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Monthly Post: How do YOU know what cables to buy?


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#1 of 37 OFFLINE   Clint Walker

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Posted December 13 2002 - 08:36 AM

Posted Image Here we go again...for those of you just receiving your latest issue of DVD ETC. Magazine...you will notice that we published the forum thread on DVD versus D-VHS. Some of the responses to this Thread will be published in March. The topic at hand: How do YOU know what cables to buy? Magazines rarely, if ever, review cables. So what criteria do you base your buying decision on when shopping for higher-end cables? Overall do you feel cables are essential to a good set-up or do you feel it's all marketing hype? Please keep the responses short and sweet and we appreciate your input.Posted Image
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#2 of 37 OFFLINE   Jason Harbaugh

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Posted December 13 2002 - 12:51 PM

I believe cables are a product of deminishing returns. The difference between the stock, hair thin wires and a $20 'high' performance set from Rat Shack definately shows a difference. But then the difference from the $20 to the $50 'brand name' isn't as staggering. Then the difference between the $50 'brand name' and the $100 'elite' is practically non-existant. I have rarely been impressed by the difference between $20 'high' performance cables and $100 'elite' performance cables during side by side tests at least to the point that makes it worth the money. I think it is mostly hype, but only when you get beyond the 'brand name' quality cables.

It does sadden me when I see someone buy a brand new speaker setup and they end up using the 50 cent 24ga speaker wire that came with the system.

#3 of 37 OFFLINE   Clint Walker

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Posted December 15 2002 - 05:24 AM

Jason, you have responded with some valid points and the ever popular argument of "diminishing returns." I have several arguments for the importance of cable that I would like to throw out there in hopes that it will light up this thread a bit...

"DVD Enthusiasts" argue technical specs all day long on the HTF and other forums. But none of those specs are worth more than the paper they're printed on without connections capable of relaying those dynamics.

I have to argue that anyone who owns more than 20 DVDs (which is pretty much 99.9% of the HTF members) can afford to make the investment on cables--and should. When it comes to diminishing returns, tell me what other component in your system will last forever? Software? Maybe. Cables, definitely. If speaker wire makes a difference, then doesn't the RCA cables before the amplified output? What use is increased dynamic headroom in the speaker wire if the dynamics aren't there in the first place?
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#4 of 37 OFFLINE   DanaA

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Posted December 15 2002 - 09:03 AM

I will not list brand names, but, for several reasons, I choose to go to companies specializing in good quality cables, which, if necessary can be customized to meet my needs. I had used many of the mass market cables and interconnects in the past and rarely, if ever, noticed a difference in sound or picture quality. I don't do double-blind tests, so this has to be taken as only my impressions to a large extent. My first cable that was ordered from a specialist company was one for my subwoofer. Did I notice a difference in the sound quality? I felt I did. The bass was better defined. Another difference I noticed that was there was the construction quality of the cable and its connects was much better. By the look and feel of the thing, I felt it would last a good deal longer. And, in actuality, it didn't cost more than cables I could have purchased at my local chain stores. Where I'm sure I noticed a difference was in the component cables I bought for my Mitsubishi HDTV. There was a noticable improvement in picture definition and color depth and it was observed by other members of my family as well. When I purchased a semi-hi-end CD player recently, the dealer suggested $400 audio interconnects and said the player would benefit from interconnects ranging all the way to $1000. I held off, but, not wanting to restrict the performance of my new player, did a huge internet search on cables. I finally found a custom cable maker that used very high quality parts and sold for an extremely (in fact, unbelievably good) price. This builder had received very positive reviews of his products, many by customers who had used pretty comparatively high end cables before. Most felt that his cables bettered the performance of cables they had used which cost much more. There wasn't a single negative review and this on a site where users of his product could write positive or negative comments. I bought two sets of his audio interconnects. I'm not an expert in these kinds of things, but the quality of build appeared exceptional. I will purchase new speaker cables from this man in the very near future. Again, the cost was perhaps less than certain interconnects commonly found at large chain type stores.

Oops, just noticed the keep it short part. So, my keep it short part is below. Sorry.


As a general rule, I want well built cables, using quality materials, that are more reasonably priced than some of the higher priced botique brands.

