Music? Or Sound?

The demo seemed simple enough. A distributor proposed a session for the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) that would pit his relatively low-cost speaker cable against an ultra-expensive competing model named for a Norse god. We would listen to the music first with the high-priced spread, then with his cable, then discuss the differences. As far as the distributor was concerned, everyone would hear that the Nordic Emperor had no clothes.

When the first of two groups of BAAS members arrived, I played three complex selections that challenge a system far more than does the standard choice of female singer with small combo: the beginning of the first movement of Mahler's Symphony 2, from Iván Fischer's recording with the Budapest Festival Orchestra (SACD/CD, Channel Classics 23506; "R2D4," February 2007); mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's entire recording of Handel's "As with Rosy Steps the Morn Advancing," from her Handel Arias, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Harry Bicket (SACD/CD, Avie 30; "R2D4, February 2005; November 2004); and a few tracks from the Charles Lloyd Quartet's Mirror (CD, ECM 2176; December 2010). We listened to all three selections consecutively, then switched cables.

To my ears, the differences between how the cables interacted with the music and equipment were clear. Beyond the sound's being exceedingly airy and open with the expensive cable, with more refined highs, tighter bass, and exceptional transparency, it let me hear music more organically, in ways that touched me deeper. But when several BAAS members said they either couldn't hear a difference, or preferred the lower-priced cable, I realized that they were having a major problem in perceiving unfamiliar, complex music that contained multiple ideas, piquant harmonies, and emotional shifts.

So I prefaced the second listening session with some tips: "When I play orchestral music such as Mahler's, one thing I listen for is the balance between instruments. You may hear a lot of powerful low energy from timpani, bass drum, cellos, and basses, but is that energy in correct musical proportion to the midrange and treble instruments? Can you clearly discern the pitches of the lowest sounds? When you listen to Hunt Lieberson accompanied by period instruments, are the instruments in balance with each other, and are they in correct proportion to the sound of the singer's voice? Are the timbres of the instruments true? Are you hearing all the overtones and subtle dynamic shifts you might hope to hear?

"Beyond all those specifics, when you take a deep breath and let the music flow over you, does what you hear make musical sense or does it seem unbalanced? Does the music move you, conveying the emotion you sense the composer intended to communicate? How does it make you feel?"

Nice try. After we'd listened to the Handel and had been pummeled by out-of-control mush masquerading as two period-instrument cellos and a double bass—indistinct sounds that overwhelmed both the 11 violins behind Hunt Lieberson and the sound of her voice—two audiophiles claimed that the lower-priced cable transmitted more, hence "better," bass. After the Mahler, I was dismayed to find some people preferring the lower-priced cable's brasher, less-refined presentation of the horns and strings, and an overall more limited palette of colors for this music. While there's no reason some cable can't bring the Norse god to his silver-clad knees, this claimant of that throne was clearly a pretender.

I couldn't figure out why so many people were missing obvious giveaways of inferior sound. Certainly the expensive cable's I-could-buy-a-house-for-this cost has made it a sitting target and stirred up resentment. If I had $100 for every cable distributor who has claimed that their cable can trounce the false god and make the world a better place for audiophiles and their recalcitrant spouses, I'd be in Europe right now, listening to Handel in the halls for which his music was intended, and hopping from one jazz club to another. But was the resentment so great that it had led people to plug their ears?

No, something more than cable envy was going on. Instead of blaming the listeners, I began to wonder if we who review equipment have unintentionally helped create a community of audiophiles who lack the ability to listen deeply. Might it be the case that, because we often spend the bulk of a review discussing certain musical elements to the exclusion of others, we give short shrift to how the totality of the musical experience affects us, and have thus led our readers astray?

True, we reviewers sometimes speak of a bass line, a singer's voice, or the much-vaunted "presence region" as if they were somehow separate and distinct from the rest of the music we hear. Pointing out specific musical elements and how a component re-creates them can be quite useful. But if we fail to make the musical connections—to put the pieces together—are we misinforming listeners who are not always able to embrace the entire gestalt of the musical experience?

To test my theory, I began to scan reviews, both in print and online. While I was delighted to encounter reviews that spoke of music as an organic whole—check out Stephen Mejias's monthly column, "The Entry Level," for many examples—I also found numerous examples like the following, paraphrased from an actual review: "The music I picked included one piece to test the sound of acoustic and electric guitars, a very different one to test the ability to handle delicate sounds while still maintaining bass authority and slam . . . and three other selections to evaluate bass performance."

