I think you are referring to the decay of the sound. The room design also plays a role so different frequencies can decay differently. It's hard to tell if the speaker cables can affect the "speed" of various frequencies differently, like you said this is in the order of milliseconds, before sound production. Yet cables, just like all other components, do have the fast and slow characteristics.
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I have to disagree with Tom. I have heard cables that are faster than others. Cables such as Nordost, Silent Source and CH Acoustic are just three that I've experienced.
Why they are faster, or why they appear to be faster, is beyond my expertise. However, when I heard the effect, I attributed it to the cables being quieter or less distorted.
I assumed that the less distorted the cable was, whether it be a result of less RFI or EMI, the physical connections to the spades or bananas, or whatever else, the more accurate the signal ultimately was.
Differences in inductance can, at least to a slight degree, affect frequency response in the upper treble region, especially if the impedance of the speaker is low at those frequencies. Greater high frequency extension = "faster."
Differences in resistance can affect woofer damping and bass response. Better woofer damping and better controlled bass response = "faster."
Differences in capacitance, if extreme enough, can affect amplifier performance, especially at high frequencies that relate to perceived "speed."
Differences in antenna effects, and "transmission line" effects that occur at inaudible RF frequencies, can result in differences in spurious energy that may enter the feedback loop of the amplifier, if it has one, with unpredictable consequences.
There are undoubtedly other reasons as well, although not necessarily the reasons that are stated in the "white papers" of some cable manufacturers. And none of these reasons necessarily mean that "more expensive" = "better."
I believe the confusion stems from taking "fast" as related to the speed the signal travels from one end of the cable to the other. That's not it.
I believe "fast" here refers to the raise speed,
pretty much like the slew rate, the ability of the cable to accurately represent the dynamic swing of the signal it transports.
And in this regard, a cable with less inductance and dielectric absorption makes for a "faster" cable.
I surrender, there is no such thing as fast (less distortion, more accurate) cables or slow (more distorted, less accurate) cables.
That also means that there are no bright, warm, dark or cool cables or components. In fact, solid state and tubes don't have a different sound either.
Which ultimately leads to: a $100.00 piece of equipment sounds just as good musically as a $10K piece of equipment, so anyone having anything more costly than a transistor radio has just wasted their hard earned money.
Getting back to the real world, Al, Alex and David, thank you! The goal is to get the music from the source to and out of the speakers as accurately as possible. That's the ideal senario so that the music as it was recorded is portrayed as it was recorded. I remember conversations that I had with Chris Sommovigo (Stereovox) and Darren Censullo (Avatar Acoustics) years ago.
Chris said that everything in a cable or component is important. You can have the most perfect transmission wire and connectors in cables, but if the connections between the wire and the connectors is lacking, you're hosed. It's simply, the chain is only as good as the weakest link .
Darren said that the transmission of the music from the source to the speakers can only be degraded, there is nothing that can be added to the original signal to make it more accurate than the original signal.
Anything that masks the original signal can be classified as some form of distortion. It may be tubes adding harmonics (warmth) that really aren't there in the original recording. It may be other things like RFI or EMI interference adding noise perceived as sound and masking important aspects in the original signal. It may be small things like solder connections interferring and not passing the signal correctly. And like Al said, inductance, capacitance and resistance can have the effect of slightly altering the musical signal.
Getting back to your original question. Yes, your brain does have the ability to recognize millisecond differences in what you hear.
Think about hearing a guitar string or key on a piano that is just slightly out of tune. The wave is just a hair off (shorter or longer), but you recognize that it is off, that something just isn't right about the sound.
Some of the best sounding amps have limited bandwidth. I don't understand how greater high frequency extension="faster". Is it not rise time that ultimately determines the perceived speed of the amp at the upper end of the scale? Not taking you to task Al.
As far as cable speed goes, I once picked up an old Yamaha TT that looked like an upper end model back in the 80's. Nice precision tone-arm. When I tried it out, I could hardly believe how sluggish it sounded. Also no extension either way. Almost like AM radio. When I stripped some of the fine wire in the tone-arm, it was so tarnished it was dark brown. I rewired it and it then sounded great. I may have answered my own question but I'm not sure how.
I just looked up Chuck's comment on our ability to perceive sound in terms of speed, I found an excerpt that might be helpful ...
