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Yes, The Quality Of Your Cables Does Matter

Discussion in 'Accessories / Connections' started by DonnyThompson, Mar 1, 2015.

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  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I've recently been asked by several of my clients (I make part of my living working as a consultant to home studios) if cables really matter in the grand picture. I thought I'd share those thoughts here.

    My answer is yes, it matters. It matters a lot.

    Now, I'm not talking about falling for some of those "mythical" cables, the ones that price out at $100 per foot... these are usually brought to you by the same companies who have invented other "audiophile" nonsensical crap - like the "crystal wand", which, according to the people that manufacture it, will effect the positive and negative particles that reside on vinyl albums, and in order for you to really hear the way the album was meant to sound, you have to wave this "magic wand" over your LP's... if you want them to sound good.

    Or, the guy who sells mahogany or black walnut knobs for the pots on your electric guitar, insisting that by using this expensive wood on the volume and tone knobs, you can get a better sound.

    Uhm.... ya.

    No, I'm talking about things that make sense. Factors that have been proven, like distortion, signal to noise, hum, buzz, and... how long a cable will last under normal operating conditions.

    Cheap cables will not only not last, but will also very often introduce noise caused by all kinds of external
    (and internal) stimuli. The results can be noise - hum, buzz, hiss, along with Snaps, Crackles and Pops... just like Rice Crispies.

    IMO, it's just not worth it to buy cheap cables.

    I'm not saying that quality cables "sound" better than cheap cables. What I'm saying, is that quality cables are better because you don't hear anything at all, other than the signal itself.

    Recently, I spoke with Phil Tennison of Mogami, and he put it in the best way I've ever heard it described:

    "Properly designed and executed cable should not have its own 'sound" .

    And he's right.

    Other than passing the signal in the mot accurate way possible, it shouldn't have any "sound" at all.
    A quality cable doesn't "sound" like anything. A cable should be able to pass signal as transparently as possible, and, it should be whisper quiet while doing so - there should be no noise, no hum or buzz, no crackling.

    Our recording rooms, whether or not they are pro or hobbyist level, all share a common issue, and that is that noise really wants to get into your recording system. With all the cables we use (even in small home/ hobby studios there's quite a few) - we risk becoming one big antenna.

    Quality cables also matter in terms of reliability and solidity. You want your cables to last. Good cables will last virtually forever, if they aren't being yanked, kinked, knotted and otherwise abused; but cheap cables can develop problems out of nowhere, with no warning, and without having been put under any undo stress.

    So, the next time you're in a music store, and you see those cheap $8 mic or instrument cables, consider for a moment just how long you need or want them to last, or, if you're willing to accept the results of poor shielding, weak solder points and cheap wire. You may very well end up replacing that cheap cable two, three, maybe even four times - in just a few years - as opposed to getting good cables to begin with, and only buying them once.

    FWIW

    d.
     
    Pedro Vicentini and kmetal like this.
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    good one.

    I've had this discussion with a lot of people over the years, including some manufacturers and as far a cable goes, some think cable doesn't effect the sound like we are being lead to believe. So, I thought I should do a test for myself and get all the good stuff I can here and try to fool my trusted kids. Why my kids? Because they are smart like me but have much younger hearing and understand why I ask them things like this.

    In all blind tests my kids where able to hear Accousound Silver cabling to be better sounding over even Mogami. They said it had a clearer more open sound. I also heard this but I thought it was more important to hear what they said because I can't hear past 16k.

    I posted this discovery here and most of the members doubted this with a rolled eye. Mind you, those where also in the camp that converters don't matter either.
    I wondered why it is that I hear this. My conclusions must be because my system is very clean, well cabled, I use balanced power and have excellent converters and monitoring to say the least. I also did this test with and without a superclock and the clock was a complete waste of money. I mention that because it proved long ago that you don't need an external clock if you system is working.
    We did these test using headphone btw. I know we're a bit eccentric but not all crazy.

    What I don't like about some cable is how it doesn't lay as well as others. The silver cable I have has a sheeth that I don't like but the sound is well worth the annoyance of that.

