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Audioquest Cable Theories Exposed

by August 30, 2004

Dear Audioholics.com,

I sent the following email to Audioquest regarding their FAQ article

I find your FAQ section to be misleading and misguiding to those who don't understand basic electronics. I question your business ethics if you can deliberately make such ludicrous claims as cables causing distortions, or cables requiring break in, etc. You have no proof for this, nor do you base your reasoning on any valid science.

I wish the FTC would step in here and force cable vendors to back up their bogus claims.

I would appreciate the Audioholics take regarding the Audioquest response below:

- Anonymous

Response from Audioquest
We totally understand that is very easy to be skeptical about cables. After all, you can't measure it, so how can you possibly hear it? In fact you can hear it - and it really is very easy to hear the differences. Far from making bogus claims, the principle of cable "break in" is very real. "Breaking in" a cable has everything to do with the insulation - not the wire itself. The insulation (or dielectric) will absorb energy from the conductor when a current is flowing (i.e. when music is playing). This energy-absorption causes the dielectric's molecules to re-arrange themselves from a random order into a uniform order. When the molecules have been rearranged, the dielectric will absorb less energy & consequently cause less distortion. The cable is now said to be "broken in" and sound quality is improved. To prove it, simply take 2 pairs of the same cable - one broken in, one new, and compare in the same system.

As for causing distortion - absolutely! All cables cause distortion. Stranded cables cause the worst type of distortion, which is why we use solid conductors.

We sell millions of dollars worth of cables every year. Every week I receive an e-mail or a phone call from a delighted customer who has made a bigger difference to their system with a $100 cable than with a $1,000 component. We must be doing something right!

Of course, you can choose not to believe, but you'd be missing out on so much.

Regards,

Alasdair Patrick
AudioQuest
8710 Research Drive
Irvine
CA 92618

Tel: 949 585 0111
Fax: 949 585 0333
E-Mail: [email protected]
Website: www.audioquest.com

Reprinted with permission of Audioquest


Audioholics.com Response (Gene DellaSala)

Ok, I would say I am a bit confused by Audioquests responses. Let's examine them further.

"After all, you can't measure it, so how can you possibly hear it? In fact you can hear it - and it really is very easy to hear the differences. "

The first sentence is perhaps the only truthful statement in their response. They can't measure it, they can't calculate it, they can't prove it, it's not validated in any engineering text book, nor is it accepted by any scientific body.

In reality, any audible changes in frequency response, distortion, phase, delay, reflection,etc are easily measurable by Engineering Test Equipment such as a Distortion Analyzers , Spectrum/Network Analyzers , Audio Precision , and TDR . These are fundamental and essential tools that have assisted Design Engineers for decades in making precision measurements with equipment which far exceeds the limits of human hearing and even the abilities of our audio equipment.

"'Breaking in' a cable has everything to do with the insulation - not the wire itself. The insulation (or dielectric) will absorb energy from the conductor when a current is flowing (i.e. when music is playing). This energy-absorption causes the dielectric's molecules to re-arrange themselves from a random order into a uniform order. When the molecules have been rearranged, the dielectric will absorb less energy & consequently cause less distortion."

Thus their conclusion is the dielectric , not the wire causes distortion!

Claims regarding insulation molecules "aligning" with a signal, skin effect, strand jumping, etc, are anecdotal at best. Let's not forget that an audio signal is AC, and effectively random from a physical perspective. Nothing can align to a random signal by being anything other than random - exactly the state they claim is "cured" by injecting a signal.

"Break In" is not a proven audible or measurable phenomenon. The perception of changes in sound quality with time is likely attributable to the classical placebo effect, i.e., a listener anticipating a possible audible difference is predisposed to hear one whether or not it exists.

However, later they claim,

"Stranded cables cause the worst type of distortion, which is why we use solid conductors."

Now, the wire causes the worst type of distortion!

Now, if they claim that there is a "huge" difference in distortion, then surely a simple measurement would prove it, and we could all sleep soundly with some real facts to support their claims and put the argument to rest once and for all - repeatability of these measurements would be nice, too!

Ok, let's play the devils advocate for the moment and assume what they said regarding wire causing audible distortions is true. What should we do with the internal wiring of our electronics gear and loudspeakers? The majority of these products are internally wired with stranded wire. Also, if this was the case, how come the majority of quality microphone cables are constructed with stranded wire and nobody has ever complained about those cables causing audible distortions?

The bottom line is none of the claims Audioquest has made in their responses have any scientific backing or measurable truths. Not ONE cable vendor who ever made such claims ever furnished any type of proof, or submitted their theories and supporting data to any scientific body or engineering organization for peer review to my knowledge.

There is not one shred of proof that stranded wires can introduce audible non linear distortions. There is also no proof that stranded wires suffer from multipathic effects at audio frequencies. "Strand Jumping" cannot cause diode rectification. Again if diode rectification did occur at audio frequencies, the result would be the creation of very audible (and measurable) even-order harmonic distortion (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) that would render a system un-listenable.

