Directional cables - what does that really mean?


Some (most) cables do sound differently depending on which end is connected to which component. It is asserted that the conductor grain orientation is determining the preferential current flow. That might well be, but in most (all) cases the audio signal is AC (electrons going back and forth in the cable), without a DC component to justify a directional flow. Wouldn't that mean that in the 1st order, a phase change should give the same effect as a cable flip?

I'm curious whether there is a different view on this that I have not considered yet.
cbozdog
The electrons go back and forth, at least somewhat and at very low speed, they are virtually standing still, but the signal does not go back and forth. That's the issue. Thus any wire or cable will sound better in one direction than the other. This includes wire inside speakers, wire inside transformers, internal wiring of components, fuses, etc.
If audio cables are too long, you don't get lost looking for source or receiver by following arrows:

SOURCE->->->...you...->->->RECEIVER

Please note to follow arrows when dealing with long wires so you don't get lost between SOURCE and RECEIVER.
"what does that really mean?"
That means cost you more, a lot more.....
"without a DC component to justify a directional flow"

I can't answer all of your questions, but I think Audioquest has dealt with that issue using their DBS system.
As far as I know it has to do with shielding to minimize interference from other sources and line voltage noise. The shield is only connected at one end to minimize ground loops from one item to the other also.
but the signal does not go back and forth
Interesting concept. Please define "signal."
Some cables have a gadget, like MIT network boxes, at one end versus another. That would at least seem to have some concrete basis for saying the two ends are functionally different and hence might produce different results one way versus the other.

Beyond that, if the darn thing has arrows on it, I point them downstream as instructed ie pointing from the source to pre-amp or pre-amp to amp. Just because there are arrows on the darn things, but for no concrete reason I could identify.

I've dabbled with a lot of wires over the years and am finicky about sound quality. But that's about the extent to which I worry about such things. Shame on me.
Some said, "define the signal." I define what it's not, how's that? It's not the electrons. AC is what, alternating current? Guess what? It's not the current either.

Geoff - hmm. The information flows in one direction (from source to receiver, as Czarivey kindly sketched out for us), with an alternating flow of electrons (back and forth, or forth and back depending on the phase) as carrier. No carrier, no information - unless I'm sadly mistaken about how things work in this universe.

Mapman and Hevac1 - thank you - preferential grounding and the magical network gadget look like legitimate reasons. Short of that - I am inclined to view with suspicion any cable that is overtly directional. I would also expect such cable be also more sensitive to phase inversion (though I did not check experimentally).

Thank you for chipping in - I learned.

C>
"09-25-15: Hevac1
As far as I know it has to do with shielding to minimize interference from other sources and line voltage noise. The shield is only connected at one end to minimize ground loops from one item to the other also."

Its done to form/polarize the dielectric one way. Thats why they use the arrows. If you go to AQ's website, they do a much better job explaining it than I do.
Bozdog, but we're not talking about the carrier, we're talking about the signal. The signal travels at near light speed. The elections on the other hand travel about a foot an hour. Hel-loo! The signal in the room is the acoustic wave, not the air, no?
"The signal in the room is the acoustic wave, not the air, no?"

Don't you need both? You can't have an acoustic wave with out air. Or am I just missing something?

Also, with regards to the signal alternating back and forth, doesn't that get taken care of when the signal is rectified?
This is Interesting ... Finding the direction of a wire by ear
Actually, AC & DC electrical charge/flow is directional (from sender/source) but with AC the electrons move back and forth (which is AC electrical current) :)
Umm... no, I'd be surprised to find that we purposefully rectify audio signals. That would, as you indicate, keep electrons moving in one direction only, while folding one phase over the other with a couple of diodes (or cutting out one phase altogether with a single one?). Probably not happening that way, unless it is a mild, unintended effect of the interconnect (directional?).

Thank you for correcting Geoff's view.
I never said you don't need both. What do you think that proves? You need electrons, too, but they can't be the signal, they don't travel fast enough. They are virtually moving whereas the signal is traveling at near light speed. Air molecules in the room are at rest, the acoustic wave is traveling through them at the speed of sound. So air can't be the signal any more than electrons. They are the medium not the message.
The rectifier converts alternating current to direct current. That's true. But the current is not the signal. Besides the last time I looked the (directional) fuse in amps is inserted in FRONT of the rectifier. Hel-loo!
Nothing substantial for speaker cables... Ac current comes out your amp.
It's a concept born in the marketing dept as a mean to differentiate the product.
For interconnects, idk.

