordost.
Should I be able to hear a difference between my Monster wires and say a large gage cable from Home Depot? What should I use to do a cheap in home comparison to verify theory for myself?

Whether or not you believe you hear a difference is a different matter than if there really is a discernible difference. (What a mouthful.) Objectively, between these two equally good choices, there won't be a measurable difference. You might consider some high quality spades or banana plugs for a tight, secure connection, but that's about it.
Wire measurables make a difference. Too much capacitance? Too much resistance? Current source amp? Voltage source amp?
skin effect? Doesn't seem to be a player. Copper oxide? If it's a semiconductor it also has properties of a resistor. How THICK is this oxide? How much voltage does it take to bridge this oxide? (dielectric constant?)

Sound basic design will result in proper cables. All else would appear to be window dressing or pseudoscientific wish fulfillment.
Kijanki, what Nordost cable line you are refering to? I know very well Nordost Heimdal IC and Nordost Frey IC, & Nordost middle line SC I can honestly say that your adjectives does not belong to Nordost.

Heimdal, for instance, will give lots of warmth, and bloom to vocals, while Frey blends warmth, transparency, details, and complete sound from top to bottom, while keeping everything mixed with musicality.

Before entering Nordost, i also expected fast, transparent, clinical sound (from Medical equipment company!) but I found the sound I was really searching for , and really was not expecting.

ps.: sibilance and harsh is gone once cables are really broken in.
Mjordans - I was talking about general opinion on the forums and in reviews.

In AVGuide review: I found this statement:

"That Nordost have evolved a distinctive house sound is indisputable. Fast, crisp and loaded with so much treble energy they can make other cables sound distinctly rolled-off, they are not for everybody."

Brightness is often blamed on cables when it really comes from SS gear or speakers but you have to agree with me that "Lean" is the most common word used to describe Nordost cables.
But anticable for $10/foot and put your $$ elsewhere

09-01-10: Irvrobinson
Kijanki, skin effect isn't considered significant at audible frequencies. At 20KHz it'll be less than 0.2db, which is truly insignificant in the context of real speakers in a real room.

Strand jumping sounds like quasi-technical mumbo-jumbo to me.
You are correct about skin effect. Skin effect is a phenomenon that you tend to see at microwave frequencies. Your comments also point to one of the big problems in the audiophile game in general; there is too much BS in the selling of audio equipment. The reason, i suspect, is that most audiophiles know little about electronics and are therefore susceptible to marketing hype and "buzzwords". Add to it all, the "audiophile" reviews that you read by reviewers who often have undisclosed conflicts of interest that mean that they are really acting as salesmen for the vendors' products. For me, the net result is that I have become highly skeptical of the claims that I read. This loss of credibility, I think, is ultimately harmful to the industry.

Let me make a brief comment on you statement about the significance of inductance and capacitance in cable. Under the "transmission line" model, a wire can be characterized as a network of inductive and capacitive elements; then you analyze the signal distortion effects of this model. However, the transmission line model is also one that is primarily observed at microwave frequencies. At audio frequencies, the wire is basically a resistive element. But speaker cable might run on the order of 5-10 ohms/km so resistance should generally be negligible.

When people claim that they observe dramatic differences among cables (and they often do so using buzzwords like "sweetness", "focus" and similar BS), if the test is not minimally a blind test then I tend to discount the claims unless they can back it up with some objective data. I mean, in reality, when it comes to subjective judgments, you can pretty much convince yourself of anything.
PaperW8, not so long ago I was doing shootout of several power cords. When I put Kimber PK14 on a my DAC, all the music suddenly became sort of IN FOCUS. I can not find a better word to describe this. So it is not BS. And there is no equipment to measure "music focus". I know I could probably do this in blind test, but its so hard to organize this.. I mean, what go to other room and leave my wife to switch cables,do on/off/on all the quipment, etc..

Kijanki, that might be system dependant. I will only believe in "NORDOST is lean" stuff if at least 7 of 10 OWNERS would say so. In my system Nordost are FULL BODIED (quite an opposite ah?). Switching SC to 8TC makes me sleep, KCAG sometimes irritatingly "rings" and NORDOST.. they sound just right. And the reviewers... sometimes they have just not enought time, or not the most suitable equipment etc.. When I was buying nordost, I have read almost anything I could find, and now after couple years, when I really can say I know how the nordost house of sound looks like, I msut say, that there was one superb review in which reviewer NAILED IT DOWN right. But I forgot the link to it...
PaperW8, I mentioned the inductance / capacitance issue with speakers because, as you probably know, some manufacturers are purposely designing cables to have abnormally high values of one characteristic or the other. Some high capacitance cables have even been known to destablize some poorly designed amps, not to mention causing high frequency roll-offs that people with overly bright speakers seem to be drawn to. Nonetheless, I think you and I are on the same page.

