It's Just Wire (REVISED FILES)

Thanks to all who listened and participated (so far) including those who correctly criticized me for having channels reversed on two files. I posted in haste. Also I should not have "normalized" the files and should have instead posted them "as-is" so the only possible variable was the cable. Also the track lengths are now as close to identical as possible.

The files below have the channels corrected and they are not "normalized" as they were the first go round. That was a mistake. In other words, the only difference between the four files is the cable going from the tone arm to the step-up transformer except for one file, where it was a "straight shot" from the cartridge clips to the RCA plugs. If there are level differences they are caused only by the cables. If there are variable inter-channel level differences, those too are from the cables. The criticism from an AnalogPlanet troll (whose name shall not be mentioned) that the levels among the files should have been equalized is on its face absurd and his claim that he was able to measure the azimuth and that it was "off" is even more absurd. So please listen again to the newly posted files below .

Someone on a Facebook group was asking for some help with new phono cables. One of the responses really annoyed. The guy dismissively wrote "It's just wire". And "do you think anyone in a recording studio uses $400 wire?".

I chimed in (and I'm paraphrasing) "There's no need to be snarky. Phono cable isn't used in studios unless there's a turntable. And many electrified musicians do care about cables when they record and onstage. The correct answer would be something like "make sure it's well-shielded and low capacitance and specifically designed for that purpose."

One response said something like "we're not talking abut expensive cables". Nor was I of course, but for him my name was talking. It started devolving from there as cable discussions always do, so I got out of there quick and decided to give you something to do while quarantined:

I recorded a minute and change of the same track (you'll know it but I'm not going to indentify it) using four different cables from the Kuzma 4 Point arm into a step up transformer (one costing$5700) feeding the Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamp. Or maybe I'm fooling you and it's the same recording put here four times differing slightly in length just to fool you.

Well not really. It's four different cables. One of the recordings uses the Kuzma's "hard wired" cable, the brand of which I'm embarrassed to write I don't recall. Kuzma offers numerous options including Crystal Cable, and at one time Discovery Cable as well as super costly Kondo silver. I think mine is Discovery. It has two sets of wires going from the tone arm clips: one set goes straight through to the RCA plugs. The other one terminated in a junction box with RCA jacks so I can "play" with phono cables and review different ones. As long as you don't connect both sets simultaneously, there's no sonic downside to having this option.

This description is not in 1,2,3,4 order: One of the short recordings is the "straight through" connection. A second one is a very costly new phono cable probably costing well over $5000. A third is another costly cable selling for $4500. The fourth costs around $15.00 and features gold plated plugs, oxygen free copper conductors and EMI and RFI rejecting OFC spiral shields.

In other words, there are three costly cables and one cheap one. Please listen and hear if one stands out as being not nearly as good as the others, or maybe they all sound the same to you, or maybe you hear differences that you consider major or minor or whatever! By the way, the cartridge used is the Fuuga MC I wrote about back in 2015 after returning from The Consumer Electronics Show that year.

Two years ago at a show in Japan I was honored when the designer Osamu Nagao handed me the cartridge. I finally got around to giving it the attention it deserves. The full review will be in an upcoming Stereophile. I think this short excerpt will wow you! This is not a formal "vote" type exercise but your feedback and guesses are most valuable so please! Besides, what else have you got to do?

Here are the files:

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

File "4"

There's another test like this one here

COMMENTS
Hats Domino's picture
Hats Domino's picture

The clips he posted are all at such different levels. How did you go about this test? Just changing a cable wouldn't cause any significant volume difference.

Let's keep Clip 3 at its original volume.

Clip 1 needs to be turned Down 3.1dB
Clip 2 needs to be turned UP 2.6 dB
Clip 4 needs to be turned UP 1.9 dB

Then, there are balance differences. Clips 1, 2, and 3 are 2dB too have in the left channel. Clip 4 is 1dB too heavy in the left channel.

BUT WAIT... THERE'S EVEN MORE!!!

Clips 3 & 4 have the channels reversed. Hahaha!!!!

Anyone taking this listening challenge and not noting these HUGE inconsistencies may not have the listening skills needed to identify such minute differences that a few centimeters of cable *might* make.
I find it deadly ironic someone who reviews audio devices for a living be so incapable of making a proper, consistent listening test.

Michael Fremer's picture
If there are level changes, it has to do with the cable only. NOTHING else was changed. If the balance was off it has to do with the cables. Nothing else changed. The ONLY thing I did was change the cable and record the track. If a channel is reversed on one that occurred when I changed the cable so I apologize for that. However, since all I did was change the cable each time, I leave it to you to figure out what went on. The only thing I did do was normalize the levels just to be sure I didn't run into whatever issues you've found. I DID MAKE A PROPER LISTENING TEST BECAUSE I GAVE YOU THE UNALTERED RECORDINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! with one channel reversal error for which I apologize.
MX5Bob's picture

"do you think anyone in a recording studio uses $400 wire?"

I've heard that before. Back in the 1970s, I trained as a recording engineer two different studios, and worked for voice-over studio in Chicago as a grunt.

Did they use "$400 wire"? No, but the engineer in charge of gear didn't make patch cords, mic cables or anything of the like out something from the hardware store. The engineer was a veteran who worked at Chess Records and Universal Recording in Chicago. He was erasable and likely had more temper than Fremer and Waldrep combined.

Esldude1's picture

I find it amazing the champion of anolog audio would post digital files for a comparison of cables. To suggest listeners could make meaningful conclusions when they listen on anything from an Iphone to highend systems is ludicrous. Do you listen to cables or listen to music? In the end it is the music. If what ever you have makes your listening pleasurable that is the end goal. Or better yet (when viruses permit) listen to live music. Fretting over cables which are probably the least important part of the audio chain compared to mastering, speakers, headphones, room placement and room acoustics. All in life is a trade off but spending money on "high end Cables" is a real bad trade off in my opinion. If cables make some people happy I have no argument with them. Repositioning their speakers or rearranging their listening room will make a much more demonstrable difference and costs them nothing. Listen to the music and be happy.

