For the life of me I cannot remember where I came across this paper. Maybe it was here but the subject matter neophyte in me found it quite interesting. Rather than throwing a match into a tinderbox the author attempts to bring a studied approach to comparing sonic qualities of different interconnect qualities and topographies. It is somewhat limited in scope. Further discussion regarding time domain assessment is referenced.
“The arena of highest fidelity in music reproduction, sometimes referred to as high-end audio, has many controversial claims and contentious issues. One such controversy is whether the cables and topology used to interlink components together make an audible difference. … the present work was able to prove through direct psychoacoustic testing that two different analog-interconnect pathways can be audibly distinguished.”
Interconnect Academic Paper
There has been some discussion of this study on other internet sites, such as Audiogon and Audio Science Review. I found the study interesting, even though it leaves many questions unanswered. Most of the reactions on ASR were negative, with criticism directed at other research by the author of the paper and accusations that he was behaving unethically and publishing poor science just to make money and advance in the academic world. A few comments emphasized that he was a smart and ethical guy, but most of the comments were extremely negative.
One of the criticisms of the study was that it confounded audio differences between cables with differences between the topologies inherent in balanced vs single-ended designs. The author clearly stated that he was trying to maximize the opportunity to find a difference since prior double-blind studies had been so inconsistent when comparing the sound of different cables. The author, Milind Kunchur from the University of South Carolina, has done further follow-up analyses and concluded that the sound differences identified were primarily due to the differences between the interconnects themselves and not due to one cable being balanced XLR and the other being unbalanced RCA. (Links to the supplemental analyses can be found on Kunchur’s website through the U. of S. Carolina.)
The study includes good descriptions about why prior ABX paradigms have shown inconsistent results when comparing cables, which led Kunchur to use longer listening sessions, a washout period between listening trials to reduce recall from one music sample presentation from bleeding into another, and other efforts to minimize the listening fatigue that plagues traditional ABX studies. The use of double-blind testing was employed by Kunchur to minimize bias in the listening trials.
For the two interconnects used in this study, listeners could hear a difference between the interconnects despite the fact that the measured frequency response of the cables was nearly identical. Electrical differences were identified, however, in how each cable handled noise, and Kunchur has a separate paper that discusses between-cable differences in the time domain as well.
I think this is a useful study that is worth reading for anyone interested in developing a better understanding of how audio interconnects can differ and how to do blind testing of cables (or other gear) without repeating past mistakes.
There is certainly no shortage of critics.
In the forum linked in the References the author addressed some of his critics with a statement pointing out knowledge is accumulated stepwise.
“Knowledge generation in research is, by its nature, a stochastic and fragmentary process. A neatly tied up final result cannot be ordered from a menu. Each work contributes pieces to the puzzle, which gradually coalesce to form a complete picture.”
That’s a great article. I almost understood it. Sadly, I never paid attention in science. I probably should have. I also cursed a lot. I probably shouldn’t have. My mother said I should’ve been a sailor. Today, I still don’t understand science, really, and I still curse a lot. This combined is probably why cable science to me is a lowest common denominator when I’m experimenting with cables:
“________ this sounds _______ good.”
“______ what the ______ is wrong with these ______ cables? It sounds like _____!”