A whacky idea

August 28, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Following my post about cable damage, it occurs to me that there is an opportunity for an interesting experiment.

We've all seen the techno-wizard's proof that cables make zero difference. They routinely put a cable on the AP and under real world conditions show that what goes in comes out the other end.

I am certain their testing procedure are accurate.

Simple. Clean. Obvious.

Yet, no one I know can deny that this isn't the case when measured by our ears.

My conclusion is that we're not measuring the whole picture.

Maybe a more complete test would be to use the same AP equipment to somehow mirror our ears in the room.

Imagine taking two speaker cables. Let's say a length of zip cord vs. an AQ Dragon. Put the two on the AP to prove there are no differences that would explain what we hear.

Next, we put those same two cables on a resolving system where we can easily hear the difference.

We then use a calibrated stereo microphone pair to capture on the AP what comes out of the speakers.

I predict we will see a difference when we compare the two signals.

If we can hear differences then those differences must exist.

The challenge then becomes finding the proper measurement technique. Mimic as closely as we can our ears.

If only I had the time.

Maybe somebody's up for the challenge.

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53 comments on “A whacky idea”

  1. Shouldn’t a serious recording studio then be equipped with the finest cables available, cables adding no distortions and robbing no sound quality? However in the end the enduser will never ever hear the same sound quality the sound engineer had created in his studio. And wouldn’t a high-end stereo concept be based on an integrated streamer-amp design with the shortest signal paths while having the inherently noisy power supply/rectifier-transformer module in an external box?

    1. That's an excellent question and one I have been struggling with. On the one hand the cables we use in other studio are strictly for microphones. I wouldn't have a clue how to make an A/B comparison. The microphone is picking up a live performer. It would be hard to make the swap and hope that everything else remained the same and the musician could repeat in exactly the same way the performance so we could compare.

      1. Agreed. The other way to do it would be having a splitter come out of the microphone, but then you would have 2 completely different paths. That would seem to get past the performer difference, which seems impossible, but introduces the potential of a subsequent system difference downstream.

  2. Paul, I am confident your experiment would work if the equipment is properly calibrated and sensitive enough. I believe the difference would be measurable with many speaker cables, not just AQ Dragon. If anything, initial musical attacks and trailing reverb tails should show a difference. Also, frequency and harmonic differences should be visible on a frequency analyzer.

    1. Just make sure that you remove the outer insulation first.
      A friend of mine told me that loudspeaker wires 'sound' better if you strip away the outside insulation...for me the jury on that piece of advice is still out.

    2. To my comment I would like to clarify. When I said "frequency analyzer," the more accurate term is "audio spectrum analyzer." When I used to make organ musical samples the sampler had a spectrum analyzer that displayed the recorded sound wave pattern during the interval the sample was taken, including the start and finish of the musical note or notes. The wave pattern was generated from the input signal from the microphone. The pattern was complex, showing all the harmonics and variations in volume (amplitude). It seems to me that different cables receiving an identical audio signal would output signals that produce slightly different waveforms. For example, some cables might show smoother attack and reverb trails than others that might show less smooth, more articulated waveforms. And some cables would give larger amplitudes than others. I don't know why this would not demonstrate that different cables measure differently, and that the sound from each is different.

      1. How about using a wide band spectrum analyzer to look beyond the narrow audio spectrum. In general, the higher the frequency the more accurate (and expensive) they are. The cables and connectors on a millimeter wave analyzer are a magnitude of order better then some of the cheap PC base bargains I've seen.
        What your looking for is for components to stay pure RLC. You don't want a cable with lot of capacitance but you want it shielded from noise and microphonics.

      1. I'm not familiar with the AQ boombox demo, but if it involves listeners subjectively judging by ear the SQ of AQ cables progressively going up through the different price points, I see little relevance to today's subject. But if it involves actual measurements that confirm differences between the cables being compared, then it would be very relevant.

