What do audiophiles want from a cable?

What should a high quality interconnect or speaker cable do to the sound of a system? Make it more transparent? Improve the sound stage and focus? Soften unpleasant highs? Tighten the base? Bring out the mids?

To me, a good cable should reveal more of what is on the recording and more of the true nature of my components. So when trying new cables, I look for more detail and accuracy without becoming cold and clinical. This seems logical, and yet after reading reviews and trying a few of the cables in the reviews, I find that the cables that have received glowing endorsements are not especially transparent or revealing. They modify the sound, but they don’t take me where I want to go. I wonder if the reason I don’t hear what the reviewer heard is that I don’t know what to listen for. Am I too focused on cable accuracy and resolution, and not enough on actual sound quality? Or is it just a case of no two systems sounding alike so why trust a review anyway? Thanks.
I try to use cabling to my advantage in the sound system.  Cables are ALL different and they have different traits and effects on components, rooms, and recordings IMO.  Key word being different lol.  No cable, system, room, speaker, ear, or brain is exactly the same really, so it seems to me that everyone's mileage with cabling will vary MWard.  What you will hear in a cable that you are using in your system, in your room and with your brain will almost always be different from another reviewer in another location, that's for sure. 

I can hear a certain cables sonic signature in my sound system.  I strategically put cabling into the system with specific components where I think they will work best in order to improve the system as a whole, and get the sound I want to hear.  It's a trail and error thing until you find what you like or what you think is most true to the source.  Spice is nice, but you have to start with a good room and good equipment or a good cable could be wasted IMHO. 
Cables are components, just as important as active components. Your question is in essence incorrect.
Can you hear anything without cables?
I think the crux of my question is, am I a good audiophile?  Am I judging cables the right way.  I'm entirely focused on accuracy but not on how they make instruments sound, does a piano sound like a piano, or would I rather have it sound like a poorly recorded piano?  What is the accepted measure?  Would you rather have a piano sound like a thin representation of a piano or would you like cables that fix that problem?  Is a cable that fixes the problem the best cable?
Well, of course, ideal cable should not alter the signal while transmitting it. But that's ideal, so any cable does alter the signal to a degree. The question is how do we want the signal to be altered since we cannot fully avoid it ?
Yes.  If the piano is recorded well and your room/equipment are capable of producing, then the piano should certainly sound like a piano.  Yes, great cables will allow a capable system that is setup correctly in a proper space to more accurately reproduce the sound of a real live piano.  

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I said it before and I will say it again. In my view, cables should be at least one step ahead of the active components. In this case you can be assured that your active components are giving you everything they are capable of.
Cables as tone controls? Not a very good idea, I think, but can it be avoided altogether? I guess not.
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I can only say that revealing cables are IME and IMO a good thing and would be the correct goal, but keep in mind that they may only be revealing a lack of synergy in your gear choices....perhaps especially if your aural experience with them is substantially at odds with the preponderance of their reviews (both user and pro)...(or they may only be revealing a lack of quality level in the gear, if that applies). But, I agree with inna, the cabling should be of sufficient quality as to not be a limiting factor between equipment.
ALL cables modify the sound, it's just a matter of do they modify the sound to suit your tastes/equipment or not.
+1 for inna  Cables Are components and should be up to the quality of the components they are connecting.  jmcgrogan2  +1  Your comment above is also correct.  I don't think there is a cable that is totally neutral.  

Audiophiles want cables to solve all their perceived system shortcomings and transport them to the perfect anechoic listening room where everything sounds exactly as a live performance.

Fortunately, for cable manufacturers, audiophiles are a determined lot that continually buy new cables in pursuit of this neverending quest.
Audiophiles want cables to solve all their perceived system shortcomings and transport them to the perfect anechoic listening room where everything sounds exactly as a live performance.

Fortunately, for cable manufacturers, audiophiles are a determined lot that continually buy new cables in pursuit of this neverending quest.
Speak for yourself, please.

