Directional speaker cables - switching direction


Some time ago I started a thread regarding speaker wire directionality and my inability to understand how it could have any affect on sound quality. The question was inspired by the fact that, after quite a few years using them with my Martin Logan Odysseys, I discovered that the cables (Straightwire Octave 2) had arrows printed on them. Not surprisingly the opinions expressed were pretty strong on both sides of the argument but those supporting directionality were the most vociferous and in greater numbers, one to the point of being downright insulting. In no case, though, was an explanation given by those supporting the importance of cable direction for how this phenomenon occurs except that it should be obvious that when a cable is broken in in one direction only someone with an uneducated ear would be unable to discern the difference.

Even though I still don't get it I'm not taking the position that there is no validity to the directional claim; if there truly is I just don't understand how. This leads me to my two part question. I haven't been using the Octaves for a few years but now, because of cable length issues, I want to put them back in my system partly to avoid the cost of new quality cables.

IF, then, the directionality theory IS valid and I don't recall which way the arrows originally pointed or which direction they were "broken in" do those in support of directionality think I should install them with the arrows pointing toward the speakers
broadstone
YES - The arrows point to the speakers
Some cables are designed to go in one direction due to their cable construction. I had an IC that had the shield attached to the ground at the source end and open at the other end.

To end the debate, just insert the cables both ways and keep the one that sounds the best.
I think the configuration of any shielding has potential to be directional, but this seems like it should be more of an interconnect issue as most speaker cables are not shielded, right? Maybe the geometry of the speaker cable is such that it isn't identical in both directions in the same way that tread on directional tires is different. Like you, I can't imagine a scenario where the break-in would matter or how direction would matter in a simple cable design such as basic monster cable or my 10 AWG Blue Jeans Cables.
I can't imagine a scenario where the break-in would matter or how direction would matter in a simple cable design such as basic monster cable or my 10 AWG Blue Jeans Cables.
Mceljo
One way to find out for sure, flip your 10 AWG Blue Jeans Cables end for end and listen for any difference. Post back your results.
One way to find out for sure, flip your 10 AWG Blue Jeans Cables end for end and listen for any difference.
And then flip them back and forth at least two and preferably three or more times, not only to verify that your perceptions are consistent, but that the perceived difference (if any) is not the result of an extraneous variable (for example, changes in contact integrity, changes in AC line voltage or noise conditions, changes in room temperature or humidity, etc). Re humidity, see the post by Georgelofi dated 6-17-14 in this thread.

IMO, the less explicable a perceived difference is, the more thorough the assessment needs to be, before concluding that the difference has been attributed to the right thing.

Brf makes a good point, btw, that many shielded cables, especially interconnects, are designed asymmetrically and can certainly be expected to be directional. In those cases the end at which the shield is connected should generally be connected to the component which drives the cable.

Regards,
-- Al
Many believe that direction should not matter since we're dealing with AC current (charge flows in both directions). It might be a little bit more complicated than that, since energy is delivered only in one direction by the electromagnetic field on the outside of the cable (Poynting Field). I just don't know enough to question sanity or honesty of cable designer while I don't see any reason not to use it in recommended direction.
And then flip them back and forth at least two and preferably three or more times, not only to verify that your perceptions are consistent, but that the perceived difference (if any) is not the result of an extraneous variable (for example, changes in contact integrity, changes in AC line voltage or noise conditions, changes in room temperature or humidity, etc).

Hi Al,

As for contact integrity I would suggest cleaning the contacts before swapping the cables end for end and then listening for a while to get used to any differences in sound from the system. This should establish a common base line for the test. Then flip the cables end for end. Listen to the same music that listened to before flipping the cables.
Room environment should not change in just a couple of hours or so, of the same day, for the listening test.
Jim
Thanks, Jim.

One more possible extraneous variable I would keep in mind, adding to my earlier list, is the equipment being in unequal states of warmup during the different parts of the comparison.

Or the possibility that even if the system is shut down briefly enough to avoid a significant change in warmup conditions while the cable directions are being changed, that just the fact that power has been cycled may somehow affect the amplifier or other components. Why might that be? I don't know, but the possibility seems to me to be no more unlikely than the possibility that changing the direction of a symmetrically designed cable would affect the sound.

As I see it there's no substitute for going back and forth multiple times during the assessment, before reaching (and/or promulgating) any conclusions, rather than just flipping once.

