Is expensive cable making better sound quality?
There is so much hype on audio interconnect and speaker cables and many audio enthusiasts claim that audio cables make a noticeable difference and spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on cables.
To find out if they really matter, who would be the ideal person to ask?
We found very interesting Youtube videos and the YouTuber spent a lot of time asking many industry-leading companies to find out the answer and definitely worth sharing.
The publisher asked the following questions.
1. Power Cable
The electricity we use is supplied through complex biases and long paths. By the way, I wonder if it is safe to believe that replacing the power cables to the audio equipment can improve the sound quality.
2. Data Cable Audio equipment uses many data transmission standards such as USB, Firewire, TB and so on. I wonder if changing the data cable will change the data of 0 and 1 and it can lead to better sound quality.
3. Audio Cable We know that analog audio cables are even more disputed. There are many people who say, “I hear a sound I could not hear before” when replaced with cables of hundreds or thousands of dollars. I wonder if such a huge change is possible by replacing the cable.
Here are professional and high-end audio component manufacturers who answered the above questions.
1) Prism Media Products Ltd
In general, we find that the professional audio industry is more practical than the HiFi market. Certainly, it is important to listen to equipment to check the performance, however, the designs of our equipment are aimed at producing a performance that can be measured. Our measurement equipment is able to measure for distortions and corruptions at a very high level, and in general, we don’t believe that cables will improve the sound.
Regarding power cables – we know of studios that have been fitted with silver cables for mains…. But the power comes from the public system which uses regular copper cables…
It would be possible to corrupt a digital signal with a poor cable. The signal is 1s and 0s, however, the frequency and regularity that they come through may be important- and this ‘jitter’ is the subject of lots of discussion in the audio world. However, jitter is something that we are able to measure and we test our equipment under extreme conditions of jitter. Our clocking system Is designed to reject jitter and produces the best quality analog output/input regardless of jitter. So, it may be possible for a USB cable to affect the quality of a converter, but with Prism Sound equipment, an expensive USB cable is not necessary.
There is perhaps something to be said for using good-quality analog cables. And one consideration is that some people like to use expensive cables, they look nice and it makes them feel confident in the sound. I have learned to avoid arguments about cables quality and differences in certain conditions. Some people claim to be able to hear the difference when no difference should be possible and I would not tell them they are wrong.
So reality, NO, we don’t believe that expensive cables will improve the sound quality of our equipment.
2) Antelope Audio
First of all, we recommend the use of the original power cable provided with the interface. Additionally, it would be better if you connect all the audio equipment to an individual chain where no lighting equipment such as lamps etc., is not connected as these might interfere with the sound.
Secondly, the Thunderbolt connection would provide you with more bandwidth which would mean that all the information that contains the amplitude and the sound would be transferred faster to your computer which could potentially enrich the quality of the sound and reduce the overall latency. However, USB should work fine too and provide enough bandwidth for most uses.
Thirdly, it is up to you what analog cable to use. There are some very expensive cables that are made of silver and expensive metals which could provide higher quality sound but considering the price, it is not worth buying such cables. I would suggest spending the money on some other audio equipment rather than investing a lot of money in cables. This is my personal opinion and this topic is quite subjective.
The power cable you use with an interface does matter, but only in that it needs to sufficiently power the interface without over-powering it either. It does not affect the audio quality, only the interface’s ability to operate correctly. For this reason, we always recommend using the power supply that comes with the interface.
The data cable you use is less important. As long as the cable can provide a stable connection to your computer, it will perform at the same level as any other USB FW/Thunderbolt cable would.
Audio cables are the most important factor here, but you need not spend a lot of money on these cables either. As you said, a regular cable in good condition with basic shielding will provide sufficient performance. Some cables are technically better than others. For example, those with gold plated connectors vs those without, but in the end, any properly functioning cable will do just fine.
A lot of recording engineers focus too much on the equipment they use to record, instead of the music itself. Save yourself the money and don’t spend too much on cables.
Most good audio equipment will have a power supply that will effectively smooth out any noise or interference from the mains. This is typically done using capacitors and regulators which filters out any sudden spikes and keeps the voltage being fed to the audio circuits at a constant level. Any interference which may therefore have been picked up by a mains power cable will be removed by these elements of the power supply. I therefore don’t believe that upgrading the cable will change the audio characteristics of a device.