There's nothing wrong with the latter approach. Most reviewers have, or ought to have, favorite recordings that they use to evaluate such attributes. But when all we talk about is the sound of specific sonic elements, rather than how the entire musical experience makes us feel, I fear that we ultimately lead readers astray. We contribute to the schooling, not the education, of a generation of audiophiles who focus on individual fragments of the sonic experience instead of receiving music as an organic whole. Or, as the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once described his countrymen, "The English may not like music—but they absolutely love the noise it makes."

The wonder of the audiophile experience is the ability of a sound system to communicate the entire musical gestalt: the sum total of a work's ideas, emotions, and spiritual truths as expressed by and embodied in tone, rhythm, pitch, and artistic inspiration. As reviewers, that's what we must strive to convey each time we critique a cable, a black box, a loudspeaker, or the like. Unless we discuss how what we hear moves us in ways that transcend the sum total of its parts, we do our readers a disservice, and fail to give the music we love its full due.


IgAK's picture

What a lofty perch you survey peons from, Jason. But it seems you need it for such vauntedness. I do hope you can go back there again...

While I can't disagree with all your opinions - I listen to the whole of the music as a gestalt before analyzing the details - I can't disagree with those who pointed out the obvious problem of your price expectations, either. That disease does hit reviewers harder than most. Yes, I do this professionally as well. But I definitely have heard reasonable (but not, perhaps, cheap) cables outperform snobgear, too. I have not heard any two cables sound identical, though. The differences may be small or subtle, but they always exist. I don't expect everyone to hear the smaller differences, but most people don't have to if their living does not depend on it, so a certain amount of experiential training can't help but come into play. Unfortunately, the belief that a cable must be grossly expensive to be good seems to be most strongly entrenched among spoiled reviewers who generally never give a more reasonably priced cable half a chance.

But I'm not a reviewer, though I have in the past been invited to do that by one of the biggest names. It would have been a conflict, so I declined. But here's what I have noticed repeatedly about the "Norse God Cables" in many systems over many of their models. They are the darling of reviewers for being hyper-detailed. This does aid discerning differences so I can see why. But I can barely tolerate them for more than a half hour because they are gratingly hot on top, and unattractively amusical. I didn't say badly balanced, at least not in the last sentence ;>), though they tend to be hot at the top end. I said amusical. Spectacular, yes, but not soul soothingly satisfying.  They do not attract emotions without analysis. They are work to listen to, and I feel I should not have to work to enjoy the music. Of course, that's just my opinion...and that of many others whose ears I've found to be superior over years of comparison...that aren't reviewers.  So perhaps you have not taken into account that the viewpoint and desires of the non-professionals at this event may have been one of enjoyment and comfort, rather than the board-meeting hyper-stressfulness of these expensive Viking attack-dogs. Maybe a different expensive cable should have been compared?

Mind you, I'm not saying I expect I would have liked the cheap cables, either. Your description is voluble and says enough about the details that I probably would not have. But maybe you should have considered the overall feel and appeal of the different cables as they might be perceived by those preferring comfort over edginess. And been a bit more humble? This is a much bigger factor than you perhaps realize, being a reviewer. I deal with the customers and their rooms. No, I'm not a salesman, either, except reluctantly after I design the gear, which I prefer to do the selling for me. So I see how people react to what they are hearing while looking outward rather than inward.


Volti's picture

I couldn't pass this up. 

Recently I went to a customers home to do an upgrade to his speakers, and I brought my own basic 30' long copper cables that I use around my shop to replace the fancy, expensive cables that I knew he had hooked up.  My thought was that these fancy cables could be changing the sound enough that it would prevent me from hearing the speakers the way i'm used to hearing them. 

So after making the upgrades to the speakers, we sat down to listen to some music.  First with my cables, and then with his fancy cables.  We both looked at each other and agreed that his cables definately sounded better.  I was a little suprised I guess.  I wondered to myself, that the materials used in these cables must really be making a difference in the sound quality of the system. 

Then it dawned on me that there was something else that was probably the real difference maker here.  His cables were 23 feet shorter than mine!  Hmmmm. 


GeneZ's picture

Volti... You said..  "Then it dawned on me that there was something else that was probably the real difference maker here.  His cables were 23 feet shorter than mine!  Hmmmm.

