Good, Neutral, Reasonably Priced Cables?

After wading through mountains of claims, technical jargon etc. I'm hoping to hear from some folks who have had experience with good, neutral, reasonably priced cables. I have to recable my entire system after switching from Naim and want to get it right without going nuts! Here is what I'm looking for and the gear that I have:

Looking for something reasonably priced-i.e. used IC's around $100-150. Used speaker cable around $300-400 for 10ft pair.

Not looking for tone controls. I don't want to try to balance colorations in my system. I'd like cables that add/substract as little from the signal as possible.

Looking for something easily obtainable on the used market i.e. that I can find the whole set up I need without waiting for months and months. I guess this would limit you to some of the more popular brands. Without trying to lead you, here are some I've been considering:

Kimber Hero/Silver Streak
Analysis Plus Copper Oval/Oval 9
Cardas Twinlink/Neutral Reference (Pricey)
Wireworld Polaris/Equinox

Here is my gear:

VPI Scout/JMW9/ATML170
Audio Research SP16
Audio Research 100.2
Rotel RCD 971
Harbeth Compact 7

I would really appreciate your help on this. Thanks, as always.
I've had great success with RS Cables Illume`, a silver cable in teflon insulation terminated with Eichmann Silver Bullet Plugs. It's really a remarkably transparent, neutral cable and it retails for $149 with a money back gaurantee. It replaced a set of Kimber KCAG in my system without looking back. Whatever you ended up choosing good luck.
if you can stretch your budget a little ( i would reccomend it looking at gear). you will be really missing out on your source, amp, and preamp if dont kick it up a notch on the ic budget (also power cords have a "profound" effect on a high resolution system)

the audience au-24 ic and speaker cable is a giant killer - well reviwed online, mags, and fourms. it is one of the few cables that can do a whole system ( it is THAT neutral). the used ic's will go for $250 meter and the speaker cable is $375 to $425.

btw, you wont believe the differnce when you upgrade the power cords - in fact you may want to start there first so you can really hear your gear.

One of the challenges in this hobby is that everything is systems dependent. A cable that is neutral in one system may not be in another. For example, Mikesinger reports outstanding findings with the au-24 and I don't doubt him. Many have reported great results from that cable. In my system, the au-24 rolled off the highs -- not a ton, but enough to make me switch out.

My experience with lower priced cables led me to conclude that the Sound Quest Pro Series Zero Point Reference Interconnect is outstanding for the money -- nothing but the music in the three systems where I used them. I have not experienced their speaker cable so cannot comment on that.

Dodgealum, I'd suggest that, whatever cable grabs your attention from what I hope will be many recommendations, you try before you buy. Get that 14-30 day trial period that many dealers and manufacturers offer. If you go to used cables to save some money, be prepared to resell and reship. I hope you get lucky with your first attempt, but you may not. That's OK -- it's all part of the fun ;-)
I too usually recommend Audience AU24 ICs but for your price you may want to try the less expensive Conductor series of Audience. They are supposed to offer similar tone but not at quite the refined level the AU24 has. BTW in my system the AU24 is very close to neutral, more so than any other cable IMO. Also Acoustic Zen Mat Ref MKI go for about $150 and is a very good cable for that price.

Also I am under the impression the Hero IC is a little warm but who knows? Also I am not very impressed with Cardas, too slow and sleepy for me as tried in a few different systems.

For speaker cables I usually recommend Acoustic Zen Satori or Hologram in your price range. Also Alpha Core Goertz MI2 speaker cable is terrific with beautiful tone. I think it is impossible to get totally neutral and all these cables have a tone of their own, just ones that I like.

all the best,

Oz, neutral is neutral.
For IC'sChris VH Pulsar $150.00 new.

For spkr. cable, Luminous Audio Renaissance There's a ten foot set on A-gon for $145.00
I second the VH Audio Pulsar ic's.
I would also recommend the VH Audio Flavor 4 pc.
Very good products at a good price.
Psychicanimal, I agree that neutral is neutral from an observational or judging perspective. However, for cables or individual components, I'd propose that "neutral in a system is neutral in a system".

Cables have differing inductance, resistance and capacitance characteristics so, from a listener point of view, they may not behave exactly the same in every system. Cables can impact different systems in different ways.
Audio Purist, contact Used Cable 1 800 fat-wyre and ask them for a demo.

From my personal experience I'd recommend that you stay away from the Kimber Hero. The sound from this cable is bloated in the bass & rolled off in the highs. The mids are average (the best represented in this cable). There were many times when I felt that the upper bass/lower midrange was thick & a bit congested. I still own the Hero but it is now in my HT system where, I feel, that it does much less damage! I have heard the Silver Streak too for a long period of time & I find that it is too harsh at the high freq extremes. Maybe it's the fact that they use silver for the signal cable & copper for the return? There is something about this cable that is not sonically right. Personally, I feel that Kimber's good cables start from the KCAG & higher. The KCAG is not cheap tho!
No experience with the other 2 cables: AP & WW.
I have heard the Cardas Neutral or Golden Cross (I can't remember I'm afraid) with Piega speakers. Can't say that I like what I heard.

New or used cables I'd recommend are:
TARA Labs Decade or Master Gen II
TARA Labs Prism 5500i
DH Labs Air Matrix
VdH The First Ultimate
Discovery Plus
Straightwire - Rhapsody II from their category 3
or VirtuosoR from their category 4

Some of these are harder to find used than others. Additionally, some of them might blow your budget. However, they are all are very good performance cables (my opinion, of course!) & you could be a long-term owner of them. FWIW. YMMV.
Pick a few cables mentioned in the above posts and try them in your own system. This is the ONLY way you'll know what's right for you.

I'd third VH Audio Pulsars, and agree with the Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference v1. I'd also add MAS Signature interconnects and MAS Black (if you can find them). The MAS interconnects are in your price range, and compare favorably.

