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thebes

Another Take on Speaker Wires

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From Andy's blog at the beginning of the forum:

From an electrical engineering standpoint, there are three things I can measure in any given speaker cable: resistance, inductance, and capacitance. The
three things combined give you the cable impedance, which when
connected to a particular speaker will be lumped into the speakers
impedance. The cable impedance will be
distributed through the length of the cable, and generally speaking
there will be an added resistance at the termination, in fact most of the resistance will exist at the terminations and connections. The
cable can also have a particular construction, which includes the wire
gauge, the gauge and number of strands, the insulation size and type,
and the type of termination(s) used.



The resistance of a cable is determined by the wire gauge and the length of the cable. The inductance is also affected by the gauge and length. The
capacitance is affected by the length and spacing to the other
conductor(s) and perhaps to a certain extent, by the wire
gauge/geometry/insulator. The impedance of the cable could possibly affect two things: the amplitude response and/or the phase response. You may notice I did not say the cable could affect distortion. The distortion of a speaker cable is utterly unmeasureable. If you believe you can hear cable distortion, well, I cant help you; go read someone elses blog.



Those three measurements, resistance, inductance, and capacitance, will in every case determine the performance of the cable. Period. There
are no magic bullets, no magic connectors, no special copper crystal
structures, or cable geometries that cannot be measured in resistance,
inductance, and capacitance that can in any way affect the way a speaker cable sounds. If
I give you two completely different speaker cables that have exactly
the same impedance (resistance, inductance, and capacitance) then they
will sound exactly the same to your ears. If anyone tries to sell you anything different, then I say its snake oil. If they can prove it in a double-blind ABX test to a statistically significant difference then I will personally give them $100. I would say $1,000, but I dont have $1,000, and then my offer would be a lie, but I do probably have $100 at any given time. (Note to would-be muggers: I dont keep that kind of cash on me.)



Even if the two speaker cables dont measure exactly
the same, I truly doubt that any person living can, in a double blind
ABX test, tell the difference between any two reasonably constructed
speaker cables of reasonable length, including generic lamp cord at 20¢
a foot, unless they are specifically designed to alter the sound rather than simply pass it.



Now, why would I say that? Lets look at what it would take to hear an audible difference in terms of frequency response. Can you hear differences of 1dB? Probably. 0.5dB? Maybe. 0.1dB? No. So lets pretend we have an 8 Ohm speaker and a perfect speaker cable. By that I mean zero resistance, inductance, and capacitance (no such cable exists, but it gives us a place to start). To change the response 1dB due to resistance I would need a resistance of 0.976 Ohms, or about 386 feet of 14 gauge wire. Well, I really only need 10 feet to hook up my speakers, and that would give me a change of -0.0274dB. Not at all audible in any way shape or form. And thats compared to a magic speaker cable that can not exist in the real world. Compared to another real cable, like the one you would use, the difference is even less.



OK, so what about inductance and capacitance? Just for fun I pulled out the cheapest speaker wire I could find; its 12 feet of 18AWG zip cord. Capacitance: 166pF. Inductance: 3.90µH. Lets take them one at a time first the capacitance. If
you hang a capacitor on the output of your amplifier (dont do this for
real, you might make it unstable) it will form a low-pass filter with
the output impedance of the amplifier itself. The
-3dB frequency for this filter, even if the output impedance of the
amplifier were very, very high, say 8 Ohms, would be 120 MHz. At
those frequencies, other things happen that become more important, but
lets just say that there is no effect at audio frequencies.



How about the inductance? 3.9µH must make some difference with an 8 Ohm load right? If I put an inductor in front of a speaker, again I get a low-pass filter. If I have the aforementioned cable the -3dB frequency would be 326 kHz. Not even a bat can hear that.



What about the self resonance of the cable? Sorry.



Skin effect? Ah, now this one gets some people to believe, but the physics for skin effect dont begin to take effect until 100 kHz or so.



Speaker
wire critics have been known to use the example of 100 yards of cable
and 10kHz square waves to demonstrate differences in speaker wire. Well



I
want someone to show me a) the listening room with 100 yards of speaker
wire; B) the musical instrument that generates 10kHz square waves; c)
the studio microphone that can convert it to an electrical signal; d)
the studio recording equipment that can record it; e) the storage
medium that can archive it; f) the playback device that can play it; g)
the preamp/amplifier that can amplify it; h) the loudspeaker that can
reproduce it, and i) drum roll the human that can hear the difference
between an 10kHz square wave and a 10kHz sine wave. (A square wave is the sum of the fundamental and the odd-order harmonics. The lowest odd order harmonic of 10kHz is 30kHz, which is not audible to humans.)



