Do cables make a difference?

May 15, 2006

CablesThis should be a fun post as I know the issue of high-quality A/V cables is capable of turning everyday citizens into venomous anti-cable evangelists, bent on proving to the world that a piece of cable is a piece of cable. I assure you these disbelievers couldn’t be more incorrect if they tried.

That’s not say that all cables are worth their asking price. On the contrary, some cable manufacturers know full well that what their selling amounts to modern day snake-oil. They prey on the very confusion surrounding the subject to make their living.

Let’s label the two camps as believers (those who think cables make a difference) and disbelievers (those who think all cables look and sound alike). First know that I fall into the believer category, because in my experience I just can’t explain away what my ears and eyes tell me as psycho-acoustic trickery or wishful thinking.

Time and time again under repeatable circumstances I’ve proved to myself and others that, in certain applications, cables can make a significant difference in the sound and image quality of 2-channel stereo systems and home theaters. I suppose a little background might help explain where I’m coming from on the subject.


I started out in the audio/video industry back in 1991; I was fresh out of high school and really didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. As luck would have it I walked into a local high-end electronics store and asked a question that would ultimately change my life, “Are you looking for any help?”

15 years and 4 or 5 job descriptions later, I’m still in the industry and I learn something new everyday. But those early “prove it to me” experiences are still among my fondest memories in the business. Early on I learned that trying to judge relatively subtle differences in an A/V system is entirely dependant on the overall resolution (sound and image) the system is capable of recreating.

In other words, just as you wouldn’t expect to be able to discern the eye color of an occupant in a car with tinted windows, don’t expect to be able to decide if that new speaker cable you bought sounds better or worse in a low resolution system. I’ll leave it to you to decide what is or isn’t low-resolution, but if you rarely have visceral responses while watching a movie or listening to a CD at home, it’s very possible your system would fall into the ‘low-resolution’ category.

Cables:

Ok, back to cables. In my opinion, instead of asking do cables make a difference it would make more sense to ask does equipment make a difference. Most people wouldn’t argue that equipment makes a difference, however many fail to realize that cables follow some of the same engineering and design fundamentals as the equipment itself.

Let’s take speaker cable for an example, as it generally has fewer variables than interconnects and digital cables. Yes, I’m generalizing here but for our purposes it’s a safe generalization.

First off it’s important to note the difference between proper application and overall quality. For example, the proper wire gauge on a long speaker run will make a bigger impact on the sound quality, than overall cable quality. Alternatively an overall high-quality cable of the wrong wire gauge will often sound worse than the former.

What about digital cables? I’ve heard the, “Its digital. It either works or doesn’t” mantra hundreds of times, and its no more true today than it was the first time I heard it in the nineties. Digital has an error threshold that it will continue to operate under; it’s only above that acceptable rate of error that the signal will fail completely. Guess what? Higher quality cables will allow that signal to travel over longer distances through more radio frequency interference before the signal fails.

Cable Quality Factors:

Listen, I don’t want to get into the myriad of possibilities and examples of how cables can fail. I’d rather get right down to it and explain how cable construction and quality will make a difference in sound and image quality.

The signals that flow down your audio and video cables are in essence electrical voltage; granted it’s a tiny amount of voltage but susceptible to interference just the same. Just as the quality of the components in your receiver or DVD player make a difference in your sound and images, so can your cables.

Many factors go into what makes a “quality cable”. Some of those factors include: the purity of copper strands in cable itself; the type, design, and construction quality of the connector. Even the outer jacket material of the cable, which can reduce interference from other electrical sources, plays into how a cable “sounds”.

Even though you might think a small amount of voltage shouldn’t matter one way or another to how much interference your system receives, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt even a small amount of voltage that intersects a poorly shielded cable at just the right point, can degrade the overall sound/image quality of your system.

The most important function of an audio/video cable is to neither add nor subtract anything of its own to the signal flowing through it. This sounds incredibly simple but it’s obvious (to me at least) that many cables fail to do this. If I take cable (A) and play a few seconds of audio through it and take another cable (B) and do the same but (A) sounds significantly better, what other conclusion am I left with?

Recommendations:

There are tens if not hundreds of quality A/V cable manufacturers and rather than risk omitting one of them, I’ll keep my recommendations on a general level. First off keep things in perspective. A good rule of thumb is to spend roughly 10% of your overall system budget on cables; maybe a little less or maybe a little more but avoid extremes to either side of your budget.

Secondly and most importantly in my book, if you can’t see or hear the difference don’t pay for it. Yes that might come as a surprise from someone in the industry but my purpose here has never been to “sell” you anything. I’m much more interested in you enjoying your investment than pushing some overpriced, poorly designed cables on you.

The idea of “auditioning” cables might sound bizarre but certain audio shops will allow you to do just that. This “try-before-you-buy” method really goes along way in ensuring that you end up with cables that actually make a difference in your home theater system.

Alternatively if auditioning cables just sounds like too much of a hassle (and I’d be hard pressed to disagree with you on that one), I do have some other general guidelines to pass onto you.

Don’t always assume that the bigger names in cable offer the best value. Some of these monstrous (pun intended) companies are better at marketing than delivering quality, affordable cables. Do some research, ask a friend, try before you buy, read forums but please don’t fall into either of the two following cable myths:

(1) Cables are all the same and make no difference.
(2) If cables do make a difference then I should just buy whatever the salesman recommends or is most popular.


