Saturday 8 February 2020

DIY: Archimago's Colorful Set of Speaker Cables. (And about that Darko/McGowan "EXPERT" interview on USB cables & other claims.)

While it's probably perilous to guess which cables "make the most difference" (just look at the different opinions here), arguably, other than very-low-voltage phono cables that can pick up interference easily, I'm guessing that speaker cables probably can make the most difference in a sound system on account of longer lengths and the fact that speakers are low impedance devices. As a result, the additional resistance, inductance, and capacitance of speaker cables may be relevant to performance.

Furthermore, in extreme cases one could run into systemic instabilities, for example years ago the Polk Cobra cable was called an "amp killer" on account of high capacitance and very low inductance. This Nelson Pass article from back in 1980 listed that cable as having 500pF/ft capacitance and discussed the need for a damping network to avoid high-frequency oscillation with high bandwidth amplifiers. Clearly sometimes the amplifier might "see" the difference a cable introduces even if anomalies are inaudible.

Recently, with going from using my Emotiva monoblock amps primarily to the small home-assembled Hypex nCore NC252MP, I had the need to make a pair of longer cables. For a number of years, I've used some Canare 4S11's as speaker cables. They're great and I could just buy more. But since I've been spicing up the look of the system lately with gold amp face plate and the thick blue "audiophile" power cable, I figure let's just buy some inexpensive but good speaker cables and "dress them up" for looks since it's not that difficult. :-)

IMO, it doesn't take much to make cables look good enough to impress. They just have to be thick and dressed up with a pleasing outer sleeve. Beauty however is in the eyes of the beholder so for this  little "build", I thought I'd try something different and put together a multicolored cable as shown up top for fun. Here's the outer sleeve I picked - a braided "30ft PET Expandable Braided Sleeving" of 1/2" diameter which costs <US$10 for the wires I'll be using.

There are a number of colors to choose from for the braid material off Amazon. I just went for the dark green-black for some contrast (I have some blue-black as well which looks nice and more subtle). Notice that I have the lighter in the image as a reminder that after you cut the sleeve, unless you have a hot knife, to prevent fraying of the ends, just use the lighter and melt the edges a little so they stick together (don't hold the flame to the edge too long, ~5 seconds enough).

The wire that will run inside the sleeve is the inexpensive KnuKonceptz Kord Kable 12AWG speaker cable which can be had for <US$30/50-ft:

It's basically a slightly translucent blue-colored zip cord. It's very flexible and easy to work with, made of 12AWG 4N (99.99%) OFC (oxygen free copper). It has very fine strands (294 listed per conductor). There's some greyish/silver writing on one of the runs which I use as the "+" wire. (Needless to say, there's no "directionality" to wires which apparently a company like Chord Cables still maintains!)

For connectors, I used these GLS Audio locking banana plugs, US$40 for 20-pack (10 red, 10 black). Good construction, gold plated. A favourite over the years for me as the twist locking mechanism works well to allow snug connections with speakers and amps.

The construction is relatively simple...

I wanted at least 9' cable lengths with biwired connectors for the speaker end. So for each cable, I cut 2 lengths of ~10' wire. Twist the two together for each cable and used some electrical tape to keep it together temporarily - I didn't bother twisting too tightly, around 5 twists/foot. As you can imagine the effective length of the 10' wire will be shorter with the twisting:

Now cut the sleeves to length. I'm targeting about 9' cables, so I cut about 9.5' to accommodate for some horizontal stretching when the sleeve slips over the paired wires which will decrease the total effective length:

Slip the expandable sleeve over each paired twisted cable:

The 1/2" diameter PET sleeve will stretch a little bit and should be able to slide over the paired speaker wires without too much difficulty. We want this to be relatively snug and make sure to stretch to out keeping the wires taut inside also.

I've got a box of 1:3 double-walled adhesive-lined heat shrink tubing for the ends to keep the braid over the twisted wires in place. I used a 1/2" x 3" shrink tube for each side where the cables exit the braid, removing the temporary electrical tape above of course. A few seconds with the lighter over the heat shrink tubing does the job, careful not to burn/melt the plastic:

Here's what it looks like now with the heat shrink tubing applied to ends of both cables:

Because I might want to use these cables with my Emotiva monoblocks that have terminals 6" apart, notice that the ends that connect to the amplifier are longer. I would now split the exposed speaker cables and trim so on the amplifier end, the cables are about 8" long, and on the speaker end, trim down to about 5". I'll twist together the two (+) and (-) runs for the speaker end. This should make sense when you look at the final cable.

Strip back ~1" of the 12AWG cable to expose the copper conductors. On the amplifier end, I'll twist the (+) and (-) wires together. Here's what the wires stuffed in one of the GLS banana plugs looks like for the (+) amplifier end, secured down with the small set screws:

On the speaker end, since I'm creating bi-wireable cables (not that I believe this makes a difference, but it does provide more surface contact), I'll just be connecting a single 12AWG cable to each banana plug.

