The Cable Controversy..Spins On

I set up an FTP site for AudioQuest and uploaded the Home Entertainment by D-Tronics video featuring David Ellington of AudioQuest (if anyone wants to download the video, please drop me an email…I’ll share the credentials to the FTP site). This was the very same file that I analyzed. I made no changes to the audio or video. Amir at the What’s Best Forum confirmed that my analysis was accurate and that the audio was altered during postproduction. I’m confident that AQ’s people will also confirm that the soundtrack of the promotional video doesn’t accurately reflect improvements caused by the various grades of AQ HDMI cables. The questions that remain are who was responsible for the modifications, who directed that the sound be “enhanced” to show fidelity improvements, and how is it possible for any interested party not to notice that the claimed sonic improvements couldn’t possibly be the result of different grades of HDMI cables?

Most of the comments I’ve read around the web devolve into the same age-old argument about whether cables make a difference in the fidelity of your system or not. Intelligent people on both sides of the debate make their cases without any convincing anyone to change their mind. Believers will continue to believe while those that tend to the “show me data” end of the spectrum remain steadfast in their rejection of $1000 HDMI or USB cables. You all know where I stand on this issue. Don’t buy cables thinking they are going to improve the fidelity of your system. If you like the wonderful windings, the cool colors, the heavy connectors, or the status of a branded cable, then by all means spend the money…but don’t expect the sound to improve. There are plenty of other things you can do…at far less cost…that will affect your sound.

A functioning digital audio interface cable (AES-EBU, S/P DIF, SDIF, USB, or HDMI) cannot and should not alter the bit stream connecting a digital source component to a digital destination. All those “believers” who challenge this important fact are living in a dream world. Simply stating that hearing is believing doesn’t cut it. I know there are many individuals, reviewers, companies, consumers, and publications that profess otherwise but they all have a vested interest in perpetuating this myth…and others. Professional audio studios don’t use expensive cables or power cords so why should you?

I can’t say that I’ve tested every permutation, format, cable, connector, or material but I did compare the data delivered by a $300 USB cable and a $5 USB and found that each successfully delivered exactly the same data. The audio from the different cables when the polarity of one was reversed completely and exactly nulled the other. The both accomplished their tasks with equal “fidelity”…as expected.

I know this sort of factual or “objective” demonstration drives the “subjectivists” crazy but I believe doing a rigorous evaluation informs consumers. My favorite recent comment is quoted below:

“Mr. Lavorgna

Ever call and ask Benchmark Audio what USB cable they suggest to use with their DAC. I own a DAC2 HGC (and love it)

I need a longer run (10 feet) than I have now. Reading this thread I decided to call them. Today they recommended the best $6.95 USB cable I can find. I cancelled my Audioquest USB on back order at Music Direct. Yes I have the cancelled email to prove it 🙂

I trust Benchmark, why would they want their wonderful product to perform poorly.

Your turn to prove HDMI cables matter now. To an audience …

Now Mark. Excellent analysis, do not lower yourself to their misguided emotions



Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

43 thoughts on “The Cable Controversy..Spins On

  • stephen kurian

    January 27: in your studio you use “PROFESSIONAL GRADE” cables by Mogami & Canare….are there “GRADES” of cables after all? Cardas & Audience gave you (for free) “PREMIUM” cables…….so there must be non-premium cables. Come off it & just use Belkin & tell us you can’t tell the difference.

    • Professional recording studios and engineers use “star quad” microphone and interconnects cables. I also received some cables from Cardas and Audience for the speakers in the main studio. Call these what you want…but they are expensive compared to 10 gauge zip cord. There is not difference in the sound in my room.

    • Jinjuku

      There certainly are different grades of cable. Some are going to be better for live performance where the cables are tugged, kicked, pulled etc…

      On data cabling just do a google search for armored Ethernet cable.

      • Of course, there are lots of different grades and types of cables for all applications. The point is that the right cable for the right job doesn’t have to come with a premium price.

