Kimber PBJ interconnect

It's always a jolting, life-renewing Ka-BLAM when a new experience shatters your preconceptions of the order of things. From the moment you realize your dad isn't running right alongside you as you fly down the sidewalk on your first two-wheeler, to when you become a made man, these experiences forever alter how you view yourself and the world around you.

Okay, so maybe cable isn't in the same white-knuckled league as riding your first Schwinn. But I just had one of my longtime preconceived notions blasted apart like a clay pigeon, and all it took was five seconds of listening to realize that all these years I'd been completely wrong.

Lately, I've been trying to come to terms with entry-level hi-fi, and the going hasn't been as easy as I'd hoped. There's some really cool budget-priced gear out there, but having a $30k Linn/Well-Tempered/Sumiko/Theta/Exposure/Melos/Muse/Aragon/Kimber/NHT He-Man rig in the very next room makes it hard as a mofo for even the best entry-level gear out there! I've got a pretty boss Real World system up and running right now in my living room as I sift through the genre trying to separate the wheat from the chapped, but all it takes is a sweaty session in the He-Man room to put things into harsh perspective.

So what was that preconceived notion of mine that got shattered? It was Hi-Fi Myth #69: "The virtues offered by the most expensive cable may well only be audible in the context of a topflight, very expensive system." And where did I glean Hi-Fi Myth #69, you ask? I took it right from the itty-bitty print in Stereophile's own "Recommended Components" listing.

John Atkinson, who penned this deathless prose, had it all wrong! See, I'd always accepted the notion that the further down the food chain your system is, the less important it is to use high-quality wire. I mean, given that the cable's task is easy, understandable, and much less of an issue than the active components in a given system (Hi-Fi Myth #68), it only makes sense that, the lower the overall capability of your associated amplifier, preamp, CD player, etc., the more the inherent coloration of your system is going to mask the benefits of good cable, right?

So when I started putting together a Real World system in my living room to evaluate affordable entry-level gear, I got hold of some inexpensive cables from the various lines and didn't think twice. Besides, compared to the He-Man rig, the entry-level system sounded hazy, muddled, and pretty uninvolving. You know, the way affordable gear's supposed to sound.

But one day I found myself with one too few budget interconnects, and half out of necessity and half out of sheer whimsy (footnote 1), I used a meter pair of my reference Kimber KCAG interconnect 'twixt the JVC CD player and the Acurus integrated amp.

Sacre bleu!!! I couldn't believe how much better the entry-level system sounded! I'd long accepted Hi-Fi Myth #69 as fact, but here was an honest2god less-than-highest–fi system whose sound became dramatically better across the board just by substituting a single pair of He-Man cable for the $50 budget cable I'd been using. This Real World system, for which I'd been trying to lower all my hi-fi expectations, suddenly had depth, clarity, detail, imaging—all the things I'd thought it was incapable of by virtue of economy, and all the things that were right there all the time, just waiting for a great cable to stop throttling them! It was obvious that, in order to really do justice to all the entry-level gear I'm currently reviewing, I had to find some truly kick-ass entry-level wire to hook it up with.

Dirty rotten scoundrels
Now, talk to most of the nose-up-their-butt reviewers around Stereophile and you won't find much enthusiasm for entry-level anything, much less affordable cables. One old goat actually told me he wasn't interested in listening to anything that wasn't very expensive. Another boasted of all the top-o'-the-line wire he has on hand—he likes to see cable manufacturers ask him, "How high?" when he tells them to jump. If I were editor of this mag, both these goats would be cabrito roasting on my spit. But JA's not going anywhere—the goats can rest easy. (For now!)

You can see that with all the high-dollar wire being thrown around to reviewers Roman orgy–style, none of them has ever needed to search for equally good sound in the Lower Reaches. It is only I, ever your most humble servant for all eternity and a day, who wants to talk about killer cheap-ass wire. Why? I just want to make people happy.

Now, for speaker cable, the only truly cheap-ass wire I've found that really comes this close to the best is AudioQuest's $2.25/ft Type 4, which has actually sounded better in my various systems than some other manufacturers' most expensive offerings. The Type 4 is much better than AudioQuest's other cheap speaker cables. (The 85$c/ft F-14 is fairly decent when you first buy it, but my experience has been that it tends to oxidize pretty quickly. I used a run of F-14 to hook up my pappy's system less than a year ago, and when I recently had to cut off the ends to reterminate it for a shorter length, I found that the wire inside the PVC jacket had become tarnished and dull. Type 4's polyethylene dielectric is bound much tighter to the solid-core copper conductors, and I haven't run into any of the F-14's apparent long-term oxidation problems with Type 4.)

