I would suggest that the next few dollars you spend are on fixing problems in your room instead of trying to improve your system with cables.
If you are going to go the cable route, make sure that you do BLIND A:B tests.....because in most cases, in a BLIND test, you will not be able to reliably tell the difference. If you do find a difference, it's not going to be clear if you are actually hearing purer sound...or sound that is biased towards what you like better (but your friends/wife/others may not).
That's my 2 cents....but you will spend $1000's on wires.
Note: If you are a concert violinist with perfect tone and you already have an acoustically perfect room, then cables may make a difference. For the other 99.999% of us, you will feel that the sound is better, but no one else will be able to tell the difference....and likely in a blind test, you couldn't either.
Just getting up and going?
First. Get as neutral and as good a set of speaker cables as possible.
Next do the same thing with the main pre to amp IC.
Two more sets of ICs are required for both sources and Id not break the bank on either yet. Cardas Neutral refs did a fine job for me in both RCA and XLR, AND they are quite neutral and gave me a good base line with which to compare other wires here and there. They arent the only wires suited to this task so just get in where you fit in on budget and brand preffs. I picked Cardas for no real good reason but was pleased with the results.
PCs at each end of the system seems to boost performance best. Im assuming analog is no different than digital front ends here. Id begin with the amp pc first, then each source, and the preamps pc as a later step perhaps.
Again, cardas is as good a place to start here as is any other brand, Voodoo also is a safe bet and not cost prohibitive, providing a very good value to performance ratio. Any number of others will suffice, Kimber, AZ, HT, etc.
Now that everything is up and running and completely broken in Id begin to reassess cabling. Beginning with power cords. Amps first, then sources. Lastly the preamp.
Thereafter re-address ICs. Main IC first of course. Sources next.
Finally if necessary, step up the speaker cables.
You should be done at this point in time or ready to sell everything off and try something else. This time around however, youll have good to great cables in place to begin with. For along the way I think you may find matching wires to components is harder than matching components to components.
Naturally, none of the cables then in place will likely wind up as keepers but one never knows. The closer you stayed to neutral in selecting cables, the better off you might be. RWV.
the above plan has worked pretty well for me.
I could not agree more with Ghstudio with working on your room. I would look at diy rock wool aboout 4" thick with an attractive open weave cloth or is you like a more professional look then try a compay like Auralex they have all types of excellent products and will even on line evaluate your room for the best fix.This is a better way with spending your money and getting a good bang for the buck then trying to evaluate the best wires for your system.
I'd put power cords first, interconnects next, and speaker cables last. Took me a long time to even put power cables on the list, though. I also believe in cable break-in and STRONGLY recommend a cable cooker, so I'm obviously beyond the pale :-) Dave
Remember your system is as good as you weekest link
I have spent a lot of money on power cables and could not realy notice the difference but between my amp & pre amp
and pre amp and player I have notice a difference then speaker cables and I use all Analysis Plus cables they are reasonable in price
1. Power cables for all unless components have battery operation. Make sure they exist and connected!
2. Speaker cables (unless you use headphones) only if connected properly
3. All amp preamp and source interconnect wires (if you use ipod docking station you won't need interconnects)
Example: my digital system consists of Alesis ML9600 CD/HDD-player/recorder and AKG K701 headphones. In this case the only important cable I have is Power cable. Para's 2 and 3 are not important.
Speaker, Interconnect, power.
The one that connects to the Forums/Cables.
Ghstudio is right. Get your room as perfect as it can be and then worry about cabling. The speaker/room interaction is the most under-tweaked aspect of 99% of the systems out there. If you do not feel capable of doing this, consider having a professional firm come in and help you. Rives is well-known on this site....
Would your wife allow you to treat your living room for better acoustics? ;-)
My system is in my living room and those tweaks would not pass WAF. So, room treatment would not be much of an option for me, except changing rugs. My living room is about 25x30 with wooden floor. 5x7 rugs in between the system and listening position.
I love all of these suggestions about room treatment. The sad truth is that very few have taken the time to correctly position their speakers, never mind actually dealing with room interactions. And why? Simple, these two take time, and effort and lots of sweat equity. Changing cables is as easy as.......changing cables. So, to answer the question.
1)Power cables, most important (dedicated lines would be first, if this is an option, but I doubt it, as it takes effort)
2)Interconnect, next most important
3)speaker cables, least important
I've had the most success with a top down approach. Source interconnects first, preamp to power amp interconnects second, speaker cable third, and power cords last. This is not a hard set rule by any means though. A number of variables can potentially change this order of priorities. For example, if your power is very poor, then power cords may move higher on the list, etc. If you can, get a dedicated line for your stereo. That's a fantastic improvement that's not too costly.
IMHO, the order would be:
1. Interconnect from preamp to power amp.
(My reasoning is that everything goes through this cable.)
2. Speaker cables.
(Everything goes through the speaker cable too, after it goes through the above cable.)
3. Interconnects from sources to preamps.
(Your source signal should be as clean as possible. Note: if you only run one source, you might want to make this your very best cable.)
4. Power cables.
(This is variable, depending on whether you have dedicated circuits or not. If you do, then having better power cables is not nearly as necessary, IMHO. If not, than power cables, and possibly power conditioning, should be a priority. I have dedicated circuits, so I have not bothered with high end power cables. Fyi: I tried some, and it did not seem to make much of a difference.)