  • Dale Thorn

    Say I have a 4000-foot digital cable. Just as good as a one-foot cable? If so, please ignore. If not, then please advise for shorter cables (3500′, 3000′, 2500′, etc.) My concern is, if the transmission breaks down at some length, is it always aborted with a warning, or is the difference supposed to be obvious? I’m wondering about what the range of possibilities are.

    • See the comment by John Siau of Benchmark. The length of the cable can cause difficulties in the quality of the signal transmission. But if you can retrieve the digital information amidst the distortion and noise, you still get everything your started with.

  • stephen kurian

    So bits is bits & you measured that but did you measure NOISE ? I have no vested interest in this issue & hearing is what our hobby is all about & I know what I hear. You are a professional but you also make decisions based on what you hear & I’ll bet that you don’t take a final master & see how it measures . Or do you??

    • Stephen, of course I use my ears. But I want to know that the sound that I’m hearing is accurate and that any changes are the result of my choices using EQ and other processing. IN a digital audio system, the noise is in the digital ones and zeros NOT something that is caused by the environment or signal path. Measuring the noise is pointless (see John Siau’s comment).

      In honesty, I do evaluate my releases by looking at the frequency response and dynamic range…I’m curious.

  • Robert

    Hello Mark
    Now that personnel transportation has been demonized by politically correct forces, the audiophile community is one of the last area’s where a true snob can bask in luxury. Yes, money can buy a truly great sounding system, but one question remains; If a piece of equipment does not test superior to another, can there be any objective improvement in sound quality?. At what point does the blind folded subject just start throwing darts?.

    • Robert, it’s a matter of degree. The amount of perceived or measured improvement in the fidelity of a recording produced by high end components, cables, and other tweaks is minimal if perceptible at all. The major improvement in fidelity can only be realized by making better source recordings.

  • Amen Mark. Keep the lights on the snake oil salesmen.
    And Thank You

  • AlexFerguson

    Hi Mark,
    Could you please give me the link to the Audioquest bullshit video. I would like to share it with my fellow Devialet chat forum members.



  • Chris Wright

    I may have said this on here before, but there isn’t a cable anywhere that ever made a bad system sound good. I’ve done my share of self indulgence in this hobby and owned some reasonably exotic cables. That was back when I had no kids and hadn’t moved continents, forcing the sale of all my audio gear. Fast forward to today and I’ve reassembled what I think is, by far, the best system I’ve ever owned, comprised, out of necessity, of various vintage components and a rather engaging modern DAC. Connecting it all are the cheapest Home Depot and Radio Shack cables I could find and yet I’m in sonic heaven, even as I write. I’ve even true a friend’s collection of exotic cable on the system and fast concluded it didn’t sound as good. My conclusion is that it’s just better to keep things simple and not introduce anything further in the way of a signal.

    What Mark says here and what he has been demonstrating in this recent saga are both entirely true and I hope that more enthusiasts wake up to the realities here and start putting their cable budgets into either buying better components or, perhaps better yet, more music.

    • Thanks Chris…I hope you’re enjoying some of my recordings on your system.

      • Chris Wright

        It’s in the plans Mark. Budget is currently being expended on bringing my music collection over the Atlantic at long last.

  • Marcel

    Unbelevable, these guys from AQ. No way a cable could affect audio this way.
    But what about the jitter? Jitter would still null two digital signals, but is timing no issue for a DAC?
    I’m using 8 channel HDMI, which should be prone to jitter, I often read, Sounds great using 5 meters of cheap HDMI cable. But nothing’s perfect, nor is the sound.
    Could less jitter improve sound and would a better cable reduce jitter? I would really value your oppinion on this.

    • Admin

      Jitter is timing error. But only if the DAC that’s receiving the digital signal accepts the clock from the previous device…the source. However, a properly designed DAC will replace that clock with a highly accurate clock of its own…thus the cable will have nothing to do with improving jitter.

