August 25, 2009

More Cable Confessions.



My last post chronicled my audio cable journey. I went from a cable skeptic to one whom wouldn't mind spending some money on the subject matter. I am still keeping an open mind about things. Our state of mind over hifi as anything else in life, changes along with time and stages of our journey thus far.


Two most frequently asked questions about high end audio cables are invariably:

1) How much does one need to spend on cables?

My opinion to this is that, there is no clear cut answer to this question. However, there's a general consensus that feel spending anything between 10% - 20% of your total audio system budget is appropriate. I would certainly endorse this consensus, if your total system cost does not exceed RM$30K, i.e., an entry to mid level budget system.

Once your system budget crosses that threshold, I would prefer to say that perhaps, a less restrictive budget guideline could be set for cabling. In this case any, amount up to 80% or so is still acceptable, provided the person spending the $$$ feels the sonic returns are truly worth while.

At the other end of the high end spectrum, I personally know many audiophiles whom cables spending exceed their total system budget!

I can quite possibly explain why this is happening in the higher end of audio dome. In the last 20 years or so, the average hifi equipment inflation is about 5X, i.e. say if you take the very successful Marantz CD63 KI back then which retails for RM$2.4K. I recently spotted the latest Marantz SA-KI Pearl, now retailing for about RM$11K+. Cable inflation, on the other hand have increased by more than 10X, at least! RM$10K cables were almost unheard of during the late 80's early 90's. Today, the Siltech Emperor speaker cable retails at a cool RM$120K!

Reason for that is that, like PLC products, cable art is still evolving at an astonishing rate. Purer, better materials, construction methods, newer contact plug designs, all contributed to today's high end cable sound. They are more transparent, have wider frequency response band width and lower noise floor.



2) Do I really need high end cables?

I am in the opinion that high end cables are auxiliary equipments. They are just as important as any other hifi component in your audio system, but yet, I feel you still need to get your overall system synergy right, before embarking on a high end cable search. That means you can use any decent quality(need not be expensive) cables to hook up your system, tweak your system with the aim towards maximum optimization, i.e., look in to your power supply(PLC and decent power cords, with that I do not mean super expensive stuff!), equipment isolation, room acoustic treatment(if required) and many others. It is after all these is taken care of and you're relatively satisfied, then you can truly appreciate what high end cables brings to the system in terms of performance.

I know many whom feel that cables don't make much of a difference, compared to upgrading components. I agree with that too. But what I am trying to say is that, cables should be the last thing to be looked in to, after you've settled for all your other component choice. One more thing that I am strongly against of is that many audiophiles use cables to cover up or hoping to use cables as tone controls to balance an audio system!

And lastly, I strongly advocate this belief, " Cables cannot make a poorly optimized/synergistic system sound better, but in the correctly optimized system, the cables will take the overall good performance to another level"


In summary, having been thru the audio cable journey, I now know that depending on our audio cable journey, we may view others as audiophools, and those audiophools will see us as el cheapos. There's always two sides to a coin. So I wouldn't be too judgemental about things as they are now.

Here's wishing everyone a rewarding audio cable journey, a hifi sub journey, if there ever was one!

26 comments:

Rabin said...

You have kind of put all cables into the same level of influence even priority. Its one thing to spend a lot on interconnects, even power cables and quite another to spend on speaker cables.
I can only shake my head and say are you must be nuts if your cables cost more than any single main component such as source, amplification or speakers. Its not a question of money. A 40K interconnect would not be out of place in a system where say the speakers cost 200K. Let me put it like this, should your tyres cost more than the car?

PuchongWong said...

Rabin,

I agree with your point in principle,
But if we measure hifi only by the amount of money spent,then the person just need to see whether he get enough happiness from spending that kind of money or not, Are you r happy with your spending on your hifi?

Big E,

If you want to buy a 100k cable for a 10k pair of speakers, you are mere than welcome to do so, But i wont do it for myself.

S8 said...

There is more than black or white in this passion of ours, hence the beautiful diversity of the full colour spectrum. There is no hard and fast rule as we all have our preferrences and personal taste. As long as you feel that it it money well spent, so be it. However, it is well accepted that your system is as good as the weakest link, so think about it.

Big E said...

Rabin,

Yes, I have generalise things a little too much here, and some cables should indeed be looked in to first the others.

