Cables 101, new student, first question


I have a simple question if I can get it worded correctly. For simplicity, let's say my system has four interconnects in a "stream," all from the same manufacturer, some from the top of the line and some from the bottom. Example: Wireworld's Eclipse 8 line, four different versions, the least expensive starting at $325 and the most expensive starting at $1700. In general, will the system's sound be defined by the weakest (cable) link in the chain, in which case all the more expensive cables are a waste of money? Or will a mix of cables that includes some really high-end ones sound better than a consistent run of the cheaper stuff? 

To put this a different way, if I'm buying a couple new interconnects (again, for simplicity's sake from the same maker), might buying better ones improve the sound or will I not hear a difference until I've replaced them all? (Here's the stream analogy: if I put a dam upstream, the flow in the entire river will be reduced.)  


northman
 In general, will the system's sound be defined by the weakest (cable) link in the chain, in which case all the more expensive cables are a waste of money?

No. Not at all.
Or will a mix of cables that includes some really high-end ones sound better than a consistent run of the cheaper stuff?

Maybe. Probably. Sort of. Way I see it, completely beside the point.

Here is, as near as I can tell, how it works. To clue you in that I speak from experience: https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367

I've used everything from freebie patch cords to $4k Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level III Euphoria. I've done a budget system where the total cost was $1200 and I've put a $2k interconnect in that system. So I know what I'm talking about.

The crappiest weakest wire does not determine the sound of the whole system. BUT if you do have a crappy cheap plastic patch cord AND everything else is much better then it does make sense to upgrade the weakest link- but NOT because its better but only because its CHEAPER!

You could for example leave the patch cord in there and still get a nice improvement with an upgrade to any other piece of wire. But the wire you get would have to be better than the wire it replaces, or its a downgrade not an upgrade. Its just a lot easier and cheaper to find something better than a patch cord. So that is the one to do. Not because it is the limiting factor. There is no such thing. But simply because it is the least cost for the most improvement.

In my system for example I could get probably about the same improvement by upgrading the interconnect, speaker cable, or power cord. But a better interconnect would be $5k, better speaker cable $7k, while a better power cord would be only about $1k. Guess which one I would do first?  

Yes, the power cord. But only because I have already done the fuses. What?!?! Yes the fuses. And the springs, cable elevators, room... oh wait maybe the diffuser. Keep putting off doing the diffuser.....

See, you asked about cables but the question really is how to get the best sound for the money. Right? This calls for taking a view of the whole system from like 10,000 feet. If you do that and your whole system- everything from the breaker box to the walls of your room- is so good the easiest/cheapest thing you can do is upgrade one interconnect, then by all means upgrade that interconnect.  

Whether or not it is cheap or expensive. What the one you are replacing costs is nothing to do with it. My last speakers were $16k retail. The current ones $5k. But they are much, much better. That's what matters. Maybe you find something like I did costs less but sounds better. Its the sound that counts. Not what it cost. How it sounds. Got it?
Outstanding reply MC. Should be a template reply for half the posts in these forums. Take the 'big picture' view of our systems as actual 'systems.' I don't think enough of us do that. I know I don't (enough). 
Thanks. Audiogon membership: $0. Cost of advice: $0. Triggered butt-hurt haters reading praise for millercarbon: Priceless!
I will know they did read it when they have the above post removed, thus placing them in an unwinnable Catch-22. Amusing, no?
You should sell tickets. 
I appreciate the response. I'm sorry that anyone thought I was talking about the relationship between price and the subjective listening experience. I was trying to ask, simply, whether cables in a system are victim to the weakest link in the cable chain. I'm interested in how systems work, abstractly, and I'm also interested in practical applications.  That is, I'm interested in "the big picture" (and I wouldn't say we're anywhere near the big picture most of the time out here; to get there would require some serious attention to what is meant, in both philosophical aesthetics and cultural studies, by terms like "subjective," "value," and "pleasure"), but I'm also interested in praxis. I'm adding a unit to my system and need new interconnects; what is the relationship between the new cables and the existing ones? I think that was answered and I'm grateful.
"I've done a budget system where the total cost was $1200 and I've put a $2k interconnect in that system. So I know what I'm talking about."
Priceless!
This is just my personal experience FWIW.  Adding a better interconnect improves the sound of my system even if there’s a lesser one elsewhere.  But it also matters where you install the cables in your system.  I get the best results by putting the better interconnects closer to the source.  Hope this helps somewhat. 
Excellent advice @soix .
You're terrific!!

