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My rant on cables (especially power)


jeffca

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In a previous post, Chris Connaker wrote this:

 

 

"In the past I have never been a big supporter of spending thousands of dollars on power cables. I do believe everything in a system matters, but I've always held power cables way way way down on the list of "everything." Last week was a real eye-opener for me. While listening to a couple DACs I noticed the sound of one was very lackluster and not what I would expect from a $25k component. After a few minutes of music, the power cord was switched from the stock cable that shipped with the DAC to a Nordost Odin power cable. Let me make this clear, I didn't want to believe, I tried not to like it, but the sonic benefit couldn't be ignored. This change in sound quality, was huge. I don't care what anyone thinks about that previous statement. It's 100% true and was the opinion of a colleague listening to the system as well. Reasons for the sonic difference aside, the difference was awesome. Before experiencing this myself I would have never believed anyone who said what I've just said."

 

 

OK... fine...I'll gladly accept that there was a difference Chris could hear and liked. This, though, brings up my problem with professional reviews about this type of product.

 

 

I have never seen a review where anyone took the time to find out what exactly the cable is doing that adds this "special quality". I'm simply expected to believe that it's better, period. Quite frankly, that's a load of bull shit and indicative of the state of audio reviewing today. "I think it sounds great and so should you."

 

 

My first thought is that a piece of equipment must have a severely compromised power supply if a power cable causes it to change its sound. In this case, it's a $25k DAC. While you may think that such a unit should have a world-class power section, don't let the price tag fool you. There are plenty of loudspeakers going for well over $10,000 that contain drivers that you can buy from Parts Express for under $100 each. It wouldn't surprise me to find an OEM power supply made by a vendor in China for $30 in the DAC that Chris auditioned.

 

 

What I'd really like to see is some comprehensive testing to show exactly what is going on with the attached equipment. With the quality of measurement equipment today, you could easily run a suite of tests to find out how distortion, noise, linearity and phase response are affected (if at all). While you can't necessarily know exactly how these changes may be perceived by the human ear, you can document what changes (hopefully, improvements) have occured. But, nobody does this and it really pisses me off.

 

 

The bottom line is that true, objective reviewing and testing is just about extinct in the audio press. You have to hope that the person touted as a professional reviewer isn't a schill or an idiot. And the audio industry is absolutely delighted that their products never get bad reviews.

 

 

The only bad review I've seen in years was of a QSC pro sound amplifier at an audiophile site. The guy hated it and the review was slanted from the get go. He said the amp was too "dry" (what ever the hell that means... I'm assuming that means that it had vanishingly low distortion). Of course, no measurements were made so it was impossible to find out how the amp actually performed. Doing some research through that site's archives, I couldn't find any other negative reviews. Of course, QSC didn't advertise on the site and most likely never would so there was no possiblity of losing revenue for the web site because of a negative review.

 

 

 

Until I'm shown any proof to the change them, my tenants regarding cables are this:

 

  • They should be well made, durable and only reasonably longer than they absolutely need to be
  • They should have quality shielding to keep interference to and from other cables as low as possible
  • Gold plated terminals are usually the best
  • Resistance, capacitance, inductance and EMI should be as low as possible
  • Heavier wire gauges are usually the best
  • Soldered connections are superior to ones using clips or screws
  • There is nothing magical about cables... if inserting it in a system noticably improves or changes the quality of the sound, something in that audio chain was or is marginal or defective and further investigation is needed
  • Spending much more than $100 on any cable is most likely to be a waste of money

 

When any manufacturer or reviewer wants to take the effort to prove with scientific measurements that their product actually performs better than the competition, I'll be happy to check it out and change my mind if it actually makes sense. Until then, I'll maintain that the high-end audio cable industry is a scam based upon unsubstantiated crap and out-right lies.

 

 

jeff henning

 

 

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"I have never seen a review where anyone took the time to find out what exactly the cable is doing that adds this "special quality". I'm simply expected to believe that it's better, period. Quite frankly, that's a load of bull shit and indicative of the state of audio reviewing today. "I think it sounds great and so should you.""