        I once attended an AQ competitor's "all things equal" demo at an audio show. The demonstrator played their cables going from cheap to expensive. The only problem was he told the listeners which cable they were going to hear next, and would even say things like, "Now, doesn't this sound better?" That preconditioned them to hear "good," "better," "best" and "very best". The whole demo lost all credibility. I actually deviated from the group, believing the "best" cable sounded better than the "very best" cable.

          1. The edit clock ran out on me. I did not mean to imply that all subjective listening tests are bad. Just not the way the AQ boombox demonstration was conducted. In the absence of measurements, subjective listening (our ears and those of others) is about all we have to rely on.

          2. Whoops! In my above comments one thing I said did not come out right. Please strike: "Paul, I guess you were pointing out the flaws in subjective comparisons and the superiority of measurements in assessing differences between cables." Let me rephrase: "Paul, I guess you were pointing out the limitations of certain methods of subjective listening comparisons (such as the AQ boombox demo) and the potential benefits of being about to use instrument measurements as a tool to further demonstrate differences between cables." Instrument measurements are certainly not superior to objective listeniing. LOL

  3. I guess we will probably never be able to fully measure the complex audio signal and e.g. the various influence on imaging etc.

    It seems we feel more need to „proof“ things since any deaf guy on the internet (or the one who can’t hear things simply due to no respectively resolving setup or room/placement) can fill the web with his ignoring comments.

    On the one hand I strongly tend to ignore all of this, on the other hand many of us feel the need to contradict (or if possible proof) when it gets obvious that wrong implications or claims are spread among beginners, gullibles or lemmings.

    Finally for me it’s enough to explain what happens for me and to point those folks to listen under the same conditions as the other camp does. The urge of many to evangelize what they DON‘T hear is a mystery to me generally.

  4. There are those head-shaped contraptions with stereo microphones in precisely ear-shaped cavities and certainly with very precise mikes it could already be possible to quantize some aspects of sound quality with an AP, but what the AP lacks is the survival-oriented FFT algorithm of the brain. The brain is very selective on the received audio input, a microphone just doesn't care and an AP analyzer cares a little bit but it doesn't feel the need to survive and thus does a comparatively lazy job.
    Google should be put to the job of figuring this out...

  5. Much ado about nothing.
    If a listener can hear the difference then why waste your time trying to measure the difference with man-made electronic measuring devices.
    Once my ears have established a great 'sounding' set of interconnects or loudspeaker wires (cables)
    then it's time to kick-back & listen to the recorded (canned) music contained within the CDs in my CD library, instead of futzing around trying to measure them scientifically.
    I believe that those who have to prove what their ears have already told them, by measuring further
    with man-made gadgets, have issues; possibly some very deep-seated insecurities.
    Instead of wasting your time measuring things, go & seek professional psychological help 😀

    1. The only potential flaw I see in your observation / statement is an assumption is made as to the this is ‘it’. In a way it limits any movement and things can become stagnant. Different isn’t ever experienced, so possible better is ruled out. You just proved something to yourself with your speaker wire experiment. 😉

      1. Mike,
        I'm not sure that hearing the best possible cables for a listener would be classed as stagnant.
        "Possible better" is not ruled out, as my point is only about hearing the best & then
        feeling the need to go & measure it as well.
        You can always make changes; just use your ears.
        Yes, I did prove something to myself, but not by changing wires, only by changing
        it's spacing.

        Luckily it's only a "potential flaw" 😉 ✌

    2. Not to mention that we don't experience and mentally process reality ["What a concept!" -- Robin Williams] in the same way. Simple experiment: swap eyeglasses with another person. What works wonderfully well for you, may be only a marginal improvement to me. Which assessment is correct? They both are, to each individual. So if you find what sounds great to you, either through careful finessing of your system or just plain ol' dumb luck, rejoice!

      In the immortal words of AnniBelle T. TinyDog, the mostly fearless mini-schnauzer, 'Don't worry, be puppy!'