Some (most) cables do sound differently depending on which end is connected to which component. It is asserted that the conductor grain orientation is determining the preferential current flow. That might well be, but in most (all) cases the audio signal is AC (electrons going back and forth in the cable),
Cbozdog

That might well be, but in most (all) cases the audio signal is AC (electrons going back and forth in the cable),
Cbozdog
Is it? Are you sure about that?

Start here.
>http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?htech&1295324474&openflup&12&4#12


Then read this thread......
>http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?fcabl&1274104190&openusid&zz


Quote from page 3

05-26-10: Herman
Jea, There are positive and negative charges and they are what they are. They do not change from positive to negative. In the case of a wire there are negative charges in motion but in some mediums there are + charges in motion and in some there are both.

So it isn't + 0 - 0 + 0 - as in the charges are changing polarity it is L 0 R 0 L 0 as in the negative charges are vibrating left and right around a zero point.

If electric current is the movement of charge what is wrong with using the word current in place of the word charge?
Any place you see "current" you can substitute "movement of charge." If you say movement of current you are saying movement of movement of charge. It is redundant.

Look at it this way. In order for something to move it must exist. Current is not a thing or a form of energy, it is a word that describes movement. If water stops flowing the water is still there but there is no current. Did the current just disappear? No, it never existed, it is a concept, not a thing.

From a previous post of mine: 05-26-10: Jea48
"With the load consuming power from the supplying alternating voltage source explain the process movement of current to the load."
05-26-10: Jea48

Thank you, thank you, thank you for asking. That question is a perfect example of why "alternating current flow" is a very bad description of what is going on.

In a nutshell AC current does not move or flow to the load.. That is the very heart of my debate with simply_q.

As stated above current does not move. Current means something is moving. If we switch to charge instead of current then those don't move to the load either. The charges in an AC circuit merely sit there and vibrate.

Power isn't moving to the load either. Power is the rate at which we transfer energy. Power is not a thing, it is not energy, it cannot be moved or consumed.

So what's moving from the source to the load? Energy. A wave of electromagnetic energy moves down the wire and the energy in it is transferred to the load. Charges are vibrating everywhere around the path but energy is flowing in one direction...source to load. It is converted into another form of energy like heat or light, or motion, or it is launched into space if the load is an antenna.

.

It is asserted that the conductor grain orientation is determining the preferential current flow.
Cbozdog

So if the signal is a wave of electromagnetic energy that is moving down the wire how could the directional placement of a wire sound different? (For this example the cable is non shielded)
.
Jea48 - yes... seems that the question is not new. I should have looked at prior art before starting a new tread. Bummer.
"Thank you for correcting Geoff's view.
Cbozdog (Reviews | Threads | Answers | This Thread)"

I wasn't trying to correct anyone. I wasn't sure myself and was just looking to see if I had it right or not.
For interconnects with a shield there is less EMF/RFI pickup, when the shield is connected only at the source end.

EMI/RFI may or my not be a problem. It depends on if radio waves or power cables are nearby.
oh - I read that thread... turned out awful.
Geoffkait said: "The electrons go back and forth, at least somewhat and at very low speed, they are virtually standing still..."

So are we to assume you have proven Dr. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to be invalid?
We can measure the precise speed of the electrons. That much is certain.
The different cable theories I have encountered have mostly been covered above, but I think the following should complete the story.

1. Cables with shield connected at one end.
This is referred to as a floating shield design. The purpose of this design is to conduct any induced RFI/EMI away to a single grounded point.

Ideally, the end with the shield attached should be connected to the source of the signal - regardless of where that component is in the audio "chain" - e.g. for a Pre-amp to amp connection the end with the shield attached should be connected to the pre-amp.

This prevents any RFI/EMI noise from being communicated to the next piece of "amplification" in the audio chain - resulting in a quieter signal.

The problem with using these cables is - it relies on all of your components being correctly grounded.

However, components that use a two pin plug or a Wal-Wart power supply can experience grounding issues (i.e. because they are isolated) so for them, connecting the cables in the other direction may actually be more beneficial.

One such component I have actually had a measurable potential on the neutral side of the RCA output.

