Where do cables upgrades have the most impact?


Assuming all existing cables in a system are atleast mid-grade (not junk), which cables/interconnects should be upgrade first and in what order? Where should one start?
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Decide IN ADVANCE how much money you want to spend. Find a cable you might want to try. Get it long enough to fit anywhere. (usually 5 feet or 1.5 meters is what I like) burn it in from the CD player...Since that is the strongest (highest level) signal. Then try it all over the system. Where it sounds the best, well, that is where it should stay.
Or, instead of just buying a cable, borrowing cables from "The Cable Company" those are already broken in. So you can try them all over right off. If they impress you , buy one. If not, send it back, try another.
You DO pay to use them, but if you buy ANY cable, the rent money you paid is 100% credit to purchase.
I am not silly enough to recommend ANY cable LOL.
Source to preamp or integrated. If a turntable, then turntable wiring/cable and tonearm wiring.

It’s a careful balancing act of understanding the gear and the cable.

Eg, dark system so you get a cable which exaggerates highs in an edgy fashion and then you thinly you’ve got clarity and balance...but no....

What you’ve really got is two wrongs eq’d out against one another... and the perceived clarity is not signal, it’s actually signal based hash, distortion, and noise.

First the signal is gone missing with the dark gear and then what’s left is distorted into false highs and transients that are bloated and dirty, via the screechy cable. It’s a grotesquery.

Figuring this sort of thing out can take a bit of time.

In the example above, it would be best to start with more neutral gear and then more neutral cables, instead something that plays out like two cars tied together with a rope and each doing burnouts trying to pull each the other way.

When you do it right, then... more music of various quality becomes listenable and you get to train your ears and brain is what is RIGHT, instead of flavored distortion. You have to have the correct signal representation there in order to recognize it, so it’s a catch 22 of a sort. It will take time to lean to hear it.

It’s a big deal, a very big deal, it’s the whole freaking enchilada.

We need more people recognizing these issues in this way.

So, before we talk cable, what exactly is neutral gear? how does it exist, what does it do? It’s not really money spent, its...something else. Quality parts put together by a wise mind into a neutral piece of gear.

But they are rare.

Everybody talks neutral, but they all have their own ideas on what it is. It’s a human hearing problem in learning, time, and individual physical make up. This goes for the designers as well. Surprisingly few know a anything about the science of psychoacoustics and how we hear.

Neutral is more rare than the dark or bright pieces of gear, as color sells, color is what charms people. It’s why you can’t get any food that does not have some over the top bit of either salt, sugar, fat, etc, as balance and reason....does not sell.

Eg, you can’t take a ’revealing’ source device and hook it up with ’revealing’ cables to go to a ’revealing’ amp and then through ’revealing’ speaker cables, and on to ’revealing’ speakers.

You’d burn the wallpaper off the house walls and the parakeet would explode.

In all honesty, the perfect piece of audio gear sounds imperceptibly slower, and imperceptibly darker than the source point signal.

To keep up the dark humour analogy.....if you take a bunch of audio designers of note, tie them to chairs and start cutting fingers off until you get the truth, they would all finally give in.... and say this. (that is, if they did not say it right away, some of them might enjoy having fingers. And dislike my communication methodology suggestions)

Anything else is a flavoring and lie.

In practice this is almost impossible to do and most noise in parts and that (parts) built out into a circuit/sytem or piece of finished gear ....inevitably sounds bright in some ways and dark in others.