No, the speaker wire is not in any way imaginable the weak link in the recording/playback chain. Does that mean I wont spend my hard earned money on good speaker cable? Not
at all, but I would spend it where it gives me some value, like in the
quality and usefulness of the connectors and the cables manageability,
or to meet code when run inside walls.



Now, remember this: If you can hear the difference between two different speaker cables, you have a bad connection somewhere.



By
the way all copper wire is oxygen free and any claims that some type
of wire will reduce the grit or grain in the midrange, or tighten
the bass or improve the imaging are a bunch of hooey. But feel free to disagree with me.



Oh, and if you do have a professional installation and you are running 100 yards of speaker cable, you might have to increase your wire gauge accordingly because inductance can start to be a factor. But that could get rather expensive. And every console Ive ever seen had a treble knob on it. So you can easily save your money and turn up the treble a touch if you need to. As far as resistance, well, again every console Ive seen had a volume knob.



In the end, it doesnt matter what I think of speaker cable of bi-wiring from an engineering perspective, because there are people (including our own people) who are convinced that it does matter. And those people buy speakers. And we want them to buy our speakers.



Oh, and yes, I will submit to a double blind speaker wire test. Just dont tell me Im listening to speaker wires, I may be biased.

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thebes

I agree too.. I have a glass container with marbles I sell to anyone on here for 5,000.00 USD, I swear sounds better for the highs taking away negative Karma as well.

So far.. No one has taken me up on the deal!

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To Each His Own......if expensive calbles sound good to buyer, So Be It !!!!!!! ....... Too rich for my blood, 16 gauge wire, fine by me .... It's only Rock an' Roll anyway .................

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True - but:

1. Shielding:

Can be very important - especially when the cable runs near power cables for any length but also true for the proximity to other cables. I don't know anyone that recommends running unshielded cable but I do know of many options for the shielding. This applies (possible even more) to both power cables and interconnects (or patch cables if you prefer). If you can neatly arrange your cables at the back of your system with power cables well away from signal cables and speaker cables away from interconnects then you probably need less shielding - if you have spagetti at the back (like me) then investing a well shielded cables certainly cannot hurt.

2. Oxidation:

Whilst copper cable is a great conductor copper oxide is not. Silver, on the other hand forms an oxide that is a perfectly reasonable conductor. If the ends of your copper speaker cable are green your resistance figures will be higher and this MAY impact on the sound.

3. Bi-wiring / Bi-amping:

There may well be benefits to the latter of these 2 - although probably not directly related to the wire. Even with bi-wiring there may be improvements in separating the high and low signals (I honestly do not know). Certainly having a greater than required diameter of cable to connect your speakers will be less damaging to your sound than having less than required.

There are probably other issues too - but this is all that springs to mind at the moment. I do understand the logic of the original post - there is far too much "magic" with regards to cables but even without that there is, perhaps, a little more going on than expressed here.

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Thebes,

Good idea to post Andy's blog in two channel. I read it in the blog and thought it was excellent.

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There are probably other issues too - but this is all that springs to
mind at the moment. I do understand the logic of the original post -
there is far too much "magic" with regards to cables but even without
that there is, perhaps, a little more going on than expressed here.

======================

For example?

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In support of Andy's point, check oout this article on SixMoons in which Jeff Day constructs "high performing" IC and speaker cable out of a Wal-Mart power cord.  



IMO, instead of standing for the proposition that cable this is a superb sounding diamond in the rough, this experiment tends to illustrate that all properly designed cables should sound pretty much the same.

Notably, Day found and used the same RCA and banana connectors that Keith Aschenbrenner of Auditorium 23 and Shindo Labs use in their about $1000 per meter wire.  His cost - looks like less than $5 for the exact same terminations.

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There are probably other issues too - but this is all that springs to mind at the moment. I do understand the logic of the original post - there is far too much "magic" with regards to cables but even without that there is, perhaps, a little more going on than expressed here.

======================

For example?

Well - the things I wrote...?

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I still say razer wire gives a sharper image.

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True - but:

1. Shielding:

Can be very important - especially when the cable runs near power cables for any length but also true for the proximity to other cables. I don't know anyone that recommends running unshielded cable but I do know of many options for the shielding. This applies (possible even more) to both power cables and interconnects (or patch cables if you prefer). If you can neatly arrange your cables at the back of your system with power cables well away from signal cables and speaker cables away from interconnects then you probably need less shielding - if you have spagetti at the back (like me) then investing a well shielded cables certainly cannot hurt.

2. Oxidation:

Whilst copper cable is a great conductor copper oxide is not. Silver, on the other hand forms an oxide that is a perfectly reasonable conductor. If the ends of your copper speaker cable are green your resistance figures will be higher and this MAY impact on the sound.

