Audio cables range in price from free to hundreds of dollars for just a few feet. Some are thin, some are thick, some have gold tips, some have none, but do they really make a difference in sound quality?
All of the major electronics chains like Best Buy, Circuit City, and Frys Electronics, currently carry exotic or very expensive audio cables. These cabling companies are making millions and each boasts different claims about how their cables will improve your listening experience. Most of these tend to be emotional rather then scientific in nature. The most popular brand of exotic cables is Monster Cable and some of it’s claims include it’s cable’s ability to “enhanced depth, imaging and soundstage” and being “Ã¢Â?Â¦capable of providing the most satisfying, listening experience possible.” But how do you define depth scientifically? A perfect cable should simply carry the signal unaltered from point A to point B, so how would a better audio cable affect soundstage? If that sounds questionable to you, you’re not alone.
Scientific tests of cables which involved repeatable measurements of the actual audio signal have been conducted and the differences between most cables regardless of price were so slight that scientists inquired about how anyone could hear a difference. Double blind listener tests were then conducted and audiophiles were asked to rate the quality of each recording using their own sound system with only the cables having been changed. The results of both of these experiments invalidated almost all of the exotic cable company claims. “..double-blind tests are mainstays of real science and are used, for example, to separate the real from the imaginary effects of drugs in medical trials. When applied to audio, such tests prove that even highly trained and experienced listeners can be strongly biased by their own expectations and beliefs.” Sound and Video Contractor. ” Those versed in the physics of electrical conductivity often find the prices paid for cables to be laughably high, and at best consider them a form of jewelry.” Wikipedia. “There is not one shred of proof that stranded wires can introduce audible non linear distortions.” Audioholic magazine, which did an extensive comparison test on high end audio cables and have been engaged in helping to educate the public on “snake oil” cable companies. What this means to you is that any well constructed low priced cable works great, so at most buy the least expensive line of any of the major cable companies. Don’t’ get duped into paying for exotic cables. Audioholic recommends never spending more then 5-7% of your total system budget on cabling.
To combat the massive amount of scientific evidence against their claims, cable companies have now turned to describing the difference their cables can make “outside” of science. If you see any of the following signs, you should smell something fishy.
I. Companies claiming that their cable requires a “break in” period (usually a couple of weeks) for their cable to sound better or work to its full potential.
II. Claims of audible differences between silver and copper cables of the same design.
II. Claims about stranded wires producing more distortion
III. Companies claiming their wires are directional
*For specific technical reasons on why these claims are definitely false see resources*
Stores will sometimes setup audible “tests” where customers are invited to hear the difference for themselves. There are some things to look out for if you choose to participate. First is the placebo effect. You’re told that one is supposed to sound better and so you’re predisposed to hear a “difference.” Second, make sure the music being played or sound sample is either mono or identical in each setup. I’ve seen store setups where one speaker in a stereo setup is wired with the “special” cable and the other with ordinary cable. The music was jazz and on the side with the “special” cable was an especially piercing trumpet which gave a false impression of added quality. The wire being paired against the exotic cable is also sometimes frayed or purposely damaged in order to try and decrease its signal quality.
Don’t be too hard on the sales counselors themselves or on audiophiles who tout the cable company claims. Many of them actually believe in the value of the exotic cables, as most of the major electronics and music store chains have employee training programs which are more like marketing sessions which spread the propaganda of these companies. Exotic cables are a big business and keeping all those dollars flowing in on false claims requires cult-like followers, so expect strong personal convictions if you attempt to argue with them. Despite all the marketing, all the millions of dollars being spent, all the major stores that carry these products, expensive audio cables do not make an audible difference in your sound system. At best they are like jewelry for your stereo.