Which Cable Makes the Biggest Impact?


To all the audiophiles that have tried different power cables, interconnects, and speaker cables, which do you believe makes the biggest impact in your system in order of ranking? If you don't believe that cables/interconnects/pc's make any difference at all, and is all marketing hype and snake oil, you can vote accordingly, but my ONLY request is that you've tried different cables first!

Ok..My ranking:
1. Power cables - most important
2. Interconnects
3. Speaker cable
calgarian5355

Showing 4 responses by douglas_schroeder

The best speaker cables in the world and best IC's cannot atone for sins made upstream. i.e. If the source's signal is ruined for lack of serious power cables, then one is fighting a mighty battle trying recoup what's been lost.

Wireless200, I have been saying for quite some time that the configuration, gauge, and materials of cabling (including PC's) have a profound influence on the sound of systems. Many here would agree.

It really does seem counter-intuitive, but I wholeheartedly subscribe to the "Front End Influence" theory that high quality power cords must be used if one is going to have a fighting chance at reaching Hi Fi.

From the experiments with fine cables I have reviewed in the past couple years, If hard pressed to chose superior power cord or superior speaker cable, at this point, I would likely chose the power cord!

Now, Imagine, if a PC on a source is so important, what of the pre? the amp(s)? Truly, when one finds a superior wire, the benefits of outfitting the entire rig seem to be almost exponential.

Over the many years I've been doing audio, I also have come in the "back door" to seeing the significance of quality power cabling. I used to seek serious speaker cables and didn't appreciate the need to feed the source, then amp(s) with just as high quality power cabling. Now, it would be inconceivable for me to put together a rig without it. BTW, my virtual system here is quite old and I haven't updated it with the equipment I'm currently using.

So, allow me to break this down further:
Primary: Power on Source
Power on Pre/Amp(s)
Secondary: IC's
Tertiary: Speaker

Again, ALL are critical to a superb system. However, you pollute a river upstream and you'll be working multiples harder to clean it up downstream. Similarly, pollute the source, and you've made a problem for yourself by the time you reach the speaker cables.

Similar in concept to: Engine, Transmission, suspension. Without a fine engine, the rest hardly matters. Similarly, without a pristine source, the rest suffers.
(Note: I am not attacking Zippyy in this diatribe, but rather Dr. Howard Johnson!)Zippyy coyly lays out the link and sits back to watch...

The above link, that of the interview with Howard Johnson, PhD, I see as weakly pertinent to our discussion. His primary point is that OFC copper is not superior to oxygenated copper. So? That is only one small facet of the design and implementation of power cords, IC's and Speaker cables. It certainly does not convince me in any way that "all cords are essentially the same."

Regarding his assertion that oxidation doesn't effect sonics, I would tend to agree. I have had cables which have oxidized, and cleaning them has produced one of the most imperceptible (i.e. non-existent) "improvements" of any supposed tweak I have tried.

I suspect Dr. Howard Johnson has not spent much time with high end audio, having dismissed the efficacy of high end cables in principle, my guess is that he would be quite content with a mid-fi stereo (I would be very surprised if he had high end components with low end cabling). Then, his pontifical stance regarding cables would be fairly worthless. It would be a perfect example of how the decrees of academia don't mesh with real world experience. I see his comments as betraying the fact that he's had no experience in the matter. He can huff and puff all he wants, but his proclamation doesn't change the fact that not all cables are the same.

This is a good example of why I do not simply take someone's advice as truth simply because they have a degree attached to their name. A person must think for themselves or else suffer the consequences. (If you think that I'm "suffering" unnecessary expenses due to my belief that cables make a difference, that's ok, you can feel sorry for me!) I'll gladly "suffer" the consequences of upgraded cables.

An aside: I assert that every person who posts to a cable forum should list their system. The fact is that many rigs are simply ineffectual at revealing cable nuances. Endless debate circulates unnecessarily as "phantom stereos" lurk in the background, and posters say, "I have never heard a difference..." Sorry, it's just not a level playing field to debate the issue when I don't know what equipment you run.

I will automatically weight your comment less if you can't show me the equipment you're using to make your judgment. That's reality. And the reality is also that if you show me your system and I deem it not worthy to make your assertion, I will conclude you do not know what you're talking about. That's reality, too.
99% of Audiophiles will think this way silently to themselves, but very few will actually say it. Well, I said it, and it's the truth.

