The Cable Dialectic

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
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Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#1
About the two most controversial topics in high-end audio are the analog vs digital debate, and the cable debate. We went through over 200 posts in the analog/digital dialectic without a food fight. May be we can get through this one as a civil discussion too! :D

So, here's the thesis: All competently-designed cables will sound the same.

We went through an extensive thread here: http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?1988-Cable-Theory
and proved that for competently-designed loudspeaker cables (at least 14awg = 0.1ohm resistance), the inductance, capacitance would not result in anything that is remotely audible in terms of frequency response, phase shift, or levels with all the simulations done by Amir.

Here's the anti-thesis: Cables sound different - we can hear the difference when we use different brands of cables because of reasons that we cannot or don't know how to measure.

There have been studies into temporal smearing as a possible explanation of the degradation of audio signals caused by cables and passive components.
http://ta.org.ru/archive/articles2007/kunchur1.zip
The sensitivity of the human being to perceive time-smear has been examined by several studies:
http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=13627
http://ip565bfb2a.direct-adsl.nl/articles/vmaanen-files/temporal-decay.pdf
.... leading to a threshold of 6 microseconds having been identified as the threshold of temporal audibility, which may be within the range of influence of a cable.

If you are a cable subjectivist, this MAY prove you right. If you are a cable objectivist, this may also prove YOU right. The point of this exercise is not to convince one or the other to change his or her mind. The point of this dialectic is to discover something for ourselves. In the analog/digital dialectic, I did all the work, setting up a system that was equally optimized for analog and digital, and the audience just listened.

Here's my hypothesis - every different amplifier/loudspeaker combination will respond differently. Hence, there is no one "perfect" loudspeaker cable for all systems. This exercise should be easy/cheap enough for anyone to try. If you don't take the effort to try it, DON'T post here. If you do try it, and hear no difference, you have learned something. If you do try it, and hear a difference, you have learned something.

We will build two "competently designed" loudspeaker cables at the extremes of the spectrum of "competently designed". They will have sufficient thickness for sufficiently low resistance, not extreme in capacitance or inductance. You will start with a 50ft piece of CAT5e cable. I pick CAT5e cable because the specifications are tight enough that any brand you buy should be similar enough.

Here's the 50ft roll I got from the local Radio Shack:

Cat5e..jpg

Then, I cut it into eight 6ft pieces (assuming that 6ft is enough to reach from your amplifier to your speakers - if not, you might need more cable):

Cut..jpg

The idea is to make two pairs of loudspeaker cables.
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,419
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Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#2
Next, pick out 4 of the 6ft pieces. Make sure that they are all aligned in the same direction (check the printing on the cable). Strip off 4-inches (10cm) of the external insulation to expose the internal wires:

Strip..jpg

This will expose the internal wires. There will be 4 pairs of 26awg wires:
1. orange + white with orange stripes
2. brown + white with brown stripes
3. blue + white with blue strips
4. green + white with green strips

You want to separate all the individual wires. Then take one pair of cables, and twist all the solid color wires together and all the white with color stripe wires together from two cables:

Separate..jpg

Strip 3/4" or 18mm off the end of each wire, and twist them together. This is what will result:

HiCap..jpg

Do the same thing for the other end, and you will end up with one high-capacitative run of wire for one channel:

HiCap pair..jpg

Make another one, and viola - you have one pair of loudspeaker cables.
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,419
1
38
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#3
Next, take the remaining 4 lengths of cable, and again strip off 4" (10cm) from each end. This time, don't unravel all the 8 wires internally completely. Just unravel enough so that you can strip 3/4" off the insulation and expose the copper.

Strip2..jpg

You will twist together the 8 wires for each of the 4 cables - keeping them separate.

Singles..jpg

Do this for all 4 cables, and you will end up with four individual cables. You will use a pair per side, with separate runs for +ve and -ve.

separate pair..jpg

Now you have two pairs of loudspeaker cables - one pair twisted together, and another pair where the +ve and -ve are in separate runs. With 8 strands of 24awg - they are equivalent of 15awg. More than enough for any current-hungry loudspeaker.

Now, listen to the two pairs of cables, and post your impressions.
 
Last edited:

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
6,545
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Metro DC
#7
You might want to tin the ends of those wires with a a little wonder solder.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#8
Next, pick out 4 of the 6ft pieces. Make sure that they are all aligned in the same direction (check the printing on the cable). Strip off 4-inches (10cm) of the external insulation to expose the internal wires:
OK Gary, I have to ask the question

Are you suggesting that the CAT5e cable (or any cable for that matter) is directional :confused:
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,419
1
38
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#9
You might want to tin the ends of those wires with a a little wonder solder.
This is not a permanent solution, and as we go along, and if ppl hear the difference, we will be re-using these 8 pieces of wire in different configurations - so no solder.
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,419
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38
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#10
Gary, no, I haven't tried it yet ...:D, but a possible crucial parameter you haven't specified is whether to use solid core or multi-strand type. Also, I note that it is possible to purchase shielded multi-strand, as yet a further option.

Frank
There are different configurations and types of Cat5. But Cat5e is specified as stranded, and unshielded.
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,419
1
38
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#11
OK Gary, I have to ask the question

Are you suggesting that the CAT5e cable (or any cable for that matter) is directional :confused:
I will be able to show you that you can measure the difference when direction is reversed. These stranded, twisted pair cables are twisted in a certain direction, and following the right hand rule, when you put two wires in close proximity, when the twist is in opposite direction, you can change the balance of inductance and capacitance. Also, you will notice when you take these cables apart that the orange, green, brown, blue wires inside have different twists.......
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#12
I understand about the twist direction but failing that are you saying there is a directionality to all cables
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,419
1
38
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#14
I understand about the twist direction but failing that are you saying there is a directionality to all cables
No - the ones without a twist, like your Valhalla speaker cables should not be directional. Solid-core cables that are not twisted should also not be directional. I don't believe in the"crystal boundary" explanation to cable directionality. However, all stranded cables have the strands inside each cable twisted, and most of these turn out to be directional. You can make them non-directional by making a cable with four conductors. Use two conductors per +ve and -ve and have one in each direction..... but then it will sound different.

By the end of this dialectic, you may WANT to believe that cables make no difference because of the nightmare cables can be!!
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
5,419
1
38
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
#15
Interesting. I'm looking at a box right now, with the label by the manufacturer stating Cat5e, and solid core. Differences between different parts of the world?

Frank
That's interesting.... but you could just as well use whatever you have because solid-core/stranded will make very little difference for this exercise.
 

Bruce B

WBF Founding Member, Pro Audio Production Member
Apr 26, 2010
6,603
16
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Seattle, WA
www.pugetsoundstudios.com
#17
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