Tag Archives: speaker cables

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.

Conventions

Ever wonder why salad forks are smaller than dinner forks? Is it easier to pierce a shard of lettuce with a smaller instrument?

I suspect it is merely convention. Sometime in the past when we were worried about being fancy there likely had to be a way to distinguish between the proper etiquette of which utensil to use, which side of the plate the napkin went on, and so forth.

Downton Abbey style.

When it comes to audio we too have our conventions. The hot seat listening position. Long interconnects and short loudspeaker cables. Long speaker cables and short audio interconnects. Wash the vinyl before playing. Warm the equipment before listening. Turn the lights down low.

The list is likely exhaustive.

Some conventions are born from experience while others are simply “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

The thing about conventions is to always question them.

Are they helping or hindering?

Sometimes we realize our conventions are holding us back. That’s the time to reevaluate and readjust.

Else we get stuck in a rut.

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.

Syrup on pancakes

In the 1990s, the idea of an AC power conditioner feeding a stereo system was about the same as adding syrup to pancakes: a nice but unnecessary sweetener.

Few people thought of power conditioners, and later AC regenerators, as being essential elements in a high-end audio chain. In fact, even as late as the early 2000s, most audio systems didn’t pay any attention to the quality of AC power feeding gear or the benefits of protection from surges and spikes.

Today, we’ve come to accept the idea that everything we hear in our systems starts out as raw AC—and the better and safer that source the closer we can get to the music we wish to reproduce in the home.

It takes a long time for a new concept to get accepted into the fold. Just think back to when no one batted an eye at using lamp cord for speaker cables.

I still like maple syrup on my pancakes, but instead of an afterthought or something nice to have, I find it an essential ingredient.

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.

Diferent: better or worse?

My friend Seth tried out new speaker cables. They were definitely different—a fact in itself that surprised him—but were they better?

Apple just unveiled its new operating system, Big Sur. Better or worse? Well, on the one hand, they have completely hosed their mail app and its ability to work with Exchange (forcing me to abandon it after all these years). On the other hand, the integration with their apps and desktop programs is better.

Different doesn’t always equate to either better or worse.

What we can say is that different often requires us to adjust our brains, routines, and lives to accommodate. After time we discover the new is better in some ways, worse in others.

Sometimes different is immediately better or worse: fully supporting our current mojo, or so far away as to be alien. This sometimes happens when evaluating equipment—clear and unequivocally one direction or another. But more often than not different is a mixed bag of improvements that challenges our abilities to adapt and forces us to question whether or not its worth the time and energy to find out.

For me, I work hard at offering different time and space enough for proper evaluation.

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.

Cable elevators

Over lunch with engineer Darren Meyers we got to talking about systems and when it’s time to turn to cable elevators for improvements. Cable elevators get the speaker cables off the floor and improve sound quality: they are ultra-tweaks. Your system needs to be at a certain point of perfection before they matter.

Some audiophiles dress their systems to the nines without ever going through the step-by-step audition process to find if any of their efforts actually help—kind of like automatically adding spice without tasting. Others get everything as right as rain and then start the process of ultra-tweaking, listening along the way.

I find myself in both camps at different times. If I’m hustling through a setup for a show or helping someone with theirs, then we dress everything in the system as best we can and cross our fingers for best results. But when the system is part of our long term project it’s best if we tweak a little at a time, listening along the way.

My best systems have come about because I take what I like to call the ladder approach—each change happens in step-by-step order.

The careful grooming of a system generates more than just great sound. You gain knowledge as well.

 

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 psychological than real, people would probably not know the difference between speaker wire lengths in a blind test. However, as Audiophiles, we are neurotic group, so a no go.

I think interconnects are as important as speaker cables, but as long as low inductance on speaker cables and low capacitance on interconnects, things should be good, without spending a fortune.

Audiophile cabling can be a crazy thing.

Same length cables

One of the often asked questions concerns speaker cable lengths. Should they be identical?

For some reason, we rarely ask the same question about interconnects. Interconnects feel like a pair and I have never seen anyone use them otherwise. But, speaker cables? All the time I see differing lengths of speaker cables.

I succumbed to this oddness at several points in my long audio journey, and each time I found myself squirming in the listening chair, uncomfortable in the knowledge one speaker was different than the other.

Here’s the thing. Of all the analog interconnects in your system, speaker cables have the most impact on sound quality. The interactions between speaker and power amplifier are complex, forming a type of network that impacts the audio. So, while it might feel wrong to have to coil up the speaker cables for one speaker, while the other channel sits in a proper straight-line connection between amp and speaker, you’re better off with two equal lengths.

Where cables are concerned, symmetrical lengths rule the day.

 

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.

Short and sweet

Why is short sweet, and simple better?

Are we averse to complexity or do we simply object to clutter?

When I want to grasp a concept or understand a new idea, it’s always helpful to drill past the particulars until I can reach the core of meaning. In this way, I can wrap my head around something complex without drowning in details.

