Posted on Friday, 21st July 2006 by Auw Jimmy

Cable is one of the most underestimated part in audio. A lot of people consider to upgrade their CD player, their pre/amplifier, their speaker, or even their room (the accoustic). But they actually forget one of the most important thing: Cable!

I was the one who a little bit pessimistic about audio. I don’t really care about my cable. Yes I do care about audio, I do care about my player, I do care about my amplifier, but I don’t care about my cable.

Until one day, I visit my friend. He changed his interconnect cable (more about this later) and simply ask me which one was better. I did hear the different and the latest one was better. And he told me, that the first one was a cheap cable and the latest was the more expensive one. Started from that day, I did believe in cable. Every cable has their own characteristic.

Before we discuss more about cable, you should know few jargon in this field:

Interconnect cable: is used to connect two low level signal equipments (parts before amplifier). Two to mention is from your CD player to your pre-amplifier or from your pre-amplifier to your amplifier.

Speaker cable: the name has said its function. It’s used to connect your amplifier to your speaker.

Power cable: the name also has said its function. It’s used to connect your equipment (any equipment) to your power source (either direct to wall outlet or to power conditioner/stabilizer).

Digital cable: is used to connect equipment in digital domain. Usually from your CD player to your external Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC). If you don’t use external DAC, usually you don’t need this type of cable.

Like I’ve said before, every cable has their own characteristic. Some cable tend to have a brighter high. Some can have warmer vocal. Some can give you tight bass. That’s from tonal balance aspect only. Cables also have different in terms of staging, layering, musical separation, etc. So hardly to say, choosing a cable is as difficult as choosing your partner in marriage! Pretty or handsome face will not guarantee that he/she will have good attitude that will match with you as his/her partner.

I’m a newbie. So, how do I choose my cable?
First of all, set your budget. Maximum “acceptable” budget for cable is about 20-25% from your total system price. Lower should be ok, but never go higher. It’s useless to spend more than 25%, since you better save your budget and upgrade your CD player or speaker to gain more significant improvement.

Second, the key is matching. Not every cable will suit your system. Let’s say your system tends to have a bright sound (and you don’t really like a bright sound). If this is the case, then never go with silver based cable. Generally, silver cable tends to have a brighter sound, compare to gold or copper based cable. Since your system is bright already, then you should go with more neutral sound cable or perhaps a cable with a little bit dull in high but tighter in low/warm in vocal to make your system better balanced (to reduce the bright side). On the other side, if you want extra bright, you can use silver cable and vice versa (add: not all silver are bright, only most of them in my experience). Of course decision is in your hand. Although you have listened that the silver cable is perfect on the demo/show room, but on your home, you have a different equipment. So, test the cable with your own system and audition it. IMO, this is the best way to buy your new cable.

Third, an expensive cable is not guaranteed to sound better than the cheaper one. The key is matching. On some condition (it happens frequently), a cheaper cable will match on some system rather than the expensive one. But I also often see a lot of good expensive cable. So, it’s not about the price. It’s all about matching problem.

Break-in period
A cable needs break-in period to. Break-in period is a duration before your cable will sound at its maximum potential. Usually, a cable takes 50-200 hours before it will give you the optimum quality. You don’t have to do anything. Just use the cable and playing music. After passing the 50-200 hours period, it will sound better. Believe it or not, but you have to try yourself. For addition, every electronics and audio gear have a break-in period. So, never judge the quality right after you open it from the box. It takes time before it will sound good.

Added:
Well, some of the comments below looked don’t agree with me. Well, maybe I’m just a moron anyway ;) It’s up to you. You may check my signature on the logo on the top of this page: I don’t expect you to read this. If you do, please do at your own caution! I live on country where English is not the common language. So forgive me for that.






Posted in DIY Audio | Comments (32)


32 Responses to “Audio Cable: Does It Really Matter?”


  1. Jordan says:

    are you kidding w/ this article?

  2. Ishatinyourarticle says:

    Ah, for the love of god stop! I mean are you really that retarded? Serious question!

  3. Audio God says:

    All you needed was a shovel to feed this bullshit to people. You fail!!!

