Science that explains why we hear differences in cables?


Here are some excerpts from a review of the Silversmith Audio Fidelium speaker cables by Greg Weaver at Enjoy The Music.com. Jeff Smith is their designer. I have not heard these cables, so I don’t have any relevant opinion on their merit. What I find very interesting is the discussion of the scientific model widely used to design cables, and why it may not be adequate to explain what we hear. Yes it’s long, so, to cut to the chase, I pulled out the key paragraph at the top:


“He points out that the waveguide physics model explains very nicely why interconnect, loudspeaker, digital, and power cables do affect sound quality. And further, it can also be used to describe and understand other sonic cable mysteries, like why cables can sound distinctly different after they have been cryogenically treated, or when they are raised off the floor and carpet.”


“One of the first things that stand out in conversation with Jeff about his cables is that he eschews the standard inductance/capacitance/resistance/impedance dance and talks about wave propagation; his designs are based solely upon the physics model of electricity as electromagnetic wave energy instead of electron flow.


While Jeff modestly suggests that he is one of only "a few" cable designers to base his designs upon the physics model of electricity as electromagnetic wave energy instead of the movement, or "flow," of electrons, I can tell you that he is the only one I’ve spoken with in my over four decades exploring audio cables and their design to even mention, let alone champion, this philosophy.


Cable manufacturers tend to focus on what Jeff sees as the more simplified engineering concepts of electron flow, impedance matching, and optimizing inductance and capacitance. By manipulating their physical geometry to control LCR (inductance, capacitance, and resistance) values, they try to achieve what they believe to be the most ideal relationship between those parameters and, therefore, deliver an optimized electron flow. Jeff goes as far as to state that, within the realm of normal cable design, the LRC characteristics of cables will not have any effect on the frequency response.


As this is the very argument that all the cable flat-Earther’s out there use to support their contention that cables can’t possibly affect the sound, it seriously complicates things, almost to the point of impossibility, when trying to explain how and why interconnect, speaker, digital, and power cables have a demonstrably audible effect on a systems resultant sonic tapestry.


He points out that the waveguide physics model explains very nicely why interconnect, loudspeaker, digital, and power cables do affect sound quality. And further, it can also be used to describe and understand other sonic cable mysteries, like why cables can sound distinctly different after they have been cryogenically treated, or when they are raised off the floor and carpet.


As such, his design goal is to control the interaction between the electromagnetic wave and the conductor, effectively minimizing the phase errors caused by that interaction. Jeff states that physics says that the larger the conductor, the greater the phase error, and that error increases as both the number of conductors increase (assuming the same conductor size), and as the radial speed of the electromagnetic wave within the conductor decreases. Following this theory, the optimum cable would have the smallest or thinnest conductors possible, as a single, solid core conductor per polarity, and should be made of metal with the fastest waveform transmission speed possible.


Jeff stresses that it is not important to understand the math so much as it is to understand the concept of electrical energy flow that the math describes. The energy flow in cables is not electrons through the wire, regardless of the more common analogy of water coursing through a pipe. Instead, the energy is transmitted in the dielectric material (air, Teflon, etc.) between the positive and negative conductors as electromagnetic energy, with the wires acting as waveguides. The math shows that it is the dielectric material that determines the speed of that transmission, so the better the dielectric, the closer the transmission speed is to the speed of light.


Though electromagnetic energy also penetrates into and through the metal conductor material, the radial penetration speed is not a high percentage of the speed of light. Rather, it only ranges from about 3 to 60 meters per second over the frequency range of human hearing. That is exceptionally slow!


Jeff adds, "That secondary energy wave is now an error, or memory, wave. The thicker the conductor, the higher the error, as it takes longer for the energy to penetrate. We interpret (hear) the contribution of this error wave (now combined with the original signal) as more bloated and boomy bass, bright and harsh treble, with the loss of dynamics, poor imaging and soundstage, and a lack of transparency and detail.


Perhaps a useful analogy is a listening room with hard, reflective walls, ceilings, and floors and no acoustic treatment. While we hear the primary sound directly from the speakers, we also hear the reflected sound that bounces off all the hard room surfaces before it arrives at our ears. That second soundwave confuses our brains and degrades the overall sound quality, yielding harsh treble and boomy bass, especially if you’re near a wall.


That secondary or error signal produced by the cable (basically) has the same effect. Any thick metal in the chain, including transformers, most binding posts, RCA / XLR connectors, sockets, wire wound inductors, etc., will magnify these errors. However, as a conductor gets smaller, the penetration time decreases, as does the degree of phase error. The logic behind a ribbon or foil conductor is that it is so thin that the penetration time is greatly reduced, yet it also maintains a large enough overall gauge to keep resistance low.”


