Directional interconnect cables

I see several big-name interconnect vendors mark directional arrows on the outer jacket of the cables.

How is it that a wire can be directional? It's a simple electrical conductor, how is it possible for it to be directional, to sound "better" when connected in one direction vs. the other? This does not make sense to me, perhaps someone here can explain how this can possibly be so...
This has been discussed in previous threads. Cheaper cables use the shield as a conductor, whereas better cables use two internal conductors (+ and -) with a separate shield. In directional cables this shield is only connected (earthed) at one end, hence the arrow.

I'll leave the more technically-savvy guys to say whether this has an impact on sound quality.
Point the arrow toward a common ground (usually the pre-amp or integrated amp). It's not showing the direction of signal, but the ground.

You may or may not hear a difference, depending on the freedom from 60-cycle noise in your system.

DCstep, is this correct? I thought you always pointed in the direction of music flow i.e., source to preamp, preamp to amp and amp to speaker. Doesn't this assure that the grounded end of the shield is properly oriented? If not, I've been doing it wrong for 20 years.
Dcstep has it correctly. Arrows indicate the end of the cable that has the shield connected (except for Purist Audio cables, which apparently have it backwards), and the arrows should point to common ground (the preamp).
I disagree! On my MIT cables, the arrows point to the end with the box, which goes downstream. My interconnects even have a marker that has an arrow that says signal flow, pointing in the direction of the arrow (which puts the network box downstream). Maybe it's best to check with the manufacturer.
I totally agree with Narrod. This is the correct orientation of directional cables.
Yes, check with your manufacturer. On some the arrrows will only serve to connect them consistantly if they're undone or moved. If there is no grounding theme, then the electrons don't give a rip which way they run; however, once the cable is burned-in, then the dielectric sets into a charge that will impact the sound of the cable, which is probably 90% of the "burn-in" effect. While even touching it or moving it can impact the charge, reattaching consistantly will reduce the time needed to settle in.

Analysis Plus and several other makers do indeed ground at one end. For these it's important to attach to a common ground.

This topic comes up about every three months, and there has never been a consensus.

Nor will there be a consensus three months from now.
07-27-08: Mofimadness said:
"I totally agree with Narrod. This is the correct orientation of directional cables"

Maybe you missed the rest of the thread. It can vary by maker, so you need to find out from the maker.

From reading the responses, it seems like the biggest question has to do with the direction between the amp & pre, so letÂ’s take a look at a balanced cable orientation. Even w/o arrows, an XLR cable is oriented female > male, which indicates flow from the pre to the amp, or source to load. Furthermore, when pin 1 is ground, #2 is hot (+) & #3 is cold (-), it is the AES Standard.

I believe the general consensus is that the drain wire is connected at the source end when used w/2 conductors and the direction of this cable becomes source to load.

I think most folks adhere to the flow of music to follow direction, however, if there is an appreciable improvement in quality by placing the cables in the other direction, by all means that is what someone should do
I should say, the common ground comments are only relevent to unbalanced interconnects. It's not an issue with balanced and you may connect most either way.

Going "with the flow" when your ICs are meant to have a common ground would generally be a mistake. Whether it costs you SQ or not will depend a lot on the grounding of your system and house in general.

So, to sum up, with balanced ICs it will not matter, but with unbalanced you should do as your manufacturer advises.

>>It's not an issue with balanced and you may connect most either way.<<


A balanced cable has a male and female end so it must be connected accordingly.

There is no choice to make.
"Either way", it doesn't matter where the ground is, smartee.

Lupinthe3rd, I think the bottom line is to check the instructions that came with the cable or check with the manufacturer. It's quite possible different brands will have the arrows pointing in opposite directions.
Nelson Pass, one of the most famous and experienced amp designed has written a short article about ground loop a few years ago(see link below). In which he also discussed cable shielding and how it should be connected. Please take a look and see if that answers your question.
MIT and Transparent cables have direction due to the networks involved, which need to be close to the termination of the signal. Ordinary cables have no inherent direction but should be used in the same manner once installed.
Some "ordinary cables" are indeed directional, but only as it relates to the ground. Do what your cable maker says. They are NOT consistant from maker to maker.

