Cable vs. Electronics: biggest bang for the buck

I recently chronicled in a review here, my experience with a very expensive interconnect. The cables cost nearly $7000 and are well beyond my reach. The issue is, the Pursit Dominus sound fantastic. Nothing in my stereo has ever sounded so good. I have been wondering during and since the review how much I would have to spend to get the same level of improvement. I'm sure I could double the value of my amp or switch to monoblocks of my own amps and not obtain this level of improvement.
So, in your opinion what is the better value, assuming the relative value of your componants being about equal? Is it cheaper to buy, great cables or great electronics? Then, which would provide the biggest improvement?
The system is worth more then the sum of its parts.

I used to cringe at the sign of 'over priced' cables but now I realize they are a vital part of the system, I try not to think of them as mearly pricey wires but as an additional component that adds its own sonic charachter to the sound, i.e. they are the filling of the pie and the components are the crust- and it is so sad.

The question at hand is the components vs. cables, I would rather pay for expensive cables then expensive components! not saying I would use transparent opus with Rotel, but I wouldn't use the Halcro with Monster cable either! There must be a dynamic equilibrium in the cable:component ratio, perhaps we should turn to Pythagoras and use the golden ration when doing cables, I dunno???? I just use what seems right in my sytem regardless of the cost, after all its only dirty paper :)
The chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
You have to balance both cables and electronics. A great cable will reveal the shortcomings of lesser electronics; and cheaper cables will choke off a signal from great electronics.
Hi all,
Jdubusc, to some extent this analogy is useful, but mostly it is misleading.
In a real chain, if you improve the second weakest link (assuming you can identify it), then the chain is no stronger. In a hi fi system, if you improve the second weakest link, the sound CAN be better. Every relatively weak link, once improved, improves the sound.
Besides, weak is a relative concept, since no one is exactly sure WHAT constitutes a weak link. If everybody knew exactly what a weak link looks like in an absolute sense in an audio system, then there would be no disagreement in high end audio. The disagreements are about compromise and priorities, not absolute concepts such as "weak" or "strong"
As for $7k cables, if component makers were as uncompromising as the mega cable makers, our gear would take up half the room and sound much better, but would also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars retail.
So it's all about compromises. Even the simple 50 watt solid state amp represents so many compromises to absolute sound quality, that it has many weak links in terms of sound alone. That doesn't mean that a well designed interconnect can't change its sound for the better. Unfortunately, we live in the real world where choices must be made, i.e, we have to feed ourselves.
The synergy between a cable and the components it connects is more important than the price of the cable. The one you tried obviously showed synergy in your system but my experiences show there are always cheaper alternatives. You should shop around some more.

On another note, before you decide what to do, I suggest you try a power regenerator first. It might give you the most bang for the buck.
A cable can only color or subtract from the quality of your component's output, it can never improve upon it. The laws of physics, not opinion or marketing hype, govern the transmission of electrons through a wire. I am not, however, claiming that an obviously inferior conductor may outperform one of better design. I do appreciate the effects of capacitiance, skin effect and susceptability to electromagnetic interference, amongst others.

While the sound of your system may be more pleasing with the Purist cables in it (perhaps less or different coloration), you will see greater improvements by upgrading your components. To suggest otherwise is falacy. Use cabling of a "reasonable" (whatever that is, maybe allot ten to fifteen percent of your system cost) and uniform quality throughout. Take the opportunity to audition several different cables in you system. Consider borrowing from friends and your dealer as well as "churning" some used cables on Audiogon. You may find that the price of a cable does not directly correlate to its' performance in your system or you own tastes. Don't fall for the flawed logic, anachronisms and magical thinking that marketing consultants and "expert reviewers" employ. Don't let yourself believe that because it costs more it has to sound better either. Some blinded listening tests might be appropriate to help you make up your mind.
Spend your dollars on better gear before you think about better wires.....10% of the cost of the system will get you down the road just fine for wires.....There sure seem to be a lot of folks out there that have 15K in their systems with 1/3 of that in wires which is just ludicrous....
The whole point of the review and the subsequent comments is that outrageously priced cables add a bigger improvement for less money than buying the electronics. I have listened to $7000 monoblocks and not heard as much improvement as I did with the $7000 cables. So ultimately which is cheaper, or a better value?
Thsalmon---Never a more appropriate truth spoken. Cables can only subtract from the sound because they can't deliver sound better than the original source. I have seen so many "Tune" with expensive cables that sometimes I wonder why they don't bring tone controls back. I have always wondered what a neutral cable might sound like, the no wire cable that all could be compared to.
The bottom line here is that if you like one cable better than another, you are simply saying that "IN YOUR OPINION" it does less harm that the other or colors the sound that masks something you didn't originally like in your systems sound. You must match cables with equipment---what sounds good with one may not sound so good with another piece. We have to tune out what we don't want or the "Synergy" issue.
My vote is buy better equipment. Of course, that has its own set of problems---as in what is "Better?" And as mentioned above, money doesn't dictate better sound.
I'm confident that Nrchy is well aware of the standard diatribe concerning cables. He's familiar with the rules of thumb such as spending 10% on cables, auditioning as much as possible, the effects of synergy, the impact of marketing hype, etc. He's been there. Please read his posts! You will see that he's well into the advanced stages of this addiction.