Human auditory perception has its limits as well the minimum time in between sonic events to be distinguished separately is on the order of 20 milliseconds. Inside this limit, sounds begin to blur together to create first a buzzing then a continuum. Although this may be the limit to distinguishing sounds as separate events, human hearing is extremely sensitive to timing quality of events spaces in time. Percussionists create musical sonic events that are distinct, typically separated by hundreds of milliseconds. The accuracy with which they articulate any given event, however, is on the order of a millisecond.
Music is transient in nature. It is not so much a bunch of sine waves layered as it is a multitude of transients crammed together. And cables, as much as any other piece of equipment, can blur the transient nature of music.
There are many ways that this can take place in reality, but I'll use just one as an example.
Even though a kick drum is tuned very low on the frequency spectrum of what we hear, there is a very sharp leading transient spike that is found at the beginning of each smack of the drum head. Cables, and all other components, can very easily mask this spike. This happens as specific distortion mechanisms within a cable design impact the signal. When this leading edge spike is either diminished or completely masked we end up hearing only the harmonic aftermath of the drum strike.
This has the effect of delaying what we hear from the drum very slightly.
Since the kick drum is typically whats sets the pace for the entire piece of music, having it sound delayed in time causes it to be behind the rest of the music. When a drummer is consistently late in his timing they call that "chasing the beat". The real world effect of this is that is causes the music to sound "slower" and more disjointed.
This is the main reason why cables that are known for high frequency clarity are also often known as being "faster". These types of designs convey the transient nature of the music differently than others, many times better.
Can we actually hear this micro second delay caused by the missing transient leading edge? Actually, we absolutely can.
Consider the fact that tests done on Ray Charles showed that the consistency in the timing of his finger snaps were on the order of milliseconds. Given what's known about the physiology of the human body, which is to say the actual physics and biology of snapping your fingers in time, we know that one must be able to "hear" changes in time at least an order of magnitude greater than what we can actually create.
In the end, cables that are most accurate in the time domain are the ones that get the transient nature of the entire musical spectrum correct. They are the ones known as being "fast". They are also the ones that tend to get your foot tapping as well. Cables (and other equipment) known for being "slow" mask much of the transient nature of music, causing it to sound more "smooth" as well as typically less detailed.
12-11-12: CsontosThat is a legitimate question, Peter.
First, bandwidth and risetime are intimately related. Oversimplifying somewhat, the greater the bandwidth the faster the risetime.
But what I was referring to was primarily greater high frequency extension within the 20 kHz audible spectrum. Under some circumstances speaker cable inductance can produce an audibly perceptible rolloff of frequencies that are within that range. Particularly, as I said, if the impedance of the speaker is low at those frequencies. Electrostatics, for instance, commonly descend to the area of 1 ohm at 20 kHz, as I'm sure you realize. The inductive reactance of a speaker cable (inductive reactance being the inductive form of impedance, which is measured in ohms and is proportional to frequency), can be a significant fraction of that value at upper treble frequencies, particularly if the cable length is long and/or the cable does not have low inductance per unit length. The voltage divider effect resulting from the interaction of those two impedances will, to at least a small degree, roll off the upper treble.
Rolloff of the upper treble will, of course, tend to be perceived as sluggish transient response, and probably dullness as well.
Bandwidth limitations beyond 20 kHz, either in the amplifier or resulting from the interaction of cable inductance and speaker impedance, may also have audible effects, due to phase shifts of audible frequencies that will increasingly occur as bandwidth is reduced. That is one reason, btw, that amplifier bandwidth needs to extend considerably beyond 20 kHz.
Another factor necessitating bandwidth margin in the amplifier is, I believe, minimization of feedback-induced TIM (transient intermodulation distortion), if the amplifier uses feedback. Transient response that is sloppy and distorted as a result of TIM might also contribute to a perception of sluggishness, but that gets into amplifier-related matters that are not germane to this discussion.
"Wouldn't a slower cable slow all parts of signal down, not just one part?"
In a nutshell, probably not. Signal propagation of all sorts, including that associated with a wire conducting an electrical signals, is highly frequency dependent in theory. It's just a matter of how much and whether significant enough to matter or not in any particular case. I believe it is significant enough to matter for many with discerning ears in the case of speaker cables. Even more so in the case of analog ICs. At least, that is my assessment based on my personal listening experiences.
