The Great Cable "Unmasking"

Well, here we go. More than 125 people have participated in the It’s Just Wire “blind test”, so thank you all. Certainly, we’ve dispelled the ridiculous notion that “wire is wire” and that all wire sounds the same. Which one might prefer is of course a personal preference. That we’d need blind A/B/X testing to “prove” that any sonic differences exist is absurd.

First of all, let’s clear up a few things: I’m not sure what some people are hearing as far as “swapped” channels. I am quite certain all of the files are “going in the same direction”, though it’s possible that they are all reversed, which should not be an issue. I used "File 1" as a base and if that was reversed then all were. Funny fact: if you compare various issues of the iconic album Getz/Gilberto you will hear the channels reverse among them. Mastering engineer Kevin Gray insists that the original release accidentally reversed the channels so when he re-mastered it for a few versions he reversed the channels to correct the original mastering engineer's error. (Which is no excuse for my having screwed this up).

If there are level differences, it has to do perhaps with cable resistance because nothing was changed from recording to recording!

File # 1 is the “straight run” on the Kuzma arm. The "straight run" and the second run from the cartridge clips to the junction box is with "standard silver Crystal Cable"..

It’s the black wire just above the largest, most ornate looking cable and has a ground wire with a banana plug attached. Given that it’s the only “straight shot” cable it stood the strongest chance of producing the best sound given the tiny voltages involved, yet it wasn’t the most often chosen as being best.

File #2 turned out to be a prototype cable (not in the photo), though due to a misunderstanding between myself and the manufacturer I didn’t know that. It is probably the most costly of the four but that’s just conjecture based upon the company’s usual premium cable pricing and its complex construction. I agreed to not identify the brand once I found out it was a prototype.

File #3 was very popular if not the favorite among the four. It is “Beyond” from RSX Technology, the company’s most costly phono cable. If the look of the cable appears familiar to some of you, particularly the purple color, that’s not surprising since RSX was recently founded by Roger Skoff who decades ago started XLO and decided to re-enter the cable business. For more about “Beyond” and the less costly RSX phono cables go to this link. A 1.5M length of “Beyond” terminated with RCA plugs costs $4500.

File #4 is the red and black set easily identified in the photo. It is Hosa CRA-200AU manufactured by HosaTech. It features oxygen free copper conductors, with a Spiral oxygen free shield and terminated with gold plated RCA plugs. A 1M set on Amazon costs $9.00.

I decided to “unmask” before giving you my opinion. So now here’s what I heard through my reference system with the files put on ROON and streamed through the dCS Vivaldi One and of course I knew what I was hearing so I was the most biased listener: File #1 compared to #2 and #3 was somewhat aggressive on top and images were neither as well-focused nor as pleasingly compact and well-organized as they were presented on #2 and #3. #1’s bass was not as well controlled either compared to #2 and #3.

I was surprised by how many listeners reacted negatively to #2. Definitely more “mellow” sounding than #1 but for me, #2’s presentation was better controlled and well organized overall, especially the vocal. #2 was my second favorite.

#3 was easily the winner (for me) as it was for many other listeners. It had the best timbral balance and overall instrumental attack and delicacy. Its superiority was immediately noticeable on the opening shimmer and especially the acoustic envelope surrounding the voice.

No doubt the best value was the $9 cable! And if you liked it the most you’re in for nine bucks! You can’t beat that. However, in my system it was kind of a disorganized spatial mess, plus overall instrumental attack was soft and spongy and the vocal presentation was timbrally incoherent, but it was not unpleasant and I can understand why some probably preferred it to #1.

The main point of this exercise was to demonstrate that wire isn’t just wire and that the cables you choose throughout your system contribute mightily to its overall sound, which does not mean you have to break the bank but that you should choose carefully.

When I read people saying they have assembled a costly system but really don’t pay attention to the cables because “wire is wire” and cables are “snake oil”, it doesn’t bother or anger me as much as it makes me feel sorry for them. I’ve heard systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that were just about ruined by poor cable choices.

BTW: I think A.C. cables might be the most important cables in a system and when I see in a high end set up the plain black rubber ones supplied with costly gear that manufacturers assume will be replaced, I just have to laugh. It’s that or cry and I’d rather laugh!

pessoist's picture

Is actually a 2,3,4,1 to me.
And that, listening through an iPad to an UEBoom2 bluetooth connected, „it cannot work“ and it doesn‘t when choosing a cable of that value for my proper system of some very much higher value. It was an experiment.

1 sounded utterly uninspiring
2 the mellow music spectrum fitted voice and song, that this would have been my preferred cable listening through a wireless system, hahahaha
3 tightly followed by the not so mellow, more controlled and precision indicating (remember BT, mono) #3
4 just did a good job, less precise, less mellow than 2 and 3 but the chaos mentioned in soundstage is of course difficult to extract out of this crappy mobile system, but looking at price, definitely a go for a quick setup or vacation home intermediate setup.

Unfortunately the #1 was very distant and obviously off the line.


Happy Will's picture

I think a key question, and one that I hope Mr K will answer, is; is the cable to the RCA box the same as the straight through run (#1)? ie for #2,3 and 4 has the signal gone through #1 already?

If it is, it clearly illustrates the effect of cables and how they can be used to "tune" a system (which we all should know they are). The challenge, is how do you know if you can get a better result and what cable will do that for you, based on what is important when you are listening. And some advice doesn't fit - back in the 80's when I had Naim equipment (I am in the UK) I really diliked the Naim speaker cable and I felt like a heretic, and not long after I got rid of my Naim's.

Michael Fremer's picture
I can answer: There's a double run of standard Crystal Cable silver between the cartridge clips and the box. One run from the cartridge clips continues without a break to the RCA plugs. The other run terminates in the RCA jacks in the box. Clearly the short run doesn't overwhelm because changing RCA cables from the box makes a big sonic difference..
Intermediate Listener's picture

in upgraded cables. But my Rega RP6 came with hardwired interconnects that do not appear readily replaceable. Any advice/experience much appreciated.

