John Dunlavy On "Cable Nonsense"

Food for thought...
Plasma, take a look at my post on the "Are Audiophiles Obsessive Nuts?" thread here on Agon, and I won't bother to repeat it here. Thanks for the link to the essay by Dunlavy; he sure speaks more authoritatively than do I. Thank God there are some, albeit precious few, who are willing to speak the truth about the widely accepted, yet critically unexamined high-end orthodoxy.
I found Dunlavy's comments to be very interesting. One note regarding his "experiment" proposing to show that so-called golden ears are indeed incapable of hearing the differences between cables: by not removing and changing the cables during the test, he did not prove that the subjects could not hear differences. Instead, he showed that these audiophiles believed that they COULD hear differences when none existed. This doesn't prove that the same subjects would not be able to hear differences between different cables. Anyway, interesting post!

Measurement proves nothing. Let's have John measure a group of tenors singing a line of music. Human vocal cords are made of the exact same material. If all the tenors sing all the right notes, the sound will "measure" the same on John's equipment. If John is correct, then all tenors must sound the same, and any difference we heard between the sounds created by Pavarotti, Bocelli, Domingo and your local church cantor is just an illusion. I can tell a difference, so I guess I better go get some Prozac.
I don't hear John talking about any of the great cables out there.Has he listened to them? How can you react in a vacuum?
After my experiences this weekend listneing to AQ Clear Se, AZ Satori and AQ Dragon SE in my system...I'm afraid I don'd but this. In a high rez system, differences between cables are very much audible.
anybody ever seen dunlavy speakers setup for show or at "approved" dealers using zip cord? anybody who owns dunlavy's use ratshack wire between amps and speaks? no? well, why not? that's what the speaker's "inventor" and namesake would do. i wonder, i really do, whether john dunlavy also recommends that one choose which speakers to buy based sole on "scientific measurements." -kelly
I don't think he was saying that there's no difference between cable and cable technology...I believe he mentions that they make their own(?)...he's just saying a lot of the so-called science that goes into the cables is just a bunch of marketing nonsense, and not very scientific. That's probably very true (and I use various Cardas, Coincident, JPS, etc).

He must also think that there's no difference in speaker drivers as well. I was told that he left Duntech and started Dunlavy, used a very similar design, charged just as much money, but he used cheaper drivers. Hmmm. :-)
If Dunlavy isn't a fan of cables then what must he be wiring his speakers with?
Chilling isn't it?
I found that article interesting. I believe, I have been sucked into the belief that more expensive is better, or that fancy cabling is better. I expect a $1000 pair of speaker cable to sound better than a $200 one. Truth is, they both may sound different but not better than one another. I too, am taken aback at the marketing machine of cable makers, in particular, of late, power cord makers. Ive started other threads in regards to internal speaker wires and the majority of those who replied, stated, likely correctly, that a speaker is "voiced" using the stock cable and dont mess with it. How does that change then, with an amp, preamp, or Dac which came voiced with a stock captive power cord? Is it better, or different? Believe me, I have aftermarket powercords on all my gear, but am disheartnened at the amount of $1000 midlevel power cords, and $3000 top of the line power cords. This claims that are being assosiated with these cords I believe is akin to the comments Dunleavy was making.
Kelly -

At shows, Dunlavy uses his own design of cable (Z6 at CES 2001). And yes, he feels that there is (in the overwhelming majority of real world systems) little to zero AUDIBLE difference between his technically superior cable and zipcord.

If you ask John Dunlavy (and he'd be most happy to answer), you'd find out that they use both measurements and listening tests when designing and testing speakers. And he feels that buyers must listen; and that measured accuracy is a means towards superior audible results. He is honest, though, and admits that some of the measured results (phase accuracy, in particular) may have little sonic benefit.

John's forgotten more about speakers and electronics than any given dozen posters (almost typed "posers", might've been more accurate at that) on this site will ever know.

Sugarbie -

Trotting out this analogy again? Your strawman has no bearing to anything Dunlavy has said.