What he seems to be asking is:

Despite any preconceptions that you may have, what has been your actual experience in terms of the sonic improvements observed in your system by the introdcution of high priced cables relative to high priced components?

I think he's suggesting, based on his experience, that the conventional wisdom may be wrong.
I have to agree with Mr Crump. Knowing that Bob Crump markets his own line of audio cables ( TG Audio ) and therefore has a LOT to loose by saying what he did adds further weight to his statements. The fact that he is a business partner with John Curl and Carl Thompson in making MULTI thousand dollar components ( $6500 power amps, $10,000 preamps, etc... ) via CTC Audio might lend even greater weight to his personal insights. Then again, if one does not like the products that Bob produces or is involved with, you might not agree with his other points of view either. Such is life and that is why we have SOOOO many makes / models of every type of product to choose from.

As to Thsalmon's comments, i basically agree with one MAJOR exception. I do think that cables CAN improve a system and not just change the "colouration" factor. Since cables alter the impedance that the component sees as part of the load, it can alter frequency response, transient response and other loading characteristics of the component feeding it. Since the effects of that loading would be further amplified and brought to the forefront of the presentation as it went down the chain, changing one cable early on in the system can have a multi-fold effect on the overall performance of the system.

Since i can already guess that Thsalmon's response might be that only "junky" or "poorly designed" components can be affected by changing the load that various cables present, so be it. All i can say is that there must be a LOT of "junk" out there. I haven't run across one component that was stable into every load that was presented to it. Sean
True that a cable can only detract, but that can be a useful tuning device.

As an example, I would choose to use silver cabling with a vandersteen/tube system. Why ? Because a system like that needs all the detail and upper frequencies it can get. On the opposing side I would tend to use copper for a midprice solid state system and a revealing speaker such as audio physic. Why ? Because they tune out the solid state nasties, and may tune out high frequency stridency. Part of that is my taste in sound too. I hate bright sounding systems. I like an emphasized midrange. This is why cable matching is so important.

I do feel that as you head up to expensive components and cables, the matching becomes a little less relevent. It seems that all equipment/cables in the top shelf realm are very revealing and very low noise. Once I chose my reference grade ic's I have changed components around them. Occasionally I'll tune with a rounded vs bright speaker cable.

The effectiveness of cables does depend on the way your system is voiced, and your preferences. As an example, my home system is voiced to have a very revealing midrange, tremendous imaging, fast high-definition bass, and a slightly rolled off top. If I remove one of my $700 (used) interconnects and put in a $75 cable, much of the system's magic go away. The ic's are an essential part of the system's performance.

By comparison, when I had a less expensive system I could indeed hear a performance improvement but it was not nearly so substantial. I've seen some excellent midprice cables come on the market - Audioquest Quartz, Cardas Neutral ref, harmonic tech truthlink. You can go a long way with $125/ea truthlinks.

Back to the original post, I have found that once you get to the 3-4K per component level (a 15K system), cables start to become very cost effective. You can buy a 2 cable set of midlin i/c's for $500, or top shelf ic's for ~2000. That 1500 cost difference should be seen as a component.
Here is an interesting article on speaker cables from a great guy, Nelson Pass.
I'd guess that if a cable made that big a difference in your system, there is something very wrong with the cable you are using, and it could be improved upon for a lot less than $7K.
Let me clarify my response a bit.

Changing from Cable A to Cable B can IMPROVE the performance of a system, not necessarily take it "sideways" or "tune it" as per someone's personal preference. The cable change can achieve this by actually improving the loading conditions of the component that is feeding it. The improvement would come from increased signal transfer with lower amounts of reactance. The cable change could do this via presenting a load that was more suitable to what the source ( not necessarily the "front end" but the component actually feeding the signal into that specific cable ) wanted to see.