Michael Fremer's picture
Doesn't think a break in the wire is worth whatever benefits might be obtained from different wire so the only choice is a total rewire which I strongly recommend not doing!
Intermediate Listener's picture

Thanks Michael!

Anton D's picture

If these differences are so obvious as to render DBT testing irrelevant, then it certainly wouldn't take much effort to actually perform the DBT and be done with it, no?

If we can do it with wine, we can do it with cable, I would think.

Think of the fame, fortune, and accolades that await that person! Maybe even a million dollars from James Randi!

So, we are still waiting for Godot when it comes to the DBT cable messiah. (They differences are so blatant that they can be heard on iPhones and via built-in computer speakers, after all.)

I love this comparison, but that 6 dB range of levels leaves be dubious, I admit. Am I the only one? Maybe.

It's been ~45 years of the great cable debate, perhaps it will be settled in another 45.

So, I am pro cable, and blind curious.

I know wine experts who can only discern differences between wines when they know which is which, so this affliction is not limited to cables, either!

BillK's picture

Please spend 30 seconds and investigate the history of MF and Randi and how he tried to take him up on his challenge.

Anton D's picture

Quite a tale, that's why I mentioned Randi. I can see both sides, but one of the main offered options was a cable with a Transparent Cable model with a "secret" control knob and the question was cable, not cable-plus-a-control-box that altered the cable's performance. The Pear Cable was a good choice...and if one really could hear the difference, a 7250 dollar investment could have paid a million bucks.

Too bad they couldn't have had a meeting of the minds with a straight up cable with no secret box.

Why did it have to be that particular Transparent cable? It could have been a "plain" "high end" cable and...booom...a million dollars.

Pear Cable seems to be the entity that got cold feet, not Mike.

Here is a review of the story...

Michael Fremer's picture
Pear chickened out and Randi attacked me. Then Randi chickened out and then Randi ended up in the hospital and used that as an excuse for why he lied about me. Even some of his acolytes backed me! I said Transparent with the box was more than a cable... etc.
Anton D's picture

I see the story as you going into it honestly, and running into a crap-storm of fear and loathing by the other entities.

I meant that as a compliment, I hope it came across appropriately.

Michael Fremer's picture
The A/B/X box in the case of these tiny voltages will probably swamp differences IMO. But beyond that "double blind" tests "prove" that musicians can't distinguish between a Stradivarius and a student violin. So either there are no real sonic differences and the whole Stradivarius thing is "snake oil" or the test is stupid. I think it's the latter because test taking is itself a skill set so making these unskilled musicians (unskilled at test taking) jump through these hoops is ridiculous. I got involved with the Amazing Randi! Don't you know that story??? I probably should do a video and tell that any case, I'll tell you a wine story: I know a very well to do gentleman who is not a show off. He brought two bottles of wine to a restaurant and had one uncorked and poured and the other decanted. He said nothing about either one. I didn't even look at the bottle of the first one but noted it was obviously a very complex and fine wine and I said so. He said it was a Burgundy and I forget exactly what it was....then without ceremony he poured the decanted wine. I took one tiny sip and burst out like the scene in "When Harry Met Sally", OH MY GOD! WOWI I'VE NEVER TASTED ANY WINE LIKE THAT! WHAT IS THAT?????" He turned the empty bottle around and it was Chateau Haut Brion 1989. Look it up. Yet there are still people who think all wine tastes the same....these cables clearly do not sound identical to one another. I'd only trust an experienced test taker to attempt an A/B/X test. I did one with amplifiers after being challenged. It was at an AES. I got all identifications correct! 100% Not only that, but I named which was which. But the organizer threw my result out because it was an "outlier" since the engineers at the AES where the test took place couldn't score better than chance. THEY COULDN'T RELIABLY DISTINGUISH A CROWN DC300 FROM THE VTL300! Now you don't think those sound alike do you? They surely don't measure alike! So why couldn't the engineers hear even that? Because they are not experienced test takers!
Anton D's picture

I undertake SBT wine tasting all the time. My point was that nobody lights their hair on fire when we talk about blind tasting wine, but us audiophiles certainly do when it comes to gear! All the while thinking of reasons to discount the exercise.

You were not an experienced wine taster, yet the example you use is perfect: an inexperienced test taker can do this stuff!

Us wine nerds take it to the point where the decanted wine might have been the same wine as the first, and differences would emerge merely via decanting! Big fun!

I love stuff like that.

I also agree that the A/B/X box and instantaneous type of test is ill suited to this exercise. There's no rush, listen all day, all week, then make a change, or not (!) and compare...I think that's the cool path for Hi Fi.

My Hi Fi Club does blind comparisons all the time. I think the first step toward beating 'blind testing deafness' is simply doing it in the first place.

Regarding wine, we can pick out grape, age, even producer...why shouldn't this be possible for cables, especially since so many of them "remove veils" and have "obvious sonic signatures that can be the size of orders of magnitude." Why should oenophiles be able to claim superiority of discernment vs. audiophile? We should do better

It's too bad we so often sit and congratulate ourselves over being able to hear the "obvious" differences between cables but go all "arms crossed and brows furrowed" when we get challenged.


To drift a little, that 6 dB range of level difference is something even JA should be able to measure. One of the British Hi Fi magazines does this, I will volunteer to go look for how wide their measurements can be...6 dB seems to strain credulity. Not of you, but of that order of difference.