For line-level interconnect and digital cable, I recently discovered a new cable that has blown the lid off my level of expectation for killer cheap-ass wire: Kimber's $62/meter pair PBJ interconnect. Affordable enough for entry-level Real World systems, this cable is right at home in even the most glorious He-Man Rigs o' the Gods. But don't take my word for it—for once, here's some reference-level wire you can actually afford to BUY and TRY YOURSELF! (footnote 2)

The Kimber Kult
Using Kimber's KCAG interconnect ($350/m pair) long-term in my He-Man reference rig has really spoiled me for other cables. Nothing else I've tried even comes close—the best and brightest from A to Z have come and gone, and the Kimber remains the one to beat.

The $350/meter pair KCAG is remarkably simple cable: three identical legs of ultra–high-purity multistrand silver in a pearlescent Teflon jacket (one for signal and two for ground/shield), tightly braided and then terminated to Kimber's own mystery-plated RCAs. And that's it. Although the two ground wires do afford a degree of RFI/EMI shielding due to the tight twist of the braid, the lack of a full overall shield does mean the KCAG is more susceptible to hum and RF pickup than most cables. Me, I use a 25' run between my preamp and amplifier and I've never had a problem with noise pickup, but you definitely have to try this stuff out in your own home before you drop your wad, to make sure you don't have an environment noisy enough to preclude the Kimber.

Kimber also makes a $70 entry-level cable called KC1 that's identical to the KCAG except for the use of high-purity copper conductors instead of the KCAG's silver. The KC1 also comes encased in an overall shield, a layer of conductive fabric grounded to the RCAs with a drain wire. That's why the KC1 has an outer jacket and isn't a "nude" cable like the cool-man KCAG.

The KC1 should sound close to the KCAG, but it doesn't. It's good stuff for the bux, but, compared to the KCAG, there's definitely a loss of purity in the highs and a marked decrease in overall clarity. KC1 just doesn't sound nearly as open or as crystal-clear as the KCAG. Ray Kimber himself will tell you that the KC1 is no match for KCAG, although its electrostatic shield will offer improved immunity to noise pickup.

Enter the PBJ
For some time now Kimber's been supplying hardware manufacturers with an unshielded version of the KC1 for use in internal wiring—the Muse amps, for one, use this stuff for audio cabling inside the chassis. Also, RATA's Russ Andrews, the British Modkateer Parts King, has been supplying the nude KC1 as DIY interconnect, and selling a lot of it. The consensus seems to be that it's the electrostatic shield that limits the sonic performance of the stock KC1—do away with it, and you have an affordable cable that comes very close to Kimber's $350 KCAG.

Ray Kimber resisted marketing the "copper KCAG" hookup wire as terminated interconnect, but he's finally responded to pressure from both sides of the pond. And he's done so in a totally cool-man manner. The interconnect is entry-level–priced at only $62/meter pair, and Ray's calling it Kimber PBJ!!! To keep fancy packaging materials from jacking up the price, he's shipping the PBJ in those cheap plastic samwich baggies your mom used to pack your lunch in—you know, the ones that could deafen your best friend if you blew one up and popped it right in his ear. Is that the coolest or what?! PBJ in a plastic baggie...you just can't get any less audio-elitist than that, which is why I jumped on this cable like it was a real PBJ.

Crunchy or Smooth?
So how does it sound? Very, very close to silver KCAG—in fact, in my current system, I'm not sure I don't actually prefer the PBJ. At the moment, every piece of gear in my He-Man rig is either ruler-flat at the top end or very slightly to the sharp side o' cheddar, and the slightly softer-sounding PBJ may actually be a better match for all this ultra-sheen than the razor-sharp KCAG. Compared to the KCAG, the PBJ tends toward a smoother, less-forward character. While every other interconnect I've tried has a markedly duller and less focused sound than the KCAG, the silver Kimber can be less of a good thang if the rest of your rig tends toward brightness, which is just how things are right now in my He-Man rig.

I need/want a more neutral playback system than I've grown accustomed to lately, so I've 86'd the big VTL tube amps and started using high-quality solid-state muscle amps from Aragon and Muse. The VTLs did a lot of things really well, but the longer I lived with them, the more I grew to suspect them of coloring the overall character of my rig too much, even with the forgiving load of the ProAc Response Two and Spica Angelus speakers I was using them with. With the Aragon 4004 Mk.II and Muse Model 160, my He-Man rig is now much less "samey-sounding" and far more revealing of both recordings played back on it and gear changes made upstream.

But the downside to all this improved neutrality and focus is that I no longer am buffered (by the seductive softness of the VTL amps) from the HF hardness that's in 99% of all recordings and hi-fi gear. The cool-man solid-state amps I've got now pass on everything that they're fed with a minimum of editorial rounding; sometimes the sound can get a little fatiguing on top. The PBJ's smoother balance goes a long way toward countering this HF hardness, but not at all in the detrimental fashion of the VTL amps. The tubes caused a subtle loss of information and rounded everything off to a smooth yet removed perspective, but the PBJ let all the HF air and hyper-detail through and avoided tilting the system's overall tonal balance into disturbing brightness.

