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Do cables affect sound, and if so, why? (Stereoplay Examination)


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Hi Guys - I was just sent this interesting article, from German magazine Stereoplay, about the magazine's extensive testing of cables. No matter what your stance on cables, this is an interesting article. The authors used Wire World's Cable Comparator to compare several cables to this bypass box (uses no cables). The authors sent audio through the cables, and bypass box separately, and captured the output to 24 bit / 96 kHz files for users to compare sonically.

 

 

 

 

From Stereoplay:

 

"Do cables affect sound, and if so, why? stereoplay investigates these questions with the most elaborate test in recent years. Our results are made available to everyone - with downloadable HiRes tracks for comparison."

 

 

Here is the English version of the article in PDF form - Stereoplay Cable Article

 

 

Link to the high resolution files - 30 Soundfiles als Gratis-Download - AUDIO

Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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Very nice!

High bag of worms candidate :)

 

 

Did you notice that the cable ratings that this German magazine gave the cables under test had no seeming correlation to either the electrical characteristics that they spent the bulk of the article discussing, or the cable's price! Can of worms? I'll say!

George

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Yes, they go to all the trouble explaining how the cable works and then tell you repeatedly they have never found a connection that reliably predicted or matched cable sound. Misdirection to seem like a technical test perhaps when it was the same old get together and listen sighted to some cables and describe their sounds. So in the end their guess about why cables have a sound is magic I suppose.

 

I did spot a possible correlation. With the exception of the in the box cable, stiff thick cables were given a rating of warm bass heavy sound. Thinner, more supple cables got clear and neutral.

 

As this represents nothing new or notable in method or results I wonder why it warranted a special post by Chris. Click bait I suppose. Along with the chance for everyone to download, and listen to files to form their own opinions of this magic. Of course Wireworld has done this themselves in the past.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Yes, they go to all the trouble explaining how the cable works and then tell you repeatedly they have never found a connection that reliably predicted or matched cable sound. Misdirection to seem like a technical test perhaps when it was the same old get together and listen sighted to some cables and describe their sounds. So in the end their guess about why cables have a sound is magic I suppose.

 

I did spot a possible correlation. With the exception of the in the box cable, stiff thick cables were given a rating of warm bass heavy sound. Thinner, more supple cables got clear and neutral.

 

As this represents nothing new or notable in method or results I wonder why it warranted a special post by Chris. Click bait I suppose. Along with the chance for everyone to download, and listen to files to form their own opinions of this magic. Of course Wireworld has done this themselves in the past.

 

The usual cable science, you end up on a sofa making subjective comparison:)

 


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The usual cable science, you end up on a sofa....

 

For some odd reason, reminded me of this:

 

[video=youtube;-BppOWoK2Fc]

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

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As this represents nothing new or notable in method or results I wonder why it warranted a special post by Chris. Click bait I suppose. Along with the chance for everyone to download, and listen to files to form their own opinions of this magic. Of course Wireworld has done this themselves in the past.

I posted it mostly because of timing, test files, and the fact it looked different from many cable articles I've seen in the past. The PCM and DSD discussion recently morphed into a cable discussion and I just received this PDF today. It seemed like good timing to post it :~)

Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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Incidentally, I am pretty sure I remember doing this, but I took some of those files, chopped them so they started and ended on exactly the same samples then nulled them out against each other. Each cable appears to have a unique noise floor "profile" in the same way a CD transport, for example, has it's own noise floor / jitter "profile".

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Incidentally, I am pretty sure I remember doing this, but I took some of those files, chopped them so they started and ended on exactly the same samples then nulled them out against each other. Each cable appears to have a unique noise floor "profile" in the same way a CD transport, for example, has it's own noise floor / jitter "profile".

 

In this situation that is to be expected. The clocks on the recording and playback weren't locked. So there is a slight time differential just based on when the recording device clock was sampling vs the playback clock. Even synched to the nearest bit, there is some timing difference smaller than one sample. Which means nulling will show some different noise floors even if there were no differences due to those sub-sample timing variations.

 

If you instead look at the near silent section before the music starts, the noise floors appear to be pretty much the same with one notable difference. Some of the cables show pronounced 50 hz and 150 hz hum some 10-12 db higher than the surrounding noise. Some did not. One was much worse that being the van Den Hul showing higher 50 hz hum and several of the harmonics. But then it has much higher resistance.