Summary:

I’ve seen numerous examples where cable quality absolutely made a discernable difference in a system and equally as many systems that wouldn’t have benefited from the most expensive cables ever offered. It’s all about the right cable for your system, think system not upgrade or band-aid.

Keep the 10%’ish rule in mind and you’ll do just fine. Also keep in mind that for very short runs overall cable quality generally isn’t such a critical concern; that isn’t to say you won’t find exceptions to this.

Please also keep in mind that marketing and manufacturing are often two very different things. As I stated here earlier, I’m not really here to “sell” you on a specific cable brand. There are too many good ones out there and in all honesty even several of the good ones overlap each other’s product lines. That said however, I will join in on the comments here with some specific warnings or recommendations if you like.

My best piece of advice is to neither skimp nor spend a disproportional amount to the overall value of your system. Keep things in perspective and maybe even do a little bit of research about electrical interference, you may just find another 10-15% of performance you never knew your system had.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Home Theater Equipment


Comments

  • Kirby

    This may fall on deaf ears since the last post was over a year ago, but I have a test to help prove thhat high end cables make a difference.
    My current car audio system retails just over $4,000 and the sound is immaculate with one small issue. When you rev the engine, a terrible high pitched eeeEEEEEEeeeeeEEEEEEEeee! comes from the speakers. you can drown it out if you turn the volume up high enough, but many of my car audio associates have explained the issue is with my cheap cables.
    I have purchased now a $140.00 pair instead of the $30.00 Scrope specials, and when they arrive, I will post if they make a difference.

  • Kirby

    This may fall on deaf ears since the last post was over a year ago, but I have a test to help prove thhat high end cables make a difference.
    My current car audio system retails just over $4,000 and the sound is immaculate with one small issue. When you rev the engine, a terrible high pitched eeeEEEEEEeeeeeEEEEEEEeee! comes from the speakers. you can drown it out if you turn the volume up high enough, but many of my car audio associates have explained the issue is with my cheap cables.
    I have purchased now a $140.00 pair instead of the $30.00 Scrope specials, and when they arrive, I will post if they make a difference.

  • William

    I see many different brands of HDMI cables for sale at different prices.

    Is there really a different b/w spending 80 dollars for a monster cable and 40 for a Belkin cable.

    Thanks

  • William

    I see many different brands of HDMI cables for sale at different prices.

    Is there really a different b/w spending 80 dollars for a monster cable and 40 for a Belkin cable.

    Thanks

  • S. Musial

    This past Sunday though, I needed a 12 foot HDMI cable, to hide my wires behind the wall for the new 32” Samsung LCD in my office. I ran down to my local Best Bye and the least expensive HDMI cable was $99.00 plus tax, the young (well groomed) audio expert sort of snickered at my poor understanding of audio and video and at my only slight displeasure of the price. Trust me, no ranting here, just a leisurely Sunday afternoon.

    “Have you found a lower price for a 12 foot HDMI cable in this St. Louis?” “Are you aware of the differences in quality (this was Best Buys’s only 12 ft. HDMI wire, and we surely know that they are sharing price points with Kimber, Cardas, etc. Well actually I had to take his challenge, I had time to burn, my StL RAMS were stinking up the field. I remember I recently purchased a nice OPPO DVD player for another room with a six foot cord thrown in the box for about $150? I took the HDMI challenge!
    I did find another12 foot HDMI at the Radio Shack for $79.00 three doors down within the strip mall, a savings of $30.00 with the 7% tax at both being a wash?

    There again though, the thoughtful associate at the Shack suggested I go for the Monster brand though. Was it worth the walk at my middle age of 50 for about 6 minutes? Then the ultimate test, I come home to the holy grail of pricing, the internet and I find Firefold cables online (first time I have ever heard of the company, I promise I do not financial interest in anything one of these companies here, but some college tuition bills for two children, my retirement, etc., some of those real life things most of us do have), but here I have to settle now for (please sit down), a15 foot HDMI cable (25% longer mind you) for a total of $8.06 and no tax, but the first class shipping charge is a about a wash with the tax. I had to even settle for those gold plated tips too.

    I think some of us audio veterans have a have a heart for the young kids entering the hobby today. And it is a hobby or passion for most of us. I can just image my son working for $10 an hour this past summer, and having to put in a full extra eight hours for that wire at the “Best” Buy? Which I still will be a patron.

    My approximate 40 years of enjoying music has taught me, to one, buy used (be more selective and decerning on speakers here though). Put all you can in your speakers, there is where you will hear the largest difference. Then your amps, then work your way down. Cables, Interconnects and the snake oil capitol of audio, the power cord should be way, way down your list. Never use percents, for I have never worked for percents, never paid my bills in percents, use U.S. dollars.

    If you can afford $8.25 for per foot for the new and ever changing HDMI cable, and the clarity is one that the BB sales advisor stated “even my girlfriend sees a tremendous improvement, with that brand cable”, then maybe you have to “go for it”. We all have to splurge once in awhile, right? But why not try the .53 cent a foot line first though, you may just be able to retire 10-15 years earlier adopting this approach once in awhile and have much more free time to hear much more music in your lifetime.

    I can say with absolute confidence though, the equipment, wire, lines and patch cords that created the majority of these recordings we all listen to, cost only a fraction of the cost of what is any of our systems. Is this sometimes getting to the point of Audio Alchemy? How can something that goes in come out so perfect? My opinion, and its worth about this sheet of paper this is printed on here, cables, interconnects and powercords are just audio costume jewelry.