Of course, it is the details that make the whole work. Change one of them and the outcome is different. For example, modeling a power amplifier as a representative block within a system assumes the perfect device. If we’re trying to make a judgment about what speaker cables should work in the system we’re likely not taking into account the details of the amp driving those cables: damping factor, power bandwidth, etc.

Yet, it is those very details that often get the best of us when we sit down to listen.

Short and simple are indeed sweet, but it’s the details that often tell the story.

If you’re digging for answers, we’re here to help.

 

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.

Short vs. long

If we have a choice (and we almost always do), we’d prefer short speaker cables to long interconnects. This because passing unimpeded music down a speaker cable into the complex load of a speaker is far more of a challenge than sending music between two low-level sources or controllers.

Sources and controllers are almost always easy loads. Low impedance out and higher impedance in. The signal size isn’t too big and properly designed equipment and cables have an easier time making it from point A to point B without too much trouble.

That’s hardly the case when delivering high powered, high voltage signals to speakers. Here, the challenge of passing music unimpeded is magnified by 30 times in the voltage realm and thousands of times in the current world. To make matters worse, speakers are finicky, demanding clients. Their impedance is all over the map. To get music to sound right we must deliver both voltage and current without distortion or modification.

As a rule of thumb, it’s good to arrange your system around this idea of short speaker cables. When we’re at shows it’s not a problem because we want the audience to see our equipment while the music’s playing, so all cables are short. But, near the speakers is not sonically the best place for sources and controllers, but hey! it’s a show and we’re here to get people into the equipment. At home, we’d like to keep our sources as far from the speakers as we can.

When it comes to speaker cables, short’s the ticket.

 

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.

I am always surprised…

…but rarely shocked when overwhelming evidence doesn’t at least spark a modicum of curiosity.

Take the subject of Climate Change. We might dismiss California’s unprecedented droughts and fires as a warning, but when NASA and 18 scientific bodies again shows clear evidence our world is warming, one would think it might raise at least an eyebrow.

Or when 11,400 scientists from around the world warn us about it in yet another report.

And yet…

I am not here to argue either way but I think my readers know my thoughts.

No, I am more interested in how we get to these long-held beliefs and why we cling to them with such tenacity. That’s a subject that fascinates me and applies directly to our beloved stereo systems.

I am understanding of long-held beliefs. I have many (like my stance on going direct with DACs, or short speaker cables vs. long—all thrown out in the face of new evidence). And I understand the desire to cling to them because change requires more than admitting we were wrong. It requires a new thought process, perhaps even a course correction.

But, once changed, new vistas open. It’s freeing.

We work hard building our worldviews, and even harder changing them.

But, change keeps us alive and healthy.

 

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.

Radical ideas

Whenever I hear the term “radical new idea” two things happen: my ears perk up and my caution guard goes up too.

I think most of us are both interested and skeptical of radical change. We love the idea of the new, the radical, the brass ring solution that leapfrogs us away from the land of incremental changes. And yet, how many times have we been disappointed? The 200 mpg carburetor, the Bedini Box speaker cables.

Most radical ideas go nowhere but on occasion, they spark improvements in the tried and true. I remember our first discovery that huge oversized transformers improved the audio performance of source equipment and that discovery lead to the creation of the Power Plant AC regenerators.

The cycles between radical shifts in technology seem to be becoming shorter. Vacuum tubes to transistors happened in a 50-year cycle while the move from analog to digital audio was a little more than half that.

With all the work on new materials for generating sound like graphene and the research on beamforming to direct sound to specific locations, I am guessing we’re in for a radical new approach in the field of reproduction by the middle of the next decade. That’s not a lot of time.

I’ll also wager that the new approach, whatever it is, will come out of left field—or certainly a field far from high-end audio.

As I write these words some companies are installing audio beam projectors capable of following individuals in a crowded public area to spam them with advertising—and only the targeted individual will hear it. Applied to a stereo system it means sound could track the individuals within a room perhaps moving the soundstage with the person.

It’s fun to imagine what the future might hold for audiophiles like us.

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.

Shooting down troubles

One of the hallmarks of a good technician is an ability to troubleshoot problems. It’s an art, actually, but one that fortunately can be taught.

When we are faced with problems we can’t fix with our tried and true methods our first reaction is often one of panic: nothing seems to work in the system even though all the equipment is powered up. It might just be you’re on the wrong input or the speaker cables are disconnected, but at the moment, you’re over-whelmed.

The experienced troubleshooter switches modes from flummoxed to sleuth. The whole of the problem is put on hold as the experienced detective methodically questions their assumptions. One by one, we verify each assumption as valid or invalid: powered up, controls in the right position, connecting wires intact, sources selected, etc.

Once assumptions have been verified and there’s still the problem, the savvy fixer next switches into the if-then mode. If this is true, then this must also be true: if the amp’s power is on and it’s connected, then when I touch my finger to its input connecting cable I should get a hum. Then move on.

The process is nearly always the same:

  • Exhaust all simple fixes
  • Question and validate assumptions
  • Move to if-then mode

Separate the trouble into these three logical steps and the problem has nowhere to hide.