Do expensive cables/wires REALLY make a difference


Im fairly new to the hifi world and just recently purchased a couple of high end peices.my question is this:ive been reading alot about cables and speaker wire,do the expensive ones really make that big of a difference???Is it really worth spending a small fortune on cables?? And is Monster Cable really overrated like ive been reading? Any help would be useful,thank you.
cwby8115
Short answer, yes. Even inexpensive cables/interconnects can make a big difference. It's good to read stuff, but with cables, etc. it's best to identify what aspects of sound are important to you and what you'd like to improve in your system and use that to choose some cables to try and see what happens. Cables and interconnects tend to sound different in different systems, so it's kind of a moving target so especially with these components there's really no substitute to just start auditioning some and find your own way. Don't rush to judgement -- when I swap wires it usually takes a few minutes for them to settle into my system before they sound their best, and that's assuming they're fully broken in already. By the way, you won't find too many audiophiles using Monster Cable. Nuff said.

The good news is you can get very good performance for not a whole lotta $ if you do some research and especially if you buy used or direct from a manufacturer. My analogy with wires is putting cheap tires on a Porsche -- it undermines a lot of the potential you paid for when you bought the car. So it is with cables. Oh, and if this isn't infuriating enough, power cords make a big difference too. You can get some good feedback and advice here to help narrow things down if you're specific with what you're looking to improve/accomplish, your tastes/preferences in sound and music, and also let us know what other equipment you have.

Congrats on entering this nutty hobby. Is it too late to return your high-end pieces?
Short answer, no. Even expensive cables/interconnects can make no difference. It's good to read stuff, but with cables, etc. it's best to identify what aspects of sound are important to you and what you'd like to improve in your system and use that to choose some cables to try and see nothing happen. Cables and interconnects tend to sound different in different imaginations, so it's kind of a moving target so especially with these components there's really no substitute to just start auditioning some and find your own way. Don't rush to judgement -- when I swap wires it usually takes a few minutes for them to settle into my system before they sound the same, and that's assuming they're fully broken in already. By the way, you won't find too many audiophiles using Monster Cable. Nuff said.

The good news is you can get very good performance for not a whole lotta $ if you do some research and especially if you buy used or direct from a manufacturer. My analogy with wires is putting cheap tires on a Porsche -- it undermines a lot of the potential you paid for when you bought the car. So it is with cables. Oh, and if this isn't infuriating enough, power cords make no difference too. You can get some good feedback and advice here to help narrow things down if you're specific with what you're looking to improve/accomplish, your tastes/preferences in sound and music, and also let us know what other equipment you have, you too can find they make no difference.

Congrats on entering this nutty hobby. Is it too late to return your high-end pieces?
Double blind tests conducted by many of our 'authorities' over the last fifty years prove 'expensive' doesn't make the difference, its the material, connectors etc.
Agree with Buconero117 that materials make the difference, e.g., OCC silver, OCC copper, teflon dielectric, connectors of OCC copper, silver-plated, gold-plated. These features cost more.
Well-constructed cables of sufficent length are what is really needed. Spending uber-dollars on cables is not a wise decision - you would be far better served by upgrading your speakers and optimizing the speakers/room interaction...

-RW-
01-08-13: Buconero117
Double blind tests conducted by many of our 'authorities' over the last fifty years prove 'expensive' doesn't make the difference

Buconeroll, can you link to these or somehow reference them. I see a lot of mentions about these tests but can never ever find any information on them. So I go on believeing they never happened.
TIA
Good advice by Soix, including the last line. LOL.

Now that you've found the forum section, feel free to search the archives, there is a lot of information there. In the end, it is your money, and only you can make that decision for yourself.
You may be higher-end than me--I have a modest system. I can hear a difference between the lowest end cables and better ones. For me it's not worth it to step up to the really expensive ones. If you've got truly high end amp/speaker/source components then you may hear a difference worth shelling out the big bucks for. But for me, it would be a mismatch.

I'm another who would not go the Monster Cable route. There are better options at that price point, and that is not what I would consider high end.