Here's the final product, notice I used some 1/4" and 3/8" red/black heat shrink tubing to keep the twisted wires together and for indicating polarity.

The end product looks pretty good hooked up to my gear. It's robust, feels relatively hefty in the hand (might even tip over light, unstable speakers), and connects to the speakers and amp well with the locking banana plugs. On a more practical note, the distinctive colors make the speaker cables easier to pick out among generic black wires in the system. It's also thick - so sounds more "audiophile", of course!

Remember that each conductor is 12AWG, so two of them combined would be the equivalent of 9AWG from amplifier terminal to bi-wired speaker connection. Since I've never heard bi-wiring making a difference (nor measured a difference), I'll just keep my speaker jumpers in place and connect the two banana plugs as a way to increase surface contact.

Speaker cables connected to Hypex NC252MP. You can see the "HiFi Audiophile Power Cord" discussed last week in the picture as well with similar blue hue. The system cables are getting a little more colorful. :-)
Regarding measurements of speaker cables, notice that "mainstream" audiophile magazines like Stereophile and TAS might talk about expensive speaker cables (whether it's a reviewer mentioning what they use or at length as in this recent post), but I don't recall them publishing measurements of speaker cables in the last decade at least (or any analogue cables for that matter). It's not as common these days in more mainstream audiophile websites to see cable reviews, but they do exist still - such as this recent article on Hi-Fi+ or this TAS gem. The reader comments below on such articles are, as expected, strongly polarized between "believers" and "skeptics" with typically little useful information from either side.

Okay. So, with the construction reasonably clearly laid out I hope, in the next while, let's jump into speaker cable measurements and have a peek at the electrical parameters of this DIY cable. We'll also compare the numbers with standard zip cord and other wires I have around here and discuss if there's ultimately much to "worry" about with speaker cables...

Suffice it to say, the DIY speaker cables sound great so far even without "burn-in". Good for the next few years I reckon or at least until I get tired of the appearance or want some more fashionable ones. ;-)


To end off this week... Let's spend some time thinking about audiophile claims like the "sound" of USB cables along with a few other questionable audiophile claims.

Have a look at Darko.Audio's recent "EXPERT opinion" interview with Paul McGowan (not sure why anyone has to shout the word "EXPERT"). I listened to most of it while doing other things so might have missed some good parts. Once awhile I caught an "interesting" tidbit and made a note to review what was being said.

Before I get into this, let me say that I met Paul McGowan last year at RMAF 2019 and we chatted briefly about his new speakers. He seems like a nice man who presents a friendly face to the public on behalf of his company, PS Audio. Likewise, John Darko seems like a likable reporter / writer / presenter. None of what I'm about to say is "personal"; this is a debate about truth, how we seek it, and what level of evidence is needed before we accept ideas as "facts". Paul McGowan is free to speak, Darko has his place as a member of the online audiophile press. Likewise, I have opinions about these things as a hobbyist and consumerwith a desire to cut through the layers of "folk wisdom" built over the decades of audiophile culture. Like most cultural beliefs based on historical antecedents, some ideas might still be true, and others might need to be discarded as we get into the 2nd decade of the 21st Century.

Beyond the initial pleasantries in that interview, by 24:00, we are fully in a discussion about "deferring to experts", specifically regarding the topic of the audible differences between cables (especially USB cables). Darko says that this deference is "an unfashionable thing these days". Remember that the argument of "appealing to the authority of experts" can very easily be a logical fallacy when not applied properly (here's a nice review from The Logic of Science). Tell me, if we are to present the testimony in this interview in court, when it comes to USB cables, what kind of "expert" should Paul McGowan be introduced as? He is an engineer yet provides no objective data when consulted here. He hasn't performed any controlled experiments to report whatsoever in the interview (just some audio show a number of years ago where "8 people" apparently turned heads ~3:45). Is he an expert in USB cables, USB transceiver hardware, or USB software drivers? If not those things, is he then being promoted as an "expert listener" speaking as a "witness" rather than arguing based on USB engineering expertise? If it is the latter, is his endorsement of USB cables strong "proof"? Essentially, is the evidence being presented here simply a person's opinion (without other corroborating evidence), and what is the material engineering expertise being referenced from which the opinion is derived? To that final question, there appears to be no engineering evidence, and this is all opinion while nobody denies that McGowan has spent years in the industry.

Let's now turn to Darko's apparent exchanges with engineers who almost unanimously agreed that USB cables make a difference (~32:00). Among the various engineers surveyed, is the opinion of this group of presumably audiophile industry "experts" even close to the opinion of the "majority consensus"? Did he e-mail or interview the digital engineers at Apple, HP, Microsoft, TI, Intel, Qualcomm, AMD, Broadcom, Marvell, Renesas, STMicro, XMOS, etc. who employ expert engineers in designing the USB hardware; some of their components ending up in all kinds of places including audiophile products? If he were to conduct a broad survey, how many percent of engineers do we think would accept that expensive USB cables could "sound different" than typical generic USB 2.0 cables that satisfy basic specifications? Maybe Mr. Darko can ask a few more folks and get back to us on that question.