For those interested, here is more info from the Silversmith site, with links to a highly technical explanation of the waveguide model and it’s relevance to audio cables:


https://silversmithaudio.com/cable-theory/


tommylion
tommylion, and I really mean this politely, it is all hogwash. There is no such thing as a sonically superior cable there are only sonically bad ones.
This is all marketing BS of the highest order. If you tested cables correctly you would know this to be true. If you understood the psychology of human hearing you would know this to be true. The power of suggestion alone to influence what you hear is extraordinary. There are many great videos now that demonstrate this. There is one of a woman named Poppy who plays Stairway to Heaven backwards telling a group of audiophiles to listen for words in it. Nobody hears anything. Then she throws up a paragraph on the screen, something about the devil and plays Stairway backwards again. Darn if you do not hear every word. It is an amazing demonstration. 

Instead of researching marketing claims that appeal to lay instinct look into the way to test equipment correctly by hearing and the psychophysiology of hearing. 

Finally, never trust anyone who is trying to selling you something. Selling is survival and humans will do anything to survive.  
I forgot to mention, the earth is most definitely round.
Glad to see there are people that understand electrons don’t move around like water. 

Of course, the universe is just a simulation so that could change during the next update. 
mijostyn,

I have found that when someone starts refuting something with a statement like “it is all hogwash”, what follows is highly unlikely to be a clear, reasoned, understandable and persuasive explanation of why they disagree.
Here we go again ….

One either breaks out the popcorn, or alternatively, just rolls their eyes with an entirely predictable and “no winner “ futile outcome between polarized groups in these cable war threads.
If repeated observation shows something that your scientific model doesn’t explain, or even allow, doesn’t it make sense to consider the model, and maybe look into an alternative one, rather than stubbornly cling to it and deny the observation?
While Jeff modestly suggests that he is one of only "a few" cable designers to base his designs upon the physics model of electricity as electromagnetic wave energy instead of the movement, or "flow," of electrons, I can tell you that he is the only one I’ve spoken with in my over four decades exploring audio cables and their design to even mention, let alone champion, this philosophy.


Fwiw,  Rick Schultz of High Fidelity Cables also uses this approach in his products
Buy what you want. Me I prefer to not get pulled into the vortex of theoretical musings of why cables impact sound.

I prefer to buy cables that have great build quality at a fair price and do not make a component or system sound bad.

I would rather spend my money on my ever growing and evolving music collection and enjoy the music.

what ever money I save I use for golf lessons and going to the gun range.

Enjoy your day.
Much like religion...I can't decide if the true believers or the charlatans are worse.
“Fwiw, Rick Schultz of High Fidelity Cables also uses this approach in his products”

I’m not positive, but I think Teo Audio and Townshend Audio also use a similar model in designing cables.

The point being, there are those who say that “science” shows that there can’t be any audible difference between cables. Many, many people have observed otherwise. While it may be true that the widely accepted and used scientific model doesn’t explain, or allow for, these differences, it seems that there is at least one other valid scientific model that supports these observed differences, both allowing for, and explaining, them.
Have they had an independent third party conduct ABX testing on the audibility?
I think its imperative that the theoretical nature of the thing is well understood.

That he eschews {avoids} inductance, capacitance, resistance and impedance "dances" in favour of wave model is troubling.

"his designs are based solely upon the physics model of electricity as electromagnetic wave energy instead of electron flow".

Now, do any electrical engineers have an issue with this? I’m not, but since when has electricity been modelled on electron flow anyway? Isn’t he finding a distinction that doesn’t exist? Is there a straw man lurking around in the shadows?

Edit - and having waded through the words a couple more times I actually fail to find anything new.  Isn't much of what he is saying standard, but that he throws in things to make it appear as though he has a novel twist, like the maths don't matter as much as what the maths means (not a direct quote but something like that, which to me is all quite odd).
I've heard of remote viewing, but remote hearing?
Who knew there were so many psychics here on A'gon who could know what someone else is hearing so far away?

All the best,
Nonoise

secretguy
377 posts
10-29-2021 10:44am“Much like religion...I can’t decide if the true believers or the charlatans are worse.”

+1 @secretguy. Nailed it ! Point, set and match in tennis jargon!