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

I'm on your side, Anton D. As you say, if the difference is easily audible, then it would be no problem to pass an ABX test, or even just a single blind test. Anton D, I have quite a lot of experience with ABX testing, so I would be happy to help you if you're interested in trying it out :-).
Honestly, I find many of the arguments presented in this discussion nonsensical and contradictory:
"These cables have audible differences, but we need to listen long-term, maybe even for weeks, so no ABX testing is allowed, but still the audible differences are so easily noticeable that these 1 minute clips clearly prove it".
Very contradictory!
It should also be mentioned that there's absolutely nothing in an ABX test that says that you can't listen to A for 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years before switching to B. Using an instantaneous switch only makes it easier for the listener to distinguish. If you spend a few minutes switching gear, it's simply less likely that you'll be able to remember what you heard a few minutes earlier.

As for using a physical ABX switch that poses two questions:
1: Does the ABX switch introduce audible artifacts?
2: Is it even necessary to use an ABX switch?

The answer to the first question in my opinion is that it's very unlikely that the switch would introduce any audible artifacts, but let's say that it's possible that it does. Then you could easily do a blind test with the ABX switch inserted and with it removed. If you then get a really good result after 12 or 16 trials, then you have your answer and can remove the ABX switch if it really does introduce audible artifacts.

So that leads to the second question:
No, we don't necessarily need an ABX switch, and there are two reasons:
1: Although it would not be quite as good, the listener could just be blindfolded, and someone else could switch the cables. The only "danger" is that the person doing the switching could give off signals to tip off the listener, although I think this is unlikely, as long as the switcher keeps his composure.
2: We don't need a physical ABX switch, because we already have the recordings that Fremer provided, so we can just do the ABX test with these files - it is after all claimed that these files fully prove the audible differences.

So, a few comments about this cable test:
First, there were no percentages provided about people's preferences. All that was shown was that people preferred different cables, and although this is unlikely it could have been 25 % for each cable.
Is it really surprising that people have preferences?
You present four files, say that there's a difference, and the files have large volume level differences and swapped channels, and you present them to people who claim they hear differences with everything, whether real or imagined (and audiophile acquaintance of mine claimed putting a piece of paper under your amp made it sound different). So obviously, they will want to find differences.
It's also important to note that many people didn't even notice the swapped channels and just waxed about the alleged improvements of one cable over the other, while swapped channels certainly is a much bigger difference than any cable could ever make. Then there were the volume level differences that some picked up on, but many didn't, and they also just waxed on about audible differences. Also, even if they adjusted the volume on their amp it's close to impossible to do that precisely with a volume knob.
Even the one administering the test, Fremer, didn't even notice all these things, which says something about how unfocused to details all these listeners really are when they're doing a test about something that really is about minute details. In the end it seems to be more about wanting to hear differences than actually hearing them, when all these variables are not controlled for.
If an ABX test was passed with time-aligned, level-matched files then great! I will respect that completely.

Here it's important to understand a bit about human psychology:
In an experiment the same song was played for people twice in a row, and 76 % of the listeners had a preference for one over the other, even though it was the same song.
In another experiment the same amplifier was played with an A/B switch to both audiophiles and engineers (one person at a time as far as I understood), and they were told that one was a Mackintosh tube amp, and that the other was a solid state design. The audiophiles said the tube amp sounded warmer and more pleasant, while the solid state was deemed cold and analytical. The engineers said the solid state was more accurate, while the tube amp sounded fuzzy and imprecise.
But they only listened to one amp. So no matter who we are we have expectations and preferences, as we are pattern recognition machines, and we have been told that the more you pay the better quality you get - which is of course true in many cases, but not always.

And just to make it clear: Just because some people claim that there are no audible differences or that all wine taste the same doesn't make it so. What is important to remember is where the burden of proof lies. If the best science we have today shows XYZ, then it's the responsibility of a person with a claim to the contrary to prove otherwise.
If the claim is that all wine (or coke) taste the same, then just do a blind test to prove otherwise.
Same thing with audio: Just prove it instead of keeping on talking about it, and the burden of proof lies on the people who claim cables produce audible differences beyond volume level differences. I already have done ABX tests between several phono preamps and passed with flying colours (I'm happy to post my logs here). I've also subjected three girlfriends to ABX tests for the first time in their lives. They passed most of them with at least 14 out of 16 correct (one said after her first test: "Give me something more difficult"), but one of them failed one that I easily passed, even from my kitchen. So yes, there are such a thing as trained and untrained listeners and wine-drinkers. But there are also nay-sayers like Fremer who prefer to scream on the internet about how big morons everyone are instead of just taking the test and get it over and done with, since it will be no problem to pass it.

Duke86fan's picture

i'm just a starting out audiophile in college with a uturn (hoping to upgrade to a mofi deck and a cartridge since i dont like having to do a lot of modification with rega products). and i dunno what cables would overall be the best when im just using a simple schiit preamp and headphone amp

Anton D's picture

I'd be interested in what Schiit has to say, they seem to know their Schiit.

Michael Fremer's picture
Listeners preferred the U-Turn Pluto over the Schitt by a considerable margin.
Duke86fan's picture

i actually heard from a hifi forum that the pluto was often giving issues with build and reliability, saying they had to get it repaired multiple times.

Michael Fremer's picture
The U-Turn is a great 'table for the $$$$ should choose cables whose cost is commensurate with the cost of the rest of the system. I definitely like the lower end of the Kimber line....(I like the upper too but...)....
Anton D's picture

Love that company.

Duke86fan's picture

actually looked up the cables online and they seem to cost at least 100 dollars and i just want to stop a cable bottleneck from bad too stiff not grounded monoprice cables and my original idea was just getting either some blue jeans cables or audioquest evergreens

also thank you for reading my comment and saying my turntable was good (though i chose the grado option because i want a warmer not as bright sound as an ortofon and i dunno what alternative will give me good sound without saying too bright like its said on vinyl forums)

Glotz's picture

Evergreens are not going to put you out too much, but the entire lineup from AQ is fantastic and price-justified. I haven't heard Blue Jeans cables, but the hype over the years is a bit much for me to stomach. You pay, you get... still true.