BillK's picture

Yes, there are those who "listen to equipment," but for many of us, music makes a pure emotional impact, as if the performer is directly wired into our nervous systems. For me, the better the reproduction, no matter how incremental, the more powerful the emotional connection is.

So in a very real way, better cables do increase my enjoyment of the music. Mastering is more important, of course, but ultimately I have no control over that. My speakers were chosen after careful auditioning and are already at the ideal place in the room.

I've also never understood the mantra of "go listen to live music." Perhaps for some performers, but I want to hear Sinatra, or Dean Martin or Sammy Davis, Jr., and the opportunity to see them live has long since passed.

Michael Fremer's picture
I just noticed the name. That explains a great deal THE INCONSISTENCIES YOU WHINE ABOUT (other than one channel reversal) COULD ONLY HAVE RESULTED FROM THE CABLE, BOZO. THAT'S ALL THAT CHANGED. YOUR ACCUSATION THAT I DID SOMETHING WRONG BECAUSE THE FILES WEREN'T CONSISTENT IS INDICATIVE OF (FILL IN THE BLANK).
Johnnyjajohnny's picture

My comment is not meant as criticism, but just as an observation:
First, it's not only one file, but two files that have the channels swapped: In file 1 and 2 the cymbal in the very beginning is on the left, and the guitar straight afterwards is on the right, and in file 3 and 4 it's reversed.
I know this will sound a bit harsh, but if you're making a post about the readibly audible differences in cables, then I think you should at least be able to attach the cables correctly. Spending two minutes listening to the recorded files before posting them would easily solve this. Again, not to sound harsh, but it makes you seem very sloppy, rushed and careless when you're trying to present yourself as thorough and attentive to the even most minute details - meaning if you claim that cables make an audible difference but you connect them wrong, people will get the impression that either you're not as trained and attentive a listener as you claim, or that the differences you hear are simply the swapped channels, which will open you up to ridicule.
Again, this is not meant as criticism, but just observations and suggestions on how to make a better test that will satisfy even the harshest critics.

As for volume level, it's true that the files are not matched. First of all, when matching volume levels it should be RMS values, not peak levels that are matched. It should, however, be noted that in some cases volume levels need to matched by ear. This is especially the case if there's a noted difference in frequency response/EQ, especially if this difference is in the harshness region where our ears are the most sensitive.
Anyway, the volume level on these files don't match. Again, not criticism, just an observation.
Here are the numbers (note both the differences in peak values but also in RMS values):

foobar2000 1.3.7 / Dynamic Range Meter 1.1.1
log date: 2020-05-10 09:45:32

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Analyzed: ? / ?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DR11 0.00 dB -13.96 dB 1:06 ?-052020Comeaway1
DR12 -4.20 dB -19.64 dB 1:04 ?-052020ComeAway2
DR12 -0.10 dB -16.87 dB 1:02 ?-052020Comeaway3
DR10 -0.10 dB -17.86 dB 1:10 ?-052020ComeAway4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Number of tracks: 4
Official DR value: DR11

Samplerate: 96000 Hz
Channels: 2
Bits per sample: 24
Bitrate: 4608 kbps
Codec: PCM
================================================================================

All the files were slightly different lengths, but especially File 4 was quite a lot longer, so I converted the files to wave to edit them to the same length, and when I then did the same reading of those edited wave files, this is the reading I got (again, note both peak and RMS differences):

foobar2000 1.3.7 / Dynamic Range Meter 1.1.1
log date: 2020-05-10 10:29:40

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Analyzed: ? / ?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DR11 0.00 dB -13.83 dB 1:02 ?-052020Comeaway1
DR12 -4.20 dB -19.45 dB 1:02 ?-052020ComeAway2
DR12 -0.10 dB -16.87 dB 1:02 ?-052020Comeaway3
DR12 -3.18 dB -18.78 dB 1:02 ?-052020ComeAway4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Number of tracks: 4
Official DR value: DR12

Samplerate: 96000 Hz
Channels: 2
Bits per sample: 24
Bitrate: 4608 kbps
Codec: PCM
================================================================================

In file 4 there was a loud peak in the section that was only included at the end of this particular file, which explains the big difference in peak value between the reading of the aiff file 4 and the wave file 4.

As for cables making an audible difference, the difference cables can make are changes in frequency response and volume.
If all you did was change the cables, then volume levels could have occurred, but since it seemed like you tried to match the peak levels, this explanation goes out the window.
As for frequency response, I used Voxengo's CurveEQ to compare the files, and there are very light frequency response differences between the four. It's impossible for me to say if anybody could actually hear those differences, but except for file 3 they are all between 0.1 to 0.3 dB, so it's unlikely that this would be audible. But we could of course match the volume levels, swap the channels on two of the files and then do a blind test and see if anybody would pass, and that would be proof that there's an audible difference. I would be happy to help set this test up, and I would also be happy to participate.
I should, however, say that file 3 did seem to differ by 0.5 dB between around 2 and 12 kHz, so that particular file would be most likely to have an audible difference in a level-matched and channel-matched test.
Then I would also guess that file 3 is either the $5700 cable or the $15 cable. Since file 3 is the only cheap cable and the one that differs the most, I would imagine that file 3 is the $15 cable.

Just for the record: I find that it's perfectly okay to pay for a change in frequency response if you like the effect, as that's also partly what we're paying for when we change amplifiers, phono cartridges, etc., but I would find paying for a volume level difference to be unnecessary.

DryBass's picture

Great analysis. Thanks for sharing.

Michael Fremer's picture
I dish it I can take it. No excuse for reversed channels and will fix but otherwise I did nothing but swap out cables and normalize all files. I’ll go back and swap channels on Audacity and then post non normalized files so ANY differences measured or audible result from cables. As for frequency measurements being the only possible cause of perceived sonic differences, I differ with you.
Johnnyjajohnny's picture

If any audible differences do not stem from frequency response then what would it be?
Was my guess of file 3 being the cheap cable correct?