  4. JP says:

    Wow. I’m stunned. Silver cable is ‘brighter’? Well in that case, all my interconnects are purple (Streetwires ZeroNoise 2.0), so does that make my speakers sound FaBuLoUsSsSs *drops wrist limp*

    I’ll have some of whatever you’re smoking.

  5. Chris says:

    Brake in on something that is nothing more than a conductor is the most assanine thing I’ve heard.

  6. wow sweet article… you must be like a car audio god?

  7. in a state of shock says:

    my god it is almost as if you searched around to find as much bad information as apossible and tried to get it all into one blog.
    please please please dont even open a shop or install another peice of equipment again.

  8. someone says:

    just want to share…
    it’s a nice short article about audio cable. and for anybody who does’nt have those experiences at least you can try this simple method, get 2 of the same cable, break-in 1 on those for some period of time and then compare it. if it does’nt make a difference, give it a try for a few other brand you can get then do the same process. if it still does’nt make a difference then you should consider checking if your system capable for comparing cable.
    ps. there are many ways to go from one place to another, but the question is, do you feel all of it have the same obstacles, same comfort, etc?

  9. stoopid says:

    If you use blue wire, everything will sound like its underwater. Yellow wire sounds like dog piss. My wire is pink, so my music sounds pretty bad, looks real good, and goes psycho once a month.

    Green wouldbe more suited for The Beatles, or Janis Joplin, anything hippy-esque or granola eating jam band earth hugger musics. White wire would not be able to carry the beat of the music, would also sound “uptight”, and perhaps oppresive if you try to play rap music through it. Black wire would sound stolen, or gangsta, it might even lean a bit.

    FYI

  10. what the fuck says:

    You token up some of that good shit aint ya.

  11. poonage says:

    Okay, just stop. Grab a gun, and end your worthless existance. Please. Kthnx

  12. rick james' wife says:

    Rick, how many times do I have to remind you of this?!?! First its the garbage and now this! Break-in is based on electron flow – the more electrons that flow THROUGH the wire, the more broken-in it will get. After a certain time, the path at which the electons flow will grow to a point where it won’t get any bigger. Its at that point where the wire is now broken in. Now, where’s my tampons…

  13. FuckYourMouth says:

    Atleast the title of this blog is aptly named. The “junkyard” is where you and this trash belongs!

  14. Jimmy Auw says:

    Just to remind you all, please use more polite word.

    I want to explain something.

    I never say that you can judge the sound from its color (whether it’s silver, gold, blue, pink or whatsoever). I just say that silver tends to have brighter sound (though some of my Siltech somehow can sound quite warm). But it’s just in general. I prefer Copper and Rhodium based cable IMO. So, I shoot the material, not the color.

    About break in, it’s up to you to believe it or not. In my country, almost all audiophile’s store that I know (off course after you make a relationship with them) are willing to borrow you the cable more than 30 days and at some condition, they borrow the new cable and the already break-in one (usually the one used in their demo system). You may bring both home and decide which one that you prefer. If you prefer the new one, it’s ok. But in my opinion, most of my friend pick the “old” or the one that has been used in the shop’s demo system. Why? Yeah maybe all of my friend that can afford Linn, Kharma, Wilson Audio, FM Acoustic, Burrmester, and others over US$ 50.000 equipments are moron, just like me :)

    To hear the unhear is a somehow a bless and also a curse. And the important thing is you can enjoy the music and not just posting “unpolite statement” here just because you can’t hear the difference.

    Respect others and you will also be respected.

    Thanks.

  15. Jimmy Auw says:

    Feel free to follow the discussion here:
    http://www.caraudio.com/forum/showthread.php?t=203376

    and this one (nice to read before you join any discussion related with audio cable):
    http://www.diymobileaudio.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7517

    Finally, some people with “broader” knowledge and experience arrive… rather the some person that always call me “retarded” and post negative comments here ;) I believe such person has no real experience in audio or cable system. $400 cable will sound no different with 40 cent only if you are using boom-box or mini “so called hi-fi” system. Use appropriate system and you will notice the different immediately. It simply doesnt take a genius!

