Cable damage

August 27, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

I often speak in terms that make a few people nervous. Take for example the notion that speaker cables damage sound quality.

To me, this is a fairly obvious notion. Since cables are passive they cannot add anything, but they sure can subtract.

When a conduit of sound subtracts from that which was intended to be delivered to the speakers we can with some confidence suggest the music has been damaged.

The problem with this language seems to be focused on one word.

Damaged.

Folks read that single word and come away with the idea speaker cables can damage a power amplifier and thus they should be careful. Sometimes those keywords jump off the page in a way that stops us from fully grasping their true meaning.

Of course, speaker cables cannot damage equipment. They can only damage the signal.

Perhaps a better word would rob.

Yes. To some extent, speaker cables rob (steal) from the music.

What starts out as clean and pure never gets to its final destination.

Some cables rob from the high frequencies while others steal from the lower extremes.

Perhaps this is a better way to describe how cables can only subtract rather than add.

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60 comments on “Cable damage”

  1. A few days ago I separated the hot (+) & the return (-) wires in my loudspeaker cables, keeping
    them about 2 inches apart along their run (would love to post photos here but it's not possible.
    After auditioning this 'new' configuration for 12 hours over 2 days, I find that the difference in
    SQ is noticeably better.
    It's like 'the robber' put some of the sonic detail back in the music 😮

    1. FR,
      It's interesting you have separated positive and negative speaker wires with significant improvements. It makes sense.
      A company called Morrow Audio sells and manufactures speaker cables. Their "Anniversary" Speaker cable(flagship cable) is designed and configured in same fashion you are using yours. They have been receiving stellar reviews for this cable design.

      1. The Morrow Anniversary speaker cables are simply separate cables for the + and - runs. Others have done that as well. FR's cables use a spacer periodically to keep the + and - runs physically separated. And other companies have done this, also. Morrow suggests keeping the runs separated about 4" apart, while FR's cables are spaced about 2" apart. The triumph suggested by FR is that he achieved maximal success with minimal investment. It is also significant that he started with some rather special cable to begin with. That kind of success frequently happens in the land of DIY.

    2. Fat Rat..
      You are not imagining things. Keeping the wires apart like that on a resolving system does make a difference. I use litz wire for my speaker cables and that too takes the resolution up a notch... Raw litz can look like garbage, but sounds excellent on a good system..

  2. If every piece of wire can act as an antenna why shouldn’t a cable add distortions by catching RFI especially in listening rooms polluted by all kind of wireless technologies and dimmer switches etc.?

    1. Good point, Paul though for a speaker cable it would make no difference as the signal levels of any RFI would be well below the threshold of doing anything. Interconnects, on the other hand, would be a different story indeed.

      1. For sure Paul. Good quality interconnects will reject RF and make the entire system quieter. I noticed my tuner is quieter with less multipath distortion.

      2. Thanks, Paul, for this differentiation. However if I see the wires (many coils) in a passive loudspeaker (voice coil, multiple coil for the crossover) I wonder if these internal wires do more harm. And strange enough, the biggest improvement in sound quality I always got from better power cables. I still have to make a crosscheck with an integrated streamer-amp for finding the relevant effect. Maybe the weakest link here is the distribution bar spreading the inherent „rectifier noise“ generated by the power supplies of the separates?

        1. I agree it's a bit of a mystery. Power and cables and their affect on music have driven me crazy for years., I hear the differences and can sometimes see those differences on the scope (like what MultiWave does to lower ripple), but then there's plenty that make zero sense.

      3. The picked-up RFI will indeed have little effect on the speaker, being rather low in energy. But if the amplifier has any negative feedback, it can most certainly make its way to the input (generally) of the amp, where it will be noticed as a difference from the input signal, and Bad Things can happen. Intermodulation distortion in the amp. The signal may also have got somewhat rectified, which might throw stuff into the audio range, where it might be treated linearly but will be hung on the output of the amp.

        Or the speaker cables just radiate their picked up RFI in the amp box, and the front end sees that as RFI and does the same thing.

        All not-good scenarios.

  3. Cable damage. It’s all about the damage expensive cables can inflict on our wallets.
    And at the prices some companies charge, rob definitely springs to mind.

