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Audio Cables - Science or Religion?

by August 29, 2004

It is interesting that audio is the exclusive field where cables have been so hotly debated. It seems to be the only field where science and engineering practices, along with common sense, are almost completely ignored by many cable vendors and audio forum cult hobbyists. For convenience let's consider these people to be "cable soothsayers".

No matter how many wild claims these "cable soothsayers" conjure up, those who believe in their ideals, the "followers", seem to do so with almost complete blind faith, with no desire or need for proof or logical reasoning. So long as the "cable soothsayers" sell a good story and make them feel good about their purchases, the "followers" are happy. So it appears the "cable soothsayers" have achieved their objective of selling a good or service to their customers, while simultaneously perpetuating a pseudo science or pretzel logic to strengthen their ultimate goal; product sales and unquestionable faith. Thus the "followers" appear to be blissful and happy about their purchases and their new found sciences, so what's the problem?

Do Expensive Audiophile Cables Really Sound Better?

The problem arises when technical people such as scientists or engineers, the "techs", attempt to save the "followers" from their blind faith, and evoke a little reality. The "techs" know, based on their analytical background, that most of the "cable soothsayers" claims are either completely false, or based on half engineering truths taken completely out of context for audio applications. Yet the "followers" refuse to listen to the "tech's" regardless of the overwhelming proof provided. And thus the "cable soothsayers" tighten their hold on the "followers" even further by pushing them away from the scientific viewpoints of cable theory by simply dismissing it as "too simplistic" and thus assuring the "followers" that listening tests are the only true methods for evaluating cable performance. Thus the "followers" install their new magic cables, and whether there is an electrical difference or not, they are convinced they hear a difference, not considering the possibility of conditioning and / or placebo effect.

The problems I see about this scenario are as follows:

  • Cables are a material objects and should be treated as such.
  • Cable vendors that go unchallenged by not following proven engineering practices in their designs can often produce products that do more harm than good (IE. excessive capacitance leading to ringing or amplifier oscillations, lack of adequate shielding thus raising noise floor and reducing resolution, improper cable impedance designs resulting in ghosting images of video, or excessive Bit Error Rates (BER) and/or jitter of digital transmission systems, etc).
See our Cable Budget Guidelines article for more details
  • Abandonment of fundamental engineering practices by pseudo scientists / "cable theologians" simply because of their lack of understanding or their refusal to invest research and time to produce sound designs.

But what about the high prices of exotic cables?

I really don't have too much of a problem with that providing that the cables are of reasonable design and the manufacturer doesn't spout false pseudo sciences to rationalize their prices. There is something to be said about buying an expensive cable product. If it manufacturer/retailer provides good customer service, and the cable performs and measures well, while having excellent build quality and durability, with top notch appearance, then what's the problem?

If someone chooses to spend $5K on speaker cables, does it make them any more insane then an individual who spends that much on a wristwatch? After all, some of these exotic cables have such lavish appearances that to the connoisseur of cables, they can be considered "audio jewelry".

Audioholics.com goal is to bring back the science and objectivity in cable design. Just about every other audio product (ie. Amps, CD players, Loudspeakers) follow some type of minimal guidelines and standards set forth by independent advisory and/or government organizations (ie. FTC , NRC , etc.) to keep the manufacturers honest, why should cables be exempt? After all, many "cable theologians" consider cables to be an "audio component". Thus the cables should be treated as such. We encourage cable vendors to embrace proven fundamental engineering and scientific principles in their designs, and will be providing homage to those who do.

With that I pose my final question to be discussed in our message forums .

Which camp are you a part of: those using cable logic, or those using pretzel logic?

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About the author:

Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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