In past threads Atmasphere has offered what I consider to be persuasive proof that in the case of analog interconnects the components being connected can be designed in a manner that will result in any reasonably well designed and inexpensive balanced cable having no sonic artifacts. In other words, in completely neutral behavior. Unfortunately few audiophile-oriented components are designed in that manner, although some approach it to varying degrees.

See the first of his posts dated 3-22-2013 in this thread for a description of the design requirements for the components being connected that are necessary to make that happen, and also for what I consider to be compelling proof of his contention. Also see the follow-up questions I submitted on 3-27-2013, and his response.

-- Al

1. properly advertised with LOUD words of how it improves performance
2. beautiful skin and shiny connectors
3. beautiful walnut case is a big plus
Speak for yourself, please. 
I did.  The OP didn't ask "What do 'you' want from a cable?"

Just my somewhat sarcastic observation from years of trying, buying and constructing cables, reading cable reviews, reading this forum, and observing cable manufacturers that follow well-known marketing trends by introducing new "revelatory" models every 2-3 years - just about the time sales are tapering off from the previous models.  While I certainly hear differences in cables, at the end of the day, it is mostly just wire and, beyond a certain minimum level of compatibility that doesn't cost much to achieve, I believe cables are much less important to the sound of a system than the equipment and speakers.  I understand this is a minority opinion and not helpful to the tweaky and somewhat obsessive nature of the hobby. 

If I were to make a better effort to answer the OP, I would say try cables of different types from several manufacturers (maybe from somewhere like The Cable Company) until you find something that doesn't cost too much but makes your system sound "right" to you.

low resitance/capacitance/inductance, immunity to RF...
Therefore, for a 10ft run,  14AWG or less, OFC copper, starquad or braided or twisted, multi-strands.  
I am happy with Canare, Mogami, Belden, basic Kimber...anything else would be pure folie on my 3K stereo, or a sign of major boredom.
  • Very expensive and difficult to use tone controls
  • Imaging enhancement (see above)
  • Endless merry go round
  • financial sense of ownership and accomplishment
  • The chance to enhance our own discernment of equipment instead of music.
  • Social sense of belonging.

I built my own interconnect cables from solid silver core wiring, and got off the merry go round. All my equipment plays well with it, or it doesn’t come home.



Only broken active components don't care what kind of cables they are connected with. Just as broken hearing cannot know the difference, so the argument hearing is believing does not apply here. And if there is a situation of broken brains, then it becomes especially tough.
There seems to be two schools of thought, with membership being somewhat age-dependent.
Attendees of the older school want their systems to sound good, and seek out cables that make their systems sound more 'musical'.

The youngsters gravitate towards neutral, full-range, highly resolving components and cables. The results in this case are more dependent on other issues, such as room acoustics and the qualities of the recording.
I agree with two school idea but I would categorize it differently. One school are those who want to hear it as it was recorded, good or bad. And another school are dreamers who want to hear it the way they want it to sound.
And there is nothing wrong with those two schools.  Each listener gets to decide which camp they place themselves in.  As long as they are happy and satisfied with where they are then so be it.

Right. Nothing is wrong with either. But each must know his school. If you ask me, I belong to the school of 'realists' with an element of the dreamers' school.
I'm not too sure about the two schools in that sense sense folks, but I'm keeping an open mind.  If anything, there is the transparency, analysis, and resolution heads(I'm not naming any names), the warm, full bodied, and harmonically rich camp(you know who you are), And then MAYBE "the Neutralists"(it's what you THINK is neutral).

McGrogan is so right about cable modifying the sound to suit tastes/equipment and IMO it is suiting the "taste" of the equipment that is most important to keep in mind here! 

Yes I believe you will love the sound the cable imparts on your system IF it works well with the equipment.  For example, I can tell that cable x is really jiving with my DAC and cable y is sounding really good from preamp to amp.  BTW...rarely ever are they the same cable in my experience.

Just carry the signal and add nothing to it ..Please .......Dont need anything added . System sounds great without added bass or treble manipulation . 
Agreed Almarg. Well directed.