I agree you have to look at the system as a whole. But you need to start your upgrade somewhere and if the interconnects can be improved, then adding one pair of better cables will certainly be an improvement.


@northman, IME, Cables are the last thing you should do to a system to improve the SQ. Some People view cables as “Jewelery” and buy for looks or bragging rights.. Spend the money on the source, a good preamp/amp and of course speakers. then address the power. after all the big money is spent, Buy cables that match the load and spec you require with good connectors. 
if your system is revealing enough, You can tell if your weak link is a cable..  Money is almost always better spent elsewhere.. Cables matter, but they don’t need to be $$$ to make a nice difference..
IME.
@soix , YES, this: "Adding a better interconnect improves the sound of my system even if there’s a lesser one elsewhere. But it also matters where you install the cables in your system." That answered my question! Thank you!

I appreciate the advice all around. I should say that I’m not upgrading my cables. I’m adding a couple things to my system so I need *new* cables. I’m trying to decide whether to move up the ladder a bit and get some nicer ones (by review and reputation) than my others, and that would only make sense if ... "adding a better interconnect could improve the sound of my system." It sounds like it does, and I will. And believe me, I'm not talking about $$$! 


@northman - I am definitely in the "cable camp"

For me, cables have provided the biggest improvements in sound in my system. Most electronics today are far better than the cables allow them to be
e.g.
- I have a $300 mini system that sound so much better after i replaced the power and speaker cables - it’s a single unit so no interconnects
- I have a Bluesound Pulse Mini streamer/speaker that sounded so much better with a good power cable, that the sales guy in the store could not believe his ears from such a simple "upgrade"

And I have repeatedly achieved this on many friends gear - to their amazement

My Bluesound NODE 2 streamer improved significantly when I added good cables. My initial interconnects cost significantly more than the streamer, but it sounded amazing - then I built my own cables

My approach is to add good cables in the following order - Speaker cables, interconnect and finally power cables

Good speaker cables allow you to hear the improvements of the interconnects and then the better Interconnects will allow you to hear the subtleties the power cables provide.

The problem is - which cables?

If you are interested in DIY I can recommend these great cables...
My Audio Alchemy (image99.net)

But if you are NOT into DIY, then take a look at KLE Innovations. Even their entry level cables are very good.

Hope that helps - Steve









I’d ask one additional question to those posting advice to the OP, here. OP asked,
In general, will the system’s sound be defined by the weakest (cable) link in the chain, in which case all the more expensive cables are a waste of money?
My question -- at what point is a "system" too un-resolving for the cables to reveal a difference?

I’ve seen many threads where people have asked about their A/V receiver and the consistent response is "get something better." So, there must be some point (in quality though not necessarily in $$) that cables are a waste of money. In other words, there is some point when "the system" in the OP’s question is not good enough. What criteria define that point? That answer, if it can be stated, would probably help people direct their resources away from cables toward more important elements in their system. Then, they can move on to cables.

That said, it looks like williewonka's post may be an example of the refutation of my premise! 
When I first started reading Audiogon with some real attention, about two years ago, I was flummoxed by the differing opinions to questions that I took to be straightforward. Of course I knew that in the wider world there was plenty of debate about whether people could hear the difference between cables and amplifiers, but it interested me just how nuanced those debates could get out here. So I truly appreciate that there are differing opinions about the *application* of cable theory, but I also appreciate that there seems to be some consistency in this thread about my original question. 

In short, thank you again!


