What do the best audio cables sound like?
18th March 2020
What do the best audio cables and interconnects sound like? Part 1-Mid-band clarity and sound stage precision.
Audio cables make a big difference to how good your hifi system sounds so what should we be listening for?
So, what do the best audio cables sound like? An easy answer could be, those audio cables that you enjoy listening to and that release the full potential of your audio system. But in order to make a decision about which is best for you it is important to be presented with a choice in the first place. In this article we are going to introduce you to some areas of audio presentation that you can look for to see if you are experiencing the full potential of your audio system.
A few basics first. If we are going to discuss musical presentation, then we are going to be resorting to a lot of visual analogies from the world of photography and the visual world in general.
The first of these sums up the difference between ‘almost’ cables and those that really are very good. Remember the standard lens that came with the camera? If you compare the images from that cheaper lens with a better engineered one you will see the latter provides a crisper image with better image detail although the benefits don't stop there. This is effectively what you are doing with your ears when you buy into a better engineered cable. There is just more to appreciate and what is there is more accurate. But as with the photograph’s lens and its aperture settings so it is with interconnects, with the final audio image subject to the settings used to create it; so different high-end cables will sound different because of the materials used, their geometries, length of cable etc.
How audio cables can prevent mid-band clarity if not correctly matched and what this sounds like.
Most audio enthusiasts are aware when something doesn't quite hang together but it is only when different sounds are compared and contrasted that a more detailed vocabulary of expression can be developed.
We are going to use our Wire on Wire Experience880 tuned in different configurations to demonstrate aspects of sound presentation that the best audio cables should be capable of. We will use our new 'Vibe' spacers at specific loops in the cable's REDpurl™ geometry allowing us to focus or tune an audio system to highlight aspects of the recorded material that listeners tell us are important to them.
We are going to look at three main areas of performance as outlined by HiFi+ in their review of our audio cable interconnect, ‘…mid-band clarity and top-end air, soundstage size and precision, and bass weight and warmth’.
We are going to concentrate on precision or focus in this part of the article.
The overall layout of the soundstage for 'Moondance' is drums roughly central at the back with piano on the right along with a brass section in the background. Voice again roughly central with guitar to the left along with flute and joined later by a saxophone. These are the instruments we are going to use to illustrate what to look out for. To add some confusion, we will use occasional diagrams that do not have this soundstage layout but I’m sure most will cope with my limited presentation skills.
We start with the cable non-tuned. The overall sound is dynamic, open, detailed with quite good depth and a large soundstage from top to bottom and side-to-side. Bass is weighty and articulate and a little warm, good snap to the rim shots on the drums. Voice clear and piano detailed. All of this is very enjoyable to listen to but does it represent all that a hifi system is capable of delivering? We could try another cable design to see what that releases from the audio system or we can tune our current cable differently so it better matches the hifi components.
Without tuning the brass and piano on the right have good detail but there is some blurring of information around the images making it less easy to ‘see’ into the mix. The same can be said for the guitar, flute and sax on the left. Some of the image outlines overflow a little making it more difficult to focus on their respective detail.
If we now tune the audio cable with a 'Vibe' spacer in loop 5 (as counted from the source end of the cable) and we find these musical images snap into focus.
Immediately Van Morrison's voice appears to have a better sense of outline and clarity and the same goes for the piano on the right, which is now more distinct from the brass. It is just easier to 'see' where the piano notes are coming from and to visualize the instrument itself.
It is also easier to differentiate the notes from the drummer as he strikes the snare and top hat. Guitar and flute on the left are more separated. The dimensions of the soundstage are unchanged. The bass guitar still detailed but has more grip and edge and it has lost that soft edge. The 'Vibe' spacer has effectively improved the sense of perspective and precision across the soundstage, separated the images and allowed us to appreciate more of the detail that was already there. These changes have come about not because the cable is acting as a tone control or adding its own character but allowing mid-band detail through from the hifi components. A visual representation of this is seen below, with what the un-tuned cable might look like on the top and the ‘re-focused’ cable below it.
If this kind of audio presentation is what you are looking for then the best audio cables should be able to deliver it along with a host of other benefits. However, focus is not to everyone’s taste with some preferring a more involving, less analytical approach to their sounds and fortunately there is more in this audio system to explore, which we will do in the next article, Part 2-Soundstage presentation.