Eric, I am lazier - after I built theoretically optimal cables (viz the Maxwell Equations) with gold plated, fine silver wire, vanishingly low dielectric absorption in a Faraday cage, and ETI connectors, and got little or no improvement over microphone cables, I just bought a stack of Starquad.

I know by single blind experiment that every high quality styrene cap and every nude Vishay resistor makes a perceptible difference in my home brew electronics. So I spend money there. Exotic cables? Not for me - can't afford them. YMMD

terry9, if you come here and take the cable I use as a preamp jumper on my integrated amp while I'm at work and you switch it with an inferior cable, I will most certainly notice... guaranteed.  Absolutely positively.  I tried it recently and my audio system was much less enjoyable.  This was very obvious to other people that listen to music here on a regular basis.  From them I got the "what did you do?"  There was most certainly a decrease in the level of performance.  Similar performance loss is apparent when I position the cable that I enjoy so much on the output of my DAC in between the preamp/amp.  The magic is lost, it just can't do it.

Sorry, wax, don't quite understand a few things. First, exactly what components are you connecting? Digital source --> DAC --> Integrated amp --> amp ??? Or something else?

Second, how does the sound improve? What are the characteristics of the performance loss?

Third, what characterizes an "inferior cable"?

I can hypothesize, but until I know more I can't really respond.
Social sense of belonging. 

In terms of speaker cables, It’s said over and over: the best cable is one that doesn’t alter the signal. So then logically, that cable should be EXACTLY the same cable that goes to your amplifier’s binding posts, (newsflash: it's not a $4,000 exotic, NASA engineered cable). If I hear one more comment about how a $4,000 pair of boutique speaker cables are needed to, and this one’s my favorite, "get out of the way of the music", my head will explode.

I agree with jmcgrogan2, all cables modify the sound, it’s just a matter of do they do it to your liking?
I agree jmcgrogan2 in that I go for what sounds good to me. It's all part of what I call voicing my system, an exercise that has included not only the cabling but also the speaker crossover components, the tubes used in the preamp & amp, the power cords, and the power conditioning system. In my experience the synergy of the cabling is system dependent. This past year I changed amps and felt a need to adjust the voice of the system. I got in three new interconnects to audition. In my system there was one that was the clear winner (to me as well as a two friends who were over).  We took the show on the road over to my friends' systems and a different cable each time was unanimously considered to be the best system match (as always the caveat of personal taste notwithstanding). 

My answer to the original question about what I (sic) want from the cabling is that I want it to be an effective part of a musical system that allows me to connect emotionally with the music, and the attributes that permit that vary by individual.  Several system incarnations ago I had a rig that I described as letting me connect intellectually with the music in that I could talk about which sonic attributes it was doing well, but it still wasn't adding up to an emotionally engaging experience, and that is my ultimate, albeit personal, criteria. 
@reynolds853   Amen.
Its a tweak to help fine tune  the sound when needed once all the common bigger issues are addressed. 
Sorry, don't use em. The best cable is no cable. Ditto power cords.

terry9, you can see the associated equipment on my system page.  It is resolving enough of an audio setup for cable differences to be audible and sometimes shockingly different.  It surprises me often the sonic attributes and shortcomings of difference cable.  

An inferior cable in the system will always change the presentation for the worst.  The words lifeless, unrefined, and uninvolving come to mind first when attempting to describe what happens to the system' presentation of the music with an inferior cable in place.  It loses the ability to do its best work.

Performance lost is performance lost period.  The presentation can be incorrect tonally, musical passages with lots of instrumentation can be jumbled and unresolved.  Lyrical content can be more difficult to comprehend.  Bass can be less accurate, too boomy or too weak.  With inferior cable music can seem rolled off at frequency extremes and have less dynamic capability.  These differences are real and many have experienced this.  I can't understand why so many deny it, when the positive attributes of implementing well designed cabling is significant in my listening space.  It took lots of trail and error and break in time is a pain, but in the end when you have cables that perform well with good equipment, the musical experience is certainly enhanced.  The result is an accurately reproduced, expansive, and extremely lifelike presentation of the tunes that is pleasurable!