Find out if it was a litz configuration he had. Its the one type of cable that will eliminate certain distortions that all other stranded wire will produce. Raw litz is not that expensive.  In its raw state it does not look like much. And, its a bear to solder.  You'll need a solder pot to tin with. 

Litz eliminates the skin effect that stranded-non-litz wire always produces. It causes that tizzy effect we hear in the high end... what makes us realize we are listening to amplified music. 

dalethorn's picture

There's a suggestion here in these comments that subtle differences must be detected in quick A-B switch comparisons. I think if a subtle difference were one-dimensional, so you knew what artefact to listen for and everything about its qualities, that might work. But it almost never works for me. Partly because every difference is different, and partly because my ears and brain just don't switch that quickly.

JL77's picture

Fast A-B testing works well in a design lab, when a product is being developed, but is admittedly harder in a home playback system.

The point is that academic psychoacoustic testing has proven the inability to reliably detect subltle audio differences over periods of time longer than a few seconds. Unless the differences are significant, our "audible memory" is poor.

The power of suggestion is alive and well in audio. Once I remember turning up some HF EQ for a client, and we both nodded and agreed that it really helped the overall mix. Later I realized that the EQ was bypassed.

Frank.hardly's picture

Jason Victor, you make some good comments about listening. I'm an uneducated audiophile, but after years of playing classical music both as a listener and musician, I intuitively listen for some of the things you describe. What drives me crazy in chamber or orchesteral music (concertos) in particular is the energy or volume of instruments being recorded in disproportion to what they could realistically present in a concert or live setting. I've had to adjust my volume to account for the sudden thundering of a piano in an orchesteral settting that is unbelievable. I believe these issues are more due to the misintentioned efforts of people occupying mixing boards to boost certain elements they wish to highlight rather than trying to create a believable re-enactment of a live recording. I have a hard time understanding how a cable can correct this basic engineering decision. I also value the voicing of individual instruments, rather than a monotone of sound. The whole audio chain from recording to through to speaker has a part in presenting this separation of instruments. Maybe a great cable could help the overall presentation, but I have a hard time quantifying how much this improves such separation relative to the other parts of the chain. Is it 5% improvement?Will this help a muddied recording? I think not. If I spend 40% of my audio budget on a 5% improvement is this $'s well spent or could I get more bang for my buck to spend more on my amplifier or speakers? This is the sort of thing I look for from educated audiophiles such as yourself who are being paid to advise the uneducated and less experienced. I don't think there's much value in saying such and such is a great cable relative to another cable if the context of the whole isn't being considered and some quantification of benefit is being discussed. Airiness and energy are hard to get my objective mind around.

dalethorn's picture

This could be a legitimate question when planning the initial purchase of a system, but after making the best purchase possible within whatever the budget limits are, any tweaking after that wouldn't fall into the same category, i.e. balancing tweaks or cable costs against the system costs. Now, with system in place and no desire or budget to replace the entire system, I can look at cable costs as a separate issue. Then I can consider - is a subtle improvement really a one percent, or five percent improvement? Maybe it's a 100 percent improvement. Those kinds of percentages don't usually scale linearly.

169glazier's picture

I have a Belles 150A Hot Rod amp in one of my systems. I loved the way it sounded but there was a veil in the midrange like a light sheet in front of the speakers. When I switched out the belles amp out with a McCormack DNA 125 the veil was gone and it had more transparency. But I lost the warm tube like midrange that I really liked about the Belles amp. I bought a pair of Von Gaylord Legend 2 speaker wire and WOW the veil was gone the midrange was lush smooth and the transparency was even beter than the McCormack with the old speaker cable. Having the right speaker cable in the system makes all the difference. I love the sound so much I dont want to change back to the McCormack DNA 125 or use any of my other amps that I own.

System configuration


Belles 21A with Aurua Cap Up Grade  Pre-amp

Jolida CD 100A Player

Dynaudio Audence 82 Speakers

Von Gaylord Legend 2 8' Speaker Cable 8' Pair

Synergistic Research Quad Speaker Cable 8’ Pair

Shunyata Research Diamondback 5’ Power Cord for Pre-amp

Shunyata Research Diamondback 5’ Power Cord for Amp

Shunyata Research Diamondback 5’ Power Cord for CD Player

Von Gaylord Chinchilla 1M interconnects for Pre-amp to Amp

Kimber Kable Hero WBT 1M Interconnects for CD Player

ajcrock's picture

What is the range of hearing of the listeners?  Many people cannot hear well enough to hear the full spectrum.  For those people a cheaper cable and system is just fine.  Same with wine and champagne.

