Detecting differences among cables


Obviously, one of the great audio controversies is whether after a very low bar threshold there is really a detectable difference among cables, whether transmitting power or signal.  Skeptics (I'll label them "nay-sayers") generally state that any discernable audible differences whatsoever are wishful thinking; many audiophiles state that most definitely various well-designed cables can cause clearly distinct differences in the resultant sound -- provided the rest of one's system is sufficiently refined to be able to deliver a level of performance otherwise good enough to hear them.

I have belonged to the latter camp for the past 20 years.  At that time, my equipment dealer loaned me four different speaker cables to try.  I had no favorite among them when I began my evaluation one afternoon.  By the end of that day, it was evident to me that the Transparent Audio cable sounded the best -- better than both the speaker cable I had been using and the three others I was trying out.  Over the ensuing years, I generally purchased well-reviewed, but hardly outrageously expensive, interconnect and power cables whenever I bought a new piece of gear.  I was always pleased with how my audio system sounded afterwards; my practice had served me well.

AXPONA 2019 was a real eye-opener for me when I attended a 30-minute demo of competitive high-end power cables sponsored by Audioquest.  Two things became starkly evident: all of them caused the music to sound much better than when an ordinary 12 gauge power cord was used; and there were discernable differences even among those very expensive power cords.  Both to my ears and to those of most of the other members of the audience at that session, the Audioquest and Shunyata cables resulted in a more musical sound -- but not identically; the Nordost and one other cable whose manufacturer I forget were less clear and less musical.  Can I describe how they were less?  Not specifically anymore, but I still remember that they were.  As a consequence of that demo, I decided to upgrade my interconnects between my preamp and my power amps and my speaker cables.

One take-away from that demonstration was that, to hone in on what might be an audible difference between two cables, not only must the rest of one's system be up to the task, but also the music played has to be well performed, well engineered, and well reproduced in the media serving as its source.  What I did was to choose outstanding source material in which I selected certain short and distinct passages that provided me the opportunity to discern various attributes such as inner detail.  An example of this is the brief chorus in Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" -- "this world is only gonna break your heart".  The only part of that sentence I could clearly make out effortlessly before I started my upgrade exercise were the "k" in break and the words "your heart".  Other examples I used ranged from how a small percussion instrument sounded in Ludivico Einaudi's "Life" in his In A Time Lapse album to the overall realism in terms of "being there" and identifiable dimensionality of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson introducing "Ghost Riders in the Sky" in their VH1 Storytellers album.

I spent a lot of time, effort and (unfortunately) dollars in my determination of my new cables.  Ultimately, what I chose were Wireworld's Silver Eclipse speaker cables and Equinox (XLR) interconnect and Shunyata's Delta XC power cable connecting into a Shunyata Denalit 2000/T power distributor (my amplifiers have integrated power cords).

The improvement in the audio quality of my system became very evident.  All the words of the "Wicked Game" chorus, for example, are now clear and easy to understand.  Instruments sound a bit more real, as do voices.  These new cables also have had one more benefit which both my wife and I find astounding.  Heretofore, whenever we watched a movie, we needed to have subtitles displayed in order not to miss hearing/understanding some of the dialogue.  No longer!  The improved clarity of the sound is so profound that in most cases we no longer need those subtitles.

In conclusion, I tend to think that the "nay-sayers" probably fall into two categories.  There are those people who simply don't own systems good enough to enable the differentiation that is there and those who do own excellent equipment but don't expend the effort necessary to design a conclusive trial that would enable them to hear that differentiation.  However, my own experience has provided me with the proof that there really is a difference among cables and that this difference is discernable. 


27caf0f1 dec0 4b77 bbdf ca80e60a63f7jmeyers
jmeyers 
... "nay-sayers" probably fall into two categories. There are those people who simply don't own systems good enough to enable the differentiation that is there and those who do own excellent equipment but don't expend the effort necessary to design a conclusive trial that would enable them to hear that differentiation.
There is a third category - those who insist there is no difference purely for the purpose of fomenting argument. It's sometimes pretty obvious.
Of course cables sound better/worse/different from each other. I've always found it easy to hear without expecting anything really, just *will it or won't it* do anything at all.I don't understand why there are audiophiles that snap their minds shut and won't try anything new.Their loss I guess.
Having a little extra disposable income this past year I've been trying out some power cords.Even moderately priced cords are very obviously cleaner and less noisy than stock cords.The big winner for my system are cords from Triode Wire Labs.The Obsession cord was a huge positive upgrade.
@jmeyers - WRT:
I tend to think that the "nay-sayers" probably fall into two categories. There are those people who simply don’t own systems good enough to enable the differentiation that is there
An interesting thought, but in my experience over the past 5-6 years, any system is quite capable of achieving a noticeable improvement in sound quality by implementing "better cables"

