Reviews of audio equipment and other things, drawn from personal experience.

Cables Versus Connectors

Audio cables are made from usually, one thing. Copper. It can, like most cable, come in one or two forms: Solid, or standed. Or if your like Sennheiser, you may prefere to use a ‘litz’ wire, which is an oddly varnished (coated) stranded wire which makes resoldering a total pain in the ass.

From there, you have to connect the wire, which can be bare into a binding post or terminal block, or onto a connector like a XLR or phone plug. And there onto a jack post to receive the wire into the piece of equipment.

For things that need to be soldered, the choices are generally, either eutectic solder (like Kesler leaded 60/40) or silver bearing solder. The rule is eutectic, unless soldering to a silver plated connector, then use the silver solder.

For many audiophile companies, and resultingly, audiophiles, cables are a source to IMPROVE the sound. To me, they are a failure point to fuck it up. So my rule is: 1) Appropriate gauge for current 2) appropriate connector for application 3) appropriate jack for chosen connector and lastly, 4) appropriate solder for wire type and connectors.

And that is where my fascination with cables ends.

Because from what I have encountered, the audio cables are either made well, from good parts, and soldered well, or they are not. Luckily, for most connections the good parts for a cable can be had for around $10. And the cable itself can be had for around $0.50 to $1 per foot, depending on how many channels you need. So a ten foot unbalanced cable of the best available quality would run $5 for wire, and $5 for connectors, $10.

This is why I rarely buy premade cables. Because for a similar cable, it’s going to cost more than that, but use way crappier parts. The wire itself is usually fine, it’s just terminated to cheap connectors, with loose fittings, and soldered in a way that is sparse and prone to breaking or cold joints. The only real upside of premade is usually a good jacketing or heatshrinking, which can offset the mechanical issues in the cheap connectors and bad soldering, up until the solder joint fails, at which time you have to cut all of that shit off, and now work with cheap connectors. So to me, it’s not a worthwhile expense.

When I ran MortarWorks, I hooked up my Nautilus 802 speakers with 10 gauge speaker wire, that I bought by the foot from Mogami, and terminated to a pair of Cardas solder spades that cost $15 for the set. Overall, my speaker wires cost (Maybe?) around $30? Sounded great. And I ran audio to that system using mogami wire, terminated in your average Neutrik connector.

But some folks think, that there are huge gains to be found in ‘high end’ wire, and little porcelain trussels to keep the wire off the floor (I ran mine just across the fucking carpet). And Hey, maybe they do hear something different! But if they do, I’m willing to bet it’s because something is fucked up, rather than something is right.

If you browse the market of audiophile cable, you can see audiophile cables that used aluminum as the conductor. Aluminum! You can see power cables that use what seems to be a Saran wrap type of flimsy translucent covering as the jacket on a power cable.

Oh and for the power cables…. One thought. If the power starts at the power plant, comes across the wire for miles, hits a substation, and then comes barelling down your street: Does the last four feet really matter? I mean, assuming it’s the correct gauge, assuming everything is in working order, and terminated properly, what exactly could one gain in using a esoteric cable?

Really about the only issue I have ever run into is interference, and it can be a huge problem. Things like flourescent lights will wreak havoc on your electrical system, and it will get pulled into your audio grounds. Thats why every studio should have an isolation transformer (not a ‘power conditioner’ but an isolation transformer). And you should generally run your lights (if they have dimmers, or other voltage fuckery) seperately (to ground, and perhaps to a seperate ground IE star grounding) than your audio equipment. Of if they have to be in the same place, isolate them with the Isolation transformer. Hell, I gained nearly 10 db of noise floor on my analog equipment at mortarworks by switching it’s power source to a different circuit in the building (isolated from the office equipment).

If there is one thing I have learned about us as human beings, it’s that we tend to confirm what we want to believe. And hey, maybe this is my own confirmation bias. But from what I have come across, cabling, if done right, doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg.

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Llamatism is a collection of things, a cabinet of curiosities, and reports from explorations on things, by Gary Llama.

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