No JH, just having a little fun. Remember that is was once proven scientifically that it is impossible to travel at faster than the speed sound. The cables used all "measure" the same, but that only means they are the same for the things measured. Can anyone be sure they are measuring the right things or all things that influence sound. What is "Golden Ears"? How do you measure that? Or is it just Golden Egos?
Why is it that several of the above posts hurl aspersions at John Dunlavy, yet not one post has hinted at any semblence of concern or displeasure with the cable manufacturers? Can someone explain the psychology at work here?
Dunlavy talks about the transmission line properties of the cables he designs. I guess I have not forgotten as much as John Dunlavy because I clearly remember my Electrical Engineering professor saying that an audio cable would have to be many miles long before transmission line properties would come into play. It is at 100's of megahertz that a 1 or 2 meter cable can display those properties. I feel that that we need to investigate better methods of measurement.
One should dig through the archives at AA and read how badly Mr. Dunlavy was "scorched" after making similar comments. One does NOT have to have "ultra hi-end" gear or the utmost in resolution to hear some cable changes while others are minimal at best. Sean
I hate getting involved with religious debates (although I am in this case), but my own experiences agree entirely with John's assertions about speaker cables. As yet, my system shows no real improvement over 12 gauge wire with any higher end cables that I've tried. However, with respect to interconnects, I've found pretty big differences in many of the low to mid-line cables. In fairness, I haven't tried very many higher end IC's, and it wouldn't surprise me if the differences beyond a certain point were somewhat less than dramatic. However, between cables such as Radio Shack Gold, the MIT Terminator series, and Nordost Blue Heaven (relatively low cost cables), I've found that the differences are clearly audible.

As always, your mileage may vary, and I'm willing to accept that other folks do indeed hear differences that I do not. However, since personal musical enjoyment is my only goal, I'm content to spend a wee bit more on IC's where I do hear a difference, save my money on the speaker cables where I don't, and spend the rest of the time sipping wine and playing music.

Out of curiosity Ken, what speaker cables have you tried using in your current system ? Depending on the specific amp & speaker combo, i have noticed some rather drastic differences on this end. Sean
There are some DIY cables that can be made very cheap. I can find the site and post it if you like.
Isn't it interesting that Dunlavy sells there own speaker cable for $480/ 8' and yet he claims it sounds no better that $10/ 8' Rat Shack wire?

We should all remember John Dunlavy forgot more about speaker design yesterday than we ever knew. The problem is he seams to be forgetting alot at a very alarming rate! (If you know what I mean) I just spoke with him again two weeks ago, and I still don't have a clue as to what we talked about. I'm not sure old John will be hanging around the plant too much longer, maybe a buy-out is on the horizon.
When I worked at Garland Audio in San Jose, CA, back in 1978, speaker designer Robert Fulton (the massive Fulton "J" was one of his products) walked in with an armload of what looked like suspension cable pilfered from the Golden Gate Bridge. "Where's the fire, Bob?" laughed owner John Garland, eliciting a frown from Fulton.

Fulton went into the sound room and, without so much as a "by your leave," replaced--after some gnashed-teeth grunting--the 12-gauge cable running from an ARC amp to a pair of Maggie Tympani ID's with his "Fulton Gold." Then he put a record on. Within 30 seconds, there was no more laughter, not from Garland, not from any of the rest of his sales staff, including yours truly.