The deals on interconnects from Music Direct is what you missed out on in years past. The 1/2 off pricing of King Cobra, Columbia and Colorado were just unbelievable values that are not sadly gone for the most part. But they do have speaker cables CV-4/CV-8 still available (with and without Cryo treatments). Worth an audition, as one can return to them within 60 days. Warm and yet still neutral... Never had a AQ cable that wasn't.

AQ simply has a very mature product line, and the precise quality- leveling is why they will continue to be a an excellent value choice for every budget. Also, 72V DBS is the real deal. When you can get to those price levels over the years, investigate with an audition. Kimber also has a great line, though poorer value in the lower lines (IMO) vs. AQ. Just make sure there's a return policy in place wherever you go.

And no, I'm not an AQ fanboy and own partial looms from 5 different cable manufacturers... I do believe they are the best in the entry level market, and that there are no giant-killers anymore. Again, the entire market is mature by now and finding the holy grail that shames the rest of the audio manufacturers extant is pure bullshit. Don't look for that.

davip's picture

MF 1: "...That we’d need blind A/B/X testing to “prove” that any sonic differences exist is absurd"

MF 2: "...of course I knew what I was hearing so I was the most biased listener"

It's not absurd Mikey, and your statement '2' above is the reason that your statement '1' is wrong. It's called Confirmation Bias, to which you indirectly allude in '2'.

If You think that these differences between cables not only exist but are down to better 'quality' of sound (rather than simply the electrical differences between the cables) then you owe it to those you report these results to (given the financial differences involved and the manufacturers who profit from being 'best') to do those tests unsighted AND to have JA do full lab-tests to see if the playing field is level. Until that happens it's more probable that you are hearing tonal differences resulting from electrical (resistivity/capacitance/inductance) differences between the cables that are dimensionless in 'sound quality' terms.

In support of this perspective and regarding your 'N.B.', it's safe to say that these electrical differences will affect AC-carrying mains cables just as much, but Because those DON'T carry an audio signal any influence such cables have can ONLY be electrical. If you hear a difference in mains cables you must then ask yourself exactly What it is you are hearing in the audio ones.

When phono cables costs $3000 for 1-m and the companies making these can charge any amount for a thick dielectric and a silly name, inquiry needs to be systematic -- it was not so very long ago that a junior Stereophile 'reviewer' left to become a high-paid PR mouthpiece for a cable company, so there's both vast profits involved as well as attempts to game the field.

Michael Fremer's picture
I have done a considerable amount of it. I did it at Harman's facility some years ago and produced very consistent results. They didn't care which "sound" you liked, just that you could demonstrate consistency in your preferences. I did that. I was challenged to a "blind" amplifier test at an AES and got 100% correct identifications. However, the results for the rest of the test population was no better than chance so guess what? My result was TOSSED as an "outlier". And the test was produced to humiliate me personally and I humiliated the test producer by taking his challenge and leaving egg on his face. Now, davip, after that were you me how anxious would you be to take further tests like this? The proponents of "it all sounds the same" always find ways to "win". I am not going to be part of their scam posing as "science". I was also challenged once by someone who said "high resolution" audio was a scam and that 16 bit/44.1k was transparent to the source. That person send me files at 16/44.1k and 96/24 all were labeled as 96/24 and the challenge was to sort them out. Do I have to tell you the results? So, I'm content to let others now waste their time with blind testing. It's useful for some things....
davip's picture

...I'd still like to know whether what you're hearing is the electrical differences between cables or something not measurable. The reason for asking remains a simple one -- if it's just electrical (e.g., thickness of dielectric, weave of shield, thickness and inductance of conductor), then this is worth determining because once understood it can be duplicated without these filthy prices and arcane, BS, arm-waving hoo-haa from the vendors.

For me that's the $64,000 question (and I don't doubt that somewhere there's some money-grubbing, 99.9%+-margin cable company who say that their same-priced cable provides the answer!)

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

That hi-res test you supposedly took was most likely Mark Waldrep who sent you 4 files to identify a couple of years ago, and you got 3 out of 4 correct, which is actually not all that good, as that's only one more correct identification than flipping a coin, and it's actually not more likely to get 3 out of 4 correct than to get 1 out of 4 correct. When you only have 4 trials it's much easier to get a good result than if you had, say, 16 trials.
If you instead had done an ABX test and got 15 or 16 out of 16 correct for 3 out of 4 files that would be a much, much better result, and that would be both impressive and convincing, as long as everything checks out.
It should also be noted that it was shown that the resampler that Mark Waldrep uses adds silence in the beginning and changes the volume-level, so that poses two problems (time-alignment and volume level issues) that could ensure a pass, and yes, some of his tests have been passed that way, simply because he didn't notice the time-alignment and volume-level issues.
So if you're really so confident that you can distinguish hi-res from 16/44 you could easily take a true hi-res file, properly downsample it to 16/44 and then upsample it again to 24/96 to avoid any filtering issues in the DAC and then pass the ABX test with flying colours and have a sceptic verify the result. I know that several sceptics have already offered to show up at your house and help you set up the test.
If you pass this test, which you're so sure that you can, then the discussion will be over immediately, and you will have bragging rights for the rest of your life. But you would of course prefer to just spew bile about it online instead of putting your money (i.e. your reputation) where your mouth is.
As mentioned, some resamplers introduce problems, but the SoX resampler seems to do the job well.
Some people also take a CD from the shelf and then compare it to a download from HD Tracks or something and then conclude that hi-res is superior, when in fact most hi-res tracks for sale are different masters. So, take the hi-res file, downsample it properly and then do the test.
But if you actually truly understand the difference between 24/96 and 16/44, which is that the only difference there could possibly be is that the hi-res file can contain information above 22 kHz and below -96 dB, then you will understand why it's extremely unlikely that anyone could truly hear a difference, least of all someone with 70 year old ears. Many people think that bit depth means "resolution" like megapixel in a digital camera, but it doesn't. The people who really understand how digital audio works knows this.