    All my digital is 110 ohm and after this test, I even starting buying 110 for the analog. Years have passed since I was so stocked from this, I'm not so anal about it as much but I know gear matters more that most care to admit. It cost money to sound stellar, especially if you are heading OTB. At the end of the day, most people don't hear what the audiophile does. Little of this matters if you are ITB, all of it matters if you are OTB.
    So, if you are in a conversation about gear and I read you someone is using lame ass cable or says converters don't matter, I don't think I will be trusting your opinions as much as I would mine. ;)

    I was once prepared to get Vovox cable but then came to my senses.
    If you look to see who is pushing this stuff you usually see a group of other companies all in the same camp. Dangerous Music, Vovox, Focal, Fab Dupont must have lunch together .
    There is politics in all this too so I take it with a grain of salt.

    From an engineering tool kit perceptive (who uses what) recordists aren't who I trust a lot for my sonic information. I tend to listen to Mastering engineers when it comes to sound quality. Do mastering engineer's listen to the audiofiles, probably more so than recordists.
    Whats interesting is seeing the companies and their client base and you will see the birds that flock together. Its easy then to tell who they are marketing it all for.

    Cable matters but it doesn't if you don't take it all just as serious.
     
    kmetal likes this.
  3. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I've boutght multiple cables and adapters from radio shaft that didn't work, right out of the package.

    I'm a big fan of canare at $.80 a foot it's an excelnt product at a fair price. I've seen a well regarded tech have use canare for a clock cable. He just pulled it off the spool, and attached the connectors. it's good enough for me. I'm just gonna use that for all my cabling for the time being and just attactch some good connectors.

    I belive it's possible to hear a difference especially with a really clean system. Most systems aren't up to that spec and chances are the differences aren't really integral to the end product.

    All I'm saying is I've kistend to quite a few 'flat' speakers and been in a few different rooms from joe to pro. And none of them have sounded alike. So I'm growing very aware that a lot of of aren't even hearing close to the same things, before it even gets to the ears. Flat doesn't take into account timbre. I just feel like you could listen to three different flat systems and rooms, and even with very close tolerances, wouldn't sound the same subjectivly.
     
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    @Donny,

    how good does cable have to be? will it be a one time install or a remote rig that's set up and broken down every night? what grade / type of cable do you think is "good enough"?
     
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    @Kurt Foster

    For me, the criteria for good cable is three simple things - that it works, that it's quiet and that it lasts.

    I don't work for Monster, or Canare, or Mogami, LOL, so I'm not "selling" for any particular cable manufacturer.

    Of course, as you mentioned, if you are doing a continual set up and strike down on a regular basis, you'll want cable that is built well, solid, and that can take the wear and tear, and that still remains quiet while working.

    In my personal experience, Mogami and Monster seems to last the longest - in fact, out of all the Mogami and Monster that I've purchased over the years - some of them are now 8 years old, I've yet to have any issues with any of them, and some of those that I use in my studio also double as gig cables for me as well, so they see plenty of action.

    I've also used cheaper cable in the past in my studio, (where it's not being moved or disconnected continually) and I've heard it go bad within a year - noise, crackling, and hum, without any undue stress, other than occasional disconnects.

    Last summer, I was setting up for a gig and realized I was short an instrument cable - a 1/4", which I needed for my Washburn acoustic/electric, because the other jack on the acoustic - an XLR - wasn't working at the time.

    I was close to a GC, (actually, it was across the street from the restaurant I was playing), so I ran over and bought a cheap instrument cable out of their budget bin, just to do the night.
    My thinking at the time was that certainly, even the cheapest of cables will last one night, right? Well, apparently I was wrong, because that cable didn't even make it through the gig, Kurt.
    Halfway through my second set, it stopped working. There was no noise, or crackling, or hum, it just stopped working entirely.
    By that time in the night, GC was closed, so I ended up playing the rest of the gig with a 57 on a stand miking my acoustic.
    It was a hassle for me, I couldn't move around and do my shtick with the audience, because I was nailed down to that 57 miking the acoustic...

    (I will say that GC was cool about taking the cable back the next day. I explained to them what had happened and they acted as if it was common for those cables to be returned. They didn't give me any hassle about it.)

    As an end note, I'd suggest that you don't need to buy high quality cables that are pre-made from a manufacturer, either. If you're okay with a soldering iron, you can get the cable and parts and make them yourself.
    I used to do that quite a bit - I just don't have the eyes for it anymore. ;)
     
    kmetal likes this.
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I have cable, which I think is Mogami with Switchcraft ends that I bought in the late 70's, used it 6 nights a week for 18 years solid road work that I still have now as spares. I never twisted it mind you. Mogami is definitely excellent.
     