At 27:30 - Darko claims "the thinking used to be immutable ones and zeroes" when it comes to digital audio. Actually, when did this substantially change? I still think "bit perfect" is pretty darn important. Who's playing "catch up" here as if the audiophile world has discovered something special about digital data transmission? IMO that's simply Darko's wishful thinking. Someone please tell us when for example computer users finally discover that a fancy USB cable results in a prettier photographic print from their color inkjet because jitter is lower and the ink droplets are now even better resolved and aligned...

35:00 - McGowan: "If we can hear the difference, we should be able to measure it" but "we currently don't know how to measure ... perceptual differences" such as those resulting from cables. Hmmm... If we're still talking about USB cables here, what is there to measure but the accuracy of data electrical signal shapes and the resolution of the DAC; both of which can be done? What other ultimate acoustic property does he think is embedded in the digital data such that a cable might manipulate said property typically in a "good" sounding way?

36:00 - Speaking of looking for proof for the claimed nebulous and hypothetical perceptual differences that currently cannot be measured:
"I think it could be measured if somebody wants to spend the time"... "I neither have any desire to prove it, nor would I spend PS Audio's engineering budget in search of it..."
Wow. Lemme get this straight... So here is a "high end" ("perfectionist audio") manufacturer who believes that certain as-yet-not-understood phenomena exist. He believes that these special properties can be measured. That it's clearly audible. And he doesn't want to spend any engineering budget trying to understand the phenomena!

Apart from the "high end" audio companies, who else does he think should be pursuing an understanding of this then? Isn't it only "you guys" who answered Darko's e-mail in the affirmative around the sound of USB cables that actually believe there is such phenomena? In fact, as competitive companies, shouldn't you all be trying to understand this? To be the first to capitalize on true innovation by engineering the beneficial effects based on knowledge and evidence? In fact, can't you even "reverse engineer" whatever this quality is by examining and dissecting the cables that are able to optimize the sound from your equipment? A comment like this suggests that he doesn't really see the effect as important enough to invest in, and that there is little potential benefits for the company. Perhaps this is a good example of "don't listen to what people say, watch what they do".

37:50 - Darko speaking of audiophiles using AmazonBasic USB cables: "it is also financially advantageous" for the cheapo audiophile to basically not spend money.

Of course, aren't we consumers?! What consumer wants to spend egregious amounts on something that's not clearly shown to work as claimed (I believe the technical terms are being "ripped off", "exploited", "swindled", "conned" or "cheated")? Like any other consumer group, for the most part, we're spending hard-earned after-tax dollars on our non-essential "toys". It's not up to audiophiles to just give money away out of the goodness of our hearts as if these companies are charities! Consumers need to see value in the products, and it is the job of companies to gain the trust and shoulder the burden of proof that their products (cables for example) are worthwhile. Let's not be naïve; "snake oil" companies do exist.

Darko hypothesizes that it works the other way as well. It's financially advantageous for cheapo audiophiles to purposely claim expensive cables make no difference so they save some $$$. Yes, as consumers it would be convenient to save money for other things like nice vacations or tuition for the kids. But let's think of it this way... A "snake oil" company can potentially reap thousands of dollars from unsuspecting customers. How can cheapo audiophiles warning against snake oil reap such rewards for themselves? This "conspiracy" of the cheapo audiophile does not actually "cut both ways" in any symmetrical fashion.

39:50 - McGowan: Speaking of Ted Smith's DAC FPGA code, he makes a rather surprising allegation. Apparently, simply doing "another compilation" with the "same exact code", "sounded completely different". Hmmmm, sounds more than a little fishy. What exactly does "completely" mean in the absence of any measurable quantity? You mean the "completely different" audible difference doesn't exist in frequency, time, identifiable distortion or noise domains of sound quality? Let's bookmark this comment as something we might want to bring up in the future if he clarifies this somewhere.

43:00 - McGowan is doubling down on jitter as "definitely audible" and somehow important for the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. He claims Audio Precision equipment is "not capable of measuring jitter at the levels" they're talking about. For the record, notice that Ted's DAC is rather noisy for a modern converter (Stereophile, Audio Science Review). So what level of jitter is he and Ted Smith talking about that is so severe that it's audible above the already measurably poor DAC noise level? Remember to check out and listen to the jitter demos I posted a couple years back and decide for yourself just how much jitter needs to be for audibility. AP gear unable to measure this? I don't think so...

43:45 - McGowan claims sometimes FPGA code leads to configurations where processing happens on the "outer edge of the chip where it's really noisy" and "tends to sound worse". Well that's unfortunate that a ~$5-6k DAC has audibly noisy internals like this, isn't it?