Knowing these things when you begin, so you can train yourself to hear and listen appropriately, is important.

~~~~~~
If you read what I’ve said and want the whole picture, it says that everyone has to learn as much as they can and think it through and work at it and put in the time..and there are no easy answers. It’s a journey and each of us spirals off into the corner that works for us individually. You can’t throw money at it or push a button or hire someone to push the button for you. It’s on you. all on you. It’s your perceptive package and that perceptive package’s designs and limits.

And this is how we get into these long drawn out arguments that have no end point. As we’ve each found our own solution to this actually quite complex affair.

They all make a difference. In my system however the power cords have given me the largest improvement in sound quality.  
Agree with power cable as I feel the power supply of any component is what makes a great component.  That’s where it starts; they all make a difference but it starts at the source which is the P.S.
IME, power cords and interconnects have the most affect on sonics.
I like to start an upgrade with interconnects since they influence the timbre and sonic signature the most. They tie the components together. I start with the source.

My power cords are upgraded depending on the strength or weakness of each component. Often the most noticeable upgrade will be the power cord coming from the wall.


I don’t understand it, but in my experience, clearly the biggest impact came from improving the power cord. Interconnects and speaker cables provided nuances, but power cords lifted veils, as they say. Not just replacing the stock cord, but moving up the food chain, in my case from nordost shiva to Vishnu to heimdall II. Sources improved more than my bel canto mono blocks, but all power cord improvements better than any other cable upgrades. Can’t explain it. 
@teo_audio  I realize this goes against the grain of what you posted : )  however, do you have specific advice on how to move along the 'journey' more efficiently?
Answers will vary basses up ones individual components that comprise the system, and cleanliness of AC power.
1) Source to the preamp, (interconnect).
2) Power cables.
3) Speaker Cables.
4) The second set of interconnects if used.
teo_audio’s post should be a separate starter of a thread! Particularly the ’Compensating for NOT neutral equipment" (my words his idea).In fact I am starting a thread about it. So please do not add more about it here.It will have my name on it but I give credit to teo.
Here is the link to the new post on teo’s topic: https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/problem-of-compensating-with-cable-a-component-tone-problem
@teo_audio I realize this goes against the grain of what you posted : ) however, do you have specific advice on how to move along the ’journey’ more efficiently?
To try to at least build or modify a single piece of gear. Or that built piece of gear, being modified at least once. In some way. To get an understanding of the complexity of the signal in the boxes. This might be a way.

As we each need some sort of position of knowing what is in the box and how it affects things, so that one can calibrate the self against this data. It’s critical to have a basis of knowing of at least some minimal nature of the given box. At least one time. Be it headphones, sources, turntables, cartridges, speakers, even modifying audio cables.

What most of us work with is unknowns against unknowns, with an unknown final point. Even a cable exists as a complex system. It’s interaction with the boxes is a complex scenario, and the boxes themselves are each a ridiculous set of complex integrations.

Eg, what a fuse change does, in either a internal voltage rail (amplifiers) or a power supply (same amplifier)...this effect is noted to be fairly obvious. Imagine the rest of the circuit, and how many other complexities in sonic result, lie in there, as distortions and so on.

to not let the desire for new gear get in the way of that trek. We all hear about the item or devices, that should not have been sold...as the new combinations just don’t do it right, and so on. People trying to get back what they feel they lost.

A key element, is that ’less is more’. Less parts, simpler circuits, simpler systems. Source, amp, speakers, done. Simple. We can get an opportunity to seek out neutrality and then get acclimated to the neutrality and clarity, via having simple systems and making simple changes. Break the problem down into functional bits of low enough complexity so that the nature of the unknowns can emerge to our capacities to discern.

And then learn to seek that out in more complex and involved systems, but inch by inch, holding fast to the need for the neutrality of precision, speed, clean short fast potent transients, ’plosives’, and so on. Warmth with sublime nuance and subtleties of sharp but soft and clean transients. Again, some minimal understanding of what complexities the boxes are involved in, as ’all unknowns’ is no way to get to a destination.

Having a tech upgrade all the electrolytic capacitors in a given piece of gear can help gain some of the required perspective. To take close note of what happened when this was done. To endeavor to be more keen in one’s subtleties of discernment.

Like psychology notes, the vast majority of people, when confronted with a new problem, do the same thing they did before. With ’all unknowns’ in audio, we can see how this behaviour will fail to be effective, except outside of chance. An ignorant level of chance, with an uncalibrated sensory set.. which means more repeats of the same, for the future...

Only three percent of the world thinks outside those sort of response to stimulus scenarios. To try and get one’s self into the three percent component of what we might be dealing with. So the circular argument of the self, in this, begins to move into ending.

It’s difficult to get people move down that path as it involves heavy lifting, in the self.