Good luck, I hope you have fun putting together a system worthy of your ears and budget.
Alexwgoody, first you said that all of the cables sound the same and power cords make no difference. Then you use an analogy about a Porsche needing better tires. So I don't get it.

Cwby8115, I would say first get the equipment that works well with the type of music you will listen to. That may take you on a journey of tubes, solid state or a mixture of both. It may take a while and cost some bucks but it really is a fun process. .. huh ? We are all searching for that Holy Grail.

Review the Audiogon archives for sure and buying used will allow you to get some high quality equipment for a good price.

However, when it comes to cables, I am probably the poster child. What I can add to your question is that the right cables will make your system perform its best. And that DOES include power cables.

The better the system’s quality the easier it will be to pick out the differences in cables. Remember, the system will only be as good as the weakest link, and that includes the cables. And also, putting lipstick on a pig is … well it’s still a dang pig!
not necessarily expensive cables but the right cables make a big improvement to the sound

also: DIY cables can save tons of money if you find the right formula for your rig

imo ymmv
If you cant hear the difference in higher quality cables, you should get out of this hobby.
I just burned in 5 new Nordost Blue Heaven power cords and they make more of a difference that swapping stock Electro-Harmonic KT-88 tubes for 8 matching Gold Lion Genelax tubes. The tubes made a little difference, and the QB4 power distrobution box along with Nordost BH IC's and BH bi-wires helped some too, but not as much as replacing the stock powercords. I don't think wires have to be very expensive, but they should do better than stock. A full loom of Nordost Odins would cost more than a car, so in that case I wouldn't care even if they made a big difference. Maybe they would or maybe not.
You have some good information already but bear in mind that cables are probably the most difficult part of any system to incorporate effectively. There are a lot of very good inexpensive cables available.There are also a lot of expensive cables that their perfomance doesn't justify their price. I would not spend big dollars on a cable unless your system is ready for it. Spend your dollars first on good gear then go to a dealer or the Cable Company ask for suggestions and borrow some cables to try.Give them some time to warm up and get the kinks out.If you have to strain to hear an improvement they aren't worth your money.Trying out differnt cables and gear can be fun but bear in mind that you may eventually find or try something that creates what I call an "Oh Wow Moment" and you want to keep it. So do not borrow it unless you can afford it.
I guess it depends on what you call expensive. Can you buy a good cable for 10 bucks? I'd say no.do you have to spend $500, again, I'd say no. The right cables do matter. There are many other things that factor in. I like to tell people if you take one "tweak" out, you might hear no difference. If you take several out, then you will. Cables are like that. There is some good advice above. I wouldn't break the bank on cables, but, the right ones can be dramatic. Experiment within your budget, and see what you think.
Why is the copy of the Soix and the Alexwgoody posts identical (different monikers, same posts)?

What's up?
Trust yourself first and foremost....not the Audio Elite. I have had Uber expensive gear and cables. I have also had more sanely priced equipment. Performance DOES NOT always go up with price!! Recently I dug out of my audio archives a Monster Cable Z200i XLR cable to use with my new integrated so I could hook up my CD player in balanced mode. I then compared the Monster cable to a very expensive High End cable...the Monster actually sounded equal to or better than the $1500 IC. Too bad they have stopped making the Z and M series stuff...it was really quite a bargain:)
Chill Chrissain,don't scare the new guy!He's just looking for some guidance and info. as he begins his audio journey[addiction]CWBY,have fun,experiment, and enjoy the hobby!
Look closely, there is one word that is different.
Why get out of the hobby? Picking and telling the difference between cables in a double blind test was no better then chance.
Pops:

Thanks, got it.

