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Speaker cable test ...

Discussion in 'Cables & Switches' started by HomeyJay, Sep 27, 2002.

  1. HomeyJay

    HomeyJay
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    OK, I know this is going to stir up a hornet’s nest but I’m sure it’s something most readers are wondering.
    After spending a couple of weeks arguing about speaker cable (we are sad gits), me and two friends decided to see what difference quality speaker cable would make to an AV setup.
    One of my friends has a Yamaha DSP630 amp and KEF Eggs & sub as his audio setup at home. Despite my continual whinging at him about getting good cable, to connect it all together he bought 79p/metre cable (70 strand). I have to say that his setup sounds really impressive but I always annoyed him by telling him that setup would sound far better with ‘proper cable’.

    Another friend of ours had a large quantity of £5/metre cable (a very well known make) left over after his installation so we connected up the rears on my friends setup with this stuff. The rears were not connected up as rears - they were connected up as a second set of fronts using the Yamaha’s second set of speaker connections so that we could switch each set of speakers in and out to listen to them. BTW all the cable was equal length.

    Both my friends are BBC Sound Engineers and I am a keen recording musician with years of experience in studios and behind mixing desks. My friends wheeled in a Lexicon spectrum analyser ( borrowed from work ) and a Neumann U87 microphone which I own. The mic was placed on a stand in the centre of the room, equidistant between the speaker sets.

    We started off by playing various frequencies from a sound test DVD and analysing the speaker output from each set at each frequency. We then went on to individual passages of music and did the same. Then we turned the analyser off and just listened to various CD’s and DVD’s through each set of speakers, constantly switching between them. Halfway through the test, we switched speakers just in case there was a difference in response between each set.

    What did we find ?

    There we sooo little difference between the cables that we were barely able to tell the difference. Sometimes there was no difference at all. I wanted desperately for there to be a difference but ultimately I admitted that I really couldn’t hear a difference most of the time. The result stunned us all - it’s not what we expected.
    Just for a final laugh, we replaced the 99p cable with mains cable - single 1.5mm copper core. There was now a difference but nowhere near as much as you would expect !

    What on earth is going on ? Is this the Emperor’s new clothes all over again ?
     
  2. Nobber22

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    Interesting test, well planned and carried out, mate. I'm a little surprised that there was so little difference, although (here he goes everyone) I would be interested to hear the difference with a good, regular stereo amp and some quality bookshelf speakers.

    Both the Yam and Kef speakers are well made and respected, but both produce/convey a warmer sound which will tend to mask diff. in sound by "cutting off the extremes in the music" (not scientific, I know).

    Still since many people have similar kit and we (nearly) all use our kit in an AV setup as well as stereo listening, your test and results will be gratefully digested by all on the forum.

    Thanks for posting:)

    P.S. I have carried out similar tests (without the equipment) at home and got very similar results too:(No noticible diff. in sound to make me dump what I was using already. Bummer.
     
  3. juboy

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    Ravi, am I correct in thinking you compared unbranded, OEM cheapo cable against a £5p/m commercially available cable?

    If so, I'm not entirely sure you'd expect THAT much difference anyway would you? I mean, brand the cable, put a decent outer skin around it and pay for your advertising and the cable itself is probably going to be very similar in terms of price/construction (they may even be using the SAME OEM cable!).

    Would have liked to have seen your test put the cheapo cable up against some cable of different design (Nordost or DNM for example) at around the £10-£15 p/m price range.

    Still, your comment about actually wanting to hear a difference yet not hearing a vast one makes a good point:

    You *could* tell the difference *some* of the time, albeit not great. To my mind that is what perpetuates the cable market in all it's exotic, and sometimes very expensive, incarnations... that nagging feeling that better cable must, to some degree, imporve things.
     
  4. buns

    buns
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    I would be fascinated to see this done with a number of differently designed cables.

    Parallel conductor arrangement, braided conductor construction and any others (say the likes of a cable of the UBYTE variety http://www.tnt-audio.com/clinica/ubyte2e.html). I would also be keen to know if there is any real difference between solid and multicore.

    Through discussion, mainly on avforums, my opinion has changed. I used to blindly believe that cables will make a difference. Now i am far more specific. I think that cables of a common construction will sound very similar. But I do believe that cables of differenct construction will sound different. Not i say different and not necessarily better.

    I think it would be a nice idea if a group of us on here could gather info and idea and perform a definitive test, both by listening and through scientific measurements. I know there are others agree. I would be happy to take part in such a test. Perhaps anyone else interested would post and maybe we could get to planning something.

