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results of speaker cable experiments - shocked me!

steve parker

Active Member
You may be interested in hearing the results of my mad scientist experiments with speaker cables.
(Audio Research valve amps, and various speakers)
Started off with Nordost Flatline Gold - bi wired.

Started to read up. Insulation seemed important - PTFE (Teflon) or air is good, PVC is bad. So logically, a loose Teflon/PTFE sleeve, leaving lots of air spaces is good.
I bought some solid silver (99.99% pure) Litz braided cables. 8 strands plaited/braided into an RFI rejecting pattern as per the famous Kimber cable.

No connectors - why introduce another joint and material in between the boxes?

Nordost beaten, so I sold it. The silver gave me a feeling that a veil had been lifted, and I liked the extra detail and clarity of the silver.

Then I bought some 1.5mm diametre solid silver wire, in a loose PTFE jacket. Effectively made a solid core cable - 1 length for positive, and 1 length for negative. I loosly twisted them together to get some RFI rejection. That beat the multi strand. The solid core sounded less "edgy", deeper, more relaxed, but still with the detail. It didn't add anything, but I felt I'd eliminated some small nastyness. I'd got rid of some treble emphasis which had been slightly wearing before.

Then I read up about the Spelz Anti Cable. He seems to be talking sense. His central themes are get rid of the music spoiling insulation/dialectric, and get rid of the connector. Keep it really simple. Well, i took his advice to heart, and got rid of his markup as well. I realised that he is selling magnet wire - enamal covered pure copper.

So I invested £9 in a big roll of the stuff from Farnell (but Maplin etc also sell it). Easily enough to make up cables for both my stereo and surround sound systems.
I've put the specifications below from Farnell web site - basically it is 16SWG enamal covered copper (also called magnet wire, or coil wire)

You simply cut to length. Scrape off the very thin varnish at each end. Use marker pen to show which is going to be positive wire (because they are the same colour of course). Lightly twist them together and join the amp to the speaker. I didn't use any plugs because my amp and speaker has suitable screw down terminals.

Shockingly, the magnet wire is the best so far! Another step imrovement over the solid core silver, which was better than stranded silver which was better than Nordost copper. Everything is more relaxed and mellow and listenable, whilst retaining the detail and musicality. It's got rid of that slight fatigue element that CD systems always seem to have, even when you've spent thousands of pounds on boxes and isolation and mains conditioning.

I've just taken deliver of some Grover Huffman cables fromn California, which I'm testing now - but at this early stage, the £2 home made anti cables are still the stars of all my trials so far.

Anyway - for £9 a big roll, you can't really go wrong, so try it and be prepared to be shocked.

In my fairly high end system, I'm more than happy (although worried about how much money I've wasted on branded cables over the years)


WIRE, COPPER ENAMELLED, 16SWG; Area, conductor CSA:2mm²; Conductor make-up:1/1.5mm; Current rating:2.74A; Colour, primary insulation:Transparent; Material, primary insulation:polyurethane; Diameter, External:1.5mm;
 

Welwynnick

Distinguished Member
Very interesting stuff, Steve. I do "believe" in cables, but I don't believe in spending silly money. I've been using solid core for years, but not yet tried to avoid PVC insulation.

I had a similar idea though - use satellite cable for speakers. That's air cored, of course, to get the best dielectric, but I guess you have to remove the screen to avoid the capacitance. I've planning to do an experiment to see if it makes any difference, but your idea of magnet cable is a good one. Since the voltages on speaker cable isn't that high, the insulation isn't so critical, though I think you'd want to be sure that there couldn't be a short-circuit.

Anyone know what enamel is like as a dielectric?

Nick
 

steve parker

Active Member
I read that the insulation on cable acts as a charge/discharge battery (that's not the scientific terminology I'm sure) and interferes with the signal. The type and thickness of the insulation magnifies the effect.
The enamal on the magnet wire has the benefit of being extremely thin. It's also a pig to scrape off, so guess it's pretty safe to say that it won't come off in normal use and cause a short
 

Mad Mr H

Well-known Member
Nick,

I got silver plated copper here if you want to try that.
Various sizes from 1mm to about 4mm

As well as one or two Kimber offerings :D that you cant try at home :devil:

(PS Nick - The worlds largest hush box build just started ;))
 

-Ad-

Well-known Member
Firstly, nice write up !