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

Also, instead of posting the un-normalized files, I think the best way to do this would be to trim all four files to the same length, then normalize all four files by RMS values. Then we avoid any more discussion about this matter and everybody will be happy :-).

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

I could do all this for you, since I have already trimmed the files. Swapping channels and adjusting volume levels would be no problem for me.

Michael Fremer's picture
Is not all. You know there was a time when speaker measurements consisted of on-axis frequency response and THD. The flatter the response and lower the THD "the better" but that was hardly indicative of speaker performance. There are issues related to noise produced by poor or less effective shielding, phase response and I'm sure other measurable cable performance parameters, some of which we probably can't measure because we don't know them. For instance some insist that copper cannot sound different from silver because they are both conductors and any differences in conductivity could never be audible but in my experience copper and silver wire sound different...and so do many others some of whom are well regarded electrical engineers, which I absolutely am not!
Johnnyjajohnny's picture

So, now the new files are up. I would, however, still say that they should have been normalized by RMS levels, although a certain troll happened to say the same.
"But ah! this is how the cables sound" you might say. Yes, but then you're potentially paying up to $5700 for a volume level difference. Money well spent I must say!
Here are the readings of the new files (both peak and RMS level differences of up to 0.79 dB and 1.94 dB, respectively):

foobar2000 1.3.7 / Dynamic Range Meter 1.1.1
log date: 2020-05-11 23:28:01

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Analyzed: ? / ?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DR12 -4.35 dB -19.72 dB 1:07 ?-052020ComeAwaye1
DR12 -4.20 dB -19.73 dB 1:06 ?-052020ComeAwaye2
DR12 -4.67 dB -21.23 dB 1:06 ?-052020ComeAwaye3A
DR12 -3.89 dB -19.29 dB 1:07 ?-052020ComeAwaye4A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Number of tracks: 4
Official DR value: DR12

Samplerate: 96000 Hz
Channels: 2
Bits per sample: 24
Bitrate: 4608 kbps
Codec: PCM
================================================================================

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

And the channels are STILL swapped! And yes, I did listen to the new files, not the old ones (the new files have an "e" added at the end of the file name).

mtemur's picture

actually channels are reversed on file 1&2. 3&4 are correct.

Michael Fremer's picture
Using 1 as correct because that was the direct connection. How that one is reversed confounds me. However, as long as all of them are now the same, that shouldn't matter.
Babysharks's picture

I can understand how the channel swap might throw off your "listening skills", but could not the level changes be simply an indication of the cable's characteristics/quality?

Anton D's picture

5.7 dB between Cllip 1 and 2 just can't be correct.

Even some Luddite/Hutterite objectivist could measure and hear that.

I admit that I am dubious regarding that degree of difference between the two cables.

There have been some extremely educational posts on this thread. Can anyone say just how much difference the resistance of the cables would be?

If I had Cable 1 and changed to Cable 3, it seems impossible to see a 6 dB drop.

Thank you to the people who have been talking about these numbers...even with the arguing, it has been fascinating.

Babysharks's picture

I know for certain, and have personally experienced the fact that cables can make a difference. The key word is "difference". For a slightly different view, everyone should try to read Herb Reichert's column in the February 2020 issue of Stereophile.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/gramophone-dreams-33-interconnects-l...

(sorry, not sure if that link will work correctly. If not, go to the Stereophile website and look under columns for Gramophone Dreams)

Esldude1's picture

Hi Michael
Interesting and obviously very scientifically controlled test. Firstly all those beautiful analog signals have been degraded into digital files. All those "steps" in the digital files are readily audible and jarring and make them almost unlistenable compared to the true analog source. I would suggest you send all participants a copy of the LP as well as the cables under consideration so a true comparison in the analog domain could be made. If one were to accept that a digital signal was relevant than that would open a whole new controversy. As many posted they listen to these files via a smartphone or Ipad is the DAC "good enough? Oh sorry brings up another issue - do DAC's make a difference? Bit of a can of worms there again. Gets down to the other end of the scale - mechanical transducers - speakers headphones, phono cartridges. These all have demonstrably huge errors in terms of frequency response, distortion etc. I would like to know how a cable can even be considered when moving your speakers 6 inches can demonstrably change the sound
I am not an audiophile but always welcome enlightenment.

Hats Domino's picture

I forgot to mention the azimuth on your cartridge alignment is off. The left channel (or right depending on the clip) is off several samples.I only checked it out after hearing phase issues with the center image, so it's noticeable. fixing that would probably make more of an improvement than changing cables sound essentially the same (unless you know the price tags).

Michael Fremer's picture
How did you determine azimuth was off? "off several samples"? What do you mean by that? So finally after all of your bitching, and bogus complaints that I didn't make all of the files sound the same because I left the levels as they were and didn't change anything other than the cable, you conclude all of the cables sound the same. You could have started there and saved your sour stomach.
mtemur's picture

you said that left channel is off several samples and it’s because of azimuth alignment. it requires a lot of experience and proper equipment to detect that kind of error. it’s not that easy.

first of all you’re getting that kind of reading from your software just because it’s recorded with a pivoted arm. like all pivoted arms 4point has tracking error which zeros at only null points. assuming that you’re using the correct software the azimuth module on the software basically made for azimuth correction on tapes. for vinyl it is a little bit complicated. it shows mix of both TRACKING ERROR, ZENITH and AZIMUTH errors but it’s more related with ZENITH and TRACKING ERROR on vinyl. additionally if vinyl was not cut from a digital file but cut from a tape (which is the case here) tape’s azimuth error is added too.

when I checked the files, all of them gave the same result, 2.0 SAMPLES difference. assuming that the tonearm is aligned to Lofgren and regarding the tracks’ place on the record I can honestly say that it’s ok. maybe a little bit ZENITH error. I can say that it is a properly aligned tonearm and cartridge.