    Just another viewpoint, I may be wrong, but I doubt it.
    (Sir Charles Barkley)

  • S. Musial

    This past Sunday though, I needed a 12 foot HDMI cable, to hide my wires behind the wall for the new 32” Samsung LCD in my office. I ran down to my local Best Bye and the least expensive HDMI cable was $99.00 plus tax, the young (well groomed) audio expert sort of snickered at my poor understanding of audio and video and at my only slight displeasure of the price. Trust me, no ranting here, just a leisurely Sunday afternoon.

    “Have you found a lower price for a 12 foot HDMI cable in this St. Louis?” “Are you aware of the differences in quality (this was Best Buys’s only 12 ft. HDMI wire, and we surely know that they are sharing price points with Kimber, Cardas, etc. Well actually I had to take his challenge, I had time to burn, my StL RAMS were stinking up the field. I remember I recently purchased a nice OPPO DVD player for another room with a six foot cord thrown in the box for about $150? I took the HDMI challenge!
    I did find another12 foot HDMI at the Radio Shack for $79.00 three doors down within the strip mall, a savings of $30.00 with the 7% tax at both being a wash?

    There again though, the thoughtful associate at the Shack suggested I go for the Monster brand though. Was it worth the walk at my middle age of 50 for about 6 minutes? Then the ultimate test, I come home to the holy grail of pricing, the internet and I find Firefold cables online (first time I have ever heard of the company, I promise I do not financial interest in anything one of these companies here, but some college tuition bills for two children, my retirement, etc., some of those real life things most of us do have), but here I have to settle now for (please sit down), a15 foot HDMI cable (25% longer mind you) for a total of $8.06 and no tax, but the first class shipping charge is a about a wash with the tax. I had to even settle for those gold plated tips too.

    I think some of us audio veterans have a have a heart for the young kids entering the hobby today. And it is a hobby or passion for most of us. I can just image my son working for $10 an hour this past summer, and having to put in a full extra eight hours for that wire at the “Best” Buy? Which I still will be a patron.

    My approximate 40 years of enjoying music has taught me, to one, buy used (be more selective and decerning on speakers here though). Put all you can in your speakers, there is where you will hear the largest difference. Then your amps, then work your way down. Cables, Interconnects and the snake oil capitol of audio, the power cord should be way, way down your list. Never use percents, for I have never worked for percents, never paid my bills in percents, use U.S. dollars.

    If you can afford $8.25 for per foot for the new and ever changing HDMI cable, and the clarity is one that the BB sales advisor stated “even my girlfriend sees a tremendous improvement, with that brand cable”, then maybe you have to “go for it”. We all have to splurge once in awhile, right? But why not try the .53 cent a foot line first though, you may just be able to retire 10-15 years earlier adopting this approach once in awhile and have much more free time to hear much more music in your lifetime.

    I can say with absolute confidence though, the equipment, wire, lines and patch cords that created the majority of these recordings we all listen to, cost only a fraction of the cost of what is any of our systems. Is this sometimes getting to the point of Audio Alchemy? How can something that goes in come out so perfect? My opinion, and its worth about this sheet of paper this is printed on here, cables, interconnects and powercords are just audio costume jewelry.

    Just another viewpoint, I may be wrong, but I doubt it.
    (Sir Charles Barkley)

  • Mark

    Interesting discussion. I have about $10,000 in my home theater equipment, (self installed,but at least a $7000 installation) but have spent less than $150 on Cables and it sounds fantastic. I am doing some tweaks and may report back here, but I have one very interesting observation….
    Inside my components (Receiver, DVD, Dish box, and speakers) there is a lot of cable/wire and they are all very small diameter/high guage. I’m sure they are of high quality, but they are 28awg or smaller.
    The purities of the cable material (I believe) are insignificant (esp. at or greater than 99% purity). Shielding can help, but only if your cable is run intercepts a magnetic field.
    Standard EE laws tell me I need larger wire over distance, but when will a 14 awg show improvement over 24awg? This should be standardized, and read from a table. You should be able to pick the cheapest cable at the length & gauge you need and there will be no difference with other cables.

  • Mark

    Interesting discussion. I have about $10,000 in my home theater equipment, (self installed,but at least a $7000 installation) but have spent less than $150 on Cables and it sounds fantastic. I am doing some tweaks and may report back here, but I have one very interesting observation….
    Inside my components (Receiver, DVD, Dish box, and speakers) there is a lot of cable/wire and they are all very small diameter/high guage. I’m sure they are of high quality, but they are 28awg or smaller.
    The purities of the cable material (I believe) are insignificant (esp. at or greater than 99% purity). Shielding can help, but only if your cable is run intercepts a magnetic field.
    Standard EE laws tell me I need larger wire over distance, but when will a 14 awg show improvement over 24awg? This should be standardized, and read from a table. You should be able to pick the cheapest cable at the length & gauge you need and there will be no difference with other cables.

  • Brian Louis

    I have a set of AQ Gibraltar (about $1000/10ft pair biwired) for my main speakers. I loaned them to a friend and he gave me his monster cable that was about the same guage wire as my AQ wire to hold me over. At low volume I did not hear much difference if any. BUT, as I turned it up there was without a doubt a huge drop off in the bass response more than anything. The bass was there but sounded scratchy and distorted. He called me and commented how much better the bass sounded in his system with the AQ cables in there before I ever told him what I was hearing. So maybe at low volumes you can get away with a much less $$$ cable.