Start preamp,line conditioner then everything else do this ASAP!!!!!
@djones51, that was hilarious  :-)
Curious if those saying the power cable had the most impact are plugging into a power conditioner or a wall outlet?
For the impact of aftermarket power cables, The wall or conditioner.. Does not matter. Power cords can be effective from/to either. Plus consider the wall AC duplex in this equation. The AC duplex can also have an effect on the sound (specially if aftermarket powercords are used)
Looks likes theres no consensus . Best bet is to buy a cable and try it out on all your components . 
Factors that tend to increase the criticality of speaker cables:

-- Low speaker impedance.
-- Long cable length.

Factors that tend to increase the criticality of line-level analog interconnect cables:

-- High output impedance of the component driving the cable.
-- Use of unbalanced interconnections.
-- Long cable length.

Factors that tend to increase the criticality of power cords:

-- The component being powered has an unregulated power supply and draws large amounts of current that fluctuate widely. Namely most power amplifiers and integrated amplifiers.
-- The component being powered tends to generate significant amounts of electrical noise, that may couple via the power cord to other components. Namely power amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, and digital sources.
-- AC line voltage at the particular location that is lower than nominal. ("Nominal" being 120 volts in the USA).

Phono cables and digital interconnect cables involve complex issues that I won’t address in this post, but their criticality will vary widely depending on the specific equipment that is involved.

Regards,
-- Al
 

the sound of your system is the sum total of all the pieces.
As a newbie with very nice cables (but with OEM power cables) there is something I do not understand about power cables. Why does a manufacturer make and sell multi-thousand dollar amps with exotic power supplies but with power cables that are sub par. I just have a hard time getting past that idea.

I've got a Proceed HPA2 amp and when I read about all that goes into its power supply like two transformers (1 per channel) and know what these sold for new I have a hard time understanding why they would send it to you with a power cable that some here suggest would be de facto inferior.

I'm not suggesting that the right power cables can't make a huge difference, but if they can, why don't they come with the unit?

If you include the tonearm, I would say its internal wire. Especially if you eliminate all the junctures, solder joints, and connectors, creating an uninterrupted run of wire from the cartridge pins to the RCA or XLR plugs. The reason being the output voltage of cartridges is the lowest in the entire system chain.


Why does a manufacturer make and sell multi-thousand dollar amps with exotic power supplies but with power cables that are sub par. I just have a hard time getting past that idea.

Ponder why component manufacturers showcase their products in partnership with any number of aftermarket cable companies?

BTW, you are way past the proverbial 'newbie' status. : )
There is nothing to ponder it's basic marketing. 
@teo_audio  

To try to at least build or modify a single piece of gear. Or that built piece of gear, being modified at least once. In some way. To get an understanding of the complexity of the signal in the boxes. This might be a way.

Point noted. I will move in that direction, holistically.

Both of your posts have been helpful. Thank you!
@almarg  Thanks for your post. All of your 'factors' are important in one's consideration, as I myself recently learned, via you. : )


1extreme,
" Curious if those saying the power cable had the most impact are plugging into a power conditioner or a wall outlet?"

Both
Yes, there is a consensus - in most cases speaker cables are least important. And that's exactly what I would start with. After that or at the same time with that - power cord on the power amp. This would complete power amp/speaker cables/speakers unit. If you use power conditioner/regenerator for the amps I would first put power cord there.
In my limited experience the biggest impacts were the RCA interconnects from the source, either analog or digital, and power cord from the wall. My Nottingham tonearm wiring goes uninterrupted from cartridge to RCAs and I have no plans to have it rewired, but it can be done.
Personally, I've found that the ICs have been the most profound improvement in my system.  I think the speaker cables would be right there also, but, most systems have SCs that are similarly priced as the PCs and ICs.  To get an equivalent jump in performance, the generally much longer SCs will need about a double the price difference to achieve the same gains.  The Cerious Technology Matrix SCs would be that type of jump for me.  The Teo ICs used as doubles to each component from source to preamp is an extremely big improvement.  I've kept the same sets of PCs for many years while I've changed the other two a few times.  

Big jump in performance of the ICs when I went to all silver cables from either Darwin or Amadi after having several Morrows, DNM, Audioquest, The change to Teo GCs brought a more organic sound that was also a real game changer in my system.  

Using a pair of Core Power Equi=Core 150's as my PCs in both the TRL DUDE preamp and as the power coming from all my sources was a very good improvement in dynamics, clarity and lower noise floor.  Other PCs have been good such as the Less Loss Original and Wywires Juice II's.
I probably will have to jump up in price to significantly beat the PCs I currently have in the system.

My speakers are VMPS RM40 BCSE MLS with most of the upgrades or the Vapor Audio Joule Black.  The amps are Nuforce Ref 9 V3 Se monos with the level 3 TDSS upgrades.  The VMPS are very detailed and transparent where the Vapor's are just a little more sophisticated and clean sounding.  The amps are just freakin' awesome with all the speakers I've tried them with.