RE:
My question -- at what point is a "system" too un-resolving for the cables to reveal a difference?
I am yet to hear a system that does not outperform most cables i.e. from a resolution perspective. In which case upgrading cables will most always result in sonic benefits. You just need the right cables

So here is what I have found about cable construction...
- Quality of the metal used in the wire i.e. UP-OCC copper or silver wire - this invariably helps with the speed and dynamics of a cable, whereas as OFC or a lesser grade will not perform to the same level

- the gauge of the wires used - for speaker cables, too thin and certain frequencies are impacted or in the case of power cables using a wire that is too thin can restrict dynamics

- Quality of the insulation i.e. Teflon, Foamed Teflon or Cotton - this reduces distortions created within in the cable. Better insulation improves clarity. The issue is the Dielectric Constant (Dk) of the insulation. Air is 1.1, cotton is 1.3, foamed teflon is 1.45 and Teflon is 2.2. The higher the valus the more disortions will be introduced in the cable

- Cable Geometry - this reduces distortions between the signal and neutral conductors and improves imaging. Also, if their capacitance is too high the cables becomes a filter and colours the sound e.g. a cable might sound bright.

Now also consider, there are two channels operating in an audio system i.e. two signals that must be perfectly "coordinated" in order to reproduce the recorded signal.

Anything less than perfect reproduction of those signals will impact the image, i.e. the size of the image, the position of the instruments within the image, how focused the artist appears, will be affected.
Also, when the two signals are not "perfectly aligned" then different instruments and voices can be "layered" on top of one another, which impacts clarity and details because those sounds all appear to come from the very same location and the signals become harder to distinguish, impacting clarity

Hearing the difference between most commercial grade cables can be a challenge, mainly because a great many of them adopt the same/similar geometry, so they inherit the same issues.

But once you hear very good cables you will understand more about what exactly to listen for.

As for the other question: will using a poor downstream cable impact using a good upstream cable - the answer to that is YES!

If you have a great interconnect that transfer the signal flawlessly, but your speaker cables introduces distortions in that signal, then your system will only sound as good as the speaker cables allow

So what’s the difference between cables?

Interconnects and speaker cables transmit the signal, so perfect transmission of that signal is the goal.

Whereas power cables conveys the current required by the attached component. Good power cables allow components to better handle the demand the component places on the power supply, in order to handle transient spikes in the signal it is processing, which improves dynamic performance, imaging and clarity. Also, if there is any noise in the cable then this can impact the neutral side of the component, which should be at ZERO volts. Noise on the neutral will impact the way the signal is processed/amplified and the overall sound is impacted.

In both cases, wire metallurgy, insulation, geometry present in really good cables, plays a key role in conveying the signal or power to the attached component without any noise.

Please note - this post is very much a summary of what is a very much more complicated topic

Hope that helps - Steve





I was trying to ask, simply, whether cables in a system are victim to the weakest link in the cable chain. I’m interested in how systems work, abstractly, and I’m also interested in practical applications. That is, I’m interested in "the big picture"

The big picture, as it says on my system page, is that everything matters. The "weakest link" concept applies only to the extent it might guide you towards doing things that get the most improvement for your time and money. But every single little thing you can think of anywhere you can think of it, each one is only about as important as any other.

Take AC wire, for example. There’s a treatment Total Contact that when applied to the outside of a wire greatly improves sound quality. You might think it will work best inside a component, or inside the room. But I have crawled under the house and put this stuff on wires going all the way back to the breaker panel. It comes in a 1.5ml syringe. I know how much went where. The first 5 feet from the panel makes just the same improvement as the last 5 feet in the room.

The beauty of this is when you find something like this that is very cost-effective then instead of having to buy ever more and more expensive components you can greatly improve what you already have and get there for a lot less. This is embraced as great news by people like me and Mahgister; dismissed by people who seem to have inexhaustible supplies of fiat currency for buying ever more expensive upgrades; and derided by people who either cannot hear or cannot believe their own ears. There’s a lot of different personalities out there trying to be audiophiles.
When I first started reading Audiogon with some real attention, about two years ago, I was flummoxed by the differing opinions to questions that I took to be straightforward.