  • Brian Louis

    I have a set of AQ Gibraltar (about $1000/10ft pair biwired) for my main speakers. I loaned them to a friend and he gave me his monster cable that was about the same guage wire as my AQ wire to hold me over. At low volume I did not hear much difference if any. BUT, as I turned it up there was without a doubt a huge drop off in the bass response more than anything. The bass was there but sounded scratchy and distorted. He called me and commented how much better the bass sounded in his system with the AQ cables in there before I ever told him what I was hearing. So maybe at low volumes you can get away with a much less $$$ cable.

  • Jim

    Quick question – will my hdmi video signal suffer degradation if I take it from my cable box to a wall plate and then connect my tv’s hdmi cable to the rear of the wall plate? I thought I could get away from cables by using a cable card but it did not work.

  • Jim

    Quick question – will my hdmi video signal suffer degradation if I take it from my cable box to a wall plate and then connect my tv’s hdmi cable to the rear of the wall plate? I thought I could get away from cables by using a cable card but it did not work.

  • DHGranstrand

    I just purchased 25′ video component cables from bluejeanscableDOTcom. They were $80 for the set of three cables. Exceptional Canare RCA plugs with Belden 1694A cable. Extremely well constructed and flawless video transmission.

  • DHGranstrand

    I just purchased 25′ video component cables from bluejeanscableDOTcom. They were $80 for the set of three cables. Exceptional Canare RCA plugs with Belden 1694A cable. Extremely well constructed and flawless video transmission.

  • Cap’n Preshoot

    You’re going to have to put me in the camp of the non-believers. I was in broadcast (FCC P1-17-11478) many years ago and worked for several more as a Region Engineer for Cox Cable back in the ’70s. True, there are “proper cables” for the job, but overall the buying public is getting hosed on their home entertainment cables.

    The problem I have with “consumer grade” audio & video cables is the marketing hype of the “large” brand (pun intended) coupled with retailer greed in blister-packaging their own store brand & competing cables then pricing those “just enough” under the ridiculously priced brand to attract buyers. This “riding on the coattails” of the big marketer is tantamount to theft by deception.

    There are some differences in cables, but paying 10 times as much for one vs another is absurd and should never suggest nor imply 10x the quality. You can get excellent quality cables for very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, with pressure on margins you’ll seldom find much in the way of reasonably priced cables at the same store where you bought your fine HT equipment.

    10% of your HT budget spent on cables? That still seems awfully high. I guess it would depend on how much your budget actually is. For a $2,000 system spending $200 (10%) on the cables might be reasonable, but spending $500 for cables on a $5,000 system sounds more like someone’s getting taken to the cleaners. That same exact set of $200 cables should work equally well on either system and I have serious skepticism about the ability of anyone to prove that their eyes and ears can see or hear the difference.

    In commercial broadcast we often made our own cables from bulk spools of brand-name cable (i.e., Belden) that at the time sold for a few cents a foot. Even the 5″ diameter nitrogen-pressurized heliax cable carrying our 50 KW signal to the top of our 1,200-ft tower was assembled on-site from (huge) spools of Andrew cable that sold for a few dollars a foot.

    Gold-plated connectors? Well, if your component (amplifier, DVD player, etc) also has gold-plated jacks then I might agree, but otherwise you may be setting yourself up for some problems from the dissimilar metals. Anyone remember the problems the PC makers had with gold-plated memory being plugged in to nickel-plated tin connectors (and vice-versa) on the motherboards? It wasn’t long (about a year) before these dissimilar metal connections began causing many system lockups.

  • Cap’n Preshoot

    You’re going to have to put me in the camp of the non-believers. I was in broadcast (FCC P1-17-11478) many years ago and worked for several more as a Region Engineer for Cox Cable back in the ’70s. True, there are “proper cables” for the job, but overall the buying public is getting hosed on their home entertainment cables.

    The problem I have with “consumer grade” audio & video cables is the marketing hype of the “large” brand (pun intended) coupled with retailer greed in blister-packaging their own store brand & competing cables then pricing those “just enough” under the ridiculously priced brand to attract buyers. This “riding on the coattails” of the big marketer is tantamount to theft by deception.

    There are some differences in cables, but paying 10 times as much for one vs another is absurd and should never suggest nor imply 10x the quality. You can get excellent quality cables for very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, with pressure on margins you’ll seldom find much in the way of reasonably priced cables at the same store where you bought your fine HT equipment.

    10% of your HT budget spent on cables? That still seems awfully high. I guess it would depend on how much your budget actually is. For a $2,000 system spending $200 (10%) on the cables might be reasonable, but spending $500 for cables on a $5,000 system sounds more like someone’s getting taken to the cleaners. That same exact set of $200 cables should work equally well on either system and I have serious skepticism about the ability of anyone to prove that their eyes and ears can see or hear the difference.

    In commercial broadcast we often made our own cables from bulk spools of brand-name cable (i.e., Belden) that at the time sold for a few cents a foot. Even the 5″ diameter nitrogen-pressurized heliax cable carrying our 50 KW signal to the top of our 1,200-ft tower was assembled on-site from (huge) spools of Andrew cable that sold for a few dollars a foot.

    Gold-plated connectors? Well, if your component (amplifier, DVD player, etc) also has gold-plated jacks then I might agree, but otherwise you may be setting yourself up for some problems from the dissimilar metals. Anyone remember the problems the PC makers had with gold-plated memory being plugged in to nickel-plated tin connectors (and vice-versa) on the motherboards? It wasn’t long (about a year) before these dissimilar metal connections began causing many system lockups.

