Cheap/expensive or expensive/cheap?


While I was listening to my modest little system recently, I began to ponder a question. What would sound better, an expensive system with the cheap/stock cables or a cheap system with high quality cables/power cords? For example, say you have a $3000 system (total) but have high quality cables/cords/conditioner etc. vs a $10000 system with just the stock cables and original power cords (no conditioners). 
I read many topics on AG and I am always amazed how much I don't know and how much I've learned on here. I've been updating my system over the past 2 years or so and appreciate all the experience and knowledge on these forums. Thanks---I look forward to your comments.
 
bluorion
Let's use the words "good" and "bad" instead of "expensive" and "cheap" because they aren't always linearly related.  A good system with a bad power cable will sound better than a bad system with a good power cable.  Same applies to all other cables.  Yes, cables make a difference but they aren't going to move the needle as much as fantastic primary components...not even close.
"Less Costly".

When young (Interior Designer, Corporate Offices), I came back from a client meeting, I told the head of the furniture and furnishings department "The client wants cheaper furniture".

Betty batts her eyes at me and says, "We don't sell cheap furniture, I will assemble some 'Less Costly' choices.

Point is, you don't buy/own cheap stuff do you?
I put a Nordost Odin2 power cable, IC's and speaker cables to my $250 1995 Harman Kardon Receiver, $150 CD player and $300 white van speakers.

Blows away all the systems here, in the forum. Will post pics soon.
If the the main conductor is copper, ICs are coax, the speaker cables are the correct gauge, neither are excessively long and both make good contact with the sockets then they'll be about as good as a cable can be. In an electrically noisy environment balanced cables are a good idea and it's best to go for low capacitance cable for TT interconnects longer than a couple of feet. All of that is achievable without spending much cash and will add no discernable (or probably measureable) noise or distortion.
Now look at the specification for a loudspeaker driver, this is a link to one that I'm currently using in a design... I would describe this as a high quality driver but it still has a frequency response within it's usable range that varies by 6dB (Seas are unusually honest with their response curves). And this is a very cheap driver with around 13dB variance. In electronics (transport, pre-amp, power amp) both responses would be considered gross distortion. Loudspeakers are not easy to design or build and are worth spending a bit of extra money on. Same goes (to a lesser extent) for the electronic components. The aim of many amplifier manufacturers is to create the equivalent of a 'straight wire with gain' and I don't think any have achieved quite that to date... so I find it strange that so many people spend such a disproportionate amount on the wires in their system.
I think you'll find spending most money on the elements of the system that make big transformations will get you the best value for money. By 'big transformations' I mean converting digital to analogue (DAC), converting the grooves in a record to an electronic signal (cart, TT and phono amp) and turning the electronic signal into the audible movement of air (speakers). 
How cheap are you talking about ?Speaker wire with good copper core always wins out .If you had sliver yes they would be a better conductor but only by a little while the cost would be great.Thats the thing..I have watched youtube vids of DIY Speaker Cables that were well made  For less than $100 .These same looking cables are being sold by some audio Companies for hundreds  more.Buyer beware.YOUR equipment is $3,000 it should be better than $1,000. Equipment  even if you use out of the box cables .Good luck with the $1,000 equipment with $1,000 worth of cables sounding as good.
A good system with a bad power cable will sound better than a bad system with a good power cable. Same applies to all other cables. Yes, cables make a difference but they aren’t going to move the needle as much as fantastic primary components...not even close.

I actually completely disagree with this. Cables can make or break a good system.

I would rather do a $3000 system with excellent cables instead of a $10k system with mediocre cables.

The primary example I have is when I tested and compared two DACS. One was a $300 DAC and the other was a $2,000 DAC. With cheap cables, these DACs actually sounded pretty much the same. However, when I put in very high end and transparent cables, it become very apparent how inferior the $300 DAC was.

In your example, the sound quality difference between a $3k system and a $10k system is not enough to justify the $10k choice. The $3k system is already close enough. We are rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns here.

Now if you were comparing a $500 system to a $3k system, then I would choose the $3k system with cheap cables every time.
three_easy_payments A good system with a bad power cable will sound better than a bad system with a good power cable. Same applies to all other cables. Yes, cables make a difference but they aren’t going to move the needle as much as fantastic primary components...not even close.

auxinput2 I actually completely disagree with this.



Cables makes a difference...

But i am flabbergasted by these many cables thread....

The really fundamental audio basic problem is:

How do i embed mechanically( controlling resonance and isolating/coupling/decoupling vibrations),
How do i embed electrically (controlling the general noise floor of the house,
How do i embed acoustically ( with passive materials room treatment but also active methods of controls),
my audio system first....


