Speaker Cables: Can You Hear the Difference? Test Methods And Equipment

Test Methods And Equipment
Both parts of the listening test, the open and the controlled, were performed in a sparsely furnished living room measuring 18 x 11 x 28 feet. The hardwood oak floor is covered with a Persian area rug, and sheet-rock walls and large glass windows rise to a “semi-cathedral” ceiling. Acoustically the room is very live, with a reverberation time of about 1 second.

High-end equipment was used throughout the test setup. The system included an Accuphase AC-2 moving-coil cartridge (stylus wear approximately 75 hours), a Magnepan Unitrac 1 tone arm, and a Linn Sondek LP-12 turntable (Valhalla modification, of course). Other signal sources included a Tandberg TD-20A open-reel tape deck (special equalization model) running at 15 inches per second and a Magnavox FD 1000SL digital Compact Disc player. The Mark Levinson ML-7 stereo preamplifier that served as the control center was equipped with L-3 moving-coil phono sections. Levinson silver interconnect cable ran from the ML-7 to the power amplifier.

During the open listening sessions a number of high-quality power amplifiers were used, including an Electrocompaniet Ampliwire 1, a Mark Levinson ML-9, and a Perreaux PMF 2150B. Each of these high-power units had been tested previously and found to be in perfect working order. For the controlled listening tests we chose the Perreaux unit (more than 200 watts per channel).

The speakers were installed 6 feet apart along the room’s short wall and about 2 feet out from each side wall. Infinity RS-3A, Spendor BC-I, and KEF 105.2 systems were all employed in the early trial sessions and during the open listening phase. Only the KEF’s were used during the controlled tests because of their built-in overdrive protection. Each listener was allowed to set the volume level to his taste at the beginning of his part of the controlled listening test; the volume was then left at that level for the entire test session. For one of the Monster Cable/24-gauge comparisons the two cables were matched in gain level within 1 dB using a potentiometer connected between the preamplifier and power amplifier and an Ivie IV-10 spectrum analyzer.

Program material for the open listening tests included a wide range of sources and musical styles. Among the recordings used were the pink-noise band from Telarc’s “Omnidisc” test album (Telarc DG-10073/74), Mozart arias from Philips 9500 098, percussion instruments from Harry Patch’s Delusion of the Fury (Columbia M2 30576), Karla Bonoff’s Restless Nights (Columbia JC 35799), Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique (Reference Recording R-11), and two selections from a Philips CD sampler disc (801 027 2), Elton John’s rendition of “Blue Eyes” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” by Dire Straits.

The program material for the controlled tests was restricted to only two selections. The 3-minute pink-noise band from the “Omnidisc” was chosen by the panel as most revealing of subtle sonic differences. Choral music sung by the 300-voice Jay Welch Chorale (Varese Sarabande VSD l000) was chosen because of the disc’s unusual degree of stereo separation and the vocal resonances in the male chorus.

anmpr1's picture

I give Noel Lee credit for realizing that a lot of dollars can be made by exploiting audiophile neurosis. That said, I've used his less expensive speaker wire, and can reliably report that it works.

The most ridiculous are expensive "super high end" Ethernet cables used to connect your music server. Some have "directional" connections. Evidently people that buy these things have no idea how Ethernet works.

I knew a guy who bought a set of Sound Lab electrostatic speakers (good product), but the dealer sold him some ceramic thingys (looked like insulators from old telephone poles) that were used to keep the expensive wire off the carpet. It was supposed to reduce some sort of "floor induced" electrical interference, an artifact no one could ever explain coherently.

All this stuff is just a way for the dealer to make extra dollars from a high profit item. Now, where did I put my Valhalla Edition Hosemonster Cables--the ones with the silver plated Gotterdammerung spade lugs? My dealer said he'd take them in on trade for the new and improved Red Kryptonite lined Phlogiston free cable, featuring phase coherent bi-directional Interocitor connections. I read in a magazine somewhere that they "blow away" the old model. Can't wait.

Deus02's picture

An age old argument in which I think Mark Twain's words are more relevant than ever, "It is easier to fool those than convince them they have been fooled". The believers will believe because they have to justify their outlandish expenditure and probably, before too long, the "fire and brimstone" of audiophiles with their $300 "audiophile fuses" in tow will emerge.

Of course, there is also the issue of differences showing up on measuring devices that don't necessarily emerge in a real world listening/viewing environment. A friend of mine, who has been involved in the a/v retail business for over 20 years, told me years ago that they push so-called high-end audio/video cables because, of all of the equipment and accessories they sell in their store, these cables provide them their biggest profit margin and that same scenario continues to today.

Old Ben's picture

The expensive cable gambit is total fraud. If it weren't, then there would be verifiable proof of the superiority of these cables. The design of the experiment ought not be too difficult. Take a high-quality audio source and connect it to an oscilloscope using an inexpensive cable and an expensive cable that are otherwise identical (e.g., length, gauge) and compare the signals at the downstream end of the cables. Are they different? If so, then publish the results!

drny's picture

I remember the original article on SR.
I won't argue the merits for or against so called high end speaker wire.
After 40 years of using all types of wires (24-10 gauge, including Monster), there are several variables. Such as speaker Impedance, run distance, contact with any other signal inducing or carrier product.
A general catch all basic for speaker wire is copper material, high level of insulation, 16-12 gauge.
For the past twenty years I've negotiated my speaker wire into the purchase of the actual speaker system. You will find that the dealer will throw in the wires, if you are buying at retail, or if its a discontinued, close out, demo speakers (does not apply to box store such as Magnolia/Best Buy).
In a Home audio world where a High End Speaker line can go over $50,000 a pair (basically for status symbol or 'fools gold'), the speaker wire debate is almost esoteric.

brenro's picture

Thirty foot runs of Monster Cable didn't sound any different than lamp cord. Earth shattering.

William Lee's picture

Should I conclude that using expensive cables would make everyone hears Yanny?

Tumara Baap's picture

Audio Critic was the other magazine that was relentless in its criticism of woo woo. It is sad that even proclaiming the most ordinary position of common sense caused such consternation. In theory, even if cables differed a little in capacitance or impedance, any effect would have been eclipsed by the Lord of Distortion and Sloppiness, the loudspeaker itself. The typical loudspeaker with its slovenly passive crossover is a terribly crude device. There simply exists no pathway for cables to audibly assert themselves in this context.

PunchyRedcrown's picture

Do we throw this in the same bucket as line conditioners and biwiring? I liked the comment about Mark Twain, which particularly holds true when reading the user reviews on Audioquest and Monster speaker wire- something like 5x the price. Let's face it, folks. They're really reviewing their brand new $2000+ 5.1+ home theater.

rgsalinger's picture

If you think that wire makes a difference, hire an elf. Put two lengths of wire between your amp and your speaker one is expensive wire and one is proper gauge zip cord. Have the elf switch them back and forth on a random basis when you are not home. The elf needs a key. Listen intently for 90 days, every day and write down which cables you are listening to. Compare your results to what the elf did and see if you could actually hear the difference.