Im up for trying it, cheap, plus I need to build some DIY things as it's been too long.

I was going to try some flat copper speaker cable from the netherlands, but might as well just try this with some cotton sheething around it for protection :)
 

JUICE690

Active Member
Very interesting read! think I'll be trying this out myself on the weekend.:smashin:
 

steve parker

Active Member
I had a question about what the reference code is.

it's Farnell ref 1230987

http://uk.farnell.com/1230987/cable/product.us0?sku=pro-power-ecw1-5

You get 32 metres, which gives you 16 metres of stereo cable. All for £9 plus postage. Maplins and others will also stock it.

DON'T get the tinned copper version. I understand that the tinning gives a worse sound. Buy the simple copper with enamel varnish.

By the way - I was speaking to a fairly serious hi fi enthusiast yesterday, who told me his local audiophile club had done a speaker cable shootout recently. The anti cable (enamelled copper) won, and now they are all selling their branded stuff.
 

spl23

Well-known Member
DON'T get the tinned copper version. I understand that the tinning gives a worse sound. Buy the simple copper with enamel varnish.

Tinning applies a very thin layer of tin on the outside of a copper cable. It will make *no* difference whatsoever to the sound, any more than silver-plating a copper cable actually makes a difference.

As an engineer, I'm actually horrified at the notion of using enamelled cable twisted together for speakers. This cable is designed to be wrapped around a transformer coil or similar and then secured in place inside a device - it is not designed for use as a general connection between components in the "outside world". Yes, the enamelling doesn't come off easily, but if it does get chipped or the cable gets knocked, you will most likely short the output terminals on your amplifier. At best, you will blow the output fuses or the protection circuits will trip; at worst, you will blow the output transistors and be looking at a very large bill. You may think it sounds better due to getting rid of all that "nasty" PVC, but I'd be very suprised if you are experiencing anything other than the placebo effect, and you are making a very bad engineering decision by using a cable for a purpose for which it is not designed.
 
D

Deleted member 30535

Guest
Shockingly, the magnet wire is the best so far! Another step imrovement over the solid core silver, which was better than stranded silver which was better than Nordost copper. Everything is more relaxed and mellow and listenable, whilst retaining the detail and musicality. It's got rid of that slight fatigue element that CD systems always seem to have, even when you've spent thousands of pounds on boxes and isolation and mains conditioning.

The perfect speaker cable will not decrease the gain on any frequencies sent down it, and as it's impossible for a speaker cable to boost any frequency, has this enamelled wire attenuated the higher frequencies more than the other cables? Or do you think the other cables attenuated the lower frequencies more to give the impression of being "brighter" and more fatiguing?

Would the combination of cd, amp and speakers be more at "fault" for fatigue than it is of the speaker cable?
 

spl23

Well-known Member
There's a lot of nonsense on their website... For example:

"We believe the Anti-Cables are sonically transparent and neutral because they virtually eliminate the most common source that give speaker cable their sonic signature, the plastic dielectric material. Beyond the extremely thin red coating, there is nothing left but air, and air is a near ideal insulation dielectric because it causes virtually no dielectric effect! Air is also why break-in time is not so nasty sounding with the Anti-Cables. This is because "break-in" is actually the bad sounding plastic dielectric material, which simply sounds less bad with time. Since the Anti-Cables have much less dielectric material, the break-in period is easier to get through. If you have ever experienced a typical speaker cable breaking-in, you understand how much the dielectric material affects the sound. Again, it gets better with time, but the dielectric effect will never fully go away (unless you mostly remove it, like the Anti-Cables)."

This is complete drivel. No-one has, to my knowledge, ever demonstrated a change in the dielectric of the insulation of a cable that happens as a result of "break-in". There is also not a great deal of evidence to suggest that it is the dielectric that causes the "sonic signature" of a cable - all this really affects is the capacitance, which has negligible effects at audio frequencies. There is no such thing as a "dielectric effect" anywhere in electrical engineering that I have ever come across - they seem to have conveniently invented this term. As for claiming that air is an "ideal insulation dielectric" - that's just rubbish. Air is a relatively poor insulator, certainly when compared to a substance like PVC - air breaks down as a dielectric at around 3MV/m - PVC will still insulate at up to 200 times that voltage. And so on - their claims sound like engineering science, but are actually meaningless nonsense.