It is always amazing to me that many cable vendors attempt to apply, or should I say "mis-apply", and reference proven engineering models to rationalize why their cables are "better". Yet, they reject the analysis and measurability of these models to prove that in fact they did solve the alleged problem. One also wonders how many of these vendors actually have degreed Electrical Engineers on their staff and the proper test equipment to design "better" cables.

For more information regarding "Skin Effect" and " Strand Jumping" please read our peer reviewed articles on these topics:

We sell millions of dollars worth of cables every year. Every week I receive an e-mail or a phone call from a delighted customer who has made a bigger difference to their system with a $100 cable than with a $1,000 component. We must be doing something right!

I believe that they do sell millions of dollars worth of cables every year, how else can they fund their enormous marketing campaign to sell their products? The statement regarding a $100 cable having more of an audible affect than a $1000 component is totally absurd and complete nonsense.

As always, we welcome Audioquest and/or any other cable vendor to furnish us proof of their claims, and cable samples for us to conduct our own testing for verification purposes. I agree, the FTC should be involved in this business as it is a consumer product based on engineering truths that must not be ignored.

Article Feedback from an Audioholics.com Reader

Date: 03/31/03

Regarding your article titled: "FAQ: Audioquest Cable Theories Exposed" and in particular your response to audioquest: " ...Claims regarding insulation molecules "aligning" with a signal, skin effect, strand jumping, etc, are anecdotal at best... "

I thought I would quickly point out that some polymers DO indeed align under a DC field over a period of days. I published in Applied Physics Letters a paper on this very subject (Elhadj et al., Applied Physics Letters. 2003:82(6):871-873). The model was a thin film (20 nm) and the polymer was a triblock copolymer (polypropylene-isoprene-styrene). The copolymer in question has a natural tendency to phase separate into physically distinct domains at the microscale/mesoscale level and the field essentially acts to orient the polymers domains in the energetically shallower state. Interfacial effects come into play which was the basis for my publication.

Other polymers such as PMMA also exhibit similar effect...for the field to have an effect the separate domains MUST have different dielectric constants, and the effect goes as the square of that difference. I observed those effects at... 6 million volts per meter . there is an easy way to see if the alignment is occuring. just take various sections of the insulation and look at it using atomic force microscopy (may be SEM too). it takes about 1/2 hour to see the alignment. The polymer extrusion process can also induce alignment.

You should ask what the insulation is made of from the manufacturer... a polymer such as polypropylne would NOT show such an effect for the reasons above. Any homogeneous polymer would not show a alignment either...only block copolymers and other more esoteric materials.

As to how important the effect is in terms of audio signals corruption I have no idea...that is something the manufacturer or seller should look into based on their claims.

Hope this helps, best Selim Elhadj

Reprinted with the permission of Selim Elhadj

Audioholics.com Response (Gene DellaSala)

Selim,

Thanks for your feedback, and you raise some valid points. Please note the statement you quoted me on was relevant only for audio applications at voltages much lower than those stated in your paper to cause the effect to the dielectic you described. I would also like to thank you for copying Audioquest on your feedback to us and we look forward to their response.

Speaker wire, If comprised of this two dielectric make-up (with large differences in dielectric constants) would have a conductor spacing of perhaps 0.5 cm for large (high-current cable) typical of audiophile systems. So, an E-field of 6MV/meter would be 30kV per 0.5 cm, well below the voltage any audio amp produces!

Also a good amplifier produces little or no DC offset (say 10-50mV max), certainly not enough to align the dielectric as proven in your article. In addition, there is no evidence to support the dielectric cause's audible distortions in speaker cables.

Consider that your paper, the effects claimed were experienced at a threshold voltage of 65kV/cm. Not even an ESL is subjected to that much voltage, let alone the speaker wires. A DC offset of 65kV would be rather harmful to the speakers and even assuming it were possible (and reducing the spacing to make it "sensible"), there is still no evidence that audible effects would be created.

Your paper was covering a very esoteric application. The possibility of using self-assembled films of block polymers as templates to fabricate nanoscale structures for devices has attracted great attention towards this class of material, and I believe has nothing to do with anything else.

I suspect that the "effects" you have described in your well informed paper have most likely been taken completely out of context by many cable vendors trying to promote their products based on half truths and inapplicable sciences for audio purposes. They use this type of information to stretch the truth as "proof" that such effects:

  1. Occur.
  2. Must somehow be harmful.

Note: Audioquest (nor any of the others cable vendors) have *ever* furnished a single measurement to prove their claims. However some vendors do tend to cite some off-the-wall research into something completely different, and tell us we can hear it, and that they have "solved" the problem, and hope the consumers form their own conclusions from a position of blissful ignorance.

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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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