Can you hear the "directionality" of interconnects and speaker wire? Kevin LaTour can.

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Steve Hoffman, Dec 24, 2004.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Back in the '90's when I was first discovering the interesting world of High End Audio I hung out at a great store called Acoustic Image in Studio City, California. The owner Elliot Midwood had a staffer there by the name of Kevin LaTour. This guy could hear immediately if interconnects were hooked up the wrong way. I mean, if the wire was directional, Kevin could instantly hear if something was "off" or not.

    So, I would be sitting in a listening room with our buds and they would be switching out all different brands of interconnects and speaker cable and analyzing the sound, Kevin would walk in, stand there for 10 seconds and say "Nope, you've hooked those up backwards".

    At first I regarded his comments with suspicion. I felt a prank of some kind was being played on me so one day I sat him down in the big listening room asked him if he would agree to a little test of his "directional" hearing ability. He said "Sure, if you buy lunch!" :)

    So, I grabbed some expensive interconnects (Purist Audio Design; I even remember the brand). I led Kevin out of the room and hooked up the wire from the line stage to the amp. Hooked it in correctly (according to the arrows on the wire itself). Brought Kevin back in, started something from Tumbleweed Connection and in five seconds he stated that the wire was in place correctly. I pushed him back out of the room, stood there for 30 seconds, brought him back in, played the same thing again and he stated that the wire was correct. I pushed him back out TEN MORE TIMES! Each time I reversed the wire he heard it and said so. Each time I tried to fool him by doing nothing he caught it. To me, I couldn't really hear a damn difference in either direction. I tried the same test with some cheap stuff as well just to be on the safe side (the cheap wire to me had a much better midrange but I said nothing about that)....Kevin got it correct every single time! I thought that was pretty amazing and told him so. He just shrugged like it was no big deal; I think he thinks everyone can hear like he does.

    So, I asked him what to listen for (crisper percussive attack, etc.) After about a week I felt that I finally thought that maybe I could start to hear what he was hearing (sort of, but actually not really). That boy really has golden ears; if he just guessed, how could he have guessed correctly over 20 times in a row? Geez. Too damn bad he's selling real estate in San Diego right now. Them ears is going to waste!

    So, my question to you Golden Ears Of The Internet is:

    Can YOU hear the directionality of wire? I cannot. I can hear OTHER things right away; tonality, dynamics, etc...

    One thing I do know. If my wire has an arrow on it, I make damn sure I hook it up in the correct direction. (The arrows should always go "Source to preamp" or Preamp to Amp, Amp to speakers, etc.) So start at the source component and go in the direction of the signal all the way to the final destination. What I mean is, if there are arrows on your wire, respect the direction. Remember Kevin LaTour. He might drop in on you sometime!
  2. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    To be honest, no....which is why, when I rejiggered my system years back, made a special point of saving all the interconnecting until last, to be absolutely sure everything was connected properly....something that is simple only if all your interconnects are identical...and mine remain mostly some kind of Monster connections, but not sure all of them are, been a lot of years.

  3. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    Not really. This is why I go for wiring that I can afford that is well built.
  4. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    I voted "Never bothered to find out". I have Grover SRII interconnects and I think (I hope) they're bi-directional. Maybe I'll e-mail Grover...

    Heck - now you've got me wondering about that.... maybe I should "flip" the wires and see if I hear a difference.... or just one wire at a time?

    Would the incorrect sound be sort of like if the speakers were out of phase....? Sort of "thin" sounding, maybe?
  5. Grant

    Grant In holiday HELL

    United States
    I never bothered to find out, but I always pay attention to the directions of the arrows.
  6. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    I did pay attention to the red/black indications.
    pez likes this.
  7. Pug

    Pug Elitist Snob

    Near Music Direct
    I have never heard of this before. What do you listen for?
  8. OcdMan

    OcdMan Senior Member

    I've never bothered to find out if I could hear the difference but the directional cable I use for needledrops lowers the noise floor like 3 or 4 decibels further than my non-directional cable. It clearly rejects outside interference better.
  9. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    I never played around with directionality of speaker wires.

    Interconnect cables that have arrows may sometimes have reasons other than wire directionality in mind. Often the shield is 'telescoped' from one direction to the other. In other words, the shield will tied to the ground at one end but not on the other end. Often the shield is tied at the source end, but there are multiple opinions on this matter.

    This does not necessarily mean there is not a conductor in the cable from source ground to destination ground. It just means that the shield is tied to that conductor at only one end.