But while the PBJ may have less ultra-sparkle and U-R-there vividness than KCAG, it was heads'n'shoulders above every other cable I've ever had through here in terms of HF detail, air, clarity, and tonal accuracy. I've had flagship cables from AudioQuest, Straight Wire, Cardas, XLO, and others in my rig at one time or another, but the PBJ sounded better than anything I've ever used, except Kimber's own KCAG. None of the other cables, except the KCAG, could match the midrange clarity, bass slam, and three-dimensional soundstage I heard with the $62 PBJ. For use as a reference interconnect, I'd choose the PBJ over all of them.

After using the KCAG for so long, there's one area of its performance that makes other cables fall flat by comparison: the Kimber's uncanny sense of side2side and front2back dimensionality. The KCAG just killed everything else I've tried in this respect, and endowed the system with an amazing sense of real instruments sitting in real space. No other interconnect has been able to match the KCAG for throwing up a vividly detailed and totally believable soundscape when the recording has one to begin with—the Kimber really did sound much less flat and fettered than anything else I've tried.

Anything else, that is, except Kimber PBJ. The PBJ essentially duplicated the KCAG's exciting sense of virtual-space realism, freeing a system to deliver the best soundstage and imaging it's capable of. And this ability is not reserved only for Class A, Fantasy Island rigs, either—I heard the same dramatic improvement in soundstaging and imaging in my entry-level Real World system (Acurus DIA-100 integrated, JVC XL-Z1050 CD player, NHT SuperZero satellite/SW2 subwoofer speaker system, AQ Type 4 speaker cable) when I replaced another manufacturer's $60 interconnect with the PBJ.

To be sure, the KCAG was better than the PBJ. Focus of image was tighter, and so was the solidity of that image within the soundscape. The KCAG had a ringing clarity, an extremely clean and clear sound, that I haven't experienced with anything else. The PBJ came closer to the silver Kimber in these areas than any other cable I've tried, but the KCAG did, marginally, edge it out.

You know what, though? Not by much. Definitely not almost $300 worth more. And that makes the $62 PBJ an extraordinary bargain in today's clogged, chaotic cable crowd. If Kimber's amazing KCAG didn't exist, I'd use the PBJ in my He-Man rig before I'd use anything else. And who knows? The reference system sounds so killer wired up with PBJ right now, I'm in no real rush to put the KCAG back in!

Conclusions
There you have it: Kimber's $62/pair PBJ interconnect, a budget-priced cable that really shakes up the whole game. No matter how affordable (or expensive) your system may be, test Hi-Fi Myth #69 for yourself with these two inexpensive overachievers. At these prices, shaking up the whole game has never been easier!


Footnote 1: Sheer Whimsy is also the title of my best-selling autobiography, co-written with the guy who helped Shelley Winters do hers.

Footnote 2: To Significant Others of Audionuts: If the thought of actually relying on his own judgment made your audionut pass out, try waving smelling salts under his nostrils or playing an Amanda McBroom record to rouse him.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
invaderzim's picture

I've never heard the phrase "separate the wheat from the chapped" it has always been "wheat from the chaff" The chaff being the husk that is of no use and is removed from the wheat.

oh, and let the "cables don't change anything!" and "cables change everything" yelling begin.

otaku's picture

I noticed that about the 'chapped' and I think he did it deliberately and cleverly.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Separate wheat from tares? ......... Separate wheat from weed? :-) .......

Strat56's picture

I do cables signal cables for audiophile friends, asking them 10€ per pair, and letting them astonished.
I use exactly the same interweaving technique shown in the pic. Wire wrap cable 0.2mm conductor diameter. The result is 40pF/m circa including RCA connectors. I do not thing it is possible to get better results. Total tranparency. Everybody could do it.

spanovical's picture

An excellent discovery and article! Everybody should read the AudioQuest Boombox Demo at https://www.audioquest.com/resource/1140/BoomBox.pdf . When I first heard the AudioQuest Type 4s with my $500 AV receiver a decade+ ago, I could not control my ear-to-ear grin. I was afraid that some of my family might come into the room thinking I was nuts … of happiness :-)

jmeyersnv's picture

Once upon a time, a person could only be certain of two things: death and taxes. Now, there is a third: higher prices. Back in 1993, Corey cited two Kimber "open weave/unshielded" analog cables (KCAG and PBJ); today, Kimber also offers a third alternative, the Silver Streak. When Corey first wrote his review, the PBJ was $68 and the KCAG was $300. Interestingly, the price of the PBJ in a 1 meter length and with the lowest priced connectors is currently $132 (approximately 2x) and the KCAG is $1,200 (exactly 4x). I guess that Kimber's business strategy is to exploit to the hilt those able to pay to more because the KCAG's material costs certainly haven't quadrupled.