Well wax waves, I have heard little to no improvement over fairly mundane cable technology, in my system. I use Canare Starquad microphone cable for interconnect. For speaker cable I use Goertz when I'm not using an exotic solution which only works in my system (nichrome wire speaker cables instead of resistors at the speaker).

I understand that some cables will sound unrefined and nasty in some systems, while others will sound fine. I suspect that this is because some cables act as filters, removing the nasties. I also suspect that this is not your opinion.

Yes terry9, in some cases a cable will sound just fine.  You would never know what you were missing.

I think some cables do act as filters, but not in the sense that most think.  The cable is not filtering thru the audio signal, but filtering OUT all of the crap that is detrimental.  Mainly stuff that comes in on the a/c line that keeps the equipment from optimal performance.  I'm a fan of what ferox has done for my system as well as the Bybee products.  

I pick cables to get the best out of and not restrict the full potential of my components.To me its all about a balanced system.I run all Furutech which are better then out of the box cables .
Cables essentially are tone controls. You are basically altering the lows, mids, and highs by trial and error. It just comes down to which one floats your boat in your room with your setup.
Waxwaves, you use Purist cables, all Ferox. Have you ever tried Purist fluid cables? Now when it comes to Purist it's a fun game, there used to be fluid and Ferox cables with both Ag/Cu/Au alloy conductors, that's, mostly silver, and Cu/Ag/Au alloy, that's, mostly copper. The newest Luminist revision has no Ag/Cu/Au with fluid combination.
I have original Colossus fluid speaker cables, Neptune Luminist Single Crystal Copper fluid RCAs, original Colossus Ferox RCAs, used to be fluid that I bought with Ferox, and original Maximus Ferox RCAs that used to be fluid in my set-up. Fluid and Ferox have their strengths, the analogy could be that fluid Purist, especially all copper, sounds like a tube amp, and Ferox like hybrid/warmer transistor. The Neptune that I recently got has an incredible deep and layered soundstage that I doubt  any other Purist cable could match, and also exquisite slightly rounded highs. Other things being equal, Ferox may be a little quiter with tighter bass. So, no wonder that a number of people use both fluid and Ferox cables in their systems. Some would call it sound manipulation, yet others would call it fine tuning. I would not run all Ferox cables in my system but I could run all fluid cables, provided I had Ag/Cu/Au speaker cables. Single Crystal Silver with Ferox might give the ultimate resolution speed and bass and balance with great soundstage but it costs a fortune.
I also tend to see the system in a holistic angel like renolds 853 and waxwaves. Overall i see the software, hardware, the room and finaly ouer body ( mostly the ears) as all connected to the expirience. I too have expirienced a cable the has huge synergi in one system and very little in another. When i alter a component in the system, it creates a domino effect so some of the other components in the system again can be optimised. Getting better a better and better system makes the diffrences when changeing anything more and more audibel. I whish that i could find a cheap cable that did it all right but i have never found it yet.
At a certain level i didnt need the filtercabels that takes out nasty things. Before that i hadent been dealing so much with the room, decoupling and the electric supply. For me cabels are components, i have never heard a highperformance SOTA system without superb expensive cabels. I tend to think that the powercabels today is the most importaint cable in my system and in the low level time it was the most unimportaint.

My cables, as well as the rest, shall improve the realism, make it more involving and letting me feel more when i listen to the music. I think most will go for that but how much you are willing to offer on them.
Here i am looking for the lowers fruits first and i get a lot of help form other expirienced audiophiles. When i think i have reached a homogenic level in the whole chain, i usually start lifting one component up the ladder again and then the rest follows over the years. Which component it is, depends on many things but feeling that making a good deal, eg superb price/performance matters a lot. 
Trying new super cabels in my system is a easy way to learn more of the capacity/potential in my system, that may be hidden for me. Unluckily i dont have so many opotunities to do it,as supercabels are rare in this area. Maybee we could swift cabels with each other once in a while.
Good lisining.