Yes, I can generally agree about your tyre should not cost more than the car analogy. But sometimes, just sometimes, it seem so illogical yet sound so..... right, I just cannot argue with it.

Puchong Wong,

How do you define happiness? I know one thing for sure, audiophiles in general can never stay happy/contended for too long! It's that natural in born habbit of ours that drives us to seek better sound all the time! Don't you think so?

And lastly, my whole system does not yet cost RM$100K yet. And you can bet your bottom dollar I wouldn't just buy an RM$100K cable for now either. Perhaps you can ask Odiosleuth, our resident RM$100K man?

S8,

Very wisely said, very wise indeed!

The Wise One said...

Well, I think that if one is already comfortable with his or her equipment, the next step is definitely cables and tweaks. I don't think the pricing equation now comes into the picture. For eg, if you already own a rm15k cd player and you are already happy with it, you won't even stop to rationale if you should be spending rm5k for a powercord, another rm8k for a balanced interconnect to the pre or dac, and then rm4-5k for a vibration board or platform. It's the same situation with spending about rm5k to rm18k on your power conditioners! An equation cost comes to mind? Don't seem like it!!!

OdioSleuth said...

Er, I'd not buy a 100k pair of cable too. But just like what BigE said in his earlier post, I do envy those who can afford such extravagance and really would not mind if one day I can too be as successful as they are financially. :-)

PuchongWong said...

I believe everyone has different value system, we must not be too subjective or self centered. Everyone should look at thing from the scientific angle too.

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

I think there is little fuss.

Your cable may cost more now but ever thought of components upgrades as you go along?

My cables used to cost as much as my system but not anymore. I liked the cables so much I kept them and changed components.

In that sense, I am very happy for Big E. The way he is going, I smell a very capable setup coming his way. :-)

Seldom we come across something we like enough (and can afford) to spend our hard earned money on. If you do, and it makes you very happy, BUY IT!

Felix

Ken said...

All,

I personally do not care how much the cables cost vs the rest of the system, as long the sound is great and the owner is happy.

You can use all the analogy you like but if you believe a cable can make a difference to the sound, then the cost should not come into play.

Also if we keep delving on the amount to spend to buy cables, then we also have to decide whether to get a RM5K cd player to go with a RM20K amp and so forth. It will be never ending.

mikelau.2 said...

Big E,

Bro.. what next ? Wah, I envy you man. I see a 'new car' on the horizon, coming soon ? And when you going to replace the jps inwall .. now that you have super tyres to run on ? I can see bro Wilson rejoicing heehee..

PuchongWong said...

Hi,

Allow me to raise a silly question. A hifi setup is like a chain, when you downsize one of the links, you will only hear its weakness, but if you upgrade one link, you cannot hear its strength because it is hear its strength because it is limited y the others. What do all the sifus thinks?

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

PW,

I think anything that opens up the window of your system is a good thing. A cable which sounds "bad" may just be merely revealing a weak part of your system.

Felix

mikelau.2 said...

Felix, Rabin, PW

In the order of things the power cable & interconnects to be given priority first then followed by spk cable ? This is from my experience but I could be wrong here. I am using a kimber 8TC which in terms of value is only 5% of the combined value of my powercords & interconnects. I have tried spkr cables costing 13k but no clear winner over the 8TC...win some here, lose some there.

Eddie said...

Falix,

I don't quite understand what you meant,I have a question, my speakers now cost 10k, my speaker cable 2k, if i have 10k for upgrade, should i change my speakers or the cables? I'd much appreciate your usual neutral answer, Thanks.

David said...

Mikelau,

If you con't tell the difference between two pairs of cbles, then your situation is like the story about the audio chain that pw spoke about, a you identify?

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Eddie,

IMHO, RM10k is a lot for cables but not a lot for speakers.

Change your speakers if you want a complete tonality change or if you are not happy with the existing sound of your speakers.

Consider changing your cables only if you like your current system/speaker so much that you want to keep things as it is but help make it better and better. Or you feel that the cables are "constricting" your speakers' true performance...

Comments like, "Eih? How come his Epos speakers sound so much better than mine?" is an indication that you may not be getting the best from your system yet.

Hope this helped. :-)

Mike,

I think you are right in most cases.

From my limited experience, an IC affects tonality, nuance, micro detail and soundscape the most.

A Speaker cable affects transparency and bandwidth the most.

