An Audiophile’s Blind Obsession With Cables: A misguided focus can ruin your system

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Audiophile talk over coffee becomes heated when the topic of exotic cables comes up.
Audiophile talk over coffee becomes heated when the topic of exotic cables comes up.

I was sitting with some friends over drinks a few weeks ago when one of them shared details about his newest acquisition, a pair of speakers. He’s smart, but frugal guy that’s relatively new to the audiophile hobby.  Over the past two years, he’s managed to get a used PeachTree preamp-DAC and Classé amplifier to anchor his system and just recently he scored a demo pair of speakers for about half price.  A nearly $600 set of speakers for just under $300.

Naturally, I congratulated him for being able to get the components and before I could finish my sentence he then went on to talk about the cables he had acquired and the cables he was lusting after.  I just looked at him. He was talking about hundreds of dollars here for a stereo pair of cables.  He was talking about those exotic cables as though he were having visions of an Arabian princess. In fact, what struck me most was that he talked about the cables with more passion and conviction than any of his other gear.

I looked at him and said, “You’ve done a great job of getting your system together. Don’t you think you’d be far better off investing that extra money you’re devoting to cables to a better pair of speakers that can bring out the potential of the electronics behind it?”

Exotic cables aren't cheap
Delving into the world of exotic cables can cost you hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars.

Nope, he wasn’t keen to that suggestion.

The conversation then turned to how this person in one forum or that person in another forum had extolled the virtues of this cable or that one and what a difference it had made in their systems. I told him that while I have some nice cables in my system, I rely on BlueJeans cables primarily (we’ve even written an article on where you can buy great cables here). I even use their welded speaker cables as my primary cables going to my reference speakers.  That still wasn’t enough.

As a last ditch effort, I asked the simple question, “Have you heard a difference since you switched to the new cables.” He pondered for a second and replied, “I’m still not good enough to be able to hear the differences that I know are there so I’m trying to get better each day.” (And in case you’re wondering, we’ve explored if cables make an audible difference and are worth the cost).

Chose your budget wisely. Spending $500 on cables and $500 on speakers could mean the difference of getting mediocre speakers or affording a great pair of speakers, like the SVS Prime Towers.
Chose your budget wisely. Spending $500 on cables and $500 on speakers could mean the difference of getting mediocre speakers or affording a great pair of speakers, like the SVS Prime Towers ($998/pair).

There wasn’t any point in going on, but there is a point to making further note here. My advice to anyone building a system is the only cables you can clearly hear a difference with are bad cables. If you are building a two channel or even multichannel system don’t waste your money on exotic cabling. I can tell you outright that on a $500, $1,000, or even $2,500 set of speakers you aren’t going to hear any differences (if they even existed).

What’s my advice? I know it can be tempting—even alluring—to hear this comment or that on some forum or somewhere online. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, don’t even take anything we write here as “Gospel truth” but let your own ears and your own experience dictate your impressions.

As it pertains to this true-life story, the raw reality is that your speakers are going to make the most difference of any component. Don’t cheap out or shortchange spending money on speakers. You’ll regret it in both the long and the short run. I’ll keep working on my friend, but beware that dangerous condition of audiophile inadequacy—that someone else can hear something you can’t. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about the music. And if you get hyper-focused on cables and the like at the expense of more important priorities in your system, then you’ll never enjoy the music and never be truly happy with your setup.

 

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hurrah cable sanity. Your friend’s expectation of transformation by swapping in a cable is entirely reasonable given the extreme hype and endless column inches devoted to cable minutiae. Thank you so much for the advice on listen first.

  2. Building a proper system is obviously about balance of components, I have however been able to realize remarkable improvements using somewhat better cables for power, hdmi and even Ethernet.
    But also -or should I say especially- here the need for balance applies, it is very tempting to keep upgrading but the real focus should indeed be on speakers, sources and amps.
    I did btw manage to get some great second hand power cables at app 40% of the original price, they seemingly don’t deteriorate or get outdated.

  3. I have been experimenting with Transparent audio power cables and Musiclink RCA cables. I have definitely found that the sound improves in size and detachment from the speakers. I have been switching back and forth now for a month trying to convince myself it is not real so I don’t have to justify buying them. I even bought a few high-end used power cables to try as another option. They sound different also, but much more laid back and rolled off. I hate to admit it, but I will likely pony up the cash for 2 power cables and 5 pairs of interconnects for my system… I’m a doubter.. and a believer sorry.

    • Update, the Power cables make huge differences all around, the RCA cables change the sound, more detail, but the speaker cables opened up the sound that much more so I’m happy (and content) with the level I chose, I doubt the next jump would be worth the money for me at this time.

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