      • Marcel

        Thanks Mark for your answer.
        HDMI clock signals are embedded in the audio LPCM stream, but only as an incomplete,chopped up clock signal, or so I’ve been told. And that signal supposedly cannot be properly reconstructed, even less so when cables mess up the 0-crossings…?
        I’m really confused: what is true and what is being jazzed up to scare me into costly snake oil remedies.
        Is or isn’t jitter an issue with HDMI…..I have no means to compare 8 channel HDMI with other protocols.
        Do you have any experience on this?

        • Marcel, the fact is that very few high end DACs use HDMI. It’s common for typical AV receivers needing multichannel for home theater setups (movies and live concert videos) but USB is far more common on high-end DACs. Almost all digital data is sent in packets (chopped up signals?) and reassembled at the receiving end…which is possible in all situations.

          If multichannel is your thing then you’ll probably want an Oppo player with its great DACs and multichannel capability. It plays discs and files. Computer music servers can do it as well. My advice is not to worry about jitter in HDMI or other high end equipment.

  • This is John Siau, VP and Director of Engineering at Benchmark Media Systems, Inc.

    I can confirm that we do not recommend purchasing high-priced USB, AES, or Optical cables to achieve an improvement in the sound.

    When we introduced the DAC1 in 2002 we published detailed FFT plots that compared the performance of the DAC1 connected with two different cables: Cable 1 was a high-quality 2-foot long balanced AES cable and Cable 2 was 1000 feet of CAT 5e cable. Both produced the same results at the output of the DAC1 because the DAC1 has near-perfect jitter attenuation (see page 36 of the DAC1 manual). This plot confirms that the sound did not change when 1000 feet of generic CAT 5e wire replaced the short high-quality AES cable.

    However, I should point out that the 1000 foot cable really put the DAC1 jitter attenuation system to the test. This is demonstrated by the eye-pattern plot on page 29 of the same manual. This plot shows that the 100 foot cable caused significant attenuation and distortion of the waveform that was carrying the digital information. In spite of this distortion, the DAC1 was able to recover all of the bits and was able to fully attenuate the clock jitter that was induced by the long low-quality cable. see http://benchmarkmedia.com/pages/manuals

    Bottom line – A fancy digital cable may improve the shape of the waveform that carries the digital data, but if the DAC is well-designed the cable will not change the analog waveform exiting the DAC. On the other hand, if the DAC is not well-designed, a long, low-quality digital cable may cause changes at the analog outputs.

    • Admin

      Thanks John…very relevant and informative.

    • Soundmind

      Even many decades ago at the dawn of the revolution of the technological explosion I’ve seen in my lifetime, I was aware of then current methods for 1) reforming digital waveforms using Schmidt Triggers and 2) reclocking using buffer registers controlled by a local clock. Myriads of error detection/correction and dejittering circuits and schemes have been developed in the interim. Some are incorporated even in RBCD which is now a technology that is over 35 years old.

      The degradation of analog waveforms over long runs of wire is a fact. However, cable television providers even decades ago were able to multiplex hundreds of cable channels with acceptable quality on a coaxial cable. They had no problem adding high speed internet on top of them. Today, fiber optic cable can reliably transmit digital signals from any point in the world to any other point without loss or degradation using repeaters where necessary. Even the systems have advanced from circuit switching to packet switching. I am not talking about Toslink which is a cheap plastic technology that’s laughable compared to the real thing, single mode and multimode glass fiber optic. This is clearly the future of signal cables being cheap, immune to all of the shortcomings of electrical conductors, and will probably be used to replace all of them eventually.