As I've said before, people can say anything and human imagination is boundless. Darko can hypothesize about whatever he wants to believe about cables. McGowan can say whatever he feels as an "expert" in various things. But where is the evidence that this isn't all just wishful thinking or even delusional if they truly believe in what is possibly a false "reality"? Obviously there isn't any evidence presented in this interview. McGowan even claims he doesn't "have any desire to prove" these beliefs. No measurements. No controlled listening. No interest in testing even. "I believe him because he's an expert" seems to be the ultimate message. I'm sorry, it's hard to buy that line of reasoning, Mr. Darko.

Beyond the cable discussions, McGowan essentially tells us that the Ted Smith PS Audio DACs are rather noisy devices such that Mr. Smith needs to be careful with each compile of the firmware! Also, his digital circuitry is prone to having timing issues causing audible jitter! Jitter to the point where not-so-young-looking guys like Ted Smith and Paul McGowan are able to hear issues (remember that jitter anomalies tend to affect higher frequencies). Considering how many inexpensive high-performance asynchronous DACs we have available with low noise and good jitter performance these days, if McGowan's comments are true, Ted Smith's DAC certainly doesn't seem all that impressive!

With the PS Audio YouTube channel having about 1000 videos in which Paul McGowan discusses all kinds of questionable topics (I recently ran into his take on "Why do cables have direction?" for example), maybe it's time he accepts taking Ethan Winer's challenge for a public debate on some of this. Now that would probably be a more useful video to watch at this point.

In other news, Audio Science Review measures the Kimber Kable B-Bus USB cable (simple looking US$50). No surprise. Bit perfect USB cables do not change overall sound, jitter, or add distortion from DACs. I saw this lack of effect even back to 2013 when I was using the Creative E-MU 0404USB ADC as measurement device with an old asynchronous CM6631A USB-to-SPDIF converter.

Seriously folks, take a deep breath and push aside what audiophile company "experts" or "journalists" likely influenced by industry support have to say. Likewise, clear your mind of my rebuttal. Call up an audiophile buddy to help switch cables and try unsighted listening with an expensive USB cable and one that meets basic specs (not error-prone poor cables like these). I think you'll find that there is no audible difference worth spending anything >$50 on after a few cable switches with your favourite music. Again, nothing wrong with spending more money for the looks, luxury, fashion and other "non-utilitarian" benefits! ;-)

If you still hear a consistently significant change, please leave a comment about which cables you used, with what devices (computer, DAC...) and what you heard. This might be useful for those who want to look deeper into this even if I'm not able to.


Remember, gimme your results on the blind test! I made it as a simple ABCD ranking task, completely gain matched, and feel free to take your time and in the comfort of your home. Survey is open until the end of April 2020. These conditions are not too different from Mr. McGowan's blind test preferences stated in his "Do double blind tests work?" video BTW.

Time for me to go listen to some music. Recently I read a recommendation for Coltrane '58 The Prestige Recordings (DR12, about 1/2 the tracks mono) which I listened to last night (it's 5 CDs so I have 3 more disks to get through in the next few evenings!). Yes, the collection is great and well recorded overall. On a good system, I think you'll notice the relatively high noise floor as these performances were captured more than half a century back!

For all the Gen X audiophiles who grew up with pop from "our day", Richard Marx just released his new album LIMITLESS this past week. A bit processed, loud and "shouty" typical of music production these days akin to the all-caps stylization of the album title. Otherwise, an enjoyable collection. Nice duet on "Strong Enough" without too much cringe-worthy teenage lyrics sung by an older man - dude's 56. My, how time flies. :-)

Hope you're enjoying the music.


  1. all i can say is ouch! this was one of the worst - it was touted as the 2nd coming

    1. Interesting link stewart,
      Funky device. SPDIF-to-SPDIF with 500KB buffer between along with dithering options. $1800 back it those days in 1996 would be around $3000 today.

      Jitter measurements not too suggestive of audibility. Not sure about the value of those dithering options ;-).

      Did you have one of these?

    2. my point was what you stated and it was a device touted and brought to you by "paul mcgowan"

  2. Regarding the FPGA code, it is true that the compilers are not always entirely deterministic, probably to do with how they use threading to speed up the build. The layout can vary a little from run to run, but the functionality is obviously not affected. There could possibly be slight variations in signal timing. Should that pose a problem, the solution is to fix it up outside the FPGA using some latches and a stable clock. As for sounding completely different, that's obviously nonsense. FPGAs are used in far more sensitive applications without issue.

    1. Thanks for the note Mans,
      Yeah, that use of "completely" seemed a bit overly dramatic :-).

  3. Making snazzy looking speaker cables is fun!

    I was even more extreme than you, going even cheaper on the base cable (flex electrical) and on the bling (more heat shrink, more braiding)!

    1. LOL Nicholas,
      Nice work. 2x14AWG --> 11AWG speaker cables.

      Bring on the bling! Gold braiding and diamond encrusted cables next :-).

