Oh, the lengths we go to

October 16, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

I have seen some crazy stuff in the 40 plus years I have been around audiophiles and high-end systems. Exotic room conditioning, trinkets aplenty, cables the size of my leg, claims of subatomic effects, components that sound different depending on their earthly orientation, low-frequency waves said to resonate with the Earth. In fact, I could spend hours relating some of the great tricks and techniques applied in service of better sound.

What’s interesting to me is the large number of these ‘tricks of the trade’ that actually work. In fact, more often than not fellow audiophiles have taught me great things that I routinely incorporate in my own system and recommend to others.

One of those suggestions I often hear about is separating cables from each other. You’ve no doubt seen the multitude of after-market cones, lifts, and strategies for elevating cables off the floor and separating them from the pack. While I don’t currently use these add-ons to isolate and improve performance, I do pay close attention to what sits next to each other.

In my experience, higher level cables radiate more than those of lower level. For example, speaker and power cables radiate more than low-level signal cables—yet low-level signal cables are far more susceptible to radiated interference the either of these higher level cable examples. Much depends on levels of shielding and the types of signals being transferred over those cables.

My rule of thumb is simple. Do what you can to keep speaker cables off the floor and away from any other cables. (the MG Audio cables I use are easy to simply stand on edge). Power cables are ok on the floor but should be dressed in a way that keeps them from interconnects. And above all, use balanced interconnects at every opportunity. Not only do they consistently sound better, but they can reject stray EMI that does get in.

Want more info? I prepared a little video on the subject which you can WATCH HERE.

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25 comments on “Oh, the lengths we go to”

  1. FYI
    it’s very easy to make cable stands DIY:
    Cut a wooden balk into short pieces and put a sheet of i.e. white adhesive felt on top and bottom of each piece.
    http://fepaxbv.com/wooden-balk/

    Looks nice, is very cheap and does the job in terms of separation of speaker, signal, power cable.
    If one believes in damping necessity, it also does to a certain extent, which can be optimized on demand.

    1. I’ve built installations that look very much like that more than once. I’ve also specified and bought all of the materials including the cable trays and wire. Interesting that in the telephone industry, many cables are tied together not with nylon tie wraps but with waxed string. It’s an art and fascinating to watch those who are skilled in it tie their special knots. The phone company does not use the customary aluminum ladder trays but special telco standard steel trays that goes together like a Chinese jigsaw puzzle with all kinds of extra parts.

      I’ve got a ton of stories about such installations including some horror stories but for audio the only advice I can give is keep power cables away from signal cables as much as possible. You can add more shielding from electrical fields easily and cheaply enough just by running a bare copper wire of any type along the cable you want to shield and wrap it with aluminum foil. The bare wire called a drain wire gets grounded at the end just like your regular cable. The only warning I can give is don’t wrap anything around power cables. They are rated to dissipate heat in free air. If you do wrap them in anything you risk a fire. If you want shielded power cables use MC or BX cable to make your own. They are available from any electrical supply house. 16 AWG should work just fine for most applications although you can use heavier wire like 14 or for a super high powered amplifier that draws a lot of current even 12.

      The floor of your house is not grounded so the tees you put cables on do nothing unless you are on a concrete slab with welded wire fabric reinforcing it. Then you might have some capacitance to ground. However, a few inches won’t matter much because for a field along a line the strength of both electric and magnetic fields falls off inversely with the distance, not the square of the distance. You can shield against electric fields easily with aluminum or copper foil. For magnetic fields it takes mu metal which is very expensive. They are not the same.