      To the individual who derided Bell Labs, among the countless useful breakthrough discoveries and inventions that were produced by them and their spinoffs, while I was at Bellcore they were inventing a way to reliably connect two fiber optic cables together which is no easy trick since they are thinner than a human hair and must line up perfectly, and growing the nickel, gallium, aluminum, arsenide crystals used in the high speed solid state lasers in telecommunications systems. I asked the crystal expert to grow a few diamonds for me before he left the company before he retired but he refused. I’ve noticed that at least one scientist, I think in Germany has figured out a way to reliably grow 100% perfect diamond crystals and then introduce just the right deliberate defects in the lattice to enable the creation of Q-bit or Quantum computers that will one day obsolete our current technology leaving it in the dust. He was not from Bell Labs though.

  • Soundmind

    Never have so many been so confused and misled by so few. To hear people who call themselves audiophiles and those who market products to them tell it, you’d think wire is a complete mystery, a black art. But the truth is that of all the things scientists and engineers understand about electricity, wire has to be at or near the top of the list. Does wire matter in an electrical circuit? You bet it does. That’s why industry has created so many kinds for different applications. What is its legitimate purpose. To connect circuit point A to circuit point B with an acceptable minimum of loss, induced noise, and radiated noise. What is the standard by which wire can be judged? A shunt, no wire at all, just a direct adjacent connection. What is not a legitimate function of wire? To act as a control to deliberately alter a signal. In that function it is absolutely awful, we have far better tools for that. So the first thing audiophile wire manufacturers have to do to sell you their product is to convince you not to use those tools and they have largely succeeded. That’s when the games begin and the money starts to flow from their customers’ bank accounts into theirs.

    How then do wires actually work. Scientists understand electrical conductivity right down to the quantum mechanics level of how electrons escape the pull of nuclei and flow under the influence of an applied electrical field. They also know how to shield wire effectively both electrically and where necessary in rare occasions magnetically. Electrical engineers know how to model wire mathematically by creating equivalent lump sum filter parameters circuits from what is actually a distributed parameter filter. They also know how to integrate that model into network equations connecting the source to the load to accurately predict exactly how wire will function in any given circuit.

    Mainstream wire manufacturers are not ignorant or stupid either. Then know how to design wire using various geometries, insulation and conducting materials and manufacturing processes such as annealing to create wire that is optimal for any conceivable electrical function at the lowest possible cost. They offer a staggering array of product for every application or problem they can think of. The products created for both professional and consumer audio systems are child’s play for them compared to really challenging problems.

    The success of the audiophile wire industry is based entirely on the utter ignorance of the market. Notice that whenever these manufacturers advertise their products, they almost invariably discuss qualitative issues, they rarely if ever give hard numbers to their theories let alone put them in a technical context that will indicate to what degree what they say is significant. And so the whole thing is based on hope and fear among potential customers. That is why I think the whole thing is a fraud. Before this cottage industry got started, nobody thought audio equipment customers would be stupid enough to believe any of this. They were proven wrong.

    • Admin

      Thanks Mark…perhaps you would allow me to post this as a guest post? Excellent…but it will be challenged by those that want cables to matter.

      • Soundmind

        Feel free to reprint this or do whatever you like with it. This is not a personal opinion, it is a professional opinion. Among the many jobs I’ve had in my career, I was for the last three of the twelve years I worked there, the chief electrical engineer of Bell Communications Research, at the time the largest research consortium in the world. Audio is just a hobby for me, something I don’t take very seriously. Good thing too, I’d be in a dither also if it were my profession instead.

        • Dennis

          PLEASE NOTE: The following is a parody which in no way represents my opinions, views or ideas. I do think I know some people for whom it might fit however. 🙂

          Soundmind? More like soundless-mind. Electrical engineers don’t listen to wire. They don’t tweak it with passion and heart and the sound of the muse in their loins. They just bang out some equations and try to put the rest of us in their straight-jacket interpretation of how things work. Tells us we can’t improve upon our wire experience. Tell us nothing better is possible.

          Fortunately some courageous souls won’t be intimidated by your soul-less sound-less science. They investigate with an open mind all possibilities and continually improve the world of audiophiles not willing to be pigeon-holed by physics. True progenitors of better sound and thru it a better life.

          Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Bell employees claiming FRAUD and CONSPIRACY?? Name one company in the middle of more meddling conspiracies than Ma Bell? The wire, the wire they tell us we have to use has always been a leverage of power to rule over those who speak out the truth. The old days it was wiretapping, our only allowed method of communication over distance running thru one company and no real privacy was possible for those with non-mainstream ideas. On thru to modern times with room 641A, snooping on all who use the internet. The power of those who control the wire is immense. No wonder you fear those who would explore the true properties possible with wire.

          Well the cat is out of the bag, you CANNOT put us back into Pandora’s box. The lid will NOT be closed. Your authoritarian edicts hold sway no longer.

          • Thanks Dennis…you scared me for a moment.

          • Soundmind

            In defense of the old Ma Bell before divestiture on January 1, 1984, The US thanks to the work of what was by far the world’s premier telecommunications laboratory, had easily the best telephone system in the world bar none. No other nation’s could compare. You could probably drop a 1950s desk set phone off the roof of a building on to a concrete sidewalk and it would still work. Try that today. Even the spinoffs of Bell Telephone Laboratories are responsible for most of the advances in telecommunications we use today. I was there after divestiture and I had an up front seat. The only other industry I know of that has standards comparable to the telephone industry set by Bell standards to my knowledge for performance and reliability is the US military.

            Insofar as listening is concerned, just by coincidence….I happen to own the best electronic sound reproducing system in the world based on my own innovations. You can study it by reading US patent 4,332,979. I own what is most likely the only working prototype that exists. It is a scaled down and adapted version of a much larger concept based on a unique mathematical model I invented. Note, the first three figures (drawings) were inadvertently not removed, they relate to a measurement system the patent office judged to be a separate art.

            Without this mathematical model, creating this system would have been impossible because it imparts understanding of sound and acoustics not found in the existing literature. It can therefore create sounds other systems can’t.

            This is not a parody, it’s real.

  • craig allison

    Hi Mark,
    Much ado about very little; there certainly are bigger issues to consider, such as how to successfully influence Apple to significantly raise the level of I-Tunes sound quality.
    Reading over the info about “Mastered for I-tunes’ caused as much bile and skepticism to arise from me as the Pono thing does for you. Starting with 24/96 or 16/44 masters can’t possibly matter once you dumb it down to 256kbps MP-3 data reduction, you still are getting a fraction of the original recorded sound.
    I don’t like using numbers as part of a product presentation. But recently, I’ve just been informing folks that a full WAV CD rip=1411kbps or so., then follow with, “and most people are getting music at 128, it’s pretty easy to assume there will be an audible difference that will matter.” Folks have zero problem detecting the difference, incidentally.
    You’d be amazed; it’s not just the wandering audiophiles that detest data-reduced music. You’d be amazed how many distinctly non-audiophiles come in to my shop and within a very short time reveal that they are tired of MP-3s and want better sound, just regular Mr.& Mrs. America. :It’s like the Bob Dylan song lyrics, “Something’s wrong, but you don’t know what it is…” Well, surprisingly, many folks do know that MP-3 128 is tiring and under no circumstances will this type of grating sound quality allow the back doors of your heart and mind to open up.

    The ‘vinyl resurgence’ is not based on any type of gross sonic superiority, far from it. The near ecstatic reactions I have witnessed in clients’ homes when they go back to the same LPs that they were ready to toss in 1985 is based on one undeniable fact: while vinyl has a whole bag of distortions that can only be residualized at best, vinyl playback completely banishes the distortions of data-reduced files; the bad witch has left the room.
    Clearly, the psycho-acoustic mechanisms we developed over the LP decades allowed us to push aside the imperfections and concentrate on the music. However, the dynamic, I.M family of distortions produced by data-reduced encode/decode process are welded into the playback and cannot be pushed aside. So much for that.

