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Help Me Understand Cable Burn-In!?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Sunday Ironfoot, Nov 13, 2003.

  1. Sunday Ironfoot

    Sunday Ironfoot
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    Someone please help me to understand cable burn-in. I mean a cable is just a cable isn't it, sure some cables are more expensive thus better than others, but how can a cable gradually sound better over time like speakers or hifi equipment can?

    I can perfectly understand speaker run-in, I've experienced this myself with 3 sets of speakers I've bought new in the past (moving parts et al.), but cable burn/run-in? Does such a thing exist?
     
  2. Dean

    Dean
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    "Break in" is a misnomer. What's really happening is that the insulation (or dielectric to give it its proper name) is being "formed". This "forming" is caused by
    the dielectric absorbing energy from the conductor when a signal is present (i.e. when current is flowing). Every cable requires something to separate the negative conductors from the positive conductors - a dielectric. However, because the dielectric is in direct contact with the conductor, it will interact with the conductor whenever a current flows, absorbing energy from the conductor. What the dielectric does with that
    energy once absorbed depends upon its quality. PVC releases the energy back into the conductor a split second later, causing a kind of "smearing" of the signal. In contrast, Teflon absorbs significantly less energy in the first place, turns most of the energy into heat, and whatever
    energy remains is released back into the conductor virtually instantaneously. This causes significantly less damage to the signal which is why -
    all things being equal - a cable with Teflon insulation will sound better than the same cable using a lesser dielectric. This absorption of energy
    causes the molecules in the dielectric to be rearranged from a random order into a uniform order. Once the molecules are fully rearranged, the
    cable is said to be "broken in". The dielectric will now absorb less energy from the conductor, causing less harm, and improving performance.

    To ensure that the cable stays "broken-in", there must be a signal present in the cable at all times. It's obviously not practical to have your system
    playing 24 hours a day every day, but you can at least leave the components switched on. Even when there is no music playing (i.e. there is no
    current flowing down the cable), there is a potential present. This will ensure that your cables (as well as your components) remain at the peak of their performance. However - and this is the important bit - if there is no signal present in the cable at all (i.e. if the all the components are switched off, or if the cable is disconnected), the molecules will rearrange themselves back into their random order. In other words, the cable is almost like new again!
     
  3. Sunday Ironfoot

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    That was a brilliant answer, more than I could hope for, thank you!!!

    So basically what you're saying is that 100's hours of cable burn in can be lost in an instant just by switching off my equipment, even for just a few hours? Are the improvements in sound worth the extra £30-40 electric bill each year if I was to leave my system switched on 24 hours/day?

    Also what's the deal with cable directionality? I thought cables were just the same both ends.
     
  4. Dean

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    No, switching off your equipment only for a prolonged time will revert the cables back to the original state and lose burn in (like going on a long holiday for instance). Not sure about other people here but I keep my equipment on stand by all the time. As for cable directionality it just comes down to the way manufacturer designs the cables, in theory the signal travels better in one direction only. If I can find more information on this I'll post it sometime. :smashin:
     
  5. overkill

    overkill
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    Hi-fi unlike pc's, benefit (no end!) from being warmed up before use. Some kit Mission/Cyrus for example really needs at least an hour of warm up to reach it's full potenial. Class A gear needs roughly half an hour to three quarters, valves the same. Leaving gear on standby is ok but it doesn't really warm the kit up enough - except for Class A gear which is "switched on" circuit wise the whole time. I, for H&S reasons, switch everything right off. Fire brigade recommendations first, hi-fi bliss second!! ;)

    Just means i have to wait half an hour or so before banging on the tunes!!!:D


    p.s. Don't get too worked up about cables. It's one of the biggest scam areas in AV!!! Potenatially, it is THE area of (rapidly) diminishing returns.
     
  6. michaelab

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  7. Sunday Ironfoot

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    Bludy hell!! :eek: There's an industry for just about everything these days, I wonder now a married man would explain that to his wife if he was to buy one of those :nono:
     
  8. Dean

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    Agreed, first I've heard of a cable 'cooker'?!
     