One way around this imperfect setup may be to ground the chassis/case of components using this kind of power supply design. This does not guarantee success - as it really depends on the component's design, but it's worked for my components

2. Conductor Extrusion effects.
When the wire is being extruded is has an effect on the crystalline structure of the material being used, which in turn MAY effect signal transmission in some way.

Whether you believe it or not, there are many cases reported on this forum of cables sounding different and there are several well documented reasoning's for this on the web, but one thing for certain, many cable manufacturers put little arrows on their cables in order for the user to get them both connected in the same direction.

One thing for sure - IF - there is some sort of rectification effect, you would want it to be applied in the same manner to both left and right channels, otherwise it would effect the phase of the signals between the two channels and degrade the sound.

So - it is advisable to connect both cables in the same direction - hence the little arrows, but which direction may well be system dependent

3. Cable architectures
There are some very complex cable architectures out there now and connecting such cables one way or the other may have any effect on sound.

However - you DO want to have both cables connected in the same direction - hence the little arrows.

A cable architecture can be responsible for a noticeable degradation or improvement of sound - depending on which way round they are connected and in general the manufacturer gets the little arrows right, but there is no harm in trying them the other way around - just to see :-)

So, to sum up - in some cases the little arrows may only be there to ensure you get both cables connected in the same direction because the manufacturer believes it to be important. The actual direction BOTH cables must be connected in may be system dependent.

If a cable uses the floating shield design then it should be stated somewhere in the manufacturers literature, together with the "direction" the arrows should be connected.

One company I know uses this method is Van den Hul and they document it quite well.

Of course, there are those that believe a company will add little arrows on their higher end products just as a selling feature - just sayin :-)

Regards...

09-28-15: Br3098
Geoffkait said: "The electrons go back and forth, at least somewhat and at very low speed, they are virtually standing still..."

So are we to assume you have proven Dr. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to be invalid?
Br3098

.

Quote from Link provided below.

The size of the wiggle
And about AC... how far do the electrons move as they vibrate back and forth? Well, we know that a one-amp current in 1mm wire is moving at 8.4cm per hour, so in one second it moves:
8.4cm / 3600sec = .00233 cm per second

And in 1/60 of a second it will travel back and forth by
.00233cm/sec * (1/60) = .0000389cm, or around .00002"

This simple calculation is for a square wave. For a sine wave we'd integrate the velocity to determine the width of electron travel.

So for a typical AC current in a typical lamp cord, the electrons don't actually "flow," instead they vibrate back and forth by about a hundred-thousandth of an inch.
Link


So for those that say an AC signal is moving/flowing back and forth in an IC connected to two pieces of audio equipment is wrong. The AC is not flowing back and forth, it is only vibrating. Correct?

"ELECTRICITY" MISCONCEPTIONS IN K-6 TEXTBOOKS
.
1. Cables with shield connected at one end.
2. Conductor Extrusion effects.
3. Cable architectures
No. 1 can affect noise, could be sonically discernable, and so should be followed,
No. 2 can be discerned visually by microscopy but I have never heard of this being reliably identified in a listening test and IMO falls into the same category as directional fuses, jackalopes, and other urban myths, so...if you want to believe then believe, and
No. 3 is pretty simple...if there are arrows on your cables, point them in the downstream direction, e.g., from the source toward the speakers.
for the believers...
Interconnects are obviously better sounding in one direction than the other. No bout a doubt it. So are fuses. Even big standard non audiophile grade fuses. No offense intended to anyone.
@WillieWonka - Thank you for the summary, makes sense for practical use. I continue being suspicious about the arrows, but I understand and agree with your explanation: some of the reasons are legit. Thanks.

@Jea48 - Yes, the audio signal is brought upon by the electrons doing a little alternating dance back and forth, and pushing/pulling on their neighbors to dance with them, and their neighbors pushing their next-next neighbors etc... If they would be marching together towards the end of the cable without coming back to about their original location - that uniform movement would be a DC signal that carries no audio info by itself.
You guys that are using a digital coax cable with a solid core center conductor that connects your CD transport to your DAC, you should be able to hear a difference in SQ when reversing the direction of the digital cable.
Try it!
.

