Cable Conspiracy?



Hi - I've been into home cinema for a while now and I can't help thinking that there's a lot of over the top stuff written about AV cabling.

I bought a Sony Freeview box for my Toshiba TV and connected it using the free SCART that comes with it. I then bought a Harman Kardon DVD25 which I temporarily connected with this cheap SCART cable and was pleased with the picture. Having read many magazines and forums I of course rushed out to get a more expensive SCART cable (IXOS601) in order to benefit from the increased picture quality, vibrant colours, 'inky' blacks, precise 'edge definition', etc. that I'm always reading about. However, when I saw the results I could see no difference in quality at all from the freebie.

Now, I'm not someone who 'doesn't care' about picture quality. In fact, I'm ridiculously picky about this kind of stuff. Just ask my partner. Believe me, she is very very bored with my constant trying out of DVDs to marvel at the picture quality and the detail on show.

And I know all the arguments about why expensive cables should be better than cheap ones: the quality of the shielding, the purity of the components used, the build quality, etc. but for me none of this added up to a noticeable improvement of the image. Although the IXOS was certainly heavier and had the feel of being very well made. It certainly looked more stylish too, but seeing as it's plugged into the back of my TV out of sight, the fact that it is sleek and blue seems a bit irrelevant.

I know that in saying this I am committing a terrible sin in the eyes of enthusiasts. I can practically hear audiophiles and videophiles falling off their chairs across Britain. I used to think I was going the way of the audio/videophile myself with my growing collection of magazines and my love of conversations about all things Home Cinema. But I can't help thinking that this issue in particular is one that only really benefits cable manufacturers to make big profits. And they seem helped along by the major HiFi and Home Cinema magazines, which regularly fall over themselves to rate the comparative strengths and weaknesses of particular cables, which I now read with deep scepticism and an eye on which products are being advertised in that particular issue.

I read other posts about people who buy expensive SCART cables and are dazzled by the difference in quality compared to the cheaper one they were using before. It makes me wonder what they were using beforehand. Were they using bits of string or something? Or am I just not looking 'hard' enough?


Standard Member
Think of it this way. Apart from the Audio/Video market, no one else gives this subject a second thought. My degree and 20 years of work experience shows me that this topic is nonesense.

It is only the backwaters of all backwaters that thinks this "cable quality" makes a difference. I know Volcanologists that use equipment so sensitive they can here you fart at a thousand miles laugh use normal cables. at 40-60 pence a metre.

The electronic scientific community have known all there is to know about the subject of analogue signal transfer in the audible range for 40-50 years. There have been no new discoveries in this field for decades at the audible range.

The market is SO small in cable terms that it is VERY VERY unlikely that any manufacturer of cable would tool up to make a product for such a minnow it is beyond sound business practice.

The rest is snake oil. There is a lot of money to made in the selling cables either audio or video. When you consider`this you can see a few things more clearly

Now when say they see or hear this or`that, who am I to say otherwise, but there has been extensive reseach over the last 150 years into human perception and paricularly human hearing perception, as it is one of our weakest senses in the overall scheme of things.
Many Many many many..... did I say many times? Many times in trials people have described differences between sounds, when they THINK that something has changed, they were shown a new product being added to the sound making device, when in fact it was not really cabled in. But they still wanted to hear something different.

It is quite easy to make a cable sound different or transmit a difference colour palette. But we dont want that, do we?.
We want signals transmitted untainted. Putting it simply that is easy and we have been able to do that for years.


I have no experience of your telly, but I do know that with plasmas, the difference in picture quality from different component leads is off the map. Scart wise, I can honestly say I can tell the advantage of a QED squart over cheapy ones in a big way - crisper reds, better contrast, and less RF noise on big blocks of colour.
I don't want to seemingly call you a fool, but you are using RGB on that scarty, aren't you? with a composite (basic scart) signal, it'll look naff anyway. I'd expect a big difference between the freebie and a "proper" cable, because the HK bundled ones are a bit naff, and are really only to get you going..


Distinguished Member
You make many good points and spending a fortune on cables is IMHO a waste of time. Spending some time thinking about them, however, isn't.

Over long runs the quality of a cable and its shielding can have an effect in terms of impedence and interference, particularly if positioned next to low quality, high voltage cable (think of a kettle lead).

My experience of cables is that the crux is in the quality of the terminations. A decent chunk of metal that's well soldered to the cable and properly imedence matched will make a difference. Marginal perhaps and maybe not even noticeable - I've only noticed it myself in scart leads which carry a number of signals in close proximity.

When it comes to interconnects and speaker cable I've yet to notice a difference between any, although my next project is to make some DIY cables up and see how they go. Check out the forums DIY and cabling threads for more information on this.

