A couple weeks back I was tempted to make some of my own speaker cables out of bulk Canare 4S11 cables I had at my disposal. Note that with my Emotiva XPA-1L monoblock amplifiers situated close to the speakers themselves, I only needed 4' lengths of speaker cable. As such, it'd be ridiculous to claim that whatever speaker cable I use, there would be "huge" audible differences. I was more interested in upgrading the banana plugs to the 'locking' variant for a better connection and since I'm already constructing the cable, I might as well make a bi-wired set to have a listen and also because it's "cool" :-).
Without any live model willing to don my home made cables, I managed to find a reasonable substitute:
|Apologies to this guy, and various ads like this over the years... I could get some heat shrink tubing to improve the cosmetics especially of the amplifier end, I suppose.|
Canare and other manufacturers of these star quad speaker cables will also espouse the benefits of reduced radiation from the speaker cables (see this Canare PDF). I guess if one is running a pro set-up with very high power amplifiers, long lengths of speaker cable with low-level poorly shielded microphone wires nearby this could be an issue. As for the home set-up - highly unlikely of any benefit unless you do stuff like have long lengths of low level turntable phono cables lying around - obviously not "best practice"!
I found the Canare cable easy to work with, is quite flexible, appears to be constructed well ("Made In Japan") and this little DIY project took maybe 2-3 hours to put together and test. Most of the time was spent making sure I got the lengths correct. The Emotiva XPA-1 has quite a wide physical spread between binding posts - almost 1' apart. At about $1.50/ft, the cable is cheap and quite easily available at many cable suppliers on-line. The 4S11 cable consists of 4 conductors ("quad") under the sheath. Each multi-stranded conductor is 14AWG and a pair would be equivalent to 11AWG; as you can see, this makes it really easy to create a "bi-wire" configuration.
It has been many years since I've seen articles measuring speaker cables (many back in the early 2000's; perhaps controversies have settled somewhat?). Yes, speaker cables can be measured with sensitive equipment and generally, the idea is to keep the gauge/thickness adequate for the length in order to keep resistance low. Kudos to Audioholics for producing excellent no-nonsense articles on cables over the years. They have a nice article on this topic. Despite claims usually by manufacturers, good 12AWG copper zip cord speaker cables are essentially all one ever needs unless you're using >50 feet lengths (and 50 feet is being really conservative). Other parameters like the capacitance and inductance of the cable may affect the sound but we're only interested in audible frequencies up to 20kHz and with typically short runs of cable, these electrical parameters are unlikely to change sonic quality. It has been said that high feedback transistor and push-pull tube designs can oscillate at high frequencies (especially out-of-audio-band oscillations which may not be heard but can burn out tweeters and amplifiers) with high capacitance cables. I've heard legends of Phase Linear designs oscillating with the old Polk Cobra cables (low inductance, high capacitance Litz wire) from the 1970's for example. I suspect this only happens with 'exotic' cables and amplifiers of questionable design (otherwise we'd be hearing about smoking speakers and amps happening frequently)! Some manufacturers have dragged up phenomena like skin effect, but we're talking audio frequencies, not HF here and calculations have not suggested any significant issues.
There is clearly potential for sonic improvement with bi-amping especially with separate crossovers for speakers like with this article by Mitchco. But bi-wiring? I don't see how this improves anything other than potentially lowering resistance (thicker total wire gauge and double the connections to the speakers), or bypassing very poor speaker jumper plates. If anyone has seen analysis to suggest that electrically bi-wiring makes a difference, please comment!
One of my favourite cable review articles is for the classic Kimber Kable 8TC. Now this is the kind of review I wish I saw from the typical audiophile press. For comparison, here are some vital stats between the Canare 4S11, Kimber 8TC, Belden, and cheap zip cord looking at results where available between 20-20kHz (results from Audioholics or from manufacturer where measurements unavailable):
Canare 4S11 (11AWG - 2/4 conductors): (~$1.50/ft, I noticed some Ram Electronics 4S11 cable measurements here)
DC Resistance: 2.6 mohm/ft
Capacitance: 45 pF/ft
Inductance: <0.12 uH/ft
Kimber 8TC (10AWG): (~$6.00/ft)
DC Resistance: 2.19 mohm/ft
Capacitance: 100 pF/ft
Inductance: 0.037 uH/ft
Belden 10AWG: (~$0.75/ft bulk, as used in Blue Jeans cable's 5T00UP)
DC Resistance: <2 mohm/ft
Capacitance: 25 pF/ft
Inductance: ~0.16 uH/ft
Zip cord (12AWG): ("Sound King" measured here, ~$0.50/ft)
DC Resistance: <3.31 mohm/ft
Capacitance: ~15 pF/ft
Inductance: ~0.2 uH/ft
These are microscopic variations between very reasonable cables, would it be surprising if short runs of <50 feet or so results in no discernible difference?