Have fun.
I have tried the first 3 cables on your list. The best value would be the Kimber Hero. The retail price falls withing your budged. As for the speaker cables I would go with Kimber's 8-TC, also withing your budged.
I'd also like to add MAS Signature Hybrid speaker cable to the suggestions. Once again, it's below your budget and an excellent performer.

Stu Wein usually delivers within a week of your order, if not before, and you have a 30 day trial period.
A 2nd vote for Tara Labs prism cables or the rsc versions, ELF custom cables also are a best buy.
Oz, you're starting to sound like Sean! I have changed...I've learned at the very last minute that my system must revolve around the cables, not the other way around. Robert Schult of Ridge Street Audio was the person that got me thinking like that.

Dodge, you're setting yourself up for a trip to Hi Fi hell...

You asked about specific cables, so i'll share my thoughts on them in the order you listed them.

To me, Kimber's silver cabling has all of the "bad" connotations that one reads about silver. That is, it comes across as being lean, bright and edgy. Even with months worth of burning, i can't tame these cables. Having said that, their Copper / Teflon cables are quite respectable in most cases.

I am not a fan of the sonics of AP cables or their design at all. As such, i would pass on them. I don't think that they would be a good match for your system anyhow.

I think that the Cardas could work well with your specific system.

I'm not familiar with the Wireworld stuff, so i'll shut my mouth here.

Outside of those and with the components that you have listed, i would probably shoot for Pulsar's as IC's and Goertz MI-2 Veracity speaker cabling. I don't know how much you've played with the tubes in your gear, but if they are basically stock, you should be in good shape with this combo. If the Pulsar's don't do it for you, try looking for some used Music Metre interconnects. Using the Pulsar between the CD & Preamp and a set of Music Metre Calibre's between the Preamp & Amp ( or vice-versa ) might work well also. Sean
Psychic: I don't what to say about your theory of building a system around a series of passive components ( cables ). In fact, i think that someone joked about this in a thread a while back i.e. "I have Brand X cables. What components and speakers would go good with them?". While I can understand how / why someone would joke about something like that, i truly can't understand how someone could consider wire more important than the active components within a system. This is especially true when you have hundreds of traces / solder connections / pieces of wire running inside of each component.

Sounds like a planned trip to hi-fi hell.... Sean
i would strongly suggest staying with a "mainstream" know used cable. if it doesnt work in your system, you can always sell it for what you have into it.

i dont mean to sound pompus, but i have yet to hear a well rounded, neutral cable for less than $500 retail. i thing the audio world is waiting for a killer $200 - $300 retail cable that is neutral, but i am not holding my breath.

if a manufacture has one, i am very interested and would write a honest review (check my feedback here and on ebay- over 225 positive transactions). i would love to run across a reasonably priced neutral cable, but they dont exist- small cable manufactures please accept this a gentle challenge and prove me wrong. btw, i consider my system to be a "real world " system:

Audio physic libra's
classe cam mono 350's
pse hl-1 signature / bat vki-30
marantz sa-8260

the au-24 is the $500 retail cable that is reference quality that i have run across and i have heard it in all audience wired system ( audience has a very generous auditon policy) it has been compared to the vahalla and other cables costing 2x-4x the cost in both written and online reviewers and found the reviews to be spot on. btw, the audience power cords are friggin amazing.

there are other neutral cables out there, but they cost alot...even used. the xlo signature II and the upper end synergistic line come to mind.

hope that helps.

best regards,

Sean: it is not *my* theory--and I offered to send you my cables. The offer still stands, since I'm moving and won't be setting up my stereo for who knows how long. You REALLY need to experience these cables. It will be a paradigm shift. I have two (1m) sets of MSE Gen I & three of Gen II, two (30 inch) sets , one (1m) set.

Again, I hold strongly that cables go first. If I would have known what I know now, my system would have been simpler and with even better cables. The current mini monitor/stereo subwoofers/electronic x-over system takes up quite a bit of space. I should have had a Rowland Concentra integrated with a standalone, modded belt drive CD player + Creature on Steroids and a couple decent three way monitor speakers with Poiema cabling throughout. It's too late for that now. I'll have to stay complex.

Deano says, "Never pass up an audition.".

Mikesinger: there are cables under $500 that are neutral and will outperform Audience: Ridge Street Audio and VenHaus DIY silver (they both are cotton insulated). Here's a testimonial of someone who has AU24 and built the VenHaus:

time tells all....lets see if the vdh or ridge street rise to audio cable fame.

dont get me wrong, there are ALOT of great cables out there. but there is generally a direct relationship with the cost vs. performance of most of them. some are offer more perfomance for the buck than others.

most cables dont do everythng for under the $450 range. i used to say takes AT LEAST $750 to $1000 to have a great well rounded player (bass, imaging, dynamics, tonal color, musicality) untill i have tried the audience au-24. it hs closed the gap to $500 retail for a well rounder player.

i think the audience offers the biggest bang for the buck going (new or used). i have tried alot of cables up to the $2k price point and the audience is what works well in my system (i sold all my straightwire crescendo ic's for it)

looking at the original thread, the guy asked about a neutral ic for $100 - $150...well guess what...IT DOESNT EXIST -if it does please send me a 2 pairs ( 1 meter rca and a 2 meter xlr).

all i suggestd was to spend a little more and get a great sounding cable that if it doesnt work out, he can sell it for what he has into it or close. YOU CANT DO THAT WITH A VH DIY or a new ridge street. at least with the audience it is a "recognized" refernece quality cable that is in demand.

also unless he has heard a reference quality cable, there is nothing to compare it to.

please note this is my opinion....

For what it is worth, I agree with previous comments that system synergy is much more important than name brand appeal when finding cabling.

The best advice I can give is to read a lot, find the closest analogies you can to your own system, either in reviews or on boards here or other sites (audio asylum, etc.), buy a few sets, and audition them for a while.

