Cheap Vs Expensive Cables Question


Paul…you are brilliant and right! The problem with my interconnects was that I had them plugged into the DS simultaneously. When I plugged in only the XLR it was louder, clearer, more detailed, had better harmonics and the instruments sounded better. It was not even subtle, I could easily hear the difference. Now songs on the RCA sound kinda awful. Thank you so much! Now what about the speaker cable? I tested the XLR with the cheap speaker wire connected when I heard the difference tonight. Then I switched to the Audioquest wire and it does sounds better with the XLR but I don’t really hear further improvement with the expensive speaker wire. Yes, I do have the wires connected correctly to the positive and negative posts. What do you think might be the problem with the speaker cable?


Hi Roy, your post caught my eye immediately as I looked over new postings for the last day. You are obviously a victim of the audiophile disease (like all of us) and enjoy listening to quality components. I truly am confused when I see you state that you are comparing a $5 Amazon RCA cable to a AudioQuest $200 XLR and a $290 speaker cable to a $20 spool of Best Buy zip cord. Please, do not think for a moment that I am attempting be to condescending or judgmental in your choice to doing this and also do not think for a moment that I am not surprised at the result you are experiencing. Literally, if you buy a Porsche, BMW, Ferrari or to tone it down a bit, a Corvette or Cobra or even a Miata, are you going to put Kmart tires on the machine? Thats what you are doing so to and then comparing the Kmart to the Walmart, to the whatever and whatever. I do not expect significant performance swings from the likes. Yes, they will all get you rolling down the road and probably where you are going. But, you never experience what your car can do. Spend some time on the Iconoclast by Belden thread. See what so many others experience. Have an open mind and a willingness to simply explore. There is no risk excepting the return shipping if you are not amazed and ready to keep cables that might significantly change your listening experience and a cost far less than you paid for the DAC or the amp. That is the pitch, try it, you have nothing to lose. There is a proper way to make a comparison that will not result in one of those “its a little bit better” bur rather a “OMG!” look what I’ve been missing. Or, you can keep on listening through $5 Amazon RCA cables and $25 a roll zip cord from Best Buy on your DirectStream DAC and other components. As one of the other members stated, “it may be a blessing that you can’t hear the difference.” I believe that given the chance to hear great cables that you will be awakened. If not, not a problem, everyone hears differently and you save a pile of dollars. I truly wish you the best in your endeavor to find what works best. Quality and properly designed cables are “not” snake oil by any means.


Now I don’t mean to put down my own speakers, but let’s be sensible. Why would I put a multi-thousand dollar cable on a $1,000 pair of speakers? I seriously doubt it would make that much improvement. I even questioned if I should put a $290 Audioquest cable on them but I figured it was reasonable. I felt that my system overall is on a level that warrants more than a cheap Amazon RCA cable and Best Buy wire. The reason why I put these speakers on $11,000 worth of electronics is because I bought them first and I have my own theory on sound. I believe that the most important part of your system is the amp, not the speakers. I believe that if you connect a 5K pair of speakers to a cheap amp the speakers will sound bad and not fulfill their potential. Rather, in my personal experience, if you connect cheaper speakers to a highly expensive amp, the speakers will sound the best they are capable of and vastly better than on a cheaper amp.

This theory is proven because I upgraded from a $300 Onkyo surround receiver from Best Buy. With the Onkyo, my Elac speakers did not sound that good and the Directstream was totally worthless. Yes, laugh everyone, I originally connect the DS to a $300 Onkyo. Big mistake. But after I bought the Mcintosh is radically transformed my system. The speakers sounded totally different and a million times better. And the DS performed as advertised. On the Onkyo the DS did nothing advertised. So I do believe that the amp makes a bigger impact than the speakers. Please hold back your hated comments at this opinion but it’s what I know to be true in my experience.

Now would a stupidly expensive cable make the improvements that the Mcintosh and DS did…I really don’t think so. I do hear improvement with the XLR now that I connected it alone but it’s certainly not the level of difference that the components made. And, again, let’s not be snobs. Audioquest is not the equivalency of Wal Mart or K-Mart tires. There’s plenty of people who consider hundreds of dollars on cables extravagant, including me. Yet I do feel like my system deserves them. I honestly can’t imagine how a multi-thousand dollar cable would be better enough than the Audioquest to justify the difference in price. Yes, it’s likely better but not THAT much better. Then, again, I could be wrong. I’ve never heard a cable that expensive.


Except now you’re hearing the 6dB difference in loudness, which easily masks any difference in cable quality there might be! It’s not surprising that a much louder signal sounds better. You’d have to level-match to actually test the difference between the quality of the cables independently of the difference in loudness due to the RCA-XLR difference.


I do agree that the Iconoclast cables would be a bit of overkill! In the Iconoclasts defense, I think they are one of the more accurate cables out there, but just the same, some of their benefit would be lost on your system. To me, cables are the final adjustment to a system, get everything else right, then play with cables to get it just a little bit better. Having said that, I think you found one good thing just now, balanced cables. With properly designed electronics (e.g., PS Audio (shameful plug)) balanced cables are a good thing, and you don’t need very high quality cables to get a noticeable improvement (think noise) over single ended.

