Today, I had my ass handed to me in a bag. This is embarrassing to have to admit, but, well, hearing is believing.
Cables make a difference.
There! I said it. It’s in print and now some asshole can lord it over me for all time. Barrows and Clay both are never going to let me hear the end of it. Super ….
I was visiting my Reference Rig over at Command Performance in Falls Church, VA today. Jeff Fox, the proprietor of this particular den of iniquity, sat me down today for an education that was probably long overdue. We were running some music through his Berkeley DAC from one of his sweet little custom-made silent PC-based audio servers into a Manley Labs setup: Manley Snapper amplifiers wired into a Jumbo Shrimp preamp. I’m going to have to take a look at that stuff again, soon, because for the price, the pairing is seriously hard core. As usual, we were using Jeff’s great (and crazy-expensive) Synergistic cabling throughout.
I’m not sure what got into me, but I think I was trying to call his bluff about cabling. Says I, “they make no difference t’all!”. Says he, “wanna bet?”
So, he paused the player and off he wandered to the back of the rack where he quickly changed something. He came back and hit ‘play’.
And something changed. The speakers we’d been listening to were Totem Model-1 Signatures, an anchor in the Totem lineup and something new to Command Performance, so Jeff was breaking them in. When I’d walked in, I had thought the sound quality was good, but not really on par with the (almost 3x as expensive) Joseph Audio Pulsars. Bass was a bit throttled and treble was a bit thin, but the midrange was big and warm. With the change, it’s like the sound had suddenly sucked in its gut and finally stood up straight. The difference was clear and immediate and inescapable. Something was obviously different.
Jeff told me that he’d had Synergistic, Wireworld and Straightwire all make him some custom DB-26-to-AES cables to play with with for his Lynx-to-Berkeley connection. The cable he’d been running them with was the Straightwire Infolink cable and he had quick-changed them to a Wireworld Starlight. Another quick change (less than a minute, tops) and we were then listening to a Synergistic Research D1, which, interestingly, sounded different still, but more of a blend between the two cables.
This was the only change in the system. One fucking cable. One! And with that one cable, he changed the overall sound coming from the system. I think you could hear my heart breaking from across the room. It was either that or all those preconceptions shattering. From my position, it was hard to tell over all the din.
With the Totems, I clearly preferred the Straightwire over the Wireworld. It just seemed to fit better for some reason, while the Wireworld felt a bit cold by comparison. The Synergistic was (maybe?) a better fit than either, having restored some of the bass and treble, but not enough to alter the tonal balance of the already-warm Model-1.
But getting back to me — I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! So, I made him switch through another time. Same result. One cable really did all this? Seriously?!?
I helped him switch out the Totems for the Pulsars. I had to see if “better” speakers showed this too — and sure enough, they did. About this time I’m really hating life, FWIW. Damn it!
Interestingly, this time, I preferred the Wireworld cable hands-down over the other two, but why wasn’t terrifically obvious at first. In this mashup, Jeff went from Synergistic to Wireworld to Straightwire, and while I noticed the change from Synergistic to Wireworld, I lost the difference when he put in the Straightwire. “Did you really change the cable?” I thought he might have been trying to pull a fast one on me. He assured me that he wasn’t, but for me, the presence region was pretty much the same, maybe a hair more forward on the Straightwire over the Wireworld, maybe. When Jeff put the Wireworld back in again, he said “listen to the bass” — and that was it. With the Straightwire, there was no bass. Or rather, it was recessed, muddied and pretty much lost. With the Wireworld, it was present, seamlessly coherent, articulate. I’d been focusing on the midrange and simply lost track of the bass completely. Whoops. So, Wireworld for the Pulsar, Straightwire (or Synergistic, it was kind of a tossup) for the Totems. Very interesting.
Well, there you go. Cables matter. Not enough for me to change my lineup in the Corollary to the First Law of Audio (spend your money where it matters most, and do that first), but certainly enough to give much more weight to the cable bit.
So, the question I have now is about my beloved Blue Jeans Cables. These guys make great cables at great prices. But while before I was blissfully uncaring, now I’m wondering how they’ll compare with their higher priced peers? Would they sound better? Worse? I guess I’m gonna have to take a set in and see what’s what. Damn that dealer-man!
If it matters, I still have a theory. Cables do matter — but it’s their specs that matter most, not the fancy geometries nor quality of the metallurgy, not the shielding nor the dialectric. It’s about inductance, capacitance and maybe resistance (if the cables are really long). Time to test! Unfortunately for my theory, Jeff says he has these other Wireworld cables that have identical construction geometries and dialectric, but use different metals (copper, silver and gold respectively), and he says they all sound different. If so, that sucks, because it’ll be back to the drawing board with the whole cable thing.
More to come, I’m sure.
Moral of the story — if you have access to a dealer, get to know them. Their job isn’t just to find you the best deal possible on whatever it is they’re pushing that day, but also to have spent some time and effort wading through the thicket of the audio market to find things that work well together. So if you happen to live in the DC Metro area, Jeff Fox is a very handy man to know.