  7. ToddP

    ToddP Active Member

    Besides the quality of the construction, isolation etc, the formula of the wire also makes a difference. You hear the difference between the Mogami and the Accusound because of the different capacitance. It is much easier to hear with instrument cable at very with the HiZ and low levels making silver or copper wire sound very different. It is also there with line level though, and like everything, you weigh the cost vs benefit. Now when the cable guys start talking about which DIRECTION the electrons should move... well, then you say "Well, bless your heart" and excuse yourself.
     
    Chris likes this.
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    You mean like this guy...

    http://hothardware.com/news/10000-ethernet-cable-claims-earth-shattering-advancement-in-audio-fidelity-if-youre-stupid-enough-to-buy-it
     
  9. Ethan Winer

    Ethan Winer Active Member

    I don't think "cheap" is the right word. I've had plenty of cables over the years that were very inexpensive and worked perfectly well. The better words are probably "well made" and "quality materials." I can think of four things that can harm audio quality:

    Excess capacitance that might lose high frequencies if the driving device's source impedance is higher than normal.

    Poor soldering that could cause distortion due to a partial connection acting as a diode.

    Inadequate shielding, though that applies mostly when connecting low-level high impedance devices such as a passive electric guitar to an amp, or a phono cartridge to a preamp.

    Poor quality insulation that can make the wire have triboelectric noise, or handing noise, though this is rare these days, and also is a factor only with low-level high impedance circuits.​

    I'll also mention that blind tests are not easy to do correctly!

    --Ethan
     
  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    agree.

    In my case, it was just a simple speech test that we did a bunch of times to shake it up. Every one we did gave the Accousound the better choice. It was very obvious something sounded better.
    Fact or fiction, I don't know for certain but it was enough for me to keep it.
    What its taught me is this topic is a good one to to avoid lol. It teeters around snake oil as do HD converters and power conditioning . I love sound and will often buy the most expensive things but know I can get by on less. .
     
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    @Ethan Winer @Chris

    Thanks for weighing in Ethan. I probably should have been more specific and stated the difference as you did - Low Quality vs High Quality.

    I'm not here to profess that I can hear a difference in "sound" between cables, other than that the poor ones introduce things that, IMO, shouldn't be there.

    But, I don't believe it's "snake oil" when you can hear the cable giving off noise or hum, or adding distortion, or breaking up signal.
     
  12. Ethan Winer

    Ethan Winer Active Member

    Yes, if you compare two wires with nothing else different, and one has more hum than the other, that would be due to shielding. But again, this is not trivial to test. In 50 years doing this stuff I've never heard hum / buzz due to a wire. Usually it's a ground loop with line level gear, or air-borne hum or dimmer buzz into a guitar pickup. So when comparing guitar cords for hum from poor shielding, it's critical that the guitar be resting on a surface and not moved even 1/4 inch in any direction as you replace one wire with the other. I've also never heard a wire add distortion, though I know it's possible because I've heard bad solder joints (inside audio gear) add distortion.

    --Ethan
     
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    @Chris @Ethan Winer @ToddP

    My bet is that I probably wouldn't be able to, Todd.

    I'm not doubting those who say they can, after all, how would I know what others can or can't hear? I can only speak for myself, and I'm just saying that I highly doubt that I could hear a difference in capacitance.
    Then again, I can't say that I've ever heard Accusound cable... at least not to my knowledge, anyway.

    For me, once again, it's all about what I don't hear.

    As far as I've been able to tell, both the Mogami and Monster cable I have and use don't do anything other than to get the signal to where it's supposed to go, in as clean, transparent, and quiet of a way as possible.... and, they've also lasted a very long time, which is important. Those of us who own studios, large or small, know that it's not cheap to wire our studios with quality cabling. But it's necessary, because we can't have cables "getting in the way" of what we are recording. We can't afford to have a take ruined because a cable is adding artifacts to the track, whether it's hum, or buzz, or clicks and pops and crackles.

    Perhaps they do add gain or a wider frequency range...? ... I don't know. Mogami Studio Gold cables claim to have more gain, and accordingly, a lower noise floor.. but I can't claim to have noticed those things, unless my personal "what I don't hear" criteria is proof of that.