I intentionally am mentioning the Silver Streak cable, which is the one I use between my music streamer/DAC and my preamplifier. I have a special version of a single-ended Silver Streak, with two silver strands and one copper strand (rather than the converse), and I have found it to be a truly wonderful interconnect. Moreover, its current price in 1 meter length with the lowest price connector is $484. While that is hardly cheap (and mine was actually a fair bit more costly due to its using twice the silver as well as WBT silver connectors), I suspect the Silver Streak goes most of the way towards achieving a level of performance commensurate with the KCAG for less than half of its price.

joelv's picture

" Kimber's business strategy is to exploit to the hilt those able to pay to more because the KCAG's material costs certainly haven't quadrupled."

The price of silver has gone up more than 5x since 1993.

JHL's picture

But we must leap to outlandish conclusions because surely all audio companies are ripoff artists out to burn down the rain forest and push old ladies off cliffs. They are unique in the world in this way because because.

CG's picture

Based on an online calculator (https://westegg.com/inflation/), basic inflation alone would scale the price of that $62 PBJ cable to $111 today.

This proves without any doubt that the pricing of audiophile cables is what drives the basic economy. What other conclusion can you draw?

Glotz's picture

is precisely what his original post described. The subjective value has decreased.

I Used to buy Silver Streak, PBJ and other Kimber Kable products, and I do Not now.

prof's picture

It is notable that Stereophile reviews of every other type of component are accompanied by measurements. Reviews of cables never are.

Why is that?

JHL's picture

...would you expect they be *measured*?

PAR's picture

I seem to recall that Stereophile's sister magazine HiFi News used to offer cable measurements with reviews but , if so, I haven't seem any for a number of years.

I have certainly seen cable measurements in a German magazine. This was interesting as they had a panel listening blind to a selection of cables. They also measured each cable for R,L and C as well as impulse response ( as far as I recall). The panel members came up with broadly similar opinions on the subjective sound of the cables. However one thing learned was that there appeared to be no correlation at all between the sound and measurements.

That may be one reason not to measure. At least unless other measurement methods can be devised. I am sure that one day there may be but there currently seems to be little properly conducted research into this subject. Bells Labs were doing it back in the early 20th century but the experiments were really in the context of telephone intelligibility.

I do not believe in magic and as I am also sure that cables do change sound I am also sure that there is a PhD waiting for someone out there. of course they are probably going to have difficulty in persuading the assessor that it is a real subject :-(.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HI-Fi News still does cable measurements ....... You can find them on their website :-) .........

prof's picture

In addition to the measurements PAR suggested, I would add "susceptibility to noise and EMI": send a 1kHz sine tone through the cable, in the presence of various potential EMI sources and measure the output in a spectrum analyzer.

It would be interesting to know whether these unshielded twisted pair cables are more or less susceptible to EMI than your "stock" shielded cable.

John Atkinson's picture
prof wrote:
In addition to the measurements PAR suggested, I would add "susceptibility to noise and EMI". . .

A while back, there was a series of measurements by Martin Colloms in HiFi Critic magazine (Vol.4 No.1), that looked at the effect of RF on power cords. An amplifier has three inputs. It has its input port, which we label "input." But the power supply is also an input, so anything riding on the power supply gets fed into the circuit. And the loudspeaker terminals, which we call an “output”, are also an input to the negative feedback loop, so anything that’s happening with the speaker and the cables will get fed back into the loop.

At the RF frequencies that Martin was describing, the amplifier isn’t going to be linear. So if you look at the implications of Martin’s measurements, every cable will behave differently in every system. If there’s a mechanism for RF getting into the amplifier via the output terminals, then every system will live in a different bath of radio frequency radiation, from WiFi networks and portable phones and whatever. Every amplifier, every speaker, and every cable will act as a different kind of antenna.

You can’t, therefore, actually predict what would be the best cable for any one particular system.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

prof's picture

Even granting your premise, that all systems are different and "You can’t, therefore, actually predict what would be the best cable for any one particular system." I am hard-pressed to understand why you would think that the subjective impressions of a reviewer on the operation of the cable in his system would be a better predictor of the cable's behaviour than measurements of the cable's performance characteristics would be.

To take that logic a little further, every room's acoustic characteristics are different, so you can't actually predict how a given speaker will sound in a particular room.

Ergo, speaker measurements are useless ...

Decades of your speaker measurements put the lie to that conclusion. And cables are vastly simpler than speakers. There are many fewer variables to control for. So it should be much easier to reach useful conclusions from a decent set of measurements.

CG's picture

Simpler? Really?

Ever measure cables? I have. Not for audio applications, but for RF use. It's not as simple as you represent. In a lot of ways, cables used at "audio frequencies" are even more complicated than those used for high frequency RF.

Rather than have me bleat away about the subject, there's a whole raft of technical papers on the subject that can be found through online search engines for your reading pleasure. Be sure to include the terms "skin depth" in your search.

One of the key take-aways you might get is that there's a lot more going on with audio cabling than just L, C, and R. That's because the cable geometry matters. A lot.

