Does it matter the wire gauge used in interconnects?


I am thinking of trying my hand on building some DIY interconnects. It will be balanced (XLR) and 10 feet long. I have seen interconnects made with thin 30 gauge wire, is there an advantage using super thin gauge wire?
I was thinking of using 20 gauge but is that too thick for interconnects?

ozzy
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I’d recommend a high-quality specialist cable, like Mogami W2549.
The gauge of the wire in my Darwin ICs are somewhere in the 20s. I believe they get thinner the higher up you go in the line. I'm talking human hair thin (22GA) and was told that it's very labor intensive and part of their secret. 

The same weight reduction can be seen in their terminations: they look like it's all pared down to just what is necessary to get a good grip on the RCA connector. Again, very labor intensive. 

The results are the best see-thru, transparent ICs I've used. Over time I worked my up their line by watching for specials and discounts. Worth a look.

All the best,
Nonoise
Everything matters.
Thank you for the response.
I am thinking the longer the interconnect the thicker the gauge should be. That's why I am considering using 20 gauge for a 10 foot run.  I believe that should lower the resistance / capacitance. But, thinner wire may have other attributes and may be beneficial for higher frequencies.
So any advise on this subject is welcome.

ozzy
twoleftears,
Thanks for the link. It will come in handy.
Perhaps I missed it, but it's still not clear to me how various gauges affect the sound.

ozzy
@ozzy  AWG 20 sounds OK.  My Acoustic Zen Absolute ICs have gauge 20 wires.  I assume you're going to twist wires.  XLR are usually twisted.  Twisting exposes both wires evenly to external electric and magnetic fields reducing interference pickup (very effective).  Twisting reduces inductance (not important here) and increases capacitance.  Perhaps light twist?  Twisting is effective when twist pitch is way below wavelength of offending signals.  Let's assume 1" twist pitch is way below 0.3m wavelength of 1GHz signal.  At these frequencies shield works great (skin effect).  I would use insulation with low dielectric constant to lower capacitance between wires (Teflon?).  Perhaps oversized overall tube with low dielectric constant to reduce capacitance to shield?  (my ICs have foam Teflon insulation in oversized tubes).  

With thicker wires you risk skin effect, that starts at gauge 18 in copper at 20kHz, but speakers are usually inductive in character at these frequencies, meaning that impedance gets way higher reducing skin effect (If it is audible to start with).  Good luck and let us know.
Unless you are driving properly terminated XLR (110 ohms), odds are you are dealing with source resistances of 600-2K ohms, and load resistances of 10K - 100K. Fairly small wires will work well at the typical lengths used. But then again large wires will work too.


Skin effect is a non issue. A larger gauge wires has more surface area than a smaller gauge wire, so even though it experiences more skin effect, its overall conductance is still lower.

Because of high load impedance, inductance in the cables is a non issue unless you do something ridiculous like the helix construction where you can actually make an inductor large enough impact signal transmission. More concerning is high capacitance due to the high source impedance. Whether exotic insulator really make a difference is up for debate. It sounds good on a marketing sheet.

Twisted pair construction and overall braid shielding will rarely steer you wrong, though overall braid does increase capacitance.


@ozzy  I should've explain better in my last paragraph, that gauge 18 would be even fine even for the speaker cable, while for ICs it doesn't make any difference.  Gauge of IC wire should be thick enough for easy handling.  That's perhaps why Acoustic Zen selected AWG 20.  Capacitance is directly proportional to dielectric constant.  Selecting Teflon (k=2) instead of PVC (k=4) lowers capacitance by factor of two.  Using oversized tubes reduces it even more.
kijanki, audio2design,
You guys really know your stuff. Thank you for that very helpful information.
So for now, the plan is to use 20 gauge soft .9999 solid silver wire with oversized PTFE tubing and braiding the cable slightly.

I was thinking of using Xhadow XLR connectors but they don't seem to be available anymore. When I look at the XLR connectors that are available they seem to use a lot of metal in there design, which to me seems like it could affect the sound.
Is there any XLR connectors that use minimal metal like some of the RCA connectors I have seen?

ozzy
ozzy, are you speaking of the outer case? You want something like carbon fiber or something. Darker? No shiny outer case?

They make them with good internals. Just about everything you can think of.. Stick with something that stays clean, inside. I’ve seen silver, inside, kinda spendy, rhodium, nickel plated everything (:-)) Carbon fiber outside.

I’ll look https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32972013684.html

The wire composition, dielectric and cover more than anything with XLR, the size to big is to big. Weight for one and I think if you go to big it does loose a certain twinkle. I know it takes forever to break some of the pure silver in. Not that is sounds bad, but it change for 2-300 hours..