Mjordanas, I'm sorry, but changing a power cord is extraordinarily unlikely to change the way a DAC works, especially in a way that is beneficial. Focus would imply a measurable reduction in noise or distortion, which is beyond the capability of a completely passive conductor.
stranded cables sound soft in my system. Round solid wires have great detail and clarity, but roll off the ends. Thin, wide ribbon sounds far the best on my system.
"You are correct about skin effect. Skin effect is a phenomenon that you tend to see at microwave frequencies."

This is incorrect. At microwave frequencies skin depth is in order of um. At audio frequency of 20kHz largest copper wire that has still the same resistance for DC as AC is gauge 18. Please check skin depth calculator here:

Skin effect is very pronounced at video frequencies. That's why cables are made of cheap metal silver plated (signal travels on the surface).

Skin effect allows for shielding. Interconnect for instance cannot be possibly protected from electromagnetic pickup of high frequency signals by non-magnetic shield. What really happens is that shield passes these high frequencies and they are induced in the cable, but because of skin effect they travel on the outside of the cable - shield. Internally field is zero as long as wire is symmetrical. Without skin effect aluminum foil or copper braid would not shield higher frequencies (would protect only for capacitive pick-up). Shielding is very complicated. Shield is carrying externally induced high frequencies on its outside while at the same time common mode high frequency signal noise travels on the inside of the same shield. At lower frequencies shield does not protect at all but wire is to short to become effective antenna (starts at 1/10 of wavelength)

Audio cables are much more complicated than just RLC. If I remember correctly Muralman1 uses in his design cable different metals for signal and Ground wires. You cannot explain in terms of RLC how different metals change the sound.
Kijanki: it is a true statement that signals attenuate within a conductor as you get farther away from the surface of the conductor into the interior. I didn't mean to suggest that skin effect doesn't at frequencies below microwave but that it is at higher frequencies where it becomes a bigger deal.

You mentioned skin effect as being significant with video signals. Video signals operate in the MHz range, which is below what is typically considered the microwave frequency range. I do agree with your suggestion that skin effect can be significant for frequencies in the MHz range. At video frequencies the skin depth is very thin, so the silver plating can be economically applied at thicknesses greater than the skin depth. Silver plating is a less effective cost-saving strategy for audio frequencies because the skin depths at audio frequencies are much larger.

There is a relevant figure of merit called the 1% depth of penetration. The 1% depth figure indicates that point at which the signal magnitude is about 1% of it's surface value. It is about 4.6 times the skin depth.

In general, skin effect is significant when the skin depth is small compared to the size of the conductor. At audio frequencies, the skin depth is going to be on the order of 20 mils, so I would think that for significant skin effect, you're probably looking at conductors that are on the order of at least 0.1 inch. That would be more like AWG 10.

There are other effects that are significant when thinking about signal propagation through a conductor (you had me going to my old textbooks to look this stuff up). For example, as the magnitude of the signal decreases the relative phase of the signal also changes. I believe that at the skin depth, the signal is about 180 degrees out of phase with respect to the signal at the surface. Also, when you have multiple conductors, there are proximity effects where the electromagnetic fields of the conductors interact and can effectively reduce the skin depth. Skin effect also increases the impedance of the conductor to signal propagation, although I am unfamiliar with the formula that was cited in the web link that you posted (I took a look at it and it looks to be a pretty good link). However, the skin depth calculator is correct, so I will assume that the AC/DC resistance ratio presented is correct as well.

Is any of this stuff audible, significant or even detectable at audio frequencies? It's impossible for me to say without data, so I tend to not tell people that they aren't hearing what they say they are hearing. I question how significant this stuff is at audio frequencies and because of the amount of hyperbole that has so come to characterize the audio biz, I am skeptical of claims that rely upon nothing but buzzwords. The thing is, if I spent big money on cables, I would have a vested interest in convincing myself that there really is a big difference because I would have a commitment to feeling that I haven't wasted my money. It would be nice to see some real data on this stuff. In my mind, it would make all this talk of "focus" and the like, a lot more credible. As I stated, the amount of hype and questionable "audiophile reviews" just hurts the credibility of the industry in my mind.
Paperw8 - according to mentioned skin depth calculator 20 mils corresponds to gage 18. Skin effect is therefore not existent in interconnects but might with speaker cables. Using thick wire lowers resistance but also inductance. The same happens with stranded wires. Isolating strands doesn't help them being in each other magnetic field (doesn't reduce overall skin effect) but placing strands on the hollow core or flat woven pattern does.

I understand that you are sceptical about skin effect in audio (as I am) since we need couple of dB to notice volume change but on the other hand fraction of dB on the tone control can be perceived.

