Continuing on from the investigations into LCR parameters for speaker cables started a few weeks ago, today, let's have a look at a few more cables with the REED Instruments R5001 (remember there are limitations of course but comparisons can still be made across cables). As you can see in the previous article, the cables I measured were zip-cord types compared to my DIY "Colorful Speaker Cable". Today, let's look at commercial speaker cable offerings and check out some numbers for each.
Among the cables in the montage above, notice that I do have a more "exotic" cable, the silver conductor, Slinkylinks Biwire with gold banana plugs (asking price back in the early 2010 for 4m/13' was NZ$1840 = ~US$1100 today). As with last time, let's go through the measurements one by one, ending off with those Slinklinks.
I. NB Speaker Cables - "The Vigilante" (~AUD$160 = ~US$100 for 4m pair currently)First, let's start with something you can get easily today! Remember I mentioned last time that NB Speaker Cables specifically aims at making "no BS" products? Well, they read the blog post and sent a pair of 4m/13-feet "The Vigilante" cables (AUD$80 per cable) to try out. That's nice of them...
Here they are just out of the package:
The inconspicuous black meshed sleeve evokes a Dark Knight theme. They're made in Australia with twin parallel 11AWG OFC copper conductors, PVC insulation, of moderate flexibility. They have robust gold banana plugs that make excellent contact with speakers and amp. Non-biwirable - not an issue of course (they have the new "Dr. Octopus" if you need this). "NB Speaker Cables" brand labeled on the adhesive shrink wrap on each end of the cable. For the same price and performance, you can get their colorful alternatives like "The Superhero" and "The Villain".
Cable measurements off the meter:
As usual, I calculated the insertion loss using the 10kHz resistance result. These are very small numbers as one would expect from good quality 11AWG cables. Most importantly, resistance is very low. Similar to my "Colorful Speaker Cable", notice the resistance jump from 10kHz to 100kHz related to skin effect with the thick 11AWG cables - interesting phenomenon to measure but it's not going to have an effect at audible frequencies.
The "filtering effect" of this cable is nice and low (average of 10kHz and 100kHz inductance and capacitance - 1.26μH, 239pF for 10' length used):
So for a 10' length with 4Ω load, the 20kHz roll-off would be around -0.0065dB or so with -2.2° phase shift. No issue whatsoever; speaker cables should not have a significant "filter" effect of course.
Subjectively these cables sound great. I connected them to my setup between the Hypex NC252MP amp and my Paradigm Signature Reference S8 v.3 speakers. Excellent detail with beautiful microdynamics on Bernard Labadie & Les Violons du Roy's Bach: Goldberg Variations. Sounds great with louder pop/rock/R&B recordings as well - I quite like Alicia Key's recent single Underdog and The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" off After Hours (2020, DR6 - clearly no need for 24-bit version!).
They measure very well with low resistance, inductance and capacitance. No-nonsense, no snake oil, well made product at a good price that surprisingly shipped quickly from Australia to Canada in the midst of the current pandemic (took about 2 weeks to arrive)! Thanks NB Cables for the opportunity to give these a listen and for measurement comparisons.
II. Raymond Cables (~US$125 for 4.5m pair 12 years ago)
I bought these cables about 12 years ago when I was still in my previous house. These are 15'/4.5m long 10AWG cables, non-biwirable, with very nice angled locking banana plugs. These are also very well made cables IMO. I paid around US$125 for them back in the day.
I don't know if the company is still making these and I can't find a website for the company so perhaps not any more. The sound is excellent. My dad has been using these to connect to his Klipsch Forté I speakers for years.
As expected, with a 10AWG cable, resistance is very low. Down at levels comparable to my "Archimago's Colorful Speaker Cable" from last time with 9AWG combined gauge. Inductance is a little higher than both the Colorful Cable and "The Vigilante" above with lower capacitance. The "filtering effect" of this cable is as expected, essentially nothing (average of 10kHz and 100kHz inductance and capacitance - 1.91μH, 218.5pF for 10'):
Into 4Ω load, the 20kHz roll-off would be -0.015dB or so with -3.3° phase shift. Absolutely nothing of concern. Well made cables, recommended.
III. Canare 4S11 "Star Quad" DIY Speaker Cables
Years ago, I made my DIY speaker cables with these. As you may recall, these cables are from Japan, they can be had for DIY construction at a good price, usually <$2/ft (so 2 x 15' cables will need 30' = <$60). Internally, there are 4 conductors, each one 14AWG so a pair combined for each polarity would be 11AWG, similar to "The Vigilantes" above. Blue Jeans will make these with welded connectors for <US$75 per 15' cable ($140-150 for a pair).
Note that I made rather short lengths of this cable back in 2014 - each one <5' - so the measurements are definitely hitting the limits of the REED R5001 meter. Nonetheless, here are the results I got:
Excellent resistance results as one would expect from 11AWG cable, lower inductance than both "The Vigilante" and Raymond Cables with marginally higher capacitance than both as one might expect from the "star quad" twisting. For 10' length, using inductance of 1.01μH, capacitance 294.5pF:
Into 4Ω load, the 20kHz roll-off would be a mere -0.0041dB or so with -1.75° phase shift thanks to that low inductance value.