Best regards,
-- Al
Yep clean, back, fourth, listen, clean, back, fourth, listen etc for several certain days touching each season and each portion of 24 hours.
keep truckin and dream will come true -- you'll hear things different!
While I'm a big believer in cabling, I'm a bigger believer in cable settling, which can take a long time regardless of the directionality of the wire.

If you haven't used the wire for a couple of years, you will be essentially settling a new cable and should be able to hook it up in any direction and still need a few hundred hours of constant signal being passed through it to fully stabilize the cable.

If you find this a little too much to swallow then I sure as heck wouldn't worry about directionality as it's far less significant than cable settling.
Audio is, at best, a faith based hobby. After a hundred years or so the measurements that have evolved to quantify the performance of gear still do not accurately correlate with subjective percepetions of sound quality.

What we do know is that things can sound different even if someone does not know the mechanism which causes them to sound different. So I would say try them both ways, find the one that sounds best to you, and make that part of your belief system.
Switching direction is easy, fun and free, Why not. Or You may want to check out "Audio Myths Workshop" at YouTube.
We may not know the mechanism or just not be willing to consider that the change isn't the gear. How do we explain changes in the way we perceive the sound when nothing in our gear has changed, at least nothing we can control?

If my gear wasn't in a heavy entertainment cabinet making access to the back of the amplifier difficult I would probably do some swapping, but considering it takes an effort to squeeze in a critical listening time with two small kids, it is unlikely to happen.

I have had more than one experience listening where things just didn't sound right on a scale that I am positive is more significant than reversing my symmetrical cables could be. It is really hard to identify real differences when any change is expected to be within the normal range of the system sounding great or not so great. I find, for example, that I perceive a better sound most f the time in the evening when the sun s ting down. Is it related to the power grid or is my mind just in a better place that time of day? Impossible to know for sure.
Using cables attached in the wrong direction opens the door to chaos...once on that path you could be doomed...is it worth it? NO NO NO...However, one thing you can try is to erase the little arrows and anything saying "speaker" or "amp" on the cables, shuffle the cables around blindly, and plug 'em in. Stand back and duck for cover as the entire neighborhood could explode in one of those zombie-esque nightmare scenarios...good luck.
I truly envy those who have enough time in their lives to sit and critically listen to their cables and then swap the direction and do it again. And to ensure they heard what they think they heard, do it all again over and over.
Timrhu wrote,

"I truly envy those who have enough time in their lives to sit and critically listen to their cables and then swap the direction and do it again. And to ensure they heard what they think they heard, do it all again over and over."

What's it take, about 60 seconds? Now, compare that to 30 years of slaving on the system trying to get it sound good.
When I started this thread I inadvertently pressed the "submit now" button before I completed my thought so I'll try to finish it now with the added benefit of these comments. Although I'm skeptical of the theory of directionality in a conductor, even for DC current, I'll discuss it as if I accept the idea. By no stretch do I mean to be critical of those who argue the validity of cable directionality but I think sometimes we go so far into the quest that we start to invent things that we feel are standing in the way of perfection. Because the Straightwire cables were removed from my system before I noticed the arrows, I have no idea if they had been installed properly. Whether or not they had been, though, if there is validity to the directionality theory there is also the question of break-in direction and how permanent that would be in the event that I would try to reuse them. BTW, I like the idea of avoiding Zombies and appreciate the warning.

Because I'm not secure in my conclusion that the direction issue is an imaginary one, I'm going to reinstall a pair of Silver Sonic cables that I had used in another setup in the past. These have no arrows imprinted on them and I know which direction the break-in occurred because there are spades on one end and bananas on the other and have thousands of hours on them. If the "settling in" process will be starting over, that's OK; these new speakers will take awhile also.

All of this is coming up because I just changed speakers from the Martin Logan Odysseys to ML Ethos. My system otherwise is Shanling CD 100 and Peachtree Audio Nova as preamp and Peachtree 220 amp.
Broadstone,

Cable break-in, cable burn-in?
What proof can you provide that a cable will sound any different new out of the package than later after several hours, or 50 hours, or even 100 hours with a signal passing through it? Please don't just say you can hear the difference. That could just be your imagination playing tricks on you. Please provide actual tests with measurements.
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Jea, it can't be proven as far as I know and I'm interested to know how you could possibly have construed anything I've said to have been in support of the directionality or cable burn-in concepts. Please go back and read the discussion; I think it's pretty obvious that I clearly question the validity of cable direction and its influence on sound quality.