Just as a power amp loads into speakers, a cd player or dac loads into a preamp, a preamp loads into a power amp, etc... If you don't think that changing speaker cables will affect the load that the amplifier sees, try taking a look at the article that Nelson Pass wrote and WhoCares makes reference to. As Mr Pass demonstrates, the differences in loading characteristics that various cables present when using the same set of speakers as a point of reference is very measurable. The same thing occurs with line level components, etc.. i.e. cable changes can make measurable differences in signal transfer. Taking this to another level, i personally feel that those measurable results are also audible. So says the "subjective objectivist" in me : )

Since cables are a necessity, it only makes sense to find those that are best suited for both accurate and musical reproduction within the confines of your system. This does not mean that each cable will be the same from component to component ( digital to preamp, preamp to power amp, etc... ) or that the same cables will work in similar fashion in another system. Nor does it mean that the "best" cable in any given situation need be expensive, make use of fancy geometries and materials or be an "audiophile approved" brand name.

As far as introducing tone controls to the circuit, these will typically introduce a multitude of negatives in terms of our goal of "accurate reproduction". Having said that, it is sometimes nice to be able to "tweak" up the bottom end and turn down the top end ( or vice-versa ) on some of the less than perfect recordings that we have to deal with. As such, better components may not include tone controls but do allow the provisions for the installation of such devices by simply taking advantage of a specialty "processor loop" designed for such. What type of processing one chooses to use is obviously at the discretion of the end user. Sean
I believe cables and components are equally important in order to maximize your system. In addition, good wall outlets help too. I have found that achieving good sound is not a numbers game. Inotherwords, the most expensive cables and components does not always produce the best results. Obtaining synergy requires the right power cords, cables, and components. Certain amplifiers may work best with the type of speakers you are using (i.e. - low powered amplifiers (SET) has good synergy with high effeciency speakers). Lastly, I am a believer of good power cords as an effective tweak. I have a preference in using certain power cords with different components, achieving a lower noise floor, obtaining good bass, and enlarging the sound stage.
Sean, you bring up some interesting points. However, you're actually agreeing with me in that a cable can only influence the performance of a component in an adverse way. I wouldn't dismiss a component as "junk" because its' performance is negatively affected by the load of the cable (or downstream electronics). I'm not that arrogant! In such a case, the cable is merely poorly suited to the source. I absolutely agree with you in your contention that trying to "tune" a system into much more than it is with cables is a futile undertaking.
I have great respect for Nelson Pass and his regular posts here are always well worth reading. Unfortunately, I don't think the article referenced above is his most valuable contribution. The date 2/1980, means that it necessarily misses the great advances touted by the wire industry for the last twenty years. The analysis is the classic RLC/impedance matching analysis that has been the bane of those trying to find reasons to pay huge amounts of money for wire. It inevitably leads to the conclusion, in all but a very few instances, that there is no reason. This is why you so often hear cable proponants argue so strongly that measurements don't matter.

His conclusion seems to indicate that he could have been a great politician as well as a great audio engineer. After saying basically that he cannot "assess" the differences except at the "extremes" (he doesn't define extreme but leaves the impression he means very long runs of wire) he falls back on "who am I" to judge line and says money spent on "quality" cables is money "well spent." Never saying what a "quality" cable is or what is a reasonable amount of money to spend.

Was he running for office in early 1980? I'da voted for him had I known.

I remain,
Thsalmon, we are probably just looking at it from different perspectives i.e. you saying that the signal only degrades after it leaves the component and me thinking that it can be "better presevered" by using more suitable cabling. In effect, i think we are both acknowledging that the cable can't improve the signal i.e. "make something that is not there", but we can work with various cables to transfer the signal as best possible with the least amount of losses or colouration. If the cable was "making something that was not there", it would simply be a distortion of the signal. As we've all come to learn, some distortions can be quite pleasant and euphonic though : ) Sean
Sean, What is the difference between a "Better preserved" and a "Degradation" of a signal? If it is not perfectly preserved, then it is a degradation. The point remains that a cable cannot improve upon a signal irrespective of impedence, capacitance or whatever. It can pass the signal as is or it degrades it. The "Perfect" cable would be one that passes a signal with no change (something we have not achieved.) I do believe in a synergy with certain cables with certain equipment. I'm sure that the interaction of electrical factors does account for this and forms a closer picture of the source(maybe.) A system is not going to be any better than its pieces parts. A bright CD player with "Good" cables will sound worse than it would with less accurate cables masking some of the brightness. Where the bad link is, it will have to be corrected or the sound will degrade through the rest of the chain. Each component is going to put its on signature on it for better or worse.
Obviously, the accurate thing is out the door. Accurate to what and by who's standard. With all the gear on the market (Including cables), the definition of accurate is really up for grabs.
Biggest bang for the buck? Argh! Tough question but - I would have to say the right cables can make a sad system sing and a great system sound utterly magnificent.