I recently did this myself- it definitely costs money, but if you buy used, it isn't as painful as it could be, and you don't need to spend time breaking in cables. Afterwards, you can re-sell the 'rejects', for lack of a better word, for minimal losses.

In my case, I started in your general price range, but ended up drinking the Koolaid and going upscale- it was worth it in terms of sonic improvements. Your mileage may vary...

I posted here a while back-

Agon cable comment

Good Luck,
Mike, I went out with a Mexican model that makes Salma Hayek look quite a few notches lower. Unfortunately, she is nowhere near as *famous*. Perhaps that's one of the reasons she gave me her phone number.

Get my drift?

Sometimes what we ask for is not what we want. Dodgealum has asked for neutral cable recommendations, and he's received quite a few suggestions. I own both Audience Au24 and VH Audio Pulsars. In my system, a combination of Au24 and Pulsar sounds best.

Sounds best. That's an important distinction. I may have wanted neutral to begin with, but what sounds best is another thing. I don't believe one has to pay big bucks for "neutral" cabling. And, I'm one who considers Au24 to be big bucks cabling, but you can see where my price/performance skew rests. The Pulsars are not the ultimate definition of neutral, but they sound damn good. Combined with the Au24 interconnects, the combination is very, very nice. I'll add that I've owned the Ridge Street Midnight Silver Edition II interconnects, and while these are also not the ultimate definition of "neutral", they too sound really, really nice and are certainly worth investigating.

That's why I continue to recommend (as others do, too) that wire has to be heard in one's own system with an open mind.
....makes Salma Hayek look quite a few notches lower.

sounds high maintaince to me :))))

i actually prefer when they ask for my number.

you know what i mean...

Psychicanimal, you're right -- I'm branching out into both a left and right brainer! ;-) Perhaps I'm being a bit too objective. There is more that I don't know than that I do.

Looking at things from a different perspective, many audiophiles have heard differences in cable performance from one system to the next. While that, plus the scientific differences I referenced, points to many cables being systems dependent, that does not prove that all cables are so systems dependent that they will be neutral in one but not another. Thanks for the continued challenge to my reasoning Psychicanimal.

Allow me to rephrase: MANY cables may sound neutral in one system but not another; ALL cables will influence their systems to some degree; SOME cables may sound neutral in most systems. That's what I love about this forum -- it's a great learning opportunity for me so long as I listen.

Threads like this really amaze me, regardless of who contributes to them and how much or little they've spent on their systems and cables.

Having said that, there's obviously a LOT of different concerns regarding cable selection being voiced in this specific thread with sound quality and design integrity only being a small part of them. Brand recognition, resale value, status amongst audiophile peers, etc... are also raising their heads. While nobody wants to "lose their shirt" when buying / selling gear, selecting products that are properly designed in the first place typically negates many of the problems associated with having to worry about resale value.

Smart people realize that interconnects can change "flavours" when you change their positions within the same system. As such, the cable itself doesn't have a "flavour" or measure of "neutrality", it becomes part of the component to component interphase. What you hear is the result of that specific synergy / summation of complex impedances and how the specific components react / load up / transfer power into those specific impedances.

If a cable maintains the same sound in every system in every component to component interphase, it is doing something so wrong that nothing else will overcome that colouration / design flaw. I'm not saying that a cable can't display similar characteristics when mating various component configurations, but that those characteristics may vary in intensity somewhat due to the specific combo's used.

Hopefully, some of you folks will learn this sooner rather than later i.e. before you go broke and are very unhappy with your systems. I know that some get the basic idea as i can see it in their posts. Having said that, speaker cables are another story. There are specific electro-mechanical design characteristics that allow some cables to work more universally than others in well designed systems. Systems that are less than well designed / put together may require lesser cables to act as an "electrical band-aid". Sean

PS... How does a cable achieve "greatness"? Is it by the manufacturer providing a bunch of freebies to reviewers and getting them to list them in their "reference system" in glossy mag reviews? Or is it achieved by building up a bunch of hype on the net via on-line reviews and end user commentaries? I've tried a bit from all three camps and quite honestly, some of them are horrid sounding AND so electrically backwards that its' not funny.

My experience is that "great" cables come with "great" price tags. That's because someone has to pay for all the freebies / discounted cables that the manufacturer went through just to gain the public notoriety that they've achieved. Just remember that the grass is always greener on the other side and there's always a "better" / "most amazing" cable that will be available next month or the month after that.

Compare profit margins between cables and components and you'll see why there's SOOOO much hype surrounding this part of the market. This isn't to say that there isn't a difference in cables, only that much of the differences are in the component to component interphase, not the cables themselves.

It would be nice is to understand the objective characteristics which lead to these subjective differences we hear with interconnects, as opposed to speaker cables. It seams to me (this is offered as a straw-man) that interconnects are suppose to offere a voltage signal to the various components where speaker cables are suppose to deliver current to their load; the hypothesis is that the amp upstream equipment (connected by interconnects) is more susceptible to the voltage/current differences than the amp is. The analog is a circuit designed to measure/deliver voltage is quite different than that to measure current.

Perhaps this is what you've been saying all along?

try Goertz MI1 or MI2 speaker cables:
or Kimber 4TC 0r 8TC (not as good as Goertz} and more expensive.
The irony in the cable game relative to Sean's post is in trying to get from his paragraph 4 to paragraph 5. (no intent to pick on Sean). It's the fact that cables do change from placement to placement that causes people to spend so much money buying, trying, then selling at half price. If there is any way around this trap, I'd be most interested in hearing it. With a lot of experience, you can characterize how your system reacts with a variety of cable designs, but reducing it to a set of rules that will actually help in avoiding making the same mistakes again is something that escapes me. In power cords, for example, I can take 4 similarly constructed cables used in the same position, and they all sound quite significantly different from one another.
So far, the best method I've found is listening to characterizations by other people. If enough people who are theoretically free of outside influence ... post opinions on a cable's character, you get a reasonable picture of how it usually performs across a fair spectrum of equipment.
Also, can we get a definition of what is electrically backwards in the cable world? Undoubtedly yes, but for starters, would anyone venture a guess as to whether any of the following are electrically forwards or backwards:
- networks and network boxes
- magnets
- padding with rice paper, cotton, ers cloth, etc.
- mechanical resonance controls
- wildly improbable conductor materials
- the need for amorphous non-crystalline metal structure, assuming the conductor is made out of metal
- dc current added to the shield
- water or other jackets for novel shielding

