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Audio/video mystic voodoo cable insanity

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
If someone told you that a special rhodium-plated, oxygen-free, "time aligned" CAT-5 patch cable placed between your computer and your cable/DSL modem was going to make web pages look sharper and e-mail text easier to read, would you believe them? Would you pay $100/meter for this amazing advance in wire technology? $200/meter? More?

People don't seem to fall for this crap when it comes to computers, even when they don't have much of an understanding of the technology that puts web pages and e-mail up on their displays. Plenty of people fall for something very similar when it comes to audio and video cables for other home electronics, however.

Mystical, magical voodoo wonder wire used to be the sole domain of self-proclaimed golden-eared audiophiles. These are the people who would buy magazines like Stereophile or The Absolute Sound, wherein they could find helpful articles, like how to make CDs sound better by running a green magic market around the edges, along with "reviews" of the many and various kinds of hideously overpriced wire, reviews that could literally go on for pages of lurid, wine-snob-like prose comparing the imagined, infinitely subtle differences between Brand A and Brand B.

As the world of audiophilia has shrunk over recent years under the onslaught of home theater, the purveyors of such boutique-brand "interconnects" have branched out into the latter market, and have managed to get the so-called "low-end" of their product lines into the mainstream outlets of consumer electronics, such as Best Buy, Circuit City, Frye's, etc. In fact, reasonably priced alternatives have been largely displaced -- you either buy the overpriced snake oil, or leave the store without cables you might need.

Buying yourself a new DVD player with component video outputs? The salesmen will almost certainly try to convince you that you need their $150+ "special" component video cable to get "full performance".

This is a half-truth. Using component video connections, if your display and DVD player have them, definitely produces a better picture than using S-Video, and much better than olde-fashioned composite video. But it doesn't take $150 dollars to do it right. You can go to Radio Shack and buy an audio/video patch cable for under $20, and even though it's color-coded red, yellow, and white instead of red, green, and blue, it's still three bundled lengths of decent-quality 75-ohm cable, completely up to the task of delivering a great picture.

At least a component video cable carries an analog signal, so if you really stretch for it you might cobble up a few theoretical reasons for one kind of cable to be better than another, based on frequency response, noise rejection, etc. -- not that anyone has ever been able to produce a shred of evidence that real human beings, freed from the power of suggestion and not knowing what brand they're using or its price, can see any differences in quality between various kinds of wiring of this sort, so long as none of it is flat-out defective.

But they're even pulling this BS with all-digital cables. Definitive digital ones and zeros, which pretty much make it through a wire or they don't. There's a phenomenon called "jitter" that one might hang one's hat on when desperately trying to justify price tags that are 10, 20, 30 times more than another product, but that largely-theoretical problem isn't an issue at all if the electronics at either end of a cable are at all competently designed, and the problem is of vanishingly small magnitude in any event.

Apart from this one incredibly overblown issue, expecting a difference in digital cables, outside of outright failure of a defective cable, is just as crazy as thinking that a new cable for your DSL modem is going to make your e-mail easier to read. If you imagine that a boutique brand "digital interconnect" is giving you, for example, "tighter, deeper base" than your old, shamefully pedestrian cable, well, you're doing just that -- imagining.

I bought a new TV recently, and I had to replace an old HDMI-to-DVI cable with an new HDMI-to-HDMI. The cheapest locally-available cable was a $150 Monster Cable. Now, I'll pay a bit extra for convenience and immediate gratification, but I absolutely refuse to spend $150 for a deceptively-sold product, when a little patience gets me something just as good, mail-ordered off the web and delivered a week later -- for only $12.
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post #2 of 8
Here here! Long a pet peeve of mine. I guess there will always be people who are bound and determined to spend more money than the next guy.

I can remember walking into a high end audio place and being shown speaker cable, which had to move about 100 peak watts of power across all of 10 feet, that was a good 4 inches in diameter, covered in elaborating woven sheathings that would put the high voltage lines at Hoover dam to shame, and went for around $2500 a meter.

When I suggested to the sales guy that for that kind of money I would expect my cable to commune with the dead and teach me to fly he suggested that perhaps my tin ears would be happier at Circuit City.

I really get a kick out of the $500+ AC cord replacements, which of course do such a good job getting power out of the wall and into your gear that you'll wonder how you tolerated that shitty stock power running your gear all those years.