In addition, the materials used also can store energy in a way that might affect the final sonic performance.

More reading: http://yawp.com/ref-library/subjects/construction%20techniques/an348.pdf

Finally, there's all sorts of noise in and around audio systems, unless your listening room happens to be buried 20 feet below ground level, each component is individually powered by ideal batteries, and there's otherwise close to ideal electrical isolation between the components. This noise wanders around and can have all sorts of unpredictable effects.

The late Pete Goudreau published this article specific to audio applications a while back: http://www.soundstagenetwork.com/articles/pete01.htm

For more discussion of the noise problems, I suggest you use the search terms "Henry Ott noise" or "Ralph Morrison noise".

This is why virtually every system is different. Unfortunately.

To your point, cables can be measured for a number of parameters. Not so few as you might think, just as with loudspeakers. How this all applies in a system depends entirely on the system set-up and constituent components, as is true with room acoustics and loudspeakers.

So, in lots of ways, all these measurements are pretty much out of context, if not useless.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that audio equipment reviews are like restaurant reviews. They are (usually) one person's commentary on their experience at that restaurant. If that doesn't suit you, then look for information and reading satisfaction elsewhere.

One more thing, since somebody will probably bring it up: I don't pretend to understand the economics or pricing models of the audio cable biz. So, I'm not offering an opinion on that.

John Atkinson's picture
CG wrote:
I don't pretend to understand the economics or pricing models of the audio cable biz. So, I'm not offering an opinion on that.

I will. From my 2011 Richard Heyser Memorial lecture to the Audio Engineering Society:

"I will pass over the thorny topic of signal cables having an effect on sound quality that is due to anything other than the usual electrical parameters of resistance, inductance, and capacitance . . . except to point out that, as with light beer, gasoline, and tobacco, the brand differentiation of cables is achieved primarily through advertising. That doesn't mean that there aren't also differences in sound quality, only that, as with mass-market beer, those differences can be relatively small. But does 'small' necessarily equate with 'inaudible' or 'unimportant'?

"Incidentally, this is why judging a cable's value for money by comparing its retail price with its bill of materials is misleading, as the large cost of advertising needs to be factored in. And what if there were no advertising? Decades ago . . . a cigarette brand decided that they could make a lot more money if they drastically cut back on their ad budget. (This was at a time when cigarette advertising was ubiquitous.) Without ad support, their market share collapsed!"

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

CG's picture

Fair enough.

As I said, I'm not qualified to judge the value for money of cables. I have a pretty good idea of what cables cost to make (a late buddy of mine used to own a small cable company - mostly industrial cables, but some audio as an OEM), but that hardly defines the end purchaser price.

But, I would disagree whether the technical part is a thorny subject. At least, thorny as in dubious.

Most engineers who work in instrumentation systems can tell you all sorts of stories and technical details that really parallel the problems encountered in a home audio system. The first order effects caused by the basic distributed electrical parameters of resistance, inductance, and capacitance are inadequate to describe the overall system performance of an audio system carrying very low level signals.

I'd also argue that "improved" cabling, however you might define that, is really only a partial solution to the problem. Many of the approaches that could be used to improve performance have been understood for decades. They just are passed over because of a lack of engineering understanding or just basic opposition to simple principles.

A lot of basic audio system performance was described and analyzed before the halfway point of the last century by engineers at Bell Labs and at the BBC. All seemingly ignored now.

And, more contemporary research that has been performed by various industries also point out problems that audiophiles and audiophile critics have been arguing about for years. (Example search terms: connector distortion)

I don't get it. A sure sign of getting old.

prof's picture

Ever measure cables? I have. Not for audio applications, but for RF use.

"Finally!" I thought, "Someone who knows what they're talking about."

You had me going until you said:

Be sure to include the terms "skin depth" in your search.

Sorry, but no. The skin effect is irrelevant at audio frequencies.

At 20kHz, the skin depth in copper is greater the radius of 19AWG wire -- considerably larger than the radius of the conductors in these interconnect cables. (At 20 Hz, it's greater than the radius of 000AWG wire.)

One of the key take-aways you might get is that there's a lot more going on with audio cabling than just L, C, and R.

No one (least of all I) said that the complex impedance Z(ω) over the whole audio band can be summarized in just 3 real numbers (R,L,C). That's why JA, when he measures speaker impedance, plots both the magnitude and phase of Z(ω).

That's because the cable geometry matters. A lot.

For things like susceptibility to EMI? Sure. That's the whole reason measurements would be useful. How else would we ever know whether these unshielded twisted-pair cables are better or worse at rejecting EMI than your standard shielded cables?

CG's picture

Sorry, but yes.

Just how much shielding effect do you think a copper, silver, or aluminum outer conductor has at audio frequencies?

The basic definition for skin depth is where the current density reaches about 37% of the density at the surface. 37% is hardly zero, or close to it. For a shield, 37% isn't that great, in fact.