  9. michaelab

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    You clearly haven't spent enough time in the "other" forum then (see sig ;) ).

    Michael.
     
  10. Dean

    Dean
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  11. overkill

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    Thanks for the link Michaelab. I noted a "debate" about cables brewing nicely on one of the the forums there!! Having sold the things and tested (when the punters werent around!) a few lorry loads of them, i stick firmly to my original statement. Over a certain price point first your faith in the "experts"is fooling you, then once you've busted the bank on 2metres of gold plated junk, your wallet is tricking your ears in to believing you really didn't waste the money after all!! It's no joke!!!

    A guy i know is a hi-fi engineer with 20 years of experience. The thing that gives him the biggest belly laugh of all is the crap talked about the merits of expensive cables. He posted somewhere a brilliant breakdown of why it's codswallop in electrical/engineering terms. Sadly i didn't save it to disk!!
     
  12. michaelab

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    overkill - I don't want to get into a debate about cables, coz it usually turns ugly :rolleyes: But IMO and IME cables do make a considerable difference. Sure, there are a lot of bogus products out there and when you can pay £30K :eek: for a set of Siltech signature cables things really are getting pretty silly but in the "lower" end of the scale (speaker cables, interconnects, digital cables and power cables up to £400 a set) I really have noticed huge differences - and it's very often not the most expensive cable that's the best ;)

    Oddly enough, the area where I've noticed the biggest difference is the one where most people think there couldn't possibly be any difference: digital cables (connecting transport to DAC). I'm not joking when I say I've heard differences of the night and day type.

    I also have to say that electrical engineers are usually the first to criticise the hifi cable industry and dimiss it all as bunkum. The thing is they don't want to admit that there could be differences they don't understand. Very often even the people who make the cables themselves don't really know why cable X sounds better (and unfortunately they then put a load of pseudo science BS on their web site) but what's important is that it does sound better.

    dean - thanks for the AudioCircle link :smashin:

    Michael.
     
  13. Mr Cat

    Mr Cat
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    cable directionality..? yeah, I e-mail RS about this some time ago (there's also some info on the Russ Andrews web site, I forget where abouts tho...), and their reply was -

    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for contacting Richer Sounds.

    In response, the best way to connect speaker cables for direction is using the writing and connecting left to right (from amp to speaker).

    For Interconnects this will be the other way round right to left(from source to amp), again use the writing for direction. This principle can be applied to Scart cables and digital / analogue interconnects.

    I hope this information helps you.

    Yours Sincerely

    Mark

    but, just by chance I had all my cables the correct way, except for on of my main speaker cables, so, there wasn't much of a change when I changed that...
     
  14. overkill

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    Ditto. Without getting into one, as i said before, extensive testing of various bits of kit with many many different makes, and price breaks of cable, showed - practicaly no difference. This wasn't just my opinion but all of the staff i worked with, some with 15-20 years of experience.

    The biggest jump is the obvious one from the naff stock cables to a decent £20-30 incon. After that it was VERY hard to tell (no matter how much our bonuses relied on it!), regardless of the kits price any tangible improvement. Speaker cable even more so. Take it from someone who's happily sold £100pm speaker cable with a winning (and knowing!) smile on his face! Digital incons are a different beast, and i grant you they can make big differences in sound. But not neccarily better ones!
    :D


    As for engineers not understanding the tech.............hmmmmmmm. I might leave that to the man himself to answer. But be prepared for a hot one!!!;)

    *leaves quietly before Michaelab blows fuse........*
     
  15. michaelab

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    LOL :D I'm not going to blow a fuse. I guess I'm luck in that pretty much all the ICs (including digital ones) I use cost me very little because I got the actual cable for free and just had to terminate it myself (with Eichmann Bullet plugs of course - there's another debate ;) ). If I'd had to pay for them, ready made, they would have cost in the region of £500 (alltogether).

    I paid £300 for my speaker cable (Townshend Isolda DCT) and I can assure you it made a huge difference. I also have been to a number of "bake offfs" with the guys from ZeroGain where we compared different speaker cables and everyone agreed there were massive differences.