Since I do system design and install for a living, I've got a Canare cable kit that makes terminating coax with super high-quality crimp RCA and BNC a snap. I've seriously considered hanging out a shingle on the web to start selling Canare cable sets (I'll put all the pretty FlexWrap and color coded boots on 'em you want) for a fraction of "high end" money. The terminations are about 2 bucks each and 75 ohm cable with like a db of attenuation at a 100 feet (you know, like those slackers in the broadcast industry use) is around 40 cents a foot, so for a set of three 6 foot cables the materials cost is less than $30, for something that makes the massed produced Monster equivalent look like zip wire and a paper clip. Although Monster does put a lot more into making their cables look "bad ass".
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post #3 of 8
Right on with the digital cable BS-talk. A digital signal is a digital signal and if it doesn't work just return it.

As for analog cables. I totally disagree.

1) more surface ares = less resistance and when it comes to speakers that is good. I have 10 gauge speaker wire for both my indoor and outdoor speakers and while I know it is overkill, I can seriously pump tunes if the need arises. It beats the carp out of monster cable and others. (BTW many companies use the optical characteristics of the plastic to make the copper look bigger than it really is. Cheaters!)

2) contact and Shielding is very important on video cables but costs a little extra. ($150 is totally out there. Just Checking.) Shielding prevents noise and crosstalk while gold contacts provide the least resistance between connections. This makes a cleaner image without color hues and nice contrast. Again, digital signals like HDMI do not need this. (I'm talking compopsite/S-video/Component)

3) That $500 power adapter was probably a surge/power conditioner. It filters out noise from other electrical devices and prevents it from getting to your Amp. I actually have this problem when someone uses our blender/garbage disposal/hand mixer. You can hear crackling and a hum in the speakers. NOTE: this is different than a grounding problem, which is easy to isolate. The surge part has different circuitry than your standard $3 power strip in that it not only prevent surges coming in, but buffer power for sudden demands so the voltage doesn't drop on your equiptment. The buffer is proportional to the size of the capacitors and bigger ones cost more.

So as a sound designer/soundboard operator, I can tell you most of this is not total BS except that Digital stuff. But you will generally never notice it unless you are an audiophile squeezing that last 10% of your equiptment. Welcome to the analog world... my world... 8)
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post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by Ebby
As for analog cables. I totally disagree.

I'm not saying analog cables can't make a difference, what I'm saying is that it's still not rocket science and it doesn't take much money at all to quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. And when I say diminishing returns, I mean getting past the point where it's reasonably conceivable for human hearing to detect any differences.

There simply is no excuse for audio or video cables that costs $100/foot, analog or digital.
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post #5 of 8
Quote:
Originally posted by Ebby
Right on with the digital cable BS-talk. A digital signal is a digital signal and if it doesn't work just return it.

As for analog cables. I totally disagree.

1) more surface ares = less resistance and when it comes to speakers that is good. I have 10 gauge speaker wire for both my indoor and outdoor speakers and while I know it is overkill, I can seriously pump tunes if the need arises. It beats the carp out of monster cable and others. (BTW many companies use the optical characteristics of the plastic to make the copper look bigger than it really is. Cheaters!)

True, but only up to a point, and even then highly dependent on the length of the cable run. The truth is that for even a very powerful, very articulate home audio system with speaker cable runs of under 25' or so, the difference between a roll of Radio Shack stranded 12 gauge 100% copper and $300/meter "audiophile speaker interconnect" is so vanishingly slight as to be inaudible.

Quote:
2) contact and Shielding is very important on video cables but costs a little extra. ($150 is totally out there. Just Checking.) Shielding prevents noise and crosstalk while gold contacts provide the least resistance between connections. This makes a cleaner image without color hues and nice contrast. Again, digital signals like HDMI do not need this. (I'm talking compopsite/S-video/Component)

Again, true as far as it goes. The quality of shielding necessary on a 3' cable run from a DVD player to your TV is easily met by even pretty cheap cables, assuming you weren't planing to cable tie it to your AC cord. Ironically, for people buying a $100 DVD player and a set of $80 "high end" cables, the weak link in the chain is likely to be the cheap surface solder RCA jacks on the back of the machine.

I happen to think gold contacts are a total marketing scam, in that the amount of resistance lowering is negligible compared to the inherent resistance in the wire itself. In a production environment gold contacts make sense because of their resistance to corrosion.

Quote:
3) That $500 power adapter was probably a surge/power conditioner. It filters out noise from other electrical devices and prevents it from getting to your Amp. I actually have this problem when someone uses our blender/garbage disposal/hand mixer. You can hear crackling and a hum in the speakers. NOTE: this is different than a grounding problem, which is easy to isolate. The surge part has different circuitry than your standard $3 power strip in that it not only prevent surges coming in, but buffer power for sudden demands so the voltage doesn't drop on your equiptment. The buffer is proportional to the size of the capacitors and bigger ones cost more.