Again, I don’t believe that digital cables will directly impact the audio quality. As you mention the data being sent is digital and made up of 1s and 0s. Even if interference occurs, it is unlikely to corrupt the data to the point where it is unreadable to the receiver and even cheaper cables will have sufficient shielding to stop most interference.
There is more reason to use high-quality audio cables, especially if the cables are going to be used over longer distances. Better shielding will reduce interference pickup from the environment, however, this is less of a concern for balanced connections as common mode noise will be rejected anyway. A small increase in audio quality may be heard from cables where capacitance is minimized as this can affect the frequency response but this may not hold true for all audio setups.
The main advantage to most expensive cables is that they tend to be better built and will therefore hold up better to being plugged and unplugged without being damaged. In a studio environment, there is important but obviously, this isn’t as much of a concern in a Hi-Fi setup.
Having a steady and uninterrupted by the power supply is important in getting clean audio. If your power is dirty, so is your audio. Hence, studios often use power conditioners and modified transformers to run clean power. The power cable itself won’t necessarily impact audio.
Data cable makes absolutely no difference as to the quality of the audio. It’s important, however, that you use a functional cable. Otherwise, your audio won’t work at all or your interface will have an intermittent connection.
Cable is made of wires, using materials that are conductive to electricity. It’s true that the quality of cable can make a difference in the low end and high end of signals. There is lots of science to this that I’m not really familiar with, but I’m sure there are millions of papers written on the conductivity of the metal.
No, I don’t think the power cables make any difference in the sound.
A poorly made data cable or a data cable with bad connectors or in poor condition can cause data dropout that can affect the sound. You would hear that as clicks and pops and other noise not as tone or level changes.
Well-made cables in good condition should be fine and should all sound the same. It’s not the case that buying a fancy data cable makes the sound better than a less fancy but well-made cable in good condition.
However, some computer data buses are designed to be used with short cable runs. USB, FireWire and Thunderbolt are all examples. There are specialized cables that allow you to have longer cable runs. For example, Conning of New York in the USA makes optical cables for the purpose.
Here I disagree. With analog audio, better quality cables and connectors make a difference in noise and reliability. Differences in tone are the part that is debated, and I am skeptical about the extremely expensive cables making a difference that we can actually hear. I think that is a waste of money. But that is the extreme. If you have a very good quality cable, you are fine but do not buy cheap cables.
There is no such thing as a universal cable. There are differences between types of cables for different uses. In addition to quality differences, and both matters. Speaker cables sometimes is not shielded because the levels are so high it is not as necessary but a well-shielded speaker cable will last you and is a good investment. Guitar cable quality is especially important, and there are a lot of cheap cables with bad connectors on the market that you should avoid completely. Mic signals are very low level and you want an especially high-quality shield and wire in your mic cable to avoid inducing noise. Line cable (for keyboards, outboard gear, etc.) are sort of in the middle but again, quality matters. It is not just the wire, quality connectors are very important.
I say DO buy very good quality cables with good shielding and very good connectors. Cable from Pro Co, Whirlwind, Canare, Kopul, and similar companies are worth the money.
7) Universal Audio
I do not believe that the power cable itself will affect the sound quality of the interface. There is the potential for grounding issues that can sneak into a unit if the power supply itself is not properly grounded within the building’s circuitry. There is some relevance to that. It wouldn’t be the power cable itself but plugging an interface into a power conditioner or clean power source could prevent electrical grounding issues and the hums and buzzes associated with electrical grounding problems.
The quality of the data cable used to connect the devices would not affect the audio interface’s sound quality. You are right that the signals that these cables carry is DATA and a higher quality cable vs a lessor quality cable would not alter the data that is being transferred at all. Poor quality data cables could be prone to failure and device stability problems which could cause discounts if the cable were problematic, but sound quality would not be affected.
The analog audio cables between the instruments and the interface, and between in the interface and the speakers could potentially affect the sound quality in my opinion. The cable would need to be shielded properly to properly reject noise and electrical interference. Different quality cables could do a better job at this than others. I would usually suggest a higher-quality audio cable from the interface to the speakers because this is such an important connection. Some people swear that gold connectors, vacuum-sealed cabling, extra signal boosters etc. can improve sound quality and this can be heard. This would be the most feasible thing that could possible affect audio quality. I have not been able to hear a difference myself personally between one brand of audio cable over another but there are some people that swear they could hear a difference.