For Example...
- I have a mini-system in my garage that sounded so much better after I replaced the power cable and the speaker cables

- I have a Bluesound Node 2 that sounded much better with a good power cable - so much so, even the sales person in the store where I purchased it from, could not believe a power cable could make that much of an improvement

- Similarly, my neighbors remote Bose Speaker sounded much better after the power cable was replaced.

- My brothers very affordable audio system improved beyond his expectations when I replaced his speaker and interconnect cables.

Having said that - you DO have to have the right cables to make such an audible improvement :-)

Most cables can make some difference - not necessarily for the better

However, many people are just not "educated" in what to listen for.

That education can take many 100’s of hours of very intent listening on a vast variety of albims/tracks

For example, over the years I have collected over 60 very specific audition tracks that I have come to rely on to highlight some of the specific metrics we tend to use to gauge a cables performance...
- very dynamic tracks - mostly drums and piecing guitar work
- tracks with excellent acoustic and electric bass work
- tracks with extremely large image with lots of space between performers
- tracks with exquisitely fine details - acoustic guitar can be very revealing
- tracks with excellent venue acoustics i.e. the reverberations and echoes
- tracks that have excellent sound engineering - i.e. electronic music

All of these help me in assess how well a cable performs (or not)

If you go into an audition with a random selection of "nice sounding" music, you are probably not going to get the most out of that audition, but if you take the time to "educate" your hearing and use very specific tracks then you will be more successful.

The other thing is to take those tracks and audition them on other systems, be it a friends or a stores system, to see how they sound in comparison to your own system.

I was fortunate in that I had some excellent stores in my area that did not mind me listening to their systems and chatting about the advantages of one system versus another.

And don’t be frightened of sale people - they seldom know what they are listening for.

But once in a while one will surprise you, so become buddies with them, because they can save you a lot of money.

A "real audition" should take at least a couple of days, because it takes time for the cables to seat into the sockets and to "settle down" - a bit like a mini-burn-in. I generally wait at least 24 hours.

If the cables are new - they should be burned in before assessing
- I’ve had new cables that continue to improve after 400 hours

So, getting a new pair of cables and expecting to hear a difference immediately might be a little ambitious, but sometimes a cable will surprise you.

The world of cables is vast and complex and is far more than just relying on a specific brand.

Factors that affect cable performance include
- Cable geometry
- wire metallurgy
- wire gauge
- wire insulation type
- connectors
- impact of high capacitance speaker cables on some solid state amps

So take the time to educate yourself - that is - if you really want to KNOW whether a cable is going to perform well in YOUR system

Just my two cents worth :-)

Regards - Steve






I have found audible differences in interconnects and speaker cables that can be attributed to differences in design (twisted pair, quad, coaxial, etc.) and material (Teflon, OFC, OCC, etc.).

When it comes to power cables, however, it becomes a much harder sell. I've tried a number of after-market (Audioquest & Pangea) power cords and my Bryston B60R Integrated Amp doesn't care what I feed it with. Bryston and Pass Labs have long maintained that there is nothing to gain by replacing their stock power cord with an expensive "boutique" one. The robust design of their power supplies might well explain their position.
@WillieWonka Great post, Steve.  
Its all down to your listening skills. I don't need any special tracks, don't even need to repeat the same track. Volume level isn't that important, nor is familiarity with the system. Cables (and components in general) sound like what they sound like regardless of related components. (System matching, in other words, is BS.) Differences between cables are obvious, to the point it takes usually only a brief listen to choose the better of any two. Its just not that hard. But this is after decades of listening. Differences between fuses, cable elevators, anti-static spray, warm-up, and literally a hundred other things simply are not the least bit hard to hear. Its what the naysayers never will understand- all their stubborn denials are really telling us is they are lousy listeners.