As for myself I have a group of people that include those who have known the difference in good equipment and cheap equipment and those who have not.  In all cases when I have replaced copper with .999 silver, not that plated crap, they have all said the music sounds brighter and more open what did you do, this was unprompted.   I have also used 24k gold and they thought the music sounded richer.  Again they did know a change had occurred.  I do have Nordost cables.  They are plated not .999 silver.

Half Full's picture


Firstly, I appreciate your willingness to stick out your neck with some pretty damning opinions. To accuse virtualy the entire BAAS of being effectively tone deaf requires some big kahonas.  Secondly, to have enough confidence in your own ability to discern subtle differences that they could not and then taking credit for making them that way borders on arrogance.  But still, I love it!  Do we listen to it, or do we listen for it?  I've been chasing this gold ring since the 70's and frankly my enthusiasm for my audio habit had waned since we moved on the lake.  But awhile back, after digesting Jim Smith's book and spending a day checking plug polarity and wearing out a tape measure, I arrived at a level of satisfaction with my system that I never before enjoyed.  Know what?  I immediately sold the speakers, bought new amps, cabling, Oppo 95, bunches of Dupont 304, and completely changed my stuff.  I am now as happy, several thousands of dollars later, as I was before. Only now there is an Oppo 105 (damn!) and my 3.6's have been kicked to the curb by 3.7's. Just like cars, it will never end.  Back to the point, I appreciate your having found a way to derive an income by feeding my habit.  I only wish you were less abrasive toward those of us that feed you (literally).  I value your experience and expertise but you should be carefull when you choose to belittle mine.  It is quite possible possible the BAAS members were finely attuned to facets of that particular experience that you completely missed.  Can you see through a keyhole with both eyes at the same time?

Free cables's picture

I have inherited some of the best Nordost cables and I have spent lots of time evaluating them with the following observations. 

Firstly, these cables do sound good and highly resolved. I have had friends who are skeptical engineers and do not give a damn how much they cost, the prestige, nor what t hey are supposed to do, but they eagerly borrowed the cables for long term loans because they sounded clearly superior.  There are techical artifacts that might explain these differences that include "low dielectric absorption".  

They may make a system that is already too "defined and cold" sound worse.

In the case of interconnects, it is not about the transmission of sound, but more about how the cable loads your preamp output. I have done experiments blinded that strongly supports this assertion. Speaker cables are about amplifier loading and damping factor/series resistance and power transmission. 

The most expensive cables are only suited to someone who loves to burn cash, or who has already spent all they can on the rest of there equipment; that is to say exceeding $5000 for amps $5000 for preamps $5000 for dac and then say $20000 for speakers. Then go spend  $10000 to $30000 on cables.  Otherwise it is crazy to spend as much on cables as a new pair of speakers cost, because improving all non cable components will almost always result in a substantial improvement.  If your budget for a system is $20k, spend half on speakers, half on electronics, and several hundred to $1000 on wiring.  These are just suggestions.

Now, I have always wondered why so many audiophiles seem to spend more money on cables and wombley pucks that all electronics and speakers combined!  I finally have guessed what drives this phenomena.  It is called the "wife tolerance factor."  

It goes like this.  Some dude convinces his wife to agree to his purchasing the system he read about or auditioned at the audio store.  He sets it up and realizes at some point that it is not as good or satisfying as he hoped.  Well now he realizes that she will never agree to replacing it all, or some of it with really good equipment that cost more.  Further even if he can change the amp or speakers from his hidden cash cache, she will notice.  The solution, keep changing the cables.  Even if she notices, she will never suspect how much of the retirement fund had been dumped into power cords.


i will never make fun of a reviewer who touts a great cable, nor will I mock someone on a budget for discovering that bed springs and coat hangers sound better than Trojans after a 2 year breakin period.  But my advice, do not upgrade via cables, buy real equipment.  The best stuff will still sound better with budget cables such as dh labs or even, gods forbid, monster cable from a spool.