on the other hand center image or channel level differences may be more associated with anti-skating on a pivoted arm. you can not come to a conclusion that it’s due to azimuth alignment. it’s hard to tell if azimuth alignment is off or not by analyzing files. so numbers just not enough to justify. I’m doing audio restoration and I have a lot of experience on this particular subject.

aim in audio restoration from vinyl is to eliminate usual problems such as clicks, rumble, poor channel separation associated with vinyl and additionally to reduce master tape hiss. if you’re good you can only get close to master tape .

here is an example that is transferred from an old Lp using high quality equipment.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1khKW9nJ3Op2oiOdUEqeX2HXfT4IjuZGr/view?u...

it is a fragment of the song (1m34s). when I check it gives 0.3 SAMPLES difference between channels and +0.18dB on right channel but when I do check the whole song (2m20s) it gives ZERO SAMPLE difference and equal levels on both channels. it is almost impossible to come to a conclusion with 1 minute of a song that is 3 minutes like come away with me.

mtemur's picture

my previous post above is a reply to Hats Domino's post

Michael Fremer's picture
Hats is a well known AnalogPlanet troll.
Ausioslave1's picture

File 1, to me, sounds the most different than the others. Also it seems that the L and R are different On file one and 2 the cymbal at the beginning are coming from left of center and the guitar that sounds like it is using some kind of chorus effect is in the right channel. That is opposite for files 3 and 4.

Hergest's picture

File 1 sounds sibilant and a bit harsh to me.

File 2 is smoooooth but sounds sounds dull in comparison following 1 and is noticeably quieter.

File 3 has a beautiful shimmer to the cymbals without any sibilance to the vocals

File 4 is similar to 3 but seems to have a deeper soundstage.

I think I prefer 3 overall.

mikenc's picture
mikenc's picture

That's the order I'd pick of best to worst. Thank you for doing this Michael. I'm interested in hearing the answers on what was what. I have feeling I've just found yet another area in my set-up that needs a complete overhaul.

Nathan Zeller's picture

The first file made it feel like the voice was within my head, which is a sort of immersion I love. The second file felt much more relaxed and had a sound that I would prefer if I had music on in the background. The third file seemed to sound the most natural to me, which for some is the goal but for me not always. The fourth one sounded a little too relaxed for my liking and actually bored me.

The order from favourite to least favourite would be 1-3-2-4.

Misternuvista's picture

Blimey Michael; sorry your efforts here seem to have generated so much criticism. Its all got a bit complex! That is why I have a Rega P10!! It just works.

As my system is not set up for playing downloaded files (records and CD only) I did a really basic test and just listened through my iMac speakers, which should be far less revealing than a quality system. Even so I could hear clear differences for what it's worth.

Order of preference best to worst....1-3-4-2.

1 had really open mids and highs and nice tonal variation over piano and voice. Percussion was crisp and open.

2 sounded dull and compressed in the uppers.

Both 3 and 4 were nice but 4 sounded a bit too safe and a little lifeless.

1 was a clear winner for me.

SeagoatLeo's picture

didn't like 2 at all and 1 vocally not pleasing, 4 okay only
So, 3, 4, 1, 2 my order of favorites which may not be in order of cost.

Misternuvista's picture

This sparked my curiosity so I tried listening again, this time through my iPhone 8 Plus and a pair of decent B&W PX headphones. Here reliant on the DAC in the phone and the far better quality of the "speakers."

If nothing else it showed how much the components in the chain influence the sound along with the cables. So much down to personal preference too.

This time none sounded so much better or worse than under the cruder listening setup.

What I can say is that nothing sounded $4000 better or worse!

My previous favourite (1) still sounded airy and lively but now rather too much so and seemed to get a little brash in the uppers, as if the recording had clipped here and there. This clearly sounded most different to any of the others and might wake up a dull-sounding component.

2 sounded better than before but still rather dull.

3 sounded rich and full and with no obvious flaws.

4 sounded nice but still a bit too safe.

This time it's probably 3-1(with reservations)-4-2.

jameswicks's picture

#2 is the cheapie $15 cables.

Khoral's picture

Hi there... listened on an iBasso DX90 with Meze 99 Classics headphones.
File 1 : a very intimate, warm sound (possibly a tad too bright on some of the vocals)
File 2 : somewhat flat, less vibrant with a weak low-end
File 3 : similar to file 1, but I find it slightly less rich sounding
File 4: similar to file 1, with a slightly fuller sound

So, I'd say file 2 and 4 are distinctively inferior BUT I'd also say that they are inferior when directly compared to files 1 and 3. Taken in isolation, they sound acceptable to me.

Khoral's picture

I meant of course: File 4 similar to file 2 (not 1)

DryBass's picture

Extremely difficult to hear differences between 1 and 3. Between 2 and 4, 4 sounds better

DryBass's picture

It is very fair the comment about the volume. How can a cable increase/reduce the volume?

PAR's picture

"How can a cable increase/reduce the volume?"

This is caused by one of the basic parameters of any electrical conductor. It is called Resistance.

So if you have a cable having high resistance and follow it by one exhibiting low resistance the volume may seem to become louder. if you have cable with low resistance and follow it with a cable of high resistance then the latter may sound quieter by comparison.

Dubclub's picture
Dubclub's picture
Dubclub's picture
Dubclub's picture
DryBass's picture

I think that is clear that paying 5700$ for a cable that we can’t agree on what is the file is a none sense. I would increase a bit the budget to have a nicer connections and maybe spend 200$ but clearly, the race for the cables is over for me. A well build mid range cable does not differ from the most expensive one.

Dubclub's picture
jjgr's picture

2 has my preferred sound. By comparison, I find it to sound most coherent and clear, with a nice balance of detail and presence in highs, mids and bass. The most "musical"?

3 is also nice - vocal more forward than 2; full and "present" sound. Nice top end.

1 noticeably louder in level to me. vocal came across as very forward, almost "shouty" in comparison.

4 sounded distant, soft and dull. Not my preference.

I noticed the initial cymbal roll to be more in the right channel on 4 and 3, and more in the left channel on 2 and 1.

