Paul McGowan’s recent column brought something to mind that I’ve been thinking about a bit lately. Wires — and the nightmare of reviewing them; and more specifically, why I’ve never wanted that job.
When I first started writing for The Absolute Sound, it was to be about music, and modern music in particular. I quickly found that most modern music sounded pretty bad on the systems of the day (the same recordings sound better now, with better playback — and some with better mastering). HP and SR [Harry Pearson and Sallie Reynolds, for latecomers—Ed.] tried to get me to write about equipment, but I recall saying that I hadn’t heard enough to be objective about sound. I was willing to write about video equipment though, because there, the proof is visible (and I had the help of the eminent Joseph Kane, who measured what I saw).
Now, of course, I’ve heard plenty –– and the situation has become even more extreme, in a way. (I’m currently working on a review of the Studio Electrics FS-1s for Positive Feedback). For me, the situation actually begins at the microphone capsule. I guess most readers won’t have had the chance to hear the same mic with different capsules, or to listen to the various components of a mic directly, as Paul M., David Bock [microphone designer/builder David was interviewed in Copper #10; scroll down to page 8–-Ed.] and I once did in 1996 with my mic collection, but try to picture this: three guys sitting around a room with a U-47 and an M-49 taken completely apart, and hearing what the windscreens alone did to sound. That was a day, I can tell you. I learned a lot.
It puts me at a disadvantage from someone else who strictly reviews based on limited parameters, i.e., a given recording. Because my brain now questions everything, absolutely everything.
I bought my first fancy cable from Christopher Hansen in 1982, the same year that I started spending real money on gear (also the same year, I think, that the MoFi Beatles box came out). It was a Levinson, made of silver wire, and sounded fine — for six months. Oxidization, man — not so good. I can’t remember where I heard my first pair of MIT Shotgun wire, but I immediately sprang for it; it struck me as THAT good. I have a Kimber twisted pair, a few AudioQuests, some wires from BEL, but most of my listening is done via cables from George Cardas. I met him in ‘88 via Brooks Berdan, and until about 10 years ago, he would occasionally send me something to try.
HP wanted me to get into Nordost, but around then I stopped writing for TAS, and there was no justification. I talk to someone from the company every now and then at a show, but I’ve become acutely aware of the enormous expense that cables constitute, Nordost in particular.
Am I as unconcerned about it as I seem to be? Maybe — I suppose so. And that has its root in that day of listening to microphone components. One of the takeaways, for me, was how utterly variable everything is. Am I hearing better highs with Wire A? Great. Maybe I’m just hearing the highs of the mics a little more with it. Better bass? Fabulous – but is it really better bass, or just more bass? Everyone must have thought about this from time to time: it’s the proverbial snake pit of thought. When I think about it, I lose my bearings very quick-like.
I’ve written before that the only AC cord I’m absolutely certain made a describable, maybe even a quantifiable, difference in my system, was the Kimber Palladian cord. It definitely caused a repeatable change in the mid-bass; god knows what’s in that big pod, but Richard Brown of BEL told me to get one, after insisting that I use the Belden he supplied.
All this comes to mind because (I don’t want to complicate your life, so if the few of you left by this point want to remain blissfully unaware, stop reading now): network cables. Oh my god, network cables. Gimme a break… NOW we have to worry about the quality of NETWORK CABLES?
I called Angela Cardas a couple weeks ago to express my skepticism, and she put me on with one of their engineers, who said he was initially as skeptical as me, until he started measuring the speed of response time with different cables — and sure enough.
Not that I’ve done anything about this. From my Mac Mini to my router and on to my Bridge/Direct Stream DAC I’m still just using the generic stuff that showed up, somewhat mysteriously, in my house.
But now I’ve got this itch. And you know it’s going to get scratched.