So, for a worthwhile shield at 20 KHz, you'd need a copper shield several "skin depths" thick to be really effective - thicker than #19 equivalent. At lower frequencies, of course it would need to be physically thicker. (At a few MHz, a practical copper shield is possible and common. But, even there, a copper layer on a printed circuit board has limited shielding attributes between parallel conductors at, say, 5 MHz)

Or, you could use some other material that might be better at low frequencies. No free lunch there, I'm afraid.

For the record, I am *not* suggesting that measurements are not useful. But, in the context of an entire system, where the common mode signal and noise currents are not characterized, the common mode current loops are not defined, and dozens of other factors are not determined, having that information is interesting, at most. It's like determining a person's health entirely based on their blood pressure, height, and temperature. All those can point toward things to investigate, but they hardly are complete. Taken out of context they can lead to all sorts of false conclusions.

prof's picture

So, for a worthwhile shield at 20 KHz, you'd need a copper shield several "skin depths" thick to be really effective...

The shielding is supposed to eliminate RFI, and at radio frequencies, the skin depth is tiny (so the shielding is effective).

In those rare instances where audio-band EMI might be a problem, it (for obvious physics reasons) manifests itself as common mode noise. You need balanced cables to reject it.

misterc59's picture

Since it seems "generally" agreed upon that cables affect measurements and sound, would not slightly more complex audio equipment such as pre-pros, streaming equipment, iphone, ipad, various brands of computers, etc., etc., affect what is heard as the final product even more? I would think these audio system parts affect the sound one hears more than a cable would, so just wondering why cables and their effects would be harder to quantify and measure? Obviously, the sound one hears from their system is the ultimate evaluation, but do cable measurements have less impact with that final sound and be less worthy of measurement that a Microsoft computer or Focal speaker?

Just wondering as there seems to be more unmeasured pieces of audio Equipment than ones that are, when a person considers all of the variables that go into recreating recorded music... (I won't even get into the individual parts that make up any "individual" part of a music system.

Cheers,
Terry

JHL's picture

...to see you mention Bell Labs and the early 20th Century. Advanced electrical research from all the way back near the beginning found scores of related cable phenomena besides standard LRC. (About forty years ago Marsh and Jung published a study on capacitors that should have dispelled objectivist assumptions they all sound identical. They certainly don't measure it)

prof's picture

I would disagree with your characterization of Marsh and Jung. Their work is objectivist as they come. (For those unfamiliar with it, here's a link: http://www.reliablecapacitors.com/oldRC/www.reliablecapacitors.com/pickcap.html to a summary of their work.) There are a variety of performance characteristics beyond the single number ("capacitance", measured in farads). These are measurable, and they clearly affect how the capacitor will perform is an (audio) circuit.

JHL's picture

How did I characterize Marsh and Jung and how did you draw from my remark that I wasn't aware of capacitance per M&J?

davip's picture

...and poorly-written make-believe at that. If this 'reviewer' is hearing a difference between one cable and another then he's hearing a difference in resistance or some other physical property (e.g., due to the soldering or terminations). A passive piece-of-wire cannot affect "soundstaging", "imaging", "focus", "tightness" of that image, or any of the other audio characteristics in this piece of hyperbole. By declaring that adding 1-m of a different wire made Greenberg's system "...dramatically better across the board" the reviewer stamps his opinion as nonsense because that same 'dramatic' "across the board" improvement would have to follow each time every component in that system was rewired with this stuff-- how many superposed dramatic, across-the-board improvements are possible in an ostensibly "...pretty boss Real World system" before both writer and reader realise this is simply bullshit dressed-up as experienced assessment. The only time it gets more ludicrous than this is when reviewers opine on the subjective merits of gold-plated $1000 ethernet cables that don't even carry audio frequencies and whose inputs and outputs can be shown to be hashably identical. Little wonder Mejias took the cable-shilling and was off, at these profit-margins.

This stuff IS measurable -- resistance, ?impedance, noise-rejection, etc. Get bits of wire that measure the same and they will sound the same. This statement might seem to leave one open to the all-properly-designed-amplifiers-should-sound-alike charge, but let's not forget that this is just a passive piece of wire -- the perceived differences are not justifiable, and JA should provide measurements to sustain such reviewer statements or Jim Austin should stop allowing them to be published (historical or otherwise).

I love this magazine, I really do, but just sometimes it reads like What Hi-Fi at its worst.

JHL's picture

...if you recognize all the fallacies in that comment. Start with the assertion that want of evidence is ipso facto evidence of a want of phenomena.

I've never seen greater bias and subjectivity than in the audio objectivist.

CG's picture

I agree.

Personally, I am all for objectivity.

Some aspects of the listening experience are too difficult to measure at present, such as the brain's response to the nature of various sounds. It's not an entirely well understood field and each person is different. Scientists are working on it, but this area of science doesn't exactly fall into the categories of either having big commercial potential or as a defense project. Thus, progress is slow.