    Despite your antagonism, middle America is now objecting to the same degraded listening experience that Neil Young has ranted about, accurately or not. This is so much bigger stuff than squawking over a false advertisement from a company who had no such intentions.
    Last but not least, I attended an AES meeting at Fantasy studios in Berkeley a few years ago. Six top mastering engineers including Paul Stubblebine and George Horn were on the panel.(George cut my perfectionist LP there back in ’85. )

    One of the guys told of taking an MP-3 encode/decode setup up to his daughters’ college, along with calibrated mics and a DAT recorder; he wanted to see for himself what the process did to the music. He recorded a simple acoustic chamber group, 4-5 instruments. After encode /decode, playback occurred. Surprisingly, he said that it actually sounded ok, and then dwelt on what folks are objecting to. Voila…when it’s simple acoustic music, it’s easy for the encoder to figure out what to remove. Then, he said, “But…the very type of music often consumed in this format ,multi-layered pop rock-o, fuzz-o, distort-o, guitar-o is the very type of music the encoder will mangle the worst, because it has a much harder time figuring out what sound is “important.” To me, this is one of the nasty, underlying truths that have caused folks to wonder why they don’t really enjoy their music. anymore. Best, Craig

    • Falsifying a promotional video is “much ado about very little”? True, if what you want from suppliers of expensive audio cables. As a retailer of AQ cables, I’m sure you enjoy a healthy markup on their expensive products. After all why wouldn’t recommend the most costly interconnects and speakers cab;es to your clients? You make more money from steering them into expensive brands…even if promotional videos have been shown to be “fudged” to favor a $1000 HDMI cable over one costing $15. Fortunately, your dismissive attitude of this incident is unique and audio enthusiasts all over the web have seen this for what it is. There’s not much bigger than falsifying the results of a comparison.

      Apple cannot “significantly raise the level of iTunes sound quality”…they don’t have the ability to do that. The fidelity of the source files delivered to iTunes is determined by the record labels. Downloads from Apple’s iTunes site hasn’t been at 128 kbps in many years. And according to most research…including the recent study that the CEA did…no one could tell the difference between a well made 256 kbps MP3 file (BTW Apple uses AAC format) and the CD or “hi-res original”. I was part of the study and was not surprised. A 256 kbps file delivers a lot more than a “fraction of the original recorded sound”, contrary to your claim that “folks have zero problem detecting the difference.”

      You’re wrong about vinyl LPs too…and what does “residualized at best” mean? If you did a transfer of one of those euphonic vinyl LPs to a 96 kHz/24-bit PCM file or even CD spec digital file, I believe your vinyl loving clients would realize that the distortions have all been successfully captured and reproduced. It’s not the format that produces the magic it’s the fidelity of the sources.

      The vast majority of music consumers are happy with compromised sound and those that want something better are being fed a bunch of BS by the likes of Neil Young.

      Happy New Year Craig.

  • Mark,

    Great work. The comments on this post are really informative.

    It’s in the nature of people that they want to show how selective and discriminating they are. You just need to walk through the local mall to see dozens of examples. Take sunglasses, $30 will buy you a pair that is as good as it gets, but there are millions of people walking around with designer sunglasses that cost 10x that amount. That’s $30 for the sunglasses, and $270 for the kudos of wearing a designer label. Isn’t it the truth that fancy cables are sold because they look better, and they massage the ego just like designer sunglasses?

    The real shame is that cable companies are so misleading and deceitful, offering as fact claims about sound quality that cannot be verified. As has been pointed out, they only deal in the subjective. For a $1000 cable that is not acceptable. These guys are a cancer in the industry.

    I also question the professional reviewers who appear to have fallen prey to the marketing people in these companies. I don’t question the honesty or integrity of any reviewer, but they must become more enquiring and questioning of manufacturers who seek to influence them. I am also deeply suspicious of reviewers who dismiss ABX testing. In doing so they give credence and support to the deceptive claims made by manufacturers. Why is it that they can describe in very fine detail and nuance their reasons for not participating in such testing, but they swallow every advertising line offered up by the manufacturer? The inconsistencies are glaring.