Really depends on the whole system and you begin with the weakest links

If you split them up in digital, analog, power and speaker cables them I would start with the power section. This can trigger a debate with no right or wrong and only standpoints. 


Try it yourself. Feed at least your amp and sources with some decent powercords. I did not need to spend more than 350$ on a single power cable or block.  In general a factor 10 on the source is for me a non scientific rule. Common sense should do the math. Probably cheaper cables where out there that gave me the same results but I can’t try them all. 


In my opinion and based on my own test cases with cables diminishing returns will rise early. 


A test protocol for power-cords  that I use. 

Stick with two or three peaces of music. Listen for bloating , heavy bass  , cool and warm tones (timbre). Do some background reading on putting the devices in the correct fase.  I can’t detect in correct fase as some others do but it is easy to do. Peace of mind will also help. 

Try shielded and non shielded cables. Non shielded gave me less bloating or heavy bass and more alive music. There is no conclusion. 


Choose every time the sound you like the most.  Work your way up the chain and repeat the proces. You have to match and balance out the system. Work with what you have and try to get the most out of that fist. 


Try pro cables to. In most cases cheaper than consumer market cables and the the results can surprise you. 


 I have a mix of factory made (pro and consumer) and DIY cables. The main reasons for that is that I can test and swap cables without a big budget. You don’t need over expensive cables to get good sound. When I get bored listening to the same sound and want something else I have some cable options in my sleeve. 

Most of the time a come back to my reference point. I again know the contrast and enjoy what I have. 

I do reference with friends to check how my DIY cables sound. There is nothing telling me that DIY in the analogue section is worse than factory cables. Digital I leave to the pros. Meicord UTP is I non sponsored tip. I run it in all of my digital chain. For my digitaal section they are the end of the line UTP Cables. 


No Guaranty that my experience will be yours. 



Speaker cables wuld be my recommendation. Make sure that size and length match the amplifiers electrical performance. When this is done it ie easier to listen between the different interconnect cables. Best Mik
The shorter the better? When talking of cables, this statement is often presented as an axiom, although after several experiments it is not even a theorem for me. Using the example of intercon cables (the same manufacturer and the same model), I can say that in most cases a cable 1 or 0.8 meters long sounded better than half a meter long. I suspect that the matter is in some "wave" nuances, but I would be happy to know the expert's opinion.


Curious if those saying the power cable had the most impact are plugging into a power conditioner or a wall outlet?

For me personally I do not filter my power. I never heard a serial filter or / power conditioner to my liking but I have not heard them all.  What I have heard sounded to cleaned up for me. Borring is what came to mind.    

I do have a separate HiFi power group. Does this lead to a better experience ? I don't know. Theoretical it could. 

A power strip in a wall-outlet when you have to connect more than one or two devices is a logical option. 

My power section is build around a good 8 piece power strip that goes in the separate group wall outlet.  From there I have plugged in my devices in order Power AMP and the rest. When I use a non seperate wall outlet I think I cannot pick it out in a AB or blind test.   

In a powerstrip digital devices are adviced to be last in line. I am not able to hear differences in other combinations. I just followed this advice because it cost me nothing and the plausible explanation came from an experienced person.    

I have power cables that are 6 feet minumim lenght. Read many sience, theories and opinions about the minimal power cable lenght.  If the theorie and science is wrong than we waist a lot of material. If it is correct then I have the right cable lenght and created piece of mind in this section.  

Still changing the power-cord on an Pre-Amp / AMP or Digital device like a Dac is a good place to start. 

Start with the basics. Dont over do it and go from there.  


Agree with above about speaker cables, different speakers have their own kind of sounds that tend to work better with particular types of cables.  Once you’ve optimised the speaker end of things then you can isolate and play with different parts of the chain.  At the end of the day wrong speaker setup will give you wrong sound.
Info from audio shops indicated order of importance #1 power cord, #2 interconnect followed by speaker cable
My experience is as follows:

1) I/Cs and digital source power cables

2) speaker wires

3) power cables


Mishan 12-3-2018
Using the example of intercon cables (the same manufacturer and the same model), I can say that in most cases a cable 1 or 0.8 meters long sounded better than half a meter long. I suspect that the matter is in some "wave" nuances, but I would be happy to know the expert’s opinion.

I assume you are referring to line-level analog interconnects.

Most cable parameters are directly proportional to length, including resistance, inductance, capacitance, the resistance rise that occurs at high frequencies due to skin effect, the effects of the resistance of the shield or other return conductor on the susceptibility of the connected components to ground loop issues, the effects of dielectric absorption, propagation delay, etc. (In mentioning these parameters, btw, I am putting aside the question of whether or not any of them may be great enough in degree to be audibly significant in a 1 meter analog interconnect).