Overall, my experience is that having a well-constructed cable can make a difference over a small lump of plastic, but I've yet to see any evidence of improvements from eliminating "skin effects", "strand leaping" and the like.


Prominent Member
Video cables and audio cables are very different. The cable I use to connect my PC to my monitor cost £22, not a hell of a lot of money but more than the £8 cable I tried at first which resulted in terrible ghosting, streaking and smearing. The difference a good cable can make is massive. I've yet to hear a difference with audio cables but a number of people who's opinions I respect assure me it is there.

Nic Rhodes

Distinguished Member
All you need to do is get the basics right and this is not expensive, there is LOADS on this site saying this already.


Prominent Member
I think that a lot of what is said about cables (especially by the HIFi mags) is a load of rubbish. I am a chartered physicist and used to work in scientific instruments design where the integrity of signals at very low levels is fundamental.

If you follow well known construction guidelines taking into account frequency, current and cable length along with potential local sources of noise, there is little mysticism or black magic involved. 90% of cables sold will do a good job, there are of course some cables that are so badly constructed that crosstalk or interference from outside signals can occur but over the short cable runs that most people use there is little to worry about. I have a plasma and cannot see any significant difference between reasonable basic quality cables and expensive ones.

Further rubbish that is talked about is the need for gold plated terminals. Unless the connector is sited in a corrosive atmosphere or is subject to frequent plugging and unplugging, basic plating (tin or zinc I think) is fine.

It is also as well to consider that you are not going to sit there swapping cables every 5 minutes, so that tiny difference that you thought that you saw between cables will soon become a faded memory. Save your money by buying some £10 scarts from Argos and buy some DVDs with the money that is left over.:D


Nic (Beekeeper) has said loads on this subject here and this has been the inspiration for me to make all my own interconnects.

I agree to some extent that the differences (visually) between one cable and another can be almost negligable and I have yet to be convinced one speaker cable can sound better than another (flame proof suit on :p ) but in making my own I know what components have gone into their manufacture and more importantly I know the care that I took over making them ;)


Prominent Member
Im going to stick my neck out and look at all this from a different angle.

I couldnt care less if different cables do make a difference its if I think they make a difference that matters to me. I personally do think that cables make a difference and I have spent a bit of money on making sure mine are of reasonable quality. I think they have made a difference so im happy-isnt that what counts???

I could just be my brain thats tricking me into thinking they are better and if thats the case then fine I will go along with it.

Flameproof suit engaged and ready for action!

Nic Rhodes

Distinguished Member
Why can no one EVER demonstrate these difference to me from properly engineered cables under controlled conditions? Stuart Robinson even offered an Audio Note expensive cable on a similar challenge on this forum, to my knowledge he had not takers, don't you want a 'better' performing £400 cable just to show all the engineers / physists are wrong?


After sitting in front of a Plasma and a DVD player during a quiet day in a shop, I got bored of listening to CD's and thought i'd try this one for my self.
I don't know why interconnects and speaker cables give different sounds (In my head) but they do.
I used 8 different scart cables ranging from £7.99 up to £134.99
and can honestly say i could find differences in every one close up!
from a distance i'd be happy with the picture @ about £40 +
but any closer and it was pretty bad.
This may go against all of the "Scientific rules" but it happened!
During a physics A'level they teach what effects the quality of a signal through a cable, whether the effect is noticeable is a different matter (My head tells me it does). Better cables seem to deal with the problems by helping the cable suffer the minimum loss!
You can science at me till the cows come home but I see and hear differences, seeing as so many people agree it must be subliminal messages and mass hypnosis that causes it!!


Established Member
I'm happy with my tech+link cables because they perform well and don't fall apart when unplugged. I wouldn't spend more money on a SCART cable, knowing that the cabling and processing inside my TV set are not good enough to show the difference anyway.

Besides, I wonder what is used in broadcasting? Proper termination and heavy shielding for sure, but with miles of cable I don't think they will spend excessive amounts of money on something unless it makes a genuine difference. The last time I went on searching for professional video cable for fun, it was the same grey boring style as I expected. Certainly not handmade in space or anything. ;)

I'm still amazed that the cheap unbranded antenna wire I bought can carry TV signals of several hundred MHz to my TV set.


Prominent Member
If I were a high-end cable manufacturer I would engineer my cables to colour the sound deliberately. That way they will make an audible difference to the sound. I'd also make it look pretty, with lots of gold/silver, transparent or colourful covering and complicated wiring patterns to make people feel they are getting value for money.