The margin of improvement by a single component in any system is far less - regardless of the quality of the component. Dumping a pair of Tenor's in a system comprised of a first generation CD player, radio shack preamp, and cheezy speakers is not going to provide the same results dollar for dollar as if the problems of the system were addressed with better suited cables. How much are the tenors? 20K? That's one heck of a cable budget! We may have money left over for better speakers!

There are many reasons for this - most of which *I* cannot explain. We often read how the electrical properties of cables, the preservation of signal, the capacitance, reactance and inductance all work to make it "better" but focusing on this is like looking at only one piece of the puzzle.

Here is an example. The new BMI Shark power cord is made of platinum. We know Platinum is a crappy conductor but people claim the Shark is an awesome "sounding" power cord. Likewise there are other cables (and components) which measure poorly yet sound very musical.

Why is this?

To get a better understanding of why cables make such a difference, one must first better understand the world around them. Everything is in play. While the preservation of a signal is important - there is truly so much more. Take a look at HyperPhysics to get a grasp.

Did I say cables can give you the biggest bang for the buck?
Using any type of wire based cables, we will never have "perfectly preserved" transfer of signal as far as i can tell. As such, i was saying that cables should be measured in the amount of "damage" that they do i.e. some cables are "better" because they do less "damage". As such, the one that does "less damage" is actually doing more to preserve the signal than the one that does more damage and degrades the signal to a greater extent. As Bob Crump stated, all wires are bad. Some are just "less bad" than others, in effect making them "better". I hope that you can follow my explanation and understand where i'm coming from.

Bare in mind that signals have MANY various aspects to them. While one cable might offer linear frequency response, the actual transient or phase response of the source trying to load into this cable could be quite poor. You can reverse that situation and have good transient or phase response with a non-linear frequency response. Juggling these and other variables is but a part of what finding what cable works best in a specific place within a system is all about.

As to "accuracy" being "out the door", i think that one can actually measure a good portion of what is "accurate" and what isn't. I'm not saying that we can take ALL of our cues from test bench measurements, but i do think that science and nature work hand in hand when done properly. Sean
Sean, I agree with you as far as signal degradation. We are on the same page with a few semantics. However, I don't believe we are to the point where we can measure performance with any amount of true certainty. Just read a couple of issues of Sterophile.
I will use the example of Vandersteen speakers. They measure about as perfect as any loudspeaker that you will find at any price. I personally am bias towards the speakers. My 3A Sigs. and 2WQ's sound so good its scary. Yet, look how many people say they are laid back, rolled off, poor transparency and etc. (I must be deaf because I have used many a speaker and I can't agree with this assessment.) Now look at the number of people who rave over proven inaccurate loud speakers as shown in test results. We accept +- 10 db as accurate? I still believe that accuracy is in the ears of the beholder. If not, explain these inconsistences away. What defining piece of equipment do we have? What cables? Etc. Etc. Look at tubes. They really test pretty poor vs. a transistor amp. Spec. wise, which would you buy? But how many people think they sound better? By the way, I'm not picking on you, I just feel very strongly that this industry has lost its roots and is pushing whatever they can sell by whatever means(mostly by propagada.) They are forcing us poor neurotic souls to purchase that perfection which is not obtainable. I for one cringe at the amount of money I have spent over the last 35 years in search of the Holy Grail. Of course on the opposite end, we have done this to ourselves by buying some of this stuff. Its like buying a Polo shirt vs. one sold at Walmart. They all cover your back. Maybe we should turn the tag out. I paid $10,000 for cable XYZ and had to add $750 for the connectors! Look what I bought for $10,750 Don't it sound great! Now do you really think that someone who just purchased these would say these things suck?
Bigtee: Actually "we" are closer to good measurements correlating with good sound than you might think. The trouble is, they are not necessarily the same measurements, taken the same way, that manufacturers report specs or magazine reviewers do measurements.

Floyd Toole has a white paper (a few years old now) on the Harmon Web site (, I believe) on the art and science of speaker design, in which he discusses the relationship between speaker measurements and listener preferences. Of course, he's doing his measuring in a real anechoic chamber, and he's doing his listening tests blind. Neither of which you get in a Stereophile review.
One of the factors in my review that I think perhaps gives it a little credibility is the fact that the cables were not mine and had to be returned to their true owner. I had no investment to justify and really felt no obligation to the owner to like the cables. The problem arose when the cables were broken-in and sounded better than anything I have ever heard before.
The question was raised as to whether the cables I used up to that point were of poor(er) quality. They were not. Up to the point when I was loaned the Dominus cables, the best I had ever heard were the Purist Colossus. The first time I heard them I was sold. Unfortunately I could not afford them and they went back to the store. Over the past few years I was able to purchase them and have never regretted the decision. The Dominus are just that much better.

