Are some cables better than others, or do they all sound the same?
Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor: “Have you ever discussed the types of mic cables, amp cables, patch cables, that are better to use than others?”
I'm old enough to remember when the debate on cables first started, back in the 1970s. Now there is a whole industry devoted to hi-fi tweaking.
Snake oil was similarly popular back in the 1800s.
OK, do you want the definitive, unimpeachable word on cables?
They make no difference. Yes… they make no difference.
And who said that? None other than Mr. Rupert Neve. I interviewed Mr. Neve for Studio Sound magazine quite a few years ago and he told me at length and in detail about his design process.
Neve is a fascinating person to listen to, and I waited a while before asking any questions. Eventually, I did ask him about the internal wiring of his consoles.
And his response… he just bought ordinary wire from any convenient supplier. As long as it was the right gauge and of decent quality of manufacture, it was OK.
And that cable now contributes to the Neve sound that is admired and sought after all over the world.
There are however some areas where cables do make a difference. But for real physical reasons, rather than flights of the imagination.
One is in microphone cables. Mic cables with a lapped screen tend to coil easily, but cables with a braided screen provide better protection from interference. Quad cables, where there are two conductors for each of the two legs of the balanced circuit, provide still better interference-rejection capability.
Loudspeaker cables make a difference too. They should be as short as possible and as fat as possible. That way, no signal will be lost in the cable, as it otherwise would be.
Cables used for audio should be those that are designed for audio. Cables designed for other uses, i.e. bell wire, can not be expected to have the appropriate characteristics.
In all types of cable, the connectors should be clean. Oxidation will harm the signal.
Other than that, if you remember that the most important decision you can make in recording is microphone positioning, then you are thinking along the right lines. The moment you start imagining that cables are important is when you have taken your eye of the things that really do matter.[By the way, I expect a few quibbles on this point, and I don't mind at all publishing your physical evidence or sincerely held beliefs. But please note that my main point is that a newcomer to audio should be thinking about mic positioning, not cables. I'm going to be very surprised if anyone can come up with a rational argument against that.]