Just for the record: I actually take your side about the AES amplifier test. I agree that many untrained listeners, and engineers, can't hear a difference. What I think should have happened was that you and John Atkinson were subjected to further testing after your correct identifications, meaning you take each amplifier and do, say, 12 or 16 trials for each amplifier, pass it with flying colours and then shut the critics up.

Michael Fremer's picture
Were not sent to me by Waldrep but they may very well have been his files. However, what you're suggesting tells me that whatever hoops I jump through, someone will come along and say "it's not enough do this". As for the "people who really understand digital audio" they insisted for years that CD was "perfect' because they weren't measuring what was very imperfect: the filters. Early CD sound was TERRIBLE but saying that produced major uproars and i remember being accused of all sorts of stuff from being "bought" to being deaf. But I was correct. I leave it to others to measure. I know that the human brain, conformational bias and all (as if I needed a lecture on it) is a far more sensitive measuring device than all of the electronic test gear known to man. You can insist that my enjoyment of hi resolution digital files and my ability to listen to them longer than to CDs, for which I still have a low tolerance, is 'confirmational bias' or whatever, but I really no longer care. I think it's more incumbent upon you and others in the "digital world" to figure out why so many people are attracted to vinyl records again or for the first time. And if you say "pleasing colorations" well that's fine. I'll say I can't stand much digital because of unpleasant and as yet unmeasurable distortions. Then we can both go back our respective corners and go back to listening.
Johnnyjajohnny's picture

Let's cut to the chase, Fremer:
I have a challenge for you, and I'm putting up a $1000 for this bet!
Before you jump to the conclusion that I won't pay you if you win, let me assure you that I both have the money and the morals to pay up if I lose, and I'm perfectly happy to send you a screenshot of my bank account before the challenge starts. You will also have all this in writing, so you can take me to court, but that won't be necessary, as this bet is made in good spirits :-).
Not only will you get $1000 if you win, but you will also win eternal glory and clear proof that you've been right about what you've been saying all along. On top of this you get to prove all the objectivists wrong (not that I'm an objectivist), and you will beat them at their own game, so all their subsequent objections will fall on deaf ears, since you now have the proof that they always ask you for.
So, what I would like you to do is to take an ABX test in Foobar, and if you pass I will transfer $1000 to you.
Before you start objecting, here are the conditions:
* What I want you to test is something where you've said repeatedly that you can hear a difference. You would describe the improvements with words akin to "enormous", "immediately obvious", "so much better", etc., so it should only take you a few minutes to prove me wrong and stuff $1000 in your pocket.
* You will test it in your own listening room, and you don't need to change any gear – all you need to do is install Foobar and the ABX plugin and do the test from there.
* There will be no time-constraints, and you can listen to each file as many times as you like, switch between files whenever you desire and as often as you desire, and I won't interfere with this in any way. Once the test is set up, you will administer it yourself completely. Since you would describe these differences along the lines of "enormous" it should only take you a few minutes to pass the test, but if you want to spend 12 hours or more on it that's fine by me. Again, there will be no time-constraints.
* Before the actual test starts you can of course listen to the music and verify that there are no dirty tricks of any kind.
* The test should include at least 16 trials in each ABX test, but you can include more if you like.
* A pass should include at least 15 correct out of 16 trials.
* If you like I can do ABX tests of the same files before or after your tests so you have my results as well.
* I will send you Foobar and the music to be tested by WeTransfer or another transfer service, and I will of course guide you through installing and setting all this up, which will only take a few minutes.
* Along with the actual test files I will also send you some other files to test first. This is not to trick you in any way, but simply so you can familiarize yourself with the ABX test and to show you that the tool works. The first songs to ABX will contain such enormous differences that you should be able to pass the test with 16 out of 16 correct within just a few minutes, maybe even in less than a minute. Also, if you don't pass this first ABX test, you will be able to prove what you've been saying repeatedly: That the test can't be passed. I will also send you more files for you to practice with, and they will increasingly become a little bit more difficult, but will still be very, very easy to pass – I've even had girlfriends and my aunt who's been diagnosed with PTSD pass some of these tests with at least 14 out of 16 correct, even though they had never tried a test like this before. You don't need to pass any of the tests with these "training files" (although you will pass for sure), and they won't be part of the test itself, so if you fail those particular tests that doesn't count towards the final result, and the bet is still on. Of course, if you get, say, 1 out of 16 correct in one of these initial tests something has clearly gone wrong, and we will figure out together what it is before proceeding. Only the final part of the test is relevant for the bet, so the initial part is only training to help you as I want you to feel comfortable with this test, since my goal is actually to show you that the ABX tool works. If you accept the bet I will clearly mention what files will be part of the formal test before you give me a final approval, so there will be no confusion, and everything and every detail and condition will be completely clear. This way I won't be able to say "Gotcha!" afterwards, and you won't feel cheated.
* As far as I know there's no way you would be able to cheat, and I certainly don't expect you to either, but to play it safe I would just like to be "present" on Skype or another type of video call. Then I will also instruct you on how to use the ABX tool, although it's very simple and straight-forward. Although I will be "present" I won't interfere with your testing at any point, and I will be completely quiet from start to finish of the test itself. Both of us can record the entire event, so in case someone calls foul play, we have proof of what happened.
* After the completed test you will need to save and send me the logs of the ABX tests for me to verify, which only takes me a minute to do.
* After the test is finished, you can verify yourself that the files have not been bogus in any way and that they are exactly what I claim that they are. I know for certain that you have the software to verify them, so you don't need to install anything. After this, you're welcome to take the files to someone else and have them verify that I didn't doctor them in any way.
* A lot of the music will be music that I know for certain that you enjoy, so you won't be tortured with music that you can't stand.
* If you win the bet, you will not only win $1000, but will also be allowed to post the results anywhere you like, comment on it as often as you wish, mention me by name and tarnish it, block me from your website if you wish, and finally you will be hailed as a hero by most of the music industry for proving the deaf objectivists wrong. This will probably not only result in glory and honour, but also more invitations to hi-end events, sponsorship deals, new personal connections, etc.
* If you lose the bet, then obviously you will have to pay me $1000, and I will of course also be allowed to report the result, although I'm doing this in good spirits, so the objective won't be to tarnish your name. But if I win, it won't change anything anyway. I think we both know that :-).
* As for transferring the money, we can use Paypal or a regular bank transfer. This is a detail we can work out if you accept the bet but before the test actually starts.
* Until the actual formal test starts, no one owes the other person any money. I want this to be done in positive spirits.
* If there are certain details that you don't like about this bet, we can work it out, as I want to make this happen :-).
So, do you accept? Are you ready to set me straight and make a $1000 in the process?