So, leave those out for now. (Various forms of blind testing are statistical by nature and not real substitutes for actual understanding.)

But, for the rest, in order to really get the full measure of a system's performance, you need to measure and analyze the full system and all its aspects. This is true whether it's an audio system or some nuclear physics experiment.

Just assuming or, maybe worse, insisting that a simplified model is complete and accurate is hardly objective thinking. Or, good engineering.

JHL's picture

Personally, I'll all for subjectivity. I'm all for the experience but so far I've found that armchair Objectivity has almost no useful place in audio. It's typically far too subjective. Its toolkit has a hundred examples of gatekeeping that are isolated from actual recreated sound. Audio Objectivity may not even know good sound, but it knows how to make sound follow a measurement and then declare it the sound of nature just on that basis.

I don't care if we can measure any of our experience, although measuring aspects of it are both possible and useful. I don't care if we can dissect the ear or brain where this hearing and experiencing goes because nine times out of ten it becomes rhetorical and practically counter-productive to fine audio. There is no unified audio science, just snippets of it, and that's fine too, because here again the purported *science* of audio frequently gets used like an instrument of bias and control by the amateur, distinct from what the experience is telling us.

A score of top audio engineers and thinkers have openly or tacitly warned us how much there is to their fields, including in ways that actually conflict armchair audio Objectivism. These top minds are objective, just not in the way armchair audio Objectivism is, with its gatekeeping, preconceptions, assumptions, and biases. Therefore insisting that audibility be measurable is not a valid notion, and insisting it be *rhetorically* measured in a simple biased assertion - "cables are all LRC!" - is a whimsy. It is a biased expectation asserted by a foregone conclusion.

I don't think you have to measure a high fidelity system as a conveyor of authentic sound to enjoy it, and frankly, given the failure of theoretical physics to identify the unified workings of nature in your example - or in cosmology where we've created an entire class of invisible matter to explain simple rotation - even there we see the limits of assuming that reality must flow from any present understanding of it.

Bona fide audio science is just as much a pattern of simple experiential listener evidence that, in cases like high end audio cables, leave us with a body of confirmed knowledge we just haven't found the mechanisms behind yet, at least in our popular vernacular. Or don't care to try, or aren't listening to the serious technical minds about. And absence of such evidence is not evidence of its absence.

Therefore the problem is indeed the simplified model, and audio is working from a simplified model. In places it's working from an even more simplified set of assumptions about it and that's a problem. It's the conclusions we wrongly insist comport with reality when they are neither testable or present in the *subjective* patterns of evidence, where subjective means only objective enough to go use the stuff and hear it, revolutionary as that concept is for some.

Frequently reality has something else to say about this and a lot of other things we *assume* are established and settled in our literature, and we accomplish nothing useful or civil forcing one another's experiences to comport with what we wrongly think is in the latter when it clearly conflicts with the former.

CG's picture

I *think* we're saying the same thing, but I don't want to make that assumption...

It would be nice to have a genuine understanding of how an amplifier really generates IMD and how it manifests itself based on actual music signals, which have a pattern but have constantly changing content and peak to average levels that vary over the spectrum. That way we might do a better job of accurately reproducing the original signal.

That's just one example.

Instead we have a very incomplete model because of the limits of the test gear and how it's used.

As you allude to, much "objectivist" thought is based around the notion that a simple model, which was created more than 70 years ago around the best test technology of the day, is the complete solution. Even back then, it was known that the actual signal spectrum is more complex than simple tones repeatedly applied to the device under test. Papers describing the math behind that were published and well received. The engineers and thinkers of the day just couldn't do much with that because of the limits of the available technology. Fast forward a couple decades and the basic test regime has become the dogma, mostly ignoring the mathematics. Ironically, the test gear guys like Audio Precision keep trying to advance test technology to provide more insight, but their efforts haven't been widely accepted as valuable.

I guess that's all I'd have to say. I'm fairly certain that the sides have been drawn on this a long time ago and there won't be much movement in thinking. In a way, it doesn't matter much since, as a whole, the hobby of sitting down and focusing on listening to music is a dying activity. Largely, people listen to music as background noise to drown out the external background noise they don't want to hear. You do not need whatever the listener thinks might be realism to do that.

JHL's picture

You're right: much had been learned by other fields that for whatever reason doesn't get passed around much in casual audio electronics circles. I guess that makes them *ostensible* audio circles more than the serious scientific inquiry purported of them. But that research and those findings abound; they certainly do in my library.

Meanwhile science is commonly a word bandied about by those who do not know what it says, or that it has no voice at all. They've given it the personality they themselves projected into it so to make claims upon it that it cannot fulfill...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Are you saying ignore the science involved in audio?....... Stop doing any measurements? ........ Abandon the Audio Engineering Society (AES)? ....... Designers/manufacturers of audio equipment abandon doing any measurements and design equipment just by listening? ........ What are you saying, exactly? :-) .......