When people add such cables to their system it will make a difference. Very few systems will be perfectly balanced to their owner's liking so if they try a number of different cables they will arrive at one that colours the sound in a way that they like. Cables that do this don't need to be expensive but cheaper cables will probably try to be neutral and so not have the effect.

Of course I'm not a high-end speaker manufacturer, but I may be paranoid. :)

Stereo Steve

Ex Member
A cable cannot improve the performance of your gear, only make it worse. It's the degree of damage that is important. In terms of scarts I have had one problem with a £5 Currys scart that bled TV signals into the VCR image. I have purchased a £20 odd Ixos scart and it seems little better than the standard ones that come with most good gear. So, I don't bother buying expensive scarts any more.

I terms of speaker cable, perhaps because of the increased lengths, I beleive a well designed cable can significantly outperform a bad one. I'm not taking expensive vs. cheap as I personally use Cat5 TNT DIY cables at around £1 a metre. I would be confident of blind testing these against any cable under £10m and picking it out. I say this as I have succesfully done it. The other cables from QED, Monster, Cable Talk etc. etc. I couldn't tell from mains flex.

I think the key is that you don't need an expensive cable, you need a well designed one. As far as I am aware, your standard multi strand figure 8 speaker cable is a very poor basic concept, regardless of materials or process. Cat 5 is a good concept but hard to re-package as revolutionary concept.

Nic Rhodes

Distinguished Member
I find it easy to pick cables a from cable b. What I can't do is this under controlled ABX conditions. All the evidence suggests (tons in AES literature on this) that others can't do it as well. This is why 'posh' cables sell as people don't evaluate them under contolled conditions.


Prominent Member
We also need to make a distinction between technology and build quality.

A cheap cable is cheap firstly because it uses cheaper materials, the effect of which we can argue about for ever. The second reason is poor assembly and construction.

Good materials and poor assembly will degrade performance. Cheap materials but good construction - debatable. But cheap materials and poor construction always add up to poor performance.


Prominent Member
Selling price = Material Cost + Labour + Overheads + Markup.

The high end user price paid for esoteric cables is probably due more to markup and overheads than direct costs ;).

Ed Selley

Hi-Fi Editor
Originally posted by philipb
Good materials and poor assembly will degrade performance. Cheap materials but good construction - debatable. But cheap materials and poor construction always add up to poor performance.

Further to this argument, good cables need not be expensive. Our very own Mark Grant produces a digital coax that didn't just sound better (obviously subjective) but measured better than the QED SR75 that it replaced. The Mark Grant cable is less than half as much. I often feel that in some intances the consumer pays for something that looks extraordinary but does so in the interest of shelf appeal rather than exeptional performance gain. My Audio Note AnVx (the only lunatic expensive interconnect I own) is no looker but it does make a difference- for me at least :).
Scart cables do make a bit of a difference for me as well. Comparing a Thor with the supplied freeby on my Sky box gives me much harder edges and no blurring when I'm watching Zoids at 7am :). Besides I spend £30 on a night in the pub- at least the Scart lasts longer :laugh: .


Prominent Member
Talking about digital cables, the whole (almost) raison d'etre of using a digital signal to link two pieces of equipment is that the data that is put into the cable is what comes out. It doesn't matter if it picks up noise which would be noticeable on an analogue signal, only the transmitted digital data (the 1's and 0's) is looked at by the decoder at the receiving end.

Signal degredation can only happen if major disruption occurs, this will be exhibited as signal break up which will not happen between the DVD and receiver or over long distances like between London and New York (for example seen on Freeview when the whole signal amplitude drops below threshold levels).

The tone, colouration, hue etc of the signal will remain unaffected whatever digital cable it is transmitted along as no processing of this nature can possibly happen in a electrical coax or optical cable. The only thing that will change the way that the music sounds or video looks is the processing at the receiving end.

Magazines that suggest that there is a difference in the sound or vision between different digital cables between adjacent pieces of equipment are hearing or seeing figments of their imagination. A well known Home Cinema magazine recently made an optical cable an award winner in their 2004 awards saying 'Dolby Digital bitstreams are transferred with all the sonic detail intact, and there's no unwanted noise or interference'. Well Duh!!

It's about time that this misinformation stopped. Many home cinema buyers are persuaded to spend much more than they need to.

Nic Rhodes

Distinguished Member
Are you talking about properly designed digital interfaces or SPDIF? They are NOT the same


Prominent Member
I am not talking about the interfaces, only the cables carrying the data stream. If the interfaces at either ends of the cable are badly designed , there of course will be problems, but this thread has only been looking at the cables.