Have a look at Audioholics' "Speaker Cable Faceoff 2" article for measurements of more expensive stuff... Here's one:
Cardas SE 9 (9.5AWG): (~$13/ft or so)
DC Resistance: <3.38 mohm/ft
Capacitance: <285 pF/ft!
Inductance: <0.05 uH/ft
It's interesting how high the capacitance result is with the Cardas though, presumably by design. For the purpose of "high fidelity", I think most of us would agree that "the best cable is no cable". If this is true, then in principle shouldn't we be going for the lowest amount of these parameters? (Unless of course one is aiming for frequency coloration - the proverbial "tone control".)
Speaking of capacitance, let's go a little further, using my set-up as an example. One could do it by hand, but here's a quick calculator: Electro-Voice Cable Calculator. Plugging in the number for the Emotiva XPA-1L (250W, 8 ohm, 500 dampening factor), into the Paradigm Signature S8 speaker (8 ohms), with the 4S11 cable (let us be conservative and say 11AWG for 2 strands, 4 feet, 50 pF/ft), the roll-off frequency (-3dB) due to capacitance is at 99MHz; that is to say, capacitance just isn't going to be an audible issue. Play with the calculator using numbers from your own set-up. The fact is that with typical speaker cables, capacitance roll-off in the audible spectrum is not an issue until you're in the 1uF range (1,000,000 pF)! Of course, by the time you run say 2000 feet of cable to reach that level of capacitance, you'd be experiencing >5dB power loss (~60% less watts reaching your speakers), demonstrating that resistance as related to conductor gauge and length is much more important than capacitance in affecting signal integrity assuming the amplifier can handle such an extreme situation.
For those interested in the physics/calculations around inductance, have a look at this post with John Murphy's calculations to demonstrate how unlikely this is an issue as well.
Since it's impossible to do 'instantaneous' A/B testing with speaker cables accurately due to the time it takes to switch out the connections (unless I had a special switch box), I listened to my set-up with the Canare 4S11 bi-wired to one speaker, and my old 12G zip cord to the other to see if I can hear channel imbalance, tonal change, differences in level of details revealed. I tried and even got my wife and kids involved - no discernable anomaly. Mono music still sounds nicely centered and tonally balanced. Stereo soundstage is maintained; as an example, I love the old Ella Fitzgerald Pure Ella: Ella Sings Gershwin album that I got years ago. Ella still sounds like she's singing right in front of me in a private performance. Fancy stereo effects like QSound stereo widening and "surround" image still produced the 360-degree effect suggesting no significant untoward change in phase relationships between the speakers connected with different cables (remember, I'm only using 4'!).
Ultimately, it's fun doing these little projects... Especially at little cost. Although I felt that there was no audible benefit in this case (hey, I wish I did!), like I said, it was more so I could upgrade my banana plug connectors to the locking variety and having a set of bi-wired cables to demonstrate to friends if they ask and want to listen for themselves. You can easily find pre-built 4S11 cables on eBay or off Amazon from Ram Electronics. Of course, with only a little elbow grease and some time, I put this together with bi-wired speaker connectors for 1/2 the price. [2018 Addendum: I recently noted that Blue Jeans Cables is now selling 6' non-bi-wired and bi-wired speaker cables based on the Canare 4S11 at good prices with welded connections... Nice.]
(For more interesting reading: speaker wires and history from Roger Russell.)
Addendum: After about a week, I decided to reinsert the Paradigm Signature S8 (brass?) speaker jumper plates. The rationale is that I feel bi-wiring makes no difference and I didn't want to misplace the jumpers; so might as well leave them in place where they should be. This essentially makes the cables a set of 11AWG wires in star quad configuration with better cable-to-speaker contact since there are now two connectors. Electrons are smart little guys and can decide for themselves if they want to pass through that jumper plate :-).
Addendum 2: Train's new album Bulletproof Picasso just came out. I was having a listen to it and was impressed by how good the dynamics sounded. So I ripped the CD and discovered that it has a DR11 score - shocking for a modern pop album! Considering their previous efforts California 37 (2012) had a result of DR6 and Save Me, San Francisco (2009) of DR5, this was a very pleasant surprise... Could it be? Could it be that record producers are recognizing it's about time to terminate the loudness war? Could it be that they finally realize that distorted audio is bad for the music industry? Here's hoping the tide is indeed turning.