  • Reddog

    I was going to explain the concept that digital systems still experience and deal with loss, but this explanation is much better “Regarding digital audio cables: At audio sampling rates, i.e. 96KHz, the 24-bit data for DVD-Audio at 6 channels means a cable bit rate of 13.8Mbits/s. Lets say the velocity of propagation is 4.76ns/m. At that data rate, a new bit is introduced onto the cable every 72ns.

    Right there you can conclude that any cable less than 15meters is good enough for digital signals to be able to completely ignore inter-symbol interference.

    That is the problem where one data bit interferes with its neighbors as it travels down the cable. For DVI data, still digital mind you, the data rate is more like 600Mbits/s for a 720p data signal. That means cables shorter than 0.35m can ignore ISI.”

    Too restate this in a more succinct way, the faster you want to transfer data the more important the quality of the cables. Cable quality does matter, even for digital transmissions.

  • Reddog

    I was going to explain the concept that digital systems still experience and deal with loss, but this explanation is much better “Regarding digital audio cables: At audio sampling rates, i.e. 96KHz, the 24-bit data for DVD-Audio at 6 channels means a cable bit rate of 13.8Mbits/s. Lets say the velocity of propagation is 4.76ns/m. At that data rate, a new bit is introduced onto the cable every 72ns.

    Right there you can conclude that any cable less than 15meters is good enough for digital signals to be able to completely ignore inter-symbol interference.

    That is the problem where one data bit interferes with its neighbors as it travels down the cable. For DVI data, still digital mind you, the data rate is more like 600Mbits/s for a 720p data signal. That means cables shorter than 0.35m can ignore ISI.”

    Too restate this in a more succinct way, the faster you want to transfer data the more important the quality of the cables. Cable quality does matter, even for digital transmissions.

  • Ben Hobbs

    I agree with one of the posters comments about HDMI/DVI runs – for a 1-2 metre run, Im pretty sure that any DVI cable will do. However I had a 10m run of cheap cable that would not display a 720p or 1080i/p image, it would be fine if I set it to a lower resolution but woul djust fill the screen with garbage at higher resolutions.

    I have also seen the sparkles from another cheaply priced cable at 10m, Currently I insist on cabling in decent quality HDMI/DVI cables for lengths of 10-15 metres +. These arent outrageously expensive ($125-$200 US or so) and have worked every time, in every install at every possible resolution. However these cables are VERY good quality, I could never see a need to spend more than this on high-end HDMI cables even for 15m runs.

  • Ben Hobbs

    I agree with one of the posters comments about HDMI/DVI runs – for a 1-2 metre run, Im pretty sure that any DVI cable will do. However I had a 10m run of cheap cable that would not display a 720p or 1080i/p image, it would be fine if I set it to a lower resolution but woul djust fill the screen with garbage at higher resolutions.

    I have also seen the sparkles from another cheaply priced cable at 10m, Currently I insist on cabling in decent quality HDMI/DVI cables for lengths of 10-15 metres +. These arent outrageously expensive ($125-$200 US or so) and have worked every time, in every install at every possible resolution. However these cables are VERY good quality, I could never see a need to spend more than this on high-end HDMI cables even for 15m runs.

  • Rob Poitras

    “The only other comment I’ll make about audio is that the detection of a 1 or 0 is not the only problem that is present. All digital audio receivers need to recover the source clock source of the data in order to play the audio. If a poorly constructed cable causes the signal to jitter excessively, the receive clock (if it can track this jitter) will also be jittery and this may be audible. If the receiver cannot track this jitter, data bit errors can result which are also audible.”

    This man speaks the truth, I was going to post the same thing.

    For a quick speaker wire comparo, just wire up the left with a cheap cable and a better cable on the right side then flip between sides. You should be able to hear a difference.

    Another factor why people don’t always tend to hear a difference in general with cable is they don’t have a trained ear. Think of wine connoisseurs, without a trained taste they probably can’t tell the difference between two different years of the same wine (2001 vs 2000 merlot from XYZ winery) but if they are trained they can probably taste the difference between two bottles of wine that are the same (both 2001 merlots from XYZ).

    The best is to get some of the best cables you can afford and hook them up, if you cant tell a difference then return them for something cheap.

  • Rob Poitras

    “The only other comment I’ll make about audio is that the detection of a 1 or 0 is not the only problem that is present. All digital audio receivers need to recover the source clock source of the data in order to play the audio. If a poorly constructed cable causes the signal to jitter excessively, the receive clock (if it can track this jitter) will also be jittery and this may be audible. If the receiver cannot track this jitter, data bit errors can result which are also audible.”

    This man speaks the truth, I was going to post the same thing.

    For a quick speaker wire comparo, just wire up the left with a cheap cable and a better cable on the right side then flip between sides. You should be able to hear a difference.

    Another factor why people don’t always tend to hear a difference in general with cable is they don’t have a trained ear. Think of wine connoisseurs, without a trained taste they probably can’t tell the difference between two different years of the same wine (2001 vs 2000 merlot from XYZ winery) but if they are trained they can probably taste the difference between two bottles of wine that are the same (both 2001 merlots from XYZ).

    The best is to get some of the best cables you can afford and hook them up, if you cant tell a difference then return them for something cheap.

  • BobG

    Regarding digital audio cables: At audio sampling rates, i.e. 96KHz, the 24-bit data for DVD-Audio at 6 channels means a cable bit rate of 13.8Mbits/s. Lets say the velocity of propagation is 4.76ns/m. At that data rate, a new bit is introduced onto the cable every 72ns. Right there you can conclude that any cable less than 15meters is good enough for digital signals to be able to completely ignore inter-symbol interference. That is the problem where one data bit interferes with it’s neighbors as it travels down the cable.