There are also a lot of audiophiles who simply have not yet developed the requisite skills needed to form a sound opinion. This is almost always the case early on. I can still recall back in 1990 my inability to hear any difference between CD players and DACs. Took me a good few months running around hearing lots of different things until suddenly one day Eureka! Then in no time flat there were all kinds of increasingly obvious differences between .... everything.

At least that’s the way it seems now in hindsight. Back then though it wasn’t sudden at all. It was months and months of driving around straining in vain- and not getting much encouragement. Because when the salesman has a vested interest you can’t count his encouragement, and the other fellow in the store can’t hear any difference either (this happened more than once!) and even the so-called audiophiles at the so-called audiophile club aren’t much better, its long odds.

That’s just the listening angle. There’s also technology, electronics, physics, acoustics, and psycho-acoustics to contend with. So don’t be too surprised people have greatly differing opinions. This ain’t easy. Not easy at all. There’s a saying, nothing worth doing ever is.


@williewonka  Thanks for your organized, clear, detailed, and readable answer.
I’ve used everything from freebie patch cords to $4k Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level III Euphoria. I’ve done a budget system where the total cost was $1200 and I’ve put a $2k interconnect in that system. So I know what I’m talking about.


Oh yeah? Oh yeah?
Well, I’ve rebuilt $10 and even free old used audio gear ...and then put +$20k in the system built from them. So I really really super duper really know what I’m talking about.

What are we talking about, again?
Can we tell the differences in cables, even at that (simple cheap) level of audio system?
Does it take an educated and capable ear to hear it?
Does this mean good cables are chance and also choice?
That the ear is the final arbiter?
That we can’t trash a cheap cable choice or an expensive cable choice, as all people are different?
But..but..that..anyone who INSISTS that their cable choice is the best for ALL is just about... 100% wrong?

Yes on all fronts, from my perception.
Northman, I suggest that you audition before you buy. You have a functioning system and you know how it sounds. Make any change prove itself before your lay down your dollars.

You may find, as I do, that cables are the least cost-effective upgrade.
Been doing this audiophile thing for a long time. Regardless of price, I like having all my cabling made by the same manufacturer. I consider that more important than price. Do your research, read the reviews, paying attention to the quality of construction. Shielding and quality connectors are important for interconnects. As for price, my personal experience has shown that a $400 set of interconnects will not sound $340 better than a $60 set of cables. Let your budget dictate how much you spend and you won’t suffer from buyer’s remorse. Companies like Blue Jeans Cable make pretty decent cables with competitive pricing.
Thank you, @terry9; I've got an account with the Cable Company lending library and I might indeed do that.

And thank you, @hobo1452; I know exactly what you mean about those "incremental" improvements. Your first point is something I've wondered about; I didn't want to complicate this thread (any more than I already have) but I'm interested in your comment that you like having the cables come from the same manufacturer. I should probably admit that one of the contexts for this thread is that I have no consistency at all. In my current system I have Kimber Kable, Cardas, Audioquest, and Pangea. And now I'm looking at WireWorld! Maybe it's time for me to settle down and pick a path.... 
So I know what I’m talking about.
Or perhaps not.

Cables, regardless of cost or manufacturer, must mate well with the components they connect.

All else is hooey.

See ieLogical CableSnakeOil for a bit of science and some links to intelligent papers.
Millercarbon: "But I have crawled under the house and put this stuff on wires going all the way back to the breaker panel. The first 5 feet from the panel makes just the same improvement as the last 5 feet in the room."

Oh, so you came up for air and a sound-check after you'd painted the first 5 feet?

Spreading disinfomation again.  What about the 400 yards from the panel to the sub-station - are you going to dig a trench in the street and paint the cable?   And the 150 miles to the power station - are you going to climb the pylon and paint the six wires on that, best all six because you don't know which wire carries 'your' electricity.

"The first 150 miles to your panel makes just the same improvement as the last 5 feet in your room".  Much more I'd say.

Refute this if you can.
My cable of choice is Pangea, specifically the Audio Premier SE series. I like their build quality and their appearance. Their less pricey Audio Prime series are just as well built and just as nice looking and sounding.
you guys should hold Tekton man to account on his cable painting misinformation.
The lower the signal stage voltages, the more shielded and less capacitive the cable should be. As you move further towards the power, at the higher current stages, the lower the resistance and inductance should be. This is approximately the golden rule.