    2. Bernd, several years ago CERN announced at almost the same time that they were on the verge of having enough evidence to confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson, the so called god particle that would have confirmed “the standard model” and also that they had observed a particle traveling faster than the speed of light which they admitted would have blown the standard model out of the water. Later they quietly and sheepishly admitted they’d made a mistake and that the particle wasn’t actually traveling faster than light. Must have been a bad cable. Why does the thing keep blowing up? And why are so many people afraid it is going to create a black hole that will destroy the whole earth or open a gate into another universe? The 13 trillion electron volts it generates is peanuts compared to the most powerful astronomical objects observed. One is so bright and intense it radiates as much energy as an entire galaxy. It may be a magnetar. Scientists are at a loss to explain it.

      http://thescienceexplorer.com/universe/mysterious-object-570-billion-times-brighter-sun

      My childhood interest in astronomy has been rekindled by spectacular images being published on the internet. Why buy a telescope when you can get images from the greatest telescopes in the world on your computer? Incredible images recently published from the surface of Mars also rekindled my interest in geology. I was quite a rock collector once. What appears to be sedimentary rocks suggests that there might once have been bodies of liquid flowing on Mars, possibly water.

      1. Yeah Soundmind,

        I followed the news about ASASSN-15lh from last year.
        You’re right that scientists are at a loss to explain it, but that does not lead them tosit back in their sofas and get nutty.
        How do we mostly learn? We learn by making mistakes.
        What is the difference between those scientists and the snake oil dealers?
        Scientists admit that they make mistakes – never heard of a snake oil dealer doin’ the same.
        Glad to see that you are again interested in astronomy and geology. There are coming even more spectacular images in the future!

        Regards

        PS – The MIT has confirmed the data from CERN regarding subatomic particle patterns on September 29, 2017.

  2. OMG!

    Bernd, now I know – for the UMPTEENTH time- people like you will never accept this.
    But I’m glad you ‘re back and still have all your marbles and are in full possession of a lively mind, contrary to us crazy audiophiles.
    BTW, do you have an extra pill for me to swallow to calm down…,?
    Regards

    p.s. isn’t comparing CERN to audio a bit foolish too…? Just asking.

    1. No jb4!
      Comparing CERN and audio is not foolish when it comes to data-transmission using cables. It’s all about information, may it be music or anything else. And believe or not and take some Diazepam yourself, the amount of data transmitted through the cables at CERN is magnitudes bigger than the information running through your audio cables.

      BTW all this cable-lifter stuff aso doesn’t touch me and this has nothing to do with not willing to accept certain things. I’m certainly no crazy audiophile which does not mean that I’m no audiophile.

      Greetings

      1. Thanks Bernd for your thoughtful and illuminating answer.
        Now at least some audiophiles on this site, including PaulMcG., know they’re a bit crazy.
        I’ll certainly take your advice and take some pills to calm down.
        Promise me you do the same. Happy listening. With or without cable lifters.

      2. My son’s likely father-in-law worked at CERN after Oxford and getting his doctorate in Astrophysics and probably has more intelligence and common sense in his little finger than most people here, not least in deciding to switch to investment banking. Physics may be fun but money and travelling the world is better (also our attitude to life – according to Trump our next trip is to a country called Nambia). He also is a music nut par-excellence, as is his daughter and my son, and he has a nice stereo. He was actually going to buy some Focal 2’s a few months ago, but then decided his existing speakers, about 20 years old, were fine. He has an old Orbe and a Devialet because his previous amp blew up last year. Oppo digital source. Speaker cables were wired into the walls years ago. It serves to remind me that most music lovers, even those with good systems, are not audiophiles and would this this sort of discussion is complete madness. I would probably agree.

  3. So what’s the best floor covering, wool, hemp or silk? Gold brocade? Anything referring to precious metals goes up the audiophile’s estimation and increases profit margins. The national anthem always sounds good in my system because the electrons stand up chest out shoulders back and march in a straight line. Cynical disbeliever? Quite possibly.
    Mine’s a Diazepam with a whisky chaser.
    p.s. Am I incorrect in saying that a cable with an aluminium foil wrap and copper mesh sheath will provide 100% EMI insulation?

    1. Steven,

      for frequencies below 100kHz Faraday shielding of magnetic fields using foils or so does not work.
      Even MU-metal does not block the field but encloses it only to a certain amount, when saturation of the material is reached.

      Regards

      1. I didn’t know that and still have difficulties to understand. I would have thought, unless shielded radiation is not deducted (to ground?) it should be shielded/blocked to a certain amount from the beginning, but constantly.

