IMHO I would buy all the cables I needed as opposed to spending all my budget on a single expensive cable.
There are some good sounding, reasonably priced cable combinations on the market today, and the synergy gained with all the cables replaced would outweigh a single cable in my opinion.
Let make the assumption that you're getting the last 10% of improvement for ten times the cost and the mid-level cable cost is $250. It would make far more sense to have 10 cables that are capable of 9 out of 10 compared to a single 10 out of 10 while the rest are only 1 or 2 out of ten.
Having said all of this, I think the last 20-50% is mostly placebo or at least not much beyond different rather than better.
Placebo or not, the scenario of buying one cost-no-object cable while having lower performance cables in the remaining system makes no sense because the limiting factor in the system's performance is the weakest link in the chain. So if you put Nordost Valhalla IC between a source and your preamp, then, the limiting factor will be the IC between your pre and power amp or if you are using an integrated amp, then the limiting factor will be the speaker cable between the integrated and the speakers. Because if the inferior cables are not resolving enough to carry through the "enhanced" signal that the Nordost Valahalla (carrying on with your example) is delivering, than you have wasted your money on the Valahalla. Much better to have balanced cables of equal performance across your system as you remove one source of imbalance in your system this way. Just my 2c worth.
Don't limit yourself to Nordost..There are plenty of less costly and ( in my mind ) better value cables out there.....
I could see putting extra into speaker cables because they carry the signal from the amp to the speakers and that part needs to be done right (IMO) but not Valhalla and stock cables for IC.
That is too much difference.
Never use stock cables, at least buy something like cheaper Morrow or Blue Jean for IC and then get a good speaker cable.
My two cents...
Just for the sake of the "one great cable" argument...
If you have a brand you like a lot, I think it's OK to buy one pair now if you think you might be able to budget for an additional pair in the reasonably forseeable future. For example, I'm a big Kimber Select person (not trying to shill for their products; just providing an example).
I bought one pair of Select 1036's, then built the remaining cables in the system over the course of 18 months. For me, that was better over the long term than being somewhat stuck with mid-priced cables I wasn't really happy with.
I suppose the question is can an 'incredible' never to be upgraded single cable produce a more magical ( or even equal) sound
No. Stick with appropriate decent quality cables and save your money for improvements to gear and room acoustics.
Performance and price do not necessarily go hand in hand when it comes to audio cabling, IMO.
There are a few one-man operations that provide excellent products that are competitive with cabling costing much, much more. Additionally, you can usually try their cables for 30-60 days before you commit to buy.
If your choice is to buy one expensive cable versus a complete set of lower cost, but excellent cables, I might recommend you at least try a complete set of the lower cost cables to hear what they do in your system.
I have recently had good experiences with Paul at Clear Day Cables, and Mike at Morrow Audio. There are other options as well that are discussed often in the threads.
As far as the "top tier", well known expensive brands of cables, I personally see no reason to buy new unless you're receiving a 50% discount or close to it. The opportunities to buy used examples are too common to have to pay anything approaching retail.
Thanks so far for the reply's.Just to be clear I'm not asking specifically in regards to my own system. I'm perfectly happy with my modest all Supra loom. It's just a question I haven't seen raised a lot. I was hoping to hear more from those members who both own and obviously believe in the worth of these top of the range models (from such respected companies such as Siltech, Cardas and MIT etc.
Here's another type of example I was thinking of.
How would a set of Cardas 'Clear' speaker cables matched with sets of Cardas entry level 'Crosslinks' interconnects and power cords actually perform ( again on a suitable high end system) as opposed to a complete 'loom' of the mid level Cardas Cross range? Has anyone who presently owns ( dealers of course would ) a 'low' , 'mid' and 'high-end' cables ever tried this type of experiment?
Cardas Cables (I tried them all) were the worst cables for my system. You have to hear the cable in YOUR system to determine its value. Every cable is different in different applications.
My question is addressed of course to people who have found a well matched 'make' for their system and is in regards to the choice of 'models' from that 'make'.
This is a very very tough question to answer, simply because the answer would vary from one cable to other and from one system to other. But I would still like to give you an answer.
If you know of a cable which is really special in your system, get it. In all probability the cable would be either a digital cable or an analog IC between your CDP and preamp. Most of the magic occurs only at such early stages of signal reproduction. We are not talking about speaker cables here, just interconnects. So, get that special cable even if it is very expensive. For the rest of the system use some decent neutral copper cables which do not harm much even they may not be anything special (something like the Audionote Lexus). In my experience the magic has already been brought into the system by that one "super" cable and you are definitely hearing a good 75-80% of the magic even with the decent inexpensive cable if not 100%.
Second case, if you split up the money in equal halves and buy two or three average to good cables, the chances of getting the same % of the magic is very very low. It is simple. The magic was because of that one extraordinary cable (you can call it high quality synergy) which is extremely difficult to replicate with a different and that too lesser cable.
In summary, if you do not know of any high-end cable which you think is amazing in your system, you may want to experiment with both the approaches. But in case, you are lucky enough to know that one great cable which does amazing things in your system, go for it. Balance the rest of the system with something that you can afford.
Pani - Your response makes no sense to me. Let me explain.