Ignoring that I personally stand in thecables do matter”cohort , (…with a big caveat that it is entirely system dependent …), the other contrarian cohort comprises an equal 50% of our fellow enthusiasts, who have their own equally valid experiences and point of view. Fair enough…BUT AND ITS A BIG “BUT”… Neither side will be swayed by further cable debate posts.

THE POINT: these posts enter an eternal deeply divided and polarizing cables war no- man’s lands that’s been already beaten down into irrelevance in all the audio forums. As @secretguy highlighted above, continuing cable merit posts - both pro and con - have no validity in further advancing our hobby.

CANUCKAUDIOMART moderators have addressed it in part with a stern warning that aggressively pushing this well-travelled issue now may get the thread locked down; it may also draw a potential warning issued to the OP ; and it even may draw a potential suspension to anybody as a  repeat offender, or anybody with a post containing disrespectful, vitriol, or personal slams.

Because the merits of cable posts - pro or con- are entirely system dependent, the following quote encapsulates discontinuing a pointless debate where these polarized cohorts exist equally.

“ …There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”― Robert Evans “

I am so happy to be corrected as I'm still trying to make sense of this, but despite him "eschewing" traditional theoretical models, isn't it exactly that upon which he relies, despite his protests?

Like, gee, even I know about the dielectric aspect, and I know nothing compared to the many erudite enthusiasts, physicists and electrical engineers on this forum.

I can't see where he actually says what is underlying his wave "philosophy" that has nothing to do with physics etc.  Could it have anything to do with protons or photons or something like that, perhaps?  Just guessing from trying to remember from what I have read from traditional designers who are unashamed of their impressive scientific  credentials.
@akg_ca

I don’t think this is about whether cables matter or not - lets agree that they do. Non issue.

What this is about (for me, anyway) is that when the protagonist quoted above says that cables matter, they seem to be appealing to some higher power for inspiration. This does nobody any favours, and forum moderators must go all giddy.

Always a good motto - if you are telling the truth, why is there any need to lie (or embellish etc).

I was able to hear the Jeff Smith’s cables and discuss what I was hearing with Jeff. I don’t have the knowledge to either confirm or deny his explanation but his description of echo affect was a very feasible explanation of what I was hearing. His cables sounded cleaner and much better than the the homemade cable I compared them to.
A side note as a person Jeff was very sincere and personable. A guy you’d like to have a beer with.
The man himself was here for Chuxpona. We heard him, we heard his cables. They are really good, I would even say exceptionally good for the money. 

As far as his theory or design principles go, well there we have a bit of a problem. Max Townshend has video you can watch showing clearly how impedance mismatches cause a reflection to travel back down the cable. Easy to see on the scope. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUAKE6I3AmM&t=1s 

Also interesting is that what is seen on the scope matches what is heard from different cables. Impedance mismatches do seem to create ringing distortion. This colors instrumental tones and textures, alters characteristic instrumental timbre, and so the less of it the better. 

Still, there is almost certainly more going on.

If you look into speaker cable design you will find a number of them based on similar ribbon construction technology. Each one emphasizes a different aspect of it but the one thing they all seem to have in common is people find they offer a lot of value for the money. So possibly it is the ribbon technology itself that accounts for a lot of it. 

This brings me to the main point I want to make, which is that the key to science isn't what theory or how or what we measure. The key to science is we keep an open mind to the possibility that no matter how good it sounds it may all be bunk.  

Or as the great Richard Feynman once said, "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."
To anyone who has working ears, there is an obvious difference cables make in sound quality. The issue that science can't find a way to measure sound quality has nothing to do with whether or not it exists.
To anyone who has working ears, there is an obvious difference cables make in sound quality. The issue that science can't find a way to measure sound quality has nothing to do with whether or not it exists.

I agree with that statement.  Saves me a trip to Ace Hardware for a roll of lamp cord.

Physicist here.  

I'm buying this.

Not.

I will say that advanced EM radiation at the University of Chicago was the hardest class I ever took  and I didn't feel great about my mastery of the material.

However, I do know that it is a fact that electricity propagates through a copper wire at half the speed of light and I can't reconcile that with the slow speeds you quoted.

Jerry
To anyone who has working ears

Unfortunately severely limiting your share of readers on the site.
Physicist here.  

I'm buying this.

Not.


See what I mean?
mc-

Feynman was a great scientist but a bit of a showoff. He had an unusual combination of traits for a physicist - great intelligence as well as the ability to explain his research. I knew him at Caltech many decades ago...those were the days!