    I can say - for a fact - that I've had lower quality cables that have introduced noise, buzz, crackles, etc., and which have also quit working entirely after just a few months... and no, I wasn't abusing them, either.
    (I don't ever kink or twist my cables, I never put them under any undue stress. I never unplug a cable by grabbing the cable and pulling. I pull them out by holding the jack. When I store them, I wrap them in a loose loop, and use Velcro strips to secure the loop on both sides of the loop at the jack ends).

    I'm not saying that there aren't people out there who can hear an audible difference in quality between certain cables - and I'm talking about hearing things other than what my preference is, which is to be able to hear nothing at all - I'm just saying that I doubt that I would be one of those people that would be able to discern things like wider frequency range, increased top, mid or low end, etc., unless it was blatantly obvious. For example, I'm not able to hear any difference in signal quality between the Monster or the Mogami that I have, other than they both deliver signal in a clean, transparent and dead-silent fashion.

    FWIW :)

    d.
     
  14. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    we spent days fabbing and twisting bundles when i wired up my studio. i bought 3 boxs of Belden Studio wire and a sh*tload of connecters. my advice is if you are building a serious studio, get a box of wire and some connectors (MCM)and set up a permanent soldering station. you will be able to custom fab your cabling each time you purchase a new piece of hardware. still i have found that it is best to purchase pre fabbed, any multi pin cables (like DB25s).

    DAW studios require less cable to hook up ........ in analogland, 2 quality cables for one channel of tape in /out, each channel of outboard, runs to the mixer and inserts on each track / channel. it all adds up pretty fast.

    ... i was surprised how much interconnect, audio cables and snakes i have. i'll bet i've spent at least 5 grand and probably more on pre fab stuff. that's the dirty little secret .... how much it costs to wire a studio and how difficult it will be to sell custom configured wiring when time comes to sell it off.

    now that i don't have a tech, i usually buy HOSA or pre fabbed cables not for quality but for convenience. but the best stuff i have is the cabling i have had custom fabbed out of Belden Studio wire and Neutrik / Switchcraft ends. to me it all sounds the same as long as it isn't cheapo R/S wire.
     
  15. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I used to make my own cables all the time. But that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when my sight was better, and before a back injury, which occasionally causes my right hand to become a bit weak and shaky.
    (I'm definitely not surgeon material, that's for sure... LOL)

    When I had my commercial studio - first analog and then digital, I used to joke with my engineers that by the time I included all bays, gear racks, tape sends and returns, inserts, DO's, snakes to the live room, aux cables sent to the midi room, plus all instrument, mic and speaker cables, I had enough cable to reach to the moon and back. LOL

    Cable is one of those things that's tough to specify in the price of selling a studio. People kind of expect that the cabling is included in the package, (rightly so, IMO ) but many fail to see just how much there is that's hidden - under and behind consoles, bays, equipment racks, in the walls, etc.

    As you said, it's far less these days in a modern DAW studio, but there's still plenty of it there, if you stop and consider it.
     
  16. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I too believe that cable does matter - the real snag is identifying good cable from hyped cable. I thought of this topic this afternoon when digging around for a special cable I knew I had somewhere. In the store is a flightless trunk full of loads of old cables, so I was hunting through it, and found exactly what I wanted. Many of my cables have labels on them - mainly for when they're used in venues and people pinch them! This one had a label - but the address was an old one, identifying it as nearly 20 year old. It has Neutrik connectors, and Canford sourced cable, to BBC spec (Looks like HST, but it's not very long, so I can't see the label). The plugs are still shiny too! Next to it was a similar short adaptor cable, but this one had XLRs of a different style - the original Canons, and the outer shell was pitted and dull, the pins were also quite yellow and tarnished. The cable was probably nice and soft and flexible when new, but now it was stiff and hard, and probably would have cracked if I tried to flex it. I also discovered a BBC multicore, with 7 pairs (odd numbers, but that's how they were) and this one dates back to 1978, and is still looking good. Throwing a few on a tester, I found all the hi-fi types that were Sony own brand are still flexible and able to be used. However, the few XLR to jacks I found had rusty jacks - the rust coming through the plating, and the cable was again very stiff.