Jea, it can't be proven as far as I know and I'm interested to know how you could possibly have construed anything I've said to have been in support of the directionality or cable burn-in concepts. Please go back and read the discussion; I think it's pretty obvious that I clearly question the validity of cable direction and its influence on sound quality.
12-04-14: Broadstone
Broadstone,

Thanks for the clarification. I apparently misunderstood this paragraph of your earlier post.

Because I'm not secure in my conclusion that the direction issue is an imaginary one, I'm going to reinstall a pair of Silver Sonic cables that I had used in another setup in the past. These have no arrows imprinted on them and I know which direction the break-in occurred because there are spades on one end and bananas on the other and have thousands of hours on them. If the "settling in" process will be starting over, that's OK; these new speakers will take awhile also.
12-04-14: Broadstone
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Yes and thanks, Jea, I see how that could have been misleading out of context. In an earlier thread that I initiated titled "directional cable- I don't get it" I questioned it in some detail. Even though I don't get it I am not knowledgeable enough to completely dismiss the possibility but it will not be an issue, however, in my future considerations for choosing or installing cable.
Jea48

I have proved it as it is a true fact, this burn in thing that is. I hear the difference, but for folks like you who think we folks are hearing things we want to hear, I now have absolute proof.

My tinnitus is something I live with and the upper frequencies in my system can set it off bad if I am not careful with system synergy, cabling etc. My reference silver cables set off my tinnitus in a big way at first and over time it has dissappaited. Burn in changed and mellowed the cables. No, my tinnitus did not somehow get used to the cable. Anyone with tinnitus knows it is set off by sounds etc...and no amount of time with a problem volume or frequency will cause the tinnitus to go away. It simply worsens unfortunately.

That is proof. However, I doubt unbelievers will believe even when presented with a multitude of proof stories as your minds are made up.
Goodness I wish I could actually trick myself into hearing things that are not really happening. I would hear my wife say things I only dream of! I would hear silence when I go to bed instead of my ringing tinnitus. Seems I can only fool myself into hearing things when it come to audio wire. I am not capable of it in any other life situation. Oh well.
Grannyring - what happens if you reverse you cables?

If a cable is reversed when there isn't an audiophile around to know about it, does it really matter? Is this significant enough to recognize a change without knowledge of said change? I can easily tell my receiver from my tube amplifier, but if a gnome ran off with the sort kones under my CD player I would never know unless I noticed the physical loss of height.

Jea48

I have proved it as it is a true fact, this burn in thing that is. I hear the difference, but for folks like you who think we folks are hearing things we want to hear, I now have absolute proof.
12-04-14: Grannyring
Grannyring,

LOL, folks like me huh, I suggest you check the archives and read some of my posts here on Agon regarding cable burn-in and cable directionality.
Jim
Jea48

Sorry if that is not your position. I have to go by what you just posted here.
well, well, just yesterday, after setting my system back up friday night, and re- breaking in my speaker cables and speaker cable jumpers that are state of the art, I could hear a small difference in my right speaker compaired to the left, now friday night I was drinking heavy, celebration of 2 years and 8 months of dealing with my amp came to a wonderful close, so hell yea, I am going to drink!, back to yesterday, I was sober, after hearing a difference in the sound, I walked up to both speakers and evaluated the connection's, whoa and behold, only one jumper on the right channel, the negative was turned the wrong direction, instead of the signal going from bottom post to top, it was backwards, shut down everything, flipped the Tara Labs Omega Jumper correctly, bam, the wife says, what did you do now, I said why, she said that the sound now had fuller vocals and way more detail!, that said, over a year ago, we tested all the jumpers at the same time going the other direction, when we did that, I remember the wife thought then that something blew up because the sound was hugely poor, a much more difference then just one jumper out of place., cheers.
Is it really true that wives hear better than their better halves? Or is that an old wives tale?

;-)
Hi Geoffkait, my wife has proven many times that she does hear better than me, her ears are more sensative to high frequencys, during most auditions of any new equipment, doing a/b testing, just when I thought my decision was done, I would go back to what she said in the very beginning of the testing, as it turns out, the one she picked is the winner, and then I'm like Damn, she is always right!, last time I checked my hearing at the doctor's, there was nothing wrong, yes, I can go with women hear better than men, absolutely.
It really depends on the individual, hard and fast rules about gender and hearing acuity are not truly "hard and fast". For instance, no female in my family or any girlfriend I have had can hear with the acuity that I can....and I'm male. I've met nobody who has been so annoyed by TV or fluorescent light squeal as I have, to the point of having to leave some stores.