 

Hi Jeff - Please don't ever take anything I say as something you should also believe. If I think it's great I only hope you'll give it try and enjoy it as much as myself. I would never want anyone to like or dislike something solely because of my comments.

 

Also, it's not only about taking the time to find out what a cable is doing. Proper equipment and skill to objectively test something is something reviewers have. Thus, it would cost a considerable amount of money to have tests done and analyzed. Another thing making this difficult is the opinions based on objective measurements. Ask five engineers a question and you'll likely receive ten answers. Then there are the problems with how and what's being measured. I would love to offer this kind of information to the readers. It would be a great service.

 

" And the audio industry is absolutely delighted that their products never get bad reviews."

 

I don't disagree with you on this statement. Usually I send products back that I don't like and I don't review them. However, I'm seriously considering writing the review no matter what the performance. This way I can reward those manufacturers making good products in another way. On the other hand when I make bold statements about the best product on the market (see front page now) some people go crazy. I'm willing to bet the same thing would happen if I write about a bad product.

 

What engineering data are you using for the eight tenants you've listed above? I'm curious to know if you've done the measurements or research to satisfy yourself that these tenants are "right." No offense meant by this comment, just flipping the argument a bit. Granted you don't review equipment and publish your opinion so I'm not saying you should provide measurements or even care about them. In my opinion people often oversimplify concepts and go with their gut or a "common sense" approach.

 

This is a good discussion to have. Many people feel strongly about it and it would be cool to get more information out in the open for everyone.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Jeff-

 

You and Frank Van Alstine would get along very well. His equipment has a power cord (lamp wire) that is hard wired directly to the board. His thoughts are about the same as yours.

 

His site:

www.avahifi.com

 

W10 NUC i7 (Gen 10) > Roon (Audiolense FIR) > Motu UltraLite mk5 > (4) Hypex NCore NC502MP > JBL M2 Master Reference +4 subs

 

Watch my Podcast https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXMw_bZWBMtRWNJQfTJ38kA/videos

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my thoughts on cables are that their importance lies in what they don't add to the sum of things and accord pretty much with your own stated ideas about what makes a good cable.

 

My beef with cables has always been that no manufacturer ever tells you what cable measurements are required for their piece of equipment to function at its best. We all know about R,C,I and shielding. These are measureable quantities. So, if I buy an amp, a pair of speakers, whatever, where are the measurements I need to make sure that I buy properly matched cables? Where are the measurements from the cable manufacturers so I know I'm buying the right ones? Where are the measurements from the kit reviewers that tell us what figures yielded the best results? None of this information is available.

 

It is this silence, the technical silence, that keeps me sceptical.

 

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The question shouldn't be, "what cables do I need for my equipment?" It should be, "what equipment is designed so well that it hardly matters what cables I use?"

 

Ideally, the input, output and power sections of a component should be designed well enough that there is little to no variation in performance using common, well constructed wiring. It seems that just about no one ever talks about that 800lb. gorilla standing just a few feet away from this discussion.

 

jeff

 

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Usually I send products back that I don't like and I don't review them

 

Whenever this topic rears its head in the magazines, this is nearly always the stock response. I know that the negative reviews are always the hardest ones to write, but good reviews are something that manufacturers actively seek as it helps to promote their product and to boost their sales. Simply returning a product unreviewed means that all we, the review readers, ever get is a constant stream of 'best-ofs', to which we eventually become immune! It isn't possible to have that many 'best-ofs'!

 

The difference out here in the wild west of forum-land is that we, the readers, get to write what we like and say what we want, within reason. In magazine land I bet they get just as many letters and e-mails, but they can choose whether or not to publish them! So, I reckon being a reviewer and having a quiet life are going to be pretty much mutually exclusive around here, so you may as well be hung for a horse as a loaf of bread.

 

Review and print the bad ones, if nothing else it will keep those that get good reviews on their toes!

 

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Proper equipment and skill to objectively test something is something reviewers have. Thus, it would cost a considerable amount of money to have tests done and analyzed.