What do all of these Professional Audio Component Manufacturers say after all?
In short, power cable, data cable, or audio cable does not improve sound quality.
For the power cable, it is sufficient to use the stock cable that comes with an audio component.
For data cable, unless it is poor quality, standard cables that we can find from the electrical shop would be sufficient.
For Audio Cable, the expensive cable does not improve sound quality and good pro cables such as Canera, Belden, and other good but not expensive cables that also come with good quality connectors are more than sufficient, and no need to spend much money.
Some might say that those are all pro-audio component-related companies and how about Hi Fi Audio Manufacturers?
The publisher asked Hi-End Audio UK Manufacturer, ATC which is also one of our favorite HiFi Speaker manufacturers, and here are their answers to the above questions.
In our experience, the power cables we supply are capable of performing their function. Often the mains power can be “dirty”, i.e. it has harmonic and/or DC content, it can vary in voltage hugely depending on network quality and demand etc, but even in the worse cases, the only real way to deal with that is to filter the fundamental, or regenerate the signal. Also, even when the mains isn’t perfect, it’s impact on audio performance is arguable. In the end, the mains condition is most likely not the limiting factor in the performance of a system.
You are correct, the purpose of a data cable is to carry 1’s and 9’s. The only contributing factor a cable can have on that is the degradation of the edges of those on/off signals. Long cable runs, poor-fitting sockets, etc can degrade the definition of the 1’s and 0’s (imagine the original square wave developing rounded edges) so that when they are at the receiver end they are less defined, increasing the chances of reading errors and jitter. Most digital data streams utilize error correction which exists as built-in 1’s and 0’s that are used to replace lost bits. This is why a CD can be read when it has scratches. So, in short, yes the quality, length, and termination in a cable can influence the integrity of the signal. However, most moderately priced data cables are perfectly adequate.
Again, we think that in most cases the cable is not the limiting component in the performance of the system. We tend to use appropriately specified cable and it causes no problems.
The answer from ATC who produces very high-end Hi-Fi audio components was almost identical to other Pro Audio manufacturers.
Then, how about well-respected Hi-End Studio Monitor Manufacturers who produce studio monitors that cost from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars such as Genelec, Barefoot Sound, and Amphion?
There is a lot of make-believe in consumer audio. Unless it’s used for a very big amp, changing power cables does not make a difference to sound quality.
Considering digital cables, if the connection is reliable and the receiving device is professional, there is also no need to buy more expensive cables. However, for long cables, or in cases where the connection is sometimes lost, better cables can occasionally be an improvement.
For analog connections, it’s also rare that changing cable makes any audio difference. This would mostly be the case with long cables or semi-pro equipment.
I would generally advise you to spend money on good quality connectors (e.g. XLRs) rather than expensive voodoo cables.
10) Barefoot Sound
As long as the power cable you are using is insulated and the wires inside are t hick enough for the application of the cable, you should have no problem with a power cable. Most often changes to the power supply of a device would make more difference than the AC cable. I would make sure you have a regulating power conditioner for your audio equipment.
Cheaper data cables can cause intermittent connections which lead to errors and mistakes in the data transfer. They can also be more susceptible to interference from other devices or RF signals. I would recommend using cables with Ferrite beads on each end of the cable.
Audio cables are possibly the most disputed. I personally use a quad Microphone/Line cable in my set up. There are several manufacturers for this type of cable including Mogami, Canare, Gotham, and Redco. I use Redco as it is cheaper.
Unlike other manufacturers who were responded by their engineers, Amphion was responded by CEO, and here are the responses.
Cables are generally discussed quite a bit on the HiFi side. One of the reasons is that they tend to have quite high margins, and therefore they are pushed quite much in the market. My experience with cables is that they tend to be system-dependent. In a high-resolution system, cables do matter, but one must evaluate the effects in one’s own system. If the system sounds better, one can then evaluate if the difference is worth the money or if similar change/improvement can be achieved via some other means. For example, via acoustic room treatment, speaker placement, or other accessories such as stands, isolation devices, etc.