    More “interesting” discussion:
    http://www.caraudiotalk.com/audio-forum/showthread.php?t=4842

    I don’t blame those person that always call me “retarded” because of this cable article… I feel blessed because I can hear what you can’t… on the other side, you can spend your life with 40 cents cable, while I have to spend more :)

    My suggestion, learn more, hear more, experience more… and you know why your neighbor dare to buy $400 to 1K cable and why you stick with your 40 cents cable :D

    In my country, we do a lot of blind test (speaker, cable, amplifier, preamp, CDP, etc). And in the name of God, we can hear the difference in cable and most of the time – I also have documentation in every blind test in our community – we almost have similiar taste in cable blind test (usually we use 5 judges with individual score sheet). Bad cable is a bad cable (bad is not related with price). No matter how much you repeat the blind test, I can guarantee the accuracy over 80% between 40 cents cable with $400 one (all the judges on our blind test have proved that)… but hard to pick between $1000 and $5000 (the higher the cable quality, you need higher equipments to – and to be honest, it is hard for me to hear the difference between $1000 vs the $5000 cable).

    Thanks.

  16. Dude says:

    OK, I’m an electrical engineer. No offence dude but obviously yourself, and anyone else who believes in this stuff has no physics/science/engineering background. I have spent hundreds of hours studying the physics of conductors. There is a large amount of bullshit on the net regarding cables. Firstly, saying that different cables of comparable quality can add different properties to the sound of your music makes no sense. As long as your conductors are capable (thick enough) to carried the required current, they’re essentially very similar. The frequency for audio signals is up to around 22kHz, HD gear up to 200kHz. Plain, cheap, copper cable is regularly used to carry signals up to the GHz range on other devices. Any changes in frequency response you can notice would be due to the capacitance present between the plugs/sockets connecting the cable to your equipment. The best thing you can do for speaker cable is to go and buy some thick copper cable, rip open your amp and speakers, and solder the cable directly to the circuit boards. While making a mess, it will provide the best electrical connection.

    As for speaker burn-in, there is NO scientific reasoning why this would even be possible. Copper does not have a ‘memory’. Copper is the second best conductor at room temperature (slightly worse than silver). Running a current through it has no lasting effect, it does not make the metal more conductive or the insulation less conductive. If you’re hearing a difference after several hours of using a new cable, then you should put down whatever you’re smoking. I challenge anyone to do a double blind test that has statistically significant results procing otherwise.

    Spending 25% of system cost on cables? Go by thick copper cable, a soldering iron and a screw driver. You’ll end your quest for the best speaker cable…

  17. Jimmy Auw says:

    Well, here’s my explanation.

    In audio, we are not looking for the best as in physics/engineering. In audio best+best!=double best (best + best doesn’t always provide double best). Got my point? We are looking for a sonic characteristic that will suit our ears (everyone has their own taste in music). I will give you few example.

    Let’s say you have a system with tube amplifier, 300B in Single Ended (7-8 RMS). Some people say that Oil Capacitor is good due to the warm/thick vocal. But remember, you are using 300B tube that also good in this warm/thick vocal. If you use a lot of Oil Capacitor inside your 300B amplifier, at the end you will experience too warm/too thick mid vocal. Yes 300B is a good tube and Oil Capacitor like Jentzen is also a good (expensive) capacitor. But best+best doesn’t mean for double best here. On the other side, on your other amplifier, if you want to add more warm in the vocal, add 2-3 Oil Capacitor will do this in a snap.

    The key in audio is MATCHING! You have to understand this.

    The better you know the sonic characteristic of every stuff, the easier you create a nice hearing system.

    So, it works in cable world to. You have said that the best is to use thick copper (this is the best from an engineer perspective). Yes, perhaps you are not wrong, but not right either. Everyone has their own audio system with different sonic characteristic. You have to know the character first before you can judge which cable will suit his system (that’s why some cable vendor will put some brief sonic characteristic of their cable). Your thick cable perhaps will suit on some systems, but will sound worst on others.

    This also works with capacitor selection. If you have a bright tweeter, use a warmer capacitor as high pass filter (like Auricap or Solen), but if you have a warm tweeter, go for brighter capacitor (like Mundorf or even WonderCap/DynamiCap). Again, not all capacitor all sound the same though you have same capacitance and working voltage.