Free cables's picture

Very few people have hearing that cannot distinguish between the real thing and reproduced sound. Old men with 3khz of hearing still manage to hear the effects of 20khz brick wall filters because the effects on phase are audible at 1/10 the frequency.  It is not about people's hearing,but how much they are into and interested in the music.  Also a really basic system may not resolve the fine differences between cables. 

Ronzu's picture

Let's assume that all of the listeners in the "test" group agreed that the expensive cables sounded better than the cheaper ones. Should we then assume that these same cables will sound better than cheaper cables in other systems, where the amplification and speakers are different? Maybe it just means that the more expensive cables work well with the particular electronics and speakers of the test system. A different system may sound better with the cheaper cables. I want to know what cables sound best with MY amplifiers and speakers. I don't need to know what tires perform best on a Ferrari, if I'm driving a Volkswagen.

Danny Fondren's picture

The article was very interesting as I've long wondered about the usefulness of high end cable(ing). If one went by the theoris of circuit design it would seem obvious that higer quality/ shorter cables would achieve a better sound. Its my personal opinion that that idea may have a lot to do with people thimking they can hear differances from thier speakers cause by cables (aside from outright faulty cables or connections). I have two arguments against any general recognizable ability to hear quantitive differances. "A" Related to physics- If one were to expect an audible improvement in sound reproduction quality being achieved by high grade cables, to know you had achieved the improvment ; elimination of other (spurious) efects need to be eliminated. ie examp. The qualit of conectors seems to be of extreme importance, as even very small diferances in cintact can make readibly measurable differances in current , load ect. likely larger differances to the signal integrity than cabling. In many electrial situation the basic remedy is solder all contacts (brings on the questin is one type solder beter accousically thn anotherwhich is marginally a silly idea). "B"  The psychological angle: to whit , there has been some discusion that in your listening test , "was blind testing utilised adequately" ? It does not sound - no pun intended HA- as if it were , and here is my strongest argument... While one can measure AV equipment quite well nowdays it is very much a dificult task to measure ones own hearing quality from day to day, possibly minute to minute even. Think of the environmental effects that may influance the quality of our hearing , many of these effects can be controled to a degree. More importantly are the often (very) subtle effects of physiology and pshycology (which interact with each other). Our senses qualityies are suseptible to a great many influances ; blood pressure , health , diet, stress , blood/brain chemistry at a given moment. I contend that these efects are as important as , or may be more important to a listeners ability to decern sound(s). Even people with perfect pitch ect. are very suceptable to physiological influences , and that does not even get into the relm of human suggestability which in itself has some varibles due to physology.    My point/arguement here is that " Many (thousands no doubt) of studies have proven , when it comes to critical and casual comparisons made by human beings using their perseptual judgements based on thier 5 senses , to be accurate as possible ; strengent use of "BLIND Testing " , and "SCIENTIFIC METHODE" must be used . Or we may find we didn't hear, smell taste ,feel ,what we thought we did.   Oh yeah,    Danny Fondren   Aspen/Twin Lakes , Coolorado

acuvox's picture

Hearing is highly adaptive and comparative on time scales from microseconds to a lifetime.  This means there are things we can hear that are beyond the ability of machines to measure, and things that are trivial to measure but nearly impossible to hear.  It also means that perception between individuals will vary widely, and even the perception of one individual will vary with recent auditory experience and state of mind.

Complicating this are the ubiquitous background din of the post-industrial world, the outlandish distortions of consumer audio and bad acoustics which have so buffeted the richest sensory pathway that it has been subsumed by inferior vision in society.

Audiologists like King and von Bekeszy working before the advent of radio obtained quite different results.  Everything from Fletcher-Munson forwards used subjects who learned to hear music from phonographs and dynamic loudspeakers, which is contaminated and therefore suspect.

To attempt the most basic "controlled experiment" in human hearing, one should start with test subjects who were raised acoustically, away from the synthetic sounds of motors, speakers, metal and glass; or at least, had acoustic sounds dominate their developmental auditioning like conservatory trained musicians.  

Scorpio69er's picture

Using only the highest grade ore mined from our private copper, gold and silver mine in Chile's Atacama Desert, then refining that ore in a proprietary process handed down through four generations and sheathing nature's purest metals in theta-rejecting baby llama skin, we have fashioned the ultimate in speaker cables and interconnects: The Scorpio Line.

Death Stalker: At only $2000/meter, this special 1000:1 blend of our purest copper and silver will yield the highest possible SPL when listening to heavy metal music, while maintaining a warm yet neutral character with your favorite bagpipe piece. The sonic equivalent of Angus Young in a kilt.