    I also paid for all my power cables (Eupen GNLM 05/2.5 at £50 a pop - and I have 6 of them) and on my CD transport and DAC they made a quite staggering difference.

    I guess we'll have to agree to disagree :smoke:

    Michael.
     
  16. sceptic

    sceptic
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    Can you show us a link to these "bake off" (what an odd expression) results?
    It would make interesting reading.
    Thanks
     
  17. alexs2

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    As another self-confessed cable junkie,I've never been much impressed by cable "burn-in",except perhaps with an XLO digital cable,and the Kimber high current mains leads,but I definitely do think there's a huge improvement to be had by using decent quality cables,and even my wife,who isn't into hi-fi or AV to any extent other than to listen has noticed the difference in clarity etc from changing interconnects etc.

    Having tried loads(Linn,XLO,and many of the cheaper ones earlier)my current favourite is Kimber,which seems to suit the balance of B&W/Krell very nicely.
     
  18. michaelab

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    sceptic - here's a link to one of the bake-offs where various speaker cables (amongst other things) were compared:

    http://www.zerogain.com/forum/showthread.php?threadid=288

    Not sure where the term "bake off" comes from. I think perhaps that's what the ladies from the Womens Institute do - all gather in a friend's kitchen and compare cake baking recepies (or something) - so it's kind of taking the mick out of that (I think :confused: ).

    Michael.
     
  19. sceptic

    sceptic
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    michaelab
    Thanks for the link.
    Interesting reading although the following
    makes me scratch my head.
     
  20. overkill

    overkill
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    Ever seen the programme were dictatorship theory's are tested out? In one test a guy (not in the know) was persuaded by all the others that several lines on a series of cards where the longest - despite the fact they weren't.

    Also where one or two people are (or appear) convinced of an idea they can, and in the same experiment did, persuade everybody else in the group that they were correct in identifying number sequences when again in fact they weren't.

    Auto suggestion and mob influence works. Whether any of us like it or not. Especially if you are easily convinced.

    Either that or smoke mucho weed!! That helps to hear differences in just about anything!!!

    Not that i'm saying, in any way thats what happened to you old chap!!! ;)


    As a final thought - do you know what the mark up on most cables is? As a little hint, it's why even low budget outlets like Comet are pushing "quality" cables now. Not that i think all the hype could possibly be related to money...................:D


    And a final, final thought. In the end it's what you're happy with. If you feel it's money well spent, and there are real sonic gains then all well and good. Me, from long experience in the "field", i'm not convinced.

    I do like the ISOtek mains filters though! More for the looks than the use.................

    Have fun

    O'kill
     
  21. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Of course, the fact that a system sounds better when you put new cables in doesn't mean it's the cables that have made the difference.
     
  22. overkill

    overkill
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    ??????????:confused: That's if it does sound better. You can easily fool yourself into thinking that, the, ooooooooh £150, you just blew on cables is justified by that extra bit of clarity etc that's in fact just your defence mechanism clicking in. Especially if you're married!!!:D Hell, i know, because i've done this myself in days of yore!! It was only with greater experience, and after years of extensive listening in the shops that i realised in hindsight i'd wasted my hard earned dosh!!

    You live and learn. :lesson:
     
  23. sceptic

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    I reckon that listening tests are worthless unless they are blind.
     
  24. michaelab

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    overkill - I know all about peer-group pressure and agreeing with everyone else just to conform even if you don't agree but I can assure you that everyone who was at the bake-off (and others) knows the others and we all have strong opinions and aren't afraid to voice them. If one or more of us didn't hear a difference we would have said so. The differences were as clear as day.

    Also, on your other point - I'm not saying that engineers don't understand the tech. I'm saying that cables that might measure as being electrically identical can sound different and there's no way for engineers (or anyone else) to explain it. The fact remains there are differences and engineers, like most scientists, are far too ready to reject out of hand anything their theory can't explain.

    sceptic - blind tests are a load of baloney. Search the Stereophile web archives for plenty of articles on the subject. They are a Catch-22: the only differences that a blind test will show up are differences that are so huge that a blind test isn't necessary. For smaller differences the number of trials and people involved in a blind test would have to be so large as to be impractical in order to deliver a statisically significant result.