After that we will think about not too much costly good cables if necessary...

Before that putting so called good cables on speakers in a bad acoustical room, in a high level noise floor in the house, and with no attention to resonance or vibrations controls, knowing that all non treated room are bad, is like putting first a plaster in a cutted finger for a man laying in the concrete and hurted on the head by a hammer few minutes ago...

Can we speak about other thing than cables in Audio?

I am kiding, for sure we are free to speak about cables, and it can be interesting, but there is so much more important matters to give attention first....


P.S. The price of a cable has no relation in general with his S. Q. in a particular system and will sound less good or less bad in some  system and not so in another audio system.... Forget price....
Excellent points on the comments here---I used standard stock cables on most of my equipment years ago and started using higher quality cables/cords over the past few years. I (as well as my non-audiophile friends) heard a noticeable difference on better ICs followed by speaker cables----not as much on the conditioner and power cords. But I still wonder about the other accessories: sound isolators under equipment, butcher blocks, those little stands that keep speaker cables off the floor. Is it that much of a difference with those items??
Good discussion - but you can't squeeze blood from a turnip. Cheap systems have their limitations, that's why they're cheap.

RK
I will say something that many will probably disagree with but I have found it to be instructive over many years in this hobby: you should budget almost as much on the the amplifier to speaker interface (speaker cables) as you do on the amplifier. Strange but true. From examples of David Wilson demoing speakers with a basic receiver (but good speaker cables), to testimonies of guys putting together their most satisfying systems with integrated amps and speaker cables that cost more than the amps, the experiences go on.. Not sure where those observations fit in this cheap/expensive or expensive/cheap discussion, but it is what it is. Some guys that spend $100K on speakers and amps will spend 'only' $5K-$10K on cables. Big mistake; and they can't figure out why the system is still not satisfying. Lots of different variables of course but that is my opinion.  Flame away :D
blueorion,

"...(as well as my non-audiophile friends) heard a noticeable difference on better ICs followed by speaker cables----not as much on the conditioner and power cords."

This sentence of yours should be at least half of the answer applicable to you on the question you asked in original post.

For some, the question is a non-question. Better electronics/speakers will always outdo worse electronic/speakers, no matter what functionally adequate cable (conducting and with good joints) you put there.
Are we talking two $10K systems in comparison or not? Not specified, as the expensive cables are left nebulous. 
Systems comparable, i.e. MSRP or not? (i.e. $3K used vs. $10K new, or not?)
Floor standing speaker vs. bookshelf?
Analogue vs. digital?
Class D, older AB, etc? 
Mixed loom of cables vs. set of cables? 

These questions reveal the problem with the question; it is so general that it does not offer much benefit in answering it. Everyone has a purportedly great answer, and they all have marginal value. 

The only proper answer is that direct comparison would tell, despite the tendency of most to attempt to predict the outcome. 




OP - everyone's response likely has some merit, hence your question isn't going to result in a definitive answer. Like Mr. Schroeder says above, reframe the question more narrowly/precisely and you will get more useful answers.

My experience has been variable, but in my system/room, I come down on the side of spending more on gear rather than cables when your per unit cost is under 5K. My system is 25K total, about 10% of that is in cables and power conditioner. That 10% has become like a guideline for me (and that includes tweaks like isolation pads)... but as mentioned, there are more experienced industry folk in the more rarefied end of the hifi universe who might say 25% or more should be allocated to cables/conditioner/tweaks. 
Auxinput-a 10k system isn’t reaching the point of diminishing returns? Are you talking about $10k worth of cables? I hope so because a $10k system can still be classified as a starter system or maybe getting into The midfi range, depending on what components you are talking about. A good dac with a good power cable and ic’s alone are $10k or higher. A good turntable/arm/cartridge/phono preamp with cables start around $10k, on and on.
I didn't mean to annoy anyone with this question. Seems like there's always one person who gets offended or annoyed with something on these forums. I realize the question is very broad and general but I didn't want to get into the minutiae of specific cables etc. I basically had the same system for almost 25 years before I decided to update it. With my older system (Denon, Nakamichi, Canton, B/O), I never upgraded any cables except for the speaker cables (Monster) because I didn't know any better and there weren't any high end hifi store where I live. Once I decided to update my system a couple of years ago, I have tried to research more and experiment with cables, cords, etc. and I have noticed the improvements. I was just trying to understand and learn more from you all who have waaayyyy more experience than me. My basic question was can a lower priced system with good quality accessories potentially sound better than a higher priced system with just the stock cords/ICs. Thanks.
If you put a mink coat on a pig....you still have a pig.