I don't know about the physics (I only got A's and B's in college physics) or the bench test measurements. To a large degree I don't even care about them. I leave things like that to smarter people like Sean, whose opinion I value. I buy based on what I hear in my room. I believe I have a fairly well balanced system, which is not to say it requires no improvement. I calculate it to be in the $30,000 range. At the level I'm dealing with I can justify based on my experience spending a disproportionate amount of money on better cables because results are there!
I am not suggesting spending $3000 for cable on a $1000 system. I think these purchases need to be balanced (although I prefer single-ended).
Better cables tend to do less bad things to the signal, so anything less than better cables are resticting the ability of your system to sound it's best. If I can follow this logic it seems as though everything spent on better cable is justified while what is spent on electronics is suspect at best. BUT you can't listen to cable without electronics.
My conclusion? I will be buying the best cables I can afford right now even though it is enough to upgrade my amp or speakers if I chose to go that route.
Agree with Rcrump. In fact 10% was my rule of thumb. I make my own cables (it's not rocket science) so I can get quite nice looking and sounding cables for my whole system for a few hundred dollars. (My system is about $4k).
Bomarc, One tiny little problem. In the Floyd Toole article, it seems that he is out to justify the means (so to speak{er}.) It is a know fact that frequency response alone can be adjusted to reflect a "Certain" sound as in laid back or up front. However, how do we account for the difference in transparency, soundstaging, proper timbral allocation and the like? Speakers test perfect on whatever test and still sound like crap. I haven't seen this measured myself. Another good example of measurements gone astray is electrostatic speakers. Because of their inherent design, they are not going to measure very flat. They are subject to unreal reflections from the room and unless you are using multiple panels, one cannot reproduce the entire frequency spectrum without problems simply because the whole panel wants to vibrate at the same frequency. With the constant changes in amplitude, it is not going to be an accurate speaker frequency wise. However, there sure are a lot of people who like them.
Bigtee: Well, Toole is justifying his own (well-regarded) approach to speaker design. What he shows is a correlation between frequency response (measured in an anechoic chamber) and listener evaluation (blind, of course). There are a lot of reasons why that correlation may break down somewhat outside the lab; e.g., speaker-room interaction (which, along with the recording itself, is where much of your soundstage information comes from). And it's quite possible that people would prefer one speaker if they were looking at it and another if they weren't. No formula is going to explain every audiophile preference.

Biggest bang for the buck...
Kimber and 6500.00 worth of vinyl!
Nah, Gumby. Home Depot and $7495 worth of XRCDs.
I guess there's a lot of places to spend your money if you don't care about how good your system sounds. I'm not sure if some of these people are kidding or if they really think zipcord will sound as good a better cable. I guess, to each his own.
Sean, the quote is all wire is crap, but some are less crappy than others....I don't try for state of the art, but a very good reference with all my wires. I am happy with their performance and that is all that matters.....Regarding state of the art SS electronics I know a bit about this as that is what we strive for at CTC.....CTC is a specialty manufacturer as you are aware and we started the company for glory and nothing more as we haven't made a dime :-) Curl, Thompson & Crump just completed the design work on a huge set of mono amps for Parasound and I'll be curious of the reaction of the audiophile community as these are shipping now.....Always better to spend the money on better speakers or electronics than expensive wires keeping in mind 10% of system cost will allow darned good wires in a 25K system.......
There have been many comments made about how the cables are functioning as filters, as well as having other negative effects on the signal. Is there any reason this wouldn't be true of every piece of equipment in the chain? Amps and pre-amps are not passive. Everything has a sonic signature! When there are large amounts of capacitors and resistors and powere supplies the signal is going to be altered even more. It stands to reason that electronics detrimentally effect the signal more than cables will.
Maybe all componants are crap, but some are less crap than others.
Nrchy - it seems to me that you're really beginning to get a good understanding of how this works. :)

Its the "end result" or the final sonic signature of the component that really matters - how it gets there should be mostly irrelevant to the listener. The fact that a component sounds good is all that should really matter.

I've seen lousy wire used inside of great components and while the quality of the wire was an initial concern to me, I ultimately realized that it was silly to worry about that when the sonics produced by the component were outstanding.

Likewise, I have known people who re-wired their equipment with GOOD wire, only to have horrid results.

As Tim (Tireguy) so eloquently stated in the first post - "Your system is a sum of all its parts". & I would have to agree.

But I'd like to take an additional step...

Audio is really quite similar to the game of Black Jack whereas the objective is to get a "21" without going over - by adding too many cards.

When building a component (or a complete system) every change made can take you closer to what might be considered a "21" - making too many improvements sometimes results in a sonic downgrade or "going bust".

You are right - everything has a sonic signature.