Al, how do you know so much about all of this!?! I see you posting responses to questions all the time here; you seem like a genius to me. Anyways, thanks to everyone else too that helped me get a better understanding of fast vs. slow cables. I had to read Kreallmans first post a few times, scratching my head asking myself "is he being sarcastic", then I read his second post then realized he was joking...lol.
12-11-12: B_limoThanks, B. I have an extensive background in electronic design, both analog and digital, although in defense electronics, not audio. And I've been an audiophile since around 1980. And I enjoy getting into the technical aspects of the hobby.
Thanks Al. That's very generous of you but I'm not about to put your insight to the test. It's off to Wikipedia!LOL. Not really. I'll need a week or so. But I was hoping Kijanki would have continued on another thread regarding skin effect. My research seems to corroborate my experience that replacing power supply wiring with 8awg, 500 strand is a significant overall improvement. My Acoustat TNT amps are already wired this way obviously in order to facilitate electrostats. But I notice a definite benefit even with dynamic speakers after upgrading to this wire. Apparently skin effect diminishes as the number of strands increases in a given gauge of wire until it's cancelled out, thus improving overall conductivity. The result is basically a bigger sound stage, better transients and damping factor. The amp just seems more open and free to perform. Can you concede any of this as factual or is it all in my head?
Michael, David, thank you kindly.
Csontos, probably the only times I've had friendly disagreements with the opinions of my learned A'gon colleague Kijanki is with respect to cable-related matters such as skin effect and "strand jumping," both of which I tend to be skeptical about, although I remain at least a little bit open-minded about those issues.
Both questions could be the subject of extensive debates, with the end result probably being that a conclusively proven conclusion cannot be reached, notwithstanding the many claims and "white papers" that have been issued by cable manufacturers.
Also, if I understand correctly, you are saying that the 8 awg 500 strand wire resulted in improvements in both power wiring and speaker cable applications. As you no doubt realize, the technical considerations, and the wire parameters that are most likely to be optimal, are very different for the two applications. An increase in inductance in power wiring, for example, involves a tradeoff between the benefits it may provide in filtering out high frequency noise, vs. the downside it may have of reduced responsiveness to abrupt changes in demand for current. The bottom line on those tradeoffs probably figures to be amplifier dependent, in part because the degree of fluctuation in current demand will vary dramatically among Class A, Class AB, and Class D amplifiers.
In any event, I don't doubt that the improvements you realized with the specific cables you described were real. I would just question the reasons for those improvements, and, to the extent that those reasons are in doubt, the applicability of your findings to other situations.
Hard to define "fast" and "slow" as many other audio terms.
Assuming "fast" and "slow" refer to transient and/or impulse response, Al mentions most of the factors, with the exception of "characteristic impedance" that can impact directly or combine with the load to react. Essentially, the cable can become a storage device, storing and releasing part of the energy. Although the effect would be miniscule compared to the crossover components and voice coils (if applicable), particularly at lower frequencies.
Maybe wires need a Q rating like drivers and cabinets. And to raise the analogy: Are the MIT boxes on their cables like port tuning?
As Almarg and Jcharvet have alluded to, I judge a cables speed, fast or slow, depending on how it attacks a note and releases it (decay). Attack and decay are the primary contributers to the timbre of a musical instrument. Attack is how clear is the leading edge and decay is how long the note takes to dissipate.
Some cables attack and release a note quickly and move on to the next note, these cables tend to be called fast, revealing, articulate or transparent, etc. Other cables tend to hold on to a note longer, allowing it to resonate or decay longer, these cables tend to be called slow, warm, musical, vibrant, etc.
It doesn't have to do with the musical timing of the instruments themselves, but how the notes that they play resonate, which determines how the timbre of the instrument is perceived.
I'm slightly amazed that the our hearing can actually pick up on attack. It seems that it really is milliseconds that we are talking about here. I'm also thinking that, just like some people can break down all the qualities of a particular wine (not me by the way), others are better at picking up on all of these nuances of audio qualities. I've been doing some comparisons of speaker cables, and what I originally thought as slight increases in quality of sound are actually clearly becoming worth the price of admission. Why is it that with some cables I am barely able to hear instruments in the background that with other cables just get muddled up? Is it because they are "faster", i.e. quicker attack and less decay resulting in more space between notes resulting in better definition and less congestion within a certain piece of music? If so, then why also can I hear certain instruments better even if they are overlapping other instruments? Less distortion? Anyhow, good discussion! Thanks guys, I'm getting some good knowledge here!