Make only a single component change at a time. Also, I would make sure that the basics of the system configuration and system setup are done correctly before starting to play with cables. Especially in HiFi cables are often used as a way to fine-tune the tonality of the system, which I do not think is the correct way at all.
Often more pronounced results are achieved with slight repositioning of the speakers for example.
While there is no right and wrong in HiFi, pro is different. In studios, we must be always kept in mind that if something sounds better it does not automatically lead to a better translation. It can actually mean a loss of translation. (Translation is a term used to describe how what you hear/make on a certain speaker comes across in another playback system.)
The balance and performance of all Amphion systems are always optimized for translation. We always tend to say that it is not about what you hear. It is about what your customer hears. When a customer already has a speaker cable and/or when he wants to evaluate it, we always ask them to use our cable as a reference. It has been proven to work in terms of translation. (The same applies to using/testing some other amp).
This makes it easy to keep our complete system as a reference point and therefore evaluate, which kind of possible change in the system’s sound and/or translation introducing a new component will bring.
Cables tend to raise tensions. Others rely only on measuring equipment. Others only on their ears. It is possible that our measurement technology does not tell everything about what is going on. Or that we are not fully measuring what we should measure? Ears are not totally reliable either – they are affected by our beliefs and perceptions. As conducting direct comparisons between cables is not possible it is possible that a high price of the component has a psychological effect in evaluating the differences? Us manufacturers are not unbiased either. Naturally, our views are shaped by what we make and what we sell.
Learning to listen is a lifetime process. The more you expose your ears to critical listening, the better they will perform. Therefore, keep an open mind. Respect other's opinions, but also work towards having your own. Do not make your judgment based on what you read. Make it based on what you hear.
HiFi is simple. There is no right or wrong. The only truth is your own perception.
If a component change – be it cable or something else- creates a difference only you can decide if that is worth the money. Or if it can be achieved via some other means. Pro is trickier due to translation. “A/B”ing differences is not enough. You must work with the system to see how it works.
If an investment produces a clear improvement into how your work sounds via third-party devices, it is most likely worth the investment. If not, especially in the modern environment, where the lowest octave is becoming increasingly important.
I would save the money for the future to either invest in a good extension system or into room treatment to get your room working better in the low frequencies. Correctly reproduced lowest octave has a really clear effect on the tonality of the rest of the frequencies also. This tends to be a must more profound than any cable change.
Then, How about Hi-End Audio Cable Manufacturers who do make those cables and offer to Pro and Consumer Audio Enthusiasts?
12) VOVOX AG
I can well understand your concerns. Being an engineer myself with a profound education, I would probably have the same position as you. However, more than 20 years ago, I learned in a practical experiment, that in fact, cables do affect sound quality. Just because I was so skeptical myself and this result was so unexpected. I wanted to find out the reasons why and how cables can affect sound quality. It is not possible to write the result of 20 years of research and testing in one email. Anyhow, in my opinion, there is only one way to prove if or if not our cables in fact are able to offer better sound: try it, listen carefully and make up your own mind.
It is not the electric current but the magnetic field of the power cord. The magnetic field influences other cables within about 1-meter distance. The shield is much more complex than most people believe. This means only the last meters of the power cable have to be of high quality.
For data the correct impedance (50/75/90/100/110 ohm) is important. Otherwise, reflections change the 0 and 1 data.
Even more crucial is the jitter the cable adds.
These timing errors change the analog signal after the DA converter.
Our cables have the lowest measuring jitter in the world.
Audio cable is very sensitive to small distortion produced by lack of material quality. The purest materials are expensive.
Our whole human hearing system is based on the interpretation of very small details and rhythmic patterns. Our research is based very heavily on analysis of how we interpret voice, sound, and music.
Both High-End Cable manufacturers do not share any actual data to prove that their cable is better than standard pro cables.
Pro cables such as Canare and Mogami, provide details of measurement on their cables datasheet. We are hard pressed to find any high-end cable manufacturers to provide an actual measurement of their cables to prove that their cable actually measures better than standard Pro Audio Cable. If you know of any, please do share !!
We hope this information helps you make most of your hard-earned money and spend where it really counts.