And that's just a start on the list of novel approaches to defeating a list of transmission line issues, real or theoretical or purely imaginary. So as a practical matter, how do you, the user, sort out what a cable will do without a lot of trying ($$$$) :^)
Re. objective characteristics of cable behavior, I've found the audioholics site to be worthwile food for thought:

audioholics site

They seem to be pretty far toward the 'objectivist' end of the spectrum of thought re. cable performance, which some will find more appealing than others. The hard data they provide is valuable regardless of its interpretation and eventual shoehorning into electronics theory (which gets very esoteric very fast, at least for me.)

If one can make use of it, perhaps the data can aid in choosing cable evaluation candidates, and perhaps in understanding cable placement differences as well. (impedance matching, capacitance, etc...)

There have also been a couple of articles in Stereophile re. cable theory, at least one of them was by Herve Delatraz, who makes the DarTzeel amp, if I recall correctly. I couldn't find them on the website- perhaps they are only available in print, or I wasn't looking in the right places online.

Fun thread!
Interesting, Tommy.

I must say this site (have never run across it before) appears to have an axe to grind. For example, they slam the Goertz speaker cables for introducing a large phase shift; the problem is it's out of the audio band and therefore irrelevant. In fact, when you assess their data on the cable, it's quite flat in the audio range.

Seems hard to get an "objective" opinion.
Sean, assuming that a cable meets a reasonable level of design integrity, is it your opinion that the process of evaluating the different designs (sonic evaluation) becomes random and unpredictable?

Would you agree that design integrity could be of a high standard in a $500 I/C, just as high as say a $2500 I/C?
If so, it should then be possible that the less expensive cable could sound better than the more expensive cable, given a sympathetic set of electrical (impedance) properties in system components?
I'm going through cable changes in my system right now, and I'm experiencing a wide range of sonic differences between cable, that seem totally unrelated to price. I won't get into specifics at this point, but it seems to me that spending big bucks on cables does not guarantee any kind of performance advantage over lower cost cables, and that basically it's all about system synergy and finding a cable with the right electrical properties that 'just happens' to compliment the properties of the components to which it connects.
Various things strike me from all of this, foremost is that any written review of audio cables is to be treated almost as a source of entertainment, rather than any kind of resource or reference. Unless you have the exact same setup as the reviewer (impossible, since at the very least, his/her AC will be different) the results of the review are totally system dependant and therefore of little or no relevance outside of that specific system.
A bit too 'black and white' but you get my drift.


Agreed- there's an agenda at Audioholics. I tried to be politic about 'objective' perspectives and finesse the issue by referring to their data as being objective... As long as the experiment is done right, data is always objective. It's the interpretation that gets complicated ;-)

FWIW, Audioholics takes pains to at least give the appearance of doing proper controls- not being an EE, I can't meaningfully judge how good their methodologies are.

Looking at it from another perspective, I think they deserve some praise for actually doing, and talking about, cable measurements. I've certainly never seen Stereophile, Absolute Sound, or any other high-end rag carry out rudimentary, much less standard and routine, measurements of cable properties. Instead, they provide hearing evaluations and sometimes comparisons, which, as we all know by now, are highly specific to system interactions, etc. etc. and may have little if any broad applicability. If I'm going to toss around the 'agenda' word when discussing Audioholics, I should probably be fair and recognize that this approach is similarly 'agenda-driven'. I should probably run for cover at this point before the impending flame-war engulfs us...

Getting superior sound for listening enjoyment is probably the overarching goal of all this (but who can say- some folks seem to like the process of getting there more than the goal...) In getting to that goal, it seems to me that both subjective and objective approaches should be useful, and could be complementary, if folks could be motivated to work together.

Oops. Ending soapbox session now...
Here's the root of the problem: entertainment. To me, an audio review in a magazine is not entertainment. It is a published account of a listening experience. Now, 'gentleman's entertainment' IS entertainment...
Mprime: I can't give you any specifics about interconnects. As i've stated before, "interconnects are a mystery" as far as component to component interphases go. That's because the spec's from component to component vary so widely.

What i will say is that i hope to start doing some testing in this area sometime shortly. I've finally got all the equipment that i need to really look at this subject in-depth. I do have some ideas as to why some designs are better than others, but at this point in time, they are stricly theories. Obviously, the use of high quality conductors, materials with low DA ( Dielectric absorption ), geometries that are lower in capacitance, etc... I could add a few more criteria that i personally think are important, but i'll save it for later : )

Other than that, much of what we hear has to do with the stability of the circuit loading into the cable. The more stable the circuit, the less variance from cable to cable and mating component. One thing though. Common electronics theory states that you don't want the output impedance of a device feeding into another device that is lower in impedance. This "loads down" the circuit due to increased current draw and can play games with bandwidth, tonality, transient response, etc...

With that in mind, a device with a very low output impedance is much more likely to be more "versatile" / open to variations amongst cables than other devices with higher output impedances. After all, most interconnects will have a nominal impedance that is 50 ohms or higher. I picked 50 ohms as that is a common impedance used for standard coaxial designs. Obviously, a source component or preamp ( tubed most likely ) with an output impedance of 200 - 600 ohms can be quite finicky when you introduce a cable with a low nominal impedance as part of the load that it sees. The end result of such a situation is typically high end roll-off ( lack of "air" and "shimmering highs"), congestion in the midrange and muddy, ill-defined low frequencies. This is what happens when there's not enough current to get the job done.