Listened via Audirvana-->Schiit Multibit Jotunheim-->Sennheiser HD 6XX (stock cable/balanced plug).

Thanks for the enjoyable distraction. Have to say this is one of my favorite records (even though not my typical "genre" of music).

Cheers,

jjgr's picture

This time I preferred 3 for what i heard as more "realness" to the vocals and I believe a slightly more natural and detailed cymbal sound.
2 was my next favorite (nicer vocals than 1).
1 vocal was fine, but high end seemed less detailed to me.
4 least favorite.

I definitely heard a channel distinction in these files as well - with the cymbals more to the left on 1 and 2, and the same cymbals more to the right channel on 3 and 4. (FWIW - Just played my copy on my system, and the cymbals are more to the right - YMMV.)

Thanks again for the test!

Cheers,

DryBass's picture

channels are still reversed for me too

Radyson's picture

Thank you Mr. Fremer for your efforts!
I prefer to listen file 3 and the worse for me is file 2, which I suppose is with the cheapest cable.

Ausioslave1's picture

Ok. So after listening several times..... The big stand out is #1 is obviously louder than the others. Number 4 seems to have the most detail, for example the subtle guitar scratches seem to be better defined in 4. The bass seems maybe fuller also in 4. With the obvious exception of the volume of file 1, the differences are very subtle however and they might sound different but i cant say one is “better” necessarily. At least the way I’m listening to it. That is currently with a dragonfly red and Focal Elear headphones. You might give me clues as to what else i might listen for. Thanks

Ausioslave1's picture
Archimago's picture

As others have noted, the test files are very different in volume level with RMS average over 1 minute of almost 6dB variation!
LOUD 1 3 4 2 SOFT

This in itself obviously will affect subjective preferences. And I see this is Khoral's order above.

Furthermore, track 1 is loud enough to be clipping samples which some might find objectionable. And the channel balance is clearly different with that opening cymbal - 1&2 similar compared to 3&4.

The worst sample for me is #3. Most amount of audible hum, probably most reflective of cable differences. Doesn't explain the change in amplitude or channel balance issues.

As a test of playback and recording technique consistency, maybe record 4 samples with no hardware change - just lifting and dropping the tonearm, same start/stop on the computer side. Do you see such volume/channel differences? If so, maybe something's wrong with the set-up...

Khoral's picture

To be clear, I did adjust each time the volume up and down.
I just happen to prefer the warmer sound of file#1.

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

As I've seen from loads of experimentation it's essentially impossible to adjust volume levels precisely with a volume knob. First, I've passed an ABX test of a volume level difference of 0.2 dB with 15 out of 16 correct, and secondly, I've been tricked several times into thinking one version sounded better than another simply because of very slight volume level differences. Slightly louder will sound a bit fuller and clearer. Too loud will sound harsh, shouty, etc.
A much better solution would be that you trim the files to equal length, then level-match them according to the RMS levels on your computer and then compare. You might get the exact same result as before, but then you also might not.
Imagine that your favourite now is the $5700 cable. Then if you match the volume levels completely your favourite might be the $15 cable. This is of course hypothetical, but wouldn't you feel bad about buying a $5700 cable only because of a volume level difference?
So this method would be the most fair to yourself :-).

BobW's picture

#3 is my choice.

Ausioslave1's picture

My last comment did not appear. Here are some further observations kind of off topic:

1. I listened again using iPhone instead of iPad and the iphone does not has any separation between the channels for some reason, sounds mono.
2. I listened to same track from tidal through roon and MQA version sounds very similar to file 3 and 4. 16 bit version sounds good to but MQA sounds more cohesive maybe.

As far as which file sounds best to me, files 3 and 4 are very similar hard to pick which is best, file 1 is louder maybe not as enjoyable, file 2 sounds good also, but hard to compare to 3 and 4 due to channels reversed.

I can't pick a best.

Ausioslave1's picture

Just to clarify I listened to the iPhone and iPad using the same setup which is with camera adapter to dragonfly red with focal elear headphones. Also did further listening with iMac USB out to oppo 105 straight to amp.

Toussaint's picture

I haven't read the comments up to this point to avoid allowing them to bias my impressions. I'd say 1 allows the voice in particular and the occasional strong piano note too much prominence. I'd say 2 gives the voice a bit more clarity compared to 1. I'd say 3 and 4 are best. The voice and piano both sound more more real. Perhaps 4 is the best of all. I didn't find the percussion that convincing in any of them.

Bskeane's picture

To me file one was definitely the loudest but also the most detailed and inviting. In my opinion 2 was the worst, sounding restricted and muffled. 3&4 were so close I could not tell. I should state that these were listened through my phone with crappy earbuds so take it for what its worth. I would like to put it on my 2 channel system.

Morrisalex's picture

To my ears 3, 1,4,2. With 4 sounding constrained and 2 like it’s buried under a pillow.

Jim Tavegia's picture

1.) Strong bass, but muffled vocal. Least FAV.
2.) Vocal clearer, but that was due to a lack of low end 2nd least fav
3.) Good bass and vocal. My fav.
4.) Also good overall and close to No 3 in quality.

I'm not sure what vocal mic Norah uses, but her vocals are not as clear as the instruments. MIc need a different mic preamp as well.

This was a good test for me. I just installed an IFI Purifier 3 into my Focusrite Scarlett 2nd gen 24192 usb box. Monitors were JBL 305P MK 2, self powered monitors. Maybe not Class A, but still revealing enough for this test. I do like the IFI Purifier 3 and will buy a 2nd for my other computer, a Mac Mini, with a Yamaha MG10XU for audio there. It is also 24192 capable.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Still the same ratings, but I think that files 3 & 4 are closer in quality. I tend to like a more balanced EQ than many. If I wanted more bass I could just put on my ATH-50Xs as they are a little too full in the upper bass for me, but I do tend to enjoy them on classical music.

otaku2's picture

I also used AKG-K701's (with a Dragonfly and Jitterbug) and reached essentially the same conclusions.