@Jea48 - Yes, the audio signal is brought upon by the electrons doing a little alternating dance back and forth, and pushing/pulling on their neighbors to dance with them, and their neighbors pushing their next-next neighbors etc... If they would be marching together towards the end of the cable without coming back to about their original location - that uniform movement would be a DC signal that carries no audio info by itself.
09-28-15: Cbozdog

If you play a record and rely on the electrons to carry the audio signal from one end of an IC to the other end of the IC you will be waiting a hell of a long time after the record is done playing before you would hear a thing.

Quote. (Audiogon Herman)

In audio we are talking about the transfer of energy in the form of an electromagnetic wave.

Electrons and wires are not needed to transfer this energy. For example, the waves will radiate in free space or down a waveguide.

Current is the flow of charge, not electrons; however it is not needed to transfer the energy therefore the current (flow of charge) in the wire is an effect, not a cause.

At low frequencies like audio it is easier to construct a system where the energy follows a wire more easily than through space or a waveguide because the wavelength is so long and the waveguide or antenna would need to be humongous.

The water flow analogy is fatally flawed, it cannot explain everything that is happening with AC or DC. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_analogy

Current flow is a misnomer with AC and causes great confusion since the charges are not really flowing. The periodic motion of the charge is not a flow in the conventional sense of the word. This is the only use of the word flow I have ever seen that describes periodic motion. For instance, pendulums do not flow. This basic misconception was the cause of much of the Audiogon debacle. Somebody was insisting that electrons vibrating about a fixed point could be described as current flow.

Quote:
"In audio we are talking about the transfer of energy in the form of an electromagnetic wave."

This is how an audio signal travels down a wire from the source to load, a connected receiving piece of equipment. So now the question is how can wire directionality affect the audio signal electromagnetic wave as it travels from the source to the load?
I wish I would have asked Herman that question....

Speed of electricity
.

@Jea48 - when talking about electrons in motion physics calls it current and not wave. The EM wave terminology is usually reserved for radiation. However, we agree - is not "the" electron at the source that runs down the wire to pass on the information.

I'm more curious about the effect of extrusion (that sounds like pulling the wire from the melt, or further purifying it through local melting and re-crystallization to push out insoluble impurities and minimize grain boundaries). How would THAT influence directionality? (I understand that preferential shielding can impact overall noise - that would not affect signal propagation but rather the added noise from external sources).

C.
09-28-15: Jea48
You guys that are using a digital coax cable with a solid core center conductor that connects your CD transport to your DAC, you should be able to hear a difference in SQ when reversing the direction of the digital cable.
Try it!
I suspect the main reason that may occur in many systems is that the supposedly symmetrically designed digital cable is not truly symmetrical at the very high RF frequencies which comprise the risetimes and falltimes of the digital signal.

Minor physical differences between the two ends of the cable in how the connectors and wires are mated and/or soldered together will result, at the tens of megaHertz and higher frequency components which are present in those signals, in differences in VSWR-related reflection effects. Which in turn will depend on the impedance characteristics of whichever of the two components each end of the cable is connected to. Which in turn will result in differences in waveform distortion, or lack thereof, on transitions between the higher voltage and lower voltage states of the signal as received by the DAC. In turn resulting in differences in jitter on the clock the DAC will extract from that signal.

Whether or not there will be audible consequences from all of that will depend on many system-dependent variables, including the exact output impedance of the transport within whatever +/- tolerance it is designed to, the exact input impedance of the DAC within its +/- tolerance, the jitter rejection capabilities of the DAC, the characteristics of the cable (including its length and its propagation velocity, which will affect the timing of how reflections and re-reflections from both ends of the cable are seen by the DAC), the susceptibility of both components to ground loop-related noise issues, etc.

Best regards,
-- Al
Cbozdog - Mitch2 indicated above that the effect of grain boundaries phenomenon is perhaps "minimal"

But something that has far more impact on SQ than grain boundaries is the cable architecture itself.

Here's a summary of what I have tried and observed over the last couple of years.

I started with Van den Hul d102 MK III using the floating shield design - that proved to be quieter and more detailed than the other cables I had been using.

The problem with more "conventional designs" that utilize two conductors in parallel is that they suffer "noise" that is induced from the signal conductor into the neutral conductor. This flows back into the connected components and impacts their performance. Sure, manufacturers put a slight twist in the conductors which is supposed to minimize induce noise, but it is not really enough.