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  5. Droogie 2001

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    Interesting post. I have similar kit to Ravi's friend the amp is a Denon 3802 with Kef eggs.
    I have in the last week upgraded my speaker cables from similar cheap 79p a metre cable to the £5 a metre QED silver aniversary.
    Before I done this I read alot of posts about the effect of more expensive cable, because this upgrade was going to cost me around £70.
    So I started off by buying 3m for my Centre channel to see if it would improve the voices. After a while of listening to various DVD's some of which have muddled voices and difficult to hear especially at lower volumes. (I listen to alot in the evening and have to have it low as I have a 5 month old baby!)
    An improvement appeared to be there (Just).
    I also listen to alot of music in Stereo and since buying the AMP etc I have added a Tag DAC 20 and QED Silver Spiral interconnects. The improvements with each part has been slight but noticable.
    So I finally decided to go with the Left and Right channel upgrade and I have to say the difference was incrediable.
    I could not believe there was such a difference especially after the other (more expensive) upgrades made only a slight improvement.
    I can now listen to CD's which before where hard to hear at lower volumes. 'Everything Must Go' by the Manics was particulary difficult to hear before. This was also to do with the bizarre lyrics they use as they often do not make sense (in a grammatical way). Unlike other music you can often prempt what the artist is going to say.
    Because of this I knew the quality was considerably better as I did not have to struggle to hear the words. This is not because I have heard the Album alot either, the lyrics where generally clearer!
    I know some people will be still think I am just conviently hearing an improvment to soften the £70 odd I have spent. But for me at least the improvement is there and worth the money.

    Mike Raggett
     
  6. juboy

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    If you believe there's an improvement then that was £70 well spent. The fact that their may possibly be no difference in reality is actually rendered meaningless... as ever, perception IS more than reality. If it wasn't, we'd all be scientifically calibrated test equipment ourselves.
     
  7. Droogie 2001

    Droogie 2001
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    Yes I think was £70 well spent.
    I have to mention the improvement was mainly noticed when playing CD's however the quality of DVD movies has improved although to lesser extent.
    Its also interesting to note that RAVI's comments about electrical equipment used to test the cables etc. I have recently read articles about why CD/DVD players are using upsampling of 96/192khz when the human ear is not subseptiable to these frequncies.
    A good example is the CHORD DAC64. It uses all sorts of technology that I won't even begin to try to explain (I don't even know what half of it means) that should not be relevant or noticable to the human ear. But it does enhance the sound. Just read some reviews of the DAC 64 and you'll see what I mean.
    KEF are also using UNI-Q technology in a similar way.
    The bottom line is that just because the scientific equipment does not show an improvement does not mean that this is the end of the matter. Lots of other factors occur which I believe can apply to good quality speaker cable.
     
  8. dunkyboy

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    Yeah, I think the key here is the quick and easy switching between the two runs of cable. In most cases (with speaker cable in particular) when switching between cables to see if there's a difference, it takes a fair bit of time (and hunched-behind-the-equipment-rack effort! :)) to swap the cables 'round, and it's very difficult (impossible?) to retain an accurate memory of how the first cable actually sounded. This makes it *very* easy to hear "differences" or "improvements" in the new set.

    I'd be interested to hear the results of a similar test with interconnects (as my hifi is based around active speakers, I have no use for speaker cable). I think, technically speaking, you're more likely to get measurable (and audible) differences between interconnects than speaker cable (though I could be horribly wrong...)

    Anyway, I would be very interested in the results of some sort of well-organised, definitive AB testing (preferably blind) between speaker cables and/or interconnects. Unfortunately I live in Edinburgh, so I'll probably just have to rely on other people's results on this forum. Anybody up for such an experiment?

    Dunc
     
  9. HomeyJay

    HomeyJay
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    Using the Yamaha amp, switching between sets of speakers is as easy a flicking a switch so it pretty much instant. Without this feature I think it would be pretty much impossible to do this test - who can remember exactly what their speakers sounded like ??

    We would like to try this test with some expensive cable (£15-£20 /m) but no one I know is going to give me 18ish metres of the stuff for free !!

    I have just read the stuff at the TNT site about Cat 5 cabling and after our results I am prepared to beleive what the guy says. My only problem with Cat 5 cable is that he seems to say that you need to use 6X the length of cable that you actually need !! ie if you need a 6m length, you actually use 36m and twist it all together. Will this not result in a cable that's a inch thick ??

    Try convincing the missus that you need to bury that under the carpet !! ;)

    The TNT site also says (I think) that solid Cu core cable is very good and preferable upto a certain diameter. After that diameter, it starts hindering the signal - he even mentions that you would get an improvement using solid mains cable - when we compared £5m cable against mains cable, there was really not that much difference between them so I guess TNT was pretty much right. The site gets very technical and I'm afraid it lost me somewhere in there !