Jim Tavegia's picture

It is working just as well on playback there with my Mac Mini. I tried the ATH-50Xs and they sound great on material that is flatter in the low end, but still great cans for the money. My son uses a pair of 40X for his Twitch gaming I gave him.

I love these tests that Michael put out. Cheers.

I may jump to a Focusrite Clarett this year.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I use only my AKG K-271 (2 pair) sealed cans for my recoding work. Might be a touch bright for some, but more accurate than the ATH for my hearing.

orthobiz's picture

Devolve. This is just another one!

Paul

mtemur's picture
Rodan's picture

Do all or any of the phono cables under consideration have separate ground leads? If so, where were the leads connected? As confounding as it may seem, my own experience is that each of the phono cables I've tried have different grounding preferences (only grounded at the turntable, only grounded at the preamp, grounded at both, not grounded at all, egad!)--at least in my setup. And, of course, the grounding affects the sound. So I thought I'd ask.

Anton D's picture

Great question.

Ausioslave1's picture

Ok so I listened to mtemur’s files which are better matched for loudness and channels. On file 1 the vocal is still overbearing compared to 3 and 4. I think 4 seems best to my ears. But hard to tell that much of a difference. Both 3 or 4 sounds great. Definitely not worth a $5000 difference between any of the 4 of them.

wyoboy's picture

Title self-explanatory

ArcAudio's picture

On my studio monitors (Yamaha HS-8's), number two seemed the least heavy and a little leaner compared to the other three. I did adjust volume to match. Number three sounded best to me. Number one sounded "smeary" Number 4 not too far from #3.

mtemur's picture

file 2 sounds two dimensional and congested to me. I guess:
-file 2 is the cheap cable.
-file 4 is "straight through" cable
-file 1 and 3 are other costly cables.

Dubclub's picture

From good too bad

Hopefully my text will be visible this time ....

mushiking's picture

Thanks Michael for taking the time to do this. It's a shame people are so critical.

3 seems best overall to me. 1 is too 'hot' for my taste, and the vocals and piano notes seem harsh, although it is very dynamic. 2 is dull as anything like listening with a pillow over my ears.

cgh's picture

Unrelated, but when someone asks "how can cables increase the volume..." I am reminded of the super entertaining Audioquest fiasco form 2016

http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=5540

Michael Fremer's picture
I've had my own run ins with Mr. Waldrep, who was so anxious to "get" me, he totally misconstrued something I'd written and used it against me in a pretty vicious blast he had to retract. That said, on that link he's discovered something. That much is true. But much of what he writes beyond that has no evidence to back it up. He goes on a rant, ascribing motives and assigning blame with zero evidence to back up his assertions. He viciously attacks AudioQuest without knowing what really happened here and that causes his sycophants to go ballistic to the point where Bill Low's reasonable response on Stereophile's website brought even more derision. Waldrep has a temper and can lash out. Probably in part because he's bitter at never having been a successful engineer in the commercial world. He's kind of a like a great engineer like Lyn Stanley is a great singer.
cgh's picture

I had to google Lyn Stanley.

I guess the unverifiable aspect of the AQ story was that, while clear it was some independent marketing that engaged in the wrongdoing, did AQ know about it. If I owed a small business like that I'd require every ad be approved by the home office.

The other thing, and this is why this thread has 60+ comments, wire is a hot topic. Everything will be amplified. Ah ha, I got you! The most credulous people flip flop when it comes to cables and become Sherlock Holmes.

Net net the cable thing has been bad for audio's rep. Both sides have been hurt in the skirmish.

I was thinking about Hegel (the man, not the company) and phenomenology yesterday. I was outside with my wife enjoying some wine we just got in from Italy and she had music playing through her phone. It was a song she liked and we both knew. It occurred to me, speaking only musically, that the phone was conveying such little musical information that it was almost useless. There was a rhythm, barely discernible, but it might as well been a click track. The instruments conveyed virtually no information about melody or harmony. The voices conveyed some melodic information, which was really the only way you'd recognize the song. It was really our brains constructing some representation of the song based on past experiences of the song that made the experience, if you could call it that. I was there for the wine and the sun. If I had never heard the song before I am not sure I could tell you anything about what I was hearing, never-mind tell you if I liked it. Maybe 40' from where we were sitting, down a flight of stairs, is over $100k of audio equipment sitting in a dark room. The massive chasm separating that phone and that system is huge; and the system I could easily say is objectively better, for musical reasons, as in conveying musical information about space, time harmony, melody, rhythm, phrasing. I can also say that my wires make the system sound subtly but objectively different, but I don't know if it is musically better. There's still only a handful of recordings that freak me out when I hear them, like I am there, and it's all about the recordings.

Oh well, back to the music.

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

Quick question, Fremer: In your opinion who has a bigger temper, you or Mark Waldrep?

Michael Fremer's picture
I think I've mellowed! But having won the war (vinyl is back) and Mark still being a fringe player in the digital world, I think he definitely has a bigger temper or should I say exhibits bitterness.
Johnnyjajohnny's picture

Mark Waldrep has a bigger temper than you?! This must be the joke of the century!

crudlin's picture

I can hear a difference, but I suspect both the quantity (amount) and quality of the difference is very dependent on my DAC, preamp, amp and speakers (including the cables for those). I am hesitant to rank the files in terms of "worse to best"; I can state that I "like" the sound of one more than the other. But this is also dependent on my own ears (hearing acuity and frequency response) and what I personally prefer, especially with regard to instrumental timbres and voices. With regard to the latter, I have never heard the singer "live" so I cannot know what her voices actually sounds like. Therefore, again, my selection is a personal preference for what I would LIKE her voice to sound.
For me, on my system, I prefer #3. The cymbal is more realistic, there is a resonance to the bass notes and they are not blurred, the piano notes are full, but separated somewhat, the voice is more forward or distinct which may also be associated with a better soundstage. That said, at times the treble of the piano is slightly harsh. In contrast, find #1 least desirable with a more booming bass that is "blurry", the piano notes are less articulate, the instruments and voice less separated and distinct (worse soundstage) and the symbols softer and less "brassy" or realistic. #4 has a realistic cymbal. The overall sound is "thinner" and there is a slight harshness (some call brittleness) to the piano especially in treble. The bass is reasonably articulate and there is good separation of the voice from the instruments, but not as good as #3. #2 I found close to #1, softer in volume, slightly less blurry or blossoming of the bass, cymbals seem distant. Just because a cable cost more does not make it "better" for any particular system (set of components). I do believe different cables produce or allow a different sound which a person may like more than another.