I still hear differences in cable (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). And when I read treatises that say they can't exist I'm reminded that from an aerodynamics perspective the bumblebee can't fly, either.
It is interesting that two well - established audio engineers and designers such as John Dunlavy and Frank Van Alstine appear to disregard much of the claims of cable manufacturers. However, both of these gentlemen do admit to there being some audible difference in some cables. I think that what Mr. Dunlavy is objecting to is the outrageous and irrational claims made by some cable manufacturers (whereas Mr. Van ALstine objects mainly to the prices charged).
An interesting addittion to this discussion can be found at John Risch's DIY cable web site (at under "FAQ"). The subjective blind and double blind tests that he conducted found that the best SOUNDING cable also had the best scientific measurements - subjectivity backed up by science! It would seem that a good starting point, then, might be to build his best DIY cable, and use it as a reference when comparing cables in your system.
Most Audiophiles would probably agree that somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of the cable manufacturers have technology based on snake oil and other magic potions. The problem is we (at least I) don't know which 90 percent. There are a few that I do know use sound physical measurements along with listening tests. John Dunlavy has apparently taken it on himself to conduct an independent survey (tests) of a variety of cables. I really wish he would publish this, so that we can see, not from opinionated and potentially biased listening tests, but from independent measurements. That's not say that some people won't find that brand X with high capacitance doesn't work well in their system. As Mr. Dunlavy pointed out, equipment problems are sometimes rectified (or covered up) by cable design. It would be very interesting just to get the facts from that survey--then we might be able to better draw our own conclusions.
John Dunlavy's reputation notwithstanding, the proof is in what I hear, and I hear a difference. I would not consider myself a "Golden Ear", nor are all others that have experienced the same noticeable differences between various manufacturers' interconnects and (to a lesser extent) speaker cables in my system. I would respectfully suggest that the "Food for Thought" is why a reputable speaker manufacturer (and Dunlavy is not alone here) and respected engineer opts to dispute many a persons listening experience, instead of attempting to find out why their experience isn’t supported by the measured data. Certainly the quest would be a noble one. The “Holy Grail” of audio? Perhaps not, but it could put an end to a lot of posts and flames here.
When I was first beginning to explore beyond the realm of Monster Cable, I switched from Monster's heavy speaker wire to Tributaries wire at $3 a foot. In the first minute of listening something was apparent when listening to my reference CD. What I had previously thought was a real instrument was in fact a sampled reproduction. Did someone say they can't hear a difference between cables? I don't have a problem with that until they say there is no difference, simply because they didn't notice it. Some people don't know a horse from an ass, and I have no problem with that either, until they try to sell me an ass claiming they are all the same.
Dunlavy wins again
Do you all mind. This discussion, and the propoganda that is its subject, is having an adverse effect on the cable sales over in the classifieds. Thanks.
If his speakers gave value for $ I would give his thoughts on cables some merit.Since for the half the money john charges for some of his models you can get much more speaker for the dollar i will disregard what Jonh has to say.
I know for a fact that cables can react with a system and have bad results. I watched on an oscilloscope an amplifier pruduce a beautiful 1.2 MHz sine wave when connected to some unusually high capacitance DIY cables similar to John Risch's design. It is clear that cables and systems can interact but sometimes that can be in a productive manor!
Sean, there are three types of mid level speaker cables that I tried along with the 12 gauge wire -- MIT T2 biwire and single wire, AudioQuest Slate, Nordost Flatline. The MIT single wire and AudioQuest did not sound appreciably better than the 12 gauge, and I found the Nordost and MIT biwire to actually sound a bit poorer (I'm suspicious that there might have been something amiss with the MIT cable, or something strange in the biwire configuration of the speakers, so the comparison may not be entirely fair). For reference, I'm running CJ amps into ProAc speakers, and the cable runs were around 12-15 feet each. Also, since my testing wasn't terribly scientific, I chose to dismiss any differences that were not very apparent and pretty dramatic.

As I mentioned before, my inability to hear, or my system's inability to produce a difference in the speaker cables may be entirely unique to me, and the results may be quite different for other folks. Also, I have not tried any of the higher end cables, and its possible that the differences at that level might be more striking. However, since I'm already getting a great deal of pleasure from the sound as it is, I'm more than satisfied to live with my perceptions (or delusions, you be the judge...).

