Thoughts about The Cable Hypothesis

Blue Jeans Cable

I’ve been using a full Blue Jeans Cable “loom” now for the last seven months. During that time, I have not once wanted for a “better cable” — in fact, I went and bought more of these excellent wires.

I’m currently using their Ten Whites and a full set of their LC-1 interconnects.

The Blue Jeans Ten White is just a more conveniently color-coded version of the fantastic Belden 5T00UP wire, specially made for BJC by Belden. I like the size of the 10-gauge wire, but given that my runs are all of four feet long, I don’t think there’s a difference between the 10 and the 12 gauge they sell. I went for the Ten White so that it’d match the excellent LC-1 interconnects.

The Blue Jeans LC-1 Interconnects use 25-gauge copper wire with bare copper double-braid shields and a “foamed” polyethylene dialectric to get as close to “air” as possible. The capacitance is a shockingly low 12.2 pF/ft — some of the best capacitance numbers I’ve ever seen on any cable, much less one that sells for $30/pair. Yes, THIRTY.

Reading this, I’ll admit it — my first reaction was: OMG! A shield! OMG! Tiny wires! OMG! WTF is “foamed polyethylene”? Why? Well, there’s a lot of hysteria about wiring in audiophile land these days — I suspect that “wire effect” will remain the Wild West of audio for some time simply because there’s very little investment made in actual science. In point of fact, there’s a lot of just the opposite (i.e., marketing), with many forum threads tied up with posters resorting to what amounts to a religious position fairly quickly in the ensuing debate (debacle, more likely).

The problem, it seems, is that not everyone is in agreement about whether or not cables actually have an impact on the overall sound of the system they’re in. Hmm. Ooops?

One side of the battlefield is populated by the “Just Say NO to Snake Oil” flag bearers. There can be no differences; say they, “where’s the proof?” Opposing them bitterly are the “The Cable Hypothesis” crowd who claim to not only be able to hear the differences, but hold that anyone “with a system that is resolving enough” will be able to hear those differences as well (clever insult, there). I’m oversimplifying, but really, it’s not by much.

I am of neither camp. But to be fair, I have yet to hear a true difference between one cable’s contribution and the next. And I suppose you could say I’ve done my due diligence here. From the Cable Company, I’ve borrowed Audience, PAD, Cardas and other cables — all at the same time — and done both a/b switching and some extended listening tests with one cable set before switching to another. Nothing. No differences at all. Or rather, nothing conclusive — which is a problem, especially as many of those cables were well over $1000 per wire. Helluva investment for a definite maybe, at least in my opinion.

That said, while I have yet to hear the purported differences, there is no reason to assume that such aren’t possible. But anyone claiming categorically that such differences must exist must also pass a rather high standard, as my own — rather extended — experience runs directly counter.

For the sake of argument, say that cables can and do make a difference. The question then becomes why? I mean, honestly, any differences in the audible contribution made by cables cannot be because they’re magical. If cables make a difference, great. It should be a matter of simple empirical testing therefore to verify if differences are on offer, what those are, when they occur and why. Seems reasonable to me.

The devil, however, is in the details. To wit: how can we tell, reliably, if differences are on offer? This is different, notice, from asking what differences are on offer or why. Okay. So, how could we tell?

The standard method for psychological testing involves a rather standard scientific procedure, which must include some way of eliminating contaminating effects, such as visual cues, so that the test results are based on what they ought to be — audible cues (only). This tends to get called “blind testing”, and can follow a blind, double-blind or an A/B+X (aka, ABX, where “x” is some kind of control) protocol. Sadly, this rather basic approach has been repeatedly attacked as being inadequate — in many cases because a blind test might not consistently support the conclusion that there actually are differences. This is absurd, but unfortunately common.

For the record, there are only three positions that can be staked out here:

  1. It could be because there are differences to hear. There is something about the cable, it’s make, structure, or finish that actually does add in a positive way to the overall character of the sound of a hifi system. This is the Standard Assumption of The Cable Hypothesis, and one Nordost seems to be intent on proving quantitatively. Very interesting if they can pull it off.
  2. Their hifi setup was just such that the two cables “did something” to the overall system’s performance so that differences were audible. If you think cable as tone-control, you might have an idea of where such an explanation might go. If a cable with a terrifically high resistance was used, or was fantastically long, it might roll off a frequency extreme. It’s possible that this type of thing extends to other, less extreme, cases.
  3. They were fooled because there are no differences to hear. Cognitive Dissonance is the theory that two incompatible beliefs will work themselves out in such a way as to favor a decision already made. The story behind the expression “sour grapes” is one example, but it quite readily translates to the audiophile that paid a pile of money for a component (which creates dissonance), and therefore, that component is good (which then eliminates it). I should note that it doesn’t help that the most vociferous voices in favor of the Cable Hypothesis are those that either have them or have reviewed them. Hard to call them unbiased.

Testing would, of course, tease such possibilities apart.

But since rigorously testing the conclusions in any meaningful scientific way seems to be precluded by the beliefs of the zealots that oppose such an approach, it does not seem that this issue will not be coming to a conclusion at any point in the near future. Pity, as I suspect the testing would be relatively trivial to carry out. The problem, I suspect, is that there are a great many manufacturers who would suddenly find their business in jeopardy if it can be shown that their $6500/m speaker cables were on an acoustic par with lamp wire. Worse, there will be even more customers who’ve invested what must be millions of dollars in very expensive alternatives to an irrelevancy.

So let me say this. I find the debate annoying, and while my bias is clearly on the side of test-it-and-be done, I have little or no patience for Mysterians who deride and undermine Science as an enterprise because it fails to support their preconceptions. They might well be right, but I despise their methods.

So, while waiting for The End Of The Matter, let me advance my own version of the Cable Hypothesis: if there is a positive audible contribution to be made by the wires, and one that isn’t merely a correction of another electrical problem present in the system, then those differences are not only graspable by Science, but will be made known through scientific processes — of which ABX testing is a fine example (electrical testing and computer analysis of acoustical measurement are others).

My money says that cables do, in point of fact, make a difference. Unfortunately, those differences are all terrifically minor and well below the threshold of perception in all but the most unusual of cases. That’s my bet.

But I’m not above making my own version of Pascal’s Wager and hedging that bet. As I’ve stated, I’ve researched the Cable Hypothesis and it turns out that hidden amongst all the voodoo, some things do seem to be relevant — characteristics like impedance, capacitance, inductance and resistance. Dialectric may be relevant too, but my (naive and totally uninformed — or — cynical and untrusting) opinion is that this is so only because it impacts the other parameters. My Hedged Bet, then, is that varying these parameters may well yield the changes sought. And that is one of the main reasons I’ve gone with Blue Jeans Cables — they not only publish their cable’s measurements but their numbers are actually quite good. Further, they provide a reasonable and readable justification as to why those numbers are what they are and why (and when) you should care. This is rather unusual (okay, unique) in the audio cable industry, actually tying performance to measurable electrical properties instead of making reference to something logically improbable like “quantum tunneling”, a lack of certain kinds of micro-crystalline structures, the absolute purity of the conductor, or any other distraction. It’s refreshing. Blue Jeans provides a well-made product for a (remarkably) reasonable price that isn’t trying to bury me in bullshit while I get bilked. An experience I highly recommend!

At some point here, I’m going to need to take these cables over to Command Performance A/V and wire them into the Big Rig. Do some A/B swaps, just to see.

Stay tuned.

About Scot Hull 1063 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.

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