JHL's picture

I said just what I said. Why resort to strawmen and a transparent appeal to ignorance?

Don't prove me right. Stop projecting.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be you should present a paper about your opinions, during the next AES meeting? :-) .......

JHL's picture

...Audio Engineering Society, of whose work I have scores and scores of papers to before the dawn of stereophonic sound, have a philosophy-of-the-incomplete-applied-sciences division? A simple-listening-for-pleasure department? A how-to-diminish-noisome-pedantry library?

A pamphlet on leading the interlocutor?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you are a member of the AES, you could ask the opinions of some of your fellow members, have a discussion ....... Work on some of those sub-divisions in the AES :-) ........

timc166293's picture

We really don't know how gravity works but we can measure and model it. Cables, no measurments just blind trust. Crazy.

CG's picture

The inductance, capacitance, and resistance are shown on the "specifications" page. Just a click away.

Now, it's certainly possible that the actual product doesn't meet those numbers. And, most reviewed cables don't provide that information. Not that's there's many cables formally reviewed in Stereophile these days.

Measuring these parameters is not especially difficult today. Devices that are good enough for home and very serious amateur use run from maybe $100-$300 or so. If you're off by a pF or two, who cares? Lab quality instruments, that also perform more functions, are a few thousand dollars. (New prices - eBay has good deals.)

But, armed with this information, what does that now tell you?

Do you (generic you...) have an accurate model of your source, preamp, or power amp so that you can simulate what effect the cable has on the performance of the source?

In the case of speaker cables, do you have adequate impedance information over frequency so that, combined with speaker cable characteristics, you can predict the effects of the load on the amplifier?

Since there almost certainly are common mode noise sources within your audio system, can you predict the effect of the cables on transmitting this noise or how much gets converted into normal mode noise? Do you have information about the various system components to be able to characterize their performance with regard to this noise?

How about coupling effects of the cable to other external noise and signal sources? How does that change with the geometry of how your cables run? How does the gear itself react?

Yeah, this all can be measured. You can parametrically measure each system component. If everything is designed right and is impervious to the conditions presented by the other system components, there's a good chance you can predict system performance, though obviously not the emotional response a listener gets when listening.

My point is that this is all really hard and involved. It's not a simple system when you want the noise and distortion to be really low. It's especially hard at audio frequencies where the AC power frequency is smack dab in the lower bass. It's also hard because shielding is hard at audio frequencies. It's also hard because signals outside the audio band really do affect signals inside the audio spectrum. It's also hard because of the economics of the products.

The same could and probably should be said about real distortion performance.

I'm not criticizing you, but I wonder just what people want and expect. And, are willing to pay for.

I'll also offer that the very same problems exist in buying tires for your car or truck. And probably a zillion other consumer items.

(Again, I'm not in the audio business. But, a lot of what I work on at my day job has frequency components in and near the audio range - power supplies of various kinds, for example. My only horse in this race is as an audio enthusiast.)

prof's picture

All of the issues you raise are well-taken. But it's unclear (to put it mildly) how a boutique audiophile interconnect cable would address them.

But, surely, whichever issue we choose to focus on, there are quantifiable characteristics of the cable which will tell us whether it will effectively address said issue.

I don't think some quantitative information in that regard is too much to ask for.

invaderzim's picture

If only gravity were just a little side part of a hobby that could be completely ignored.

JHL's picture

...as analogies tend to be flawed, but gravity on the cosmic scale is so misunderstood that they created a whole new class of invisible matter to make the equation work. And nobody on earth knows what gravity is either, at least if our failure to establish it in the quantum end of the scale is an indicator.

To know what a cable really does requires data we just don't have. That doesn't make related phenomena vanish, it just means we haven't got the hang of it. Like gravity beyond Newton. (We actually do know fairly well how it works locally, by the way, but we can't actually measure or model it either; just its effects. In general we find it hard to measure what we can't understand.)

The good thing is that as rigorous as we are, we won't jump to any conclusions about audio until we've rectified these problems.

Anton's picture

Someday, the blind listening messiah will arrive and end this plague of deafness that afflicts audiophiles/reviewers and renders them unable to describe a cable experience without knowing in advance the brand name of the cable.

Measuring would be cool...I would also suggest measurements done "backwards" to compare directionality!

invaderzim's picture

It would be interesting to test a 'directional' cable in a known electronically noisy area to see if grounding the shielding to only the source side does reduce noise over grounding it on both sides or just on the 'destination' side. I'm actually a bit surprised that I haven't seen one yet that used an external ground for the shield or some sort of noise harvester setup. I want a royalty when someone reads this and makes that $10,000 interconnect.

Glotz's picture

is that CG was a great, fun writer with real chops. He had an value-based agenda that pissed off many, but I do miss his irreverent writing and humor.

I will read 'Sheer Whimsy" when it Finally comes out!

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