    I really appreciate your science/engineering approach. For cable, I can assure that most senior audiophile in our country can hear the difference (every audio comparison test in our country is conducted in blind test session with a lot of senior audiophiles as judges, check this http://jimmyauw.com/?p=36 ). So, a thing to be noted is there’s no perfect cable for everyone, because you have to MATCH it with your system. Use a brighter cable (in terms of sonic characteristic) if you have a warmer system and vice versa.

    Some popular example is B&W speaker. Its tweeter is very bright (dynamic, if you prefer other terms). You have to pick your cable carefully for this speaker. Wrong cable and you will end up saying that B&W is a bad speaker.

    Thank you for your share.

  18. Dave Millier says:

    A quick search on the Net will show you plenty of examples of scientifically performed ABX double blind tests of cables.

    As long as the cables do not have some bizarre characteristics that de-stablise the pqwer amp, the ABX tests show that not only do cables not have a ‘sound’ but that even the golden eared can be fooled in hearing huge differences between what turns out to be the same cable. The reason? The well known placebo effect.

    There is no known or currently imaginable reason why cables would sound different.

    Any one the myriad of high end audiophile cable manufacturers who could repeatedly prove the improvements caused by their cable theory under stringent double blind test conditions would be a candidate for a Nobel prize nomination.

    None has yet got close, despite the enthusiastic support of the believers…

  19. Jimmy Auw says:

    http://www.diymobileaudio.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7517

    The guy at the forum really understand what he’s talking about. RLC is the main factor, like ESR and other dielectrics in capacitor.

    My idea is simple. If you CAN’T hear the different, then don’t mind to buy the 40 cents cable. But if you CAN hear the different (and can afford), then dont mind buying more expensive cable.

    As I’ve told above, we conduct all benchmark ini here (local DIY group) always in a double blind test session. And one of our last comparison were between around 10 speaker cables, some were DIY, and the finest (and most expensive) one was Maple Shade (others were Siltech, Tara, etc). It didnt take a genious, 4 of 5 judges (well trained audiophiles) picked the Maple Shade as best sounded cable.

    I’m not a seller. I hear what I hear and with my own ears. If I CAN hear the improvement (and I can afford it), then I will buy it. If I CAN’T hear the improvement, no matter how much the seller (and other audiophiles) BS-on me, trying to convince that there are improvement, I simply will not buy it. PERIOD.

  20. Lot says:

    taken a pretty bad beatings did you? can’t help myself either…. Do you know what is ABX double blind test? Google up, and see whether what you called blind test your friend performed is the same thing. I bet a ton of money what your people did IS NOT and ABX. what you called blind test, is a blind scoring. That’s a different animal. a bunch of half deaf can do that, putting a score to a series of shrouded sets of equipments, and no one can dispute whether they measure correctly. Google up again, and see whether in the world there’s a credible claim for a successful ABX to cables. ABX is the only way to proof your “golden ear” friends is a genuine article, or they’re something else. You mentioned that you listen and decide with your own ear. that is Placebo. My dear, unless you could pass an ABX, you can never claim that you hear differences. Or maybe you just deserve the beatings…. cheers.

  21. Jimmy Auw says:

    C’mon grow up.. if you CAN’T hear, it doesn’t mean that others CAN’T to…

    I have some friends that 100% CAN “hear” his cable… you play his cable and the other cable, then he can guess his cable perfectly… we have done this a lot of times, just to make sure that he CAN hear and recognize his cable… and so far, the accuracy is 100%…

    To tell you the truth, I CAN’T do that… but he CAN… I consider he has better ears than me… PERIOD.

    So if you CAN’T, it doesn’t mean that others CAN’T to…

    Be wise…

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  23. SS WONG says:

    Jimmy,

    Don’t bother what other say trust your ear.