But I have to say in blind tests I have not been able to tell which direction cables are hooked up when I have someone else do the switching (or non-switching).

Audiophiles should read about placebo effect, expectation bias, but of course most audiophiles will be the first to reject such notions, proven as they are.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimenter%27s_bias

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/the-power-of-suggestion-what-we-expect-influences-our-behavior-for-better-or-worse.html

In many ways, this belief always reminded me of audio:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowsing

Keep in mind that this is coming from an audio guy who has been in it for his entire life since 12 years old and who owns a warehouse full of audio gear including hundreds of sets of high end cables. In other words, I'm a big believer in small differences making a big difference. But I've also watched many folks fool themselves and make the wrong pick time and time again, when they swore in advance that they could identify something, when I am the one to make the changes (or not) in what they are listening to.

just make sure it should and will sound different and it will. if you do contrary, it won't.
there certainly things that will sound different believe it or not as well.
just make sure it should and will sound different and it will. if you do contrary, it won't.
there certainly things that will sound different believe it or not as well.
12-09-14: Czarivey
Ain't that the truth!

To think of all the money I wasted about 8 years ago buying several pairs of NOS early 1960s white label Amperex PQ 6922 and 7308 tubes. Not to mention Siemens early 1960s all grey plate CCa and E188CC tubes. It was all in my head the differences that I heard from the stock 6922 Sovtek tubes that came with the preamp. Funny thing though, I still remember the preamp sounding like a solid state preamp with the stock Sovtek tubes installed.

Measurable test results showing the differences in perceived sound of vintage 1960s 6922/E88CC, and 7308/E188CC Amperex, Siemens, and Telefunken tubes vs. current production EH or Sovtek tubes? Well....
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My wife tells me to turn down my music but does not mind her's at the same level so go figure.

My wife tells me to turn down my music but does not mind her's at the same level so go figure.
12-09-14: Mapman
LOL, just a guess, your taste in music is different than that of your wife's.
Different tubes, different companies, active devices, of course there is a difference. And as they break in there is a difference. Real reasons, and not all unmeasureable.

Different cable designs? Absolutely, sound different, measure different, obvious to hear.

Cable direction? Totally different proposition.

I suppose shining lights on the cables makes you hear different resutls, and I suppose after moving them they have to "break in" again.
Omsed wrote,

"I suppose shining lights on the cables makes you hear different resutls, and I suppose after moving them they have to "break in" again."

Actually, those are two things I think are true. Thanks for reminding me.
My former wife only loved pop. Pop isn't music for me so had to pop her out:-)
Current one's curious to dig my entire collection.
Different tubes, different companies, active devices, of course there is a difference. And as they break in there is a difference. Real reasons, and not all unmeasureable.
12-09-14: Omsed

Well apparently I did not make myself clear, sorry about that.
Same manufacture, same tube construction, just different years of manufacturing. Example, the Amperex PQ white label 6922 vs. the later manufactured Amperex orange label PQ 6922 tube. They do not sound the same.

The Seimens 1960s all grey plate CCa tube vs. the later manufactured 1970s CCa tube. They definitely do not sound the same.

Can the differences of the same manufactured tube be measured with today’s test equipment? Can the differences be heard by the human ear? Oh you bet. But maybe not by all human ears....


Cable direction? Totally different proposition.
Maybe to your ears heard on your audio system.
But you should not try to push your beliefs and your limited ability to hear any difference on everyone else.

....
and I suppose after moving them they have to "break in" again.
Well that could depend on how the cable was constructed/manufactured and the type of dielectric materials used in the construction of the cable.
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The "women hear better than men" comments refer to hearing range which is likely better than many men might have. However, the sound QUALITY of a hifi rig to the trained and experienced ear is a different thing and is subject to the tastes (or lack of) or biases obtained by the discerning "active" listener. Get your wifey-poo to master a recording at a studio or mix a live concert and I'll be impressed, otherwise the opinions of the disengaged partner passing through the room are generally a minor part of the scenario.
Your correct Wolf_Garcia, my ear is more trained than her's, you know how it is, I am impressed that she like's the high-end, also, you should know, she is a very good musician and top flight singer that would impress many, that would explain that she really has an ear that is more trained than most audiophile's to say the least.
I think it's a shame more women aren't into this hobby, or more anybody actually.
wolf_Garcia, I thought the same as you, now, I have a different perspective, looking at the over load of product's in Stereophile, The Absolute sound, and here on Audiogon, I think the High-end audio industry compaired to the late 90's is hugely live and well.
I have to laugh at this thread. There is no net displacement of electrons in speaker cables, they move back and forth to reverse the polarity, it's AC current. They cetainly don't flow like water through a hose. Directionality is a marketing gimmick for non-engineers, and we love and we buy it because we need to BELIEVE!