A powercord affects neutrality, transparency, dynamics, bandwidth, noise floor and stability the most.

Depending on what is "missing" in your system, shoot for the target.

However, all 3 will have to be synergistically matched to get that final result you may be looking for.

Problem comes when the cable you "need" to synergize the system costs a lot more than expected. No other cable will do the job. What do you do then?

For me, simple. If you can afford it. Buy it. Then, sit back and relax and enjoy the music and your hard work. Heck, you should even give yourself a pat on your back, if your friends don't. :-)

PuchongWong said...

Felix,

Your as nice as Big E,sincerely wanted my hifi to improve,

Mikalau,

tks for sharing your experience,i think everyone want to improve their hifi with least $$$

The Wise One said...

Eddie,

If you have valve equipments, I would suggest you use some of the 10k to try out various tubes. Different quality tubes will give you different sounds. You might hear what you are looking for.

Felix,

Very interesting info. Care to provide a list of the various brands of speaker cables, interconnects (including digital) and powercords and stating their respective characteristics, from your experience and knowledge? It will be a very good guide for us when buying cables.

Big E said...

Felix,

Excellent info you shared with us! I never really thought of it that way, but since you've listed the various cables effects on sonic characteristics, I've thought about it and it's something I could relate to. Bravo!

mikelau.2 said...

Felix,

Thanks for the splendid info.

PW,

Not everyone ! There are some who are not tied down by $$$, make purchases based on brand or status symbol ? And for your "silly question" here is a silly answer from a non sifu. If you replace a weak link in the chain with something better you surely will get some improvement. No ? But if you are silly enough to replace a link that is not the weakest then your assumption applies. Heh heh, to think of it your question isn't that 'silly' afterall. Many of us make that mistake. heehee, to the sifus its silly. So the thing to do is to identify the weak link, as Felix (and many others incl yourself ?) advocate. Anymore 'silly questions' ?

The Wise One said...

PW and ML,

Yup, one more silly answer - the weakest link could be your ears. No, two more silly answers - the other weakest link could also be mind perception (as ML had pointed out once) or psychological. Ever wondered why in winter (in countries that have 4 seasons) or in a nice cool environment, the hifi seems to sound nicer than when listening to it in a long hot summer or stuffy and uncomfortable environments?

mikelau.2 said...

David,

Please read my posting again (31 Aug 2009 2:59 pm) .."win some here and lose some there" which implies that I can tell the differences between the 2 cables.

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Sorry for the late replies guys, work was murder! :-)

PW,
I have faith that your system is on its way to be one of the best in town! Your skill in electronics is second to none I know and I really think your passion will get you to where you want to be....and where I want to be too! :-) Besides, I am very happy for your recent acquisitions! Wow..

Wise One,
Thx. I'd rather not be too specific online as I honestly think that would encroach a little too much onto my personal opinions. I don't mind sharing offline. However, I don't think there are bad cables out there, just whether the cable is suitable or not. Yes, I do agree, some cables are way too expensive, esp. for my small pocket. :-)

Big E, Thank you and I am glad my ears haven't gone astray! Glad to be of service.

ML,
Thx. Sounds like you've got good ears! :-)

PuchongWong said...

Felix,

Wah, i have love-hate feeling about you, Friends asked whether i knew that 'Felix'? I said yes, he went on to say that your comments are very neutral, constructive, and technically solid,I felt proud of you but at the same time there was a bit of 'hate' too, I thought if these comment pages do not have you, it will be a big loss to hifi unlimited, you are just like that very important link in the chain!

Big E said...

PW,

Whoa! You and Felix run deep in thoughts I could almost shiver me in timbers! He! He!

But both you guys are very good, and your contributions to HiFi Unlimited is most welcomed!

Once again, thanks for sharing guys. Well done!

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

PW,

Wow...thank you! Paiseh, paiseh... :-) Thanks to your freinds for their kind comments. I am really a nobody who just enjoy this hobby a lot. With Big E, You and the others here, I am sure HIFIUnlimited will do just fine with or without me. I am just very glad my posts are welcome here, by the blog owners, you and your friends.....

Ever heard of the term, "Pain is so close to pleasure"? Hahahaha.....

Big E,

Thanks for having us. This is definitely one of the most happening blogs around. :-)

And wipe that thought off about PW and me. We are strictly "non tweakers" offline! Hahahaha....