    1. It can get even worse, Rich, if you trip over them and strike your head on your aluminum speakers. I hate to use the word "rob", too, as it brings to mind certain false statements about election results. 😎

  4. The term “damage” carrie’s an expectation that the change will be negative or undesirable. Will the cable introduce some degree of change? Certainly. Will the change be undesirable? Not necessarily. I suggest a more middle ground term such as “alter” with the burden of determining whether the signal alteration is positive or negative left to the listener based on their preferences and system/room characteristics.

    1. I agree. Just as tube amps sound different than solid state, there's no damage, but the sound is altered. The perception of whether it is better or worse,is subjective, just like choosing speakers.

  5. Cables can, in fact, damage amplifiers.

    The easiest way is for a cable to accidentally short the output of an amp; in theory the fuse(s) should blow and protect the amp but should there be an issue you may lose output devices instead.

    The same is true for some cables that have high capacitance or other features that can cause other issues like thermal shutdown.

    This is all dependent upon amplifier design and cable design, but in the end, it is quite possible for a cable to damage an amp.

  6. You certainly can damage amplifiers with the wrong speaker cables.

    I had Quad ESL63, the manual states that inductance should not exceed 1uH/m. For that reason the flat cables I use, which have much lower inductance, have a Zobel network on the amplifier end. An earlier version of the cable, made by Monitor Audio in the 1970s, did not have Zobel network, with occasionally disastrous consequences.

    The most recent ESL2912 recommends against 'bell' or 'zip' wire cables as they will impair bass response, they simply suggest "choose a cable of suitable diameter".

    Naim effectively require their own cables. They say: "alternative speaker cables cannot be recommended by Naim, however, should you still wish to try them then you should ensure that the cable is low capacitance and of moderate inductance. High capacitance &/or very low inductance cables are to be avoided at all costs and may result in damage to your amplifier". So without the Nobel network my cables would blow up Naim amplifiers.

    What cables can add is RFI. For that reason I use flat cables, because they reject any RFI, and they go under a rug.

    1. Steven,
      As Paul pointed out at 5:56 am, & I concur, that RFI hardly registers in loudspeaker cables because of the very low "threshold of doing anything."
      However, an interconnect like 'DNM Design' that is totally unshielded, is a different story
      since the voltage is considerably lower than that moving along a loudspeaker wire (cable).

            1. Hello Kaikhushroo,
              Yes, that is OK to do, if you don't want to spend too much money on a more expensive product.
              If you are using bare ends on your loudspeaker wires (cables) then it's a good idea to snip off the ends, about 1 centimetre, & start with fresh, clean, unoxidized wire ends once a year.
              Happy listening 😀

  7. The problem with this play on words is, compared to what does cabling substract?

    If we have to connect two components and the combination of those components in one chassis, or the connection with a metal bridge would be at least a similar compromise as connecting them with better cables, what then is the alternative, substracting less than good cabling does?

    I guess the reason we usually don’t think the way you suggest (although it’s true that cabling substracts more or less compared to an ideal solution) is, that the ideal solution to compare to doesn’t exist.

  8. As long as the speaker cable only robs it can be let off the hook. Damage may require restitution that the cable can’t and won’t repay. (Enough metaphorical thoughts for this morning) 😉 ✌️

    1. Hey Mike, your comment makes me feel like robbing a bank on Monday morning. Thinking of what my note that I hand the Teller you should say at this very moment.

  9. A Great Way to Simplify HiFi!

    Construct speakers with built in amplifiers that receive a WiFi signal straight from the preamp or DAC. A streaming system from Quboz, Tidal, Apple, or Amazon would be included in such a system as well. As a tweaker I’d supply the speaker/amps with a dedicated circuits.

    Just think we’ve eliminated a whole host of cables.

    The preamp, DSP, and DAC could be housed in a separate room and the whole music system controlled by a tablet. Again one would ideally provide the front end components with a dedicated circuit.

    Since the components are not housed in the same room no more anti vibration tweaks and expensive audio stands would be required.

    The dedicated home run circuits would most likely eliminate the need for all kinds of gizmos that regenerate and condition the electricity from the wall.