With respect to what component is most important, I know your experience says the amp makes the biggest difference, but if you try different speakers (think different designs like planar magnetic, ribbon, servo woofered) you will see that speakers have the biggest impact on sound. I’m not advocating for a particular design, just that we all have different preferences and speakers fill a larger range of preferences than most electronics. The state of the art right now is manufacturers have done a real good job of designing electronics, the variations are narrowing. Speakers? Well, they have gotten better, but there are still wide variations on how they sound. Need proof? Go to an audio show and listen to all the speakers, it will make your head spin.


There are multiple great speaker cables that don’t cost a load of money but they are direct from the manufacturer cables. One exception is the Dueland 12 gauge cables that you can buy from Parts Connexion and make yourself.


I will say probably the biggest change in my system when I was using a Krell integrated amp to KEF LS50s was the introduction of the AC-12 power cord over the stock and the Kimber PK10 (which was also better than stock). It truly was one of the biggest audible changes I have ever noticed with cable changes. EDIT 2 [I have not put my Gen II Iconoclasts in yet, so I may eat those words :smile: ]

EDIT [ I realize this is not interconnects or speaker cable, but lets just get all the controversial cable topics in one epic thread :smile: ]


There are strong proponents on both sides of the “which is more important” question. For example, Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn has always advocated putting the electronics first (and Linn makes speakers as well as electronics). Paul says speakers should be first. Most would agree that everything matters. What is probably safe to assume is that replacing the weakest link in your system will produce the biggest impact. That could explain your experience with the Onkyo. I have a pair of the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5’s and have used Audioquest Type 4 speaker cables in my wife’s system for many years. The ELACs are fine speakers for the money. The speaker cables came highly recommended but I always thought they were just OK. Cable differences can be subtle, although when I went to Iconoclast TPCs in my main system the improvements were quite obvious.


What interconnects were you previously using in your main system before going to the TPC’s?


Makes total sense. I think I was just thinking of crap bulk cable I’ve had that seemed to oxidize faster than anything I’d ever seen. And on the other extreme, the single-strand Bullet-Train copper I have a reel of for making ICs has a thin clear coating on it that has to be burned off the ends for termination. So that stuff stays shiny forever, due to not being exposed to air. It looks like bare wire, but it isn’t - so that doesn’t count. I was putting 2 and 2 together and making 5 (nines) ; )


PS Audio–from when they used to make and sell speaker cables and interconnects. Don’t recall exactly which model but not the cheapest one. They are now in my second system and still sound good. But not as good as Iconoclast.


And here is the link to Blue Jeans cable, which now sells the Iconoclast cable line at a considerably lower price than Belden got for them:
I use the Gen 2 XLR, a considerable upgrade from the previous Kimber Select.


Let the Audioquest burn in for a week like Ted suggests. Get used to the music how it sounds with them for even longer, if you can. Stop worrying about cables, amps, and speakers and just enjoy the music. Listen to details you like to enjoy (could be anything, from harmonics on individual instruments to soundstage position or whatever.) Just let the music flow over/through you and enjoy for a week. Even two.

Then switch to the zip cord. Pay attention to those things you liked to pick out in the last two weeks. If there’s no difference, return the Audioquest.


There is a YouTube channel called Thomas & Stereo and he has a nice video discussing speaker cables he has done a lot of cable comparisons in his system and offers what I thought was some interesting insight.


That’s a good video, and I appreciate his attempt to remain objective and open to the possibility of cables making a difference. And it’s interesting that he admittedly cannot consistently pass blind listening test of cables in his experiences.

I also agree that this topic relies heavily on the notion of value, but this is subjective as we all know.


when I change a cable I immediately hear stark differences.

At the same time my wife hears no difference.

Maybe some people can hear it and some people cant.

Or some people imagine there hear it and some people don’t

I wish I didnt hear any differences then I could sell all my equipment and buy another watch or a drumset.



I will agree with the OP that price in speakers is not always the answer. I have been using Boston Acoustics vr950’s (with an HSU sub). I think I paid $800 for them many years ago.

I borrowed several pair over a two year span from the local HIFI Shop, maybe 4-5 pair…much more expensive and guess what?

The expensive pair sounded at most maybe 4% better only, some only as good, and some worse. I gave up and moved on.

And the rest of my systems have always been top notch.

Just sayin


I’ve had cables that make a difference but not a good difference


Today I substituted an AC5 for a Shunyata Alpha power cable going to my P20. Considering what the P20 does, I expected little or no difference. I was wrong again and I’m incredulous at the improvement. How the hell can that be?
I guess we can label that: “not cheap vs pretty expensive cables question; Is it worth it”?


I like Thomas & Stereo. He’s down to earth in his assessments…
Link to his site if anyone is interested.