DK
Expensive does not always mean better. Good cables make all the difference -- of course.
I think so
All cables will sound different, not necessarily better. If the cables don't have any impact then this isn't your weakest link. What the buyer has to decide is if the difference in sound worth the price. I have owned Porsches in the past and you wouldn't see a 911 owner buying $35 tires on a $100k car. Sure the $35 will get you from point a to point b, but there is quite a bit of difference between a $35 tire and $600 tire. You don't see people claiming: it is just rubber!
Yes. expensive or not, cables do make a difference. 1st replace your power cords. Live with those for a period of time then work on your interconnects and speaker cables.
Happy Listening!
I consistently hear differences between different cables in my system. I do not aleways prefer the more expensive cable, there are some expensive cables I don't like at all, and there are some inexpensive cables I like very much. Unfortunately the cables I like the most cost more than the less expensive cables I like. It's a question of proper matching, personal preference, and budget. Whenever I switch cables for music loving non audiophile friends they clearly hear a difference. We each though have different preference and budgets. Remember too that many cables hold their value very well over time, so the cost is not as outrageous as it may seem.
im fairly new to the hifi worldbut im confused about something.my local hifi dealer/repairman advised me NOT to use a power/line conditioner to plug my gear into,telling me to just use a power strip saying the previous can actually make my system not sound as good as it could/should.is this true?? One more question i have is if the stock power cables are replaced on amps,cd players,etc will it make a difference if you do use a power/line conditioner?? thank you for any info.
Cwby8115, Now you've opened a can of worms re. power conditioners.
Check the archives, the comments and theories are endless.

The first question is how good is the AC in ur house now...is it steady 110/120 Volts, does ur neighborhood have brown-outs? Then there is the question of how clean/dirty the AC line is. I believe you should start by having the system on it's own dedicated line and breaker.
01-08-13: Buconero117
Double blind tests conducted by many of our 'authorities' over the last fifty years prove 'expensive' doesn't make the difference

01-08-13: Schipo
Why get out of the hobby? Picking and telling the difference between cables in a double blind test was no better then chance.

01-08-13: Sebrof
Buconeroll, can you link to these or somehow reference them. I see a lot of mentions about these tests but can never ever find any information on them. So I go on believeing they never happened.
TIA
Why does everybody keep talking about stuff that never happened?
I think Larry Greenhill did a double blind test between zip cord and Monster Cable in Stereo Review in the mid 70's...
After a long journey over the last 35 years I've settled on a complete system of MasterBuilt interconnects, speaker cables, and powercords. Now, anytime I replace any part of the set, even one pair of interconnects, it's easy to hear how the system is compromized. I have the Reference series and they are expensive. There's a no hassle return option. You might want to try the Standard line first and see what you think. If you try them, give them several weeks to break in.
let's talk about materials.

it is possible to design a silver cable that is indistinguishable from a copper cable. while metals can make a difference, they do not always make an audible difference.

the original question has an obvious answer. some expensive cables sound different from some less expensive cables.
I think it is to do with how much return you want to get for your dollars. All cable makers tune their cables to their own signature. For example Transparent; Cardas are more musical and Crystal Cables; Nordost are more excited etc... so finding one brand that matches your system is the most important. After that, a lot of money will yell a little more improvement dependent of the quality of your equipment.
The answer is.... Wait for it.... It depends!

It depends on the electronics and the interaction between them, such as between your speakers and amp. Some combinations can be more sensitive to differences in cables, whereas with others a change in cables will have little impact. It is a function of the physical characteristics (inductance, capacitance etc) of the cables and your system, not price. As other have said, the right cables will make a big difference. The price you pay for the right cable will only impact your wallet. This said, maybe the right cables for your system will be more expensive than another.

Figuring out what cable is right for your system is where all the fun begins.
Cwby8115, Don't forget to burn your new cables. For best results: 30min in 325deg oven. Use gloves.
The old cable shuffle.
Yes no yes no..
Well, generally the middle road would be if you can hear a difference, then i guess you would bother to buy better cables.
If you cannot hear a difference in your system, then you would not.
Simple.

For folks who are too ''whatever'' (confused, unsure, unwilling) to trust your own ears.. Then you can go either way.

My take, from my experience, is that cables of all sorts, and conditioners can make a difference.
However my personal 'theory' is that spending more than 10% of total costs on cables is a mistake. because one could BETTER spend that extra money on better equipment.
For 10% of system cost one can buy reasonable decent cables. I have absolutely no proof or reason for my 10% rule except it seems reasonable. And is what i wound up with anyway. Mostly it seems reasonable.