As is usual in these threads written by engineers and enthusiasts, scant attention is paid to the other half of the interaction - the human auditory system and how it behaves. At least as important as the properties of audio cables...
So there are only sonically bad cables. By that logic there are only sonically bad speakers, amps, tone arms, etc. and that's true since all of them degrade the signal to some extent. How does that help any discussion? The sales argument has some validity. That's the whole answer!
What a load of bs.  
@cakyol I am so glad you weighed in on the subject with your exquisite, well written five word response. Very scientific.
I am not a scientist so I will stay out of the theory. But Silversmith fidelium cables made a profound impact on my system. One of the top two moves, on par with switching to an LTA zotl amp. 
I’m with georgehoffman, there are a few things I might change in my system the Fidelium cables are staying. Knock the theory all you want, I don’t know anyone that listens to theory’s. 
I tried the Silversmith cables when I had my NAD M33 and heard nothing different from the cables I had previously on it, which were inexpensive 10 gauge cables off of a very positively reviewed eBay seller. The Silversmith cables were a huge PIA to attach to the very constricted layout of the binding posts of the unit. I found the flat, thin cables difficult to work with as opposed to traditional sturdy roundish cables. Other peoples opinions certainly vary with differences in hearing and equipment, but Jeff refunded my money with no problem whatsoever and was a very interesting person to talk to on the phone. An honest and thought provoking seller for sure.
If we can be honest, I think that many here will have shared a similar experience to my own over the years. In between switching speakers and preamps and amps, I would occasionally change cables based on reviews, or recommendations, and within my ability to afford the particular cable.
Several disappointments followed, none major, just most weren't as good as expected, and for over 12 years now, the cables that sound best in my system are a bi-wire combination of ribbon and wire from an obscure company in Australia that I got as a free add-on with an amp I bought from a member here. 
The type of cable and the manufacturer doesn't matter, my point is that from my experience, no matter what the technology, it's a hit or miss with cables, and if you're lucky, and all of the hidden variables happen to align, you may end up with a cable that is well balanced for your system.
I guess that's why it's probably wise to use a cable library like The Cable Co., but I just never had the patience. 
The type of cable and the manufacturer doesn't matter, my point is that from my experience, no matter what the technology, it's a hit or miss with cables, and if you're lucky, and all of the hidden variables happen to align... based on reviews, or recommendations, and within my ability to afford the particular cable.


I suppose you can rely on recommendations and "no matter what the technology" (whatever that actually means) and cross ya fingers for a bit of luck for the stars to align.  I consider such an approach to be not financially prudent and emotionally draining and depressing.

I say get the foundations correct first, the known theory must be taken advantage of and exploited.  Then, line up the contenders and select.

Should another cable which ignores ("ëschews") known theory sound better than any of those in my prior paragraph, all kudos to whoever designed it. 

However I would wager that it is nevertheless mostly consistent with known theory, whether the designer admits it or not.  There is obviously some marketing advantage to be gained by appealing to something "öther". 

Gotta find an edge.  Credible designers are fully transparent, and from an intellectual property aspect this can be a tricky balancing act.  So, what they can claim is that the edge can't be measured.  As if.  Run away.


There is only one way to sell expensive cables.

Pseudoscience.

Silversmith is well aware of this.  For instance " his design goal is to control the interaction between the electromagnetic wave and the conductor, effectively minimizing the phase errors caused by that interaction."

The wave travels through the conductor.  How is the interaction to be controlled or, by implication, minimised.  He doesn't say.
secretguy
The Charlatans are worse.  Happy Listening!
Anyone who thinks cables, interconnects and power cords don’t make a difference is either deaf or can hear but refuses to “listen”.

OR doesn’t want to or cannot pay for the difference. And not all things that cost more make a substantial difference. Or any difference at all. 
The next thing someone is going to bring up is that streamers don’t make a difference. Reference: “listen” to a Bluesound then go listen to a DCS Rossini. 
I can appreciate someone’s inability or refusal to pay for something, but refusing or ignoring the performance difference is just ridiculous. Regardless if it is a component or cable or whatever. 
An Oldsmobile doesn’t corner like a Porsche…

ITS Saturday time to enjoy football and then go “listen” 

ROLL TIDE
Back in the day when I replaced the cheap interconnects I was using between my preamp and amps with Monster IC’s, the difference was huge! 

 IC’s matter!

