Audio Cabling - A Summary - Part 1

The reason for this summary is to put some order into my many reviews, theories and findings from the past.

If you are of the belief that
“all cables are the same” then please, move on - there’s nothing in this summary that will persuade you otherwise!

It's intended audience are those people who are not well versed in the intricacies of audio cables. Needless to say, stepping up to better performing products may achieve finer results and take you into the world of extreme products and materials and the law of
“Diminishing Returns”, but this blog has a more modest (i.e. frugal) focus.

Over the many years that I've pursued "audio nirvana" I have come to realize that cables of all types and the power supply are of equal importance as the components they are attached too.

They allow components to perform to their maximum potential!

A Case Study: Power Supply Upgrades to my Cambridge Audio Phono stage and DAC.

Simply replacing the very cheap power supplies with a custom DIY power supply with twin toroid transformers and good power cables, allowed these little boxes to perform to their very best, to the the point where they now compete with components 2-3 times their price point.

So where does one start?
And in what order should one proceed? (or - If I had my time over again, what would I do)

1. If possible, get a dedicated power line run to the audio system - 20 amp preferred.
  • stick with standard household Romex cable to start with, you can always upgrade to a better cable if desired later.
  • NOTE: if it is not possible to run a new supply line do not worry too much, i.e. unless your power also supplies domestic appliances that can create excessive noise e.g. fridge, washing machine, dryer ext… then you need to do something more preventative and expensive actions.

2. Use a good quality wall outlet - like the
Pass and Seymour MRI grade outlet .
  • these grip like a vice and ensures an excellent connection.
  • are there better outlets out there - you betcha, but these are affordable at $26 and perform extremely well.

3. From the outlet, connect a good power distribution box for the systems source components - they deserve much better than a cheap "power bar"
  • the Dectet Power Center | PS Audio is just one of many products available, or you could build your own if you are electrically adept.
  • the main reason for this is that the outlets in a good distribution box will provide the same grip as the outlet suggested above.
  • whether you elect to go with a power conditioner or distribution box is up to you, but I prefer to avoid power conditioners, unless you are looking at top of the line products $$$.
  • Power conditioners are not really required in many household applications.
  • Power conditioners may be required if you are in an “electrically noisy” environment, like having appliances on the same cable run, or in an environment with lots of electronics e.g. a recording studio.

4. From the distribution box to the various components select a good quality power cable - it really does make a difference:
  • I've mentioned a few that I have tried in this blog - see Cables In My Stable.
  • they are vital in allowing your components to perform to their maximum ability - some of your components may even surprise you.

5. Get some good speaker cables - often not as easy as it sounds:
  • Other than the wire’s gauge and quality of the copper used, there are a couple of other factors that will affect the cable performance - Capacitance and Inductance
  • You have to know what your amp requires, but most amps are happy with a low capacitance, low inductance cable.
  • e.g. NAIM amplifiers require low capacitance speaker cables - and NAIM make a very good 10 gauge cable that is reasonably priced and performs very well, especially with their amps.
  • The insulation of the cable also plays a key role in protecting the conductors over the years - I have had cables where the clear insulation actually allowed the conductors to oxidize. The insulation also degraded, leaving behind a sticky residue after just 5-6 years.
  • To drive a full range speaker I would generally use at least a 10 gauge or greater cable.
  • To drive a book shelf speaker you can elect to use a lighter gauge cable, but that choice should be based on the frequency range of the speaker itself.
  • High purity copper is always best, unless you get into the exotic silver or carbon cables .
  • 6. Finally, invest in good quality interconnects, whether digital or analogue, they make a real difference in the fine details - they will augment that three dimensional image.
  • For the Analogue Guys - I made the transition to the silver litz one-piece tonearm-to-phono-stage when I purchased the Audiomods Tonearm - worth every penny!
  • Good hi-fi stores will have interconnects they will loan you, so you can try before you buy, so take advantage of that.
  • Nordost actually provides a case of interconnect and power cables that you can borrow - so find a store that promote Nordost cables - they are very good.
  • Read Cables In My Stable in this blog for my selections.
  • Read the various web forums for other peoples comments.

Why The Emphasis on Power Supply?

With a good power supply and power cables, even modestly price components can sound pretty amazing. Take a look at the very best components and what do they have in common?

Think of the power supply as the “foundation” of your audio system and the cables as the “plumbing”!

For an explanation as to why - take a look at these two sections in this blog.
You Need a Good Power Supply
You Need Good Power Cords

But Won’t Better Components Have a Greater Return On Investment?
If you don’t have good power, speaker and interconnect cables, then even the best component will not sound as good as it could, in which case your ROI is not as noticeable.

So, How Did I Select My Cables...
My choice of cables was based on the quality of the information I garnered from the manufacturers website. I was able to easily find details on the cables specifications, materials and sometimes construction techniques.

I do not consider boutique products from companies that promote some utopian nonsense!

The common attributes amongst all my cables are ...
  • Very high purity conductors.
  • Good quality connectors.
  • Cable geometry

I have made other
“less informed choices” in the past that have been a total waste of my time and my money, but I do not want my readers to go through the same painful process.

My current cable choices fit my budget and provide a very detailed and spacious 3D audio image. If you try any of “my choices”, they will provide an excellent
starting point” for any future cable or component evaluations. They are not the ultimate in cables and there are many other good cable brands out there, just be sure you make an “informed decision”.

Things To Remember...
  • The salesperson has an agenda and providing you with “the right information” is not always in their best interests unless you are buying their product.
  • Forum participants and bloggers (myself included) are commenting on their findings of products within their own audio systems, so unless you have the identical system components (i.e. active and passive) your findings will likely differ.
  • Magazine Reviewers are often solicited to write a review, so they often try to find something nice to say.
  • ME - I don’t get paid for any of this - just want to give back to the community that has provided a lot of good info to get me where I am today.

Got Good Cables And Still Not Happy?
If, after acquiring good cables, there is still something about the sound of your audio system you find lacking, then it might just be one or more of your components. But at least you will know that the foundations and plumbing are good Happy

Look into your component’s compatibility - not all components perform happily with their neighbours.
  • Unmatched input impedance, capacitance and inductance can cause problems - especially with phono cartridges
  • Phono cartridges must be matched to their tonearms - an effective mass/compliance mismatch can sound bad.
  • Phono cartridges must be matched to their turntables - some cartridges hum on some turntables
  • Other component issues e.g. my Pioneer DVD caused a hum when connected to my NAIM amp - until I grounded the chassis of the DVD - voila!

Where’s Part 2? - I figure I’m still learning, so that will evolve over the next few years Winking