Regards.
Before you build your cables check out this thread:
https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/duelund-conversion-to-diy-helix-geometry-cabling
 I built a short pair of these with 18g vhs copper and Furutech plugs and they sound great.  For years there has been much commentary on wire gauge, skin effect and I never would have used a wire this heavy in an IC based on that.  But you know what, my ears say they sound great!  Solderless termination, superb quality parts=great sound.  Give it a try.
Thank's for the help. I'll check out that information.
I guess I like the Xhadow XLR's because they use screw connections, thus eliminating solder.

ozzy
There’s a guy on ebay, cjwebber_89, who makes interconnects out of Duelund wire, with versions at 26 awg, 20 awg, and 16 awg. in shielded and unshielded versions. He says the shielding/no shielding makes a difference to the voicing, and recommends 16 for smooth/rich and 20 for clarity/detail. Just reporting; claims AFAIK unsubstantiated.

More Duelund 16 gauge here.
https://jeffsplace.positive-feedback.com/%e2%99%ab%e2%99%aa-2016-jeff-award-for-the-duelund-coherent-audio-dca16ga-tinned-copper-tone-wire-%e2%99%ab%e2%99%aa/
twoleftears,
Thanks for that info. I have tried Duelund wire, and although its good , soft solid .9999 silver wire is better. At least IMHO.

ozzy
Duelund 16 gauge sounds best in ICs within the Duelund family.     More full bodied and better fleshed out mids. I have also found wether you use VH Audio Airlok, Neotech etc... the thicker the better up to 16 gauge.   Shielding does close in the sound with ICs.  

The best sounding ICs are made as a true double IC. Two ICs in one.  Double runs of the positive and negative conductors.  Remarkable results. 

Go to that DIY Helix site shared by @twoleftears and read it fully.   Build the Double Helix IC and be prepared to hear the best cables you have ever had in your system. 


grannyring,
Thank you for chiming in. I don't understand why doubling up the cable is better than just using a heavier gauge wire? And, I need 10 foot lengths.

ozzy
Back in the early 2000s, quite a few of us were building cables, which generated quite a bit of discussion over at Audio Asylum. In response to this question:
What are the ideal LRC specs for analog interconnects and loudspeaker cables? Would a zero value for all three be ideal?

Jon Risch, a speaker designer for Peavy who used to post often on AA about cable construction, replied:

According to theory, yes, zero for all three would be nice, however, since this is not possible, there must be trade-offs. Any attempt to lower inductance will often cause the capacitance to rise. Interconnects like a low capacitance, while speaker cable shine when their inductance is low. Low resistance is critical for a speaker cable, while it is not much of an issue for IC’s.
In my experience:

  • 20-28 awg wire is common for IC construction
  • geometry including spacing and uniformity is critical
  • dielectric material, shielding, stranded vs. solid core wire, and connectors are also important
  • regardless of the connectors used, they most often get plugged into bog-standard Neutrik connectors that most equipment manufacturers use
  • I often used the expensive Furutech 601/602 and Xhadow connectors (which use silver plated pure copper) are also good while for a less expensive option Vampire XLRs are good
I finally concluded that I could make better sounding ICs by using manufactured bulk cable, which will have much more uniform geometry than what we can do by DIY. Here are a few sources for pretty good manufactured bulk cables, although there are others:

Unfortunately, when they stopped manufacturing OCC wire, IMO the quality of bulk cable choices declined. Interestingly, Furutech sort of breaks the mold by offering some larger gauge bulk IC cables all the way up to 14awg (see link above) - I have no idea how those sound.

Other choices would be to use a variety of bulk Belden wire available including their 8402 cables that the designers of the SPEC amplifiers consider to contribute to the "Real Sound" they desire. I made a couple of pairs of those and they do have a nice tone. You can read about the SPEC folks and their cable choices here:

Back in 1990, when I had Stan Warren mod by Philips CD-80, he told me to just go to a jewelers store and get some thin, high quality silver wire and use an oversized sheath (I forget which terminations he reco'd). 

All the best,
Nonoise
You can build your 10 foot XLR ICs this wavy Ken. First, the double sounds best based on my testing and builds over the years. I have built some 400 sets of ICs over the past 4 years and taken the time to listen to all manner of conductors, gauge, shielding and geometry.

I highly suggest you build using the Helix Method as given in the link provided. I would use the Vampire pure copper XLR connectors. Use the VH Audio 18 gauge solid core Copper Airlok conductor on pins 2 and 3. Twist conductors 2&3 every 2 or so inches. The VH Audio wire costs $4 foot so that will cost you around $160. For the ground wire on pin 1 you use Take Five Audio 16 gauge stranded copper, silver plated, cryo’d wire. It costs some $1 per foot. Use a 4-1 ratio to the VH Audio conductors. So you will need a total of 80 feet. Your total cost will be around $300 - $350 if you make this standard, not double, Helix XLR IC. The cost is closer to $600 if you double up on the conductors and make a double helix. The double will sound the best, but not twice as good 🙂.