Yet more:

"As with any audio cables, they tend to sound better when kept a few inches away from everything, including the carpeted floor. The stiffness of the Anti-Cable wires can help you to keep them suspended in the air. Extra long Anti-Cable runs can be better managed using cable isolators. Twisting the (+)&(-) wires together (3-4 full twists per foot) also works well as a free "tweak". As this will turn two separate wires into one twisted pair (easier to manage), and the lower inductance (see specs below) may provide additional top end extension."

I'd be interested to hear their explanation as to why audio cables sound better if they aren't lying on carpet - as would a lot of other engineers. But my favorite is the claim that twisting the cable reduces the inductance. Oh really? The inductance of a paired cable entirely depends on how far apart the strands are, their diameter and their length. Twisting the cables has no effect whatsoever on the inductance.

This company are yet another bunch of cable cultists - using dubious or non-existent science to sell a product. To be fair to them, they are charging less than companies like Nordost, who do the same thing, but it would be a far braver (or more foolish) man than me who used enamelled copper for speaker cables.
 

steve parker

Active Member
Mr Incredible - I'm not sure how the things work when you prefer one cable or piece of equipment to another.
I suspect that each thing in the chain degrades the signal to a lesser or greater degree, so one thing you are trying to do is eliminate degradations. The other part of it is that each piece "tunes" the system in some way. As you say, a thing can attenuate certain frequencies more than others, leading to perceived bright or dull music.

I think my system is good. To buy new would cost something like £14K, and I think it's quite well set up. With a decently recorded CD it can sound incredible. I'd say that all the cables sounded pretty good, but the solid core silver and the enamelled copper definitely sounded the best in my set up. They make the Nordost sound veiled, and the multistrand silver seem tizzy in comparison.

Of course, if you have speakers that dampen the treble, you might appreciate the multistrand silver.

Having said all of that, I think the solid silver and the enamelled copper definitely have that musicality and long term enjoyability factor, without losing any of the detail or imaging or rythm.

I wish I DIDN'T like the enamelled copper. It upsets me that my expensive speaker cables are now wasted. I wish that my old cable pruchases were great and wise buys. Unfortunately, the magnet wire copper is better, so I have to go with them!

Anyway - for £9 and ten minutes work, you HAVE to try them!
 

Warpaint

Active Member
Very interesting series of experiments and conclusions.

One pedantic point though

You get 32 metres, which gives you 16 metres of stereo cable.

A single 32m run would give you 16m of mono cable. 8m of stereo cable.

On a similar note

I seem to remember around 16 or 17 years ago NVA used to sell an interconnect cable which IIRC was designed for microwave transmission. It had a single solid conductor in the centre and a solid copper tube as the screen. I bought a length from RS and fitted some phono plugs and was quite pleased with the results.

it was something like this http://uk.rs-online.com/web/search/searchBrowseAction.html?method=getProduct&R=0388697
although its not exactly cheap.
 

Alan Mac

Well-known Member
I agree with spl23. Using enameled wire in this way to form a speaker cable is foolish.

In addition to the risk of a short-circuit across the amplifier output, there is the complete absence of real evidence that it has any beneficial effect.

A loudspeaker is driven by an electrical signal applied across its input terminals. Therefore if something, like a change in speaker cable, really causes a change in the sound, there MUST be a corresponding change in the electrical drive signal appearing across the speaker terminals - the frequency response of the system changes.

This change in frequency response is relatively easy to measure yet no one from the “cables make a noticeable difference” camp has produced measured results to demonstrate the effect of changing the speaker cable. Why is this ?


Alan
 

-Ad-

Well-known Member
Tinning applies a very thin layer of tin on the outside of a copper cable. It will make *no* difference whatsoever to the sound, any more than silver-plating a copper cable actually makes a difference.