        What you say sounds as if the MU-metal material itself absorbs part of the radiation and when it’s “full”, just shields the remaining radiation. Just like a towel holding only part of the water it initially did before it got wet. Is this correct?

    2. The flat reflecting floor especially when additionally vibrating is one of the biggest enemies concerning sound quality. Just compare the situation of a concert hall with a most complex ceiling construction and specifically designed rows of damping seats/ listeners. 🙂

  4. I use vintage/antique power line insulators — the porcelain ones that feature a groove in the dome — to elevate my speaker cables. They are plentiful and cheap on eBay, sit on the floor and make it look like I know what I’m doing, and may or may not benefit or detract from sonics (I can’t tell). Honestly, their main role (in my system) is to “check a box” by reducing by one the number of tweaky things I worry about. I don’t mean to detract from the topic at all; but, I know that my own system would benefit more from time and effort and money directed elsewhere.

  5. To begin… I seriously doubt that any of the Cern wiring we saw was carrying any sort of AC signal, power or information. They live in a fast, digital environment.
    In my system, with mono-block amplifiers on the floor next to the speakers and the pre and source off to one side so all wiring runs back to the source, it is very easy to create significant hum and noise by moving power, speaker and RCA interconnect cables near and parallel to one another. Paul is absolutely correct. Not so sure about the floor thing… that may depend on what is on and immediately under the flooring.

    1. I mentioned QED because QED 79 has been a standard speaker cable for something like 40 years. I can’t image how many thousands of miles of the stuff they have sold.
      http://www.qed.co.uk/speaker_cables/profile/qed_classic_79_strand_cable.html
      Then I read that the one type of cable that is not recommended is multi-strand copper cable, other than the type where each strand is separately insulated. So is QED 79 a dud? Leads me to believe there is too much opinion and too little science in audio and 99% of this voodoo stuff will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.

      1. I suspect this is to do with the skin effect, where at 20khz only the outer half millimeter of a copper wire is actually having current move through it. A conventional multi-strand cable is effectively only a single wire in that respect, but if you insulate the strands to make them independent conductors then each has its own skin depth, and the overall resistance is less. This is why some use Litz wire and some ribbon cables. The classic cable you reference is fairly substantial, and for moderate runs should not have any noticeable effect .. but.. I am not an audiophile!

  6. Back in the day in a suite at the Alexis Park high-end venue at CES, a cable company had carefully routed its garden hose sized product. They had it off the floor on glass supports (ashtrays in fact). The music was pouring out at a goodly volume…and with impossible imaging. The overall effect was horrible and I said so.

    The only other person in the room at that moment was a presenter from the company. (There was probably a message there.) She finally said “I don’t know about that. Drop by later when someone else is here.” I did. After a serious listen with the boss, we discovered that one of the pair of speakers which the company had constructed for demo/reference had the polarity of its midrange reversed in relation to everything else.

    Focused listening can overlook the BIG picture. I believe that the guy’s routing and ashtrays worked and that his cable was probably well conceived and executed. But by not listening to the music as a whole, he missed the assbackwards elephant in the room.

  7. Years ago, I bought a bag of electric fence insulators. I got some fence caps from Home Depot, they are flat on the bottom and are nicely tapered on the top edge. I got some appr 1.5 inch round dowel pieces, no idea what they were meant for. The insulators have a slot and a channel through them, bottoms are flat. I glued singles, some on the dowels, others to the caps, used as platforms. Two side by side are perfect for running ICs. Some glue, and I had all the cable risers that I needed.
    I have a belief about tweaks. Alone, they seem to often do very little, but if you add them up, proper outlets, cones, isol pads, and products like Optrix. Together, they can make the difference between an ok system, and one that sounds really good. Success is in the details, and not just when it it comes to audio. Attention to detail is important in most things. As Lou Reed once said, “as in most things, it’s that little hop at the end that makes all the difference.” He was talking about making a career out of three chords, but that it was actually four. Details, they matter.

    I don’t consider room treatments tweaks. They are as important as any other component. The difference between bass that is deep and tuneful, or a one note boomy sound. Part of good bass is tracking done unwanted vibrations. Then removing, damping, or anchoring down the offenders.

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