3. Bi-wiring / Bi-amping:

There may well be benefits to the latter of these 2 - although probably not directly related to the wire. Even with bi-wiring there may be improvements in separating the high and low signals (I honestly do not know). Certainly having a greater than required diameter of cable to connect your speakers will be less damaging to your sound than having less than required.

There are probably other issues too - but this is all that springs to mind at the moment. I do understand the logic of the original post - there is far too much "magic" with regards to cables but even without that there is, perhaps, a little more going on than expressed here.

Max,

You are right there may be more to it ...... However

1. Shielding: This is a concern for inter-connects (I still them patch cords also) phono, & microphone cables because their impedance is high. With high impedance you are susceptible to picking up hum and RFI. However, the speaker cable is low impedance. There is probably no headache involved.

2. Oxidation: All contacts should be periodically cleaned up anyway. I sometimes wonder if this is part of the joy when folks swap crossovers in & out (but I am digressing). If the cable is soldered to the connector (spade, banana, etc) the electricity has a great path, regardless of what might be happening on the surface of the cable itself.

I agree there is far too much "magic"

Take care,

-Tom

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Max, great points.

1. Yes, from time to time shielding can make a difference, but this is more to do with the installation than the cable itself. And some types of connections (coax cables for instance) require that the cable impedance is correctly selected.

2. Oxidation: this falls into "If you can hear the difference between two different speaker cables, you have a bad connection somewhere."

3. Bi-amping -- stay tuned, that's my next topic.

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Thanks Andy,

Problem is - I do think I hear differences in cables - and it is not just me - and it is beyond any of the issues outlined above. Here is the thing:

Anecdote 1:

I own 2 sets of speaker cables: Pair number one is a Silver Synergistic (actually part silver and part something else - platinum from memory) - seriously expensive. Pair number 2 are run of the mill Van Den Hull D102 hybrids - cost about 1/10th of the Synergistics.

I used to run the Synergistics and then a guy comes to my house and politely informs me that the Silver cables are all wrong for Horn loaded speakers like Heresies (I had those at the time). I am, shall we say, not particularly receptive to his overtures in this direction.

Anyway sometime later another person tells me the same thing so I go down to a local dealer and borrow the VDH's on a recommendation.

In the meantime another guy has been to listen to my system and is only vaguely impressed.

After about a week of testing (after his visit) - switching back and forth I conclude that I prefer the VDH's. OK - this is a personal choice - I could be mad (probably am - regardless of the whole cable thing) so I ante up the cost and shelve the Synergistics.

Couple of weeks later the other guy happens by and has a listen - without knowing I changed anything. He immediately asks what I have changed because it all sounds "so much better now - with a lot more bass..."

When I explain the cables he too is surprised - I was amazed - same story repeats with various listeners who got to hear the before and after.

Anecdote 2:

Actually this is for patch cables (getting worse arent I...):

Anyway I am at a high end dealer store buying XRCD's. They have some serious TT setups (I didnt have a TT at all at the time). I ask to hear one in comparsion to the XRCD. They have the same recording on XRCD and on vinyl (Stokowski - Liszt Hungarian rhapsody No. 2 and other tracks).

We listen first on the CD player and then on the vinyl rig (Clearaudio Master Reference / Master reference parallel arm / Insider Reference cart). There is a difference - Tony is going apopleptic but somehow it is not quite what I was expecting. The CD player was $5,000 and the TT $25,000 give or take. The grin on the owners face disappears completely when I mention that the difference, although there - isnt quite all that and certainly not worth the money.

Suddenly he is listening intently to the sound (I think he was expecting we would be blown away and wasn't listening till I mention that I am not). He then gets up and goes behind the units where he does something - I did not know what.

We go back to the CD player and then to the vinyl rig. Now there is a huge difference to my ears and I ask what he did.

You guessed it - he replaced the interconnects with another pair.

Summary:

I have lots of anecdotes like the ones above. I have no idea why I think I hear differences (it doesn't always follow the cost as seen in the first example) and has cropped up when I really wasn't looking for it (second example). I know it is supposed to be psycho-acoustics but it seems to work in reverse for me as often as it does the "right way".

Just as a further example - I attended a Nordost presentation on their cables and came away utterly unimpressed. The demonstrator was expert and building expectation and pretty much leading the croud into hearing what he wanted them to hear but I felt I saw (heard?) through the show. He worked his way from a pair of computer RCA's all the way through an 8 model line up to the Valhalla's. At every stage we all heard a difference with each appearing to be 10-20% better than what went before. It was impossible not to hear the difference in the presentation, but, at the end, when we went back to the original Computer cables - whilst there was a difference from the Valhallas it was not a cumulative difference. In other words if each was 10% better than the last the Valhalla's should have been 100% better than the computer cables. In terms of difference, however, it appeared only to be similar to the difference between the Valhalla and the next one down in the range.