As an engineer, I'm actually horrified at the notion of using enamelled cable twisted together for speakers. This cable is designed to be wrapped around a transformer coil or similar and then secured in place inside a device - it is not designed for use as a general connection between components in the "outside world". Yes, the enamelling doesn't come off easily, but if it does get chipped or the cable gets knocked, you will most likely short the output terminals on your amplifier. At best, you will blow the output fuses or the protection circuits will trip; at worst, you will blow the output transistors and be looking at a very large bill. You may think it sounds better due to getting rid of all that "nasty" PVC, but I'd be very suprised if you are experiencing anything other than the placebo effect, and you are making a very bad engineering decision by using a cable for a purpose for which it is not designed.

Totally in agreement there, the risk of the enamel coming off is just too high, and why take the risk when there is no evidence to suggest it does anything anyway.

I originally bought my ixos 706 speaker cable because it looked to have a good amount of stranded copper in the middle, plus looked cool. The 3rd sheething in the braid is empty and just there to allow it to be braided, but ixos claim it reduces interferance and other silly things.

With this magnet wire Il be using thin 5mm cotton tubing (1.8mm internal diameter) with 1.6mm magnet wire. Perfect insulation, ductile, and matches my silver and coton clad IC cable. Can't wait to try this out, considering I was going to try one of znash's DIY silver/gold cables that seem highly regarded.
 

steve parker

Active Member
I'm using the enamelled wire on two amps/speakers now with no problems, and have spoken to a few others who also use it succesfully. And "anti cable" website has lots of endorsements. The enamel is a real pig to scrape off - I had to use a lot of elbow grease and a sharp stanley knife. Hard to see how it would scrape off in normal use.
(You can of course run the wires seperated from each other- easy to do because the wires are so stiff - although the anticable website says that a few twists sound better.)

Having said that, using a loose cotton sleeve over the wire gives extra insurance against possible short outs. I'm happy to use the cable as it is, but I appreciate that others may not.


I do believe that cables make a difference, although I accept that techies can't measure it. Part of the difference comes from the insulation, and the way it's twisted or not, or solid or not, or silver or copper or gold, or tinned etc etc.
I'm happy to hear back from anyone else who tries this form of cabling, to see if I can learn something more about the mysteries of the perfect hifi
 

Alan Mac

Well-known Member
I do believe that cables make a difference, although I accept that techies can't measure it. Part of the difference comes from the insulation, and the way it's twisted or not, or solid or not, or silver or copper or gold, or tinned etc etc.



That seems an extraordinary statement of belief.

The reason “Techies” can’t measure a significant difference in the system frequency response between two different speaker cables is because there is no significant physical difference there to be measured (in the electrical signals driving the loudspeaker).

So what you seem to be claiming as your belief then, is that the different types of insulation etc. act to change something other than the electrical signal driving the loudspeaker.

Do they affect the listener’s hearing in some way?
Do they affect the acoustics of the room in some way?

However, double-blind subjective listening tests would appear to rule out such extraordinary effects, which are in any case unknown to (planet Earth) science.

I do not see the justification for such beliefs.


Alan
 

steve parker

Active Member
I've no idea why changing size or material or configuration of cables makes a difference. But they sound different. Same with mains cables.
I'm not fooling myself because I want to buy a particular cable - sometimes a thing I desire sounds wrong, and sometime a thing I don't want sounds better.
My only criterion is "does it sound consistently better than my current cable, after a few back and forth swaps and after a bit of time to get used to it?" If it does, I buy it. The science eludes me, but if it sounds better, what can I do?

I wish they did all sound the same, so I could buy £1 of bell wire and be satisfied that nothing else out there could possibley be better.

(And I could have a dirt cheap DAC because all zeros and one's must also be the same)
 

spl23

Well-known Member
I've no idea why changing size or material or configuration of cables makes a difference. But they sound different. Same with mains cables.
I'm not fooling myself because I want to buy a particular cable - sometimes a thing I desire sounds wrong, and sometime a thing I don't want sounds better.
My only criterion is "does it sound consistently better than my current cable, after a few back and forth swaps and after a bit of time to get used to it?" If it does, I buy it. The science eludes me, but if it sounds better, what can I do?