The opposite can be said of low impedances trying to load into very high impedances i.e. a lack of bass and warmth, loss of dynamics, etc.. but this situation is typically not nearly as degrading as the other way around. That's because current flow is choked and you can't load up as much voltage as might be needed.

Maximum power transfer and optimum transient response occur when all the impedances i.e. output from the source, cables carrying the signals and input to the loads are all equal. There's only one manufacturer that i know of that builds a system like this though and that gear probably isn't real compatible with other brands of gear.

Flex: Some manufacturers of "esoteric" wire have told me that you can have cables built to identical spec's from different manufacturers and they will all sound different. This is true even though they might measure identically. This tells us that there is obviously something more going on inside the conductors / dielectric than just impedances, etc... John Curl posted some info about the "non-solid" parts of metal conductors varying with current flow i.e. conductors actually change shape ( and probably conductivity too ) as various levels of energy are fed through them.

As far as "backwards" cabling goes, that would be speaker cables that are highly inductive, interconnects that are highly capacitive, cables that use very low grade conductors, cables using very lossy dielectrics or dielectrics that don't protect the conductors from pitting / oxidation / corrosion, poor geometries that are highly susceptable to RFI / EMI, cables that have nominal impedances that aren't good matches for the component interphase that they are involved with, etc...

I will only comment on one of your listed. That is, mechanically damped cabling. I've had some cabling here that is PHENOMENALLY microphonic i.e. it is VERY susceptible to both air-borne and floor-borne vibrations. Most of this is due to the type of conductors and geometry used, making the cable very rigid. If the vibrations are strong enough and the cable is coupled to the devices quite sturdily, it's possible to resonate the chassis of the components that are connected to this cable. Given that some designs, such as precision devices like turntables, CD players / transports and even tube gear can be affected by such things, i wouldn't want ANY cabling like that in my system. While not as common, even SS line level and amplification gear can be microphonic / highly sensitive to vibrations. Much of this could be related to brittle solder connections and / or defective capacitors, especially on older gear exposed to high heat levels.

Roofus: Great suggestions. I agree whole-heartedly with your recommendations and the order suggested.

Tommywall: While i thought i was going to hate that website, i actually liked it. Their testing showed the Goertz cables as having the widest bandwidth with the lowest inductance and least skin effect ( yellow charts at top of page ). These are all points / design advantages that i've been preaching about for years and i'm glad to see that a "third party" actually verified this. Having said that, i would have said "neutral third party", but i do agree that these guys have an agenda. Then again, i'm no "fan" of the high end cable market as a general rule either : )

If we look at the Goertz MI-2's without the Zobel attached in figure 5 ( no far end termination ), you can see that the response at the amplifier and at the speaker are perfectly in phase out to appr 1.8 MHz. Obviously, this is WAY beyond our audible range. Above this point, there are phase shifts that take place and at appr 10 MHz, there is a huge resonance / phase shift at the end of the speaker cable. As such, using this cable without the Zobel creates a high frequency oscillation. This is what i've warned people about when using Goertz or other VERY high capacitance cables ( like Chris VH's 27 pair CAT 5 design or Polk "Cobra Cables" ). I'm sure that many of you will recall me stating that these cables SHOULD NOT be used without Zobels. Now you know why and can see it on the graph. It should be noted that this is SOOO high in frequency that most amps would never notice though, due to their limited bandwidth. Some of you will also recall that i'm a fan of "fast" amps that are "wide bandwidth", so that's why i'm overly cautious about this when recommending this cable.

If we look at this same cable with the proper terminations at the speaker end i.e. Zobel network with the right values used as in figure 6, the output of the amp is identical / remains in-phase with the signal at the speaker. As such, you can't get much better than this. In fact, the output of the amp and the signal at the speaker remain in-phase out to FOURTY MEGAHERTZ!!! Whether or not any of this is audible is a moot point. The fact of the matter is, no other cable comes close to the wide-bandwidth & linearity that this cable delivers while retaining low series resistance.

If we look at this same cable using the factory supplied Zobel's or "impedance compensation networks" that Goertz includes with their cables in figure 7, we can see that the signal at the amp and the signal at the speaker remain in-phase with each other out to appr 2 - 2.5 MHz or so. Between appr 2.5 MHz and 15 MHz, the signal at the end of the speaker cable is slightly out of phase with the signal at the amp. At appr 15 MHz, the output of the speaker cable and the signal at the amp begin to track relatively closely again out to appr 40 MHz or so.

Needless to say, most all of their "complaints" about this cable on Audioholics are gibberish / not applicable to response within or anywhere near the audio passband. The only valid comment that is correct and "negative" about this cable is that the high capacitance per foot can cause some amps to get "squirrely". The use of a Zobel pretty much takes care of that though. The point about Goertz nominal rating of 2.5 ohms for this cable and Audioholic's figure of 8 ohms ( which is still WAY, WAY better than most other cables ) is also addressed in the text. That is, they said "Using classic SQRT(L/C) (which isn’t exactly correct, but this topic goes beyond the scope of this article) we calculate about 8 ohms while Goertz calculated about 2.51 ohms".

As one can see, Audioholics aka the "cable naysayers" basically confirmed what i've been telling you folks for several years now. That is, Goertz speaker cables are the widest bandwidth / most linear speaker cable on the market. That's why i said that if you didn't like how your system sounded with Goertz installed ( WITH the Zobel's of course ), you better start looking at your system, not the cable itself. Just remember, they tested the "old" Goertz cable using the original dielectric, not the newer design that is using a higher grade dielectric ( Teflon ).

Rooze: It is my opinion that price and cable quality have little correlation. While it is true that higher grade materials ( purer conductors, better dielectrics, higher grade / nicer to work with connectors, etc... ) do cost more, some cables that are less expensive actually use better materials than "sky's the limit" type cabling.