  4. Hi, Arch! Sorry to report that I cannot print this post with either Firefox or Google. Had this problem a couple of weeks ago but last week was fine?!
    Not sure what is up...or down. ;-)

    1. Strange, man!

      I'm checking here and I can print the post no problem with Chrome... I assume you're still on your Apple/Mac? I know my wife's MacBook with Mojave still works fine with printing...

  5. "I believe him because he's an expert". This thinking is prevalent in many different subjects where people are looking to defend their particular belief. It leads me always to ask "who is your expert?". There are many self-proclaimed experts on nearly any subject you can think of, and some of them even have credentials (PE, MD...) used by their believers to prove the legitimacy of their claims. For me, if their opinion is not backed up by objective, verifiable proof, then it is just that, an opinion. It’s why the scientific and medical communities review published papers in journals (remember the experts that said they had figured out cold fusion?)
    BTW, nice cables. You've inspired me to maybe do something similar.

    1. I'm quite experienced and knowledgeable in a few domains... But I hate it when I'm being introduced as an expert... It sets so many expectations and tends to have an effect on critical thinking (it can go both ways, shut it down or make it nearly aggressive!)

    2. Well said guys,
      There are "experts" in every field and for most "orthodox" areas of study, we should be able to trace the knowledge base to the literature from which the expertise is derived.

      I fail to see "audiophilia" in the way it's being presented by Darko as one of these orthodox areas of study :-).

      Whence did the "knowledge" that "USB cables sound different" arise from? Nowhere other than the opinion / testimony / belief of what I think seem to be a few with no foundational basis...

      There's a big difference between one who is an expert in astrology and another who is an expert in astrophysics IMO :-).

  6. Perseverance... A virtue?

  7. And is that a high fidelity, RF noise reducing, stray electron absorbing cutting board underneath the Hypex amp?

    1. Absolutely!

      You see, it's made of a special acacia wood and marble, mixed in a 1/3 - 2/3 ratio such that the marble up front will prevent stray vibrations from being emitted forward to the listening position. The wood behind provides increased dampening for the potentially noisy Class-D amplifier circuitry plus has the ability to absorb noise being transmitted from the horrible home AC. As you can see, the thick "audiophile" power cable already is excellent at filtering the last 6-feet.

      Remember that if you want to try something like this, it's best to run the audio at least 500 hours. Otherwise the marble and wood will not be "broken in" and sound might be a little "off" at first. I'm happy to sell you one of these for your amplifier for US$649.99 including expedited shipping worldwide. Sorry, no refunds. It sure beats footers which won't cover the whole lower aspect of an amp like this and I believe is superior to "tranquility bases" you might see elsewhere because this device doesn't require you to plug it into the wall and likely pick up ground noise!

    2. HAHAHAHAHA!!! I think you may have a future in marketing esoteric snake oil, er… I mean audiophile products.

  8. Hello Archimago! Regarding experiments and measurements of speaker cables, consider taking a look at Chapter 6.10 in P. Newell and K. Holland's "Loudspeakers for Music Recording and Reproduction" ("AES Presents" series), also available here: Would be interesting to hear your opinion.

    1. Thanks Mikhail,
      Interesting stuff. Looks like a lot of that was done in the pro world and a number of the experiments done with long cable lengths (eg. 90+ feet of 12AWG). Looks like they captured pretty strong environmental interference in some of the experiments (Figure 6.10 with 50m/164' lengths quite telling, yet normal 5m lengths look fine) through the speaker drivers.

      Maybe it's in the source articles but it's a shame the post does not tell us the LCR parameters of the speaker cables being examined to better quantify the electrical properties.

      Not sure I see anything all that scary for us home audiophiles where we're hopefully not running much more than 15' cables to our speakers.

      Hmmm... Have you do any measurements on speaker cables?

    2. Thanks for taking a look!

      Answering your question--no. Typically I only check that the resistance between the ends is within expected limits. I run a system with active crossovers, so the speaker cables are not subject to high loads. However, I'm picky about their terminations. I prefer SpeakON connectors to bananas, for example.

  9. There is something I am curious about.
    The common advice goes that: no difference exists between an affordable well made speaker cable vs snake oil cables, so do not waste money on expensive snake oils.

    I'm curious to find out people's opinion regarding speaker cables that are designed based on proper physical properties:
    - capacitance: 147.6 pF/m
    - inductance: 0.263 uH/m
    - DCR: 0.394 ohm/100 m
    - selection of insulation based on material dielectric to reduce capacative effects
    - geometry designed to achieve the above measured results
    - no fancy metallurgy—just standard electrolytic tough-pitch copper which is widely used in communications cable of all sorts.

    Only problem is due to small sales quantities, large MOQ of raw materials, and somewhat intricate manufacturing process... it is sold for pretty expensive prices ($1000 for 1m).

