Why do cables have direction?

July 4, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

7 comments on “Why do cables have direction?”

  1. Hi Paul,

    This topic should get a double award “The Snake Chicken Oil Award – Five Star Platinum Edition” – I can imagine the faces getting red while watching your video. My eyes surely got bigger and my mouth remained half-open during your entire explanations.

    Can you please explain what are the differences in the sound?
    Most of us do not have such a resolving system. I am really curious about the audible effects.

    Thanks for your explanations!

    Best regards from Munich

    1. It really depends on what type of cable: speaker or interconnect, balanced or single ended.

      The simplest explanation of the sound I would offer is muddled vs. clarity. Now, bear in mind, we’re talking subtle differences here, but that said, they can be repeatable and noticeable.

      By muddled I mean a lack of articulation between instruments and voices as if they were crowded closer together when recorded, and the opposite when you flip the cable around. I’d say the biggest differences I recall were in single ended RCA interconnects.

  2. Back in the day when PS Audio made interconnects and coax digital cables, they had direction arrows.

    I always thought the direction arrows were because some cables had shields that were connected to ground on only one end.

  3. I agree. I used to assemble Silver Sounds cables for Reference Audio here in the UK. The arrow on the RCA cable was there only because the cable screen was connected to the source end and gave the user the required direction.
    I do agree though with cable direction sonic differences, I have heard it many times (but not under double blind testing, before folk get uppity).

    Enjoy your videos. Best wishes Paul from the sunny Highlands of Scotland.

  4. Isn’t this only done on unbalanced cable when the cable has two inner conductors and you want to restrict the ground location for the shield, or does even attaching the two inner connectors to signal and ground over ride this?

  5. Hey, Paul.

    True story: back around 1982 or 83, I was listening to my system (Luxman PD444 w/ Fidelity Research FR66ss arm and Mark Levinson MLC-1 cart, Levinson ML-1 & ML-9 and Quad ESL-63 speakers) when my best friend and audio salesman called. “Try reversing your pre- to power run,” he told me. REALLY, I thought, but I figured what the heck, and it was easy to do with the Camac connectors on the Levinson gear, so I did. BANG! Sound opened up, became way more airy and detailed. I was astonished, but skeptical enough to want to double-check, so I swapped ends again. UTTERLY CLOSED DOWN, or at least back to the quality it had been previously. Subsequent experiments my friend and I did verified this effect for both interconnects and speaker cables, completely repeatable and predictable based on the direction of the lettering on the cable jackets (which in the case of Levinson wire ran from sink (power amp) to source (preamp) for best results. I should also mention that my friend has also experimented with balanced cables from several manufacturers and found the same results.

    I’ve heard the same theory regarding the wire drawing process and crystalline directionality that you mentioned, and from my own Double-E point of view, it sounds likely, though I’m not a metallurgist, either. I will insist that cable directionality, at least as it applies to drawn wire cables, is an actual phenomenon I have heard multiple times since that first incident, and I have no reason to question it.

    Cable direction dependence is very, very REAL.

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