For S/P DIF, as long as the system stays within the EBU ICE 958 specifications the different brands of cable will make no technical difference to the transmitted signal assuming that they are not faulty in their construction. As stated above (assuming that the signal fed into the cable is within spec, 0.4v to 0.6v), the problems will largely occur in electrical coax over long runs where the signal amplitude drops below 0.2v or picks up major noise that sends it over 0.6v. Interface sourced problems such as jitter will of course mess up the sound but that is not the fault of the cable.


I have to be honest that, when i was judging the quality of the new SCART i was using, i was going entirely on the picture quality. i use a surround decoder hooked up with an optical cable which sounds great. however, i'm more than willing to believe that different cables make a bigger difference on audio signals. For example, it seems plausible that getting good speaker cables would make a difference, as the sheer length of them running all over your room means that they can easily pick up interference from all the other electrical sources in the vicinity. and i can imagine that if your DVD player is a long way away from your screen, it makes sense to get a good quality cable for the same reason. but when you've got a 1m cable basically going out of the back of the player and into the back of the TV above it on a stand, then i really do think it's misleading for critics and manufacturers to say that you need a super duper cable when actually amuch more affordable and functional one would do just as well.

And this is why I can't bring myself to agree with Cheapskate2003, although I have sympathy with the view expressed. Of course, I understand completely that there's a range of other factors which go into making a hobby like Home Cinema fun and interesting over and above picture quality and sound and all that. It's not just about performance. It's about pride of ownership and excitement and feeling like you're building a really cool system. it's the same sort of thing with audio enthusiasts and vinyl. if sound quality were the whole story then we would probably all throw out our vinyl LPs and buy CDs (can of worms on the horizon!). but people still love vinyl because the simplicity says something to them. they like searching in old record shops to find rare LPs to add to their collection. there'sa community feel to it. so i can understand completely the view that it's possible to like a particular piece of kit because of the 'imagined' benefit that it provides, or for reasons beyond how it affects performance. i myself am now using component leads to connect my dvd player to my tv and am very happy about it. does it make an enormous difference? not sure. but i'd like to think so.

but the magazines don't say that do they? instead, they lead people like me to think that for an extra £40 i'm going to get a big step up in performance. if they'd said instead that it probably wouldn't do much for my picture but it would feel chunkier and more stylish, then i'd have known what i was getting.

and that's the trouble. it's about honesty and knowing what you're getting. i didn't know what i was getting. but i'm pretty clear on what IXOS was getting from me (i.e. £40). and i can hazard a guess at what the glossy home cinema magazines are getting from IXOS. i feel a bit cheated.


Prominent Member
I thought it would only be a matter of time before the old chestnut of SPDIF (RCA or Toslink) not being a “proper” digital format was wheeled out. There are plenty of DACs for example that sound plenty fine off of either of these connections, in fact there are a few DAC makers who do not bother putting “superior” sounding BNC or AES/XLR connection on their DACs, their vibe being that the DAC can handle “jitter laden” streams in the first place. Anyway ask yourself one thing why does jitter not effect DVD-V soundtracks off of these “inferior” connections surely these would sound as bad, a lot of what is said about cables & connections in hifi forums is down to unhappy users not content until they have exhausted every eventuality of getting “the best possible sound” when in reality a lot more of us, get it before their “level of acceptance”. Nothing wrong with having your own views about what is “best” but it does not make it universal truth, views about the negativity of SPDIF are one such case where the results on the ground from many users outweigh they “hype”.

A little thread that may interest some of you :

Some of the bluff that goes about cables in the hobby is based purely on personal opinion, I would ask anyone advocating huges changes in cables/connection types to try some blind AB testing, it open ones ears to what you "actually" hear IMPE.

Nic Rhodes

Distinguished Member
Originally posted by Ikki
I am not talking about the interfaces, only the cables carrying the data stream. If the interfaces at either ends of the cable are badly designed , there of course will be problems, but this thread has only been looking at the cables.


I agree totally but was just a little unsure where you were coming from initially hence the question re clarification. A properly designed interface with the correct cable should give you 'perfect' results just about all of the time. I look forward to the use for HDMI cables for instance just these reasons, hopefully when fully implemented, cables will be plug / play and forget.


I have some scarts which are good and some that are bad, I can certainly tell the differance between these two qualities. However all the good ones aren't expensive and all the bad ones aren't cheapo. The longest one I have is mid range IXOS ~5m I think, this I consider bad and have never used after the first week (just moved the equipment closer). Some of the best I have are <£20 from Maplin.

I certainly believe in good/bad cables but from experience price/make aren't the only way to tell. The Lindy 10m DVI is a good example and this shows that word of mouth is just as good as premium branding. ;)

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