    For DVI data, still digital mind you, the data rate is more like 600Mbits/s for a 720p data signal. That means cables shorter than 0.35m can ignore ISI. Much bigger problem for these signals and this is why cable construction and DVI receiver technology is so important for video.

    The only other comment I’ll make about audio is that the detection of a 1 or 0 is not the only problem that is present. All digital audio receivers need to recover the source clock source of the data in order to play the audio. If a poorly constructed cable causes the signal to jitter excessively, the receive clock (if it can track this jitter) will also be jittery and this may be audible. If the receiver cannot track this jitter, data bit errors can result which are also audible.

    Hope this helps the discussion.

    Bob

  • BobG

    Regarding digital audio cables: At audio sampling rates, i.e. 96KHz, the 24-bit data for DVD-Audio at 6 channels means a cable bit rate of 13.8Mbits/s. Lets say the velocity of propagation is 4.76ns/m. At that data rate, a new bit is introduced onto the cable every 72ns. Right there you can conclude that any cable less than 15meters is good enough for digital signals to be able to completely ignore inter-symbol interference. That is the problem where one data bit interferes with it’s neighbors as it travels down the cable.

    For DVI data, still digital mind you, the data rate is more like 600Mbits/s for a 720p data signal. That means cables shorter than 0.35m can ignore ISI. Much bigger problem for these signals and this is why cable construction and DVI receiver technology is so important for video.

    The only other comment I’ll make about audio is that the detection of a 1 or 0 is not the only problem that is present. All digital audio receivers need to recover the source clock source of the data in order to play the audio. If a poorly constructed cable causes the signal to jitter excessively, the receive clock (if it can track this jitter) will also be jittery and this may be audible. If the receiver cannot track this jitter, data bit errors can result which are also audible.

    Hope this helps the discussion.

    Bob

  • B.Greenway

    Hey Shaka,

    I know we (4 of us atm) haven’t soldered a connection in years but even that’s going to take some clarification. We’ve been using the Cable-Pro compression fittings along with 75ohm RG59 for component and digital audio runs, and 50ohm RG59 for analog audio runs; from the head-end out to local Plasma’s/LCD’s as well as projector installations to back-up a HDMI or DVI connection etc.

    In situations where those types of runs are too long, we’re doing the long haul with Crestron CNX-RMC’s and just breaking it out locally.

    But for the actual equipment in the rack we’re still using preconfigured ‘traditional’ interconnects whenever possible. We just cant rationalize the time expenditure for custom cables every time unless we’re talking about a 2-gang Mid-Atlantic rack enclosure and a customer willing to pay for the difference in how much cleaner custom cables look.

    Keep in mind I’m talking about at work (like I think you are). At home about the only ‘custom’ cable I have are a few RG59 feeds that run to a Gamecube on the other side of the room, other than that its all stock pre-made stuff.

  • B.Greenway

    Hey Shaka,

    I know we (4 of us atm) haven’t soldered a connection in years but even that’s going to take some clarification. We’ve been using the Cable-Pro compression fittings along with 75ohm RG59 for component and digital audio runs, and 50ohm RG59 for analog audio runs; from the head-end out to local Plasma’s/LCD’s as well as projector installations to back-up a HDMI or DVI connection etc.

    In situations where those types of runs are too long, we’re doing the long haul with Crestron CNX-RMC’s and just breaking it out locally.

    But for the actual equipment in the rack we’re still using preconfigured ‘traditional’ interconnects whenever possible. We just cant rationalize the time expenditure for custom cables every time unless we’re talking about a 2-gang Mid-Atlantic rack enclosure and a customer willing to pay for the difference in how much cleaner custom cables look.

    Keep in mind I’m talking about at work (like I think you are). At home about the only ‘custom’ cable I have are a few RG59 feeds that run to a Gamecube on the other side of the room, other than that its all stock pre-made stuff.

  • shakaZOLO

    Throwing myself to the sharks here, but what’s the general consensus surrounding soldered interconnected versus compression fittings. I’ve heard both sides, admittedly from my reps in either camp. The solder guys talk about signal path and continuity through the solder. But the compression guys make the argument that there is actually more contact with the conductor of an RCA or BNC cable from a solid core thrust directly into the connector. Anyone ever test this? With the latter I am referring to something like the liberty RG59 digital serial cable. Also, how do you feel about using these for audio and video, despite the ohm differences?

  • shakaZOLO

    Throwing myself to the sharks here, but what’s the general consensus surrounding soldered interconnected versus compression fittings. I’ve heard both sides, admittedly from my reps in either camp. The solder guys talk about signal path and continuity through the solder. But the compression guys make the argument that there is actually more contact with the conductor of an RCA or BNC cable from a solid core thrust directly into the connector. Anyone ever test this? With the latter I am referring to something like the liberty RG59 digital serial cable. Also, how do you feel about using these for audio and video, despite the ohm differences?

  • Brian Hoyt

    I will just add a comment on the digital cables. I used to be the either it is there or it isn’t type. To a degree I still believe that with optical (at least under 1 KM). However with DVI/HDMI I have seen the difference on long cable runs. It is often described as sparkles. Certain pixels are not drawn properly in what I can only assume is a failure of certain error correction or refresh signals not all making it.

    Some people have them and just think it is a bad picture, but in the times I have seen them improving the cable made all the difference. There are certified HDMI cables of longer lengths for a reason.