    Take a look at this article on the Tag site. It covers a blind test between a Nordost Solar Wind interconnect and a TAG McLaren F3-10-ANA analog interconnect and also between a Bryston 6BSST amplifier and a TAG McLaren 250x3R. In both tests the results showed there to be no difference between the two products - what a surprise ;) Tag were clearly trying to use this as an excuse to promote their own products (particularly the amp) against their main competition.

    The problem for Tag (and for blind testing) is that nearly everyone who has heard the Tag 250x3R and the Bryston 6BSST amps would say there was a pretty big difference between them. Some prefer the Tag, some the Bryston but no-one would say they sound exactly the same (which is what the blind test indicates).

    Blind testing is unfortunately close to completely useless for testing audiophile gear. People want a silver bullet that will "prove" that one thing is better (or at least different) than the other but unfortunately it doesn't exist. HiFi is a subjective domain and no amount of attempts to apply rigorous objective scientific methods to evaluating it will ever work.

    Michael.
     
  25. overkill

    overkill
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    Totally agree.

    But to finally lay to bed the cables debate. I won't take issue with your comments about "people who have strong views" above. I would say however, it changes my opinion not one jot. Basically because i've been there, seen it, done it and still the same thing happened that i mentioned. A certain Scottish manufacturer are notorious for this. A room full of people full of "strong opinions", as long as they all agreed how good the kit was. The danger is that their fanatacism for the products rubs off onto you. This can be a serious problem when this happens to shop staff, and they deal with customer with a fanatical gleam in their eye. One guy i used to work with was disciplined for not being "loyal" enough to that brand!!!

    Overall, we'll have to agree to strongly disagree!:D

    On blind tests, i'm sorry but you must have been knocking back the scotchs before making those comments.!! Blind testing eliminates so many prejudices and expectation factors it has to be an improvement on the drivel written in so many "sight tests".

    Besides we used to do it at one of the shops I worked at and the test results they gave made very interesting reading!! Overall however, good products won out. So where's the problem? Unless of course you feel that expensive gear should be given prejudical treatment? ;)
     
  26. michaelab

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    I'm not trying to change your opinion about cables - if you don't hear differences that's fine, you'll save a lot of money. I and many other people do hear them and we're not imagining them or being led or subject to any other psychological effect.

    Nope - I wasn't joking about blind testing. It usually proves nothing.

    Take my example above - all that test did was "prove" that two amplifiers, which you'll struggle to find anyone saying sound even slightly similar, sounded the same. If blind testing can't tell apart two totally different amps it has even less hope of telling apart cables and other things where the differences are usually smaller.

    I don't think expensive gear should be given prejudicial treatment, however, blind testing is always the old war horse rolled out by the sceptics and the budget freaks to justify why they don't need to upgrade their systems ;)

    I'm not saying that "sight" testing is any more reliable if the time taken to listen to each thing is as short as in blind testing.

    Often differences (esp. between cables) are small enough that it can take days or even weeks of listening to lots of different music for differences to be fully appreciated which is another reason why rapid fire ABX testing is flawed.

    Michael.
     
  27. overkill

    overkill
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    LOL!!! You would say that now though wouldn't you? No-one is going to admit they've been had!!;) I'm not going over it all again, and you can hear differences in cables, just not enough to warrant you being, frankly ripped off, to the tune of hundreds of pounds! A quick (and final example) example:- My uncle had quite superb Oracle Delphi SMEV/Audio Research SP9-SP11/Cambridge CD1/KEF107 system with top quality cables. He ripped them out (to prove me wrong :)) and replaced them with cheaper cable. The difference by his own (embarrased) admission was there, but it was far less than he'd predicted! Snigger!!! (Sorry, family bitch there!)


    I'm sorry but i wasn't aware it was designed to prove something. Just to keep the listeners from being prejudiced by knowing what they were listening too.

    Nope, Sorry again. It's just to keep a level playing field. As the blind tests we carried ou on punters who knew their onions proved. I repeat the best gear still, 8 times out of ten, won out. Where it didn't, tended to bear another arguement out, that reviewers hype, or are outright iffy (see "What hi-fi" thread) when it came comes to reviews.

