If Cables Are Not Tone Controls...

I can't count the times audiophiles have said "Cables are not tone controls".  But if we audition (remember that?) two sets of speaker cables and decide that one sounds "better" than the other, aren't we using it as a tone control?  You can call it whatever you want, but in reality we are deciding which cable contours the sound to our liking?  Or should we just buy the speaker cable with the lowest resistance, inductance and capacitance we can find and if it sounds like crap, change other components until it sounds good?  Then we're just using the other components we've swapped out as tone controls. Just asking.  
It's a good question. I've taken that comment to mean this: "If you want to affect the tonal balance of your system, the are many better ways to do it." This argument would probably also say, "Get your system balanced as you like it and then the cable should be as neutral as possible, doing its job of delivering what you've established." An analogous saying in the food arena would be, "Dinner plates are not flavor controls."
A tone control is a specific thing. It means a control which broadly boosts or cuts the midrange, bass or treble.  Get too fine and it's an equalizer.  Use it to cut out a range altogether and it's a filter.

Anything else a component does to the sound is no longer a tone control.

But yes, tone controls are great, and most people swapping around cables need something else, like better room acoustics, or an actual tone control.
@hilde45 - building on what you said, I think the real meaning is don’t try to fix a component you don’t like with cables. I think almost everyone believes that or at least say they believed it. I certainly believed it . Then again, I have a pair of speakers that I did not like, but were transformed with different speaker cables. I think I was just lucky in finding that match. So I guess I used the cable as a tone control.  Then again, if I had those cables to begin with, I just would have loved the speaker and never known it was being "tone controlled" by the cable. 
I don’t think you will get a unified consensus on your query. I am in a camp where I want my cables to be transparent so my music is reproduced with as little or no coloration. To answer your question about choosing one set of cables over another is more to do with ‘synergy’ than tone controls found on a preamp or integrated.
@lalitk- how can one know if the cable is transparent unless you compared it to hard wiring? I think Wywires or Wireworld claims to do just that.

You accomplish this by listening. Listen for the differences between recordings, and even from track to track on the same recording. The more similar all the tracks sound, the more the cable or component is imposing its own "sound" on the music, and thus the less transparency. Conversely, the more differences you are able to hear, the less the cable or component is overlaying its own sound (often referenced as ‘house’ sound of a component or cable) and the more transparent it is to the source material.

In your example above, you said ‘I have a pair of speakers that I did not like, but were transformed with different speaker cables’. I think what has happened here is second set of cables took away a ‘bad thing’ like harshness or something else you were hearing with first set of cables. In this case a cable change led to more transparency. Now you are hearing a sound (mind you from same components) is more like it should be :-)
Nothing in home audio is transparent.  Everything affects how a system sounds, including internal wiring and external cables.  It is the degree of impact and significance resulting from those differences, as well as the cost, that seems to be most often debated here.  To your original point, I agree with you, people can't have it both ways....those who hear differences between different cables and then use those cables to adjust the sound of their system to their liking are using cables as a form of non-adjustable tone control.  
Tone control implies just that. I don't consider buying another pair of cables and installing them a convenient form of control. Once you go down that line of thinking, you might as well consider your amp as a 'tone control', as well.
Never had this problem as i use PURIST NEPTUNE and DOMINUS cables which are great sounding  and not colored.
I am using Purist cables as well. They sound wonderful in my system. Or should I say, the system sounds wonderful with the Purist cables. Am I using them as tone controls?  Couldn't say.  
chayro, keep doing what you're doing. You are one of the few who finally figured it out; it is necessary to use entire sets of cables to make progress with them. 

Cables influence not only tonal balance, but also dynamics and resolution/definition. Don't expect those who mix cables to agree or understand.  :) 

Also, don't listen to those who promote their favorite brand in nearly every thread. They're trying to keep their resale value high, and very likely a less expensive product could outperform them. Of course, only comparison would tell with certainty. 

There is a correlation between measurements and cable sound quality. I am reviewing a set of cables now that are aggressively designed to meet optimized measurements. They sound wonderful! The also are much less expensive than many boutique cables. So, do not fall for the idea that a cable is superb because it is mentioned incessantly, or purportedly premium. 