Your descriptions of most of that stuff is good enough to tell me if you ever compare Synergistic you will be surprised how good it is. It ain't Nordost, that's for sure. Meantime, carry on.
I agree with what the OP says and I'll add that due to no fault of their own some nay-sayers don't have the ability to hear the differences even with a quality system. I've not had the opportunity to listen to a non-sayers system to experiment.
Nice post so far but unfortunately this posting will probably attract some of the naysayers you have mentioned and there is no way to get them to change their negativity. I am fortunate to have four different speaker cables to use in my system and each pair has noticeable sonic attributes. For example , if I want a seat closer to the stage I will use Cardas Clear Beyond but if I want mid row I will use Shunyata Sigma v1 cables. Some cables get the bass a little tighter and some put a little more sparkle on the top end.For those who don’t have a brick and mortar store to audition cables, many online manufacturers will give you a trial period and there is also the Cable company that has a very extensive library to borrow from.
Cables can make a significant difference in any system but only if you are willing to keep an open mind and try some.
Skeptics and naysayers can’t be convinced of anything beyond their existing views and perceptions, which are almost always negative and built on a lack of knowledge or familiarity with the subject. So why waste time with them, it’s their loss.
@williewonka Great post. Thanks for spelling out the factors which helped you identify a difference rather than just claiming that those who can’t hear the difference are just bad listeners. In the debate about cables or anything else, "naysayers" and "yaysayers" are just dogmatists with opposed conclusions. In between are listeners and empiricists.

@turnbowm - I agree with your observations - well designed amps with large power supplies tend to show the least improvement when auditioning power cables on them - for the most part :-)

However, the more budget oriented source components (i.e. < $3000) will show quite a nice level of improvement with the right power cable - provided the IC’s and Speaker cables are also very good..

Once you have cables that perform well on the source components and good speaker cables, your amp will then be able to demonstrate what it is capable of when its power cable is replaced. The improvement tend to be in the area of improved clarity, like the more subtle venue acoustics (i.e. echoes and reverberations) and a larger and more "focused" image

For example - I thought my my Bryston B135 had reached it’s "limits", but once I got great power cables on my Simaudio Moon Phono stage and my Bluesound Node 2i streamer, plus the interconnecting IC’s and speaker cables - upgrading the power cable made it clear that, it too was capable of even better performance by replacing the power cable.

If I’m asked which cables to replace first - I "generally" recommend...
1. Speaker cables
2. Interconnect
3. Power cables

I say "generally" because Cables are perhaps the single most complex area of an audio system and without acquiring considerable knowledge about cable designs, then getting the right cables in a system is a bit if a crapshoot.

You can rely on recommendations - but you really should know everything about the system they are resident in before taking the plunge and laying out hard earned cash on something that might not be a good match in your system

You can opt to buy based on Brand Name

But what brands are well designed?

These are my three favorites...
- InAkustik is one brand that I really like because of their advanced geometry and stellar performance
- Nordost uses some advanced geometries and it’s power cables were the first I auditioned that made a significant improvement. I also like that their cables are one of the few that have low capacitance AND inductance - which is quite an achievement
- Cardas is another brand that uses advanced geometries and they seem to perform exceptionally well on tube gear.

There are other brands, but for me, these companies lay out their geometries and cable spec’s for the world to see
- no "secret stuff" or "weird science" involved
- just very solid designs that make sense and perform really well.

Regards - Steve




Nice discussion,  thanks op , and you other guys for all the good posts . 
Haven't had the opportunity to try all of manufacturers named above but will certainly try to get nordost home for comparison next to my chord , Cardas, Shunyata cables..
And to all ney sayers , i believe there is a forum called "audio science review" some kind of cult where they are dwelling in cable denial , maybe that's the place for you guys ;-)
@Steve,
Can you please share your audition list?
Many Thanks.
Randy
@joseph796 - Randy - First - my apologies for the "War and Peace" sized posting
- I hope you find this useful :-)

My audition list is ever changing, but I’ll share some of the artists and/or tracks that tend to stay in my list and which "metric" I use them to assess

First, to help understand my listening environment
- my speakers are around 8ft apart
- I sit approximately 9 ft from my speakers
- the speakers are 8ft from the wall behind them
- the ceiling is about 7.5 ft high
- The floor is carpeted
- the area where the system is located is 17ft wide
- the room is around 42 ft long and irregular shaped at the far end
- I am fortunate that this particular room required very little in the way of acoustic treatments.