There was nothing amis with the MIT.Its plain snake oil.
Hey Leafs - in your opinion, you spend more time on one-liners slamming MIT and your promotion of Coincident cables. Hmm, interesting. I borrowed Coincident speaker cables from a buddy here on audiogon and they didn't do it for me, IMO. Does't mean they're snake oil.
Sorry Pops you did not like them.I promot Coincident because for 299.00 they give me better sonics than any 1500.00 MIT cable i have ever heard.If the 1500.00 MIT cable which lost an A/B test with 5 others listening was priced in the 300/500 range i would not slam it but at 1500.00 its SNAKE OIL.
Leafs, I thought that you didn't believe in tests? So now why are you slamming MIT based on the result of a pernicious and feared test?

Oh, never mind. I now understand that if it is a controlled test conducted in a systematic, unimpassioned, objective way then the results are suspect. But throw together 5 audio dweebs and "Katy bar the door."
I agree with Dunlavy that the snake oil peddled in cable claims only serves to detract from actual technological development and advances in audio quality, and tarnishes the audio industry in general.
Or to rephase Doc's statement, for some reason tests based on SOUND ONLY are suspect amongst a large proportion of "cable believers". Let everybody know which component is being tested and it becomes a meaningful test????

Not in my book.
Jadem6 -

If you don't understand what JD was talking about, maybe there's a reason?? ;-)

Good point, Jhunter.

Dr. Floyd Toole and Sean Olive published a report in the AES journal some years ago where they had a group of 40 listeners evaluate various speakers in various listening positions, both "blind" and "sighted" tests. Some listeners were inexperienced, while about 9 or 10 claimed to be audiophiles. Interestingly, the inexperienced listeners were more consistant in their scoring of the speakers between the "blind" and the "sighted" tests, which suggests that they were to some extent more reliant on the speakers' audible characteristics, while the "audiophile" listeners' score jumped more wildly going from "blind" to "sighted" tests, which seems to indicate that they were more heavily influenced by what they saw and less by what they heard.
Sqjudge -

My EE class showed the same thing - and it's correct. JD knows this also; he designed the Z6 primarily as a technical exercise and to give people the theoretically best possible solution. Reflections are not significant at audio frequencies (unless you've a much bigger living room than I!!), but the impedance matching buys a trivially small - and audibly undetectable by anyone - margin.

WHY do you think he acknowledges that there's no difference between his cable and zipcord? Hint: because the job of a cable is to have the same signal at the output as at the input - nothing more, nothing else. Barring some grossly overpriced tone controls masquarading as cables (or grossly undersized wires), the overwhelming majority of cables do an equally good job to the human ear.

Anyone disagreeing with this is welcome to demonstrate it in a double blind test.

This is utter nonsense 702. Dr Floyd Toole, credentials and all, does'nt even beleive that differences in Amps exist that measure the same. He has always been a hardliner Julian Hirsh type and I would hate to think of our sonic past and presant, had Floyd's philosophy been the only one.
Finnish Scientist Dr Matti Otala, probably the world's most accomplished amplifier expert and author of many great AES journal papers years ago, built and marketed the worlds most textbook perfect amplifier long ago called the Citation XX. There was not a single reason on earth for this amp Not to be perfect in all areas. The whole thing sounded only so-so. There is more to it than textbook perfect design. I'll say it again, rapid ABX switching means nothing. You must live with the product and listen extensively to music you are familiar with. Then a correct "Lock" can be identified.
I love this thread! Let's keep it going forever, and don't say wires is wires in response to any thread asking for comparisons or descriptions of any specific wires, because you can vent all you want right here. This is just what I suggested in "Farewell" or somewhere, don't go away, just take the subject to a segregrated area where people who are interested can discuss, or just lurk.

I agree with almost everyone above. Mr. Dunlavy is absolutely correct that many many cable claims are pure snake oil. Leafs is right about the MIT cables. But, Frank (Frap) is right that abx is inadequate, and everyone who says different cables sound different is right.

