Listening #150

"I don't know what I think on that one. I haven't written about it yet."—Walter Lippmann (attributed)

As sometimes happens, this started out to be a very different column. But by the time I was a thousand words into it, I found that my point of view had changed.

A number of months ago, I received from a Canadian company called BIS Audio a review sample of their Expression interconnect: a shielded, unbalanced interconnect terminated with Eichmann BulletPlugs (RCA). Priced at $480 Canadian per 1m pair, the Expression falls squarely in the middle of BIS's interconnect line: a lowish range for high-end audio, and suggestive of a manufacturer that values value (footnote 1).

Each Expression interconnect is approximately 9mm in diameter and distinctly flexible, though its terminations are finished with the sort of heat-shrunk tubing that makes the ends stiffer and more unwieldy than the rest of the length; the latter element confers some degree of strain relief, and compels the user to keep his or her gear no closer than 6" to the wall behind it. The Expression is covered in a light-gray sheath of braided polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which made my sample pleasant to handle, and allowed it to glide past rather than be snagged by its surroundings. I believe snakes are manufactured with the same idea in mind.

In e-conversations with BIS Audio's Bernard Brien, I learned that the Expression's Eichmann plugs are soldered rather than cold-welded to its conductors of oxygen-free copper (OFC), and that its shield is connected to the ground conductor at both ends. Thus, if the Expression is directional—Brien says that it is, and that the preferred direction is indicated with an extra piece of heat-shrunk tube at one end—that quality must derive from the conductors themselves. M. Brien doesn't specify the dielectric used in the Expression, though he notes that the materials generally used by BIS for that task include Teflon, PVC, and low-noise, cross-linked polyethylene. He also says that different BIS cables use different conductor geometries, though he prefers not to emphasize such things—partly because he doesn't wish to distract customers from the importance of choosing cables based on audible performance, and partly because, in his words, many audiophiles have preconceived notions of the contributions to sound made by different design elements—or, for that matter, different pricing structures.

Preconceived notions abound, even in reviewers—perhaps especially in reviewers. Like most of you, I'm a person of many prejudices. I am prejudiced against retrieving hot cookware from the oven without using potholders, I am prejudiced against pesto, I am prejudiced against picking up snakes with my bare hands, and I am prejudiced against listening to Celtic instrumentals for longer than 15 minutes at a time—reasonable prejudices all, as I've tried each more than once, always with unpleasant results.

For similar but less severe reasons, I am prejudiced against interconnects and speaker cables of excessive bulk, I am prejudiced against connectors of excessive bulk and complexity, and I am prejudiced against interconnects or cables built with signal-processing devices of any sort, passive or active.

On the other hand, I am prejudiced toward cheap RadioShack RCA plugs, cheap Switchcraft RCA plugs, cheap Z-plugs, expensive Audio Note silver banana and RCA plugs, and most Eichmann connectors, though I wish their BulletPlugs were just a little smaller and a little less tight. I am inclined to like well-made cables of simple but not cheap appearance, with either copper or silver conductors. I tend not to like very inflexible cables. I think that any 1m interconnect pair that sells for $1000 or more ought to sound amazingly, obviously good—something that, in my experience, very few do—and I think that any 1m interconnect pair that sells for $5000 or more ought to sound amazingly, obviously good and increase the size and functionality of one's penis. Which is, of course, the primary reason men buy such things.

I am prejudiced toward perfectionist-quality wire in general, because I know from experience that one's choice in interconnects, speaker cables, and, in some applications, AC cords can influence the sound of one's audio system for good or ill. That said, in my support for the cable industry, I sometimes feel like the literary agent who believed in Dylan Thomas's poetry, yet hated to send that notorious drunk on reading tours: When even gifted people behave badly, it is better to pretend not to know them.

And the cable industry has, at times, behaved badly. It saddens me to see, every season, so many companies push prices to ridiculous new heights. I'm discouraged by gross overstatements from some manufacturers—and reviewers—of the audible differences between various cables. I'm sick of the unfiltered nonsense used by many manufacturers to explain why their cables and other accessories are a zillion times better than the ones they made last year, let alone the ones made by their long-tailed, tree-dwelling competitors. I'm disgusted by the silly packaging cynically used by some companies to promote their goods and help justify their high prices. And I grow weary of the sour desperation of some newcomers to the industry, as they strive for the same remarkable profitability as their predecessors.

Indeed, at audio shows, I have seen cable and accessory vendors all but hurl themselves through the air in their haste to tackle anyone wearing a press pass. (Now you know why those badges are color coded—and why the press usually gets the brightest color.) And I've noted that, on those occasions at shows when I have been interrupted while trying to actually listen to music, it is usually not by the makers of the source components or the electronics or the loudspeakers, but by the makers of the cables or accessories in use: people who want me to know that, when their product was added to the system, low-frequency extension increased by a full octave and, as a consequence, the jaw of every skeptical listener in the room literally hit the floor. Literally, I say.