#5 of 37 OFFLINE   Clint Walker

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Posted December 16 2002 - 06:38 AM

Posted Image I agree with the pricing. I will never consider myself they type who will spend $1,000 on a 1 meter pair of interconnects. Some of the pricing has just gotten way out of line.
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#6 of 37 OFFLINE   ManojM

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Posted December 16 2002 - 10:38 AM

Well Jason, although I have to agree with you on the diminishing returns remark, I do have to say that the resolution of the system also plays a part. Once upon a time I used to think that expensive cables were just voodoo, after all it is just wire isn't it? I have learned through experience that cables can make a signficant difference, and in a more ambitious system cheap cables can really hinder it. At one time I hooked up a good ($3K)processor to a good amplifier ($3.5K) using inexpensive interconnects (one step above Radio Shack) because that is what I had available at the time. When I put in better cables, the difference in soundstage, imaging, and clarity was not just subtle, but astounding. My fiance heard the difference from the next room and came in to ask me what I had done. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to experiment with many different cables, and the differences as they get more expensive are definitely more subtle, but that initial step into good interconnects and speaker cable is significant. Where that point is in dollars is different for different systems. I have to say that I have found the difference in between a $20 interconnect and a $100-$150 interconnect is like night and day, but when you move up to a $400 interconnect on a more ambitious system, the difference is more subtle, but once you hear it, it's hard to go back. I liken to having layers of material over your speakers, the better the cable, the more material is removed. After a while there is only a little veil left, and removing that only makes a very subtle change. Some of the more expensive cables are not necessarily "better", but add a different sound to the system that some people like, and are willing to pay for.
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#7 of 37 OFFLINE   Jason Harbaugh

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Posted December 16 2002 - 12:34 PM

I figured I would get some smack back with my post. :b

I admit I did over generalize but Clint did say to keep it short. Posted Image If I had money to burn would I spend it on the best cables I could find? Of course. Would the average "mass market" Joe and Jane that DVD Etc. is aimed at? No. They probably don't have a $3k processor or amplifier. They most likely have a $400 Sony or Kenwood. Would they really benefit from Elite cables or even a step down from Elite? Probably not. That is all that I used as my basis for what cables they would most likely benefit the most from. Now if they or I did have that kind of equipment then heck yeah, throw the best cables you can find at them. Posted Image

Overall I think we all are on the same page, just at different scales. As the old saying goes, your system is only as good as your weakest link. In most systems, that weakest link are the cables.

#8 of 37 OFFLINE   ManojM

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Posted December 16 2002 - 02:37 PM

Jason, absolutely no intention on my part to "smack" you, just rather put out my thoughts and how they have evolved over time. Posted Image I agree with you completely that cables are dependant on the system, and for a person with an inexpensive system, expensive cables are not the place to put your money. Even those with relatively inexpensive systems would realize some benefit from decent speaker cables to the front three, and some decent digital interconnects. For example Audioquest Type 6 is not terribly expensive, and neither is Nordost Flatline, and they do a very nice job as speaker cables. Those with more expensive, revealing (and yes, those may be mutually exclusive) systems may benefit from even better cables.
Manoj Motwani, M.D.
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#9 of 37 OFFLINE   Jason Harbaugh

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Posted December 16 2002 - 04:00 PM

Manoj, Nah, I meant in that 'tounge in cheak' kinda way. Posted Image No harm done.

And I definately agree with your post. Early this year I went from some generic 16ga speaker wire to oxygen free 12ga and I definately heard a difference.

I wonder what the opinion is of those that make their own cables.

#10 of 37 OFFLINE   Ronn.W

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Posted December 17 2002 - 03:20 AM

I see cabling as the cardiovascular system of any HT. With that in mind, I buy the best cables that I can afford, just like I buy the best HT equipment that I can afford.

#11 of 37 OFFLINE   Greg Robinson

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Posted December 17 2002 - 08:13 AM

Just to chime in here...

Jason, your original comment about the 24ga speaker wire included with many low-end systems is right on. My sister-in-law and her husband recently purchased a Kenwood "Home-Theater-in-a-Box" and it came with the thinnest speaker wire I have ever seen. When I helped them set everything up, better speaker wire was among my fist suggestions for improvement.

Sometimes I think that cheap red/white/yellow RCA interconnects and floss-like speaker wire should just be left out of the box. Many people tend to use what's in the box, never realizing their system's untapped potential.