  6. Paul stated, “My conclusion is that we are not measuring the whole picture.” Bingo! When we think of our music systems, the focus is on the gear that supports “music reproduction”. The reproduced music (inclusive of the not insignificant room effects) are what is presented to our ears. At this point, things change dramatically for each of us based on our hearing acuity and subjective preferences resulting in our “music perception”. If we accept that the “chain” ends at our brain (the point music is perceived) it shouldn’t be so surprising that different listeners can have different impressions of a common physical system. In my observation, the crux of the disconnect between objectivists and subjectivists is in definition of the “system” being measured. If the ear-brain link is ignored we’ll never see the world the same regardless of the number of hardware measurements performed.

  7. Two observations; whatever the outcome, not one mind would be changed; let the internet evangelicals argue with themselves to death, it keeps them off the streets.

  8. If anyone is up to the challenge, it needs to be performed in a controlled scientific manner. If it is the cables being tested, all other parameters must be identical. This means common connectors, equivalent lengths, identical routing, etc. The test also needs to be performed in as clean a RF/EMI environment as possible. No AC power or similar sources should be within two meters of the test cable.

    I have seen too many supposedly ‘scientific’ tests on cables that would get a failing grade from my 6th grade science teacher.

  9. So what’s the point of all this? To prove that cables sound different? That has been established long ago by those who hear a difference.

    It seems to me it’s like every other piece of gear. A measurement is made. Is it an indication of how great the sound is? The answer is probably a resounding NO! Take 2 amplifiers for example, the BHK 300’s and the BHK 600’s. One was touted and used for the longest time as a reference. The other came along, and from the outside looking in, the only difference is really the power rating. So a conclusion could be that power is the only thing that matters. We all know that’s not true, or the M1200’s would rein supreme.

    Speakers - more so the measurement conundrum above. The can look identical in the specs dept and sound completely different. Not only that, they can sound different in every room and set up. They can point out that what ever is in front of them in the audio chain can sound different.

    The bottom line being - if a measurement is developed to determine the sound quality we all hear for cables - then that measurement should become an industry standard mandated and gov’t regulated to protect the high end consumer. The ambiguity of sound perception is now removed.

    In some sense ASR wins…. Those who rely on their ears loose. Finally an audio related war has ended and peace in the world can be had.

  10. A frustration to me (and I’ll bet many audiophiles) is the crapshoot of knowing which cables will help my system the most. (There certainly is no audiophile consensus on which cables are the best, or that one cable is best for all systems.) If all cables can only have a negative influence on the signal, as Paul expressed yesterday, maybe his proposal today would help us to choose what characteristics in cables would benefit an individual system.

    1. That’s the big problem with cable choices, there are so many to choose from where do you start? It can be an expensive business experimenting. Who wants to spend big on a new cable only to find it’s worse or no different.

      We have our ears as the final arbiter but guidance is always useful. Paul has made some general cable suggestions in the past but with extensive knowledge of PS Audio products it must be known which cables work best.

      Recommendations across say three price bands would I think be helpful to many. I know this is never going to happen, but in an ideal world?

  11. This is exactly what I posted several days ago (in full system context), and a couple other times previously over the years. Being able to measure sound differences vs. electrical measurements seems like the most important measurement. Clearly, measuring simple electronic aspects doesn’t totally equate to sound differences.

  12. Measurement and specs of cables and other individual components are nice and a good start for comparative choices. However due to System SYNERGY, tell you very little of the "sonic interactions" that can occur from upstream through the downstream components!

    I determine what my sonic goals are, then take the time to read a few mnf. specs, but mostly read user reviews and comments. Looking for where the consistencies lay (great-good-fair-bad), along with the context of those opinions (associated components & system/room setups), gives me the best information of how that change might affect my audio goals!

    How will a change in any piece of Your setup affect the final sonic presentation you want...only Your Ears can tell you that!

    1. Yes. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, once you tackle the measurements, the possibilities are exciting. Right now, one camp is stuck in the “I hear differences”, and the other is in the “There can’t be a difference because I can’t measure any” camp and doesn’t even want to entertain the idea of investigating further.