Such behavior—the desperation, not the spontaneous, catastrophic failure of temporomandibular ligaments—can be traced to the fact that cable manufacturers, like most everyone else, are hungry, and newcomers to the cable industry seem especially fervent in their belief that one good review is all they need to put their products on the map.

I am not unsympathetic. Back in the day when high-end audio was still "dreaming itself together," as one sage put it, virtually any resourceful cable company could get its products into the stores. Just as there was a brief time when any Merseybeat band—even Freddie and the Dreamers—could land a recording contract. But those days are gone. Today, any new cable company has a simple choice: They can advertise, or they can get someone to write about their products, preferably in a magazine or on a website that people actually read. Word of mouth, once a valuable commodity, has been cheapened by both the overabundance of opinion on the Internet and the fact that user testimonies for new audio companies tend to be needlessly pugilistic in tone—suggesting that it is impossible or perhaps merely immoral to express admiration for the products of one company without also expressing hatred for the products of everyone else.

As planned, my next sentence was to be: "Taking out an ad and soliciting a product review are two very different things: One costs money; the other does not." But then I remembered: That's no longer precisely true. Some magazines and websites now require manufacturers to purchase advertising space before a single drop of ink is spilled on their products. Policy, which used to be a perfectly nice word, is soiled and smudged and utterly profaned by that sort of moneygrubbing, antijournalistic mischief. (By contrast, Stereophile does not force companies to advertise as a condition of having their products reviewed. The same is true of and its sister sites,,, and

How to review audio cables
Still, it is in the interests of some cable and accessory manufacturers to attempt to get their products reviewed, and inevitably, virtually all of us in the reviewing fraternity will, at times, agree to do so. Here's my approach:

Step 1: This is the easiest step of all: Do nothing. Once you've hung out your shingle as a reviewer, cable offers will come your way. I promise.

Step 2: This is the hardest step of all: Accept the offer of a review loaner, but limit yourself to only a single product, be it a pair of interconnects or speaker cables, an AC cord, or a stochastic Kirlian-field generator. This is difficult, because the manufacturer will try to persuade you to accept and to review as many products as possible, apparently in the belief that more products on loan equals more publicity. This reaches a savage extreme in the cases of those manufacturers that attempt not only to load up reviewers with multiple products, but that also try to persuade reviewers to write "think" pieces describing the scintillating experience of upgrading their way through the company's product line, from cheapest to dearest, and never mind that most people would rather view nude pictures of Dominique Strauss-Kahn than read such dreary junk. (And I say that as one who has, to his present-day shame, actually written such dreary junk.)

Footnote 1: BIS Audio, 344 Avenue Quintal, Laval, Quebec H7N 4W6 Canada. Tel: (450) 663-6137. Fax: (450) 663-0967. Web:

Lofty's picture

One of the great joys of the summer season is a plate of freshly made linguine or fettucine with a basil pesto. Pair it with a crisp white or a lager and you're good to go. Heaven.

romath's picture

"I am prejudiced against retrieving hot cookware from the oven without using potholders, I am prejudiced against pesto, I am prejudiced against picking up snakes with my bare hands, and I am prejudiced against listening to Celtic instrumentals for longer than 15 minutes at a time—reasonable prejudices all, as I've tried each more than once, always with unpleasant results."

At least two of the four aren't prejudices, and one could make an argument that none of them are. That you choose to do or not do something doesn't make it a prejudice. Obvious examples: You choose not to jump off bridges or stand out in front of moving cars. Clear writing and clear thinking go together.

FavoriteAnimal's picture

Oh romath. I wasn't disturbed by Mr. Dudley's juggling with the idea of prejudice early in the review, but then you came along and took me with you... until your final pompous moralizing thought.

Here is a Nasruddin story for you, courtesy of Amazon and Idris Shah:

Nasruddin sometimes took people for trips in his boat. One day a fussy pedagogue hired him to ferry him across a very wide river.
As soon as they were afloat the scholar asked Nasruddin if the water were going to be rough.
'Don't ask me nothing about that', said Nasruddin.
'Have you never studied grammar?'
'No', said the Mullah.
'In that case, half your life has been wasted.'
Soon a terrible storm blew up. Nasruddin's cockleshell craft started filling up with water. He leaned over to his companion and asked, 'Have you ever learned to swim?'
'No', said the pedant.
'In that case, all your life has been wasted, for we are sinking.'

romath's picture

The quote was of the author and my comment was directed to him. I have to assume you're trolling. Unfortunately, there's no flag to call it to the website's attention.

FavoriteAnimal's picture

All 5 steps are fascinating, but I'm going to be referring back to step 3 the most. I do make one change at a time, myself, and listen to the same selections, paying attention to the music and my response to it. And I make notes. But to have a compete testing regimen spelled out, as in this instance, is invaluable.

readargos's picture

Are helpful for identifying differences (Step 3), but not necessarily indicative of long-term satisfaction. Auditioning a product by leaving it in the system for a week or so, and listening to a range of both familiar recordings and those you've not heard in a while, across musical genres, is key. The "Daily Use Test" will often reveal things the "A-B Test" does not.