A component adds its own signature to the signal it receives. For example, if a component is bright sounding, a bright signal being fed into it will be undesirable.

The trick is to ensure that each component is fed with the sonic signature it needs to produce an optimal result.

Make sense?
In my experience, I have seen customers go two ways, depending on their components:

In the first case, their components are accurate and have low-impedance output drivers, particularly the source CDP. In this case, cables with lower reactance (capacitance and inductance) generally improve the system sound, particularly the image focus, soundstage and detail rendering. They get improvements that are worth the money spent on cables.

In the second case, the components/speakers are adding some coloration, usually high-frequency harshness or bass bloat. In this case, they are tempted to use inferior cables designs as "tone controls" to the get "sound" they are looking for. Unless they identify and eliminate the inferior component, usually the source, but sometimes the preamp or speakers, they will continually chase their tail, often dismissing excellent cables in fovaor of inferior ones. This is the "garden path", and unfortunately many audiophiles go down this path. Some finally discover the error in their ways.
Ah... but if inferior cables (less expensive) can benefit the sound of an inferior component vs. a continued degradation in the sound with a superior cable, wouldn't that make the inferior cable the truly superior cable in that instance? :)

I would gladly dismiss excellent cables in favor of inferior ones if the inferior ones make my system sound better.
Bwhite there is a huge gap in your logic. Not to mention the fact that you make a completely unsubstantiated statement :(
How can the poor transmission of an inferior signal benefit it? If this logic is true wouldn't the best playback source be putting your ear to the cartridge of your turntable and skipping the electronics? Maybe you could run the cartridge leads into a stethascope.
The circular reasoning of your second paragraph evacuates it of any meaning. Inferior cable is cable which degradates the sound, it has nothing to do with price. The concern is solely with the sound and the point of this thread was intended to be that $$$ were not the issue. What makes a cable excellant?
I understand that there will always be a divergence of opinions but this reasoning makes no sense.
What I have learned through personal experience is that without question cables are components and no less important than any other in the rig. For example, I went from MIT high end series, 330 shotguns to reference 350's and EVO's and the improvement was beyond significant, low level detail, bass, hearing so much further into the recording and most of all accurate tonality, sorry, sounds like a review...I've got very good components but not reference level but until I put in these cables I never heard what the rest of the system was capable of, and I've been through lots of cables, brands, etc. No doubt with my years of investment in components, yes that especially includes wire, I do have some knowledge of what works well together and that's the only way you will ever get that magical synergy unless your very lucky. It sounds like Nrchy is getting the same results with the Purist wire; eye opener, interesting hobby we have chosen wouldn't ya say...
Nrchy - it seems you just don't get it. I was referring to the statement made by Audioengr where he wrote,
"...are tempted to use inferior cables designs as "tone controls" to the get "sound" they are looking for."

What is superior and what is inferior are relative to the application in which they are being used and not always governed by measurement. If a cable noted as "inferior" sounds better than one deemed "superior", wouldn't that make the inferior cable superior in this instance? Guess that depends on what's important to you as a listener. To me - sound is what's important. I don't give a hoot what the electrical properties are...I only care that it sounds good.

There is a lot more to the sound of a cable than the electrical properties. Unfortunately at the level most of our systems are at, this usually equates to more expensive and hence perceived as "superior".

The PAD Dominus you tried is a great cable - sounds great! but I seriously doubt it has the best measurements of any cable out there. So does that make it inferior? Some would say yes because they believe that measurement and electrical properties are the silver bullet of audio. Likewise - very few (if any) cables that measure better than the Dominus will actually sound better.

Why do you suppose that is?
Bwhite wrote: "If a cable noted as "inferior" sounds better than one deemed "superior", wouldn't that make the inferior cable superior in this instance?"

Not usually. If there is a weak link an a system, "tone control" cables can often compensate, but you will never achieve the clarity and focus of a system where the cables sound like no cables at all.

The goal should be to tune your system first so that it sounds live and dynamic when the connectors are butted directly to one another (no cables at all). Only then can you determine which cables are actually superior. These superior cables that do not change the sound that was achieved when the connectors were butted together.
Audioengr - butting connectors together in a system is not possible. Any imaginary result or benefit of having no cables is pure speculation and therefore irrelevant.

There must a be conductor of some sort connecting the components together. Even in an integrated product, there is wire which connects each module. And we all know that speakers do not hook directly to the back of our amps.

Each component (good or bad) has a sonic signature. There is always a need for tone control of sorts to acheive the optimal results. Heck... each module within a component has a unique sonic signature which changes as a signal propogates through the component - are these tone controls too? If so are they bad? Should I imagine music as if there was no analog output stage or power supply in my CD player so I can get a better idea of what superior clarity and focus sounds like?

