Where can I get educated about cables?

I'm still relatively new to this "hobby" compared to most of you it seems, and I'm trying to learn as much as I can. I've finally gotten to the point where I am considering purchasing cables, both for IC's and speakers, but I don't know where to begin.

Here's the deal- I read alot of reviews, talk to dealers, and read threads both here and on AA, and while everyone genuinely seems to want to help, I hear alot of talk about "impedance" and "capacitance", "six-nines', etc, when they talk about various cables. Now, I'm not an electrical engineer (I'm a commercial HVAC tech by trade), but I do know a little basic electronics, and am comfortable with a wiring diagram, so I am familiar with these terms.

Ultimately, I'd like to understand how to choose a cable, and why. I'd like to know how a cables characteristics will affect the sound with my equipment, and I'd like to know what cabling changes to make if I change a different part of my system somewhere down the road. Please don't misunderstand me- I do not believe I will find the perfect combination by simply using a magic formula of some sort. I'm just looking for information on the basics to get me headed in the right direction so I can make an informed decision, and hopefully save myself some grief (and cash) along the way.

Against my better judgement, but as an example, I'll tell you that I have a Sonic Frontiers Line1, a Bryston 4BST, and PSB Gold i's. I borrowed some different IC's from a local dealer, and heard the differences between them. BUT WHY? I wanna know why! Why did cable "XYZ" sound different than cable "ABC"? And what if I changed preamps? Then what? Or my amp? This could get really expensive trying cable after cable after cable, without knowing what to look for or having a frame of reference to start with.

Please, if anyone knows a source of info, a book, a site, or an actual person who can help me, let me know. It would be greatly appreciated.

Lastly, if you have experience with my particular COMPLETE setup, not just the individual pieces, your input would probably benefit me here as well.

Thanks for your time.

Right here on Audiogon. Just keep reading the threads.
Yes, keep reading the threads and talk to other members. But, the most important component is the time and money you invest finding out what works in YOUR system. Start cheap!
Hi, Subcoolman!
I understand that you are so eager to learn and find out about cables, and thats fine. Continue so. But don't expect that when you learn "why" cables sound different in a setup you will be able to foresee how they will sound in a XY setup. That is a thing that even much more experienced persons cannot perform with accuracy. What they can do (based on listening experience) is to have a good sense for the "sonic character" of cables. The best way is to gather experience by hearing as much cables in as mutch different setups as you can. But don't be in a rush. Trust your ears. It will come in time...
Subcoolman, your request is somewhat like the one from the man who asks: "how do I learn play the piano, and, oh, by the way, I need to learn it by tomorrow". With cables it is further complicated by the constant changes in equipment, rooms, personal tastes and cables themseleves. If you just want to get an immeadiate handle on popular options for your system, you may find the cable company helpfull. More than that and you'll have to slog through the "papers" and figure out whats true and whats bovine fodder. Better yet experiment for yourself. I admire your curiousity. Good luck.
don't get hooked too much on interconnects or speaker cable, i have been a part of audio mania for over forty years and althogh interconnects and speaker cable play as much a part of the full musical system as any particular piece of equipment....go to a good high end store near you...and ask to use what you think you can afford over the weekend...typically twenty percent is a good range for pay out on connects,etc.....there are great companies out there and don't get caught up trying to listen to them all...your local store will have good connects,such as transparent, audiogest,etc. listen over the weekend ,they work well and sound good,buy them and forget the big hunt........listen to the music......dubwhitt@msn.com
Subcoolman, I found some interesting and informative information on the LAT website. It was really the first exposure I had to the "inside" of the cable manufacturing industry. I believe the section is called "Cable Hype".

Lou (the owner) of LAT unravels some of the industry workings and provides you with some insight as to raw materials, manufacturing processees and theoretical design concepts. It may be worth your while to take a look. By no means will you become a cable expert by reading this info, but I feel it is presented with less of a "sales" slant, and at the least, will allow you to start "scratching the surface" of cable design.