Al, does the fact that I'm hearing an improvement rather than just verifying one on instrumentation outweigh any negative impact on the amp? Doesn't the fact that we're dealing with wire no more than 6" long render inductance a non-issue? I'm guessing the Acoustat amps were built this way for the reason you mentioned. But also with the ability to drive low impedance loads such as the Acoustat speakers. So does it not stand to reason inductance is not an issue? BTW, the Acoustats are AB amps. Incidentally, so are the ones I've experimented with. They are also capable of driving low impedance loads.
12-12-12: CsontosNot sure what you mean by "negative impact on the amp," but I would not doubt that you may have heard an improvement that would not have been verifiable even with sophisticated instrumentation.
Yes, I would expect the 6 inch length to most likely make inductance a non-issue. When I submitted my earlier comment I missed that fact that you were referring to internal wiring of such short length. A short length of heavy gauge wire like that would also nullify or greatly minimize pretty much all other cable effects that I can envision as being of possible relevance, including not only resistance, inductance, and capacitance, but also skin effect, strand jumping, dielectric absorption, RF "transmission line" effects, etc., to the extent that they might have had any relevance at longer lengths.
My research seems to corroborate my experience that replacing power supply wiring with 8awg, 500 strand is a significant overall improvement.Assuming that the previous wiring was not poorly chosen in some way, such as being marginal in gauge, and that it had not suffered some sort of age-related degradation, and assuming that the previous solder joints were good, the only explanation that occurs to me for the improvement you perceived is that minor differences in physical placement of the old wiring vs. the new wiring might have affected coupling of noise transients (perhaps associated with current surges caused by abrupt changes in the power demands of the music) to or from other circuit points. Perhaps there are other reasons, but it's hard to say without having knowledge of the specifics of the design.
Excellent comments by several of the others above.
There is such a thing as the high end audio "twilight zone".
THings that are observed (or heard) to occur there cannot often be fully explained or quantified.
But they often do seem to really exist!
Its where tweaks like wire changes can be heard by many but predicting what one will actually hear in any particular case is often futile, as is expecting that another will hear exactly the same thing and react similarly.
All sorts of creatures, both dark and light inhabit the high end audio twilight zone. You have to identify the ones you can trust and the ones you cannot!
Eerie music plays......
Al, I was referring to your suggestion of a "downside by increasing induction" and it's possible result to the amp but that is now moot. Wiring I'm dealing with is the stock 12 and 14awg wire that virtually all the amps I have were built with. It's this wire that I've replaced with similar 8awg wire the stock Acoustat amps are built with. I've simply come to the conclusion that cost factor is the driving force behind building an amp just adequately rather than building it to reach it's full potential. There are probably lots of amp circuits capable of sota performance if given the correct internal accessories.
I'm not much of a wine connoisseur either. However, I have a few friends that are, and just like in picking up audio nuances, most connoisseur's learn from training their senses, they are not born with a gift. I've learned to listen with a ear trained over the decades of listening. It's more about learning what to listen for, this just takes time and experience.
Why is it that with some cables I am barely able to hear instruments in the background that with other cables just get muddled up? Is it because they are "faster", i.e. quicker attack and less decay resulting in more space between notes resulting in better definition and less congestion within a certain piece of music? If so, then why also can I hear certain instruments better even if they are overlapping other instruments? Less distortion?
This is hard to answer, it could have something to do with more speed and resolution, with faster attack and decay it leaves more silence between the notes to hear other sounds. However, it also could have something to do with the cables soundstaging ability. Some cables are more 3 dimensional with a deeper soundstage, while some have a larger, but a flatter, more 2 dimensional stage. Sometimes cables with a flatter stage can make background sounds appear more immediate, or clearer. I still prefer cables that have a deeper soundstage, some might call it the mid-hall perspective. However, I know others who prefer that feeling of sitting in the front row. You pay your money, you make your choices.