    Cables do make differences to the sound. In physics different type of metal has different conductivity. a 7N coper has better conductivity than a 4N coper. Better conductivity mean that signal can travel/transfer faster. Besides, in Physics there is skin effect, the low frequency need thicker cable to travel, HF travelling is on surface of the cable. (refer wikipedia for more info)

    besides, HF normally travel faster than low freq.
    In copper, the skin depth at various frequencies is shown below.

    frequency, d
    60 Hz 8.57 mm
    10 kHz 0.66 mm
    100 kHz 0.21 mm
    1 MHz 66 µm
    10 MHz 21 µm

    So basically a thicker cable will allow more range of frequency flow.

    that’s 1 of the reason when use thicker cable, the bass normally will increase.

    Some say sliver is brighter & coper is warmer, this might due to the conductivity, silver trasfer signal faster, coper slightly slower. For e.g you play the tape faster or slower definitely u will hear the differences.

    Another issue is that in most case, the silver cable we use is normally thinner than coper, due to skin effect/skin depth low freq had be cutoff/reduce thus u feel like brighter. the the silver u use is as thick as the coper u use, you shouldn’t feel silver is brighter.

    And i agree with you that we need matching…

    definitely there is soem science behind….. mindkind knowledge is too limited to understand a lot of thing….

  24. Erik van Voorst says:

    I am truly amazed at the way Jimmy is being haunted. Simply no respect at ones opinion.
    The guy is not trying to sell you things….he is writing down observations .
    He could easily answer to listen first before you start an argument….I ll bet you afterwards an apologise is in place…because it is dead simple for a normal human being to identify an el cheapo cable and a customized one for a particular audio set.

  25. aip says:

    beauty is on the eyes of beholder.. and also with audio.. trust your own ears, jimmy! :)

  26. Halzen says:

    One of the first upgrades for my off the shelf Hi-Fi was some 522 strand OFC copper audio cable, compared to the 16 strand that came with the Hi-Fi it was amazing. This upgrade only cost $5.

    After many years I have cut off the oxidized part of the cable to renew it.

    Ashame about non-sense responses on this post, if I go for a heart transplant and they transplant dog food into me because it’s meat, will this make sense that I survive, according to spam posters meat is meat, I don’t think so. All cables sound different even ones made of the same material, considering devices sound different after burn in periods even though they’re materially the same new, the difference that is audioable must be less than 0.01% of the material value of the parts used but still gives a blatant sound difference. The difference between an ugly person and beautiful person is usually less than 1% also, but it makes a huge difference.

  27. Phile says:

    I did practical test too, and i’m audiophile too, speaker cables did huge different to my ears on everthing same only changing speaker cables.

    Try yourself unless you’re not in the level.

  28. CarAudio Guy says:

    I know for a fact that cable makes a huge difference either in picture or sound. Granted if you use 2 cables made identicle it won’t sound different, but many years ago I used to be bent on the cheaper cable isnt any different that the expensive cable. Well when I decided for grins and giggles to make a switch, my sound sounded much cleaner and crisp (no I didn’t make any changes to the head unit, amplifier or speakers. Only the power wires the rca signal wires and speaker wires.).

    I had a friend tell me he couldn’t see the difference between an HDMI cable and using component system cables for his television either. When I showed him a blu-ray disc on the plasma screen with HDMI his toon quickly changed. For anyone to say that cables don’t make a difference clearly states you either don’t have any background with audio/video equipment or you simply have a physical disability where you just can’t see or hear the difference.

    Kudos to Jimmy for finding a better way to hear his music!

  29. Tony Do says:

    I totally agree with Jimmy.

  30. 3ntropy says:

    You have my support as well. I suspect the above people have not had the chance to listen to (or know of the existence of??) ‘hi-fi’ equipment e.g. Krell, Linn, Mark Levinson, Wilson or even Rotel, Arcam etc. at which point the subtle differences in speaker cables is likely to be audible.

    If you consider an ipod armed with 320kbps MP3s to be the eptiome of audio reproduction then this discussion is irrelvant to you….

    To the ‘scientists’, perhaps you should ask yourself whether your physics expertise reaches the level of techies who spend their days designing speaker cable? If not, take some pointers from ‘Wong’. Or visit the Nordost factory.

  31. Hiddenland says:

    I do truly agree with JIMMY and I really like what SS WONG said. The DUDE claimed that he is EE, but I don’t think he’s a good EE since his knowledge is somehow very limited.


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