    I have never bought any of the crazy priced posh stuff, just decent quality stuff sold to audio professionals, not hifi enthusiasts. Decent mic cable (like the HST) I buy is not cheap - around a pound a metre, but I have proof it will probably outlive me! It's overpriced of course - for the same money you can get heavy duty mains power real rubber covered cable with tons more copper in it, but that's life!
     
  17. Ethan Winer

    Ethan Winer Active Member

    How much affect capacitance has an sound quality is easy to measure, so there's no need to spend more than ten minutes discussing it. The first thing that changes is high frequency response. So you measure that at the far end of the wire using a signal generator and voltmeter. If the level at 20 KHz is no more than 0.1 dB below what it is at 1 KHz, then nobody could possibly hear it. However, some gear is unable to drive capacitive loads at high voltage levels, and that creates distortion due to slew rate limiting. So you need to measure at both low and high signal levels.

    --Ethan
     
  18. SHOOTOUT!

    SHOOTOUT! Member

    Guitar cables are fairly straightforward (or should be!) due to the dramatic effect of capacitance on passive pickups and the lack of high frequency information up around 20kHz compared to full audio range 'hi-fi'. In circuit with passive pickups their capacitance does give them a 'sound' depending upon their capacitance per unit lenght and the length. Hendrix knew this, Santana knows this... using the capacitance as a tone control.

    However gold plated jack plugs and silver plated cable have crossed over from the hi-fi world into guitar cable land where they don't belong.

    Then there's misinformation on 'ideal' cable for capacitance which doesn't make any sense as length is a factor.

    Shielding type is often overlooked, and correct right angle-right angle facing (same or opposite) on patch cables to avoid twisting is ignored.

    Strain relief varies from hopeless, to being so good that the cable will break at the strain relief.

    I have taken it upon myself to clear up as much mythology as possible thus:
    http://www.shootoutguitarcables.com/guitar-cables-explained/introduction.html

     
  19. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Your article is well written, concise, informative, and IMO, useful reading, from what I read ( I didn't read the entire article with all of the various parameters being tested, but I did book mark your page for future resource).

    Guys, I'm not disputing that the parameters mentioned, like capacitance, etc., are things that don't exist. In fact I'm positive they do. Measurement differences prove as such.

    What I'm saying here, is that I don't believe that I would be able to perceive an audible difference between different quality cables - XLR, TRS, 1/4", etc.

    I honestly don't believe that I'm capable to hear those frequency nuances/differences that others say they can.
    My hearing is good up to just about 17k, so if we're talking differences between 17k - 20 k, there's no way I would be able to hear differences in that range.

    And, I'm not saying that some people can't hear these differences, either... how would I know what others can or can't hear?

    Measurements may show one cable being better than another, in terms of S/N, gain, capacitance, or frequency response... but, that doesn't mean that I can audibly perceive these differences in measurement, unless of course, they are blatantly obvious, or within my range of hearing, frequency-wise.

    This thread wasn't started with the intention of agreeing with - or disputing - these things from an "audiophile's" perception - one who claims to be able hear these things.

    My main point - and I don't believe it's a myth, or that it would even be disagreed with - is that a cable should route signal cleanly, quietly, and with as much optimum gain and minimum resistance possible.

    And, it should also be able to endure through a "normal" pattern of use... the caveat being any undue stress put upon it.

    For me, it's not so much what I can hear, it's more about what I can't hear. If I can't hear noise, interference, distortion, attenuated gain, intermittent connection... then for me, these are the "sounds" of a quality audio cable, regardless of format.
    This also includes the connectors on the cable as well.
    (I should have been clearer about mentioning this - when I first posted, I assumed that appropriate quality connectors would have been considered by those reading to be included in the subject matter).

    My own experience with lower quality cables has shown me - that is, they've allowed me to hear - that they are just not worth buying. And, if a cable quits working 30 minutes after I've purchased it, ( 10 minutes into my set at a gig) then obviously this is also a sign of a poor quality cable.

    This was the original subject of my post, the original intention.

    You guys are free to discuss these finer, measurable - or, even audible - nuances, and I'll be glad to sit back and read... but I can't offer any input on these points myself, as my own experience isn't deep enough to engage in the subject.

    :)

    d.
     
  20. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I just sourced a 100m of an unknown cable from one of my regular suppliers for 1 third of the price of the stuff I usually use. The spec is good, the construction 'looks' good, so only time will tell. I always buy purple cable - seems odd, but I can always spot mine from others!
     

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