Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

More from Paul on the break in process of audio and home theater electronics.

Another clue

One big clue about the nature of break-in. Memory.

We know that once broken in, cables and components retain many of the benefits earned through extended playing time.

If we put our Sherlock hats on we could make some guesses as to what kinds of characteristics are capable of being stored.

Capacitors change character after voltage has been applied to them in a process called forming. Forming changes the oxide layer of the insulating dielectric necessary for the capacitor to function properly. Over time and use, this layer’s thickness can change for the better. And there are other changes to capacitors as well.

Cable insulation can also retain a charge. AudioQuest (among others) actually add a battery to throw a high voltage on the insulation for better performance. Something similar happens when we run electrical currents through the cable.

Whatever is happening in break-in, the effects last for some time before the device or cable slowly reverts back to its original state.

If we don’t know specific answers to unanswered observations, we use clues to help us reverse engineer the answer.



Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Paul is talking about breaking in audio and home theater components and this is something I truly believe in.

There are two different types of breaking in. One is breaking in new components, whether it is electronics, speakers or cables. I have found, with complicated electronics, that this can take up to 500 hours of playing time.

The Parasound JC-1 monoblock amplifiers I owned 10 years ago  come to mind here. They were the most extreme example I’ve experienced with break in of audio components. They sounded great out of the box and then gradually got darker and darker sounding. Then, they started lighting back up until they got what I considered neutral.  The they kept going lighter, until I thought their final sound was tilted up in the treble. Then they started a downward trend until they got it right. Nice amps….

The other is more what I would call warm up and to me, both need to happen with music playing. I warm my system up for at least an hour, each time I plan on listening, which is pretty much every day.

Here is Paul.
Saving up

The best sounding cables I have heard were a bare set of wires. Hardly practical in the real world, cables without shielding and insulation sound better than those with them.

We insulate cables so their conductors don’t electrically touch each other. We shield them with tin foil or woven metal to protect them from noise.

None of these techniques of isolation and noise reduction improve sound quality. Air is the best insulator and a noise free environment what we hope for if we want to avoid shielding. Unfortunately, dangling conductors in the air is as impractical as hoping for a noise free environment. Insulation and shielding are necessary evils.

The problem with insulators is energy storage. When a signal is passed along the conductor they cover, small portions of the signal are stored then released in the insulation. This effect can be measured and enumerated using what’s known as the Dielectric Constant. If we’re building a capacitor we want that number high. If it’s a cable, the lower the number the better.

Of the readily available insulation materials, Teflon has one of the lowest dielectric constants—far lower than standard insulation. But Teflon’s expensive and hard to work with, which is why it’s used sparingly.

In our ongoing discussion of break-in, I suspect it is this dielectric constant that changes with signal.