All sorts of folks want you to believe what they say..
All I want you to do is think for yourself.
Read all the crap being spouted.. think about it. figure it out for yourself.
Not all cables reproduce music through my speakers exactly the same. I have had some that cost more than others and the differences were slight to extreme.
Your dealer is right in that a power conditioner can make a system sound worse, but it's also true that a conditioner can make a dramatic improvement. Which one it is for you depends on how clean/dirty your power is, what components you use, etc. Find a way to try one or two conditioners from the better companies (i.e. Audience, Shunyata, BPC, etc.) and then you'll know. I think most (but certainly not all) people find they make improvements and have some form of condioning in their system, and then there is the added protection from spikes/surges.

I don't think someone can say difinitively whether or not to plug your amp into a conditioner. It depends on several variables, and once you have a conditioner in your system it's free to try it both ways. If plugging into the wall I'd suggest at some point having a dedicated line installed, which you should do anyway (it usually costs less than $500, which in this silly hobby is one of the cheapest upgrades you can make). And yes, a conditioner still makes a difference if you replace the stock power cords. When it comes down to it, in my experience almost everything makes a difference. Whether it's an improvement or not is another story.
Depends on the cable Stealth V10 speaker cables do.
Yes, yes and yes, cables are hughly important. And no, one need not spent a small fortune to potentiate your high end pieces. There are excellent bang for buck products out there that often trump the more expensive offerings. Check out the cable company's lending library and try to bring home as many products as you can. The profit margin is hugh when it comes to cable so never pay retail. It's a mine field out there and everyone has a different opinion.Take your time. On a personal note, I just changed out some of my cables (not for the first time) and my system has gone from mid-fi to hi-fi. Want to buy some cables? Just kidding.
Sebrof
yes they do happen. Double blind testing and yes the chance of picking out is usually just chance that means no better than 50/50. If you don't believe why not conduct your own and maybe just maybe you will walk away a little more humbled.
When I played around with interconnect cables a while back, there was an obvious difference between, say the Anti-cables and the Audio Art IC3. The IC3 was more open and detailed.
01-10-13: Schipo
Sebrof
yes they do happen. Double blind testing and yes the chance of picking out is usually just chance that means no better than 50/50. If you don't believe why not conduct your own and maybe just maybe you will walk away a little more humbled.

Wow, that sounds like a win/win or lose/lose proposition depending on your POV. If you get it wrong, congrats, cables don't matter, if you get it right, cables still don't matter, you just got lucky. WTF???
Seconding a point that was made earlier in the thread by Nick_sr, the degree to which cables will make a difference depends not only on the intrinsic characteristics and quality of the cable, and on the quality and musical resolution of the system, but perhaps just as significantly or even more so on interactions between the technical characteristics of the cable and those of what it is connecting. Impedances, for instance, among many other dependencies that could be cited which have no direct relation to the sonic quality of the system.

See my post dated 12-15-12 here for a summary of many of those interactions and dependencies. That post also describes a couple of examples of how a given cable can sometimes even have exactly opposite sonic effects depending on what it is connecting.

It should therefore be kept in mind that the ability of a system to resolve musical detail, and its ability to resolve differences between cables, are two different things. And sometimes there may even be an inverse relationship between the two.

Finally, it should be kept in mind that the sonic effects of line-level analog interconnects and speaker cables will be proportional to their length. A reduction in length will bring the performance of those cables closer to neutrality (i.e., closer to having no sonic effects), everything else being equal. That is not necessarily the case, though, with digital cables, phono cables, and power cords, due to the complexity and/or unpredictability of the interactions that are involved.

Regards,
-- Al
Cwby.

I'm convinced that a person with a "Golden Ear" does not exist. If you have the resources and inclination, you can easily win money from the people who so vociferously defend buying expensive cable by setting up blind tests.