arcman67's picture

I think #2 sounded sooo different from the others that many saw it as the weaker cable. #3 and #4 were actually close on my studio monitors.

Trekmaster's picture

For me it's pretty simple. If I could aford $4500 cables to put on a high priced system that would up it's performance I would do so! The fact that I can't afford them and I don't have an expensive system the $9.00 cable is the one I use. To each his or her own. But Michael I appreciate your expertise and always enjoy your reviews and perspective in everything analog!! Keep on keeping on Sir! Peace and Love!

Jim Tavegia's picture

It was nice to fine Hosa was a decent performer as I have much of it in my 3 recording systems and have found when one brand produces hum, switching to Hose often solves the problem. I do find them to be decent performers. At 73 I had a hard time choosing between 3 and 4, but that is my hearing loss and nothing do to 3 being not as revealing. It is me for sure.

As for power cables I have an MIT IEC cable that dropped my computer recording noise floor nearly 10db and using a very affordable Furman 8 outlet AC filter box, I have 4 of them on all my audio gear, I can get a near -80db noise floor in my computer before opening up my microphones. I cannot complain about that.

Thanks for all the work you did to put this together.

Michael Fremer's picture
Garth Powell who designs AudioQuest's power conditioners (Niagara etc.) and cables formerly worked for Furman. He knows his stuff...
Jim Tavegia's picture

I just put them on both my Mac Mini USB to my Yamaha MG 10XU 24192 mixer and my Win 10 Focusrite Scarlett system and believe it has helped for all of $129. My Win is getting a new motherboard today and a new Gaming video card and upping the RAM to 32 gbs. Now that my files are getting bigger and going to add DSD downloads it was time to do it right.

It is not that little things matter, it is everything matters.

hiwattnick's picture

No matter how many times you show a nonbeliever in cables, that quality cables really do make a difference, has gotta start to get quite irritating after a while. It’s almost as if they’ve got their hands over their ears while singing aloud. As you mentioned, good cables can make or break a decent system, and I also feel sorry for those unwilling to even think about that fact. I don’t expect this test to make a believer out of everyone (or anyone, for that matter), but wanted to at least say thank you for doing it nonetheless, Michael. I’m sure you were aware of the response you’d get beforehand.

hiwattnick's picture

I forgot to mention that some of the biggest sonic upgrades I’ve made to my system was to change my AC cables to Audioquest, rewire my tonearm with Cardas wire, and run Cardas cable from my deck to phono pre. That was obviously much less expensive than upgrading actual components.

lionelag's picture

that I would flunk an ABX test, but can hear some real difference. There's too much going on in the recording to focus on everything-- I grabbed onto the one thing I know well--the sound of the guitar--(having played for 32 years) and heard what I heard (this computer has a Geek Pulse DAC and HiFiMan 400i headphones). 4 is surprisingly better than stock to me, and the next time I replace a tonearm cable, I may go in that direction. 3 sounded great. 2 had a little too much fairy dust for me, but did sound good. 1 was kind of bland.

The Stradivarius and wine tests need to be talked up more. Because I know professional violinists, and one of the things that would make them considerably happier is being able to have, play, maintain, and insure a $12,000 violin instead of a $300,000 one, if the tone was the same. The only classical string instrumentalists who seem to have adopted modern instruments in large numbers are violists, however, and that's mostly for ergonomic reasons.

With wine, yeah, I've had some absolutely amazing experiences without knowing what I was actually getting. And the price usually was commensurate, even if I was eating at a BYOB place with a oenophile friend and didn't recognize the label until I googled it later.

