Getting what you want
When we set out to prove one thing or another we arrange tests to prove our theory.
For example, if you’re trying to prove there are no differences between cables or amplifiers there are any number of ways to prove that. One would be the difference or null test where an identical signal is passed through two samples: say an expensive audio interconnect vs. a cheap one. If there were actually a difference it would show up on the scope as such.
Since we know that changing input cables—a high-end version vs. a dimestore copy—on a power amplifier in a highly resolving system is easy to hear, the null test should show the difference. Yet, it may not. Do we then conclude there are no differences?
If our goal is to understand why we hear a difference then it’s incumbent on us to dig deeper. Our hypothesis didn’t give us the results we were looking for. Our ears detect a difference our meters and methods fail to uncover. The proper conclusion is not to stop there but to march forward until it can be satisfactorily explained.
Garth Powell of Audioquest proposed a method that just might have some answers. Since the change we hear comes out of the loudspeakers and affects the entire audio chain, it’s only logical we measure the entire chain to seek differences. This would involve using a microphone to capture the output of the system and then comparing the recorded files to find the differences. It’s essentially the same test I have done any number of times with the microphone in my iPhone which more than adequately picks up differences.
I haven’t the time nor the interest in performing these tests with any scientific rigor, but perhaps someone else wants to grab the flag and climb the mountain. It would have to be performed on a system where we actually do hear a difference.
Proving what we already know might be valuable to someone.
Just not me.
Oh, the lengths we go to
I have seen some crazy stuff in the 40 plus years I have been around audiophiles and high-end systems. Exotic room conditioning, trinkets aplenty, cables the size of my leg, claims of subatomic effects, components that sound different depending on their earthly orientation, low-frequency waves said to resonate with the Earth. In fact, I could spend hours relating some of the great tricks and techniques applied in service of better sound.
What’s interesting to me is the large number of these ‘tricks of the trade’ that actually work. In fact, more often than not fellow audiophiles have taught me great things that I routinely incorporate in my own system and recommend to others.
One of those suggestions I often hear about is separating cables from each other. You’ve no doubt seen the multitude of after-market cones, lifts, and strategies for elevating cables off the floor and separating them from the pack. While I don’t currently use these add-ons to isolate and improve performance, I do pay close attention to what sits next to each other.
In my experience, higher level cables radiate more than those of lower level. For example, speaker and power cables radiate more than low-level signal cables—yet low-level signal cables are far more susceptible to radiated interference the either of these higher level cable examples. Much depends on levels of shielding and the types of signals being transferred over those cables.
My rule of thumb is simple. Do what you can to keep speaker cables off the floor and away from any other cables. (the MG Audio cables I use are easy to simply stand on edge). Power cables are ok on the floor but should be dressed in a way that keeps them from interconnects. And above all, use balanced interconnects at every opportunity. Not only do they consistently sound better, but they can reject stray EMI that does get in.