Black Spitting Thicktail: This 1111:11:1 blend of our purest copper, silver and gold has been hailed by reviewers as "a revelation". At $10000/meter, it will transport you to another sonic realm. Whether listening to powerful symphonic music or the soothing strains of Slim Whitman, your hair will turn white as you encounter the mystical. As they say, "you can't take it with you", so why worry about the cost?


Asian Forest: Specially designed to reproduce the whole range of natural sounds from an ant fight to an exploding supernova with equal realism, this 1313:13:3 blend of our purest copper, silver and gold throws a soundstage as big as all creation. At $50000/meter, like Yahweh himself, you can have the whole world in your hands. Just remember to put it back when you're finished.


MVBC's picture

But don't you worry that at $50,000 a meter it might seem a bit cheap for such a great cable? But if it was per foot, then...surprise

Scorpio69er's picture

$50,000/meter might seem a bit cheap for such a great cable, but we also want to bring outstanding value to our customers. laugh

MVBC's picture


Scorpio69er's picture

Unless and until double-blind ABX testing proves that there is an actual sonic difference between lamp zip cord and ridiculously priced pieces of wire, we must assume that any differences reported by any reviewer are figments of the reviewer's imagination.

Trust me, the electrons don't know the difference.

ChrisS's picture

If listener A hears a difference, but not listerner B, then what? If 49 listeners hear a difference, but 51 don't... And if I buy the cheap wire anyways, but then it makes my stereo sound awful, can I still get a full refund?

acuvox's picture

I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Serinus, but I can surmise from his selections that he knows what music sounds like and what it FEELS like.  

I had a similar experience to this the first time I heard SACD in direct comparison to the Redbook layer.  My reaction was "I thought it was going to be subtle", while the roomful of audio aficianados mostly had difficulty discerning any difference.  I found that the other enthusiastic listeners also attended live acoustic concerts as do I.

If you only listen to speakers, you forget what music sounds like, the more so depending on how far from reality your daily system and recording choices diverge.  I listen to acoustic music MORE than I listen to speakers, and I work with conservatory trained players who listened to acoustic music more than audio reproduction each day of their lives - and we hear differently than speaker people.

After you spend as much on concert tickets as you did on your speakers, you may start to hear the differences between cables - and you will have a human connection with musicians.

HammerSandwich's picture

"Trust your own ears") seems to apply here.  Too bad that the author doesn't show much respect for the other opinions he heard.


dalethorn wrote:

It would seem that the argument is not whether they sound different (everything sounds different), it's whether anyone can hear the difference, and following that, evaluate the difference.

I'd say that the bigger issue was raised by Ronzu:

Maybe it just means that the more expensive cables work well with the particular electronics and speakers of the test system. A different system may sound better with the cheaper cables.

Exactly right, Ronzu.  Cable performance is ALL about the interaction between the specific components & cables used.  It's folly to claim that a particular cable has an intrinsic sound that will be apparent in any setting.

IgAK's picture

Well, Scorpio, it's true the electrons don't know the difference, since they don't think or hear. They just go where the conductors route them, and do it as the cabling dictates.

We, OTOH, do think and those of us that can hear can tell the difference.

There are two emphatically insistent sides to self-induced audio phenomena, and a more open minded middle. One side may hear what is not there but price tells them should be. The other won't hear what is there because the price and/or their convictions, engineering limits or physical limitations tell them can't be. And there are those in the middle who will simply hear or not what is there or not because that's what's there without prejudice, price, or intellectual consideration, if their ears are good enough. No shame if the ears aren't up to it, but, then, that person should not insist it isn't there.

All these parties have been represented in this thread. I prefer to be open-minded, just not so open minded that my brains fall out. "Baby llama skin" dielectrics are amusing, but perhaps best used on babies. Anyway, everybody knows that Vicuna results in far smoother and more dulcet trombone transients.



Scorpio69er's picture


re: "those of us that can hear can tell the difference."


Prove it in double blind ABX testing. But you can't, so you won't. I can claim to hear all sorts of things you can't, but unless such claims can be verified under controlled conditions, they must be rejected. 