True, no absolutes!
Acoustic Zen says the arrow points in the direction of signal flow, e.g., from CDP to pre-amp, from pre-amp to amps, from amps to speakers.
I agree with the common ground idea, "star grounding". However, in the case of a phono pre, this kinda goes out the window:

CDP -> PRE <- AMP = common ground at the pre
TT -> Phono -> Pre <- amp = no real common ground
It depends totally on the manufacturer. Kimber for instance grounds both ends(shields and connectors) of their cables(balanced and single-ended), and the arrow(or direction of the printing) indicates the signal flow.
07-29-08: Rodman99999
It depends totally on the manufacturer. Kimber for instance grounds both
ends(shields and connectors) of their cables(balanced and single-ended), and
the arrow(or direction of the printing) indicates the signal
If the shield is connected at both ends, and the
ground is connected at both ends, then wouldn't the interconnect be non-
directional? Therefore, any arrows indicating signal flow would be meaningless.

Tvad- According to you. Many others disagree that cables are non-directional. If you can't hear the difference, fine for you, and connect whatever way you choose. I've satisfied myself through reversing speaker cables, and single-ended interconnects, that cables are indeed directional. The difference may be subtle, but it is indeed there. I believe you referred someone to the book entitled 'The Complete Guide to High-End Audio' some time back(If not- forgive me for the mistaken identity). If you have the book: read the section on "Cable and Interconnect Contruction", particularly the "Conductors" portion. You may find the discussion on copper's grain/chevron structure informative.
FYI: (
07-29-08: Rodman99999
Tvad- According to you. Many others disagree that cables are non-directional. If
you can't hear the difference, fine for you.

I made an observation. That's all.

If you are stating that Kimber's signal flow orientation is a result of copper grain
structure in the wire, then I thank you for the explanation.
Mr T- If that sounded like a "personal affront"- Sorry! I like to see those having their minds open to certain possibilities within this hobby(that don't yet have concrete explanations-and there are a bunch) presented those views, with an amount of substantiation. That the telecommunications industry believes cable directionality exists(though it's not fully understood), and takes steps to insure it's oberved in their installations, lends credence(at least to me). Happy listening!
How does a manufacturer decide directionality? If they get a spool of cable, terminate the ends the same, without doing anything differnet to either end, and the reason for this directionality is unknown, how do they make sure they've got it right?
07-29-08: Rodman99999
It depends totally on the manufacturer. Kimber for instance grounds both ends(shields and connectors) of their cables(balanced and single-ended), and the arrow(or direction of the printing) indicates the signal flow.

If both ends are grounded in the manner you say, then it makes no frickin' difference. It's a marketing ploy. If people think the cables have to go this way, they can charge more.

Come on man, use your head, think about it....

As far as being able to hear the difference in a cable that is constructed in this matter, it's the placebo effect.

Just my opinion.
Apparently- You didn't bother reading anything I submitted. I've used my ears as well as my head, and the facts of metal composition(crystaline structure). As I mentioned before: There are a number of things that affect the sound of an audio system(or the passage of signals through conductors/semiconductors) that(as yet)have no concrete explanations. That does not negate the fact that they exist. If you can hear the difference: No explanation is necessary, if you can't: No explanation is possible. When the steam engine was invented, there were those("scientists") that insisted the human body couldn't withstand speeds over 35MPH. Of course: Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous for quite a number of years(they are red, after all), and man will NEVER walk on the moon either(or are you of the crowd that believes that to be a hoax too?). I wonder what you would have said about people experimenting with Ferrite Beads when they were first thought of?
I am using directional cables from Siltech. Early summer this year, I reconfigured my system around headphones so that my tube amps could go into hibernation for the summer.