    I would wholeheartedly agree however, that any hi-fi gear needs listening to over a prolonged period to get a decent take on it. It's sometimes worth checking decent reviews to see if the reviewer makes comments like "but this was disproved after my own prolonged home testing" etc.

    Sadly both "in the field", and with time and money preassures on reviewers this isn't always possible. Some quality dealers support home dems and set up your gear for you (we did) and allow long term listening tests but this isn't practicable for all but the very best specialists. I sure you already have Michael, but to others i would advise - seek them out!!:lesson: :)
     
  28. michaelab

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    Hmmm....I didn't want to get into a debate about cables :rolleyes:

    Right, I know that there are huge margins in cables, that some people are charging hundreds (even thousands) of pounds for cables that actually cost about 50p a meter to make. More than any other area of hifi it's full of half truths, snake oil and dodgy science.

    However, there are big differences in cables and it is worth paying for them when you find the right ones. Cables (speaker cable, ICs, digital cables and power cables) sound as different as amplifiers and CD players - sometimes much more different. Next time there's a bake-off at ZeroGain I'll invite you along and you'll hear with your own ears. Note - I'm not saying that more expensive is better, just that there are differences - very large ones. In fact, it's often the cheaper cables that sound the best.

    The best reviewers (HiFi+, Stereophile) do have the kit for a period of 2-3 weeks usually in order to make a proper evalutation.

    As for blind tests, it's all a matter of statistics. If you and your mate try out a new piece of kit (CD player, cable, whatever) and you take it in turns to be the "listener" or the "kit swapper" so that the "listener" doesn't know which bit of kit he's hearing the results are statistically no more valid than a sighted test. That's half the trouble with blind testing - you need to have a lot of people and do a lot of "trials" to make a test that has any statistical significance. Doing that though has it's own problems, listener fatigue being the worst of them. You also can't just use anyone off the street - you have to use people who are used to hearing the subtle audiophile differences. The upshot is that doing practical, statisically significant (ie with results that have any value or meaning) blind testing of hifi gear is close to impossible.

    I've said enough on the subject. Read this article from Stereophile and come back to me :)

    Michael.
     
  29. overkill

    overkill
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    Aghhh!! NOW, if you'd made that clear in the first place...............we wouldn't have had so much fun debating it!!! Knew we'd get there in the end!!!:D


    Sorry, but "stereophile" is on my list of "Hmphh" mags after years of backing the Linn/Naim axis. The article was interesting but not convincing as it tended to back up a thesis proposed by that ilk in the first place. (took ages to b****y load as well!) Bad science man, bad science. From personal experience with customers, they DID (and still do) make value judgements based on name/looks and went away with products that really didn't suit them or that they found hard to live with. Regardless of whether another product sounded better, or suited their listening tastes better. But they persisted with them because they were "name" brands which "had" to be good. Had they listened to them without seeing them one wonders what might have happened!

    This was both frustrating proffesionaly, and rewarding financially! On the one hand you want clients to go away with products that actually give them what they want, but on the other if they insist on hearing through "stereophile" "hi-fi choice" etc. rather than their ears then dealers will make a fat pile out of constant attempts to improve or upgrade their "sound". Sounds cycnical, but if they had chosen without prejudice, and taken advice............. :nono:

    Anyway, work beckons (groan!) so that's me done for a few days!!! :(


    If you don't mind, please pm me when the next cable test goes off, i'm always game to try new things!! :D
     
  30. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Ah the usual stuff coming around again. Yes we have all heard big differences between cables and amplifers when we listen to them. How come NO ONE, and I repeat NO ONE can replicate these under controlled conditions?

    I demo'd a new amp at a hifi dealer several months ago. There were huge differences between amp A and B. I was being given the hard sell. When I got out a test disc and sound meter they couldn't get me out of the shop quick enough as they knew I owned one of the amps already. When correctly set up there was NO difference and the shop knew that.

    Engineers can explain any difference I have ever come across, my experience is that not everyone want to believe though, moden test equipment is VERY good.
     

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