My rig; well, mine is quite a bit different in a good way from what's shown here on my virtual system, but what's shown here is plentious enough to hear changes in cables. (I will not disclose all the equipment I'm using for reviewing purposes, but suffice to say that there are components which make distinguishing between cables even easier than those listed).
Zippyy, Yes, we can be cordial. No skin off our backs, eh?

I agree w. Tvad that we could spend thousands of keystrokes. I'll add about 100.
Your comment:
So, based on that thought, all the tens of thousands of dollars that (we) spend on equipment isn't "reaching Hi-Fi" because we didn't invest money in a 6 foot power cord?

My response: It's entirely possible. That is, the entire chain might be held back by a bottleneck at the source. Once that bottleneck is cleared, I would assert that you or anyone else who hears the difference would think that they've attained a much closer result to "Hi Fi" than ever before.

You said:
Without good PC's, our equipment isn't much better then Circuit City type of equipment.

I reply: That depends. You haven't listed your system. ;)
Seriously, I'm not trying to spit on people's rigs. I just find it incredible that people would spend thousands on components and use a stock cord, or a Home Depot cord!

You're not talking to someone who has not tested these things. Years ago, I went and made my own Home Depot cords. Straight up, a waste of time. They made a very marginal contribution, not even close enough to merit the time and money. Almost any manufactured PC I used sounded better, and I tried four or five different ones against it. My philosophy regarding upgrades is very simple: If it doesn't make an IMMEDIATELY perceptible, large difference, then it's a waste of time. For me, there must be a sizable change or else I'm not wasting my time on it, because later I'll grow dissatisfied again. If it's a huge difference, then I'm moving ever more speedily toward my personal vision of what Hi Fi should sound like.

Who among the naysayers have gone out and made cords? Who's bought five or six used cords and set them up to critically assess them? If you've never done it, how can you comment definitively as though you have? Are you simply relying on heresay? Why not go and DO IT, then come back and report what you've found.

Again, look at my MIT review in Dagogo.com; it's very telling that I was able to ascertain the impedance of the component without looking at the manual, but based solely on listening to the changes wrought by the settings on the IC's! You'll understand when you read it. I have not seen too many better tests to demonstrate positively the benefit of cabling. You won't find a more honest critique of efficacy of IC's and speaker cables in toto than that review.

ok, 400 keystrokes
Zippyy, You have a very fine rig! You really owe it to yourself to experiment with some decent cabling! Especially power cords, since they can be had for far less than many speaker cables. With your set up I'm sure you'd hear a difference!

I agree with much of what Muralman1 says, except this:
"In your instance, Zippyy, I think your system would benefit from a devalued speaker cable, meaning costs less money."

Huh?! Maybe it would benefit a bit, but more likely it would benefit little. Zippyy has a decent rig, and he should not skimp on cabling. If he did, he'd likely conclude it's not worth it and make the WRONG conclusion for the wrong reason. I would urge people NOT to go too cheap on power cords! You want too much of something for nothing, and you'll often get nothing for something! You're not going to get "sky's the limit" performance from a $100 cord. If you have a good rig, you'll likely be able to tell a slight improvement. But if your rig is mediocre you may not (not referring to Zippy here!). The more invested in your system, the more you should invest in serious PC/IC/SC. As I reviewed the MIT cabling, I found a significant difference in upper echelon PC's versus entry level ones. Just like speaker cables, the technology and performance really can ramp up as one moves up the line.

At one time, I was a complete cable atheist. I did not believe in them. It was only when I dared to test it that I heard for myself, and that was only effective when my rig was at the point of revealing the changes. Zippyy, you're rig could do that.

Please understand that I am not dissing economical rigs! For much of my life I was the guy with the very economical system. For well over ten years with various equipment I would have had a difficult time assessing a change with $100 PC's! As a rough rule of thumb, if your rig is under $5k, then maybe cords under [email protected] could help. If your rig is above $10-12k, you should put some decent money into the cabling and you SHOULD hear the difference. If you don't hear the difference, then move on quickly and try another cable. There should be an immediate, easily perceived change - on the order of taking at most a few minutes to hear/notice. (Caution: Only with time, however, can one determine if the long term enjoyment of the change has merit) On a system below $1-2K look for a component change first before blowing lots on cables.

Many may not believe this, but I can hear the difference that one PC makes on my rig, and with very high end cables it is quite a noticeable difference. Or the distinction that changing the setting on the MIT selectable impedance switch makes. When a system gets refined enough, even miniscule changes are detectable. I think those with extremely high degree of synergy in their rigs will agree.