 

I also suppose you saw that all these are brick-wall filtered at 22 khz and the noise looks like 16 bit noise.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I had a recent experience where installing a Corning optical USB had a dramatic effect on noise and consequently made a tremendous improvement in sound. Goes along with my general impression that noise can effect SQ and that differences in cables might be more related to noise than anything else. I've postulated that cable "burn in" could merely be related to static discharge.

 

It turns out that the Corning optical USB cable has a resistance of 3 ohms on the power and ground lines (28awg x 10 meters). I found this article where different USB cables were measured: http://www.gbs-elektronik.de/fileadmin/download/manuals/TN_Choosing_USB_Cable.pdf ... the point being that very simple and explainable differences in cables may clearly affect their sound. Unfortunately cable impedance is not so easily measured at home.

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Wow. No XLR? Kind of says everything. I never had much luck with RCA as they always seem susceptible to ground loops. It really is hard to fathom why RCA interconnects costing several 100's are used with gear costing 1000's when XLR is what are used to hook up any microphone used to record pretty much anything. If low noise and clean signals are desirable then balanced XLR seems like the obvious choice yet it doesn't even feature in the article. Go figure. Ground loops & EM/RF could account for all the differences heard with differences random as to the interconnect position or slight differences in electrical properties affecting the way ground loops affect the signal.

 

http://static1.squarespace.com/static/53062f8de4b09e63a23ce552/t/53269f01e4b0c44d90ac321c/1395040001231/generic_grounding_seminar.pdf

Benchmark DAC2, Active speakers: ATC 150's, 100's, 20's, C6CA, C6 Subwoofer.

 

Headphones: Only for playing drums. I don't like sounds in my head. The best headphones suck. Nothing can replace good speakers played loudly. And nothing absolutely nothing is a substitute for live music!

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Wow. No XLR? Kind of says everything. I never had much luck with RCA as they always seem susceptible to ground loops. It really is hard to fathom why RCA interconnects costing several 100's are used with gear costing 1000's when XLR is what are used to hook up any microphone used to record pretty much anything. If low noise and clean signals are desirable then balanced XLR seems like the obvious choice yet it doesn't even feature in the article. Go figure. Ground loops & EM/RF could account for all the differences heard with differences random as to the interconnect position or slight differences in electrical properties affecting the way ground loops affect the signal.

 

http://static1.squarespace.com/static/53062f8de4b09e63a23ce552/t/53269f01e4b0c44d90ac321c/1395040001231/generic_grounding_seminar.pdf

 

Yes, balanced, why not balanced? I once posted some null tests of interconnects. In part of that I wrapped interconnects 3 times around a big, high wattage, switched computer power supply. It produced barely audible artifacts. Which surprised me in that they weren't large. Wrapping balanced cables around the same power supply 5 times produced nothing above the noise floor. All the talk, concern, worry over noise etc. Use balanced cables and most of that is a non-issue. If such connections are impervious to close proximity to a nasty computer power supply, how likely is it that all these other noise issues effect the result? Kudos to Emotiva for having balanced connections on some very affordable and high quality gear.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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its also a stupid test as they didnt include any well made but cheap cables, say blue jeans or van damme, which probably are a little beter than standard and the same as the snake oil stuff.

Benchmark HGC DAC2 / Ncore NC400 / Anthony Gallo Strada 2 / Anthony Gallo TR-3D Sub / Van Damme 6mm Speaker Cable

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Yes, balanced, why not balanced? I once posted some null tests of interconnects. In part of that I wrapped interconnects 3 times around a big, high wattage, switched computer power supply. It produced barely audible artifacts. Which surprised me in that they weren't large. Wrapping balanced cables around the same power supply 5 times produced nothing above the noise floor. All the talk, concern, worry over noise etc. Use balanced cables and most of that is a non-issue. If such connections are impervious to close proximity to a nasty computer power supply, how likely is it that all these other noise issues effect the result? Kudos to Emotiva for having balanced connections on some very affordable and high quality gear.

 

THe audio critic like emotiva and i agree - everything should have balanced.

Benchmark HGC DAC2 / Ncore NC400 / Anthony Gallo Strada 2 / Anthony Gallo TR-3D Sub / Van Damme 6mm Speaker Cable

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THe audio critic like emotiva and i agree - everything should have balanced.