OldschoolE's picture

Well, first of all I don’t feel this was a fair test, but only because of the environment. It is just that there is nothing that beats a live in-person test. With internet you have all kinds of anomalies. On top of that, of course, people are listening on different gear instead of on the same system. So those two factors alone skewer things even if the test was to merely prove that cables make a difference.
I prefer real science to pseudoscience. I’m not saying cables can’t make a difference, they can, but that difference is tiny compared to many other things, including just small tweaks that are free or very low cost. I personally would not use cables to try to EQ my system. Realistically, the “difference” between most cables in any price range would be almost imperceptible except by very sensitive measuring equipment. All most folks have is their ears to measure with and that should always be the final say where one’s system enjoyment is concerned. If you hear a significant difference (before knowing cost), then by all means go with what you hear. Of course, cables don’t need to cost a fortune either and I agree with Michael that one should not spend outside what is commensurate with one’s gear. While I personally would not spend $1000 or more on cables on a $11k system lets say, but some might and it would not be wrong either. There is nothing to gain by spending a fortune though. It is the same with all audio gear as well and even with other things like cars, there is a demarcation line of diminishing returns. In other words, the difference between a $3000 cable and a $300 cable would most likely be imperceptible to the ear, so spending more money is wasteful and not needed in my opinion. Same thing with a car, they all get you from point A to point B, but often times the more expensive the car the more unreliable and costly to maintain it is. Of course, these days cars are made more and more poorly year to year by all the makes, what’s up with that?
I used to run Monoprice premium interconnects and speaker cable in my system. (I’m not saying what my system is, but I will say it is not commensurate with Michael’s by any stretch, however it is not from Walmart either). I had zero problems sonically with the Monoprice cables. I tried Kimber interconnects and had all kinds of problems, however that was on a different system than I have now. With my current (and final) system, I still had Monoprice cables initially, but there was an issue with the interconnects, not sonically, but with the terminators. They were way too tight and over-engineered. Also, the cables are rather stiff. I ended up going with WireWorld interconnects. As for fit, they are far better, but sonically, they are no different from the Monoprice cables. I even bothered to go a step up from the “entry-level” ones and two steps up from that for the cables into and from the phono preamp. That said, I also wanted new speaker cables and I like DIY (nothing new to me). So, I went and got some speaker cable from the same place many cable makes get their bulk cable. It was a little different than the Monoprice stuff, but very subtle. The biggest difference was the gauge, I went from 14 to 12. I decided to go all in and made them fancy looking with the flextec and heat shrink and nice terminators. They look like something from Audioquest, but without the plastic badge and battery pack, etc. Cost about $36 and an hour of my labor to make two 10-foot runs, but that is just aesthetics. This is the interesting point: They made a small but notable sonic difference to my ears! Soundstage was slightly wider and had more depth of field and I also heard more subtle details. I attribute all that about 98% to 99% to the gauge change in the wire and not some brand name or fancy wrapping, etc.
I personally think the power cable hoopla is designed to void warranties. The gear comes with the power cable it does for a reason. Is it the best grade of cable? No, but it is appropriate at least as it has been tested for and with the gear. If you had a new piece of gear at any cost and let’s say it has a 5-year warranty and you change the power cable straight away and then experience problems with the unit, what do you think will happen when you call the manufacture and tell them the problem? They will inevitably ask you to bring it in. They will find out you used a different power cable. These techs are not stupid, they know how to trace stuff. They will find out and you will have to pay because your warranty will be voided.
That said, if the warranty period on your gear is over though, then feel free to do whatever you like.

BillK's picture

It's clear you already know how you feel about the issue when you dismiss cables as "hoopla?"

There is no manufacturer that is going to void your warranty for use of an aftermarket cable; in fact they can't thanks to the Magnuson-Moss warranty act, even though that typically only applies to auto parts.

I've never seen an audio component Limited Warranty that explicitly disclaims the use of third party power cables.

Michael Fremer's picture
That you took the time and trouble to at least listen! So many of the online angry people insist cables cannot make a difference so they see no need to listen. And then they declare themselves the "scientists". My experience is that next to speaker cables, A.C. cables make the biggest and very dramatic differences. I was completely taken by surprise but it's not at all subtle.
Michael Fremer's picture
That you took the time and trouble to at least listen! So many of the online angry people insist cables cannot make a difference so they see no need to listen. And then they declare themselves the "scientists". My experience is that next to speaker cables, A.C. cables make the biggest and very dramatic differences. I was completely taken by surprise but it's not at all subtle.
supamark's picture

Is that you never did actually correct the channel mismatch - 1 and 2 were the same, 3 and 4 were the same but with left/right switched (and I dl'd the files *after* you said you corrected that problem). Because the L/R were switched I couldn't compare the pairs.

I used HiFiMan HE-500 'phones, Schiit Asgard 3 amp (it's like a headphone Aegir - which is rated Stereophile Class 'A'), Schiit Modi mulitbit DAC fed by s/pdif input (since it sounds a lot better than USB off my PC).

This was a stark contrast to the tonearm comparison you did before where the three SAT arms all sounded distinctly different but amazing and the (I think SP-10) non-SAT arm sounded like dog crap compared to the SAT arms.

I listened and posted this before reading the above article or any comments so as not to be influenced by what was said. Didn't read the comments in the original article either (or much of the article), except folks saying WTF with the swapped channels (which apparently never got fixed). This has done nothing to change my mind about cable. I will agree that some speaker cables can alter the sound due to differences in capacitance/inductance and how the amp reacts to those differences but they're pretty minor in the grand scheme of things (preamp, DAC, vinyl front end, amp, and speakers all have a significantly greater impact).

Tom L's picture

I've always had a hell of a time getting any sort of signal through those black rubber cables. The ones with some sort of copper in the middle work a lot better.

dschian's picture

Re. subjectivism for evaluating cables- naysayers often point to the 'placebo' effect, which could have some merit if it were a case of people imagining that certain cabling changes led one to think there'd been a relative improvement or decline, but what about when a cable/inter-connect/power cord choice makes a system sound viscerally unpleasant? For example, I have some Thiel 2.3s in one of my systems- they have many strengths, and sound really good in that system at this point, but (as well known) can run a bit hot in the lower part of the treble range. First, I found I needed certain lines of Cardas interconnects to tame them; other lines early on- Audioquest or Ayre signature (sort of an audioquest/cardas hybrid, sound-wise) interconnects did not sufficiently tame the Thiel's problem. Speaker cabling also had to be Cardas. With better system isolation and a change to a tube preamp, tho aforementioned cable lines could be introduced for an overall better sound, but power cabling (primarily Shunyata) was still too intense if uniform, and thus needed a Cardas pc or two.
If a suboptimal cable combo creates a sound that actively makes me uncomfortable as soon as I listen to it, that would seem much less likely to support a placebo effect, especially since I think that for most audio applications of mine, the other cabling lines are considerably better than the Cardas (which I am not knocking overall, and about which I'm discussing more 'down-line' examples manufactured almost 20 years ago). A persistently-disturbing sound balance shouldn't simply be attributable to momentary whims or any power-of-suggestion, especially since it went against my overall desire to use more resolving cabling.