Furthermore, such claims of superior hearing by anyone should be accompanied by the results of their latest hearing test. Since it is a fact that in any given group of audiophiles the quality of their own listening instruments naturally varies, this parameter must be included in any testing matrix. Do people with claimed "super hearing" actually have better hearing? Do they actually prefer lamp zip cord in blind testing? Can they tell any difference at all? 


None of this has anything to do with being "open minded". If Stereophile is going to constantly gush over ridiculously priced pieces of wire, then it should be a simple matter with your eyes closed, so to speak, to differentiate between them. If you can't do that under controlled conditions -- which, to date, no one has -- then this is simply the biggest con job ever.

ChrisS's picture

So Scorpio69er,

Let's say in a "controlled" DBT comparing a $8000 set of speaker cables and a $7500 set,  listener #1 Wanda a 21 year concert pianist can hear a difference but prefers the $7500 set and in another "controlled" DBT, listener #2 Jake a 54 year old construction worker can't tell the difference between a $5000 and a $3000 set of speaker cables.

Which cable should I buy?

arve's picture

The point of an ABX is to test a hypothesis.   The hypothesis that needs to be tested is  "Is there an audible difference between two different  cables?"


To test that hypothesis, you aren't going to pit a $8000 against a  $7500 cable.  You are going to pit an $8000 cable against an $18 one. The only requirement for the cables is that they are both properly suited for the application, and are used similarily.  

This means that you can't use 50 ft of 24 AWG lamp cord hooked up to a 4 ohm pair of speakers, and 3 ft of the expensive cable - you simply use the same length for both, and settle on a gauge that doesn't have significant losses - 14 or 12 AWG should be sufficient for almost any setup ( as per suggested by the table at )

ChrisS's picture

What point? Why not any two pieces of stereo equipment? What if there's a huge difference between the $8000 speaker cable and the $7500 set? How about a speaker cable that costs $299.99 a foot against one that costs $59.99?

In any case, what if one listener heard a difference, but another didn't? What if twelve guys between the ages of 38 and 54 years old who like 70's rock-and-roll couldn't tell the difference between the $8000 speaker cables and the $18 set, but the 21 year old young lady who's a concert pianist can?

arve's picture

The point - in clear text, this time - since you ignored or missed it:

To date, in about 40 years of cable history, there hasn't been one scientifically rigorous experiment published that has established that there are audible differences between two different cables.  

Hence, the hypothesis that needs to be tested first is "Is there an audible difference between two speaker wires?".    In order to maximize the chances of a positive result, you take two extremes from the "normal speaker wire" spectrum: A cheap wire with sufficient wire gauge for the application it is being used, and a high-end wire of some sort.

You then need to perform this experiment in such a way that the test subject (listener) is not affected by the experimenter. A good way to accomplish this is to perform what is called ABX testing.  In an ABX testing, you create a test run of a number of trials, where the test subject/listener can switch, as he pleases, between A (the cheap wire), B (the expensive wire) and X, which is randomly chosen for that test run.  This needs to be done in such a way that neither the examiner or the test subject knows what X is.

The objective for each test run is to determine whether "X" is the same as "A" or "B".   Now, since you can this completely by guessing, you need to run a sufficient number of trials to, as far as possible, eliminate guessing.  Typically, this means that for a test, you need to have ten or more test runs.   In a test of 10 runs, you would need to have identified X correctly in 9 of the runs.  In a test of 20 runs, you must identify the X correctly 15 out of 20 times.

If all you want from an ABX test is to establish that there is an audible difference, all it takes is one listener that can pass the test. It doesn't matter whether it's the world's most golden-eared audiophile or someone who barely has any hearing left.  

A final note, ABX testing can be performed over any period of time you wish - you can have a friend come to your house, and switch your cables to "A", "B" or "X" as you wish, and spend a minute, day, week, or a month with each.  The point is that you must never learn what "X" is.

Also note that ABX testing will say nothing in itself about which you prefer - it is merely a tool to establish whether there is a difference.  Only once you have passed the ABX test for the gear does any subjective description of it make any sense at all.

ChrisS's picture

Why do you think such a study has never been done? Please tell me how this hypothesis is proven valid, or not. In other words, what constitutes proof for this hypothesis?

Hmmm, what if a person hears no difference when first tested, but hears a difference when tested a year later? What if you have a friend who can hear a difference only 30% of the time and then there's your uncle who can hear a difference 70% of the time?

Really, one listener? That's all it takes?

Please take a course in research methodology. Offered at most colleges and all universities.


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