JD
I believe you will find that Max Townshend also subscribes to the waveguide phyiscs in the design of his cables.  They do seem to work for me.  

nice. another set of thoughts on wires. lovely.

the age old adage that runs deep and often surfaces here is…

if one can hear a difference, good or bad, or merely different, AND one enjoys or desires to acquire that degree of disparity AND can afford it, one should buy it.

nothing else matters!

as laudable as this theory, or that metallurgical construct, or design topology may be, it will ever remain that the one true argument which manifests itself between our passion, desire, what we actually hear, and what we can or might afford is the ONLY ‘bare bones’ legit squabble we will resolve, to our satisfaction or not.

i’ve yet to see any prospective buyer in any listening session fiddling with the knobs on an ‘O’ scope during the presentation.

it will always come down to a subjective analysis and our ability or inability to acquire it.

it may sound glorius but loaded with too much ‘can’taffordium’ to take it home.n what then is the poor audionut to do?

we will invariably be forced to settle, or arrive at some compromise and this is completely indifferent to any proven or alluded to theory, practice or designed solution.

reading white papers, and all the maker’s assorted conjectures or rationale for what why and how they do what they do is merely another bit of time poorly wasted.

when it gets right down to it. the proof, as it was, is in the pudding. until the item in question is strapped into the system du jour, and its result (s) are witnessed, its all rampant speculation!

finding the right component or component upgrade in an audionut;’s outfit is akin to the ‘good night kiss’ on a first date.

was it satisfying? did it promise more later? or in short, was it all worth it?
I forgot to mention, the earth is most definitely round.
You meant three dimensional and more spherical in shape, right?
The wave travels through the conductor. How is the interaction to be controlled or, by implication, minimised. He doesn’t say.

@clearthinker
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skin%20effect

Materials and geometry of the conductors and dielectric are what he uses.
Jeff Smith’s cable are very good, and audibly so. The obvious lack of solder in the signal path, is a consideration that should be taken into account as well (it is less conductive).

Capacitance is another consideration, especially when using ribbon conductors, by separating the conductors so that they are not perfectly parallel alleviates this phenomenon.

There is always an electromagnetic field around, outside the conductor with an alternating current. This is simply understood after a little research into how AC transformers work. This technology is how voltage and amperage can be altered by using different windings, utilizing these magnetic fields I am mentioning.

That there is a magnetic field rising and collapsing around an AC current flow, is also a reason to consider using cable risers, air is a great insulator that will not affect the signal as much as many other materials, like concrete or carpets.


I know Jeff and we have had several conversations regarding cable design. He does have unusual ideas about cable design. I have heard cable shootouts pitting his cables against other top performing cables. There is always some in the room who like his design work and some that don't.

Classes in physics and engineering are only introductions into information which can be used to design cables based on a series of theories and they do not account for what is known as an "error" between design and test data. This design information is good for designing cable in large quantities, it has limitations when you are looking for cutting edge performance. This fuels the search for a better theory.

The problem with book learning is, it is democratic and as such has a tendency to make mistakes. In one case I know of, take hundreds of years to correct the mistake even though the correct answer was known for the same period of time! The book "A round the World in 80 days" makes fun of this issue. So when people tell me (an engineer) "follow the science" it is hard to contain the laughter.

My cable design work will be in a couple or rooms (303 & 307) at the Capital AudioFest. I distribute through Audio Union
This discussion is absolutely the greatest example of a “first world problem”. It’s like watching a tennis match. 
Once again, every electron I ever interviewed has told me that they prefer cables that work rather than ones that do not.  By work, they mean no cuts between the beginning of the wire and the end.

Cheers!
I am done with all this. I buy a cable and compare it with others and if it sounds better I keep it and if it doesnt I sell. The fact that it is is now enough for me. Sometimes this process takes hours to days. 
Are discussions about first world problems shameful? As in should we be ashamed discussing such things or be ashamed we have this luxury? 
Are discussions about first world problems shameful? As in should we be ashamed discussing such things or be ashamed we have this luxury?
Not at all. However, the poor behavior from some makes the discussion come across as juvenile. It’s a constant battle of those who think it’s okay to purchase whatever sounds good to your own ears versus those who believe in buying only that which can be measured. Thus my comment about it being a tennis match. 
There are also those who think it's okay to purchase whatever sounds good to your ears and believe in buying what measures good. I don't care what anyone buys but when science is used as in the articles cited in the OP to promote cable sales and sound difference it's okay to call BS  when the underlying principles in those articles prove no such thing. Buy what you want but don't deride science then use it. 
Hear is a science lesson and a couple of hour stream of consciousness from a audiophile and 40 year engineer with Belden.
Very useful dictionary and physics book described..

Watch "Galen Gareis, Engineer and Designer of Iconoclast Audios" on YouTube
https://youtu.be/v3nZM2BP9Ew

Tecnoid you should watch..Tom