Archimago's picture

Wow. #3 is an expensive "Beyond" cable!?

Have a listen to the quiet parts. It's picking up hum. So unless it's an issue with the recording, IMO this is not good.

Fsonicsmith's picture

why you, Mike, have such implied faith in digital copies of needle drops. Let's skip the irony of your historic preference for vinyl and just stick with basics. You on the one hand have historically insisted that all cabling breaks are to be avoided. And yet, Keep in mind too that once you hook up the ADC to the output of your phono stage with one set of IC's and then go into a pre-amp to adjust level and boost the output with yet another set of IC's and then go from the ADC to your hard drive with yet another set of IC's, there is no way you are going to get a perfect rendition of what you could hear direct from the record. What am I missing here? And this is before I even get into the silliness of trying to hear subtle differences through the cheap devices that 99% of the readers of this site use to try to evaluate your needle-drops. Tell me I am full of "it". I can take it. But you won't convince me otherwise. I just need to see your response so I can understand your point of view.

BillK's picture

I wouldn't dare to, but I think the basic precept is if you can hear the difference even after the source audio has gone through all the potentially damaging steps you name, the difference will be that much more apparent when it hasn't.

Certainly the fact that people are debating what's different among the needle drops points out that there are indeed audible differences.

Michael Fremer's picture
Two of my least favorite cliches in one headline. The digitization is a constant. I certainly don't claim that the sound produced on the files sound like "live" because it does not! But all of the files were produced going through the same "meat grinder" and not as you described but like this: phono preamp out to darTzeel preamp in. darTzeel "record out" to ADC in. That's it. But "rec out" is one step more pure than "preamp out" because there's no volume control in the way (though the darTzeel's volume control isn't really a pot and it is transparent as far as I can tell). So the point is, any sonic differences are the result of the cable going from TT to phono preamp. And yes everyone is listening on their own gear.
Fsonicsmith's picture

I love you anyway Mike. I realize you want to keep activity going on this vinyl specific site (perhaps you are remunerated based upon site traffic-that aspect remains unclear) but I would much rather read about new gear or read Malachi's music reviews than visit the lunacy-my words-of needle drops. It is not like most of us have our computers linked up to our main rigs so at the risk of repeating myself, most of us (99%?) are listening to your needle drops on our laptops and tablets that have crappy sound absent bypassing the DAC and using good headphones.

Marcsr999's picture

Your hostility and dismissive attitude towards anyone who isn’t you are stunning. At first I thought this piece was an April Fools spoof.

What’s the point of this? I’d gently suggest some anger management counseling.

Michael Fremer's picture
Where am I hostile? Where am I dismissive? What is the point of this? Now that's angry and hostile in my opinion. There's more hostility and anger in your "April Fools?" comment than in all of what I've written and posted. Now please respond with even more anger and hostility and accuse me of it. Seriously, where have I been angry and hostile?
Cosmo W's picture

Cables can not add anything to a signal, only take away.
An audio signal is one of the simplest signals to reproduce.
Electrons do not flow any better through "pretty wire".

Audio hobbyists love to tinker with expensive gadgets. Please do not try to take away any of their toys.

Michael Fremer's picture
Cables poorly made or poorly shielded can ADD noise. Lots of noise. I'll stop there because that's enough to shoot down your assertion, larded as it is with a dismissive tone. Calling it "pretty wire" is added and unnecessary hostility.
absolutepitch's picture

I understand what you're saying with "cables can not add anything to a signal, only take away. ..." An ideal signal-passing cable should be entirely transparent to the signal and not alter the signal in any way. We wouldn't be having this discussion about interconnect cables if all the components of the audio chain from source to pre-amp to amp are all integrated within one chassis, with internal wires. There won't be an interconnect to discuss, but perhaps the internal wires will become an issue, as they form an 'interconnect' between the component and the input or output jacks before you get to an interconnect.

The challenge to cable testing by listening is that the results are necessarily subjective. You can already see that by the many resulting combinations in the ranking order of the four files by reading the comments.

Also, which set of four files did each of the listeners use?

Conceptually, a null test should provide the answer as to which cable is the most neutral. Although the test instruments have its own cables, that is a constant in the test with the variable as the presence or the absence of the cable under test. We only need to know that the cables on the test equipment and the equipment itself are capable of performance exceeding that of any test signal to be applied to the cable under test. A good null test is not a trivial task.

toja's picture

They are four tracks. They have no identical volume level, similar, but not identical. But even worse is, that in track 1 and 2 left and right channel are swapped, tracks 3 and 4 have the channels right compared to cd version. And in track 3 the right channel has 4-5dB lower volume, than the left.

So the people are comparing not levelled tracks and not identical left/right information and the track with the most expensive cable has bad channel balance. Just listen to left and right guitar, you will notice the difference. Or open the tracks with audacity.

How viable is such a test ?

absolutepitch's picture

You're probably talking about File 1 through File 4 on the 'revised' files from Mr. Fremer.

I refer you to my posts of 5-27-20 and 6-8-20 in the "It's Just Wire" thread. There's a little more than just channel reversals and amplitude differences in the 'revised' files, and I also had asked for independent verification of my claim in those posts.

You could listen to the ones mtemur posted 5-14-20 on the "It's Just Wire" thread, which is posited as amplitude-corrected after the channel reversals were corrected.

Bluejimbop's picture

In our TLDR contest.
Bonus points for “Let’s cut to the chase” followed by TWENTY-FIVE paragraphs.