So after getting the headphones setup and listening to my phono stage through headphones, I noticed the left channel was slightly out of whack compared to the right channel. It sounded jumbled like phase was confused slightly. Sure enough, the left IC was backwards in terms of signal direction and cable direction.

I reversed the direction of the cable and everything was balanced. Ahhh...much better.

I know Siltech uses a very specific cable winding/stranding techniques for signal direction. I suspect having the cable in backwards threw off the optimal stranding Siltech employes, thus the left channel phasing was not as accurate as the right channel.

So I learned the 1st had about Siltech's directional cables and how it impacts sound. It does make a difference in this case.
I did read what you submitted. I also noticed that it was written by a Kimber salesman.

'nough said.
That he's a Kimber salsman doesn't automatically make him wrong. Just so happens Kimber makes some of the most transparent cables on the market. They must know something! Ever heard the saying: If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand?
Rodman99999, I spent thirty years with AT&T. Tell me more about the industry's stand about cable directionality.
I never heard it. What are your sources? Not an attack, I just want to know.
The latest were the guys that installed my RoadRunner(CableVision) cable. They made certain to string the cable from the pole to the house so it came off the spool the right way(signal/printing-their words). I've not made the topic a point of life-long study, and don't intend to obsess about it. Just know what works for me and my system! I had connectivity problems with AT&T Yahoo for 3yrs before giving up on them. It took 4 "technician" visits before one came to the house that actually knew how to use his own line-testing equipment, and found two wiring defects between my house and the server. Those never did get fixed. I was paying for 1.3M and often getting about 428kbps(windy or rainy days).
Lupinthe3rd - It does not make sense to you because it does not make sense. Believing that a wire terminated at the ends in a metal conductive pin and socket is directional is evidence of a complete lack of understanding of even basic electrical theory and a willingness to buy into any idea that someone proposes that is backed by a misapplication of scientific principles. In order to make a cable directional you would have to add a component that had an inherent directional attribute - like a diode or a polarity sensitive capacitor. Doing that would affect sound if done correctly, but it is not an effect you would want (of course adding the polarity sensitive cap would, with sufficient voltage, give a very time limited change as the cap would fail). You can create your own directional cable with a simple nondirectional cable and a ball point pen (to add the arrow).
An update and caveat - Lupinthe3rd - however, the proper way to connect any shielded cable to connect the shield to ground at only one end, not at both ends, connecting the shield at both ends can cause problems if the two 'grounds' thus connected are not at the same potential. Realize that in most instances when connected a preamp to an amp the two grounds will be at the same potention so terminating the shield at only one end won't matter. This is not necessarily the case when running cable betweeen different systems that are housed in different locations (such as different buildings. If the directional cable has the shield terminated at only one end then that is of value, but again that should not add significant cost to the cable and again you can make your own cable or buy cable with a shield connected at both ends and reterminate one of the ends (and use the ball point pen). So the cables are not entirely snake oil - just don't pay a lot for the directional cable as opposed to the nondirectional cable.
I'm not attacking Kimber, or you for that matter. I have Kimber IC's and speaker cable through out my system, except the tt -> pre. I'm just saying a cable that is terminated the same way at both ends is not directional.

And yes, I'm very familiar with that saying.......
One needn't be a Metallurgist to understand that when copper(or any other metal) is drawn through a die to form it into wire, it's crystal structure takes on a chevron shape. Apply a modicum of electrical theory and it's not a stretch to say that same chevron formation JUST MIGHT be affecting the musical signal like a diode. Musical signals are much more complex that "just" AC current, sine waves or test voltages, containing a plethora of cues including harmonic, ambient, frequency, distance, time and SPL information(the list could go on). When I was introduced to the Wood Effect on a test CD, I was able to discern exactly when the phase was reversed, though I couldn't explain the precise reason. It just sounded "wrong" somehow. I'm guessing the psychoacoustics of it are that the ear/brain connection can tell when sounds are SUPPOSED to generate compressions rather than rarefactions, and the consciousness responds accordingly. To me it's not a stretch to believe it possible for the chevron/crystal structure of a drawn piece of metal to affect the positive portion of a very complex musical/electrical signal in such a way as to disturb the balance of it's components. It doesn't take much of a trained ear to know something is "wrong" with a signal, when a direct comparison is made with an uncompromised one.
Mr 04- I've made an exception, and explained something even though I don't expect it to be understood. Mainly because of the ignorance of that "electrical theory" comment I suppose("Noise" seems very apropos!). Do you regard the people at Kimber as having some basic understanding of electrical theory, through your experience with their products? There's some interesting info on this site: ( Keep your knees in the breeze!
Another explaination of perceived directionality is the dielectric settling into a charge. If you reverse the connection then you'll hear an immediate deterioration that'll go away if your put them back like they were. However, if the dielectric charge is the cause, then if you leave it in the system long enough to "burn-in" again, then the preferable direction will reverse. If this is the explaination, then the arrows only serve to allow for consistent, repeatable connection.

