I don't think there's any debate about that.
(a)EXCLUDING THE MAJORITY OF CHEAP CABLES either bought or DIY versions cobbled together from cheap materials In the first place..... I do not agree with any proposition that any particular one of these three factors in isolation ranks higher than any of the others .
(b)This argument is exponentially magnified in high(er)-end cables
E.g say Nordost Frey and higher grade NORDOST cables as just one simple representative example to make the point: this level of cables embodies the intuitive synergy of all of them that makes them sound better than (a) their own cheaper models and (b) many other cables in general
The following cable characteristics and parameters are all primarily a function of the design of the wire, and its length. I'm including in this list characteristics and parameters whose audible significance is debatable, as well as others whose significance is well established:
Resistance, inductance, capacitance, shielding, bandwidth, dielectric absorption, time alignment, strand jumping, skin effect, metal purity, characteristic impedance, noise rejection, the susceptibility of interconnects to ground loop issues (the latter being dependent on the resistance of the shield or other return conductor), and susceptibility to unwanted antenna effects.
It seems to me that quality workmanship and good contact integrity are readily and widely available, at nearly all price points. So I would have to vote for the design of the wire, and its suitability for the particular application, as being the highest priority.
I would note, however, that in the special case of digital cables a stronger argument can be made for connector importance, due to the need for precise impedance matching .
Cable architecture also plays a significant role in cable performance, as I have recently learned.
Examples of cable architecture are
- balanced pair (shielded) e.g. Van den Hul DL102 mkiii
- twisted pair - e.g. Stager Silver Solids
For DIYers - one of the simplest and most effective architectures I've used is braiding the conductors, which I have found to improve performance considerably of both interconnect and power cables.
Then you get into the really specialized architectures like the Essence
gZero range of products from KLE Innovations that uses conductors of
difeerent gauges and metals together with their own proprietary
architecture where they twist the neutral conductor(s) around the signal
conductor and excellent RCA connectors to significantly improve
Another company that uses a similar approach is Anti cables, which I have also heard many good things about.
On the RCA front, I started a couple of years ago looking at one of the more unusual designs, the Eichman Silver Bullet. I then tried the entire Harmony line of RCA's and have settled on the Pure Harmony.
Their unconventional design/architecture and choice of conductor materials provides for exceptional performance to the point where I now regard connectors as one of the more significant elements in cable
As in everything else in audio equipment, I think there are few generalities that we can reach. I think RFI and EMI are increasing severe problems for all cables, so the quality of the shielding maybe most important. Certainly, I have found that charging the cables can do such shielding quite well. I have found that I hate the sound of gold in cables and always have liked silver, especially LLCs. But the magnetic conduction in the High Fidelity cables has clouded all my generalities.
All that I can really say is listen to cables and buy what sounds good on your system.
I feel the two main things are the conductor, long single crystal copper, and the dielectric used. After years of Tara, Synergistic, Audioquest, Harmonic Technology, Mapleshade, Van den Hul I have finally settled on AntiCables. These are sonically superior to my ears over the others. Close to Mapleshade, but a bit more dynamic, at least in my system. Plus, they are priced appropriately.
Stevecham....I totally agree with Anti's. They now make various levels...I had them all, and every level is certainly an increase in sound. I have my balanced cables with Xadow ends. Nice. I too tried many, many different brands...my favorites are Audioquest Sky/Everest. My Anti's are so similar, no one I asked (wife, neighbors, UPS man) could tell me which ones are better.
Stevecham, Hi, It appears you have not tried the top shelf cables Tara Labs has to offer, like the Zero Gold, then up to the new Zero Evolution, or the new top cable, The Grandmaster Evolution cables by Tara Labs, I have tried many cables myself, once I went up the Tara cable food chain, there was no other cable.
I just had a very interesting experience. I've been trying different IC's having different architectures with varying results.
The latest IC was the Essence gZero6 from KLE Innovations. Reading their web site, they state their architecture (or geometry) is to wind the neutral conductor around the signal conductor - the premise being that two cables side-by-side causes noise in the neutral which affects the operation of components it is connected to.
So I took one of the conductors (of a twisted pair) from my silver IC, inserted it in a 3 ft long 1/10" Teflon tube and wrapped the neutral around the tube with a 1/4" spacing between each winding. The neutral was made from one conductor (copper) from a CAT6 network cable.
Connected the very same RCA's and voila!
The performance improvement was remarkable, when compared to the original twisted pair silver interconnect.
The new cable was better at everything across the board, but the most startling improvement was to the dynamic response - incredibly fast and powerful
Considering that one of the silver conductors was downgraded to copper I think this clearly demonstrates the importance of cable architecture.
There is One caveat: I use the KLE Innovations RCA's on all my cables - without them you will not get the same dynamic response - they are among the very best RCA's out there.
Their cables too are excellent performers - very dynamic and neutral sounding with a very wide and deep image - I have them also :-)
Something to ponder