All cable companies go toward similar solution like flat cables (Nordost) or hollow tube cables (AQ, AZ). I tend to trust them and suspect that they don't do this for marketing purpose alone since most of customers have no idea what skin effect is. I can hear specific difference between speaker cables while other tell me I must be self hypnotized and that cheap Home Depot wire is good enough.

I don't know how to measure focus or soundstage depth or width but it exists and is affected by something. Can this something be simply measured by relation between R, L and C.
Can we say that all speaker cables that have exactly same RLC will have exactly same sound (focus, soundstaging, etc.)? What about R,L or C vs frequency - it might be complex relationship?

09-05-10: Kijanki
I don't know how to measure focus or soundstage depth or width but it exists and is affected by something. Can this something be simply measured by relation between R, L and C.
Can we say that all speaker cables that have exactly same RLC will have exactly same sound (focus, soundstaging, etc.)? What about R,L or C vs frequency - it might be complex relationship?
"focus" and "soundstage depth" are subjective evaluations - you can't measure that kind of stuff. but you can measure electrical characteristics that have relevance in cable performance. the measure that i would generally think to be of significance is resistance, maybe measured at different frequencies. this could give an indication of how transparent a cable is across the audio frequency spectrum.

for interconnect cable, there could be capacitance in the dielectric material between the core and the screen; you can measure that. even if they just report the data and don't tell you how to interpret it, at least then you could find that kind of stuff out and then you have data that you can use to evaluate the cables. it would be useful for reviews to provide information about the magnitude and phase response of cables.

i'm not saying that there is no role for subjective evaluations, but it would be useful to see whether objective data supports the subjective claims. a non-audiophile like me would be inclined to use the information to cut down the number of candidates that i might consider.
Kijanki, when talking about cables, I have also came across this: do two cables (branded, and a copy of it) which have identical L R C spec. will sound the same? I do not reject the idea that this only speculiation between these numbers, and their relationship between the system components AND the listener. All cables have different LRC, some manufactures give those numbers in their websites, so if someone just could make a copy of lets say Nordost Frey and compare them, that could make a significant step forward in this topic.

But when you overthink this again, then logic tells that there might be all variables involved - think about... shielding.. would be there a difference between two IC cables with same LRC BUT 0% and 95% shielding? And the list goes on..

>>Can this something be simply measured by relation >>between R, L and C.
That's the way I've been leaning. RLC is a pretty gross description. Doing RLC measures at frequency than doing some kind of complex 3d charting....Maybe some derivation of a Smith Chart may eventually show a pattern worthy of some conclusion. But perhaps only after sufficient data is collected.
Just talkin' out loud, here.

Yes, RLC is just gross description. There might be even variables that we don't know yet. They claimed in 70's that new SS amps have to sound better than tube amps because they have wider bandwidth and much lower THD and IMD. They just didn't know about transient intermodulation (TIM) that was discovered in 70's. I know that wire is just a wire but shielding for instance (as I mentioned before) can be extremely complicated.


I had a few AQ ICs and can say that Viper has better low frequency extension that Ruby. I cannot imagine how RLC can be used to describe this. Not likely placebo effect since I could tell easily which cable was installed and did not read any opinions/reviews. In addition there are many IC cables reviews where they mention bass extension. Midbass was about the same but Viper had better bass definition. How we can posssibly explain tighter bass in RLC? Capacitance or inductance values are completely irrelevant at these frequencies. My current IC has about 7pF/30nH - not significant at any audio frequency. What makes this cable to sound different from other cables of similar, not significant RLC. Shielding with non-magnetic shield works against EMI, as I described before, because of skin effect. But this is only if cable is very symmetrical (equivalent field inside is zero) and only at higher frequencies. There will be some frequencies at which skin depth will be too deep to contain induced interference to shield alone while cable will be long enough to be some antenna. Antenna works effectively at 1/4 wavelength and stops working perhaps below 1/10 but there will be still some pickup even at shorter cables. Single MHz frequencies can perhaps do that (bypass the shielding and be induced). Maybe they tend to do something to modulate output driver and that's why cables might be so system dependent.
I think that one explainable technical factor, which seems to be rarely discussed and rarely specified but could account for some subjectively perceived differences between unbalanced interconnect cables, is the resistance of the shield (or other return conductor).

Although there may be others, as far as I am aware Kimber is the only manufacturer providing information relating to that specification, and even in their case it is not an explicit specification. Their specs include "loop resistance," which presumably encompasses the round-trip resistance of both the center conductor and the shield, for a given length of cable.

Low shield resistance would minimize potential differences between component chassis, thereby reducing extraneous ground loop related inter-chassis currents, including those at 60Hz and 120 Hz hum frequencies, and also at much higher noise frequencies.

With unbalanced interfaces, those currents cannot be distinguished by the receiving component from signal currents, and conceivably could intermodulate with the audio to produce all kinds of unpredictable (and system-dependent!) sonic effects.

Best regards,
-- Al