This also can explain directionality in speaker cables and why elevating cables with insolators can improve sound.

I personally don't think that the copper crystals care at all which way the electrons flow. (In speaker cables they're going both ways, BTW). However, I have observed how changing the direction of a cable is heard.

Jeff Rowland told me and some others that he thinks that dielectric charges explains most of what we observe in equipment burn-in.

Mr D: Here's something that verifys part of what you said about the dielectric taking a charge, but that's not all there is to it. Read the section entitled, "Change a single piece of wire's direction and it is audible": ( Also paragraph seven of this article is interesting: (
I generally agree with his comment:

"Reverse a wire and it takes a couple of days of use in the reversed direction for the wire to settle in and sound its best. This settling-in improvement is smaller in magnitude than the difference in sound from running the wire backwards, so you can tell immediately upon reversing a wire if it is in the best direction or not."

Except that I believe the whole thing can be explained by the dielectric charge. I "burn-in" my ICs and cables a couple of hundred hours and try to minimize the amount that I move them, so if I reverse one it's going to take more than a couple of days to recharge.

Just a theory. Unfortunately, most of this can't be measured, so no one that I know of has compared one directionality vs. another with sufficient burn-in between changing directions to neutralize the direction change.

If we believe it takes hundreds of hours for cables and ICs to perform at their potential, then any time we change direction we need to give the same amount of time before a comparison is valid, IMHO.

Wire is directional esp. solid core search some of Bob Crump's post here and else where
The experiment, performed with new(0 hrs) cables/interconnects, would be valid. Not hard to figure out. My theory concerning the chevron structure affecting the positive(compression generating) portion of the signal if a cable is reversed is based on the possibility of it acting as somewhat of a diode toward the signal. That would mean connected correctly, the positive(Compression) portion of the signal would pass unscathed/uncorrupted, the negative- less so. Perhaps I shouldn't have slept through so many sessions of Quantum Mechanics 101.
This is really like a bar discussion. Everyone a quasi expert. No one truly
knowing the answer, or sufficiently explaining their theory with solid

Might as well be a discussion about sports, or politics, or cars.

Around and around it goes.
Buy favorite cable, install per manufacturer, sit back and enjoy..unless your an obsessive psychopath:)
Well, I'm convinced now.... I'm going to turn my throttle CABLES around. My HOG should run alot better......

Showing my ignorance here, but if analog audio signals are AC, how is there any directionality at all apart from shielding ground?
To try to get back to the OP's original question. It's not that the wire itself is directional. It's the assembly of the cable as a whole. Some cables have the shield terminated at both ends. Non-directional IMO. Others, have the shield terminated only at one end. In this case, again IMO, the end(s) with the shield termintated should connect to the pre-amp. This will create a single point grounding scheme.

Of course, as some others have said, connect the cables per the manufacturerÂ’s recommendations, and enjoy the music.
I don't understand either but people hear what they hear and believe what they believe. The one thing I've learned is, apparently, the directional arrows don't always mean that cables should be installed in the direction of music flow which is intuitive but, instead point to the grounded connection. I never knew that and don't consider it intuitive.