Shoey's picture

The question was which is not like the others. Answer for me: File 2.

As far as rating, to me from best to worst: 1, 3, 4, 2.

And finally and ironically enough, as I was researching some DAC/ADC equipment just yesterday, I came across a very negative comments from 2015 of our buddy Mike and his use of expensive cables, similar to Hats Domino above, but worse. Really? Dumping unwarranted and unsubstantiated criticism (like Hats) in an unrelated piece on a person who isn't even commenting. Yikes. I am not interested in reading those kind of comments, but being the professional Mike is, he leaves them there unfiltered.

Thanks for all the good editorials and reviews over the years.

analogdw's picture

Didn't listen to the original files, only the revised files. 1 stands out as being lesser than 2, 3 and 4. If I had to pick a favorite its probably 3.

Ktracho's picture

Within a second of first hearing it on headphones connected to my phone, I thought, "This sounds really bad." I heard the whole clip, but my impression did not improve. It reminded me of the reaction I had some time ago when I replaced my cheap AudioQuest interconnect cable with even cheaper ones from Monster Cable, and had forgotten I had done that. I think I paid something like $40 for the Monster Cable interconnects, and probably $100 for the AudioQuest cables.

I think #1 was the most pleasant sounding, but #2 seemed to have more detail, so maybe that's the best one. In any case, I liked #2 better than #4.

volvic's picture

I believe 1 is nicely balanced with nice shimmer on the cymbals and good weight on the piano, as well as nice esses in her voice, it is, however, more pronounced and forward. Next, is 4 which is nicely balanced with everything being just right, but it is second to 1. Next is Nr. 3, very nice but a little less of everything will say this is the straight-through connection. Last is Nr. 2, distant blurry and not great at tall.

Anton D's picture

Keep in mind, that poor LP was played at least 4 times in a very short period of time.

The "24 Hours Rest Between Plays Society" should arrive soon to opine this egregious breach of LP playback etiquette.

We will need to see if there is a trend for identifying favorites in relation to the order in which they were recorded from the LP.

Or, maybe Mike made the recordings at 24 hour intervals in order to avoid the dread "played it again too soon" phenomenon.

Michael Fremer's picture
I do not necessarily believe that. The results so far indicate that the recording has any bearing on what people or hearing.
Anton D's picture

I find it a humorous supposed rule of vinyl.

Also, once I own a record, it only gets Audio "Desked" once, then just carbon fiber for subsequent playback. I love and use that gloriously fantastic 7 row carbon fiber brush from Ursa Major. (I am only a customer, no connection.)

I still can't decide what the best stylus cleaning format is.

Thanks for a very fun thread, I have learned a lot!

Jim Tavegia's picture

I doubt that any turntable treats vinyl better than yours no matter how many times it is played.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I have found out over the years using Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio since version 7/8? and now up to 12, 13, & 14. I have found that I need to normalize each channel independently if you want the best results. Without that you still might find one channel out of balance. If that happens I will play the track and then raise the lower one in the "process" by the general amount it is under volume of the other. I leave -1db of head room generally.

Sound Forge 12 is my fav as it has at the bottom a spectral diplay with a vertor display showing stereo or mono, and finally on the bottom right an EQ display out to 20khz or more for high rez files.

I have asked Magix who now owns the Sony Software to put these visualization back into 14, but 14 does have an actual oscilloscope if you could use that when recording or mastering. I have also asked them to include DSD the next go around as it now goes up to 32/384 now and can do 5.1 if you need it. I don't being a stereo guy.

A great deal for $59. Most of what I do is 2496. I can't hear better with 24/192 with my old ears.

saronian's picture

In order of preference.

ravenacustic's picture

First of all let me say that of the first examples, listening via my iPad over Bluetooth to Sony’s best noise cancelling headphones my preference was for #4. It seemed to have the best balance and dynamics while maintaining air and space with the least sibilance. For any doubters regarding the effects of wires, good or bad, in a resolving audio system I can only say that several months ago I had a pair balanced interconnects between my preamp and amplifier. They retail for $10K. I wasn’t prepared for the increased resolution these expensive cables made. I didn’t buy them.but I certainly wanted them. They made as much difference in the system as a very expensive electronics purchase might have made. Notice my use of the word “might” because I’m not certain I could have achieved as much improvement even spending $15-$20K.

WilliamC's picture

Worst sounding for me was File1. The dynamics wasn't there.

D Pully's picture

So as not to bury the lead, best-to-worst = 3-1-4-2

I used my Oppo 203 as the DAC, sending in pure analog the rest of the way to my Magico S3 speakers. Perhaps not a pedigreed DAC, but mine is an analog purposed rig with digital as an afterthought. Nonetheless, the differences were quite audible to me. Saying which difference is better than the other becomes subjective, of course.

First, the worst: #2 sounded like a wet blanket was thrown over the stage ... transients emerging from a viscous fluid rather than air ... sound stage narrow and shallow; it was a pleasant, polite sound, but bereft of energy .. .suitable for elevators and dentist offices

The other three were less severe in their differentiation, but fell into place quickly and stayed through a dozen listens.