Happy reading!
You've already gotten good advice about cables. Now let's move on. Do you want a really good sounding "system", then get on with your life and enjoy it, or do you want to play? Your components are excellent by themselves. Whether they work as a team is hard to say. Cables, power conditioning, vibration control, and room teatment (or lack there of) will make or break your system. www.audiotweakers.com
If you want to lowdown on something, the people trying to sell it to you are not always the most impartial source of information. I'd recommend a book by Bruce Rozenblit called "Audio Reality." Rozenblit designs tube amps, and he's not in the wires-are-wires school. But he knows his engineering. He debunks a lot of what you'll read elsewhere. It's $30 on Amazon, and it'll save you hundreds.
To everyone who has replied so far- Thank You (!) for your input! I really do appreciate it.

In reply to some issues- I'm not in a hurry. I understand it will take some time to find what I am looking for, but I'd rather get headed in the right direction from the start than head off blindly into the abyss. I already have two other expensive hobbies (a wife and a boat), and I really am not certain I can afford to just plunk my cash down and hope for the best.

Why do I think wires matter? To be honest, until recently I didn't. My old equipment wasn't revealing enough, and I always poo-pooed the audio press for their claims. Then I upgraded to what I have now, and my dealer talked me into a couple loaners. 'Nuff said.

Which leads me to this- Why do "they" print reviews with specs like "output impedance", and then expect me to understand why this matters? My God, in some reviews, "they" even tell you not to use this XYZ model with a certain type of (enter item here). Makes me wonder if my stuff will blow-up if I hook up to it. I'm serious here, people! How do I know whether my equipment, past, present, or future, will produce acceptable results with a given manufacturuers cables?

Somewhere I gotta believe is a list, written or not, which would state basic audio-electronic "truths", kinda like a "rule of thumb" list for beginners. Please note "truths" is in parenthesis- I understand that this is also a relative subject. Think about it this way- there are laws of physics that state that a given frequency will resonate in such and such a way in such and such and environment (think room treatments here, which I am addressing, by the way). I gotta believe there's info somewhere that will help me at least get a good start on selecting cables.

As for the sources noted in some replies, I apologize for not checking them out yet. I may have re-stated questions for which these sources may well be able to answer, but I wanted to post this first.

Thanks again, and my apologies for the length.
System sensitivity,not meaning measurements.but system components will have as much to do as with the results of the cable you use as the cable itself.There are no easy answers to the equation.This is where Impedances,ohms and watts come into play.

What I try to do is first look at the manufacture of the equiptment to see what they use if anything.Then resd reviews of both pro reviewer's and owner's at this site,other BB's or AudioReview.com. At audio review I try to look at asociated equiptment and what other stuff the owner has used to gage his\her experiences.

Next there are those that are designer's that post on a few BB's that give advice free of charge.John Risch,John Curl,Robert Crump,Steve Nugent(AudioEngr.),Dan Banquer who really are deeper than you'll ever want to be into the stuff.Great wealth of knowledge there.

Lastly there are sites that will explain all things pertaining to design's,gages,measurements and other topics.

Who knows it might open a new oppurtunity for you.

Nothing is easy in audio and for every one that says one thing there is a counter view.

It's not all rocket science ,but it can become an obsession.
Happy learning!It's a long road!
Added info:
Your assertion of having wires so things will not blowup!
Good gear has been throughly tested and the engineer's are pretty involved with safety in that regard.As long as you do not physically get into a cabinet I highly doubt this will happen.Or if you change the value of a fuse and have the thing smoke is about the worst you can do.

To understand system matching read up on Ohms Law to get an understanding of the relationships between the different factors\relationships in regard to Power,Voltage,Resistance & Current.

Ohms Law

Acoustics Definitions

Measurements & Testing Definitions

There are also beginner's guides which I cannot find at the moment.

Subcoolman, Go down to your local Radio Shack and by their best ICs and speaker cables. Use you stock power cords. This will give you an idea of how your systems sounds stock. Do your system matching and the synergy matching with these cables. Then you can can play around with other ICs and power cords to get your final tweaks.The problem is,with cables, that you never finish. It's always a journey of this new design or that new design, or the latest rave here or there. But it's all fun and just another day in the life of an audiophile.
"Cables, power conditioning, vibration control, and room teatment (or lack there of) will make or break your system."