At no stage however, it is worth spending more than about $150 for any interconnect, including speaker wire, unless you run miles of it obviously.
@hobo1452:  I have read comments elsewhere regarding Pangea cables, to the effect that they were not very good cables.  Audio Advisor features Pangea and at reasonable prices, but given those comments I did not buy any.  Pangea claims to use very high quality Cardas copper.  You find Pangea to do well in your system?  Do you have experience with other brands and cables and found Pangea to hold their own in comparison?  Just curious.  
Cakyol:

Physics? What's physics got to do with it? This is religion!



OMG, yet another jaunt into the IC rabid whole....*sigh*

@terry9 , yup.....don't forget to drink the CoolJade......;)
Right, asv. 

No doubt I could improve on Canare microphone cable and ETI connectors, but at what cost? Another Koetsu? No thanks.
Here's what I suggest:
Build yourself a pair of cables with DH Labs solid silver and KLH silver plugs.


https://www.partsconnexion.com/DHLABS-57225.html

Tell me if anything you ever buy sounds better.
Best,
Erik
Another thing to consider is environment, specifically, RF environment.

Canare Starquad has an RF-rejecting geometry and very dense shielding, yet somehow remains flexible. Cross-linked polyester dielectric, which gives nothing away to teflon. Acceptably low capacitance. One of the best studio cables, which means it was good enough to make the record you're listening to.

Some cable companies offer a Starquad option, or so I've read. And Switchcraft connectors, which are well made and damned near free (from Digikey), compete with ETI and WBT. That is, in a double blind experiment with Starquad, DIY class A electronics, and $30,000 worth of ESL's. Expensive name brand cabling (which I got free) did not compete.
Millercarbon... Please, not that pile of non-sense again. And Im being charitable. You offend my sense of aesthetics... there should be a law against such unbridled ugliness. 
I've put a $2k interconnect in that system. So I know what I'm talking about.
  classic statement   Yes
At a certain price point you account for the quality of the materials and assembly of most cables. This then becomes a world of differences not improvements. Millercarbon actually does make a good point-- you have to take the time to learn how to listen, and I would add one thing to that-- don't waste your time making snap judgements. Sometimes hearing differences also includes trading one perception (mental focusing) for another.

This is why if I make a system change (I like to think I'm making an upgrade) I try hard to set my snap (or blink) judgements aside and just live with the change for a while, listen to a lot of different music, and slowly come around to my opinion as to whether or not I believe, from a lot of listening, that it is indeed better -- better for me.

Again, Millercarbon's comment on replacing his speakers with a much less expensive set that, to his ears, sounds better-- then it is better. There's no arguing the absolute truth of a proposition like this because we're all different and we all hear differently.

I'm not saying that junk will sound as good as something decent or better, just that at a certain point it's a matter of taste-- and that taste is ultimately a personal thing that cannot be objectified.

Every system, every room, and every person is different. Especially when listening over time, everyone will respond differently to the same stimulus  based upon the biggest variable of all-- you. Never fall into the trap that more money equals better sound and therefore more enjoyment, it just ain't so-- no matter what that salesman or that review or that advertisement says. Learn to relax and to just listen to the music and not the gear-- you'll find your truth in time. 
 
erik_squires10,202 posts
12-24-2020 11:46am
Here's what I suggest:
Build yourself a pair of cables with DH Labs solid silver and KLH silver plugs.


https://www.partsconnexion.com/DHLABS-57225.html

Tell me if anything you ever buy sounds better.
Best,
Erik

This so true.
Also post at another thread that the DH Labs BL-1 is so underated.
I should have mentioned, while the best sounding cables I've ever heard, the BL-1 is brittle due to the single strand construction.  So go easy on them after soldering.
@clearthinker
you guys should hold Tekton man to account on his cable painting misinformation.
You're dead on, Tekton man, as you call him, is full of it and misinformation too.