The opening entry in this thread contains a link to only one of Mr. Dunlavy's cable nonsense posts. If interested, people can search for the rest. In one of them, he says that the RS Gold interconnects are just fine. I sent him an email once and told him that the RS cables seem to attempt to merely pass the signal through, while some other cables attempt to alter the signal, and so the RS cables are actually "better" than a lot of audiophile approved interconnects. He thanked me for my "interesting" message, but didn't respond when I later asked him which RS cables he was talking about. (The RS audio cables are ok for connecting a sub, the a/v cables are better but still a little dull -ok for inexpensive and bright electronics.)

Now Frank (Frap), I agree with you with respect to really good cables. You have to live with them for a while. But so-called budget interconnects like AQ Ruby and Kimber PBJ can be distinguished within a few seconds. As to which is better, it depends on what you're listening through, because neither is really accurate.
I just don't understand why "believers" are not willing to give some credit to the placebo effect. Here's a little story. I went to the CES show in Anahiem some years ago. The rep for a new line of speakers that had just come out lived there. He was excited about these new speakers and invited me to his house to listen. It didn't take long to figure out that something wasn't right. So, I took off the grills and found that a wooden shipping support was still fastened to the woofers! He wasn't a idiot, but he was embarrassed. I just laughed to myself thinking of all dumb things I had thought I had heard and all the things I should have heard right away and didn't.
Jhunter, what was the reason for that attack? I've never hurt you to my knowledge. I've spoken with John Dunlavy quite a few times, I was relating to a post above and agreeing that John at 80 something, is indeed losing some mental faculties. He does tend to drift a bit, but I'm not saying anything pro or con to John or his ideas. I've owned Dunlavy speakers for years and fully believe he is one of the brightest men in audio, and that his speakers are the best buy in audio. For you to attack me regarding this post shows me your true intentions on AudiogoN. I'll add you to the list, thanks. J.D.
Docwarnock.Find one thread where i state i dont belive in test.If you can I will eat my shorts.Dont post when you are misinformed.
I do admit that I think that the MEGA priced cables are so far out of line. So I set out to find the best speaker ( or interconnect for that matter ) cable that I could for the money. I set my speaker cable price at $500. And I found some very good cables at that price. And some that I would not have given you $50 for. My return on investment on cables that cost $3000 could not possibly balance out enough to make me not squirm with guilt ever time I saw those cables hanging off of my speakers. Would I really be getting anything close to 6 times the cable. Me thinks not. But if someone does count it worthy, then head on buddy. But it just doesn't make sense to me. But to say that Ratshack or any standard cable can give better sound than my treasured find. That’s like claiming Bose over Dynaudio. ( Maybe that’s the problem, maybe they are Bose lovers. With Aiwa receivers ).
And if it is the "PLACEBO" effect. Then here is the reality. I am glad that it only cost me $500 and not $3000 to be fooled. HAA!!. If it was true, I would eat my speaker cables. And my speakers. With mustard. I cannot beleive how fooled we are. Us fools who appreciate reproduced music at home must be a pretty gullible bunch. How on earth did we all get the same MOJO all at once. Maybe it was our favorite audio adds?
Sqjudge, how is that possible when you say that audio cables do not act as transmission lines. Take it from an EE who has around a bit much of transmission line theory applies both to Audio and RF. Capacitance is capacitance, inductance is inductance, resistance is resistance and impedance is impedance no matter what frequency you have.
I'll admit that there must be some placebo effect in cabling. I will also admit that there is an audible difference too. For me to tell you all improvements heard are factual is as crazy as those who claim it's all psychological. As many of you know, I have strong beliefs in power cord benefits and have written extensively on my testing. I've started a new mission to try different Interconnects and speaker wires. I will be receiving two pair of the flagship model of hideously expensive speaker wires this week that I bought for 1/10th of the retail price. I also have five different brands of Interconnects on the way. If I end up with these speaker cables, the retail cost of my system will double. That can not be justifiable right? I'll let you know. What I can tell you is power cords alone have allowed me to hear things (the foot pedal on piano as an example) that are simply not audible with stock cords. I need no "blind" testing, it's factually there or not there. If anyone wants to argue that point, please save the effort, I will not acknowledge your short sighted opinion. For me to assume anything but improvement from higher quality speaker wire and interconnects, given my experience with power cords would be hard. If a power cord can qualitatively make an audible difference, then I must assume cables will to. Like I say, I'll let you know. As always I'll be using my blindfold testing with my buddies. Yes this is the "unapproved and non-accredited" by the great AudiogoN science community test, but it's the one I have always used.
