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Audioholics Anonymous Chapter 5
Interconnect And Loudspeaker Cable Part I

Article By Bill Gaw

 

  Hello fellow Audioholics, welcome to another meeting of Audiolics Anonymous,  our support group for the insatiably tweaked. First, thanks for the kind letters I have been receiving about the previous columns. It is great to see there's somebody else other than Steve Rochlin, who's reading my prose. It also lets me know you  are doing something else other than sitting there and just tweaking.

This month, I've decided to discuss the fun I've had with building my own interconnects and speaker cable. I know. You've been told how difficult it is to come up with the perfect cable, how impossible it is to get just the right materials, how implausible it is for an amateur to be able to combine all of the materials just right in order to obtain the ultimate, but Brother, are THEY wrong. I have come upon the tweaker's dream - homemade cables that shame most of the best out there at a fraction of the cost and fun to build to boot!

First, to all of those flat Earther's and other doubters who feel that all cables sound the same if the LCR measurements are equal, go listen to music on your Bose Wave Radios. I am sorry but all cables have their own distinct sounds, even if the LCR measurements are the same.  Second, to all of those wire companies who charge the equivalent of the annual budget of Guatemala for a 1 meter length of interconnect, stop ripping off the high end community. $15000 for a pair of speaker cables is a greater rip-off than $700 for a B-52 toilet seat. I know that there can be years of experimentation, fancy packaging and, advertising costs, etc., that add to the costs of cables, but some of the prices would make the Mafia happy.

I also fell into the trap years ago of more expensive must be better, but it isn't always so. I had a friend, who died several years ago, who was one of the original high end cable manufacturers. He once told me a story of how when he first started producing cable, he came out with a very reasonably priced line and brought it to the CES. Many dealers agreed that it was great cable, but not one picked up the line. Reason? It was too cheap. There wasn't enough profit margin. High enders would see the price and think it couldn't be any good. One even suggested that if he doubled the retail price, added a higher profit margin for the dealers, that it would sell. So the following year, he changed the color of the shell, doubled the price and sold enough wire to put him in business and wire half of Manhattan. Each year afterward, he would change some parameter, such as the color of the wrapping, the number of individual wires, the packaging, etc., give it another name, raise the price, and sell more of that one than last year's model. Did it sound any better? He claimed not, but it certainly improved his bottom line.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to play into the hands of the “all wire sounds the same" crowd, because it doesn't. Just don't be fooled into thinking something sounds better because it costs more. There are differences in quality of wire which will lead to different costs, sound, etc., and wires will act differently in different systems, depending on the equipment it is hooked up to, its surroundings, the type of music played, the surrounding RF environment, etc. There will be circumstances when a less expensive wire will sound better in a particular system compared to the super expensivo brother of the line. I have seen cases where a particular interconnect will sound poor at one point in the system, and great at another place. That's the great thing about tweaking with wire. It has so many permutations that we could play forever with the combinations. But that is also the disadvantage, as you could go crazy trying. I usually have to laugh when I see reviews of wire in the big mags, where they hook it up to one or two systems in one or two places, and then make broad statements as to its qualities. There is no  perfect wire that lets the signal go from any piece of equipment to any other without changing the signal at all.  It doesn't exist, but the hobbyist can come very close.

What parameters have I found to be important? First, INDUCTANCE (L), RESISTANCE (R), and CAPACITANCE (C), are important. Everyone agrees the less resistance of the wire to flow of electrons, the better, and that the capacitance (storage) and inductance (AC variable resistance) build low and high pass crossovers, which may affect the frequencies passed. These can make or break a wire, and I'm sorry to say the equipment connected to it if sufficiently high, but there are other parameters that are just as important.

To use an analogy, think of the signal as actually a relay race, with the signal being several batons of varying sizes and weights which are being handed from runner to runner, with several teams in a row. Then the below analogies will be understandable.