    In this case, a speaker cable is manufactured according to established scientific principals and measured properly, with the whole design process published for all to scrutinise.

    So, here are my questions:
    • Is it considered snake oil? Why yes or no?
    • Are they cheating people/consumers? Why yes or no?
    • Is their price justifiable (to you)? Why?

    1. I think there is a bit of overselling here. Here is why. You buy this properly engineered cable to ensure that everything is right with your system. But this cable just connects output terminals of your amp to input terminals of your speakers. What about wires behind those terminals--are they of the same or better quality? If not, then buying these speaker cables is a waste of money--the system is only as strong as its weakest link, so spending money just on those cables is a waste.

    2. Hi YW,
      Great that you bring up the LCR measurements. I think it'll be fun talking about these measurements and putting some numbers to wires I have around here for comparison. I think a company publishing results adds respectability; notice that well-known audiophile companies like AudioQuest and Synergistic don't do this despite the high costs to some of their products.

      The numbers to that wire you're listing look good. But as you can see, we are looking at milliohms/ft, μH, pF quantities. Just how much effect do we think there will be at audio frequencies at something like 5m?

      Agree with Mikhail, beyond the speaker cables, there are all kinds of other variables to think about and asking for $1000/m is a high cost proposition.

      Is it snake oil?
      No... Not necessarily. To me "snake oil" is when a company claims that there is a significant audible effect but highly unlikely and unable to answer for the claims with evidence.

      Are they cheating consumers?
      I think it's the same as above. Not necessarily and depending on what they claim the cable does. Of course, it could cost $$$ to make the cable. Remember that in my "snake oil" post, I described what I called "Class C" oil. These are the "Audio Jewelry" products which can be impressive but ultimately unnecessary.

      Is their price justifiable?
      Personally, I would not buy a set of $1000+ speaker cables because for what I need - good "transparent" sounding cables to connect electrical devices - I don't see why I should spend that kind of money. Basically, seems to be very poor value as a consumer. Having said this, I'm not going to say that the price is unjustifiable for everyone... Owning something like this for some audiophiles perhaps relieves anxiety that they're not "missing out" - a type of peer pressure if one listens to audiophile magazine reviews? It could represent a status symbol for some. Luxury costs money just like Patek Philippe wrist watches and Ferrari cars even though a digital watch is more accurate and a Toyota could more than satisfy the daily commute.

    3. "The numbers to that wire you're listing look good. But as you can see, we are looking at milliohms/ft, μH, pF quantities."

      Sure, the numbers look good. But you could get even lower impedance with a double run of 12AWG zip cord, at a fraction of the price.

      "Just how much effect do we think there will be at audio frequencies at something like 5m?"

      Said differently, these impedances (unless you have a crazy-long cable run) are completely negligible compared to the impedance of the speaker itself. Ergo, when put in series with the speaker, they will not change the load seen by the amplifier, nor the signal seen by the speaker to any measurable degree.

    4. Yes, fair points distler...

      My measurements of my DIY "Colorful Cables" here are in fact not too far off already with better DCR than this. Not that these results should result in any problems at normal lengths.

  10. Ahmen, brother! I gave up on Paul McGowan as nothing but self-serving long ago. Darko is doing some informative stuff in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience. I appreciate his recent stuff on the Raspberry Pi. However, he quickly loses me with subjective evaluation of DAC accessories.

    1. Hi mgraves,
      Yeah, I certainly do not see things in black or white. It's good that Darko speaks about the Pi and inexpensive streaming solutions. Discusses CD without seeing LP through rose-tinted glasses.

      But he needs to be a bit more realistic when we get to contentious topics like cables. I think we can all appreciate the "audiophile cable" market as having a significant presence when it comes to advertising dollars and thus influence. I don't think anyone is surprised by the idea that the margins are excellent for the manufacturer who successfully sells $1000/m cables.

      As for McGowan... Again, he's part of the industry. And embodies the culture of that industry as one of its spokepersons. You kind of know the general direction a politician leans by what party he belongs to :-).

  11. Why agonise over this darko guy?
    he is just like any other hifi magazine or website:
    full of s..t
    look at the adverts of his website, it's clear who he works for. I just ignore him. there's nothing to loose, nothing to win. just another guy trying to make some money.

    1. Trust me pam,
      No agony here :-). It's actually kinda fun pointing out the silliness. I see this as a balancing act, sometimes let's show some MEASUREMENTS, other times let's explore the background, rationale, philosophy, the "MUSINGS" stuff. It's just saying what I think needs to be said and acts to encompass the technical, psychological, and social dimensions of this and probably any other hobby! To lose track of the totality potentially leaves us seeing only trees instead of forests.

      Yeah, Darko's trying to make money - presumably it's his career, that's good. As hobby participants, I think it's important that we also point out inconsistencies and insist on truth in reporting.