As far as interconnect selection goes, see my response above. Yes, it is pretty much "hit or miss" from component to component and system to system. As i've stated before though, choosing cables that take advantage of good materials and decent electrical designs puts you miles closer than if starting off with cabling using random designs and materials.

As to cable reviews being worth anything more than "entertainment", don't make me laugh.

Tommywall: IAR ( International Audio Review ) aka J. Peter Moncrieff did testing of speaker cables many moons ago. Moncrieff provided some rudimentary charts with subjective listening results. His observations were that cables using a very high capacitance / low inductance design both measured AND sounded the best. Like i've said before, spec's can reveal sonics IF the spec's / test results were properly obtained.

Other than that, Nelson Pass also conducted similar tests and the article that he wrote about the subject can be found in the Pass Labs website under the name of "Speaker cables: Science or Snake Oil". Nelson commented that the radical speaker loads that send less than stable amps into oscillation can be "tamed" by playing with speaker cables. In this respect, the cables that worked best were actually those that measured worst. That's because their poor electrical performance masked the problems due to high levels of loss / specific types of reactance between the cable and speaker nullifying each other. In effect, Nelson's article verified that speaker cables could be used as "band-aids" for improperly matched equipment almost 25 years ago. Once again, i knew that there was a reason that i love this guy and the products that he designs. That is, he's years ahead of most of his competition : ) Sean
Sean, I think you mean to say "interface." Interphase is a term from cell biology.
Good answer Drubin. I'll try not to type / think when i'm asleep next time. Or this time : ) Sean
Hi Sean,

Thanks for an incredibly content-rich post!

Actually, I also have you to thank for helping me choose Goertz cables as one of the candidates for my recent cable comparison exercise- I spent a lot of time following your discussions with John Risch and others over on the asylum. As I mentioned elsewhere, (see previous post for link) the Goertz sonic performance in my system was unequaled by anything else that I tried.

Without doing a lot more reading, and probably taking a community college electronics course or two, I can't comment that well on your evaluation of design advantages in Goertz cables- I'll trust you ;-).

However, I can make some subjective comments on what these cables 'do right' and hope that you can suggest some ideas for causality based on your electronics knowledge.

The overwhelming difference between the Goertz and everything else (my system, listening environment, musical tastes, etc. etc.- disclaimers and qualifiers get annoying after a while so I'll stop from here on out...) has to do with coherence of the spatial image. There are also frequency balance differences, etc, but for these, other cables are on relatively more even footing with the Goertz.

I tend to break spatial coherence down into two components- for the first, I've heard the term 'splashiness' used- basically, this is a tendency for the image to expand and contract with volume changes, for inner detail and soundstage layering to contract at higher volumes, and in extreme instances, for instrumental images to break up into false echoes. The most clear-cut 'reference track' I use to evaluate this is the Maria Joao Pires/Chamber Orchestra of Europe recording of the Schumann Piano Concerto on Deutsche Grammophon- great playing, but until recently, a frustrating recording to listen to.

What can happen on this recording is that the piano image expands and contracts with volume, and has poorly defined reverbations and echoes that give the impression of coming from virtual and shifting surfaces within the performance hall. The same is true for orchestral passages- these can tend to pop out of nowhere to create a large soundstage with lots of reverb and echoes during loud passages, then contract back during softer passages.

Using the Goertz cables, these effects are gone. What I hear instead is a focused, stable piano image, with reverbations now coming from within the piano's body, and consistent echo cues coming from a performance space whose surfaces and dimensions don't change with volume. The orchestra is all there, and more importantly, stays in the same place- again, spatial cues from echoes give none of the shifting virtual surface impression.

The second component of coherence is a tendency for different frequency components emanating from the same sonic source to become spatially decoupled. As a reference example, I use the Earl Wild Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 on Chesky- again, a beautiful performance, but really hard to listen to until recently.

What can happen here is that the massed, unison string passages get completely swamped by 'hash and grit' that seems to float over everything. Think 'orchestra accompanied by bee swarm'. This effect is particularly horrible for muted playing.

With the Goertz cables, this tendency goes away- what I hear instead is that the massed strings are now fully localized, and their fundamental sounds are coherently associated with the higher-frequency bow/rosin 'buzz' that comes from the rapid bow speed they are using. The perceived 'harshness' arising from the 'hash and grit' is gone.

I could toss out uninformed hypothesizing, but it's probably better to leave it at that for now, and let you use it as food for thought.

Sean -
A comment on your comment on mechanical resonance in cables. I don't argue the existence of microphonics at all. Though cables that can shake a component chassis have to be *really* big and heavy; it's much more common that a cable attached to a component at one or both ends will have vibration transferred to it by the component.

Anyway, I've experienced at least a dozen cables with various implementations of resonance damping. The common property I've heard is a lowered noise floor, so that more low level information is audible, but an annoying lack of clear focus in the imaging. There may, or may not, also be a damping of dynamics. In other words, what appears to be a loss of fine phasing and timing information. I can't provide the hardware analogy, but I'd characterize it as reducing an additive noise floor while convolving the signal with a broadening or smearing function. So there may well be a problem either at macro- or microlevels, but [some] solutions may be worse than the problem. And of course, this is all second hand conjecture as to causes. The sonic effects may be due to something else entirely. Cable issues could stand a large research budget.
With all the discussion about effects of cabling, doesn't it stand to reason that NASA or the military would have done some thorough research into this area? Wouldn't it make sense that highly sensitive military electronics would either benefit or not benefit by ultra-clean power, and the government would have already investigated and engineered this? I just find it odd that discussions like this one and others on Audiogon occur with no one being able to point to a definitive study that shows that certain power cord designs and/or materials are more effective than others?

Without a signpost in this direction, I remain somewhat dubious that the positive attributes people claim they hear are nothing more than a placebo effect.