Even people who design speaker cable can't consistently pick the "better" cable. Those who say they can (Chrissain from above) are either lying or some version of the Bionic Man.

I've heard tests of cheap wire vs. expensive (same gauge and length, both properly insulated) many times with the same result. No discernible improvement.

The difference between decent/cheaper interconnects, speaker wire, AC chords and those costing hundreds or thousands of dollars should overwhelm you when tested.

I promise you, it won't.
Youre wrong Arctic.I have done this for decades, Guess I have to be concidered as a "golden ears"-guy but there is not much mystery to it, just a lot of practice and a wery clean, open system that reveals every little change.

The clean, open system is off course the key, when People first time hears my system I often hear "oh, now that explains why you are able to hear..."
Hi, I agree with Unfairlane about cables!, I my self have run countless test with many, many folks in audio stores and my home, never have I seen where someone picked the cheaper cable!, I will admit however, It does matter what brand and model of cables a test is done with, not all exspensive cables can pull the job off hugely!, so in a since I agree with you somewhat about cheaper cables, I can tell you Taralabs, nordost, crystal cables,sihltech cables,purist audio design cables, and a few other brands will make a huge difference to cheaper cables!, now when you say cheaper cables, I am assuming any ole big gauge cable and length will do?, Now when you say a cheaper cable from the likes of Taralabs or nodost out performing a more exspensive cable from another brand,, I can believe that story!, Happens all the time!, Happy Listening.
Cable facts:
When deciding on cables, don't trust your ears.
A:B testing doesn't work.
The cable that makes no difference is the best one.
Buy the best one that you can afford.
Yes, but the better the system the more the cables short coming will reveal them self and vice-versa how good they are.
07-21-13: Arcticmonkey
Cwby.

If you have the resources and inclination, you can easily win money from the people who so vociferously defend buying expensive cable by setting up blind tests.

Even people who design speaker cable can't consistently pick the "better" cable.

I've heard tests of cheap wire vs. expensive (same gauge and length, both properly insulated) many times with the same result. No discernible improvement.
Can you give details?
Have you won money from people?
Have you done these blind tests yourself or did you just read or hear about them?
Descriptions, links, anything?
I ask because I've read a lot about these tests but when pushed for details the details never come.
TIA
"I my self have run countless test with many, many folks in audio stores and my home, never have I seen where someone picked the cheaper cable!"

Never is a bold word to use here, Audiolabyrinth, are you sure you want to use it?

I do hope the "tests" you've seen are blind and not like the experiments that folks who want to sell you something create.

Going to any major audio show is an eye opening experience. Nordost, for example, loves to swap their Blue Heaven (BH) power chords with the main that comes with the amp. They will play 50 seconds of a song with the amp's AC chord, replace it with the BH and play the same 50 seconds over. "Did everyone hear the difference? The level of detail, more open.... amazing right?". Of course everyone shakes their heads yes and moves on to the next room.

I've never (see there's that word again) seen anyone who can consistently pick any type of cable,interconnect, or AC chord. A true test should be blind, swapping (or sometimes pretending to swap) the two cables (same gauge and length for speaker wire) many times and listening to the same part of a piece of music. Under these conditions no one I've seen can pick the "better" (more expensive) wire, a statistically significant number of times.

Sebrof, I have won drinks from people and no I did not just read about these tests. In fact, when I started my own personal inquiries, I had no idea which side of this debate I would fall. A Google search of "Speaker wire double blind test" will give you many tests to read about. I do encourage you to not just read about it but actually participate in such a test obviously.

I highly encourage you to read this presentation: http://www.andreconsulting.com/Audio%20Equipment%20Snake%20Oil.pdf

Instead of asking me for proof, ask for proof from the cable companies who use ridiculous claims and flowery language to sell their wares. Where is their proof? Nonexistent, because when the difference between cheap "zipchord" and expensive wire is actually measured. That difference is inaudible to the human ear.

Put your money into better hardware (speakers, source). That is where you will get your upgrade.

For the rest of you, I hope MIT, Nordost and the other cable companies are sending you nice Xmas presents for helping them to propagate this myth.