The promotion of a cable as "colored" or "not colored" in an absolute sense is nonsense. Only in comparison of sets can such things be determined, and are properly discussed in that context. Most of what you read about cables, and how they are used, here is of marginal value.   
@chayro You're absolutely right in your OP.
@hilde45 I'm afraid your analogy doesn't work.  Audio systems wouldn't work without cables. So cables are a component, just like a turntable, an amp or a loudspeaker.  A closer though still imperfect analogy would be to say that cables are one of the smaller ingredients in a particular dish. The audio rack or the speaker stand are closer to the plate, though this still isn't exactly right.
@chayro I agree that the formulation of the phrase is actually wrong.  We judge all components on the basis of their sonic presentation, which can involve a number of things like good treble, good bass, good timbre, etc. etc.  We combine them in ways that seek to create a combination that sounds great to our ears. (There's that recipe analogy again.) Preferring Cardas over Nordost is no different from prefering Shindo over Benchmark.
All I want from a system is as much data retrieval as possible within the compromise of cost and effort. The benchmark is the combination of transparency, speed, and color. The goal is the balanced maximum of each parameter.
Coloration or color ? Those are very different terms. 
Purist Neptune is a great cable, I have it as well. It seemingly brings out all the colors but it also brings in some colorations. Colorations by addition mostly not by subtraction, as far as I can tell. This is not a neutral cable, if there is any neutral cable.
Try to audition cables and listen to them in your system, to see which one is matching your system.You will be surprise expensive cable at times won’t match your system. So they are useless in your system.i agree with Doug  +7
Yes cables impact tone and can certainly change the overall tone and sound of a system. In some systems the “change” is better, in others not so much. It depends on the starting sonic point of a given system and the listener’s sonic preferences. I send the same cable to two different customers. One likes the resulting sound of his system more than every other expensive cable he has owned and tried. Another finds it just ok. Ha! Welcome to the world of audio and audiophiles. All fun, good and true. Enjoy your music fellow Agoners. 
  In response to your statement about color, you can't add "color" without masking another.
Don't expect those who mix cables to agree or understand.
Nonsense. The only way that statement can be valid is if each source and load are electrically identical, which they clearly are not.

It is possible to turn an excellent system into unlistenable by swapping a single cable from the same manufacturer that does not mate well with the driving and source impedances.

Similarly components can be tuned by using different capacitors and resistors in the signal path. The diverse components have the same value but not the same impedance. Ditto cables.

One company who understands tuning is Noble:

"Some of my work involved tuning the power supply. It may come as a surprise to learn that you can change tonality without even touching the signal path, because the signal originates from the power supply. The impedance curve of the N11's power supply is absolutely homogenous from DC to 200kHz, which creates a very balanced sound. I also tuned the resistors for the voltage gain, using a mix of carbon and metal resistors to create a neutral balance. There are a lot of preamps that claim to be 'neutral' or 'in balance,' but there are different shades of 'neutral.' If you have a tube preamp, for example, 'neutral' is at a different level than solid-state; it's not better or worse, but it is different. It took a lot of work to find the tonal balance I like a lot that measures well, with low noise, and fits very well in the Noble Line."

from MBL Noble Line N11 line preamplifier
That is why I use capacitors, AC filtration and resistors to tailor the sound in my components.  To me this makes cables less significant plus much cheaper also!
They are if you can't afford them. I can't afford NOT to have great  cables, the difference is, are YOU willing to learn, either how to build a great cable, OR let someone do it for you...  I'm pretty nifty with my hand for 15-20 min two or three times a day. 

I build my own, and have found some pretty good sources for materials..

BUT I learned none the less, 

The better the power supply, the easier it is on the power cabling... Inside and outside the case.. It starts there, it sure doesn't end there.. Speaker IC being last in the "swappable", chain..

Tone control? NO! More like a fine tuning and refinement for YOUR ears.. LOL Everyone has different likes and dislikes.. Pretty simple really..

Cables are not eq, they may sound different like speakers and components do. One size does not fit all. I would rather agree that caps and tubes act more like tone controls.