 

 

Yes balanced is superior to unbalanced. It's too bad that nobody ever came up with an inexpensive consumer grade balanced connector that allowed balanced cables to be as cheap as unbalanced, but no one ever did. There was, in the 1950's the various DIN connectors used in much of Europe, and they could have been pressed into service for consumer-grade balanced, but they never were, and in fact, even the Europeans finally discarded them in favor of the lowly RCA. Also, it seems to me that I remember that the original Mark Levinson equipment used some non-standard small three-pin connector in their preamp which also could have worked for a consumer-grade XLR, but by then the RCA was too deeply ensconced. Does anybody remember that connector snd what it was called?

 

Also, of course, the connectors weren't the only obstacle to the hi-fi industry adopting balanced as the interconnect standard early-on when it counted. There was the need for either differential circuitry or transformers on each input, either of which was just too expensive in tube days to be practical.

George

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Yes balanced is superior to unbalanced. It's too bad that nobody ever came up with an inexpensive consumer grade balanced connector that allowed balanced cables to be as cheap as unbalanced, but no one ever did. There was, in the 1950's the various DIN connectors used in much of Europe, and they could have been pressed into service for consumer-grade balanced, but they never were, and in fact, even the Europeans finally discarded them in favor of the lowly RCA. Also, it seems to me that I remember that the original Mark Levinson equipment used some non-standard small three-pin connector in their preamp which also could have worked for a consumer-grade XLR, but by then the RCA was too deeply ensconced. Does anybody remember that connector snd what it was called?

 

Also, of course, the connectors weren't the only obstacle to the hi-fi industry adopting balanced as the interconnect standard early-on when it counted. There was the need for either differential circuitry or transformers on each input, either of which was just too expensive in tube days to be practical.

 

 

Levinson used Camac connectors. Used them on pre's and power amps. Computer Automated Measurement And Control connectors. Developed for use in nuclear reactors way back when. Air tight excellent connectors. Don't know they would be cheap to make like RCA's. Had some on a Levinson amp some years ago. Really fine connectors.

 

Now to me, I don't see why stereo mini-headphone type plugs haven't taken over for balanced analog signals. Certainly cheap enough, and common enough. Not suitable for digital use, but for analog audio sure why not.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Levinson used Camac connectors. Used them on pre's and power amps. Computer Automated Measurement And Control connectors. Developed for use in nuclear reactors way back when. Air tight excellent connectors. Don't know they would be cheap to make like RCA's. Had some on a Levinson amp some years ago. Really fine connectors.

 

Now to me, I don't see why stereo mini-headphone type plugs haven't taken over for balanced analog signals. Certainly cheap enough, and common enough. Not suitable for digital use, but for analog audio sure why not.

 

 

Camac! That's right, I had forgotten the name. I agree about the headphone connectors. The ones that Audeze use to connect their cable to each 'phone is positive and I'm sure can accommodate three pins, even if they don't in that application (I don't recall). But I'm not sure of the cost. Anyway, it's probably too late in the game to introduce a new connector standard now. The RCA is firmly ensconced as the unbalanced connector of choice (as lousy as it is. I mean what idiot picked a connector for audio that makes the hot connection first, then the ground and breaks the ground first and then the hot????!!!!) and the XLR is firmly fixed for balanced.

George

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Thanks for the discussion on balanced vs non-balanced...no wonder I'm very happy with my all XLR from the DAC to the Pre to the Amp setup (used to be RCAs).

 

John

Positive emotions enhance our musical experiences.

 

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The RCA is firmly ensconced as the unbalanced connector of choice (as lousy as it is. I mean what idiot picked a connector for audio that makes the hot connection first, then the ground and breaks the ground first and then the hot????!!!!)

Professional Earth First RCA plugs

Metal RCA Connectors

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

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Professional Earth First RCA plugs

Metal RCA Connectors

 

 

Yes Alan. I know these are available, but the point was that they weren't available when RCAs became the defacto standard for consumer audio. Do you know where this troublesome design came from? Most don't.