  12. Another fine article!

    Regarding the Darko/PS Audio interview, a couple things;

    Darko suggestion that objectivist/cheapo audiophiles have a financial motivation to claim cables don't make a difference. Arch rightly skewered this awkward logic. But there is an interesting point still to be made there: that IF <--- big "if" - there are some audible changes to be heard among certain cables, someone who is biased against this idea, who thinks it highly unlikely, may be less inclined to listen for them. And so may in fact have encountered these differences but didn't pay enough attention to notice them. Or even did notice them and brushed it off as sighted bias.

    That seems to me a fair concern about how a bias can influence what people hear as the one objectivists lob at subjectivists.

    But...that' why the METHOD counts so much. If scientists A says to scientists B "I believe this drug lowers blood pressure" scientist B doesn't say "Oh, that's great!" No, he says "What is your EVIDENCE? For that? What carefully controlled clinical trials have you produced, or can point to, to suggest I should believe it too?"

    There's a reason scientists don't just go around making statements of "belief" but rather put each other's claims through a crucible of careful skeptical vetting/evidence etc.

    Plenty of scientists "believe" things outside the lab that are very dubious. It's that which can be established through tighter controls demanded by expert colleagues which separate hunches and beliefs from reliable knowledge.

    Similarly, I don't really care if Darko tells me he knows some digital experts who "believe" high end USB cables can produce better sound. I'd like to know what EVIDENCE they have for it and what their METHOD was for justifying that belief.

    If they are simply falling in to standard audiophile subjective impressions - something everyone can be prone to no matter how knowledgeable - then it's really little better than the average subjectivist audiophile's "evidence."
    If they think they can point to technological differences in USB cables that produce audible differences, how have they correlated those effects and how have they established the threshold for those audible differences, and how have they accounted for imagination/bias in vetting those claims?

    No one has to turn in to a scientist in order to enjoy this hobby. We can enjoy it any way we want, whether we are in to measurements or utterly subjective. But when it comes to trying to actually understand what is going on, and justifying truth-claims that have real consequences to how we might spend our money, it makes sense to put our critical thinking caps on firmly.

    As to having a motivation to deny cables make a difference: from my perspective I would be fine with encountering good evidence that audiophile cables change the sound (for the "better"). Certainly I have some reason to be happy if they don't, because I can believe I'm getting about as good performance as is likely without having to spend lots of money. On the other hand, I have audiophile tendencies too, and I like the idea of "tuning my system" and pushing it's performance. So if there ARE ways to realize audible performance gains by some tweak, I'd like to know about it!

  13. Another thing:

    A comment from the interview where Darko speaks of having talked to audio engineer Clause Heinz (sp?) who apparently said of measurements: "They can only tell me if I've made a mistake. They cannot tell me how the speaker will sound."
    And Paul agrees.

    But...wha? This is one of those "sounds superficially wise" soud bites, but doesn't make a lick of sense when you just think about it. The only relevance having done something "wrong" is in regards to how that would affect the sound coming from the speaker. Otherwise...what's the point of measuring to indicate when you've done something "wrong" in the first place?

    But how can you have a notion of a "wrong" measurement without knowing what a "right" measurement should look like? If you know "X measurement will sound bad" then you know that "Y measurement will sound GOOD." That's why you are designing TOWARDS the "better sounding measurements." And that's why any decent speaker designer can to some degree have an idea what effects certain measured deviations will have sonically. Otherwise all these manufacturers with heavy investments in measuring devices would be wasted, shooting in the dark.

    And of course those who have taken a scientific approach to correlating measurable parameters to their audible consequences have been able to refine this quite well.
    A manufacturer like Harman Kardon, for instance, using testing techniques from the work of Floyd Toole and others, make positive predictions as to how speakers will sound based off measurements which predict listener preferences quite well.
    They aren't just saying "measurements can only tell us when we've made a mistake." That would offer NO positive movement forward via measurements and engineering. Rather they can say "Designing FOR X, Y, Z measurements is GOOD because we can predict from these how a speaker will sound."

    So, the quote from Dark is one of those pseudo-profundities that don't really hold up, but which are typically used as cover for the subjectivist approach to imply "they can't measure the important things we claim to be hearing!"

    1. Nice writing Vaal,
      I think you're right about these pithy "pseudo-profundities" some will trot out as if profound. Thanks for the well-reasoned input.

      Another one of these "wisdom quotes" is the classic von Recklinghausen: "If it measures good and sounds bad, -- it is bad. If it sounds good and measures bad, -- you've measured the wrong thing" which is fine for many situations but problematic when subjectivists use it to champion their belief that either measurements cannot capture something they believe they hear, or simply as a way to devalue the use of objective evaluation.

      As I discussed here awhile back:

      I still think that after the decades of understanding around audio performance, it should be "If it measures bad and sounds good, maybe your hearing isn't as good as you think" given the likelihood of measurement instruments surpassing the ears in all kinds of ways.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments folks! The depth of discussion is certainly a breath of fresh air compared to many audio-related places online.