Another way to build a nice set of XLR ICs in a more conventional manner is this...,

Use the same VH Audio conductors, twisted pair on pins 2&3, and use a high quality tinned copper braid shield tube as the pin 1 conductor. The VH Audio twisted pair runs inside the 1/4 inch or so diameter copper braid. Now you have a shielded XLR cable which will sound very good. Not as good as the Helix, but very good. I have compared. The Helix design is special giving the blackest background and most open sound I have yet to hear in a cable. Very resolving, but smooth and natural at the same time. Uncanny. The outer Helix acts as a Faraday cage.

Both of these builds can can be improved sonically by doubling up on the conductors.

Helix Double

- Two twisted pairs of VH Audio conductors for pins 2 & 3. One twisted pair to each pin. I would twist the two individual twisted pair sets together every 3-4 inches.
- Two TFA conductors for the Helix ground.

Standard Shielded XLR

- Same individual tinned braided copper tube shield as the single - pin 1.  
- Two twisted pairs of VH Audio conductors as above - pins 2&3. 

Use 4% Silver WBT solder. Be careful not to nick or mar the wire conductors when striping off the insulation. Use as little solder as possible to make a secure solder connection.
I will share here that I have made double helix RCA ICs and SPDIF cables for audio friends that preferred them to cables costing up to  $7800.  Not joking here. It really happens regularly. 
I wonder if the helix double sounds better as it halves the inductance?
Mitch2,
Thank you for that information.

Nonoise, Yes I believe using oversized tubing is a plus.

grannyring,
I already ordered 60 feet of .9999 20 gauge soft silver wire along with oversized  PTFE tubing. To keep the cost down, can I also then add 60 feet of copper to make the double runs?

Then not sure if it will all fit into a XLR connector...

ozzy
Assuming things are relatively in balance, inductance or resistance are not as important for ICs as low capacitance, but low inductance does improve the performance of SCs, which is also what a cross-connected star-quad geometry does.

I have been interested in the Helix Method that Bill linked for a while now but I haven’t had time or need to build a set yet. The Jupiter wire I linked also sounds very good as a balanced IC cable but it is a little hard to work with. For conventional balanced IC cable construction (i.e., twisted pair), it is my experience you should:
  • use two of the exact same (type and length) of signal conductors,
  • use a ground wire (doesn’t need to be the same quality) that is at least the same gauge as the signal conductors,
  • allow some spacing between the ground and signal conductors, counter wind the ground wire (i.e., in the opposite direction of the twist you used for the signal conductors), and connect the ground at both ends,
  • shield the cable and connect the shield at the source end only
Most of you are generally going to use stranded wire conductors, so awg is not so critical.  Of course, you'll have more capacitance issues with larger awg, so don't go super large like 16awg or larger.  Instead, do multiple wires of 20+ awg if you want more wire for less resistance.

If you are using solid-core conductors, then I would say that 20awg is the largest you want to go unless you combine different awg.  Anything larger than 20awg solid-core will start to lose high frequency response.  In my extensive testing, 20awg is the sweet spot if you are only using one size.  22awg has excellent high frequency detail, but loss of bass power.  18awg starts to lose high frequency resolution.

The alternative is to combine different sizes.  You could combine an 18awg and 21/22awg solid core wires.  The smaller wire would provide the high frequency response and the larger wire carries the bass power.  Audioquest speaker wire is designed just like this.
Interesting, I may try my hand on the double helix method grannyring refers to.
But, then I also agree with auxinput comments about using too thick of wire aggregate. Thus my original question.

ozzy
Two VH Audio 18 gauge solid core sounds best. Many of us who have built these know first hand. Better than one 18 gauge on its own. Nicely extended top end. TFA on the negative for single ended or ground/pin 1 for XLR. This recipe just works. The VH Audio 18 gauge solid core silver Airlok is even better, but very costly. I made a Helix design USB cable with it as the data conductors and TFA 16 gauge as ground. The sound is stunning. Just stunning as a USB cable. Yes, I had to modify the rear of the usb connectors to fit these heavy gauge conductors. Once again these gauges sounded better than the usual 24-30 gauge conductors used in usb cables. Why? Well the experts can argue, but folks that have listened and compared agree. I know this goes against the USB “white paper” articles. Go figure. Trust your ears every time.

No problem fitting the double design in a connector as I have done it many dozens of times. I can give some tips if one is pretty skilled with a soldering iron.

I would not mix copper and silver as part of the twisted pair double.  I would not use different gauges either.  The negative and/or ground conductors on ICs simply need a good quality stranded conductor that is easy to coil into a Helix, keeps its shape, and offers enough flexibility or spring to stretch evenly across the length of the cable.  The TFA is ideal for this. Many others don’t work nearly as well.  


Thanks grannyring for the additional information. Since I have already ordered the materials I will try a single run first. Perhaps later I will try the dual runs.

ozzy