When I change the caps in my CD player or add a silver wound transformer to my preamp, am I just adding a tone control?

If we go back to an earlier post I made which said,
Its the "end result" or the final sonic signature of the component that really matters - how it gets there should be mostly irrelevant to the listener.
Then we can better understand my position that superior and inferior are relative to the application.

If the Linn CD12 CD player uses crappy wire internally but sounds awesome, is it a bad CD player? Would changing the crappy wire to "superior" wire inside the player actually improve the sound...? That's doubtful unless other things were changed to compensate for the addition of the "superior" wire.

Similarly if a system lacks midrange presence, weight or body it is not going to be fixed necessarily with a cable that measure good. It could... but it might not.

The best is simply what sounds the best, tone controls are everywhere and nothing is truly superior unless it sounds the best in the application in which its being used.
Okay.. I just went to a couple websites which I knew had Inductance and Capacitance specifications listed for their cables. Interesting enough, the cheapest cable in this list has the closest measurement to the most expensive - which is recognized as a "reference" cable and not typically considered inferior.

So what does it mean?

TMC Yellow Label ($300 1m pair)
Inductance 0.059 µH/ft
Capacitance 23.40 pF/ft

Empirical - Holophonic-2S ($419 1m pair)
Inductance .72µH
Capacitance 10.3pF

Nordost Valhalla ($3300 1m pair)
inductance 0.055uH/ft
capacitance 22.0pF/ft

Harmonic Tech Pro Silway ($359 1m pair)
Inductance 0.43 uH / ft
Capacitance 32 pF / ft
My brain instantly reacts with "Electronics" but on further reflection I can recall many instances where cables made a bigger difference (for better or worse) than electronics. I think Sean hit upon something. Is the question being asked of someone starting from scratch or upgrading? I guess it all depends on the paritcular circumstances and goals.
Bwhite wrote:
"Heck... each module within a component has a unique sonic signature which changes as a signal propogates through the component - are these tone controls too? If so are they bad?"

No, the gain and buffering stages in components add a little noise, but they do not act as tone controls. If they did, it would sound like a boom-box.

"If the Linn CD12 CD player uses crappy wire internally but sounds awesome, is it a bad CD player?"

No, it sounds good because the wires are so short.

"Would changing the crappy wire to "superior" wire inside the player actually improve the sound...?"

Might, but the improvement would be infinitesimal.

"Similarly if a system lacks midrange presence, weight or body it is not going to be fixed necessarily with a cable that measure good."

True, the offending component must be eliminated.

"The best is simply what sounds the best, tone controls are everywhere and nothing is truly superior unless it sounds the best in the application in which its being used."

I disagree. Until you have heard a superior system where there are no "weak links", one that is wired with truly low-loss IC's and speaker cables, you will not know what I am talking about. This "tone-control" mentality is what makes it really difficult to get an even playing field to compare cable performance.
Bwhite wrote:

"Interesting enough, the cheapest cable in this list has the closest measurement to the most expensive - which is recognized as a "reference" cable and not typically considered inferior."

The one thing that is not mentioned is the dielectric absorption. Even if the capacitance is equal, this will make a big difference. Besides, have you compared all of these cables head-to-head? I believe you will find that the lowest capacitance cables always sound the best. Also, the specs you mention are for the shielded Empirical cable which has half the capacitance of any competitor:

Empirical - Holophonic-2S ($419 1m pair)
Inductance .72µH
Capacitance 10.3pF

the unshielded version is actually much better at 3.8 pF/foot. What makes you think that the Valhalla sounds better than the Holophonic?

Just because they advertise in Stereophile does not make them superior.
Cable-butting is obviously unrealistic, but it makes the point that whatever the sound is like with no cables, the best cables shuld approach this sound.
Audioengr - you are totally overlooking the fact that each module in a component DOES add a sonic signature - maybe the gain and buffering stages do not but can you honestly say that two different analog output stages on CD players or two different power supply designs will sound the same?
and that neither of these change the sound of a component?

As for the Linn CD12 sounding good as a result of short wires.... That's bologna too. What about the PC boards inside? I bet those sound great!

Cable butting... that's funny. Totally impossible and completely impossible to truly "imagine" what the final sound would be.

I think my system has nearly no weak links - perhaps your cables will make it have NO weak links. Do you think my AudioNote Kondo KSL is the weak link? Or my NBS Statement?
Bwhite, I think you are missing Audioengr's point about the various modules within a component not being tone controls. Correct me if I'm wrong Audioengr, but just because a module may add a small amount of noise or sound different from a similar module in another brand of component, it doesn't mean that the modules are acting as tone controls. Afterall, there is more measurable and unmeasurable differences in sound than just tonal balance. As we all know, the final "sonic signature" consists of many other audible elements, such as dynamic contrasts and shadings and a lack of distortion, to name but a few.

