Un-Sound Advice about Cables
Over the holiday break, I decided to peruse my local A/V retail shop for a new Plasma for my master bedroom system. To protect the store's identity lets refer to them as "Un-Sound Advice". While I was walking the floor, I couldn't help but listen in on some of the salesman talking with customers. I invoked the most cherished Federation prime directive of non-interference on myself and the Audioholics staff years ago to avoid any conflicts at local retailers I happen to be visiting of my own free will. This did NOT however preclude me from eavesdropping or writing editorials on my experiences.
As with most of my trips to local retailers, this one proved to be a delightful experience chock full of observed ignorance touted by the local yokel's that refer to themselves as "audio expert consultants". Lately I've started to think of them as Leprechauns because they always promise you a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow you can never reach. If you ever want some good entertainment, hang out at the cable section of a hifi shop. Its almost as fun as watching a Griswold Vacation movie.
So there I was, observing, like a wolf does to its prey, a scene unfolding before my eyes. A customer (let's call him Ben) was at the checkout counter proud that he just laid down a few G's on a new speaker system for his home theater. While the "audio expert consultant" (aka "Leprechaun" or for arguments sake, let's call him Dover) was processing his order, he casually pulled out some garden hose sized exotic speaker cables and mentioned to Ben that he should consider purchasing them to compliment his new system. Dover started touting all of the wondrous magic that high end cables can espouse on his system such as reducing audiogenic distortion, eliminating skin effect as well as balancing his budget and properly aligning the gravimetric pull the moon has on his turntable system. I did my best to capture the conversation from my semi photographic memory and put it down in the short transcription below:
Ben: Well how much are these cables?
Dover: About $100/ft per pair
Ben: (being a math wiz quickly states) so if I need a 12ft pair, that's $1,200
Dover: Yes but without these cables, you wont achieve maximum power transfer from your amplifier to your speakers
Ben: But they cost almost half as much as my speakers do!
Dover: Yes but the performance you will achieve after a few days of usage will really be worth it, especially once the battery bias properly kicks in...
Ben: A battery? Do I need to change them regularly?
Dover: Not really since it makes no electrical connection to the cable.
Ben: Ah well that's good.
Dover: Yes its energy compliant and environmentally friendly.
Ben: Will I damage my speakers if I don't use these speaker cables?
Dover: Not really but if you don't use equal length cables for each speaker, it can cause timing issues which will reduce your soundstage.
Ben: Ok for now I will cut the cables I have now to equal length to avoid this and consider upgrading in the future.
(as Ben tells Dover this, Ben's wife whispers into his ear - you know I'd much rather see you spend that money to upgrade our TV or add another theater chair or two)
Dover: No problem. We have your system on our file and can recommend the appropriate cables for it when you are ready.
Ben: Great thanks!
So what have we learned from all of this?
- Some salesmen at hifi shops either have the education of a Looney Tunes character or the ethics of a sleazy used car salesman (or both)
- High end cables offer huge profit margins
- Audiophiles tend to be gullible and, thankfully, some have spouses to keep them practical.
Remember this lessen whenever you're shopping for cables - there is an audiophool born every minute and an exotic cable vendor just waiting to lure them to their pot of gold. Don't be fooled by the audio Leprechaun salesman, do your homework and read our cable articles before taking a fruitless journey to the end of a rainbow.
-Gene DellaSala (Audioholic in Wolf's Clothing)