 

Well, sort of. Critical listening is a skill; reviewing is more an art. I mean that in the following way: the difference between a skilled cook and a recipe slave is that the former, hopefully, has practiced a set of behaviors over some period of time. The skilled cook has no more tasted buds, and no superior cognitive predispositions in their ability to taste -- they've simply tasted things more carefully, paid more attention to finer and finer variations, and have had a lot more feedback from a lot more critical an audience than the recipe slave. Anyone can become a skilled cook. I am living proof. ;-)

 

Ditto for the "reviewer" -- assuming they're not just full of salt. They listen -- a lot. They get feedback, pointers, tips -- a lot of them. They interview and research. Then they listen some more. Time passes and they get better and better. So, it's a skill. And like cooking, the results are wildly variable.

 

But testing things like cables is trivial. There are only 3 meaningful metrics -- inductance, capacitance and resistance. After that, it's all about build-quality and length of the run. As for build-quality, assuming that the wire is well built, that the shield (if there is one) is well designed, that the connectors are all appropriately connected, you're done. Silver, copper, gold ... sonically irrelevant. Unless you're running really really long wire, the differences between any wire is going to be vanishingly small and generally way below the ability of our pathetic human ears to discriminate.

 

Interesting, quite a lot this testing and measurement has been done. See issues #16 and #17 of The Audio Critic for references, charts, and some ranting and Audioholics for a whole mess o' diatribes about cable "snake oil".

 

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Please don't take my rant as an indictment of either you or your site. You were quoted only as an example.

 

It's most of industry and media with which I'm having a big problem. This voodoo that is being spread verges on conspiracy and outright fraud. Give me some evidence that the product is actually performing better than a cheaper product. Barring that I'm not buying into the hype.

 

As to the tenants, I'll be glad to explain them further if you don't know the basics of physics, chemistry and electrical engineering (this isn't a put down).

 

jeff

 

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Amplifiers and speakers vary hugely in their electrical requirements. My logans can demand huge amounts of the stuff and can severely test all but the most battleship of amps. At higher frequencies they are positively capacitive in nature. If I fit cables that also have rather high capacitance then I am compoundng the problem and making things even harder for the amp.

 

By contrast, my previous rig had Lowther drivers at over 98db efficiency being driven by a 5w amplifier. Now I am concerned to keep resistance as low as possible.

 

Cables constitute an electrical component, do they not? Why should they not be calculated and chosen just as carefully? I am not saying they need to be over-engineered but I see no good reason for them not be engineered at all.

 

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In no place have I written that cabling didn't have to be well designed or made. My point is that if reasonably priced, well made products such as those by Emotiva, Appogee, and Pangea are thoroughly inferior to products 5 to 50 times the price, give me some hard evidence to the fact.

 

That's all.

 

jeff

 

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While the cabling is, indeed, part of the system and needs some consideration, the speaker cable has probably 1/1000th (or less) of the effect on the amp that your ML's do. If you are using monoblocks, using 10awg Monster Cable from Radio Shack and moving the amps so that you only have a 3 foot run of wire from the amps to the speakers will get you 99.999999% of the performance of the most exotic run of 10ft. speaker wire. It might even perform better.

 

jeff

 

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The other part is that the power cable sits in between a much longer, regular, unshielded wire inside unshielded walls and regular wiring used inside the device. How is it that some short piece of cable introduced between regular wire can make any difference?. This also means that the best you can do is to use the same wire as that inside the wall.

 

www.hifiduino.wordpress.com

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That is quite precise advice.

 

This is the sum total of Martin Logan's advice on the matter :

Could you suggest a list of suitable electronics and cables that would be ideal for MartinLogan speakers? The area of electronics and cable choice is probably the most common type of question that we receive. It is also the most subjective. We have repeatedly found that brands that work well in one setup will drive someone else nuts in another. We use many brands with great success. Again, we have no favorites; we use electronics and cables quite interchangeably. We would suggest listening to a number of brands—and above all else—trust your ears. Dealers are always the best source for information when purchasing additional audio equipment.

 

It seems I am not alone in seeking advice!

 

 

 

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The only quantitative analysis I've seen on power cables was done by DarqueKnight on the polk audio forums, here are a couple examples:

 

http://www.polkaudio.com/forums/showthread.php?t=72539

 

http://www.polkaudio.com/forums/showthread.php?t=88538

 

He's put a great deal of effort into these and they are interesting to read - agree or disagree.