Third place goes to #4. I would have enjoyed #4 without reservation ... if I hadn't heard #1 & #3. #4 had not glaring fault for me, but suffered from an overall weight that kept the music from dancing freely through the air

#1 was very good with the piano and the guitar, but Nora's voice seemed too far forward and too wide, as if she had a very wide mouth, which she does not if her photographs are to be taken for face value; she also sounded at moments as if singing inside a large cardboard box

#3 was the best, albeit imperfect ... and therein lie the dastardly deeds of subjectivity; #3 revealed a deep resonance to her voice that made her feel more real, more passionate .. at the expense of flirting with exaggeration at moments ... but overall to my liking; the piano and guitar were beautifully crisp ... I think this is called microdynamics; but the deal clincher for me was the extraordinary sound stage, extending both wider and deep than with any of the others to a instantly noticeable extent.

Now ... Mr. Fremer ... in addition to naming Cable #1, Cable #2, ... do we get to know which pressing of this album we have been listening to? Is it the venerable Classic Records or the newest Analogue Productions?

Michael Fremer's picture
Analogue Productions box set
DryBass's picture

When did you post the new files?

Michael Fremer's picture
All of the files now have the channels consistent. I used the first file as the guide and matched with the rest. That one might be backwards to begin with but it doesn't matter for the purposes of this comparison.
Johnnyjajohnny's picture

No, the channels are still swapped! I've downloaded the new files twice just to make sure (plus the original files the first time around), and the channels are still swapped.
If you actually download the files from your site and listen to them you'll hear that the problem persists.
But at least the files are the same length now.

mtemur's picture

I don't want to interfere with moderator of the page or confuse anyone by uploading files but if the problem remains you may wanna check the links below.

these are the files with same rms loudness and correct channels or same channels on all files

file 1: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LMWdTgz3Iy884vsKcYUl-wFF0Zd2KHJI/view?u...

file 2: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wt2yk6W_pQn6QpnH776FcqgNXPj7O7VC/view?u...

file 3: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pD2UBqfr9FhVu9de0jhy5CiGa8K_zjCw/view?u...

file 4: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TLSSWjyAxerxkRRic6pxtmcLW3enTMcx/view?u...

Chris F's picture

Thanks for normalizing/fixing them it saved me a lot of time.

I ended up preferring file 3.

DryBass's picture

Why one cable goes directly to the RCA plugs?

otaku2's picture

Some do. My Marantz is a single straight run from cartridge clips to amplifier.

mateusfig's picture

Clips 1/2 and 2/3 are channel reversed. Where can I donwload the correct files? Thanks

mtemur's picture

I don't want to interfere with moderator of the page or confuse anyone by uploading files but if the problem remains you may wanna check the links below.

these are the files with same rms loudness and correct channels or same channels on all files

file 1: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LMWdTgz3Iy884vsKcYUl-wFF0Zd2KHJI/view?u...

file 2: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wt2yk6W_pQn6QpnH776FcqgNXPj7O7VC/view?u...

file 3: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pD2UBqfr9FhVu9de0jhy5CiGa8K_zjCw/view?u...

file 4: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TLSSWjyAxerxkRRic6pxtmcLW3enTMcx/view?u...

vinyl listener's picture

i downloaded the revised tracks and they are all facing the same direction now

:)

doak's picture

Most to Least
#2
#4
#1
#3

Keyed in on voice mostly.

pawdad1950's picture

He obviously has never heard of Telarc recordings, Mannheim Steamroller recordings, Sheffield Lab recordings, etc.

LaszloPhotographer's picture

#1 stood out as the least favorite of the batch: harsh, too loud, unpleasant. The other three were all within shouting distance of each other with me favoring #2 slightly. I used Stax headphones with Geek Out DAC.

Cardinal Wolseley's picture
eatapc's picture

Downloaded the files last night; listened today. Two files are still channel reversed, so it's hard to do this test. My head is spinning trying to deal with the reversed soundstage. File #3 is the clear outlier on sound: softer, a little rolled off. I have to assume that a cable that lowers the volume and rolls off the frequency extremes is doing something wrong.

Jim Tavegia's picture

It puts one on their toes to ignore it and just concentrate on the sound. Not that hard to do.

ManyRekids's picture

As the files were presented by my system, I preferred file 3, because the energy of the initial cymbal roll feels like an introduction and is just right, perfect. All the files sound better than the cd, so, I have put this Analogue Productions release in my buy soon list. And my guess for the $15 cable is file 2, but what do I know?

Happy Will's picture

Interesting reading - thanks for this Mikey.

I have done my comparison using my iMac's speakers - and maybe tonight I will try using AirPlay to my "hi-fi".

Anyway my results using my iMac are:

#1 - clear favourite - it is the only cable where I felt I could hear into the room
#2 - least favourite and a good reminder that with the wrong cable you don't get nearly as much satifaction from listening
#3 is in 3rd place - good but some elements jarred and I thought it missed the x factor
#4 is 2nd place - good, and quite similar to 3, but better.

I'll leave the musically correct terms to others.

Happy Will's picture
Happy Will's picture
Happy Will's picture
Happy Will's picture

...that wouldn't upload my post from my iPhone

Happy Will's picture

Mikey can you please record all my LP's on your turnatble and send me the files please :)

Michael Fremer's picture
Send them over! lol (not!)
Happy Will's picture

its probably for the best tho - they might be recorded with the wrong cable for me :)

BobBobby's picture

Will Mr Fremmer ever post the corresponding number to cable?

Happy Will's picture

Listening from iPad via Airplay to my amp and Idea’s, my order of presence is still 1, 4, 3, 2. To me 2 sounds relatively one dimensional, whereas 1 has more nuanced information, fine detail and space. 3 & 4 overlap and have their good and not so good points but the musical performance doesn’t hang together as well imo.

What is interesting to me is that I see some have a strong preference for 2. This makes me question my judgement. But we are all different - as watching on TV the differing views on CV19 lockdown attest - well you have to be happy with your own opinion - thank you Art Dudley, RIP.

Narayan's picture

3 The more crankable and "analog" out of the lot
4 Open, detailed and spacious sound
1 Similar to 4 but less airy
2 Falls clearly behind the other 3

Dr ifting's picture

3, 4, 1, 2 for me.
I’d be very happy with 4 or 1 but 3 just seemed special.
What a lovely voice with real feeling.

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