      If you can prove a difference, then there is a clear problem to solve. Who knows where it could lead if we find an additional measurable aspect effecting system sound.

      1. Agreed! A measurement that can Definitively tell each owner "What You Will Hear" when you put this component (cable) in your setup would be a game changer for the consumer. My point is, your associated system and its synergy may not allow that desired change to occur...you Still have to insert it in Your listening room and Try it out for yourself!

        For this real world reason, a good consumer "Return Policy" (like PSA has) is paramount in my choice of components!

  13. As paulsquirrel has already mentioned, whenever this topic crops up it always makes me wonder how many studios are equipped with the finest cables and treated or regenerated power supplies? Worldwide, what percentage? I’d imagine it’s very low. Take AQ Dragon for example, used in how many studios? I bet AQ know but doubt they’d let on.

    I believe cables make a difference but it’s interesting as to why this topic is so popular at the consumer end of the chain and yet appears less so at the creative end. Is this why some recordings sound so poor. 🙁

    It is my thought that Paul has started Octave because after refining customer playback equipment it is now felt that most gains can be made at the recording end. What’s needed now is for all musicians to agree and form an orderly queue.

    1. Richtea,

      Paul touched on cables in the studio a while back if I remember correctly. The main reason “O.R.” isn’t lined with esoteric interconnect cables is cost. Remember there’s also power cords - patch cords, headphone cables, and a host of other things I’m sure I’m not thinking of now.

      So the conventional thinking is the audio buff needs as top of the line as possible for playback. However that part is overlooked on the recording / studio end. The reasons and justifications abound. Another thing to consider is PSA is not done refining the playback side. The daily focus is just on the recording side.

      1. Mike,

        I meant to mention cost in my original post, and the requirement for a good returns policy when evaluating cables, but if you’re in the business wouldn’t you get mates rates. 😉

        1. Rich,

          Even the good mate pricing may not be good enough. 🙂

          A better question may be at what point in the mixing process do the interconnects make a difference?

          Only at the playback side and not the microphone and their associated electronics side?

          I don't know! All I can worry about is the sound I can get from my set-up. It's the only thing I have any control over for the budget and room I currently have.

  14. Thinking on about audio and art perhaps hi-fi is like a paint by numbers set.
    Manufacturers supply the materials and we make the best job we can of it.

  15. I remember decades ago hearing an Audioquest rep playing music through a boom box. It was set up so they could quickly change the speaker cables between the amp section and it's removable speakers. Starting with their least expensive cable and progressing up the ladder to the most expensive. I could clearly hear an improvement each time until they got to one model below the best. And this was on a lowly boom box. That ended my use of lamp cord at home.

  16. Another counterpoint question...Why are the cones in expensive speakers wired to a crossover with such cheap wires? We're advised to spend hundreds, if not thousands, to send the amplifier signal to the speaker only to have a cheap (or much cheaper) wire deliver it to the cones. And if the answer is related to the science of it being such a small distance to the cones then the argument of science vs. ears breaks down once again in my mind.

  17. There’s a You Tube video that presents two power cables top of the line Transparent Vs Shunyata. The man plays 3 cuts through his system first with one cable then the other. The viewers are not told which cable they are listening to. There are lots of comments about how easy it is to hear the difference.

    Anyone who raises doubts about cables making a difference should be pointed at this video.

  18. A long time ago ( meaning more than 20 years ago ) there was an article in Stereophile. Someone using a high speed oscilloscope ( the kind you would use for network analysis ) captured a step signal that went from 2V to 0V. They then sent that signal down a 1 meter length of interconnect cable and capture the signal as it left the cable. They did this for 4 or 5 different cables ( if I recall correctly they did not identify the cables ) and you could see a slight difference in the step signal with each of the cables.

    I have no idea why this work was not carried further, but I never saw any follow-up on this study.