 

 

 

Corey[br]Apple TV[br]Peachtree Audio nova[br]PS Audio Trio A100[br]B&W 602 s2

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This is my final post on the subject.

 

Martin-Logans are a pretty complex load for any amplifier. Given that, I doubt that connecting the speaker to the amp with 1 inch by 4 inch, solid silver buss bars or a generic $10,000 speaker wire will offer any measurable or audible improvement in your system's performance over a short run of well designed 10awg wire. And if your amp is that sensitive, you need another amp.

 

If adding an extra ounce to the existing ton is the breaking straw for your camel's back, get a new dromedary.

 

jeff

 

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Guest Claude

Jeff, I wish my technical English was good enough to give some proof to why different power cables sound different and why this is only marginally affected by the quality of the power supply of e.g. an 25.000 $ DAC. So if you want a german explanation I am glad to send you one (no crap, no lies, just science!). But even if you would speak German, we would come to a point, where science does not matter anymore and philosophy starts or even better, when people start to listen. And this is what this hobby is about?

I once had an Engineer here who designs electrical circuits for the computer industry. His wife was with him and we listened to some music (very quite). His wife said: What is this music. Sounds nice. My wife rolled with her eyes, because she knew, that we would now talk about my system. And she made a comment on some powercables and a powerconditioner I had for auditioning. He frowned: Power Cables? Conditioner? What for? I said, to improve the sound. He looked at me, if I were completelly nuts: Claude, your kidding me! I said no, and i bet a 100 Euros, that all the people in this room can easily hear a difference between these cables. He didnt want to bet, but I got up and changed just one power cable. We listened to the same music and his wife said right away: The first time you played this music I could almost see the singer between your speakers, now it sounds fuzzier. He was still frowning, then he said: You didnt change the power cable, you must have changed something else. A power cable cannot change the sound. He got up and checked my system and I did the "trick" again. His wife laughed: why should Claude make fun of us! Then he got into thinking. How in the world can a power cable change the sound and not marginalls but easily heard by non audiophiles. "OK it might have something to do with resistance (dont know if this is the correct term) he said and we got into talking. When he left he said: I still cant believe that a power cable can do this....

 

After this conversation I really wanted to find out, what exactly is it, that power cables do, so I could discuss it with someone who really understands electricity.

I am German. If we do something, then we do it right and we document what we do. ;-) So it wasnt that hard to find first hand information on why the last meter from the power plant to your equipment matters so much.

So 1. I and others heard something 2. I found "prove" on why powercables sound different. Got it right here on my computer.

So how is your German Jeff? If you dont know German and want to learn it, we could start off with translating moron, crap, idiot, schill, piss ... Heck, we might have some four letter words in German you dont even know yet. Using them will surely not offend anyone on this forum. ;-)

Although I do not like the tonality of your posts, they make me want to reply right away and thats a good sign (sometimes).

Anymore Germans here who could help me with translating? I really dont feel like getting the dictionary out of the cellar (or anyone knows a good site which automatically translates?

Thanks

Claude

 

 

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Hi glt - I've often heard the response to your comments be, "A water filter certainly makes water better than where is came from etc..." or something to that effect. I don't think we are talking apple to apples with water and cabling so maybe the concept of the sentence is appropriate for discussion. I honestly don't know.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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No one reviews all the power cables/speaker cables that didn't make a difference or decreased performance. And there are plenty. The Odin did and thus the positive feedback.

 

My friend reviews restaurants and if they are terrible she doesn't publish it. Her (albeit well educated and experienced) opinion can have a devastating impact on a small business. She will inform them of the reasons the review is not forthcoming.

 

"There are plenty of loudspeakers going for well over $10,000 that contain drivers that you can buy from Parts Express for under $100 each."

Which ones?

All the speakers I've seen at that price have drivers that are custom designed and specialty built. Or is this just marketing hype and not to be believed?

 

James[br]

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Guest Claude

Thanks Chris,

This is just an excerpt, but it goes into detail on why the last 1,5 meter matters. It does not comment on RFI, EMI. I translated by google and did not edit. This is from an interview with Hans M Strassner. He is quite famous in Germany when it comes to Power Distribution.