What do audiophiles want from a cable?  For it to sound audibly different from the ones they have! LOL!
Cable discussions and evaluations are entirely subjective ( all rooms, components and listeners are variables).  When you measure one set of cables against another ( in itself a challenge -- as meaningful blind A/B tests are almost impossible without manually switching them back and forth -- losing the ability of a quick A/B with the time lapse) -

But the question of having the cable be neutral - and not adding or taking anything away --- how is that even possible to measure or determine ?  What is your base reference for measurement ? -- It has to be another set of cables ----- so how do you know what your base reference of neutrality actually is ? --

Simple fact -- You can't listen to any of the components without cables -- So all cables must impart a sonic signature of some sort -- and it becomes completely subjective as to what you consider to be neutral.

I have spent a considerable amount of money on cables - mostly motivated by a hope that it will provide better sound staging, possibly broader frequency range and an enjoyable / pleasant tonal representation ( not likely better - just different and more personally preferred in my room/system/ears -- which may change after 6 months if/when I try another pair) --

But some moves have been in hopes of getting rid of any background noise and trying to achieve that completely quiet 'Black" background in my system ----  I find that most "good" cables do this better than mediocre or cheap ones.  I do believe that good cables are an important component -- but beyond getting rid of any background noise, hum etc.  and being dead quiet (as if the system was off when paused) -- the results are completely a matter of tonal preference -- but I can't ever say neutral -- and not adding or taking anything away -- because all you can do is measure one set against another -- what is being added -- or what is being taken away -- means nothing other than the two sets have different tonal signatures -- so it comes down to personal preference.    

Audiophiles want magic!!!!!
For anyone not brainwashed yet - http://www.roger-russell.com/wire/wire.htm
@maplegrovemusic , thanks for the new information!
That breaking news changes everything!

You do know that brainwashing works both ways, don't you?
If you don't want to hear a difference, you won't.
I got a pair of speaker cables to sell..
They're made of military and aerospace grade beryllium copper, harvested from fragments of a comet that only passes near earth's orbit every 100,000 years. 

These cables are then coated with platinum, because everyone knows platinum is better than gold. 

The cable is cryogenically treated, then annealed, then treated again. This makes the cable resistant to electromagnetic interference due to its superior flux blocking grain structure. 

After about 100 hours of break-in, you'll hear immediate improvements in clarity, transparency, openness, resolution, and a lack of opaque..ness.  

You'll experience a telepathic connection with the musicians and hear all the subtle detail they intended you to hear, realizing that the cables in their recoding studios was comprised of this same magic formula.
Thanks maplegrove, I had lost that reference. 
@helomech  What length and how much?  Are they terminated in spades or bananas???
Inna, yes I have used Proteus Provectus which are fluid filled and solid core using some combination of the metals you listed in your previous post.  I experienced good results and I agree with your assessment of the qualities these different cables impart on the sound. This fluid filled cable worked very well from the Lampizator DAC to the McIntosh, and did mate up very well with the Venustas and other ferox cables that come later in the signal chain.  The ferox insulated cables seem to provide the SOLID, WELL BALANCED foundation for the music with the dead quiet backdrop you mentioned, while the Proteus Provectus(fluid filled) cables offer the mid range "magic" (similar to a good tube amp or tube preamp)that will inject a very lifelike, multidimensional quality to the sound system.  The Proteus Provectus interconnect, as good as it is, seemed slightly unbalanced in this system.  I heard it tilting the presentation a little too far forward in the mid range and upper frequencies for my liking.   Enter the Jade Vermeil Gold with Bybee purifiers to provided a truly special, spacious, palpable and utterly lifelike presentation of the music that works perfectly here with the ferox insulated PAD cables coming after.  This gave me a real sense of LIVE INSTRUMENTS AND VOICES which is my BASE REFERENCE for what this sound system should be able to reproduce bjg.  In my experience, this is what happens when cable synergy is there, and working its "magic" in the listening space with good equipment.  One should have a "you are there"or "they are here" type of experience when things are setup correctly and this so called "cable synergy" is in full effect and playing music.