My opinion...and no offense intended to those believers out there!
Cables have been researched extensively in both aerospace and computer science, but I suppose you'd have to say, with different objectives. Not with respect to audible effects, and not for the highly 'experimental' geometries/materials tried out by audio cable designers. Some audio companies do use designers with this background and make extensive use of modelling (e.g. Nordost, according to their website). But it would cost serious money to study what the effects of, say, mechanical resonance do in physical and electrical terms, and there are no percentages in it unless it affects something besides audio.

I wonder also how many sonic effects are just due to poor construction and quality control in audio cable manufacture.
Flex, your comment that, "it would cost serious money to study
what the effects of, say, mechanical resonance do in physical and
electrical terms", is exactly what I'm questioning in regards to
government research. Many forms of research that the military does,
and the results of that research, finds its way into mainstream consumer
goods several years down the road. Look at carbon fiber technology in
bicycles. Clearly, this is a result of initial military development of carbon
materials for aerospace applications. While I agree that the military/
government isn't doing audio-specific studies, I find it hard to believe
that the results of cable and wire and clean power research couldn't be
applied to high-end audio.

Anyway, I've hi-jacked this thread. Sorry...
Hi Tvad,

I've got access to an extensive library of technical journals at work- I'll try to find some time (maybe friday afternoon) to see if there is a body of literature in them that might be relevant.

I recall reading that participants in Audio Engineering Society meetings have explored this issue in the past, but have not seen write-ups- if you are inclined, that might be a direction to look into. Perhaps there is a proceedings journal or maybe even a peer-reviewed journal.

Signal propagation characteristics in printed circuit boards are pretty extensively documented- perhaps there are useful analogies here as well.

Tracing back from Audioholics, there is a website by Rob Elliott that has some detailed articles and measurements- there are several references cited that might be worth digging up:

Elliott Site

Then, there's always Google...

Anyways, as far as I'm concerned, no apologies necessary- the more approaches that can be brought to bear on bringing some clarity to the whole cable arena, the better.
Tommy: Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad that your system and ears responded equally well to the Goertz. Both of those are good signs : )

As far as Goertz flat speaker cables go, it does less wrong than any other speaker cable that i'm aware of. The reduction of skin effect due to using a wide flat conductor, the lack of time smear from providing one straight path via a solid conductor, the benefits of proper impedance matching via their exclusive geometry, the lack of in or out of band phase shifts due to reducing inductance to a minimum, the advantages of low series resistance due to using heavy gauge conductors, the benefits of using low loss dielectric, the relatively consistent impedance / series resistance that the cable has regardless of frequency, etc... all add up to form one very complete and well thought out package. If one were to change ANY part of the design, the results achieved would not be anywhere near as good as they are. In effect, the results are due to having a "balanced package" approach to product design. One can do this when they know the parameters of a system that the product will be working within and the amplifier / speaker interface* is pretty cut and dried. On the other hand, interconnects have far more variables involved in terms of the interface that they'll be used in and that's why i've stressed picking the proper speaker cables first and then experimenting with interconnects. Otherwise, you have no point of reference and you have no idea as to what could be wrong or where to start looking. You have to form some type of a baseline to build your system upon.

In plain English, the amp can not only "load up" better into Goertz flat speaker cable, there is less information that is lost or distorted on the way to the speaker itself. As i've stated before, power transfer ( the ability to "load" the signal effortlessly ) and transient response are always optimized when the impedances match or there is very little impedance mismatch involved. As you can see in the independent testing performed on the Audioholics website, Goertz MI-2's provided somewhere between a 2.5 - 8 ohm nominal impedance with the Zobel's in place. As such, the cable itself is basically the same impedance as the speakers being used.

What this accomplishes is multi-fold. That is, the amp is no longer seeing a multitude of complex impedances ( the cables reactance, the speakers reactance and a combo of the two ) to load into, it basically sees the loudspeaker. That's because the electrical traits of the Goertz flat speaker cables have been optimized to fall WAY beyond the audible range. In effect, the Goertz cable becomes "electrically invisible" within the system. Now you get to hear just how well the system is matched and whether or not the amplifier can control the speaker. Since many systems consist of poorly designed gear and / or amps that aren't capable of properly controlling the speakers in use, many folks blame the Goertz cables as being "junk". The fact of the matter is, the Goertz cables simply revealed that the "junk" is somewhere in the rest of the system.

By minimizing skin effect, maintaining the proper impedance over a very wide bandwidth and minimizing phase shifts that are directly related to inductance, you no longer have time smear and reflections ( ringing ) to deal with. In effect, getting rid of the time smear allows the notes to unfold as they normally would i.e. it is no longer "disjointed". This allows you to hear the actual harmonic structure in a far more natural form, increasing the natural "liquidity" of the notes.

Getting rid of the signal reflections that would normally occur due to impedance mismatches allows the amp to deliver cleaner sound i.e. less ringing, smearing and error correction ( negative feedback ). This too contributes to the cohesive presentation that one encounters with this cable in a well thought out system.

Obviously, there are many other factors involved here which i covered over in the AA thread that you mentioned, so i don't want to repeat it all here. Suffice it to say that i didn't get a lot of rebuttal / negative comments on that thread because it's hard to refute verifiable facts.

Tvad: Most Military / Government gear uses proper filtration in the power supply. This negates much of the need for "fancy" power cords and / or power line conditioning. If you remember, i've always said that the better the power supply is designed, the less difference one will notice when trying various power cords. On top of that, the cleaner that the AC is coming into your system from the mains, the less difference one will notice when trying various power cords. To be blunt here, most "high end" audio gear is WAY under-designed in this respect, hence the market for "fancy" power cords. Having said that, most of these power cords are just as inadequately designed as the gear that audiophiles are connecting them to.