    It would be nice if we had a response from a cable manufac. but I think they'll keep well hidden if they've read this post.

    I think that the cynical bottom line is that if you've spent £200 on cable, you're going to hear a difference. You HAVE to hear a difference, I mean, you've just spent £200 to hear that difference so your going to hear it !
     
  10. buns

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    I think this is probably the only certainty when we talk of cables! You have to have some will power to let your mind not tell you its better!

    The cat 5 cables arent quite as thinck as you are worried about, mine addmittedly are about an inch, but i used triple the wires as the tnt version. That many wires takes a long time and i will be trying UBYTE next time.

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  11. mattr

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    Hi,

    Regarding interconnects I think I really did hear a difference changing from "cheapo-came-in-the-box-with-the-dvd-player" cables and some Ixos cables - there really was better treble. I suspect there's a threshold of quality and going above it gives no discernable improvement (I speak from a position of utter ignorance there).

    One thing that will make a difference is gold plated terminators on the leads and amp. Gold doesn't corrode (unless it's from Ratners) so no diode style effects. In fact it's entirely possible my Ixos cables sounded better because they were lovely and clean.

    Matt
     
  12. reggs

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    Hmmm ... I built my own '3 strands of CAT5' version of the FFRC cable fully plaited in
    which I wired all colored and all white wires together, in a non-bi wire system. The
    improvement over my QED Silver Anniversary was so marked, that I immediately
    built the UBYTE2 without any heat- shrinking. I just can't believe what I've been hearing
    ever since! Its like I've just got a new system with stacks more depth and soundstage. I
    use an Odyssey Stratos power amp through a pair of KEF 104.2's. I doubt I will ever buy
    speaker cable again. The really great thing is that I had all the required cable just sat
    in the garage, so the upgrade cost me about a tenner, for some odds and ends. I just
    can't recommend both of these DIY cables highly enough! I spent about £90 getting my QED
    cable built and terminated by the manufacturers and the UBYTE 2 and FFRC which only took
    me a few hours to make, annihilate it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at QED by
    the way, I'm just passing on my own experience and I have swapped between cables
    repeatedly just to make certain. BTW - I also changed from switched 4 way, to the Hydra 4
    plug (same site) but to be frank, have noticed no difference at all with that.
     
  13. NicolasB

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    At the risk of being extremely obvious I suspect that cables are pretty much like any other component in the the system, in that you need to have components of equivalent quality all the way along the chain.

    If you've just bought a pair of £20 active PC speakers and you plug them into a CD player then it's going to sound like crap no matter how much money you spend on the player. If you compare a reasonably nice £100 player with a Linn CD-12 then the Linn will sound marginally better but the distortion created by the speaker and amp stage will largely mask the difference. If, on the other hand, you listen to the same two CD players hooked into some high-grade stereo pre-amp (don't know enough about pre-amps to quote an example) which in turn is feeding 4 Linn Klimax Solo monoblocs driving a pair of B&W Nautilus 800s then at that point the difference between the £100 player and the CD-12 will become very obvious indeed.

    The same thing is likely to apply to cables. If you're listening to good quality speakers whose price goes into 5 figures then it will make a quite perceptible difference. With KEF eggs it probably won't.
     
  14. Apocalypse

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    When I went from QED Silver (£5 a m) to QED XT400 (£20 a m) there was a noticeable improvement especially in the bass dept. Having previously used 4 other types of cables under the £5 per metre range I can only deduce that for a real step up in quality you need to go for the £15 per metre and upwards cables as all the others were very similar (Cable Talk 2.1, QED 4x4, QED Silver Anniversary and QED Qudos) with the Silver Anniversary perhaps just being the best one but not by a clear margin.
     
  15. Silent Fly

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  16. reggs

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    'In my opinion' my DIY cable which cost me nothing, sounds far better than my £90 cable
    from QED. There is a difference and this has nothing to do with me wanting to hear one,
    because of course, I would love to justify the £90 outlay BUT CAN'T. Unfortunately, I
    followed the advice of numerous magazines and sales reps, but found that this was a
    complete waste of money and time. Here I come Ebay, is all I can say!
     
  17. -Matt-

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    I have also made some ubyte cables for my system and have been very pleased with the results. If you can solder reasonably well the ubyte cable is probably much easier than the braided cat5 one which have taken an eternity for the lengths I needed.

    Silent Fly, your link does not work. Do you have a backup copy of the page?
     

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