Are you certain that they sound different? Have you tested double-blind - i.e. someone else swaps between two cables so you don't know which one you are listening to, and you then see if you can still reliably tell the difference? As I have argued so often on here, the ear and brain are not reliable when doing comparisons which are not blind - you know what you are listening to, and your brain uses that information to bias you. The only way to be sure you are really hearing a difference is a proper double-blind test. In double-blind cable tests between any decent cables (i.e. ones which aren't flawed or deliberately weird), they sound the same.

Silver sounds exactly the same as copper, and Teflon insulation sounds exactly the same as PVC - and engineering supports this. Most of the "science" talked by cable companies is rubbish, and owes far more to marketing than to actual scientific theory. As Alan quite rightly says, if there are audible differences, they *will* be measurable. You can actually measure noticeable differences in the frequency response of different speaker cables in certain systems - and quite often, those measurable differences are actually inaudible. But the differences in frequency response are usually down to changes in the inductance of the cable, which is pretty much solely controlled by cable geometry - how big are the conductors, and how far apart are they. What they are made of has *no* effect.

And, for the record, there are *no* differences in sound between mains cables - there is absolutely no scientific reason why there should be, and no double-blind test has *ever* shown there to be an audible difference.
 

steve parker

Active Member
I guess that the essence of your argument is that I must be fooling myself that different things sound different, because we don't have measuring devices to factually prove that things are different

4 points in response
1. I'm not sure how you can measure the subtleties of music. I can see that you can measure the volume, or the current, or lots of things. but you can't measure musicality. It's just too complicated. It's not just whether the single frequency is coming through- it's whether a mixture of frequencies is coming through with the right balance and timing

2. sometimes when I've been with dealers, they've changed things without telling me what I'm listening to. Whilst it's not strictly double blind, I have given opinions on sound without knowing what they've done

3. Isn't there a danger that you may be in the trap you feel I'm in? you believe there can be no difference, so you don't listen to different cables, and if you do hear a difference you dismiss it as minds playing tricks?

4. I accept that my mind does have inbuilt bias. I may prefer 1 person whilst disliking the same actions in another for example. But I often "want" to like something because I've read it's great, and it turns out to sound wrong in my system. Whilst other things I don't want to buy, and expect to sound poor, do sometimes sound better than my treasured existing stuff, and I have to buy them even though it hurts. It certainly feels like my rational auditioning mind is ignoring the irrational desires of my primitive brain. Your theory would produce an opposite outcome I think, where my rational mind is influenced by what my pre-biased brain wants.

Anyway - even if you are right, and nothing sounds different, I still have to buy the stuff that sounds better to me, even without scientific proof. If I bought the crappy sounding cable (deluded by my own mind maybe) it would still sound crappy to me, and I won't enjoy listening to it.

Whether you are right or not, I still have to maximise my real (or deluded) enjoyment by using the cable my tricky little mind likes best
 

Alan Mac

Well-known Member
I'm not sure how you can measure the subtleties of music. I can see that you can measure the volume, or the current, or lots of things. but you can't measure musicality. It's just too complicated. It's not just whether the single frequency is coming through- it's whether a mixture of frequencies is coming through with the right balance and timing


No, we cannot measure “musicality” because it is not a physical entity. “Musicality” is a construct of the human imagination.

But we certainly can and do measure “a complex mixture of frequencies coming through with the right balance and timing”. Such physical measurements are not at all “too complicated”.


Alan
 

spl23

Well-known Member
1. I'm not sure how you can measure the subtleties of music. I can see that you can measure the volume, or the current, or lots of things. but you can't measure musicality. It's just too complicated. It's not just whether the single frequency is coming through- it's whether a mixture of frequencies is coming through with the right balance and timing

This statement is hugely misguided, and just goes to show the harm done by years of subjectivism in hi-fi journalism. Your speakers are producing sound waves - waves of air pressure - to which your eardrum responds by moving backwards and forwards. Any reproduction system stores these sound waves as a signal with a varying voltage. This signal can be *absolutely* measured, described, analysed, reproduced - there is no magic about it. It doesn't matter how complicated the original source was - your eardrum moves in a very easily understood fashion in response to the sum of all the original signals. Summing signals is easy - they just add up. No magic, no complicated timing, nothing - any set of signals can be added to produce a single waveform, which can be stored on a CD. If a "subtlety" of music cannot be stored in a single waveform, it can't be reproduced at all, as that is all a CD is capable of storing. (Well, one waveform per channel, to be pedantic, but the point holds.)