The only parameters that occur to me that are not directly proportional to length are what is called "characteristic impedance," and susceptibility to RFI (radio frequency interference) at some frequencies. Neither of those seems likely to be relevant to the sonic effects of a 1 meter interconnect conducting analog audio signals, however, assuming the system is not in an environment having unusually high levels of RF.

Therefore it seems to me to be a good bet that your 1 meter interconnect has more effect on the sound than your shorter interconnect, and that increased effect is simply more complementary to the sonics of the rest of your system and/or your subjective preferences.

Putting it all another way, the "shorter is better" philosophy assumes that the goal is for the cable to have as little effect on the sound as possible, at least in the case of a line-level analog interconnect.

It could very well be a different story in the case of a digital interconnect cable, though, as explained in this paper. And perhaps also in the case of a phono cable, depending on the particular cartridge and phono stage, due to a number of effects that can result from the interaction of the capacitance of the cable and the inductance of the cartridge.

Regards,
-- Al
The one problem with "Shorter is better" is down the road, when you move stuff around, or change racks, or buy a different gizmo. Suddenly your once just right interconnect is discovered to be three inches too short??? (the old box RCA were on the left, now they are far over on the right...)  I long ago used to believe in the just long enough IC. And over the years I have gone the total opposite. NOW, all my newer IC are 1.5 meters long. Long enough I am not going to have to worry about 'TOO SHORT $&@!!$(# !" anymore. And those are $1,100 a pop IC.                           
Just a shout out for buying a definitely longer than just enough when you buy big money cabling. For good reason, a little LONGER is, in the long run (pun intended), better. (primarily for your wallet, and I being a spendthrift cheapskate, watch that carefully)     
On the other hand, if you buy cheap cables, it hardly matters, Or if you change cabling like some folks change clothes. no problem.
Is it really the cable industry that needs our excess money the most?
The ’industry’ exists because someone who BUYS cables wanted something better. One ’better’ cable at a time... It grew. If no audiophile bought them, the industry would not exist. One actual plus for consumers is cables generally do not wear out. I still have cables that I made in the 1980’s. So aside from wanting better... no need to ever buy more. Cable company advertising is only to lure you away from SOME OTHER CABLE COMPANY. No one walking down the street accidentally saw a cable company advert and decided Gee I must NEED those bad, and rushed to buy some.
I am probably like a lot of audiophiles in having a pile of cables I do not use anymore. All told between IC, PC, speaker plus video or digital I must own thirty cables not in use, sitting in the closet. (anyone need a Monster S-VHS cable??? I only keep one because.. never know I might suddenly want to use it.. for????)   
As for "the most".. Priorities. Sometimes you might be best off spending your money on some other audio doodad. But sooner or later you might, maybe, decide to spend that $3000 sitting around on a cable? Who knows.. I did. (and glad I did)
rather than buying 4 new power cords at say, $400 each, buy a power conditioner/surge protector that delivers stable voltage and current for around $1000. I'm in Australia and purchased a locally made unit, the Thor PS10 which comes with a first class power board as well that has both coax and CAT cable protection. I went down that road, thinking more of equipment protection due to a previous issue, but I am pleasantly surprised by the sonic improvement to my system in general.
I put in some interconnects that's made my system a joy to listen to.  I can't tell you which wire will do that to your system if any but good luck.
In my evolving system for the last 10 years I have found the power cord to have easily the greatest impact (this after a conditioner [Shunyata Hydra,Audience RPT6, Audiodharma Powerwing, etc.] or after my current regenerator [PS Audio P10]), followed by interconnects, and lastly speaker cables. 

Interestingly, I am an Elrod cable fan, and David Elrod flatly states that he finds the speaker cables to have the greatest impact (and he enjoys a lot of feedback from a broad range of customers).  I'm guessing it all depends upon systems and tastes?
It also depends on wall current.
Get some really good interconnects and then a decent power cord, or two. Speaker cables will fall into place much easier and for less cost.

All the best,
Nonoise
I switched RCA analog interconnects on my FM tuner and couldn't believe the difference from inexpensive Acoustic Research cables ($15 or so) to some entry level Audioquests ($35 or so). Not night and day, but noticeable. Same when I de-soldered the horrid RCA's on a Project turntable and installed gold plated female RCA jacks and ran some other entry level Audioquests. Not night and day, but noticeable and no hum! I frankly can't hear any difference with digital cable upgrades. 
Well...after reading everyone’s responses what I surmise is that opinions differ because everyone’s system is different and cable upgrades impact systems differently. So...the old audio adage of you have to try it and see how it sounds to you in your system in your environment holds true with cables as with almost everything else in audio.
Most online cable dealers offer a trial period included with a sale.
So, the next step is to decide on which brand to try.

I would advise introducing one cable at a time when auditioning.

Speaking of brands and models, you will want to try what you never or almost never see used for sale yet what sells new in significant quantity. I am talking real cables and cords not $200 entry level junk.
How would you know ? Not sure, find a way.
To answer your question, mostly on your wallet.