My two cents worth.
so the signal coming to the pre,#1your pre takes, what its been fed,prepares it,and off it goes to be amplified.the cable from the pre#2.The signal from your source and its quality or lack of, Will soon reveal itself to you .speaker cable#3 i use a pass/pre.I found in the 4 pre,s I tried,the sound was muddled,there was something missing in the sound,or adding to its performance.#4 power cables.the info used in the design of the high end cables, ,Its not a mystery.easy enough to DIY.Buy quality parts.Its all important .given,your source is where it begins.Where it ends,in your speakers,should be the best you can afford,IMHO.i now know there is some great audio gear,and it doesnt cost a fortune. Gotta know what to look for.Good Luck
I don't think it's possible to provide a better answer to which cable is more important than "it depends." For instance, considering just interconnects the following four variables are potentially significant:
1)Length: Obviously the longer the cable, the more pronounced its effects will be.
2)Signal level: The lower the signal level, the more important the cable is likely to be, everything else being equal. Keep in mind that the signal level from source to preamp may or may not be less than the level from preamp to power amp. For instance, a cdp with 2-volt output in a system with a sensitive power amp and speakers may result in the volume control being set very low (say 9 or 10 a.m.), which corresponds to a lower signal level coming out of the preamp than going into it.
3)Component output impedance: Higher output impedance of the component driving the cable will increase some cable effects.
4)Interconnect importance is affected by the ac power distribution scheme: If the interconnects are unbalanced (rca connectors), and the connected components are plugged into separate dedicated ac lines, or separate outlets, or separately filtered outputs of a power conditioner, low shield resistance in the interconnect assumes increased importance, in order to minimize the likelihood of ground loop issues. With balanced (xlr) interconnects, this is unlikely to be an issue.
Obviously there are many other variables that enter into the picture with respect to speaker cables and power cords.
Keep in mind, also, that "more important" does not necessarily mean that a more expensive cable will be better at that location. For instance, some very expensive interconnects have high capacitance, which is a poor match for components with high output impedance.
Ihcho, confused about the answer to your question? Most of the answers in this thread are all over the place. It's difficult to be sure what the right answers are when you're building a system. It's what I dislike about this "hobby." I thought for a while that power cords were most important. I have been in the "power cord jungle." I'm no longer sure of that since a new pair of speaker cables have improved my sound noticeably. I begin to think that the answer to the most important cable can only be revealed by your trial and error with various cables, not through the advice of other audiophiles.
Your source, from there the next in line receives the signal.How that signal is received will only get there by the cables,that are plugged into your source.all the other factors talked about(length,imped.color,arrow's for sig.flow,best plugs)there are many choices,but few correct paths,choose wisely my friend.I choose poorly often.Its all important I have learned.IMHO it wouldn,t matter what cable you have coming out the back.The quality& integrity or degradation of the signal has to start there:your source cabling is a good place to begin.Have a great day & enjoy some music.
One problem with sound is that it is "in the eyes of the listener". One can change speakers, change cables, change the room and all, to some extent, change the sound that you hear. For the better or not is up to the listener and there is, and can not be, any standard.
Remember that unless you are listening to music played acoustically, you are listening to processed sound and you are adjusting the sound engineer's perception to your perception. It's a losing battle.....and unless you have a different sound system for each sound engineer, what sounds good for one may sound lousy for another mix.
Now if you tune your system for acoustic instruments, you may find that anything that's been processed sounds thin or too much bass or whatever. Also, keep in mind that very very few singers are recorded pure...they are almost always processed in some way.
If you accept the above, you will not spend a great deal of time and money looking for the "perfect" cable.
Some say that 60% of what you hear from your system is your ROOM so you should spend money on room treatment first...your get the biggest bang for the buck there!...
Once signal gets lost or corrupted, no amount of expensive cable will recover it. If you have to spend more in one place, spend on the run from source, starting with tonearm to phono section or CD to pre-.
Otherwise, don't spend disproportionately in one area, cable your system with a single vendor's lineup at a price point that accommodates the cables you need.
"My system is in my living room and those tweaks would not pass WAF."
Having invested many, many, many $1000's in cabling and less than $1000 in DIY acoustical treatment, my experience is that all make a big difference, but the acoustical treatment is the hand-down winner in improving your sound the most and for a pittance compared to good cabling.
Try the Cathedral Sound panels from The Cable Company. They are the size and shape of a laptop and are covered in an inconspicuous light silvery-grey fabric and can be spray painted to match your wall color. They go in the top corners of your room, one in each of the front corners facing forward and one in each of the rear corners. Total cost is less than $400 for two pairs.
While not effective below 80hz, they will work wonders to clean up the mid-bass and lower midrange and only have a small effect on the upper midrange and highs. The only way I know of to improve <80hz frequencies is to buy/build large acoustical panels (like I did) or Tube Traps and it sounds like your wife is not good with that.
As for cabling, first establish a "foundation" with your AC delivery by adding:
1) 20A dedicated lines from your breaker box to your equipment using 10 gauge Romex and separating digital and analog equipment between the lines. Cost should be around $500.
2) Audio grade receptacles. I prefer the Teslaplex ($95), but also like the Porter Port ($36 here on Agon), many swoon over the R1 ($145) also.
3) High quality power cords, starting with your source. Good cords start at <$100 (like the Pangea cords from Audio Advisor) and great cords cost $1000's. There is most definitely a difference. If you can't hear it in your system, something is wrong with your rig, your room, or your ears.
When upgrading cabling, initially have your existing cables "cable cooked" by someone who offers that service. Then move toward improving speaker cables, then IC's (starting with your source), in that order, cooking them as you go.
Hope this helps. Good luck.