To assess Dynamic Performance I find many tracks from The Police and Roxette to provide extremely crisp guitar work and very dynamic drums

To assess the size of the image...
- The Best of Supertramp has a very nice depth to the image behind the speakers
- Is this Love - Bob Marley provides an exceptionally wide image with precise placement of artists/instruments that exceed the width of the speakers on left and right sides
- Hide and Seek, by Imogen Heep is one of those tracks with superb engineering that places some of the echoes just behind my head

To assess details and clarity I tend to use tracks of live recordings in larger spaces with great venue acoustics...
- Papas Callentes by La Chimera - superb Venue acoustics and large image
- Undring by Sigmund Groven & Iver Kleive - this is a lone Harmonica with a Pipe Organ inside a church
- Miroslav Tadic - album: Window Mirror - a superbly recorded solo guitar in a venue with superb acoustics
- Marianne Thornsen - Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major - Allegro - the better performing cables provide much smoother violin solo passages and more precise imaging
- Brass Splendor by the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble - the best track is Fanfare for the Common Man - the opening of this track has a huge gong that provides amazing textures across the frequency range. But there are many tracks on this album that sound superb on a good system.

Also - the transient peeks of Pipe Organ music can put significant demands on an amplifier, so I tend to use this music to assess a power cable’s ability to satisfy amplifier demands for current

As I progressed with my cable development I found that many tracks there seemed to be an awful lot of venue acoustics (echoes/reverb) so to eliminate the prospect that some of this was actually being generated within the room, I went into my library to find tracks with very little to no engineered echoes and reverb. Norah Jones is one artist that had a few tracks with no "engineered effects", so it is as if she in right there in your listening space.

Once I realized that those echoes and reverberations on other tracks were part of the recording, it provided another aspect to the music that I could use to assess details and clarity

Other artists on my playlists include...
- Diana Krall - outstanding piano, acoustic bass and very subtle venue acoustics
- Holly Cole- outstanding acoustic bass
- Joan Armatrading - great acoustics and details
- Dominic Mancuso - amazing acoustic guitar details
- Susannah McCorkle - great image
- P!nk - her acoustic tracks are very good and other tracks very dynamic
- Xiomara - great imaging and details
- Jack Johnson - great details in his guitar work and voice
- Peter Gabiel - the album So
- Dire Straights
- Mark Knopfler

Many of the tracks I have in both Digital and vinyl formats, so I can assess both source types using the same tracks

Unfortunately, most of my "choice" vinyl albums I use for assessing the analogue side of my system are very old and probably no longer available, like Songs from the wood (Jethro Tull) and The Steeleye Span Story. Older Taj Mahal albums I like better than his newer albums.

BUT if you should be in a store that sells previously enjoyed albums and come across an album called Better Days (1973) with Paul Butterfield, Ronnie Baron, Amos Garrett, Geoff Muldaur Christopher Parker and Billy Rich - it is one of the best engineered albums of that time and even with all the pops and crackles - it transports you to what appears to be the hall in which it was recorded, with the guys just sitting around playing. The details and clarity are outstanding and the image and venue acoustics are simply amazing.

Also, to help you understand a little about me...
- I’ve played guitar for over 50 years - bass, acoustic electric slide, lead & rhythm
- I was taught Piano at the age of 8, but gave up at 13 when I got my first guitar
- I’ve played in a band with keyboard, sax and clarinet
- I played drums in a marching band for a couple of years
- I’ve tried mandolin and harmonica
- And my siblings all played various instruments

I mention this is because it gave me a very good "appreciation" for the various nuances associated with real sound of instruments, as opposed to the recorded sound, which sometimes mutes them
- the many harmonics that each instrument produces
- the dynamics associated with each instrument.

My system:
- Custom built turntable with Soundsmith’d Denon DL 103 cartridge (modified mount)
- Simaudio Moon LP 5.3 phono stage
- Bluesound Node 2i - ethernet connected to NAS drive and internet
- Bryston B135 integrated amp
- Gershman Acoustics Sonogram floor standing speakers
- cables: DIY Helix cables (mentioned in other Agon threads)

If anyone has a real favorite album that demonstrate great sound engineering and imaging please share it and why you like it so much.