Flex: The first cable that came to mind is neither massive in diameter or heavy in terms of weight. It is simply very rigid with a lack of pliable, self-damping jacket material. This combo makes it an excellent conductor of vibration. This cable in raw form is currently being used as both a power cord and speaker cable by more than a few regulars of this and other audio forums. As such, it can do twice as much damage to the system i.e. the directly coupled mechanical vibrations from the speaker cabinet being pumped back into the amp and the acoustically coupled air-borne vibrations from the speakers being coupled to the gear through the mechanically resonant power cords. One can literally "knock" on this cable at one end and feel / hear the vibrations quite easily at the other end 6 - 8 feet away. Needless to say, i'm not using this cable in any of my systems, even though it has quite a bunch of merit to it in terms of electrical design integrity. This just goes to show that even the best design ideas can be implimented in a less than optimum manner. Sean
You have prompted my curiosity on several occasions with these statements, so let me ask whether you have any real evidence or whether these are your hypotheses.
First, what exactly constitutes a well enough designed power supply that cables don't matter (much)? Can you cite any specific piece of digital gear in either the pro or consumer world that, from your experience, has a well enough designed power supply to make the gear impervious to power cords?

Second, have you got evidence that what you call a self-damping jacket material (do you mean dielectric?) will damp out the mechanical vibration of a rigid conductor? Say, a solid core or heavy flat ribbon. I have real doubts that much damping would occur over the length of a typical conductor when either end is subject to shaking. Even if the jacket does some damping, the vibration will occur over at least part of the cable until it damps out, so it depends whether the primary effect of vibration is to produce microphonics within the cable, or whether it is simply to transfer vibration between components. I'm curious because I've seen very little data -just a lot of handwaving or conjecture by a few manufacturers and/or audiophiles.

are the zobel component values (R&C) cited for the goertz cable a function of its length (10 to 20ft in the tests), or can one use those R&C values for any length of goertz cable?

thanks for the most informative posts. the audioholics read was exceptional.

This is unquestionably THE best thread since the censorship wars. I don't know how to read, but I listen carefully...
Since I missed the censorship thread, I don't have a point of comparison, but this thread has definitely been very informative and entertaining regardless.

Anyways, more info for all on ribbon cables, subject du jour that they are-

Magnan website 'white paper' on ribbon cable design-

Magnan info

Basically, some of the points here exactly mirror Sean's comments above re. skin effects-

"The skin effect phenomenon has been found to be the major signal degrading effect in conventional audio cables. These effects include smearing of musical details, smearing together of instrumental images, flattening of the sound stage, and usually a general overbrightness. Almost all conventional audio cables utilize relatively thick stranded or solid wires which inherently cause gross audio band skin effect time smearing."

From there, the points seem to diverge, and the white paper becomes a mixed bag that includes fun 'marketing' metrics such as the rigorously defined 'Audio Figure of Merit' in Figure 1. :-(

All that aside, if you check out the soundstage review at

Soundstage Review

the comments on the coherency of the system sound are pretty similar to those I made upthread.

Also, there is a comment on cable theory references at the Silversmith Audio site (another manufacturer of ribbon cables)- if anyone knows more about these, I'd love to hear about it. If not, we'll have to wait for Jeffrey Smith to update the site.


I'm referring specifically to this quote in the 'cable theory' section-

"In the last couple of years, impressive scientific studies have been conducted which have measured some differences in wire performance, including directionality, lending some credence to the subjectivist's camp. While the debate rages on, it is interesting to note, that the engineering knowledge needed to explain exactly why cables do make a difference, and accurately predict what a particular cable design will "sound" like, has been available for decades. Unfortunately for audiophiles, it was not until as recently as 1985 that someone actually applied that knowledge to the world of audio cabling. To this day, the Essex Echo - Unification Tracks 1-4, by Malcolm Hawksford, remains the single greatest work on the subject of audio cabling."

Sean, once again, thanks for the detailed post. I'm busy trying to break down your comments into digestible chunks for my 'challenged' brain. My first question regards your comments on 'minimizing skin effects'.

I guess I don't understand all of the relevant length scales that come into play, so I'll think about this from first principles- if a 'skin effect' is always confined to an esentially infinitely thin skin (on the order of 10s of nanometers; i.e., a few hundred atoms of thickness), then I have a hard time understanding how cable geometry matters at all.

In this case, if one thinks about a cable with a circular cross section, then basically the circumference/area of the cross section is the 2-d analog of the surface/volume ratio. Cicumference/area is always 2/r (r = radius.)

The geometry of a ribbon cross section isn't much different- so long as a ribbon's width is relatively large in comparison to its thickness, its perimeter/area ratio approximates 2/t, (t is the ribbon thickness). This approximation holds pretty well for both Alpha-Core products (MI-2 is w = 0.75 inch and t = 0.01 inch) and Magnan products (Reference speaker ribbon is w = 1.25 inch and t = 0.00075 inch).

What this means is that if skin effects really are confined to a very thin layer, it is immaterial whether cable cross section is circular or ribbon-like. For any given radius r = thickness t, the surface/volume ratio is the same.

Taking it a step further, in comparing surface/volume ratios of any two conductors (a and b, lets say), the ratio of the surface/volume ratios (SVRa/SVRb) is rb/ra, or, if a is a ribbon and b is a wire, rb/ta. If 'minimizing skin effect' is equivalent to minimizing surface/volume ratio, then basically the thicker conductor wins in this scenario, regardless of cross-sectional geometry. This outcome seems counterintuitive given everything one sees in cable design.

Still with me? Yeah, me neither...

What I think must actually be going on is that the 'skin affected zone' is relatively deep (let's call the depth d) compared to r or t in any given conductor cross-section. In this case, one can break the conductor down into outer 'skin affected (sa)' and inner 'bulk (b)' regions. Deriving geomeric relationships between these regions must yield some difference in the behavior of the ratios of 'skin affected area' to 'bulk area' for the two geometries (circular vs. ribbon.)

I'm too lazy/tired to do the math at this point- if someone could confirm that I'm either going in the right direction, or completely lost in the woods, I'll be more motivated to revisit the problem later. On the other hand, if someone wants to pipe in and keep me from reinventing the wheel in this analysis, that would be great too.

Next up- thinking about phase errors...