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You have to listen for yourself. You can either try using The Cable Company to audition different cables, buy and try used cables, keeping what you like and selling the rest, or trying cable companies that offer money back guarantees.
Unfortunately, the 3 manufacturers you mention have deep pockets in their marketing departments, which leads to many glowing reviews and awards. That's right, the glossy rags are basically pimps for the manufacturers, those that pay the money, get the lip service. So you can buy whatever it is they are hyping, or you can do your own homework and buy whatever cable it is that sounds best to you.
First I think you need to identify what in particular you'd like to improve with new cables. This would also help greatly with recommendations here by the way. Then use reviews to help narrow down your search to those products that tend to have the characteristics you're looking for. If you can read through the hype you typically find in reviews there are usually some useful comments and comparisons to other products that can clue you in to the primary characteristics of a particular cable. That and recommendations you get here (again, after you give us an idea of what you're looking for) should net you at least a few finalists to try.
The cheapest way is, as mentioned above, to buy used to try the cables you're interested in. The good thing is cables are cheap to ship and are low risk of being damaged in transport so they lend themselves to buying used. There are also several manufacturers who sell direct with liberal trial periods that could also be worth exploring if they seem to do what you want.
Last thought is that you should also let us know what cables you're currently using so we know what you're current reference is.
"Unfortunately, the 3 manufacturers you mention have deep pockets in their marketing departments, which leads to many glowing reviews and awards. That's right, the glossy rags are basically pimps for the manufacturers, those that pay the money, get the lip service. So you can buy whatever it is they are hyping, or you can do your own homework and buy whatever cable it is that sounds best to you."
Well said, and the reason why their prices are 4x the lesser known brands.
To the OP: Check out some of favorites here in AGon. Many of the "lesser brands" offer a better product for far less money. Names like Audio Art, Cabledyne, Grover Huffman, etc.
Reviews is another form for marketting and advertisement.
It's done by professional writers who graduated with language major. Guess whatcha gonna do when you graduate college with any single language major? Either go general unprofessional labor or find some writing gigs ta earn yer breadnbutter and even if you found something you'll still have to go after writing articles to serve around tables or bar. With multiple languages it's a-bit more eaisier, but still not stable at all.
I mostly go for logical choice rather than rely on consumer reviews or thorough audiophile listening tests that I can't affort to waste the time on (maybe when retired, but not guarranteed at all). My choice stays with wires that widely used in recording studios which are Mogami and Demarzio.
I'm deeply suspicious of cables and yet I think they can sound different--not always better--just different. As standard, inexpensive cables, you'll do well with Signal Cable, Mogami, and Blue Jean. I tried stepping up to Audience 24e and just couldn't hear the difference so I sold them. Finally, I bought some Analysis Plus 9s for speaker cable and the Analysis Plus Crystal RCAs--they sounded better in my system. YMMV. By the way, Analysis products are unusually well made and fairly priced (relative to some). They're a great buy 2nd hand. My system is Luxman 505ux, Harbeth SHL5, Bryston BDP1 and Line Magnetic DAC.
Well maybe "bad" is a bit harsh, but they certainly weren't my cup of tea. The soundstage was too forward for my tastes, in my system, using the Crystal Oval 8 speaker cables. Tonally they were pretty well balanced, but I am not a fan of that front row, in your face presentation. I do know that some enjoy this, so to each their own.
You may find this thread to be of interest. The bottom line: Do not expect a high degree of correlation between cable performance and cable price, for several reasons in addition to those that have been cited above.
the cable world is a wacky one at best. First and foremost,
I am a "cable guy". The best advice I give, is to get out there and listen, listen, listen to any/all cables & power cords.
Bryston electronics & B&W speakers do well w/ the following;
these brands will get you started. Keep me posted, I many years of experience and happy listening!
Audioquest Type 4 speaker cable and Audioquest King Cobra are good mates for modest systems. Kimber's PBJ is still a great budget IC if you don't need shielding.
Get comfortable with some modestly priced cables and let them settle for a month of listening before considering any of the 'spensive stuff because you are going to be having to evaluate trade-offs.
I would like someone with knowledge to trace the origins of copper through to the end where it is terminated and fancy dress put on ? I assume all cable sellers do not make the copper strands from scratch themselves . How many actual copper stranding companies can there be ? Or silver , ect ... . Thousans of dollars for actual materials that i would assume cost under $100 . granted they should be paid for going through the hassle of sifting through what all the suppliers have to offer , ect ... but cmon !
I agree, cables are so system dependent, you can not generalise. They have to work in your system. I can really see no reason to buy cables new. As long as they have'nt been mistreated, how can they go wrong and if you buy second hand you can resell at no or low cost. The to buy section on the Gon is loaded with cables.
I havegone through a good number of companies Kimber, Nordost and Acoustic Zen and found all of them good. I have tended to graduate to the small companies with low or no marketing budget. Currently and for a couple of years, I have been using Silnote, Wywires and Sablon audio for power cables. All are pretty good value cables, in my view.
As an aside, many people recommend sticking to one manufacturer, in your cable loom. It may be a good idea, but I have never managed it
Don't forget that USED cables are among the best deals in hifi out there, and unless the cables were used on a lobster boat or in a greasy diner kitchen you can't really go wrong and you'll save a pile over new stuff (if you buy something that sucks, sell it if you can't return it)...I have mostly AQ cables that are all well made solid core fancy-schmantsy blahblah bought for less than half the cost of new wires, and all of these work perfectly and sound great. A good example is a VDM5 coax digital solid silver cable I would NEVER pay retail for (expensive) I bought used for a fraction of the list price...I could melt it and sell the silver!
"Thousans of dollars for actual materials that i would assume cost under $100 . granted they should be paid for going through the hassle of sifting through what all the suppliers have to offer , ect ... but cmon !"
Google search the word Cardas. Once the search results load, click of the images filter. Not too far down you'll see 2 side by side photos of a Cardas cable stripped down so you can see the internal layout. The image is resolution 912x358 and its an actual picture, not a drawing. You should have no problem finding the pic I'm talking about.
To me, it looks like making that cable is very labor intensive, and the price may be justified.
For what it is worth, I do not think that I can afford expensive cables so I would say try the lesser cost ones and you might be pleasantly surprised.
I tried some Cullen cables and it cleaned up the sound of my system and made it seem more live.
W4S amp and preamp, Oppo 105 with Ric Schultz mods, and Maggie3.6's.