    For the tweakers who need a project one could include a dedicated windmill or solar panel array built in your back yard to generate the required electricity if one wanted to walk on the wild side. Of course one should include a huge battery system like the ones in your electric car that only cost between $15-20k to store your newly generated electricity.

    Wow. I’ve reinvented them wheel.

    I guess we could then argue about carbon fiber windmill blades Vs aluminum blades and their inherently different effects on electricity generation.

    A Brave New World

  10. Instead of referring to speaker cable “damage” or speaker cables “robbing” sound quality, how about speaker cable “degradation” of sound quality?

    The problem with “robbing” is that any amount of theft is unacceptable. OTOH, a certain amount of degradation is inevitable - or at least highly expected. Just as there are gradations of cables, so there are associated degradations of sound quality.

  11. I think a better word would be "alters" the signal. I am not so sure that it takes an active device to add to the signal. Most high quality phono preamp have passive RIAA equalization circuits. They add bass and reduce treble. A cable has resistance, capacitance and inductance ( RCL ). Thus is seems to me it can both add and subtract.

  12. Cables actually CAN add, not just subtract. Just because wire is a passive component doesn't mean it can't add. The wire's inductance can react with capacitance in the connected components to cause resonance, boosting level at some frequency.

  13. I have read that RFI shielding on cables is typically deleterious to the sound. Also, the plastic used in sheathings can make the sound less natural. Some cable manufaturers outer sheath their cables in cotton or other materials selected for their inert qualities.

  14. So, where/how can one determine how, for example, a Kimber Cable verses a Cardis Cable will “effect” the sound?
    Does the Kimber 12tc roll off the top? Does the Cardas SE 9 MP diminish the bass??
    Is there an encyclopedia of speaker cable effects?
    Maybe these effects predicted by inductance/foot, resistance/foot, capacitance/foot, or simply wire gauge or solid core verses stranded?

    1. No, but there are countless cable reviews online where reviewers describe the different effects they are hearing with different cables they have in their possession. The manufacturers give some guidance on the type of emphais each of their cables give, but you have to compare that with the comments of actual users reporting in the forums. Finally, there is no way around actually listening to the cables in your own system. What sounds good in one system may not sound good in another.

      Like in amps, electrical specs do not always predict how well a cable will sound. For example, low capacitance is a typical characteristic of good sounding cables, but some of the high-end Stealth cables have some of the highest measured capacitances in the industry, and are regarded as some of the best sounding available.

  15. Paul mentioned something a few years back that is worth repeating.

    Power off: Take each power cord and unplug them, then plug back in. Same for your interconnect cables. I will take my speaker plugs and pull out and in several times at the speaker and amplifier terminals. Unplug all power cords at both ends and plug back in... Same with interconnects. It does something the freshen up what is being heard. This info is worth repeating again later on as well. 😉

    1. I think what’s happening is you are burnishing metal on metal by inserting and pulling out any kind of metal on metal plug and socket. You’re removing tarnish which you might not see but it may very well be there.

              1. Looking back on my comment I think I should change it a wee bit.

                Randolph…” Mortimer, we’re Back“

                Now it’s up to Mortimer to respond in the negative or affirmative.

  16. If Martin had a good 'scope and a signal generator, I'll bet we could see the difference on the wire. I'd put my money on capacitance. Since capacitance is inversely proportional to the separation of the sheets, going from not much separation to 2" should make a substantial difference. Ok, Ok, the sheets, being just wires, are kinda small, but it would be a fun experiment. Warning, beware the Calculus...

  17. I'm renovating a house and as I talk to various craftsmen I come across their jargon. The plumber recommends something called "xyz". I search the internet ... and there is no such thing as "xyz". So I ask again, what should I buy? Well, "xyz" - every moron knows what "xyz" is... When it finally turns out that "xyz" is something sold under the name "abc"... The problem is that the craftsman is not to understand that an outsider who has other expertise simply cannot know his jargon.
    So, I guess, the cable doesn't destroy anything. Just by simply transmitting via cable, there is a small loss and a small distortion of the signal ... which in the eyes (or ears) of an audiophile borders on the end of the world.
    (Google Translator)(My correction 😀 )

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