Remember that the "star quad" configuration can be good to reduce EMI emission from these cables; great to reduce interference if you're running low-voltage wires like interconnects, phono, or microphone lines nearby. The downside to this cable to be honest is that it's not particularly pretty with that satin black (or gray) plastic outer sheath :-|. Certain "Golden Ear" Audiophile friends might not be particularly impressed even though it'll sound as good as any other high quality speaker cable regardless of price.
IV. Slinkylinks Biwired (when new, MSRP 4m length ~US$1100/pr)
Finally, I wanted to measure a pair of biwirable Slinkylinks speaker cables with gold banana plugs. This is the most "exotic" speaker cable I have within easy access among friends (alas, over the years fewer of my friends have hung on to their Synergistic, Cardas, Nordost, or AudioQuest wires...). As you can see in their advertising material, we are reminded that:
- these are made of silver conductors ("ultra-pure" 99.9999%)
- silver oxide conducts better than copper oxide
- air is the best dielectric therefore they are constructed in hollow tubes
- supposedly good 4mm connectors on each end, compatible with banana plugs
- made in New Zealand
Each run of cable (+ and -) is separate (eg. not parallel zip cord).
You can see the price list as of 2010 on the link above in New Zealand dollars. This gold-plated banana connector version is less expensive than gold/silver-plated banana and pure silver pin versions. Still not cheap when new with an asking price above US$1000.
Check out this page for some testimonials including from Tone Magazine. And here's a "beautiful" example of a typical audiophile cable review from 6moons dated June 2007. Notice the highly company-inspired content in reviews like this reflective of the advertised claims. They claim that air has the lowest "phase shift". Notice the claim that these cables took "a solid 300 hours to reach their peak", "slow and continuous" improvement apparently peaking at 12.5 days continuously of music playback! Also, there's quite a bit of fear being perpetuated that "capacitance is the ultimate evil" for cables. No, it's not - if it were, Arthur Salvatore would not be recommending Polk Cobras as "Class A" :-). These audiophile testimonial writers and manufacturers cannot even get their claims consistent for something as straight forward as this.
Read the 6moons article for more gory details about how the subjective reviewer felt this was "the most natural" sound he heard. That "a few veils that were obscuring the music" were lifted. That the "micro-detail reproduction, soundstaging also was of the highest quality". While it looks like most of the descriptions were for interconnects, these "observations applied word for word to the speaker cables as well". Sure. And it's good that "these cables are not your stereotypically bright and aggressive silver cables" - what a relief!!!
Whether one accepts the claims above (IMO, not recommended), when it comes to better sound quality, let's note that the silver wire gauge in this cable is very small. Based on the 6moons review, it looks like the speaker cables use 8 strands of 30AWG conductors per cable which means an effective gauge of 21AWG per run between speaker and amplifier (even smaller effective gauge for the non-biwirable cable!). Even though silver is more conductive than copper, remember that it's only about 6% better which means electrical conductance is not as good as pure 20AWG copper even. We should be able to see this in the resistance measurements.
For the record, the owner of these cables has had them for about 10 years so would have logged >300 hours of music playback with them, thus they should be thoroughly "broken in".
If you want to spend a few more dollars for higher quality and professionally made cables, by all means grab the very reasonably-priced cables I measured in this post like the NB Cables "The Vigilantes", Raymond Cables if you can find them, or make some Canare 4S11 cables with good connectors (or get the Blue Jeans 4S11 pre-made). Make some Archimago's Colorful Cables if you want :-). These all sound as good as anything out there, can look beautiful, and IMO there's no way you can improve on the sound unless you purposely want speaker cables with LCR values high enough to affect insertion loss, alter frequency response or ultra-high capacitance to risk high frequency oscillation!
As you can see, despite all the claims about 99.9999% silver, air dielectric, and positive subjective spin, the Slinkylinks were actually nothing special objectively nor subjectively. Unsurprisingly, such is often the nature of the "high end" where performance can actually be poor but subjective reviewers will actually not be able to hear it. Considering how little it must take to construct cables like the Slinkylinks, asking for US$1000 is a huge markup! No wonder snake oil companies love making audiophile cables (including USB and ethernet digital cables of course, then having so-called journalists ruminate about nonsense).
I know "high-end" audio magazines won't be publishing measurements for cables any time soon because it's more "fun" to spend paragraphs upon paragraphs waxing poetic about hearing this and that subjective Golden Ear phenomenon which may or may not be true / meaningful / honest. Purchases of "high-end" cables as high margin items recycle through as advertising revenue to help keep the magazines afloat; part of the "grease" that keeps this niche running. Also, notice that cable manufacturers probably contribute quite a bit to audiophile shows by sponsoring the various rooms so even reputable technology-based audio companies won't talk bad about them.
Enjoying All Time Low's upbeat pop/punk album Wake Up, Sunshine (2020, DR5 - seriously, forget "hi-res" here!) as I finish off this blog post... Turn up the volume! :-)
Stay safe and I hope you're all enjoying the music. Happy Easter 2020...