Nope, just an AC cord given the high end cable treatment. Here's a typical review, for what must be a bargain at a mere $350.

Quote:
So as a sound designer/soundboard operator, I can tell you most of this is not total BS except that Digital stuff. But you will generally never notice it unless you are an audiophile squeezing that last 10% of your equiptment. Welcome to the analog world... my world... 8)

Interconnects need certain gauges and construction to perform well in a given system. Theater systems have a lot more going on (long cable runs, impedance mismatches, multiple patch points, RFI generating equipment, extremely high power levels, etc.) than home audio systems, and it's certainly true that trying to skimp on a full on house PA opens you up to a world of problems.

But for the guy who bought that "high end" Creek amp and preamp separates, $2500 apiece speakers, and some nice video source boxes to think that unless he spends hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a few feet of coaxial cable and twenty feet of speaker cable is just deluded.
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post #6 of 8
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
Nope, just an AC cord given the high end cable treatment. Here's a typical review, for what must be a bargain at a mere $350.

OMG that is a rip! You are totally right. Basically with industrial-grade connections and a grounded shield. Probably cost a whole $2.50 to make.

As for my setup, each wire to my speakers is 50 feet, so that is why I bought large wires. (I did that so I could rearrange my setup if I needed to, which I did.) Outdoors, each speaker is 350 watts with no amplification.

But yea, most of this is to get the most out of the system, even if you can't notice the difference. Bragging rights too.
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post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally posted by Ebby
OMG that is a rip! You are totally right. Basically with industrial-grade connections and a grounded shield. Probably cost a whole $2.50 to make.

As for my setup, each wire to my speakers is 50 feet, so that is why I bought large wires. (I did that so I could rearrange my setup if I needed to, which I did.) Outdoors, each speaker is 350 watts with no amplification.

But yea, most of this is to get the most out of the system, even if you can't notice the difference. Bragging rights too.

Cool. Going with heavy gauge wire can't hurt (especially if you're running the mojo amps over a good distance), and it makes a lot more sense than "molibdium sub-molecular crystal oriented high damping individually woven strand hermetically sealed and graviton enhanced" stuff they hawk for the "I have more money than sense" crowd.

Here's a 4' length of RCA cable that will set you back a cool grand, and it's not even the manufacturers top of the line.

Four. Feet. Of. Two. Conductor. Wire. $1000. I have to assume it involves the living flesh of the Pope's illegitimate children for that kind of money.
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post #8 of 8
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
Cool. Going with heavy gauge wire can't hurt (especially if you're running the mojo amps over a good distance), and it makes a lot more sense than "molibdium sub-molecular crystal oriented high damping individually woven strand hermetically sealed and graviton enhanced" stuff they hawk for the "I have more money than sense" crowd.

Here's a 4' length of RCA cable that will set you back a cool grand, and it's not even the manufacturers top of the line.

Four. Feet. Of. Two. Conductor. Wire. $1000. I have to assume it involves the living flesh of the Pope's illegitimate children for that kind of money.

holy sh1t. yeah the audiophile thing is all gone to pot nowadays, it seems.

1. 4' of RCA for $1000 ???!!! WTF? RCA !!!! not even component or digital coax or whatever.

2. monster is a good brand but grossly overpriced nowadays, i'm afraid

3. What Hi Fi (UK magazine) - i was appalled to see it some sections it waxes on about choosing the right gear etc... all well and good, but it's review of a Samsung DLP rear-projection TV seriously failed to mentioned that moving your head a few inches left and right and up and down, you already notice uneven brightness across the entire big screen.

4. buyer beware, is all i can say

5. also, have you seen the receiver/upconverter boxes on the latest HDTV displays? some of those are MASSIVE, almost as big as a g5 tower for some of 'em. i can guarantee you salespeople are pimpin' it as the bigger your upscaler/receiver box thingy, the bigger cock you have.

6. sorry, couldn't resist. as a 20-something male, i think testosterone is way too overrated sometimes and f8cks with your common sense.

edit:
overall i've been impressed with quality/performance/value balance on
Belkin stuff.

it's a nice compromised between utter dirt-cheap garbage and an overpriced monster brand cable.

edit2:
but people can spend what they want on what they consider luxuries, more power to ya... i guess us appleInsiders think a little differently


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