I have not found the cables I use to be tone controls. As I have moved higher up the line I find they reduce provide a more quiet blacker background, reduce noise, and what I would call glaze (minor distortion) that you did not realize was there until it is gone, which increases resolution.

Cables affect the tone.

If you swap cables to alter the tone, you are using cables as tone controls.

If you refuse to swap cables to alter the tone, cables are not tone controls.

Said another way, a hammer is a hammer if you use it to bang nails.  Hang it on your wall, and it’s a work of art. 

It is what it is, according, to each individual. 

jperry has it correct.  I found the exact same thing as he did.  As I moved up the line I continued to find a more quiet and black background.  Not a tonal difference, but a better transfer of signa.  The better the cable the less intrusive it is (or, is supposed to be) to the signal.  I am not going to endlessly swap out cables in order to compare and try to find the holy grail.  I am so satisfied with the sound of my system.  For me, I have landed on the right ones and have made the correct choice.  Maybe I am just fortunate for that.  Either way, so much less stress in life when satisfied.
As I moved up the line I continued to find a more quiet and black background.

See my post earlier today about black backgrounds.
I am not going to endlessly swap out cables in order to compare and try to find the holy grail. I am so satisfied with the sound of my system. For me, I have landed on the right ones and have made the correct choice. Maybe I am just fortunate for that.

Or could be you are just smart enough to go with what works, and not make it harder than it needs to be.
The better wire lets more through without alteration it is not a matter of tone because the better wire effects the tone less.
Cables or active components, I always 'compare' the sound I get from the speakers with what I heard live, as I remember it. I have a few recordings of the musicians that I heard live, some of them without microphones. So I always know, if I remember right, where the system is going. 
By the way, microphones do not 'hear' everything there is to hear, only ear can do it. Might come close but not really there.
You answered your own question.

An ideal wire should have 0 resistance, 0 capacitance and 0 inductance.
But that does not exist.

So, try and find one with the lowest capacitance.  All things being equal, the capacitance of the wire is probably the most influential at audio frequencies.  If you want to be really fanatical about it, separate the normally dual speaker wire into individual ones and place them away from each other.

But, this is an exaggeration.  Human ear will not perceive any difference on wires shorter than about 50 - 60 feet.
 separate the normally dual speaker wire into individual ones and place them away from each other

Ummm, maybe not
Capacitance will drop, but Inductance will rise as will Impedance.

Better bet is to buy well engineered cables that integrate well into the system.
Different cables transfer information differently.   We hear the difference.  As with every component we strive to achieve as realistic quality of sound as possible. I am certain that my cable does a better job than cheap flex wire. Our audiophile community in general will not waste money on tone control items. We strive for purity and as a general rule one gets closer higher up the price pyramid. 
I use only two brands and just move higher, step by step. See no reason to experiment with other brands until I start seriously upgrading all or most of the active components. In any case, the most important cable - tonearm cable - I cannot change without tonearm rewiring, it is fixed.
Forgot another brand that I use, one interconnect, but I cannot upgrade it because I am near top of the line already, upgrading it would be extremely expensive.
All of my speaker cabling is a few years old. Would not mind doing an upgrade here or there. 
ICs: 2-3 years ago I repurposed some I bought in the 90s w/new connectors. Would like to upgrade some there too but $acing to complete something big first

Cables are actually so much more than tone controls, that's about the most simplistic description
I cannot upgrade it because I am near top of the line
cost ≠ sonic quality. Cable properties interact with the devices they connect.

I can't count the number of times an upgrade wasn't with one piece of gear and was near nirvana with another.

In the studio, sometimes the original 1950's mic cable gave the best sound and sometimes the latest and greatest prototype.

Cables are actually so much more than tone controls, that's about the most simplistic description
Cables are meant to transfer electrical energy from one place to another without affecting the signal. They can't. A Tone Control is a device to change frequency response. Cables always change frequency response variant on the connected devices. Ergo, cables ARE Tone Controls.
Modification or imprevisible change of tone is not tone controls....

And cable difference are real but small compared to real controls in mechanical,electrical and acoustical working dimensions...