 

1. THE THINNER THE CONDUCTOR THE BETTER, TO A POINT. The electrons (runners) themselves don't move very far in the wire, they just pass on the signal ( baton) from electron to electron,  But the runners are actually trying to run on a semisolid substance, so that the heavier runners with heavier batons (lower pitch tones) sink into the wire to a depth indirectly  proportional to their  frequency (weight). This slows down the lower notes related to their higher pitched brethren, the so called SKIN EFFECT, causing smearing of the image. I know. Some will say this is unimportant at the low frequencies of audio, but believe me, it is. So if the wire is very thin, the deeper notes don't have to slog through so much mud, and therefore can keep up better. This only works up to a point though with round wire, because, the smaller the diameter, the higher the RESISTANCE to flow. We don't want a  filament resisting the flow of electrons, i.e. a light bulb. So what's the answer? Make it as flat as possible, but wide enough to drop the resistance. Voila!! Less RESISTANCE and SKIN EFFECT. How? Use   FOIL   instead of wire. Get a high surface area with low resistance to  flow and less or no SKIN EFFECT. Eat your cake and have it too. Only problem! The thinner the foil, the more chance of breakage. So there is a limit theoretically, but I have found that thinner does sound better. How thin is ideal: about 0.05 mm. Significantly thinner than aluminum foil.

 

2. THE PURER THE BETTER. At least in metals at room temperature, the higher the purity of the material, the better the signal. Six or Seven Nines if possible ( 99.9999% pure).  If each runner is evenly matched for strength, endurance, and speed, the closer the race will be. Same with signals. This may change if they can get Super-Conductivity up to room temperature, where mixing metals with ceramics can lead to extremely low resistance, and much purer signal carrying.  but for now I think it holds. I know some of the wire designers out there have started to go from SIX NINES wire to alloys, but I haven't seen any results that change my feeling on the subject, and it is probably a new marketing ploy, as they have run out of configurations, high purity and size to differentiate their products.

 

3. THE LOWER THE  RESISTANCE AND THE  HIGHER THE CONDUCTIVITY OF THE  METAL THE BETTER. Thus, lead is higher that copper and silver. It has the highest conductivity and lowest resistance, and therefore can be made thinner thus improving the SKIN EFFECT, without increasing the RESISTANCE. It also has the property that its oxide is still pretty good at conduction, unlike copper's, so there is less risk of deterioration of the sound over time as that pesky oxygen and other contaminants get to our wire. This is the main reason that copper wire is coated with silver: to allow the copper to remain oxygen free, and also to allow the wire to slip easier through the insulation. One could stipulate that the signal would run through the silver on the surface, and not through the copper, but I doubt this as there is no insulation between the two. In just about every wire using this technique, I have felt there to be some sort of glare or shininess to the sound.

 

4.THE LOWER THE DIELECTRIC CONSTANT OF THE INSULATION, THE BETTER. Each strand of the wire in the cable is usually insulated from the others, even on the same legs of the wires. The higher the dielectric constant of the insulation, the more energy from the signal will be held back and distorted. Think of  the runners having to fight against varying headwinds. Thus, AIR or a VACUUM is the best dielectric, followed by Teflon and from there downhill. So the ideal would be for each wire to be separated only by air or a vacuum with possibly a thin coating of some material to stop oxidation. The problem with this obviously is that we'd have our wires hanging all over the room, there would be a chance for short circuit of the signal, and there would be no protection from RF interference, due to the fact that there would be no shielding.

 

5. THE FEWER THE STRANDS OF WIRE, THE BETTER. Wire makers over the years have been making their cables more and more complex, for many reasons, not the least of which, the more complicated, the more they can charge, and the more they can advertise the difference between their product and the competition. Originally, it was done to decrease the size of each strand without increasing the resistance to flow. Also the individual legs were twisted on each other to increase RF rejection. The more wires, the more twists and turns have to be used. This leads to increasingly complex geometries, to try to make all of the wires in the bundle travel the same distance, since, if the wires were allowed to be either on the inside or outside, then the individual strands would be of different lengths. Just think of our runners in different lanes that crisscross, with the outer lanes having to run further unless they cross over and become the short lanes. Think some of the runners might become disoriented, not run up to par, not pass their  batons off correctly, or even bump into each other. Sounds chaotic, doesn't it. In audio, SIMPLER IS BETTER.