 

Directly after WWII, RCA Victor was going to release their new post-war consumer television set, the 7" (wow!) RCA Model 630 (6 for the year, 1946, and 30 for the number of tubes it had - or so the story goes. They needed a cheap coaxial RF connector to connect the IF frequency output of the barrel-type tuner (a huge affair,, on it's own sub-classes) to the IF amplifier stage on the main chassis. Somebody at the RCA laboratories in New Jersey, came up with a cheap extruded barrel with center pin. It was designed to be connected ONCE maybe twice (if maintenance on the set was required) in it's entire life! Exactly when it migrated from being an internal TV connector to a ubiquitous audio connector, I don't know, but it was sometime between 1946 and 1949, because my dad bought our family's first TV set in 1949. It was a big 16" RCA console with a 12" coaxial speaker with a 2" tweeter and it had an RCA jack on the back to connect either a record player or perhaps one of the new FM tuners. We used it for the latter. My dad built a Heathkit FM-3 that sat on top of the TV. To use it, we turned the tuner on, and pulled the volume control on the TV out. This turned on the audio amp inside the TV without turning on the video. To switch from the tuner to the TV, one pushed the volume control back in until it clicked and then rotated the volume control clockwise and that turned the video and the audio on while switching away from the jack on the rear! I got to know this set very well, because it was moved into my room in 1955 when dad bought our first color TV.

George

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.......................

The RCA is firmly ensconced as the unbalanced connector of choice (as lousy as it is. I mean what idiot picked a connector for audio that makes the hot connection first, then the ground and breaks the ground first and then the hot????!!!!) and the XLR is firmly fixed for balanced.

 

Well, RCA did for CRT use as stated. Then again XLR comes from one of the DIN plugs meant to carry Left, Right and X (gnd). Stereo in one cable. Had an old reel unit that did that. Obvious bleed from left to right channel from having them wrapped around each other. So we have a CRT connector, a failed stereo connector (now used for mono) and nuclear reactor instrumentation cables. Any other entries?

 

Reminds me of this comic on standards:

https://xkcd.com/927/

 

PS- I did have a cable with I think Neutrik RCA's on it that solved the ground problem. A sliding spring loaded sleeve gripped the ground before the center conductor upon plug in and maintained ground until the center pin connection was broken during removal. Like those SandyK referenced above. Worked very well. Of course I would favor BNC as a replacement for unbalanced RCA connectors in general.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I got to know this set very well, because it was moved into my room in 1955 when dad bought our first color TV.

 

Hey George, were you always in CA? Did you get Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and Clarabell the clown there in 49? It was an NBC show out of NYC. Geese, that 49 B&W TV description brought back memories.

 

Thanks!

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Hey George, were you always in CA? Did you get Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and Clarabell the clown there in 49? It was an NBC show out of NYC. Geese, that 49 B&W TV description brought back memories.

 

Thanks!

 

 

Oh, no. I grew up in northern Virginia, just a stones throw from Quantico (I could walk a mile across a railroad trestle and be in the town of Quantico. Of course, that was pretty dangerous. If a train came, it would be like "Stand by Me"! No place to go!) and a bit over 25 miles south of D.C.

 

Oh, yes, Howdy Doody was one of my earliest TV memories. Buffalo Bob, Clarabell, Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring, Mr. Phineas T. Bluster and of course, the Flubadub (meatballs, meatballs, meatballs and spaghetti!). How could I forget that. And on an independent station in D.C., "Captain Video" (and his Video Rangers)!

 

BTW, I'm no longer in CA, having moved a couple of months ago to the Reno Nevada area.

George

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Are the effects of noise from non-balanced connections really that outspoken compared to the possible side effects of the added number of compenents and complexity of balanced designs?

 

(I have no affiliation with nor investment in Pure Audio's products, but find their views in tune, so to speak, with my own impressions)

 

[...] The high end audio market is full of products with balanced connectors, and is full of explanations as to why balanced is better. Mostly this comes down to dogma. The market has been persuaded that balanced is better, and it has become so ingrained that no-one questions the logic. Certainly balanced connections can be better at rejecting noise, and we admit, in some cases may sound better. Consider though that the noise rejection so often claimed as a benefit is only evident in difficult environments over long distances… typically in professional studio and sound reinforcement use, and rarely if ever offers any advantage in a domestic system. Many of the arguments that claim better noise reduction are technically flawed, even if they seem to be well argued. Likewise the possibility of better sound… if a system has poorly designed ground systems, then balanced may offer better sound. It does this by overcoming inadequate design internal to the equipment. However if the grounding is designed optimally, balanced connections will offer no sonic advantage, and in fact may be counter productive.

 

In our products much of the design effort has gone into simplifying signal paths, and optimising power supply and ground circuit paths. Simpler signal paths, if done well, will offer significant sonic benefits. Less devices in the signal path means less chance for the music to be robbed of its magic. Better ground and power supply design means less corruption of the signal. Pure & Simple.

 

Balanced, or single ended? « pureaudio

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