This is the religion of Audiophilism.
But power is delivered only one direction thru electromagnetic field. Who said anything about displacement of electrons?

I have to laugh at this thread. There is no net displacement of electrons in speaker cables, they move back and forth to reverse the polarity, it's AC current. They cetainly don't flow like water through a hose. Directionality is a marketing gimmick for non-engineers, and we love and we buy it because we need to BELIEVE!

This is the religion of Audiophilism.
12-15-14: Stevecham

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Quote
01-18-11: Elizabeth
Think of it like a wave.
If you threw a rock into a pond, the splash makes waves. The water is only moving up and down as the wave passes bye, only a little water is moved horizontally when the stone hits, the 'wave' is the motion transmitted without the water going anywhere.
Similar thing with electrical waves in a wire. The current in a music signal is a form of alternating current(a wave movement, where Direct Current is like a straight line movement), so the electrons pretty much stay in the same place in alternating current. Just the waveform moves down the wire.
The waveforms can be extremely complex. So if the music of an orchestra is being transmitted, the wave form of the sound of each instrument is added together and all of them, together, are travelling in a very complex wave through the wires to where they are going.
Electrical current in a wire is a complex phenomonon. The frequency of the waveform determines how the wave travels. The higher the frquency, the more the wave stays on the top surfaces of the wire. (each strand if multi-stranded) So the wave passes down the wire mostly on the surface, with varying degrees of penetration into the wire depending on the frequency. So wire can make a difference in how well the signal (the waveform) travels without getting messed up. The electrical energy also generates a field around the wire, and that field can affect, or be affected by it's surroundings. So good insulation on the wire also helps the waveform to reman intact.
Badly made wires can distort the waveform by slowing down some frequencies of the waveform slightly, and insulation can also affect the waveform. because as the waveform passes, it is affected by the insulation, and also the surface of the wire. (if the wire is dirty, or corroded, or is not pure, it interferes with the signal too)
All of those 'errors' in the transfer of the signal down the wire as a waveform are extremely tiny, so some folks say wire is wire, and other sayy different wires change the way the music sounds, because the wires affect the wavefoms a tiny (but significant bit)
Hope this helps.
Elizabeth (Threads | Answers | This Thread)

01-18-11: Elizabeth
Added: the wave of different frequencies moves down the wire at the same speed. just the waveform of each frequency is a different shape, added together and constantly changing shape of waves as the multiple parts have different fequencies in the waveform. But the signal all gets to the end of the wire at basically the same time.
(only the tiny effect of the depth of the frequency of the wave into the wire affects the parts a very very tiny bit)
I tried to both explain what is happening in simple terms, and satisfy the demands of the others who will read this and protest various shortcomings in my explaination.
The science of waves/wires/electrons/music.. is very simple AND complicated at the same time. But the simple fact that we can enjoy the music is really great.
Elizabeth (Threads | Answers | This Thread)
End of quote.

>http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?htech&1295324474&openfrom&1&4#1
I assure you that when I reverse my directional Tara labs Omega Top of the line Jumpers that go from my bottom post to top post of my bi-amp speakers, the difference is in NO WAY SUBTLE!, likly, it is the way the speakers are designed?, I do know for a fact the the conductor out lay in these jumpers are specific going to one direction, I can see that looking at the jumpers with my own eyes, if you have cables that sound the same that are directional, get rid of them please, they are inferrior cables!
As it turns out Elizabeth is an English major. Does anyone see the irony?
Speaking of Elizabeth, any one seen her lately? I use several of the same forums as she does and haven't seen her post in weeks.
You haven't seen her in weeks? How about six months? Time goes by fast when you're having fun.
We have no clue if the person called "Elizabeth" authored this stuff, or she (?) simply pasted it from somewhere.
Well, whoever wrote it most likely never saw the inside of a physics book. Maybe any book.