I then moved to Stager Silver Solids - which has a very tight twisted pair (no shield) architecture - which were much more detailed and the tight twisting combats RFI/EMI and induction from the signal to the neutral, resulting in a blacker background and quieter operation.

Then I tried a braided architecture, where the two conductors were braided with thick single strand nylon. This separated the two conductors and increased the angle at which they crossed, reducing RFI/EMI and induced noise. These were significantly better than the Stagers across the board and I actually used the conductors from the stagers to construct them - so the materials used were identical.

I then started playing with my own Spiral designs where the neutral is wound around the signal conductor
- Winding the neutral around the signal effectively places the neutral conductor at close to right angles to the signal conductor which minimizes induced noise.

I have since tried several variants of this design, with the latest working extremely well.
- Basically, the signal is a single strand of solid silver wire
- The neutral is four twisted pairs of CAT6 wound around the signal.
- One wire of each twisted pair is cut short and remains unconnected at one end and basically acts like a floating shield and interferes with induced EMI/RFI.

The signal and neutral conductors are different lengths and different materials - but it does not matter, because when you take a look at the roles each conductor actually performs from the perspective of an actual circuit diagram you will see that the signal conductor is the only one that carries the "music" - the neutral conductor actually only maintains a connection between the neutral sides (i.e. ZERO volts) of the connected components. OK - it does also completes the circuit, but it is very important that the neutral side is kept as close as possible to zero volts for each component to perform to it's optimum.

Friends have also tried the spiral design and reported significant improvements in SQ.

Take a look at these links for a more complete explanation...
http://www.image99.net/blog/files/category-cable-architecture.html

http://www.image99.net/blog/files/7aa60eba36da56b621505bf2e248d60a-1.html

A couple of companies that I know offer cables designed along similar lines are:
- Anticables (for IC's)
- KLE Innovations (for IC's and speaker cables)

I have also applied the same spiral design to power cables and the effect was outstanding with a vast improvement in dynamic performance, clarity, image size and performer placement.

I personally agree with Mitch2, so I have stopped concerning myself with crystal boundaries issues - I can't do anything about them anyway - except keep both cables connected in the same direction :-)

For me - selecting the right cable architecture has provided huge improvements in SQ and has elevated my systems performance way beyond its modest price point.

Regards...
Al wrote in response to the post by Jea48,

""09-28-15: Jea48
You guys that are using a digital coax cable with a solid core center conductor that connects your CD transport to your DAC, you should be able to hear a difference in SQ when reversing the direction of the digital cable.
Try it!"
I suspect the main reason that may occur in many systems is that the supposedly symmetrically designed digital cable is not truly symmetrical at the very high RF frequencies which comprise the risetimes and falltimes of the digital signal."

Unfortunately for that argument, interesting as it may be, is that many cable manufacturers mark their digital cables with arrows that are accorded the cables based on how the metal conductors come off the final die. All one need do is keep track of the conductor's orientation from the time it comes off the die until it's incorporated into the cable. So, it is the directionality of the cable that is responsible for the change in sound - just as shown by the Hi Fi Tuning data regarding directionality of fuses, I.e. Voltage drop across the wire is different depending on direction, for example.
Al,

The point I am trying to make, for what ever the reasons given, the directionality of a digital coax cable could/can make a difference in the SQ of an audio system.
Would you agree?
Jim (Jea48), yes I agree. My basic point is that in the case of digital cables, at least, one does not have to necessarily believe in the directionality of wire itself in order to recognize that the direction in which a symmetrically designed cable is connected can make a perceptible difference.

Best regards,
-- Al

The EM wave terminology is usually reserved for radiation.
09-29-15: Cbozdog
Wrong!

I can supply web links on the subject all day long but if you don't take the time to read them what's the use?

From the start my responses to you have been to try to convince you the signal that travels from a sending source to a receiving source is not traveling back and forth as it travels down the wire. The signal travels in one direction in the form of an electromagnetic wave from the source to the load.

I'm more curious about the effect of extrusion (that sounds like pulling the wire from the melt, or further purifying it through local melting and re-crystallization to push out insoluble impurities and minimize grain boundaries). How would THAT influence directionality?
09-29-15: Cbozdog

You need to search the archives here on Agon and AA. Start with posts of the late Robert Crump, RC Crump. He goes into great detail on what to listen for when wanting to check for the best direction for SQ of solid core wire. Note the dates of the posts and wire manufactured for that time.