Taking my homemade prototype power cable to the next level and manufacturing the wire itself seemed like a relatively easy exercise. I would simply call one of the big suppliers of wire cables, like Belden and order a couple thousand feet. We’d then cut the cable into lengths appropriate for the product, terminate the ends with a good connector and voila! we’d be in the power cable business. Ahh, life is never quite that simple.
I made a few calls and quickly found out that a custom cable is anything but easy, but the folks at Belden and Liberty were very nice and agreed to take a look at our drawings of what we wanted. I wish I had a recording of the phone conversations that followed: first from their engineering people and secondly from their sales people. The engineering people were completely stymied “You want a power cable bundle that’s basically built like a big shielded audio cable? That makes no sense whatsoever, we’ve never heard of anyone doing anything like this.” And the sales people “engineering will build this cable if you order 100,000 feet with an NRE (tooling charge) of $100,000 to get started. If that’s a little steep might we interest you in some of our stock power cables instead?”
We spent perhaps 6 months trying to work with cable vendors across the US to find one – any one – that would be willing to work with us at anything close to a reasonable solution. Finally, after hundreds of phone calls we managed to find a company in Dallas Texas, Storm Cable, that said “sure! We can build any cable you want no matter how strange. That’s what we do”.
I travelled to Dallas and met with the factory, got a tour of the plant, learned all about pulling copper through little openings to create solid core wire, how the insulation was applied, massive braiding machines used to weave the shield around the cable assembly, how the outer jackets were extruded around the whole thing and so on. Fascinating and I loved every minute of it.
1 year after I created my little Frankenstein prototype out of Home Depot wire, aluminum foil shields, string and chewing gum, one of the first high end aftermarket power cables to be sold was on the market. It was called the Lab Cable, in honor of the process and place it was born in. The Lab Cable could be purchased in custom lengths (since it came to us on huge wooden spools) and we terminated each of the cables with the best connectors we could manage in those days.
Even today, many of our customers have Lab Cables in service and they still sound great. Yes, we’ve made significant progress in the meantime, but the Lab Cable stands as one of the first power cables designed primarily by ear and sold to folks with one goal in mind: help the system sound its best.
Today there’s an entire industry built around this concept of the aftermarket power cable – plenty of great ones out there – and of course, plenty of ways to market power cables as well (from the stand-up method to the absurd). I think we’ve seen it all, but to date, no one has really given me a reasonable, understandable engineering based answer to the original question I asked at the beginning of this series: why do power cables make such a difference?
We’ll keep looking.