SH Spotlight FYI, How to judge interconnects, power cords, speaker cable, etc. Let's share techniques together..

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Jan 31, 2019.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    I've been asked how I do it. I have no problem with writing this up again if it helps some of you figure it out.


    Some people expect a BIG difference when switching, auditioning wire. BIG DIFFERENCE. Well, no, see, this is what makes me scratch my head. You won't hear a big difference but over the course of say 5 years, it truly adds up, believe me!

    Those that want it all now: What were you listening for? What were you expecting to happen? Do you know what exactly to listen for? What music were you playing, was it compressed or dynamic, pop, jazz, classical, what?

    A better power cord will give you better dynamic peaks instantly but if you are expecting something like a "loudness button" to be pushed, it won't happen, although the bass has a better chance of being dynamically freed from the soundstage than with a stock cord, don't ask me why. Most people like the sound of compression though and seem not to notice that it's even there.

    I've seen rich audiophiles with $200,000.00 systems who have NO idea what to listen for when comparing wire, cables, VTA, etc. After I tell 'em they focus on one crucial thing (bass response or treble extension or midrange balance, one at a time!) and block everything else out. That's the way to do it. It took an experienced audiophile to clue me in on how to critically listen for changes like this. Very hard to do, takes the ability to focus on one aspect of the sound and block the other out or pad them down. Many can't seem to do it at all, or think they can't, so they give up and become part of the "I can't hear a difference, so there isn't one" crowd, sad to say.

    BTW, some stock cords are really good, most are just adequate, IMO. I wish power cords made no difference. I hate the fact that some upscale cords are so inflexible, impossible to move them even a bit into position. Drives me bonkers...


    So it is very difficult to get people to focus in, especially since it probably seems to them self-indulgent or a waste of time.


    My thing (when forced to do it, I'm not a fan of swapping out stuff in my system) is to concentrate on one song, usually a song I'm working on for work or a song I've known well since childhood. Then I'll swap wires and give a listen. Using "all kinds" of music, etc. would make it impossible for me to tell anything, it's like swapping out CD players and speakers. You get lost. Doing one song (should be something not wonderful sounding) will make any difference stand out.


    For years I used Beatles stereo I FEEL FINE (from the old Past Masters CD, the left 'drums & bass' side) to tell which impedance tap sounded best. Since the music hasn't much dynamic range (thanks to how it was mixed) ANY change is obvious. The more dynamic the opening of the song sounded (after the drums came in), that was the impedance to use. Also works on wire, cable changes, etc.

    If you pick a wonderful recording to do any testing on you will come to grief. You need something less than wonderful. That makes any changes bad or good easier to spot.

    This is to just open a discussion. I've posted this in Music Corner since it definitely involves music.

    Please share your experiences and how you do it.
     
  2. Jerry

    Jerry Grateful Gort Staff

    Location:
    New England
    This is very helpful! I always got myself frustrated comparing hardware or accessories because I felt I needed samplings from all different types of music, and that the best recorded versions of each source I picked would make the differences stand out more. I guess I was 180 degrees wrong!

    Thanks Steve!
     
  3. Pastafarian

    Pastafarian Forum Resident

    I think the biggest mistake many people make during any dem is to focus on a particular element, my view just listen to the music and then try to decide why one sounds better.
     
  4. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Heh, so the opposite of how I do it. Interesting.
     
  5. Grant

    Grant Now let that bass fall in! Oh yeah!

    Location:
    United States
    Actually, Steve, there have been a couple of occasions where I did hear a big difference when switching out IC cables.

    But, yeah, I always wonder what people's expectations are.
     
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    The more you know what to listen for the bigger the differences can be, that’s for sure.
     
  7. Grant

    Grant Now let that bass fall in! Oh yeah!

    Location:
    United States
    And, that's just it. I don't think most people know what to listen for. Certainly, for each person, it will be different things, but, maybe people expect the artist to reach out and touch them or something.:shrug:

    I listen for transparency and a broader, deeper soundstage. And microdynamics. I think once you have those, the frequencies fall into place.
     
  8. Dennis0675

    Dennis0675 Helping Disco Member

    Location:
    Ohio
    Isolating the variable is key to any experiment and being familiar with the content you are using to evaluate a variable is a big deal for me. Personally, have have spent a great deal of time with a Martin Guitar on my knee, I know what that sounds like. If I put on the first David Grisman Quintet album to evaluate a system change, not only do I know that album but the tone and detail of Tony's guitar is a good reference point. I can hear if it sounds different and relative to the experience of playing a similar guitar. I once made a big phonostage upgrade and I could clearly hear the pic strike the strings of the guitar for the first time after listening to the album for 20 years. It would be tough to pick out that detail if not for the experiences of knowing the album well and having struck the strings of a similar guitar many times.