  14. I would say that the Darko approach, is to simply use measurements to establish fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The beloved marketing technique. For that, I cannot fathom how anyone would consider him a "reviewer", rather than an extension of the audio marketing machine. Questioning objectivity of an expert is not the same as a conspiracy theory, and it should be the first thing any critical thinking person should do.

    Scientific communication is often misused by various media, either to make it more sensational, or to use as FUD (in marketing). Example: imagine there is a scientific publication that investigates the errors in USB transfer that in very rare cases there could be audible glitches because USB audio transfer isn't perfect. The same article could easily be quoted by Darko in a blog post "your cable might be ruining your sound", the perfect marketing pitch for selling fancy cables. The problem is of course that even though the statement is true, the word "might" means "extremely rarely", and the word "ruin" means "super tiny glitch". He would know that if he would go read Archimago's USB audio post from 2014.

    So, to conclude, they use science/measurements only up to the point of establishing doubt and fear. They never proceed to ask questions any reasonable engineer is concerned with, like "how serious is the problem", "how often does it happen", and "what (if any) are the audible consequences". They stop their science when fear, uncertainty, and doubt has been established, and then jump to the "it's definitely audible" conclusion, and then continue fantasizing about solutions for this apparent problem.

    Which leads us to the pathological type of audiophile: invest in all kinds of things that might be tampering with your sound, regardless of any proof if this is (1) likely to occur, (2) be severe enough to bother, and (3) actually audible.
    With that in mind, I think it's strange that no-one has touched the problem of cosmic rays causing bit flips in digital audio. Has no company offered protection for this yet?

    The sane approach to these issues is something you can find on this blogspot, and also in Archimago's responses on various forums to such FUD. Thanks for that!

    1. Hi Steven,

      It is rather remarkable that these folks don't bother to simply ask about "magnitude" of whatever is the fear du jour.

      It's telling that Darko shut down the comments section to his posts a few years back (something like 3 years ago now I think). But if you look back to stuff like his "AudioQuest Pearl and Vodka Ethernet cable review" 5 years back, we see a time when there was rather lively feedback to some of this salesmanship.

  15. How a cable designer can trust his latest design is better than the previous one if he has no serious scientific way of measuring what the cable is actually achieving electronically?

    1. Who knows DColby.

      Apparently they do... So just buy the next generation of Synergistic's cables cuz they're better and in Ted Denney we trust :-).

      That is all.

  16. One thing I don't understand in your construction is the twisting.

    Usually, one twists the positive and negative wires together, to reject EMI. But you've twisted a pair of positive wires together (and a pair of negative wires together). I don't see the point of that.

    1. Yup distler.

      The intent of the twist was more for "structural" reasons so that inside the braided sheath it wasn't just 2 parallel lengths of 12AWG wire. I don't think there's enough twisting to reject EMI.

      Empirically, doing this increased capacitance while reduced inductance a little bit, tested during cable construction. Not exactly audibly meaningful differences of course but on the principle that inductance is more important than capacitance for speaker cables, I stuck with this choice...

  17. I obtained low resistance and inductance with flexible 4x14awg (three phases plus ground) cable and the opposite wires connected together to form the + and - conductors.

  18. The "problem" with McGowan is that he is such a damn nice guy! He always tells his "facts" in such a friendly and nice way that everyone that doesn't know anything about the technical stuff definitely will believe him. That doesn't make him an expert thou, it makes him a seller. And that's all he is, a salesman. But since he have been doing this for so so many years even he have come to believe that he's an expert. It's really sad to see since he's one of the guys that keeps all these myths alive so both he and other companies can sell their so very much overpriced audio gear.
    So I'm really happy that you exist Archimago so you can balance out all these salesmen a bit. Thank you!

  19. Hehe, I dunno about you guys, but I'd feel a little stupid attaching regular zip chord to an amp that have cost me over 7k USD. I am not telling you what I paid for my speaker cable, cuz I believe some of you might see me as a victim of the snake oil business if I did. Anyway, there were improvements over the old cable, so I am happy ;)

  20. Also, I am disappointed these musings aren't mentioned here:

  21. I just stumbled upon this reply to a post on another blog:

    "If cables (apart from completely inadequate 'stupid' cables) can affect the sound audibly then it means that a phenomenon exists in science and academia that no one has an explanation for."

    That fella has got it wrong. At least from my point of view, because one of the last things I want my cables to do is affect the sound audibly. Some people never learn...

  22. The USB audio story comes down to something entirely different: Without code redundancy checking or any other parity bit check methods resulting in error correction or data re-run, the challenge is to have signal transmitted without faults and recombined in the correct manner; right first time. The signal of bits over a cable is pretty distinctive as such but can be influenced by cable capacitance or self induction. As such there can be "aliasing" where clear peaks and troughs start to overrun in signal timing. Hence this can be easily proven and measured with an osciloscoop. Show the difference "data in" versus "data out".

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