 

"How can it be, that the replacement of a component's power cord into a hi-fi chain is so clearly audible, even if the pipe in the wall is disproportionately longer and usually of much lower quality? It sounds incredible, but it is easy to explain.

 

The phenomenon has its origins in a long-accepted and therefore not taken note of the problem of transforming the sinusoidal voltage in the no matter which type amplifiers required voltage. The task payable typical device's power supply consists of a transformer, the 230 VAC transformed down to the generally lower value for semiconductor electronics, as well as a full-wave rectifier and the charging capacitor, which serves as a charge storage.

 

As the designer for its electronics from the power supply voltage supplied smoothest possible calls (low ripple), the load capacitor must assume very large values, so that he as the power requirements of electronics with little voltage drop in the periods in which the instantaneous value of the sine of small hold when the voltage across the load capacitor can. The rectifier switches the connection from the secondary of the transformer that is, by only if the instantaneous value of the sine is greater than the Ladekondensatorspannung (I believe this is called Capacitorvoltage) and disconnects again when leaving the sine its maximum towards zero.

 

This leads to a significant problem. Could you make a sketch here, would be immediately apparent that of the 10 ms half sine wave of only a small time frame is always available just before reaching the Sinusmaximalwertes (sine maximum value) for reloading, the charging capacitor is. The smaller the desired ripple voltage, the shorter this time window. The typical interpretations lead to from 1 to 0.5 ms at 10 ms (power flow angle). This means that the current flowing trafoseitig (on the transformer) consists of nearly rectangular (non-sinusoidal) current pulses that are up to 20 times higher than the average power demand of the electronics. This 100-hertz current pulse, the frequency doubled because of the rectification and is strongly oberwellenhaltig backwards seems to transform the 230-volt primary of the transformer and thus the components and of course the power cord plugs and sockets. Here, he leaves behind a largely inductive, as well as resistive voltage drop on the way to the slot of the joint distribution for all components bar. That means nothing other than that it has built an ever-changing difference in voltage between the components. And what about differences, they try to balance themselves in a closed system. Closed is the system by the respective signal connections. Here, the transient currents to flow from mass to mass of the components on the screen (sheath) for example, RCA cables, so called by-pass. The current path closes again on the coupling capacitance of the transformer. That a fault current flowing through the signal cable does not sound good well, not sure need to be explained.

 

It is therefore one of the components by the sine / Gleichspannungsumformung self-generated interference, which can be phonetically more prominent, the more components in a chain are connected to each other. Start of fault has been underestimated in our opinion, long time. In certain cases, depending on your location, their influence may even dominate the effect of electromagnetic pollution.

 

This snippet gave me the first explanation on why power cables matter. If interested I can give more information on why noise (the link to the cables tested on audiogon was all about noise) does not matter as much as coupling capacitance and electromagnetic pollution.

Greetings from Germany and good night.

Claude

 

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Guest Claude

"My first thought is that a piece of equipment must have a severely compromised power supply if a power cable causes it to change its sound."

If coupling capacitance (hope this is the right term) does matter, than all (there might be exceptions) systems are affected by it. Regardless of quality of the internal power supply. So if a power cables deals well with coupling capacitance, than most gear will be positively effected. And if I understand the effect correctly you cannot blame manufacturer for this effect.

Claude

 

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Audio Diffmaker

 

http://www.libinst.com/Audio%20DiffMaker.htm

 

"The difference recording that results is only what has changed between the two recordings. If anything - a change of component, a treatment, mechanical damping, etc. - is having any audible effect on the audio signal in a system, the difference recording will have audible content. The end result is primarily intended to be evaluated by ear. "

 

On cables my thoughts are that:

1) you don't want to introduce additional noise from poor contact between receptacles and plugs

2) you want to match the electrical characteristics of the cable to the product they are feeding (not really that complex e.g. match a low inductance cable to an amp that has highly variable current draw)

3) you should be able to get this is a power cable costing less than $100 (most of cost being in connectors), or even less if you avoid the contact issue by hardwiring

 

Nyal Mellor, Acoustic Frontiers LLC.

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