As for different signals coming through with the right timing and balance, this isn't rocket science either. Yes, you can have an effect known as group delay, which means that different frequency bands get delayed in time - but cables don't do it, or at least they don't at audio frequencies. The idea that a cable can affect this is unfounded - when I read about a cable contributing to the "timing" of a signal, my response is amusement. At audio frequencies, a cable has a very simple job to do, and pretty much any bit of cable will do it perfectly adequately. Manufacturers like to bang on about "timing" and "rhythm" and "musicality". but all their equipment needs to do is to reproduce that original waveform in an undistorted fashion. You can't improve the timing of a complex signal - all you can do is reproduce it as accurately as possible.

2. sometimes when I've been with dealers, they've changed things without telling me what I'm listening to. Whilst it's not strictly double blind, I have given opinions on sound without knowing what they've done

It's not even slightly double-blind - the dealer knows what he has done. The whole point of double-blind testing is that *no-one* knows what you were listening to until after the test. So the dealer changes something, and doesn't tell you what - but he tells you he's changed *something*. You are then going to start listening for the difference - you are now expecting to hear a difference - you are now biased, and are likely to hear a difference, even if there isn't one. As before, it proves nothing. DBT is the only way to demonstrate that something like a cable makes a difference, in the absence of any measurable scientific evidence that it will do so.

3. Isn't there a danger that you may be in the trap you feel I'm in? you believe there can be no difference, so you don't listen to different cables, and if you do hear a difference you dismiss it as minds playing tricks?

Unfortunately, if science can't explain why there should be a difference, and if measurement gear can't detect one, the most likely explanation is that it *is* your mind playing tricks. The argument that the hi-fi press and industry have put about for years that your ears are more reliable than any test gear, they can hear things that test gear can't detect, etc, is *rubbish*. It simply isn't true. Sitting next to my desk is an RF signal analyser that can reveal in intimate detail the subtle nuances of a 2GHz radio signal - analysing an audio signal that stops at 20kHz and is reproduced from a set of 16-bit samples is *trivial*. The test gear is far more accurate and revealing than your ears.

Anyway - even if you are right, and nothing sounds different, I still have to buy the stuff that sounds better to me, even without scientific proof. If I bought the crappy sounding cable (deluded by my own mind maybe) it would still sound crappy to me, and I won't enjoy listening to it.

Whether you are right or not, I still have to maximise my real (or deluded) enjoyment by using the cable my tricky little mind likes best

The above is fair enough, and I'm not going to argue with it. But the problem is that what we hear, and what we think we like, is hugely influenced by so many factors outside our control. For example, in most rooms, moving your head 6" to the left or right will produce a change in the sound of a system - and that change will be orders of magnitude bigger than that which could result from changing a cable. My system "sounds" a lot worse when I'm tired or have had a bad day - but it isn't the system that sounds different, it is my response to it.

You need to be aware of this, because far too many people end up throwing money away because they "thought" they heard a difference. Mains cables are my pet bugbear on this. They don't make a difference - there is no way they can. The electricity that reaches your components has travelled down tens of miles of cable before it reaches your house; it then passes through tens of metres of T&E inside your walls before it reaches the mains cable of the device. Once the electricity reaches the device, it is fed through a power supply whose entire purpose is to convert high-voltage AC to smooth low-voltage DC, which will pretty much remove any noise or interference on the incoming supply. And yet people convince themselves that by spending a fortune on 1 metre of cable somewhere in the middle of all this that the sound will improve. It's utter madness, and any engineer will laugh you out of the room for suggesting it - but Russ Andrews still finds people who are foolish enough to pay the best part of 2 grand for a magic wire. And why? Because it "sounds better"...
 

steve parker

Active Member
SPL - This hifi stuff is interesting, especially the way that different people see it. Thanks for explaining your point of view.

Using my keen intuition, may I guess that you won't be throwing away your bell wire to try my enamelled beauties?

By the way - reference the insulation. Because the wire is designed to form a tightly wound coil in electro magnets and electric motors and things, the insulation would surely have to be good enough to stop shorts and leaks. If the wire shorted out halfway through, you'd lose a lot of the power of the motor.
 

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