Interconnects: why they affect the sound so much


[Al asked this question. I thus started this thread. Elk]

Al wrote:

I would like someone who understands better than I do to start a thread on interconnects and why they effect our sound so much and our devices with input and output imp as to best specs of our interconnects to be used.

Usb cables do effect things , but the worse offender is coax and AES. The change is dramatic and is either good or bad .

This is something that effects us all and for me I feel little is understood as to the why . The cable makers do not post real specs either .

The wire and the connectors usaelly do not match in imp. Are there other factors . Companies like Belden will post real specs but we all buy products for hundreds of dollars with little to no specs published . They usually have patent pending for something but no real specs.

any thoughts on this ??


So, I have learned a lot recently about cabling. My premise was always that audio, sorry, analog audio signals, are simple in respect to propagation down a wire. We sent them down Radio Shack RCAs for years, why bother with anything else? Then that “anything else” arrived in the form of high-end cables. BS! Just trying to take my money. Then I heard a set of better interconnects and got my ass handed to me. Turns out, I was wrong. I’ll bet we’ve all had the same or similar experience at some point. Back to the premise of “simple” analog audio signals: wrong again!

They are a hot mess of differing frequency and phase. Screw with any of them too much and you audibly degrade the signal. A “cable” is not a “wire” any more than an amp is not a straight wire with gain. A nice lofty goal, but many gremlins inside. Even a solitary wire can screw up audio when the skin effect comes into play (higher frequencies tend to travel faster down the exterior of the wire). Add in multiple wires and “insulation” (dielectric) and you now have inductance and capacitance to deal with. Maybe not a big deal if the cable is 2mm long, but 1m, 2m or more and you have a rather impressive, unintentional filter going. Oh yeah, I forgot DCR.

If you measure cables from end to end you get numbers for R,L and C. These tell you virtually nothing about how the cable will sound by themselves, assuming that their values are not crazy high. What DOES matter is that the electrical environment that each individual wire in the cable sees is identical AND that the overall values for R,L and C are as low as possible at the same time. The designs for RCA, balanced and speaker cable are very very different. A little bit is shared, but by and large that are different. The RCA uses a solitary 25ga copper wire and is shielded very differently than the balanced interconnect, which has a double pair of conductors in a unique arrangement. These cables are all copper, btw. It turned out that the design of the cables trumped the contribution of other materials. I have heard this myself and found that these same cables made with OF single crystal copper sounded marginally different (better?). Are they worth whatever the additional cost will be? That is for you to decide.

Yes, I’ve left lots of questions unanswered. Details that I have left out on purpose because I tend to screw things up when I explain them. I am a geek but not an engineer and those details are better left to them. In this case they will be from the engineer who invented the cables and when Belden says it’s OK, I will put them here first. I’ve never been given a clear explanation of just how a cable “works.” I knew this or that but there is a whole series of basic electrical principals to painstakingly get right before the cable “sounds good,” or as I have come to think of it, damages the signal as little as possible. I will post more on the sound of the cables that I have but I have promised Belden to write up my impressions first. Comments from others have put their new cables in the upper end of high-end and I am in agreement with this as far as the balanced interconnect goes. Pretty neat.


I found this article interesting and informative:

As good a place to start as any…?


scotte1 said I found this article interesting and informative:

More here (from the article series):


He’s on course there. There is a good deal more to the story beyond the basics. The commentary is typical of the hyper polarized camps with the usual absurd name calling to boot. Even Galen had engaged in some debate on A-Gon about cable design and the “experts” chimed in and told him that he was wrong. Pretty big claim for someone to call a cable engineer with 30yrs of experience a know-nothing. Another reason to like our forum!1_gif