    I have noticed changes in sound by different grounding techniques such as this. The problem I often discovered which led to frustration was this. One way some records would sound better and the other way other records would sound better. I've often found this to be the case with many critical comparisions and it is indeed frustrating. Sometimes distortions seem to improve the sound of things and can fool you.
    Ingenieur likes this.
  10. dbryant

    dbryant Forum Resident

    Cambridge MA
    I never bothered to try (I should give it a go!), but I remember a buddy of mine buying a Monster Cable guitar cord when they first came out. I asked him how it sounded, and he said, "Good, but only if I plug it in backwards!" :D I think he said it sounded a little darker that way.
  11. RDK

    RDK Active Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    Nineteen anonymous "yes" votes so far, but no details? Come on, guys, fess up! I'm interested in hearing what you have to say even if I'm skeptical. Personally, I've never tried...
  12. Lord Hawthorne

    Lord Hawthorne Currently Untitled

    Portland, Oregon
    I don't hear the difference, and I don't see how others can and scientific instruments can't.
    Ingenieur, CDV and dumangl like this.
  13. Elton

    Elton I Hope Being Helpful, Will Make Me Look Cool

    Carson Ca.
    I think that there is difference in the directionality of a cable. But that is only for a while, like breaking them in. If you turn any cable around and listen the sound will be a little harsher for a while, but keep them in for a month, they will sound much better. I think it more like a carpet (vacuum it one way it's a certain tone on the color you bought) not tires (put them on wrong they rip them self up).
    That's what I see from my height! :righton:
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    My point.
  15. smilin

    smilin New Member


    Thats an amazing story about Kevin's hearing. Mine are not that good, I am just now, starting to hear rather large differences with interconnects, and power cords. I used to think that was BS not long ago. It really is amazing what we can train our ears to hear. Thanks for sharing, and asking opinions. I will play around in the next week and hopefully tell you in person at the CES show.

    Happy Holiday's

    Steve :wave:
  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Well, I felt one step above Helen Keller after a day with Kevin so don't feel bad.
  17. MMM

    MMM Forum Hall Of Fame

    Lodi, New Jersey
    Same for me.
    George P likes this.
  18. Metralla

    Metralla Joined Jan 13, 2002

    San Jose, CA
    I certainly can. It's pretty obvious - one way I get music; the other way I get silence.
    stax o' wax likes this.
  19. sgb

    sgb Senior Member

    Baton Rouge
    If it isn't measurable it isn't audible. This does not mean, however, that cables do not have a directionality factor. If the manufacturer specifies that the arrows point the way the cables should be oriented, it might be possible to hear the difference when the cables are improperly installed, but unlikely.

    Try Belden 8451 for you DIY interconnect enthusiasts out there. It's available at most electrical supply houses for about 18ยข a foot, and will sound as good or better than any expensive boutique cable you'd care to compare to it. Be sure to orient the cables so that the printing on both cables runs the same and oriented FROM the source; shunt it at the receiving end.
  20. michael w

    michael w New Member

    Hahaha Geoff !

    There's an interview in this month's AVGuide Monthly with Don Bouchard, VP of Ultralink/XLO who not only contends that there is cable directionality but that many manufacturers have it marked wrongly on their cables.

    He puts down directionality as being due to copper oxide impurities that exist at the juncture of copper chrystals. These have a tendency to act like little diodes. Diodes tend to pass current better in one direction than another. This slight polarisation characterisatic is passed onto the cables made from this cable.

    He goes onto to saying the differences in direction are subtle but noticeable as a bit more natural and open sounding.

    On the topic of mis-labelling.
    The only way to ascertain correct direction is to listen to the cable.
    Ultralink/XLO listen to every spool of cable and mark it accordingly.
    Many companies don't do this, instead they merely mark the direction the cable comes off the spool, which may or may not be the best direction for optimal sound.

    I can hear directionality in cables but it is often subtle and differs from brand to brand.
  21. cvila

    cvila Forum Resident

    Not necessarily. It may mean that that there hasn't been a tool or program invented to measure it. After all, there were really tiny things before there were microscopes.
  22. sgb

    sgb Senior Member

    Baton Rouge
    Actually people with intersts knew there was a microbic world out there long before they had the ability to look at them. The physics people would be happy to tell you that the electrical phenomenon is readily measurable from any aspect -- except, perhaps, the psychoacoustic.
  23. CardinalFang

    CardinalFang New Member

    Ok, I'm dying to know... what does it sound like??
  24. Ryan

    Ryan That would be telling

    New England
    Honestly, I never gave it much thought and with the cables I buy, I don't think direction is much of a consideration. Tell Kevin he is a mutant.
  25. Drew

    Drew Senior Member

    Grand Junction, CO
    I've heard of this before... but I've also been told that if you use interconnects the wrong way it improves over time. (that was not sarcasm)

    Who am I to say. I can't hear the difference.

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