  19. It's well known that measurements do not reflect the quality of sound beyond a point. An amplifier with vanishing distortion can sound sterile and uninvolving and one with higher distortion can sound gorgeous. Relying on figures alone went out the window a long time ago though many people still tout them because they make a great selling point. As for cables, they make a significantly obvious difference in sound. No doubt about that. Regards.

  20. What about the Tuesday night hour ear dilemma ? When testing gear, cables, tweaks - nobody ever seems to factor in the non-standard static ear condition. My soundroom does not sound the exact same all the time. In fact some random nights it is to the point of “is something wrong? Has something changed?” After a few tracks it can even be a “Nope - not tonight, shut it down.” Then the next night it is back to the glory of (near) perfection. Also if song “a” is played 1st, 2nd or 3rd and then played again towards the end of the listening session, it most certainly sounds different- usually better. While it USUALLY sounds its normal astounding from the get-go, sometimes it takes a good long warmup.
    So while our ears are the best test equipment, they are most certainly flawed as a piece of test equipment. I’m not suggesting they are not the best judge of sound, but what if that different cable, interconnect or room treatment sounds better on those nights when my ears are a little…off?
    Or is this just me…? Am I the only one with MAPD (Multiple Aural Personality Disorder)? Should I be concerned? Cause this never happens with pizza & beer… it is ALWAYS astounding…

    1. No, you're not the only one with MAPD.
      Interconnects/wires/cables need to be auditioned over a month.
      Although, if you are 'cable swapping' during the same listening
      session then MAPD won't matter since the playing field is still
      level...as far as the MAPD factor is concerned.
      Beer & Pizza 4EVA!!

  21. Of course measurements cannot take the place of listening with the ear, but sophisticated wave analysis could explain some of the differences the ear is hearing, and be used by designers to design better cables.

  22. Obviously.. Every parameter to be measured for cables has not yet been discovered.
    Those pretentious enough to act like they have been discovered? Are after a personal sense of power and control, not embetterment.

  23. I like how people always bring up suggestion, like audioquest does in their demos, I know if it was food and someone suggested, doesn't this taste better, I wouldn't necessarily agree with them just because they are telling me it's better.

  24. The whole cable debate is fascinating to me and I don't doubt that just because we aren't measuring differences that they are not there. The microphone idea you propose would be quite interesting, but the experiment I would love to see is someone with an experienced ear (such as Paul perhaps) being able to pick out the better sounding cable 10 or more out of 12 times or so in a controlled blind test as I have heard others on the internet suggest doing. Many of us say we hear a difference, but where is the proof of that? I have yet to see this test performed anywhere, if you have let me know!

    1. If only cables were that simple.

      First, The cables that sound the best in my system may not be the cables that sound the best in your system.

      Second, The difference in sound may be hard to identify in a simple blind test. Lets say there are two cables where cable A is just a little brighter sounding ( and a little less expensive ) than cable B. Your "Golden Ear" expert said that in blind test the two cables sounded almost the same. Thus you bought the less expensive cable A and installed them in your system.

      Six months later you realize you are listening to music ( played on your system ) less often and for shorter periods of time. The slightly brighter cables turn out to be more fatiguing over time.

      If only cables were simple!

  25. It may be simpler than that. The differences will NOT show up using standardized test signals - and will be represented to a greater degree in current waveform than voltage waveform.

    Using a reference quality amplifer, record the input signal to the amplifier, the voltage input to the speaker, and the current output of the amplifer into a real world speaker using two different cables. Then align the two recordings using the input signal in a 6 track file, and subtract the respective voltage and current tracks. I am pretty sure there will be differences, and then we can look at why and how audible it may be with the data.

    You can record in DSF and decimate to 24/384 to get more resolution than anyone actually listens to. I suggest also using zero-knob live recordings of an acoustic ensemble with good dynamic and transient information, un-mixed and un-mastered, and better if you use small diaphragm condensor mics with extended frequency response - like my ACO Pacific reference mics that go from 8Hz to 40KHz.

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