  • Brian Hoyt

    I will just add a comment on the digital cables. I used to be the either it is there or it isn’t type. To a degree I still believe that with optical (at least under 1 KM). However with DVI/HDMI I have seen the difference on long cable runs. It is often described as sparkles. Certain pixels are not drawn properly in what I can only assume is a failure of certain error correction or refresh signals not all making it.

    Some people have them and just think it is a bad picture, but in the times I have seen them improving the cable made all the difference. There are certified HDMI cables of longer lengths for a reason.

  • B.Greenway

    Hey Josh,

    I’ve got a mix of cables in my system, everything from Straightwire to Audioquest and even some “freebie” cables that came with some of my Linn components.

    If I had to pick one I’d say that overall the Audioquest cables I use are the ones I’d recommend first. And no these aren’t the incredibly overpriced 100-200 dollar cables people freak out over. The pair of AQ cables that go from my receiver to my font channel amps were $15 each.

    I have a friend that raves over http://www.bluejeanscable.com but I haven’t really had need to buy a new pair of cables in years.

    So about all I can say to the blue Jeans cables are that this friend of mine isn’t exactly what you’d call a cable freak, yet he found them worth mentioning.

    Hope that helps.

  • B.Greenway

    Hey Josh,

    I’ve got a mix of cables in my system, everything from Straightwire to Audioquest and even some “freebie” cables that came with some of my Linn components.

    If I had to pick one I’d say that overall the Audioquest cables I use are the ones I’d recommend first. And no these aren’t the incredibly overpriced 100-200 dollar cables people freak out over. The pair of AQ cables that go from my receiver to my font channel amps were $15 each.

    I have a friend that raves over http://www.bluejeanscable.com but I haven’t really had need to buy a new pair of cables in years.

    So about all I can say to the blue Jeans cables are that this friend of mine isn’t exactly what you’d call a cable freak, yet he found them worth mentioning.

    Hope that helps.

  • B.Greenway

    Personally I can’t rule out that digital cables don’t make a difference based on a pool of just two cables, seems rather limited in my opinion.

    You might even test 10-20 cables without seeing a difference but would that negate the difference the 21st cable made?

    Not sure where you got the impression I was touting gold-plated contacts, it’s not the color of the connector that’s important. Its how the cable performs that matters.

  • B.Greenway

    Personally I can’t rule out that digital cables don’t make a difference based on a pool of just two cables, seems rather limited in my opinion.

    You might even test 10-20 cables without seeing a difference but would that negate the difference the 21st cable made?

    Not sure where you got the impression I was touting gold-plated contacts, it’s not the color of the connector that’s important. Its how the cable performs that matters.

  • Dave

    Sure, digital errors are not unheard of. Error correction exists for CD media, DVD media, etc. My point is that you don’t have to worry about signal degredation for a digital signal the way you do for an analog signal. A degraded 1 is still going to be interpretted as a 1. With media, there are many reasons that digital errors may occur–smudges on the disc, scratches, dust, etc. The “bitstream” for CDs, DVDs, etc, is just the exact bits of data extracted from the media. Errors in this stream of data may exist for the reasons listed above–which is why error correction and interpolation may be necessary.

    I can say that I used the cheapest DVI cable I could find to go from my computer to my LCD monitor–and the colors and picture are no sharper on my friend’s monitor who used a higher-end cable. All the pixels are present and accounted for. Still, if gold-plated contacts make you feel better about your system, I say go for it.

  • Dave

    Sure, digital errors are not unheard of. Error correction exists for CD media, DVD media, etc. My point is that you don’t have to worry about signal degredation for a digital signal the way you do for an analog signal. A degraded 1 is still going to be interpretted as a 1. With media, there are many reasons that digital errors may occur–smudges on the disc, scratches, dust, etc. The “bitstream” for CDs, DVDs, etc, is just the exact bits of data extracted from the media. Errors in this stream of data may exist for the reasons listed above–which is why error correction and interpolation may be necessary.

    I can say that I used the cheapest DVI cable I could find to go from my computer to my LCD monitor–and the colors and picture are no sharper on my friend’s monitor who used a higher-end cable. All the pixels are present and accounted for. Still, if gold-plated contacts make you feel better about your system, I say go for it.

  • Josh

    “That said however, I will join in on the comments here with some specific warnings or recommendations if you like.”

    Okay, I’ll bite. From what I read, in your experience Monster is to cables as Bose is to speakers. So what brands do you believe are a good value?

  • Josh

    “That said however, I will join in on the comments here with some specific warnings or recommendations if you like.”

    Okay, I’ll bite. From what I read, in your experience Monster is to cables as Bose is to speakers. So what brands do you believe are a good value?

  • B.Greenway

    Toslink or ‘Optical’ transmission has come a long way, especially with multi-fiber conductors. That type of cable would probably solve many interference problems, unfortunately not all gear uses optical.

  • B.Greenway

    Toslink or ‘Optical’ transmission has come a long way, especially with multi-fiber conductors. That type of cable would probably solve many interference problems, unfortunately not all gear uses optical.

  • DS

    What about gold plated toslink cable?

  • DS

    What about gold plated toslink cable?

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Mike,

    “What are these test where you’re proving to someone that cables make a difference? ”

    Listening, just listening.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Mike,

    “What are these test where you’re proving to someone that cables make a difference? ”

    Listening, just listening.

  • MikeDawg

    What are these test where you’re proving to someone that cables make a difference? Are you running a pair of speakers from a 34 AWG wires and then connect them with a 16 AWG wires and see if they can notice a difference?