If you put a pig skin coat on Marilyn Monroe....you still have a beautiful woman.
I recently added Audioengine B1 Bluetooth receiver to my system.  It uses the latest Bluetooth codec and by far bested the previous  six buck BT dongle that it replaced.  I use BT primarily for podcasts that I start listening to on my drive home and finish after arriving, and occasionally with Qobuz if I want to sample something and don’t want to go the extra steps of using my Bryston streamer.
  At first I tried my Nordost  cables that cost more than the Audioengine , then the RCA cables that came with the Audioengine.
I couldn’t hear a difference.  Bluetooth is Bluetooth, even when done as well as possible on a revealing system.  The source is still the thing.
IME, cables matter, but only so much, and always relative to their system context an environment. If actual musical verisimilitude is the goal, then one needs speakers of a size capable of pressurizing the room to give bass instruments their proper weight. Cables won’t give you that. Proper placement is more important as well. But if these issues are well met, tweaking cables can be appreciated as being of some use.  That said, I can remember hearing a grossly undersized pair of Totem Tabu speakers (relative to the room size) set up with fabulously expensive Dutch monoblocks and garden hose cables, and the results were nothing short of magical. So what do I know, other than I could never afford such extravagance?
The source was standard CD of Bruce Cockburn performing “Kit Carson” from his great 1992 “Nothing But A Burning Light” album. 
I’ve tried 3 different Power cables with Pass Labs x150.8 and the xa25. To my ears the stock Labs PC delivers. Not by leaps and bounds. Though best with what I have available. The stock PC powers the amp. As for the other components of PC I use TWL, Nordost, and Anti-cables. 
three_easy_payments, still has the best answer to this question. Response number 1.
My suggestion is to find a quality audio dealer and work with them to build a system that suits your needs and budget.  Trying to do this using internet opinion forums and back issues of Stereophile is a fool's errand.The whole system needs to be considered, including the room, programming, and possible upgrade paths.  As you develop in this hobby, tastes will change as well as listening habits, and system parameters will change along the way.The wires used to connect the components need only be adequate for the task at hand.  More costly wire may alter the presentation, but the effects will be less obvious than spending the same amount of money on an improved front end or speakers.  Once you have established a system that suits your needs, experimenting with cables might bring incremental improvements or subtle changes to the sound signature.  It might be interesting, but could be expensive (that is for you to decide).Note:  A good, high end system can be assembled for less than $10k.  So much depends on your circumstances and expectations.  Spending more will get you more expensive equipment, but not necessarily better sound, or more importantly, more satisfaction. Synergy is the key concept here.  It all must work together.
14 gauge zip cord is all you need.   Save your money.  Really.  
Any time I have added an Uber power cable to any electronic component it has pushed it to the highest performance levels. The change in dynamics was like having a whole new component.  
Someone has to build worse systems. The cable skeptics do a grand job of it.  :)
I will say it in a simple and provocative manner to be listen to and to be understood...

Most people fixated on the cables upgrade necessity, because they just discover that cables can make a difference dont know the fundamental problem in audio system installation...

Most of those negating that cables can make a difference and living with the fixation to deliver this "truth" has no idea probably of what is the fundamental problem in audio system installation...

Before upgrading cables, or any piece of electronic component , try to embed your audio system in the sea of resonance, in the river of noise that flow through your house, and in the muddy acoustic pond of your room...

To begins with a reasonnably good not costly cable will do, but there exist other location all along the electrical grid of the house that ask for controls and treatment :
routers,wall plugs, old fixed phone line, computers, central and secondary electrical panels, conditioner, power supply of any kind, even battery, external electrical cable of the house etc ALL these are source of noise directrly impacting the S.Q.

And if you want a huge increase in S.Q. try the more complex problem of acoustic....Very rewarding at low cost if you are creative...



My best to all...




 My basic question was can a lower priced system with good quality accessories potentially sound better than a higher priced system with just the stock cords/ICs. Thanks.
My experience is yes but would use the term "enjoy" over "better". I would rather listen to my inexpensive system with the inexpensive cables than my more expensive system with the same cables, which sounds truly bad. 
Wow you guys are to much ...10k system with 3K in cables REALLY...I have a 10k system with DIY cables ,parts Express cables .it sounds great...cost less than 300....no if I would have spent 3K your saying I would have a system that would what be out of the solar system.....please.....you guys must be starving because of the  restaurant conditions at the present time... do you also have $100 coronavirus masks to ???????....I was an EMT so spare me....