 

6. THE FEWER SHIELDS THE BETTER. Shields are used to cut out RF, which is found in ever increasing amounts in our environment. The shields would be the equivalent of placing screens around the stadium so our runners won't be hit by debris thrown from the stands, causing all sorts of interference with  the signal. The problem is the shield also interacts with the signal, again muddying it unless it is kept far enough away. But in order to do this, more insulation has to be added, which increases the dielectric (capacitance) signal storage and blurring. A simple way to overcome this is to run the wires as twisted pairs, or parallel, which allows the wire to self-block the RF. The problem with this is that it adds capacitance to the cable, which is not always appreciated by the equipment, and if high enough, may act as a  crossover in the audio range.

 

7. THE LONGER THE CRYSTALS, THE BETTER. Each strand of wire is made up of a crystal lattice, with the crystals of varying sizes and lengths. Where crystals meet, there are discontinuities which may be open space, or filled with some contaminant. Now the relay race has turned into a Steeple Chase, with each runner having to overcome barriers. If there are no discontinuities, then the electrons flow smoother.

 

8. THE CLOSER THE SOLDER METAL IS TO THE CONDUCTOR, THE BETTER. Silver to silver, is ideal. We don't want a 6"7" runner having to hand off to a 5'1" runner now do we? Unhappily, due to the high melting point of silver, the more silver in the solder, the harder it is to work with. But Radio Shack makes a very good and reasonably priced silver solder which has worked well for me.

 

9.  THE SIMPLER THE CONNECTOR, AND  THE CLOSER THE METAL TO THE CONDUCTOR, THE BETTER. Thus a thin flimsy connector made of the same metal as the conductor would be very good, and directly soldering the wire to the equipment's circuit board, input socket, etc., is ideal. Also, plating of the connector is also a no-no for sound, but normally is done to decrease degradation (oxidation). The problem is that we have produced a discontinuity again, and maybe even several, as the big manufacturers sometimes use several layers of different metal platings on each connector. The answer: Either hard wire, or if you are using silver cable, get some simple silver connectors and clean them well, and coat them with (TWEAK OF THE MONTH) CAIG DeoxIT GOLD (formerly ProGold) . This not only seals the silver from oxidation, but also causes a molecular bridge from the cable to equipment connectors,  producing a tunneling effect, which allows the electrons to flow smoothly through the gap. This stuff  also works wonderfully on all other interconnects, speaker cables and AC cords and outlets. But you must thoroughly clean off the oxides first for it to work best. Hint: try (SECOND TWEAK OF THE MONTH) CAIG R-5 CLEANER. You'll be amazed (and we offer a sample for free by clicking here --ed).

 

As you can see, building interconnect is not as easy as you supposed. On the other hand, there  is a technique which solves most of the problems, can be done by the average home enthusiast, is moderate in cost, and produces wonderful sound, i.e., SILVER FOIL CABLE.  I first began experimenting with this about two years ago after reading an article by Allen Wright, which was based on the writings of  Prof. Malcolm Hawksford. I was intrigued enough to order Allen's book, THE SUPER CABLES COOKBOOK,  and have been experimenting along with Kwami Ofori -Asante, a fellow high end nutzo, ever since. Next month, I'll write about my findings, and how you can build possibly the best interconnect and speaker cable available, for about $50 per meter pair. I have compared them to $1000 plus cables and have come away victorious.

If you are curious in the meantime, I would suggest you go to Allen's website Vacuumstate.

 

Follow-Up -- Paraglow Amps
The Paraglow amps which I discussed in last month's column have now been functioning for two months in my system, and, wonder of wonders, I haven't had the slightest inclination  to remove them and try something else (damn, i was hoping to get them --ed). As they have broken in, they have only improved on their strengths. One hint though: Get rid of the Chinese 2A3's that come with the units, and buy a pair of KR  2A3's from Welborne Labs. They are worth every penny. I will be getting some of the new Vaic tubes soon and will let you know how they compare.

That's it for this month. Have a great Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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