Those are very wise words by Tweak1. I strongly adhere to those principles. Work on room treatment first, because it will allow you to hear right--then you will be in a position to make better choices. Then on power conditioning. Clean and stable power will allow your gear to work properly. Vibration will ruin soundstaging and the music's PRAT. You might then try to use very expensive power cords & interconnects to compensate for lack of soundstage and clean power--BIG mistake.

As for the Radio Shack interconnects, their best are a new model and not that cheap. Also, they use ferrite cores for "RFI filtration"--not a good idea. Their cheap ones are really really good for the money and I use them in my video system and for my little sister's system (cooked on a Mobie).

If you are into tweeks then that sites for you!I think ome tweeks are really beneficial BTW.Some are almost total non sense and are system\room dependent.

Hi again!
Well I feel many well meaned words and great advices are given here. It's nice to see that so many of you know very much about our hobby and are helpfull to the "greenhorns" of Audio (hey, do you remember we all was "greenhorns" before!?). It makes me feel proud to be a part of such a good and well "functioning" society!

I can't but to repeat some already said words: - Room Tuning - Equipment Rack (Vibration "control") - Power supply. Get FIRST this done right and only THEN you will be able to "hear" cables, components, etc. It can (but must not) be a expensive affair but a necessary one if you're serious about this "hoby". And it is a long time investment that will save you much money and allow to learn much more efficently, not to mention it will be a healthy basis for any future upgrade.

Best wishes to all!
Right here, that's where. Subcoolman, I take it you trust your ears, and you strike me as someone not easily fooled. And you already know about Audiogon. You're set! One of the very best aspects about this site is probably the risk-free and convenient ability to try different cables in your own system, on your own time. I appreciate your wanting to 'know answers' to your questions, but in the final analysis, all that matters is getting some wires that sound good to you in your system and that you can afford.

Audiogon is ideal for this. Cables are always plentiful around here, and cable shipping is cheap. There's not much to break or go wrong, and you can swap them in and out of your system and A/B them without too much difficulty. Any cable you are interested in, you will quickly begin to see a 'going price' on it if you look regularly in the for-sale sections. Just stick to models that have been on the market for a little while, and are from recognized brands - in any reasonable auditioning time frame, you really cannot lose on buying wires this way. Just set aside a little 'cable fund' to experiment with and start getting some candidates in for auditioning. As you make you choices, turn around and sell the losers for what you bought them at - they might well work better in someone else's system.

Don't be hesitant to get your feet wet - it's the only way to get a feel for what you're dealing with, and you'll never be able to hear anything but a fraction of what's available anyway. Unless you're one of those audiophiles who fancies himself in constant pursuit of the mythical 'state-of-the-art', it shouldn't be too long before you've found a suite of wires that sound better than what you had, that you're happy to stay with for a good while (at least until you've completed that next round of component upgrading and get itchy again!), and you won't have had to spend a fortune coming by that knowledge.
Some dealers will let you audition equipment if you give the dealer a deposit.
Listening with your own ears is the best education.
I appreciate all of the input everyone has given me, including the emails sent outside this forum- Thanks! I've been doing some checking, learning, reading, and finally, listening! I found a local dealer who will let me audition his broke-in display cables right off his floor systems, two sets at a time, and I've begun "the search". I've also checked many of the above mentioned sites and sources and all I can say is there is more info out there than I thought! I just didn't know where to look.

Thanks again everyone!


You're Welcome Subcoolman.
Best of luck in finding apropriate cables for your system.
Subcoolman you asked:
The reason cable performance changes from one placement to another has a great deal to do with the primitive technol ogy the industry is married to. Every time a given cable is inserted in to an electrical device the cable reacts to the load the device is presenting, change the load and the cable sounds different. In other words, the designs are very unstable. The cause has very little to do with capacitance,impedance etc. these measurements were developed by AT&T back in the 30's for phone line service across the country, I do not think your audio cables are thousands of miles long. Electromagnetics and resonance are the real issues that are not being addressed. Cable conductors could have 60 nines purity,but without the proper field technology all thoes nines are irrelevant. Bad cable design is the major reason why audio systems still sound like audio systems. So if you feel like a novice take a ticket and get in line with everyone else.