Assuming a CD player outputs a perfect signal via a perfect cable, that signal is going to be processed in a pre-amp and sent via an 80% "perfect" cable to the amplifier. I don't understand how the second cable would be any less important than the first as it would be the limiting factor. The only way to justify that a cable sound better, rather than different, is to assume that it somehow carries more or more detailed information that would be filtered out in the second cable. Obviously, the better the signal at any one stage the better the end result, but I don't see how one super cable could really make a significant difference beyond the bling knowledge.
I'm certainly not an expert, it just doesn't make sense to me.
Mceljo, you tried to be too analytical of the situation and hence used maths to evaluate the situation.
On the contrary audio is not just about science and maths, a large part of it is ART. There are many aspects of audio which is intangible and cannot be calculated, measured or justified by science because music touches your senses directly and how it is evaluated after that is totally ART.
I would answer your post in two parts, 1st will be scientific and 2nd would be non-scientific.
1. To answer your question using basic maths and science, the signal that travels between the CDP and the preamp is extremely low level, a slight contamination to this signal is actually big change in terms of % of change. Moreover it will go through two levels of amplification (preamp and power amp) so the change is also amplified and in turn magnified to make a huge impact to the final sound. It is a big challenge for the interconnect to carry such valuable low level signal maintaining all its integrity.
However the signal from preamp to power amp is already amplified and is a high level signal (relatively). The effect of contamination is much lower because the % change compared to the full signal is lower and also there is one less level of magnification i.e the power amp. So the overall impact is much much lower. Hence the compromise at this level will not be as drastic as the interconnect at the first level (cdp to preamp).
2. Coming to the non-scientific explanation. So, you said "assuming that the CDP gives out a perfect signal", my first question would be, how do you know what a perfect signal sounds like ? For example, one interconnect may sound extremely holographic with precise imaging of instruments with nice detailing and tones While another interconnect may bring in amazing body to the instruments, great tones, warm, open airy stage but little less detail and little less precise imaging. Tell me which one is right ? Meaning which is the sound that mimics the CDP's perfect signal more ? Very difficult to say right ? Basically we do not know.
All we know, is the signature sound that appeals to our senses more. When you hear that signature you call it MAGIC!! That is the magic I was talking about in my previous post. Even our equipments are bought with that very same magic in mind. Unfortunately cables play a big role in deciding the final sound (considering you have a revealing enough system). Hence one needs to extend his search for that magic even with cables. Now, the effect of the first interconnect in the chain is the most drastic. It decides the signature of the system by a large extent. So, if you know of a cable which brings in that magic to your system, buy it if you can. The second cable may reduce/change the effect by an extent but you still get a good part of that signature sound. Sometimes it so happens that it is a combination of two cables which brings that magic in but that is a different situation.
So, it is not really just detail, dynamics or staging, it is a complete presentation that one looks for and that if one cable is able to lock-in in your system, get it.
For me I opted for a "mid level" set of ICs all round for peace of mind and balance all around. If I had one REALLY good and expensive set of cables I'd always be wondering about the lesser quality ICs in my set-up and the impact to sound they may or may not be having.
Your "scientific" explaination makes sense to me. I wasn't thinking about the reletive magnitudes of the signals at different points in the system. It would seem that if it does actually make as much difference as you suggest that having IC specifically designed for each application would make sense and would certainly sell to people that have more money than synergy.
I'll probably be a bit skeptical of the difference in sound simply from chaning IC's, but admittedly have not heard an A/B and might be surprised.
All cables have some level of loss in the signal so it's really about purchasing cables that eliminate the part of the signal that you prefer to have missing. Cables cannot add information so the only explaination for any change in sound is a loss. It's a necessary evil.
I know exactly what you mean and I will probably end up doing the same thing as you ( and like most others) if I ever decide to upgrade.
But conversely maybe as Pani's excellent posts to my initial question suggests the alternative might in fact , in certain situations work equally or even better for a similar outlay.
Edit, my last post was in response to Jedinite24 comment.
Pani & Mceljo,
Keep in mind that with typical components at typical volume settings, signal amplitude (voltage) out of a cdp is not much different than the corresponding preamp output, and will often be higher in fact. Likewise for the amount of current flowing in the two sets of cables.
Full-scale (maximum) output from a cdp is typically about 2 volts. The input amplitude required to drive typical power amplifiers to full power is usually in the area of 1 to 2 volts. Therefore the preamp volume control will tend to be set, depending on the dynamic range of the music among other factors, such that the preamp provides a gain of less than one. That is why digital sources are commonly played back with volume controls set at the 9:30 or 10 o'clock positions or thereabouts.
My own expectation, assuming both sets of cables are equally long, is that whichever of the two components (cdp or preamp) has a higher output impedance is likely to be more critical with respect to cable selection, especially if the capacitance of the cables (picofarads/foot for the particular cable multiplied by cable length in feet) is high. (And along the lines of Tvad's comment, imo "more critical" does not necessarily mean "more expensive"). High output impedance into a high capacitance cable forms a low-pass filter, attenuating the upper treble and causing sluggish transient response. Although that may or may not be subjectively preferable, depending, among other factors, on the upper treble response of the speakers and the room.