    I’ll declare my hand here. I have some expensive (actually moderately priced) cable in my system. My source, amplifier and speakers cost circa $20,000. The $700 I spent on cables is probably more than I needed to, but it makes me feel good.

  • Bill Low

    Yes! Distortion is often the most difficult signal to reproduce properly, along with applause and massed strings. Early synth music (John Abercrombie’s “Timeless”), with insufficient harmonic content, or Joan Baez’s almost sine wave of a voice, will sound different on different equipment (and heavens forbid, different cables), but these sounds can “tolerate” substantial added mis-information and still be pleasurable.

    Reproducing distortion without causing unacceptable new distortion is one of audio’s greatest challenges. Whether the distortion was in the recording on purpose or by accident, distortion is often the very best “material” for investigating whether a component or a whole system can properly honor the music. Audiophile recordings are for pleasure, but used alone, can be a deceptive way to evaluate an audio system’s efficacy — its usefulness as emotional transportation.

    • Soundmind

      Based on my own analysis of sound fields and my mathematical modeling of them, sound fields created by hi fi sound systems you can buy no matter what the price or design have among other types of distortions, vector distortions so horrendous that they have no comparison to what the sound fields produced by actual music are. This is why all of them fail miserably. Distortions produced by wires whether imagined or real are insignificant by comparison. Even if someone invented a perfect wire by audiophile standards, it would hardly matter because it would not address all of these other distortions this industry doesn’t even understand let alone address. Why are sound fields so important and the main focus of my study and efforts? Because that is what you actually hear, that’s what matters. How you get there, how you reach that goal is irrelevant.

    Mark, In case you haven’t seen it the guys at Audioholics have really thrown more gas on the fire with AQ CEO threatening legal action against them. Good for Gene DellaSala and Marshall Guthrie

    “Hmm I like how Mr. Low claims we have misquoted them to the point where it’s “libel”. I don’t see where the alleged misquote is and a company that is trying to save whatever little reputation they have shouldn’t be posturing legal action against anyone, especially members of the press covering this story.
    Gene DellaSala
    President, Audioholics”


    • Thanks Sal, I’m not surprised. Gene has been telling it like it is for many years.

  • Bruce Bisenz

    I am s professional recording engineer and I use Canare “StarQuad” microphone cable. This is because the special constrUction (two specially twisted blue & white shielded pairs) suppresses hum and buzz some 15-20 dB. At the beginning of my career I used Belden. When the StarQuad came out many/most of us switched. T is is also durable cable and Which comes in 9 colors very useful when you have a forest of wires to identify.

    Yes, I have found for the better DACs that the digital cables matter little. Not so speaker cables though. I have used many speaker cables in my Golden Ears HiFi. Presently I use a very costly one off Danish brand which severely trounced a local manufacture’s $17K flagship model.

    I make my balanced XLR interconnects out of surplus 1960s milspec Teflon braided silver (solid not plaited) wire. This is now “unobtainium” although it was common in the Moon Shot days. Such s pleasure to work with Teflon which will never crawl and shrivel up when you apply heat to solder.

  • Objective subjectivity.

    Goody, Mark.
    here are some thoughts on the magic and measurement of cables etc.

    You make excellent Ultra Hd audio recordings. I have several, and they sound(subjectively) noticeably better than 44.1 16 bit recordings. Being an audio engineer, you will have a repeatable procedure that objectively verifies what your ears tell you. This is something like; using meters A, B,C and performing tests A1, B1, and C1, you get repeatable results showing the difference between your recordings and others. You can teach others to follow your recording process, and they will be able to achieve similar measurable results.

    It follows that audio engineers who make cables will have the same publishable test procedures to demonstrate their cables subjective benefits which cab be objectively verified.
    All the rest is puffery and snake oil.