    Many times the change in sound doesn't register with me when I first put new cable in place. A power cable jumps out at me quickly but speaker wire, interconnects or a tonearm cable can be tricky. If I leave it there for a week and then put the previous cable back in place, I can immediately hear the drop off.
     
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  9. Day_Tripper2019

    Day_Tripper2019 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sydney
    What ever songs or albums you go to for a listening test, try and listen to them even if you are not in the mood. Listening at random times will give you a better understanding.
     
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  10. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Thank you for your thoughts..
     
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  11. tubesandvinyl

    tubesandvinyl Forum Resident

    I use a variety of songs, eras, musical types. Sometimes, a Ray Charles instrumental, a visceral vocal from Ella, Etta, Sam or Otis, Jimi playing live, Beatles in mono, etc.

    I listen for vocal realism, acoustic bass texture, overall bass control, transparency, and top end extension. Above all, tonal balance is most crucial to me.

    Some cables do some of the above really well, but at the cost of tonal balance.

    I've shuffled through many cables the last 20 years. Few give outstanding tonal balance.

    It is important to let the wires settle before evaluating. And if new, break em in for awhile! Very crucial.
     
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  12. jhw59

    jhw59 Forum Resident

    Doesn't the level of your system affect the quality level of your connectors? Balance is important as well. I have a medium fi system and think the connectors I'm using are ok with my components. YMMV. Comments welcome.
     
  13. LuciferSam341

    LuciferSam341 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    I'm curious how the cable between the wall socket and the component can improve the sound when everything from the wall socket back is operating under the worst possible conditions (i.e. passing through circuit breakers etc...)... not trying to debate, I'm just curious if someone has a theory on how this could possibly help?
    Cheers
     
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Nope, no idea. It just does (sometimes). Wish it wasn't so but it is.
     
  15. heathen

    heathen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Colorado
    Blind testing is the only way. Cognitive bias is just too strong.
     
  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Not true at all. Trust yourself, trust your ears, practice.
     
  17. heathen

    heathen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Colorado
    I'll have to respectfully disagree. I won't derail your thread into a subjective vs. objective argument, though, so I'll just bow out of the discussion.
     
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  18. LuciferSam341

    LuciferSam341 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Thanks... I wish I knew too!... that's great advice to focus in on one particular thing, especially if you know it well... that's how I analyze any changes I might make.
    Cheers
     
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  19. Dennis0675

    Dennis0675 Helping Disco Member

    Location:
    Ohio
    This "understanding how it works" is a trap. Lots of guys get in the ditch as it related to cables, its the "wire is wire" argument and it keeps people from trying it out for themselves. Honestly, I don't know how a light bulb works but I know I can see better if its on in on in a dark room. If I had to rationalize and explain all the technology I use on a daily basis I would be living more of a hunter/gatherer lifestyle.
     
  20. Yost

    Yost Always Wondered How Other People Did This

    I always ask a friend to help me. He does the swaps so I have a blind comparison. If I’m changing the component myself, I already “know” what to hear differently. I do the same with different (re)masterings, btw.
     
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  21. LuciferSam341

    LuciferSam341 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    That's fair enough... but since I'm an electronics design engineer I get curious about things like this... it's not that I don't think it's possible, it's more like how can one section of the power line fix the rest of it?... anyway I would never question what others hear or experience but I'm always looking to expand my knowledge and learn new things!
    Cheers
     
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  22. Tullman

    Tullman I prefer analog

    Location:
    Boston MA
    I've been using the same cd for reference when auditioning new equipment for over 20 years. I think things need time to settle in before any judgement is passed.
     
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  23. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    You could never be a mastering engineer!
     
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  24. danomar

    danomar Forum Resident

    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    I agree with Steve that using the same musical piece(s) is helpful in discerning changes. I often use the first side of Lark's Tongues in Aspic (King Crimson) as a comparison piece because there are many different musical elements in it.

    My only contributions would be to (A) change only one thing at a time and (B) live with the different item for a while before swapping back to the original or a different one. I find that my subjectivity becomes muddled when I immediately switch between different components/connections. Yes, it makes sense to do a quick A/B check, but when I listen to something for at least a few days, perhaps weeks, if there is any difference it will be more noticeable when I change back.
     
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  25. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

    Location:
    Mid Atlantic
    At a relative's house I swapped out a funky wiring situation they had on their stereo system. Yes the funky wiring was good enough to play stereo through the speakers without major distortion. From the kitchen, the wife said, "oh that sounds better." I thank the Host for being the OP otherwise I'd be cruisin' for a bruisin'.
     
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