speaker cables, power cables and interconnects - do they matter?

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Do all wires sound alike?

This question comes up frequently for high end audio manufacturers and customers. The primary thing I see out there in forums is two distinct groups of thought. One group is certain, often times without doing any listening comparisons, that wire and cable cannot possibly make any difference. They support their conclusion with comments such as "the electricity came from the power station and miles of wire, how could any wire make a difference at your stereo's location?" The other group of people are what could be called experimental. These people are willing to try products and listen for any differences. 

My personal experiences with this topic come from the research side in designing our state of the art GRAVITAS loudspeakers. Some of the approach was studying the success of other speaker designs and improving upon already known principles. Our primary area of research and testing was experimental. And I mean really experimental. I won't cover everything we tried as it would be a novel in length. Just a few highlights to share right now. In part of our testing, we changed the internal wiring for the monitors. The differences in sound were not minor. Some wire sounded OK. Some was hashy, bright, or flat sounding. Expensive wire did not necessarily sound better, and we tried some high cost wire. In the end, we found a wire that sounded wonderful with our monitors. So how did we find the right wire? Through listening tests. Could we have looked at specification sheets of the wire looking at resistance, capacitance, amps delivery, and so on? We could have, but it would have been boring and offered no help in choosing the best sounding wire for the application. 

Another test involved using high end power cords for our powered GRAVITAS subwoofers. Here's an area where one camp would say "bass is bass. It cannot sound different with different amplifiers, and there is no way a power cord will change the sound." Our testing here was the same method as the internal wire tests. We tried a variety of cords from manufacturers. We would listen to a track, change cords, and listen to the same track again. The results were easy to hear. Stock cords and some aftermarket cords sounded OK. Other cords sounded significantly better. Why is this? There are technical reasons why, but ultimately who cares about WHY it sounds better. It sounded better. 

If I could leave you with one message on this subject, it would be this. Please try products in a system good enough to perceive audible differences that cables and wire produce. I guarantee you will hear differences. In fact, this area is a primary way to improve any system, no matter the current level of performance. A little willingness to experiment can yield dramatic improvements. But of course, if you subscribe to the "wire is wire" camp, you just read this article to hear about something you already know everything about! Ha. This stuff is supposed to be fun and allow for the pleasurable music on your terms. Until next time, enjoy your system and happy listening.