    Are you hooking up a multimeter (or an ohmeter) and showing them the difference in resistance between the cables?

    For analog systems, I think that a decent pair of decently gauged wire (I’m adding “decent” as a qualifier, I think it is stupid to try and compare a nice high-end cable to a 34-AWG pair of speaker cables) is just as fine as a $40/ft set of speaker wire with some name brand on them.

  • MikeDawg

    What are these test where you’re proving to someone that cables make a difference? Are you running a pair of speakers from a 34 AWG wires and then connect them with a 16 AWG wires and see if they can notice a difference?

    Are you hooking up a multimeter (or an ohmeter) and showing them the difference in resistance between the cables?

    For analog systems, I think that a decent pair of decently gauged wire (I’m adding “decent” as a qualifier, I think it is stupid to try and compare a nice high-end cable to a 34-AWG pair of speaker cables) is just as fine as a $40/ft set of speaker wire with some name brand on them.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Dave,

    I don’t expect everyone to agree with or share my opinions, just a fact of life. Please understand I don’t make these statements flippantly or to be contrary.

    I’m afraid trust has nothing to do with it either, as it’s been proven to me on three occasions by three different individuals, all with fairly impressive technical credentials who work with some of the best digital-to-analog converters in the industry.

    Digital’s claim of “perfect sound forever” came from a marketing department and most definitely not from an engineering department.

    Any signal that a travels down a cable (digital or not) is subject to degradation of varying degrees, this is an electrical law and not one that’s really up for debate.

    Philips own CD Redbook specifications mention loss management techniques designed to compensate for missing and partial data packets in the bit-stream, as well as error-correction encoder algorithms designed to recapture a flawed stream on the fly. To be honest I found about 20 different mentions of error correction techniques on one page alone.

    One excerpt in particular mentions: Interpolation – “If a major error occurs and a sample cannot be perfectly reconstructed by the error control circuitry, it is possible to “guess” the content of the sample; that is, obtain an approximation by interpolating it off the neighboring audio samples. While this concealment will not “fix” the error, it will make it inaudible, offering a graceful degradation of audio quality as clicks and pops are avoided.”

    I would argue that if that data stream would have made it to the DA completely intact, less or no error correction would have been applied, and surely the original sound encoded on the disc is better than making it inaudible.

    Obviously a drop here or there isn’t going to amount to much to the end user but get enough of those “inaudible” passages together and you’re going to experience some rather annoying oddities in your audio playback.

    As to “just moving the video source closer” What if 1-meter isn’t close enough? For my purposes (which I readily admit might not represent the majority of electronics users) shorter cables aren’t always the solution, as I’m often dealing with interference as my main source of error and not signal degradation brought on by long cable runs.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Dave,

    I don’t expect everyone to agree with or share my opinions, just a fact of life. Please understand I don’t make these statements flippantly or to be contrary.

    I’m afraid trust has nothing to do with it either, as it’s been proven to me on three occasions by three different individuals, all with fairly impressive technical credentials who work with some of the best digital-to-analog converters in the industry.

    Digital’s claim of “perfect sound forever” came from a marketing department and most definitely not from an engineering department.

    Any signal that a travels down a cable (digital or not) is subject to degradation of varying degrees, this is an electrical law and not one that’s really up for debate.

    Philips own CD Redbook specifications mention loss management techniques designed to compensate for missing and partial data packets in the bit-stream, as well as error-correction encoder algorithms designed to recapture a flawed stream on the fly. To be honest I found about 20 different mentions of error correction techniques on one page alone.

    One excerpt in particular mentions: Interpolation – “If a major error occurs and a sample cannot be perfectly reconstructed by the error control circuitry, it is possible to “guess” the content of the sample; that is, obtain an approximation by interpolating it off the neighboring audio samples. While this concealment will not “fix” the error, it will make it inaudible, offering a graceful degradation of audio quality as clicks and pops are avoided.”

    I would argue that if that data stream would have made it to the DA completely intact, less or no error correction would have been applied, and surely the original sound encoded on the disc is better than making it inaudible.

    Obviously a drop here or there isn’t going to amount to much to the end user but get enough of those “inaudible” passages together and you’re going to experience some rather annoying oddities in your audio playback.

    As to “just moving the video source closer” What if 1-meter isn’t close enough? For my purposes (which I readily admit might not represent the majority of electronics users) shorter cables aren’t always the solution, as I’m often dealing with interference as my main source of error and not signal degradation brought on by long cable runs.

  • Dave

    I agree that analog cables make a difference–but, regarding error threshold, when you’re not dealing with an analog signal, it’s either a one or a zero. Trust me–it DOESN’T make a difference for digital signals. Don’t get me wrong–I really respect your opinions and am a regular reader of this blog. Still, I disagree.

    Yes, over a longer distance, you may experience signal degredation–even with a digital signal. Higher quality cables may minimize that effect. However, if you’re trying to extend the signal over a long enough distance for that to be a factor, you should probably just move your video source a little closer.

  • Dave

    I agree that analog cables make a difference–but, regarding error threshold, when you’re not dealing with an analog signal, it’s either a one or a zero. Trust me–it DOESN’T make a difference for digital signals. Don’t get me wrong–I really respect your opinions and am a regular reader of this blog. Still, I disagree.

    Yes, over a longer distance, you may experience signal degredation–even with a digital signal. Higher quality cables may minimize that effect. However, if you’re trying to extend the signal over a long enough distance for that to be a factor, you should probably just move your video source a little closer.