Also, Audioengr didn't say that the Linn CD12 sounds good because it uses short wires. He said that when wires are as short as the Linn's, their quality is practically irrelevant. This seems logical and I basically agree. I have found in my own experience, however, that improving even small lengths of wire in a component can sometimes yield significant results, such as when I replaced the cheap input and output wire in my old Adcom GFA-555 power amplifier with some custom 22g pure silver wire in a teflon jacket some years back. I suppose it depends on whether you use the better wire in places where it can affect the component's sound.

One of the problems we all have is that until we find the most "neutral" cable we can afford, we cannot hear whether the rest of our system has any additional weak links. Of course this is a "chicken and egg" problem, but is nevertheless true.
"Audioengr - you are totally overlooking the fact that each module in a component DOES add a sonic signature - maybe the gain and buffering stages do not but can you honestly say that two different analog output stages on CD players or two different power supply designs will sound the same?"

No I'm not. There is some level of noise and dynamic effects in each active stage, compression can be caused by some output stages, and some really poorly designed ones may have some non-linearity as a function of signal level etc.. However, none of these phenomena qualify as "tone control". The only one that does is the bandpass, which tends to be lower in frequency for some tubed equipment. Certianly, if all stages have -3dB point at 20kHz, then there will be a cumulative effect on both bandpass and phase shift.
Okay guys we are getting way off track from the original post. I do believe that cables offer the biggest bang for the buck. The right $300 cable can revolutionize a system where as a $300 component wouldn't in most cases.

now I digress...

Hshapiro, I do not think I am missing Audioengr's point.
He kind of side stepped my arguments by mentioning two modules which do not effect the sound the gain and the buffer. But.. what about the other modules?

First off, I believe the term "tone control" as well as "Band-Aid" have both been negative ways people have chosen to describe the effects of cables on a system. While the terms are for the most part accurate, the terms are still a slam on cables in general and really not fair commentary on a system.

Secondly, I have never taken a LinCD12 apart so I cannot confirm whether or not the wires are short. They may infarct be but its silly to attribute the astonishing sound of a Linn CD12 only to short wire... Audioengr does also state that changing bad wire to good wire might make an improvement but it would be infinitesimal. This seems to differ from the results you had with your Adcom GFA-555 where you replaced cheap input wire with "custom" 22g pure silver wire in a Teflon jacket. Can you describe the changes you heard? Do you think that just maybe, the tone of the Adcom changed a bit? If not, what did change? How did you know it was better?

I guess I have stepped across a new line in the sand when I speak of the tone controls inside of a component as well as the components themselves being tone controls designed to produce a specific sound.

This side of the sand is fun to be on.. so for fun, let me ask, hasn't any one here thought that just maybe, ALL AUDIO COMPONENTS (REGARDLESS OF WHICH ONE) ARE IN FACT TONE CONTROLS... What do you think differentiates McIntosh, LAMM, Krell, Levinson, AudioAero, AudioMeca, Sony, Pioneer, blah.... blah... blah....and yes the Linn CD12?? They all sound different do they not? Why do you suppose that is? Could it be tone?

Tone comes in many forms and yes, dynamic contrasts, shadings and a lack of distortion can in fact be a direct result of "tone" since the definition of TONE as it refers to sound is: the quality or character of sound, a distinct pitch, a sound of distinct pitch and vibration, quality, and duration, a... blah... blah... blah.. the list goes on.
Tone is a pretty big word. And since audiophile tend to use visual cues to describe what they hear, tone can be even more profound than the above definition indicates.

Anyhow, perhaps we are not aware that many aftermarket manufacturers have been quite busy upgrading parts inside of the new SACD players (they don't just shorten the wire), they alter the various "modules" as I called them - with new parts. The upgrades improve the quality of sound these components (SACD players) produce.

Now.. what is the difference between the before SACD player and the after CD player?

Do you think that maybe the tonal quality... --> From Stereophile Glossary: The accuracy (correctness) with which reproduced sound replicates the timbres of the original instruments. --> may have improved?

Audioengr... I would be very interested to know what your system is comprised of. You make a rather bold statement:
Until you have heard a superior system where there are no "weak links", one that is wired with truly low-loss IC's and speaker cables, you will not know what I am talking about. This "tone-control" mentality is what makes it really difficult to get an even playing field to compare cable performance.

Who needs an even playing field to compare cable performance? Which combination of audio components makes for an even playing field? Isn't sound the ultimate playing field, or are electrical properties more important?

And.. while were on the subject of even playing field. How many of you have a room that sounds just like mine? or Audioengr's?