AudioQuest Cheetah interconnects & Mont Blanc speaker cables
Then Satan opens the door to a room filled with dumpy-looking middle-aged men, chatting amiably and sipping coffee. There are no screams here: only the airy, well-located sounds of Singapore-based vocalist Jacintha, coming from an expensive-looking stereo at one end of the room.
The newcomer glances down and sees that the floor is covered with thousands upon thousands of documents. He picks up one and looks at the heading: a press release from a high-end cable company back on Earth. He drops it like a snake, then looks around at the other sheets of paper. They're all documents from cable companies: press releases, fact sheets, "white papers." From elsewhere in the room a noise catches his attention, and he turns in time to see more sheets of paper tumbling onto the floor from a chute he hadn't noticed before. He glances at some of these new ones, and the names on them are all familiar: AudioQuest, MIT, Monster, Cardas, you name it.
That puts him off a little. But then the newcomer thinks, What the heck? I can handle this. So he volunteers for duty in the hi-fi room. Satan smiles an unreadable smile and leaves him there, locking the door as he goes.
All is well for a minute or two, and then a voice comes over the PA system: "Okay, fellas, coffee break's over. Back to work." The newcomer watches in horror as the other men in the room bend down. They pick up the papers from the floor...
And they start reading them. Dear, sweet, merciful God, they're making us read these things. For all eternity.
That's when the screaming begins, starting in one corner and working its way through the room, picked up by one man after another like dogs in a crowded neighborhood.
That's what happens to audio reviewers who are very naughty.
The horror. The horror.
Reviewing interconnects and speaker cables is the hardest part of my job, but it needn't be. Cables require little in the way of setup. Even if you believe cables are directional, which I don't, and even if you believe they perform differently when they're lifted up off the floor, which I also don't, neither of those things is very hard to do. And the setup procedures that actually do make a difference—such as making sure interconnects and AC cords intersect each other at right angles—are easy as pie.
And cables tend not to be excruciatingly heavy or unpleasant to handle. All I have to do is swap one little thing in and out of my hi-fi system, listen to the same records a couple of times, and write down what I hear on a yellow legal pad. Then I just carry the pad over to the computer, copy my notes into Microsoft Word, add a bit of color—my thoughts on politics or religion, perhaps—and voil;ga: instant Stereophile review. Payday, here I come.
Why whine? Because the selling of cables—the selling of the products themselves to consumers and the selling of ever-new cable technologies to audio writers—has, over the years, become burdened with toxic levels of pseudo-scientific dung-beetle chow. While some of its denizens are scientifically sharp and intellectually honest, the cable industry as a whole is rife with utter nonsense. And for some reason, I find the cable industry's brand of nonsense to be more tiring than most. It's work—and hard work at that—to slog through the malarkey that some of these people commit to paper.
I'd prefer to just listen to new cables for a day or two—I also don't happen to believe that cables are subject to break-in, although professionalism compels me to remain open-minded on that count, as on the others—and to write about their sound, also briefly. However—and this may sound a wee bit hypocritical, given my preceding harangue against cable literature—I consider a review to be seriously lacking if it doesn't include at least some credible or, barring that, entertaining explanation of How The Thing Works.
Describing the technology behind a product involves one of two things. You can look at it—open it up, take it apart, whatever—or you can get information from someone involved in making it. Amplifiers, digital processors, record players, and even loudspeakers will always have an advantage as far as reviewers are concerned, in that they're at least mildly complex: They're full of parts and full of ideas. There's something going on in there. Wire, on the other hand, is just wire, no matter how much you want to believe otherwise. There are different kinds of wire and different ways of putting it together, but that still isn't enough to fill more than a relatively few paragraphs...a relatively few interesting and truthful paragraphs, that is.
But cable makers tend to go on longer than that. Their literature tends to employ large, buffet-size helpings of conjecture, whether or not it's presented as such. (When it is, I'm grateful. When it isn't, I just mentally insert, as I'm reading along, the words maybe, theoretically, or we arrived at this theory after a night of unusually heavy drinking.) Of course, when I write about some new audio cable, I'm careful to remind the reader at every turn that the technological ideas I'm describing are not mine but those of the designer or manufacturer responsible for the product. I'm careful not to repeat untested theories without adding the words, "the manufacturer claims" or "the designer believes" to my description of this or that nutty idea. (That approach is useful in reviews of "resonance control" devices, too, but let's not go there today.)
But in spite of reviewers' continuing efforts to report objectively on the cable industry, our more skeptical readers are ever anxious to bring us up short. When someone writes in to complain that their least favorite reviewer is full of it for suggesting, say, that boy electrons and girl electrons interact more effectively with slow music (well, don't you?), it's no use for us to point out that we were merely quoting some other crackpot, without necessarily signing off on his or her crackpot theory. Audiophile readers tend to see what they want to see, just as audiophile listeners tend to hear what they want to hear (footnote 1).
Like a bird on the wire
Almost 20 years ago, writing in a magazine called Hi-Fi Heretic, I cynically observed that it was only a matter of time before some manufacturer introduced a powered cable. That day has arrived.
First Synergistic Research, and now AudioQuest offers a range of interconnect and speaker cables that contain their own sources of electricity: alkaline batteries, in the case of the AQ cables. The DC electricity is not used to power a circuit in the traditional sense of that word, nor is it conducted alongside the music signal itself—which is, of course, AC electricity. The manufacturer claims that the power is used to "charge" the cable's insulation.
Footnote 1: More proof: Just look at the letters published in Stereophile during the past several months to see how many readers have taken my observation—that accuracy in frequency response isn't necessarily more important than accuracy in other audio performance parameters—to mean "I don't like accurate frequency response" or "I don't care about fidelity" or "Kick me because I am a lih-bur-uhl."—Art Dudley