#12 of 37 OFFLINE   Clint Walker

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Posted December 17 2002 - 02:27 PM

Excellent point Ronn...and I've nver heard it put that way.
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#13 of 37 OFFLINE   Phil Dally

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Posted January 09 2003 - 12:46 PM

When I was looking for speaker wire, the guy selling it likened it to a straw. The bigger the wire is, the more you can get out of it.
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#14 of 37 OFFLINE   Jason Harbaugh

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Posted January 09 2003 - 01:56 PM

That makes sense except it can get to a point where that extra 'pipe' does nothing but deminish your wallet. It is using a fire hose on your backyard water spicket. Sure the fire hose can support a lot more water but your spicket can only pump out so much.

I think the overall concensus here is to match the cables to your system. Even the most basic low end system can benefit from a cable upgrade over the stock cables but you don't need to get the best thing on the market to do so.

#15 of 37 OFFLINE   Ronn.W

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Posted January 11 2003 - 01:57 AM

Quote:
I think the overall concensus here is to match the cables to your system. Even the most basic low end system can benefit from a cable upgrade over the stock cables but you don't need to get the best thing on the market to do so.


Very accurate summary.

#16 of 37 OFFLINE   Mike Knapp

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Posted January 13 2003 - 12:51 AM

The cable wars will continue ad infinitum. I liken the issue to that of a Rorschach ink blot test. When shown the ink blots there are a group of people that will insist they see nothing more than an ink blot. These are the people that will also insist that a cable's specifications and measurements are what define it's sound.

Then there are those that will see a variety of things in the ink blots. These are the individuals that will hear the variances in cables regardless of what the specifications and measurements say. The funny thing is that although they are all looking at the same ink blot, they do not all see the same image. The blot has not changed from viewer to viewer but the image has. Although the cable's specs have remained constant, the interpretation of their sound varies from individual to individual.

I am of the camp that says to assume any of our senses work any differently is foolhardy. Each of us will hear, see taste, smell, and feel differently and interpret those things in a way unique to us...regardless of the stability of the input stimulus. A cables sound must be more than the sum of its measurements just as the ink blot is more than any measurement that can be applied to it.

As to how to get information...one must listen for ones self. Try cables with return policies and keep your mind open. There are a variety of sources for "cable reviews". The internet is a place to gather user preferences and a good starting place. Find a user that has similar tastes to yours and that you may agree with on things of the sonic nature and see what they are using. Reviews are nice, but see what they are actually using in their systems.

"Try before you buy" is always the best policy. Keep that open mind and make your own decision. If you hear the differences that is really all that matters.

Mike

#17 of 37 OFFLINE   francisco-a

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Posted January 21 2003 - 05:37 AM

I bought some Pure Sonic RCA, gold connectors, and the diference with my sony optical, it´s just amazing.

I say go for better cables.


#18 of 37 OFFLINE   John_VI

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Posted January 22 2003 - 02:58 AM

I seriously question the "popular wisdom" of spending 20% of your equipment budget on cables. That's just marketing hype designed to enrich the manufacturers of OVERPRICED so-called "premium" cables. It's akin to DeBeer's creating the now-popular belief that it is necessary to spend two month's salary on an engagement ring. My system, including H/K receiver, Toshiba DVD Player, H/K 2-ch amp, Definitive speakers, SVS sub, and a Toshiba 32" analog TV is modest, but still tips the scales at about $4500. Do I honestly need to spend $900 on cables?? I don't think so!
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#19 of 37 OFFLINE   MalcolmC

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Posted March 09 2003 - 01:41 AM

Hello: I'm a new member who is going to purchase a complete HT system in early December of this year. All the discussion in this forum regarding cables has been interesting and informative. The dealer I am using suggested just what you all are saying, use quality cables at the mid-point. I'll be interested in the up-coming reviews in the magazine. Thanks for the assistance!

#20 of 37 OFFLINE   videobruce

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Posted September 28 2003 - 11:41 AM

No one has really pointed out the fact no matter how much you pay or don't pay, other than maybe some speaker cable, NO ONE gives the wire gauge in any specs of any of these shielded cables either audio or video.

Forget the fancy gold connectors, forget the heavy jacket/insulation. None of that really means a whole lot if the center conductor is 26 gauge even if it is just a short jumper let alone one over 15'!