    • Soundmind

      Creating outstanding recording whether high resolution, high definition, or not, is part science and part art. One day it may become all science but we are nowhere there yet. Therefore we must give credit and thanks to the recording engineers who have learned this skill for the wonderful contributions they have made learning to use what they have available to them for our enjoyment.

      By contrast, wire performance is virtually 100% science. It can be measured, analyzed, modeled. The same results can be obtained in many ways. Different result can be obtained too. For this reason it is possible to decide what you want wire to do. Electrical engineers audiophiles call “objectivists” use wire to connect two points in a circuit whether they are two inches apart or two hundred miles apart in a way that has an acceptable degree of loss and induced and radiated noise. So called subjectivists experiment to find ways to “cure” common problems in sound systems such as the shrillness of some tweeters or the mellowness of some amplifiers by creating the equivalent of filters that deliberately distort the signal in ways complimentary to the problem they want to address. The problem for them is to convince their market that other means that are at least as effective, more controllable, more predictable, and far cheaper are the devil’s work to be avoided at all cost. Given that this industry has gotten so many customers, they seem to have succeeded.

      • peter

        Hi Mark, your patent is most interesting. True point sources are hard to come by. Your system must sound great. It should have enough resolution to pick any difference between cables. My small comment about recording is that the recording process can be objectively quantified, or else it becomes just like the cables that you can hear as superior, but can’t explain how or why.

  • genbtc

    Hello Mark,
    I am a new visitor to your website and have found a few of your talks on some videos on youtube very interesting. I take issue with this post though, It’s almost as if you have a stake in proving the cables are baloney, since you did not go into enough detail in your tests, only deep enough to prove your already pre-conceived conclusion. Yes digital cables will transmit a bit-perfect digital signal that can be reconstructed DESPITE any noise/flaws/jitter, but the story does not end here. I will give you a simple example which you neglected to mention, and is a valid data point (if it matters for one thing, it should not be dismissed outright). When a USB DAC device is self-powered off of USB, and the 5V Line is connected to the computer’s motherboard, noise is transmitted over that 5V line in the USB cable, and a ground loop may also be formed if the USB cable is quite long. In recent years, motherboard makers have introduced specific “USB-DAC USB ports” that have extra noise filtering circuitry in them to remove garbage created by the cheap switch mode power supplies in computers. The D+ and D- pins of the USB cable are differential pairs and prevents EMI and the bit-stream can be reconstructed and interpreted properly by the DAC. The issue is that you have forgotten about how the device the DAC is in was designed, and some devices may be susceptible to noisy 5V lines inducing noise on the analog signal path of the DAC.

    • Admin

      My blog and articles are intended to inform audio enthusiasts about all aspects of the hobby…I have no stake in whether companies sell expensive cables or not. I don’t accept paid advertising from them. I believe (and I’m not alone) that a large majority of expensive cables make no difference to the sound or fidelity of the final output. This includes powercords, analog, digital cables.

      Your example of a USB powered DAC has merit but I’m not sure that I would include any of these devices as high-end converter worthy of consideration by audiophiles. Recall also that I’m limited my discussion to short USB cables of about 3 feet and referring to well designed and manufactured DACs…those that don’t appropriately deal with power issues, or filter the noise, or generate their own clock aren’t included in my assessment.

  • Sal D'Agostino

    If expensive cables are indeed snake oil and their distributors are making a nice buck off ignorant audiophiles, why is this the most important thing in the world to expose? Why not worry about quacks charging desperate cancer patients their life savings for phony cures, or the con men behind the mortgage scandal? At least audiophiles with lots of disposable income aren’t really hurt by this business, and many are actually happy. I think there’s a large amount of ego on the measurement side, just as there is in the computer department of any company–“We’re smart because we went to college and took really hard subjects and we’re better than all the rest of the boobs in this company!” That’s what I think it comes down to with all your data.

    • I never said it was the most important thing in the world to discuss. For audiophiles, it certainly is worth writing about.


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