I concluded on the basis of this show that the whole thing was something of a sham (rightly or wrongly) - yet I have heard cable differences....

So - to summarize. I know that according to physics there should be no audible difference. I know there is a whole lot of snake oil out there - and an even greater amount of total BS from cable companies but, when push comes to shove I really am convinced I have heard differences.

Thoughts? Just fooling myself? All Psycho-acoustics? Would love to know.

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A stereo shop salesman told me once that to hear a difference in speaker cables, in terms of resistance at least, you had to go up or down at least 2 gauge sizes (18 to 14, 12 to 16, for example) and I've found that to be mostly true. In my system, going from 18 gauge lamp cord to 14 gauge generic speaker wire made a noticeable improvement in the sound of transients like drumbeats and handclaps, in that they were "crisper" and more realistic.

Moving up to 12 gauge of slightly better fine-strand cable made a further improvement of the same type, but it was less noticeable. However, when I switched to 8 gauge very fine strand twisted pair cable (735 strands per conductor), there was a further improvement in the sounds of transients, plus the bass seemed more full, allowing me to slightly reduce the bass boost I was using at that time.

These results lead me to conclude that musical peaks and bass notes use much more power than many people realize and that while small-gauge cable may be fine for compressed elevator-type music, it can sap the dynamics from music that has, well, a lot of dynamics, by reducing the available headroom.

There's also the feeling that in spite of having a limited budget, like almost everyone, at least there's something I didn't have to compromise on. That feeling may influence my impressions of my favourite speaker cable, but I don't think it's to any significant amount.

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Funny thing, page 2 Scott Operating Manual......"We highly recommend ordinary lamp wire (#22 guage wire according to the electrical code). If you plan on using wire lenghts of 50 feet or more, it is advised to use #18 gauge wire to prevent excessive losses of power."...........Go Figure !!!!!!

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Anecdote 1:

Other things like temperature and humidity of the room can have that

effect - not to mention differences in the wall voltage too. The real trick would be to switch the cables back and see if he

notices a degrade in sound quality the next time he comes to visit. Heck, were you playing the same recording?

Anecdote 2:

This could easily fall into the "dirty connection" category.

So - to summarize. I know that according to physics there should

be no audible difference. I know there is a whole lot of snake oil out

there - and an even greater amount of total BS from cable companies

but, when push comes to shove I really am convinced I have heard

differences.

Thoughts? Just fooling myself? All Psycho-acoustics? Would love to know.

If you're in fact hearing a difference that can't already be explained

and is not a result of psychoacoustic tricks, then I would say that we would need

to quantify that difference so that it can be engineered. Knowing why something sounds different/better is more important than knowing a difference exists.

That said, I would love to sit down sometime and quantify all of the

input and output impedances of the devices in question. Anytime you

move away from a 'low output impedance driving a high input impedance'

the impedance of the transmission line (aka the interconnect) becomes

more and more important. There is certainly no shortage of high quality

equipment that does not follow standard impedance practices. As such,

they are going to be very picky about what is hooked up to them.

Then looking at the big picture - sometimes I wonder why people get so

hung up about small things like wire when there are other things that

have much larger impacts on the sound. People will argue adamently that

they can hear differences with wire, which is fine with me, but they

will adamently reject other concepts that others claim have a larger

impact...even if they have no experience with the other concepts. Could

that be considered close-mindedness? Whatever it is, it makes me call

into question the validity of those getting stuck on the wire issue.

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I haven't played around much with speaker cables, but sure have sampled the IC's, and definitely can discern differences in those.

Whether or not those differences are related to specific measurable characteristics (inductance, capacitance, etc) are mostly unknown here.....although I'm sure they would measure differently - but I am definitely in the caps/tubes/cables matter "club". That's not necessarily meaning that "more expensive is better", but through various trials have arrived at solutions that work for me.

I do think it worthy to get the "basics" down as best one can (like speakers, gear selections, room) first, but the "finer points" are certainly worth investigating for many. If you don't hear differences worth worrying about, then you are "off the hook", but for those that do, keep experimenting until you find what works best for you.

The DIY'ers have it made here......feel free to play with various compositions of cables (silver, copper, etc) until you find something that works for your ears.

I do agree that much in the hi-fi marketing world is overpriced and overblown in regards to cabling, yet there is much to investigate in this area without going broke, too.

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