It's interesting to note that these speaker cables are copper! I've been a real fan of silver over the years, but remain open to experimenting with other materials. It's been stated in a number of reviews that the lower price siblings of these cables are capable of being more revealing than the silver cables they were compared to. I find it difficult to believe that the reviewers have too much political motivation in that these cables are rarely advertised and not a part of any magazines "top" lists. Just simple marketing and hideous pricing. I will refrain from giving out the brand to try and keep my review as un-bias to the reader as possible. Stay tuned, it should be fun! J.D.
Sqjudge, knowing you from our off air conversations I'll bet your loving Liguy's post. Hey Li... you have no idea!!!!!!!!!!!!!! P.S. Sqjudge, I've been working on a return message, I'll get it off soon. J.D.
Steve, My "Placebo Effect" is in reverse. When I try Radio Shack cables vs multi kilobuck ICs I am praying and rooting real hard that Radio Shack wins the contest. I dont like paying the same price for an IC as an amplifier.It goes against my sense of what is fair and honest. On the other hand, who am I to say to a design engineer that the last five years of testing, scrapping, midnight oil burning,and cost etc.,does'nt warrent the price?
BTW, I have also heard many exotic speaker wires screw up the sound far worse than stranded zip cord. Getting zip cord to sound correct though, is not the way Monster or Sound Connections or the old Levinson company did it. They used too many strands to achieve a given guage and wound up with mud sonically. (here come the morter shells)
Paul, I also concur with your last paragraph......Frank
Liguy, I commented on the idea of "transmission line" theory applying to audio frequencys. I do not dispute the charterisic impedance of a cable even if it is only a centimeter in length. Do you happen to recall how long an IC would have to be to get even ONE standing wave in it at any audio frequency? (it is way more than a few feet)
Here's my 2 cents worth...
First off let me say that I am a believer in that cables do make a difference (not always for the good) and that bi-wiring also makes a difference (also not always to the plus side of things).
This past weekend I spent some time with a pair of cable designers who I have come to know over the last 5 months. These guys make cables that have separate cables for transmit and returns as opposed to all cables being in the same jacket - typical stereo cables are 2 cables per channel and bi-wires are 4 cables per channel. We tested a prototype cable (bi-wire version) that was constructed in a different configuration in that the return wires were made slightly different in terms of the internal wrapping of the materials. The transmit wires were configured exactly the same. Using the same system (older but high end Sony cdp, Copeland preamp and amp) but using three different pairs of speakers (Duntech, B&W 803 S2 and a pair of DIY (vifa & seas drivers) I was able to tell each and every time when the return wires had been changed. I found what can best be described as an "aggressive" verus a "laid-back" sound when the cables were swapped. There were about 6 listeners there and we all were able to distinguish the differences although personal tastes lent to a discussion on which way sounded best. Some times I preferred the "laid-back" version while others preferred the other.

In a nutshell it can be said that I am a believer in cable differences but respect the right of those who believe that they don't make difference from a purely scientific standpoint or have tried but have noticed no difference. I am no electrical engineer but do have a background in ultrasonics (so I have some knowledge on how sound and electrical signals move through time and space) but it was my experience that there was a significant difference each time, audible to a number of people - I can't explain it scientifically but I know what I heard and the only thing our group of testers could not definatively agree on was which version sounded the best.

I am glad for the differences expressed in these forums as it allows for one's own experiences to be be heard (read) and it would truly be a boring world (audio and otherwise) if we all were of the same opinion...