The amazing interior world of cables

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Looking at one of thousands of ‘reviews’ of audio cables that are out there, I was struck by the vivid language that described what the reviewer had heard. I looked at a handful of other reviews and compiled a far from comprehensive list of the words and language on offer. Here is a small fraction of it:

…happier; melody; emotion; sunlight; fast; tired; cold; “mood of the musician”; languid; darker; zest; tempo; warmth; iciness; sweet; confidence; insinuation; gesture; informative; provocative; calm; assuredness; forthright; frantic; “trying too hard”; somnambulant; fire; tantalising; insightful; relaxed; refined; composed; uplifting; gravitas; nonchalant; sympathetic; magical; “unearthing the feeling and meaning”…

Audiophiles like to say that “the best cable is no cable at all” suggesting that a cable can only degrade a signal. In this light, the findings of the cable reviewers are remarkable. In order to get the signal into the cable, vibrations in the air have been converted into a different ‘domain’ – electricity – where, presumably, things could happen to the signal that cannot happen in the acoustic world. Yet the reviewers of cables don’t hear electrical, signal-degrading effects and nor do they hear ‘no effect’. What they perceive is an amazing, coherent, functioning interior world of laughter, tears, sunlight, butterflies, palaces and fairies. All this is going on inside that functional polyester braided jacket and those often-lumpy applications of heatshrink sleeving that cover a multitude of sins.

And it gets even more amazing. In audio we can change the audio signal into yet another domain: that of discrete numbers. A handy way of transmitting those numbers is electrically via cables, but what is being carried is only the numbers. Amazingly, the same magical interior worlds exist there too!

When I was very young, my dad told me that inside our Hacker valve radio there were tiny people singing and dancing. He never told me that inside the wires themselves there was a far more exciting and exotic world waiting to be discovered.

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3 thoughts on “The amazing interior world of cables

  1. I find it fascinating how they reconcile their belief that the signals need big fat wires when they are outside of the box with the fact that the signals are passing through small wires inside the box.

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  2. I think perhaps it should be a requirement that reviewers pay for the things they review. Or do it blind on price.

    I quite like this review: http://www.tnt-audio.com/casse/ipls3mtl2_e.html because the guy has seemingly bought and built the things himself, and its not all rosy.

    I suspect a lot of loan kit never goes back, and there ‘may be’ a feedback effect between advertising spend, lunches and entertaining, generosity with ‘loaned’ kit, and reviews. When was the last time you saw a review of an expensive piece that damned it? Or anything from a major advertiser? And why don’t magazines hunt out and review weird off the shelf stuff any more, from cottage engineers? Oh yes – they don’t advertise.

    Its probably not just hifi – journalists aren’t paid much and probably aren’t highly qualified engineers (uh – then they would have proper jobs, right?) and being loaned things that are stupidly expensive probably does influence them.

    The flip side is also frustrating: try Vance Dickason’s tests of drivers for Voice Coil. Graphs, measurements, facts. But he doesn’t tell you if the damn things sound ‘right’. Whatever that means. Frustrating reading, though – I guess we want to be told.

    I suspect that cables have quite interesting margins throughout the retail supply chain.

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  3. My speaker wire is 100% 14 gauge copper rope lay in a nice flexible jacket by Monster Cable. Why Monster Cable? you ask. Because that was what was on the shelf at Salvation Army a 50′ roll for Five Bucks. My thought just use a quality 100% copper wire and you should be good in (most) case’s.

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