So many albums- so little time - Regards Steve





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Anyone else noticed the sane, level headed conversation and how it all went sideways when the "adult" entered the room?
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Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" -- "this world is only gonna break your heart". The only part of that sentence I could clearly make out effortlessly before I started my upgrade exercise were the "k" in break and the words "your heart

I tried this on my system which consists of generic cables and I understood every word. From your assessment of naysayers who don't own good enough systems to enable differentiation it seems my modest system of cheap cables allows this naysayer to hear things it takes uber $$cables and lots of time for those more enlightened to achieve. 
Attacking posts have been reported.

the next point in the list of variables and not really mentioned yet, is that ear/brain systems are also unique and varied from one another.

that EQ or hearing intelligence is a real thing, by any standard or known capacity to contemplate the subject.

And this is a part of the core of why one may hear differences and another may not.

Next point is we all have an ego loop aspect tied to our hearing, and this is the part where we preload ’word shapes’ (if you will) into the mental hearing que, and this is used to speed up word recognition into a real time phenomena.

Eg, if a word starts with an ’r’, then the que starts loading the r words, as the rest of the word enters the brain/mind/etc.

When we understand that this is how speech recognition happens in the mind, we can then begin to understand how the mind loads a ’rim shot’ sound or a ’cymbal’ sound or a ’horn’ sound, and so on, and we ’superimpose’. It also ties into the dance and beat function of rhythm..as well as sex, fighting, etc...

When we relax that function and reach for ’intelligence applied’ and actually listen/hear ( to learn a new language, etc), we end up having to take time to cognate... instead of placing pre-loaded ’already known sound-shapes’ upon the incoming data points --as they are taking shape in the mind.

It is the hearing equivalent of the sight phenomena known as Pareidolia.

" Pareidolia was at one time considered a symptom of human psychosis, but it is now seen as a normal human tendency."

Nay sayers will usually attempt to turn that around and say that audiophiles who hear differences, are making it up.

But they fail to take into account that they are masking things and not countering it in their listening. that they superimpose what they know with their own internal pre-load of sound shapes... and do not hear differences. And they may lack the skill set to fix such a impropriety.

And are thus trapped by their own incapacity to get past this component of themselves. Ear-Q is trapped by their IQ, and so on.

A less capable person’s personal version of the Dunning-Kreuger effect.

We all have one, in various forms, in us, at given times. We all reach at given times...and we eventually encounter our own versions of these phenomena/functions while in-extremis in various states of mind and stressing.

In this case, their given traits, the given cable nay-sayers traits.. come flying at audiophiles like a misshaped Don Quixote..

But wait....there's more....
Again, its all down to listening skills. For example, for years (1973 to roughly 1985 or so) I was absolutely convinced there's no way cables can make any difference. Not interconnects, not speaker cables. Certainly not power cords. Just no way! 

Also back in the 80's firmly believed that if two CD players measure flat (which they all do) there's just no way there's any difference between them. 

Sure enough, when I went at first and tried to compare I heard no difference. Later on, after many months of comparing different things, it was getting easier and easier to hear the differences. Not only hear them, but describe them. 

All through the months trying to figure this out I would drag my wife to see if she was hearing what I'm hearing. Time and again she would say one sounds better. Better how? Just better. More expensive. Other one sounds cheap.  

Bear in mind she had no idea which was which, or how much they cost (high end dealers tend not to use price tags much), or anything. All I did was say hey I think I hear a difference tell me if I'm crazy or not. 

Only after we did this a bunch of times did we start talking about prices, is it worth it, etc. For a long time it was nothing more than can we hear any difference?  

All during this time I was reading Robert Harley, trying to learn all these audiophile terms. At one point we were at Corner Audio in Portland and the old guy says hey try these things, which were expensive little squares with some carbon fiber you put under the speakers. Sure enough, wow, greater clarity, better detail, improved dynamics. Timbre improved, ie each instrument sounds more like what it is. Imaging was more focused, both L to R and front to back. From these stupid little squares. 

My wife heard the same thing. She just didn't have the words to express it. Lacking the words brings doubt, since we just don't seem very able to know what we know until we have the words to say what we know. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. I've since learned there's a branch of psychology that questions whether we even have the capacity to know something without knowing the word for it. Which opens up a whole chicken or the egg thing. We report. You decide. 

Anyway, bottom line, its beyond settled that these differences exist, that some things sound better than others, and that we can hear and choose and evaluate. 

Once we develop the necessary listening skills- and lingo. They go hand in hand. 
Is there any way Tammy can create a category that holds all the pulled posts?  They would lack context, but it would be so good.  
On oct.9 you had nothing else to do...so started this thread