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High-end HiFi wire : Stupidity or Good Judgement?

High-end HiFi wire
Image Credit : Atlas Cables

I’ve sat there in shoe box hotel rooms at HiFi shows. The ubiquitous Chord Company Cable UK-wide demo. Stone faced with intentioned listening, I’m asked; “Can you hear the difference?”….Pretty much everyone can, rightly too! In the process of lineage bandying from Epic, to Signature to Sarum lines. Move to their speaker cables, interconnects and even USB and Ethernet wire – yup, same story with other High-end HiFi wire. 

Stark from 1’s and 0’s thinking, an assessment of Chord C-USB apart Shawline USB is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Admittedly nuanced though. Taking staunch views on cables, or abuse at worst, is often natural because of misunderstandings. In this context the USB cable being an analogue representation of a digital signal, with different time domain protocols, not 1’s and 0’s going down a cable à la bingo caller. Hence why one is ‘Prince William’ to the other’s ‘Prince Harry’, in the pecking order.

Two cables – two prices – two performers – you decide

Whether a cable upgrading lover or hater, it’s undoubtedly true that the two groups live within prisms of self-experience. Your view either way, is dictated by a) what you own, b) how it interacts and c) is it a *revealer* or *hider*? Each interplays off the other. On this score, your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, then actions and habits. Hopefully all experienced based.

Quite aside from the vast array of technical interconnected factors determining your *hear-think* on cables, it’s common sense above anything to assert a more revealing system, which is typically pricier, will highlight more of the changes between cables. Pause on that for a moment, for this is not snobby thinking. It only becomes taken as snobby when we benchmark our own HiFi and make the prism an absolute judgement, using our *hear-think* to project on others.

Price is what you pay and value is what you get as Warren Buffett said. So he/she who sees value in multi thousand priced cables, sees the value personally. Judgements of others aren’t even in the league of value – not even in the same sport, for that matter. They lie in someone else’s consciousness.

Who is to tell the owner of a Porsche that a 10% spending rule can’t be applied to wheels, just like this adage, to cables. Making the wheels low VFM, set against context of a $50k car. Really? So let bygones be bygones in allowing people their own judgements…I’d never say they are wrong.

What price your wheels?
High-end HiFi wire

But like the film Dusk till Dawn, this is where the article spins on its head and I go off in another direction with my opinion…you are reading an opinion piece after all…

In the world of uber price HiFi cables where maximum price is set elastically by market forces, it’s too beset by the performance-price quotient which is harder to extract, with more variability in cables mixing pot. Cables aren’t veblen goods. Can I develop an argument that spending thousands on HiFi cables in any system, is stupidity or good judgement? Well, I can present both. Rationally, the diminishing returns of HiFi cables can be and is often, big. Alternatively I can’t if I’m not in the prism of experience of others, if I don’t own $65k PMC fact fenestria speakers to know spending, say, $4k-ish on Tellurium Statement speaker cables, will/will not give yield. Value too. This makes spending on HiFi cables extremely personal, specific and ‘number-1’ proximate.

PMC fact fenestria and Statement Cable

Wire is wire, so cables can’t bend the laws of physics too on how your HiFi sounds, some argue. Theoretical rules around resistance, capacitance and inductance of wire is immutably relevant, and particularly to selecting speaker cables – as Cambridge Audio clearly explain here. But still where does this leave personal experience based judgements;

Conventional wisdom always asserts good cables get the best out of the system but we can’t ever use them to guild the lily. But the Pandora’s box for any personal experience based Audiophile, is to often get *good* cables in a brand that are *outperformed* by another brand at a lower price. Or just *better* but only slightly so, to not justify the higher priced option. Again in a system/taste/person context. Discovered to my ‘I must have been crazy’ belief with £1000 XLR cables against some of a different brand at £280. Which did I personally prefer? – the expensive set, but not enough to justify keeping them with the minuscule difference and big diminishing returns to my ears, in my system, to my components interacting, to my room….to my….so on.

HiFi cable reviews are a melting pot of personal preference, system interactivity, technical performance, to make prediction of your personal SQ preference from them, like favouring food just by eye-balling it. So long as you pick the correct specs, like Cambridge Audio told you too, they can only really be faceted by trying – A versus B, or C. Essentially with difficulties in objective comparative difference, more easily drawn with other HiFi components.

AudioQuest Yukon Cables – Value v Performance
AudioQuest Yukon Cables

The relative system price bar is similarly set, in using expensive HiFi cables and cheaper ones, and getting similar results. That’s in the systems I test – from my personal experiences again. It means rejecting reviews and myths of high priced cables being of increasing performance across all systems. That’s why I can’t advocate reviewing really expensive cables anymore – I just can’t justify them based on the HiFi I tend to test. Well constructed, relatively affordable cables from economies of scale clouting brands such as AudioQuest, is where the smart money goes for most of us. In fact a brand I have come to prefer over Chord Company Cables. Atlas too.

The 10% rule is maybe a good one to the extent of what seems notionally and relatively sensible, but that’s where we stop. To be frank, lots of systems could do with a tweak in cabling. Spend based always on loaning first. Don’t get pulled along a line of ultra-spending on cables in systems if there is no benefit to you. Start slow and build up… ‘Customer is always right’ unique and independent judgements are always the best ones and will, if followed carefully, give you all the confidence needed to pick the right cables for you!

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  1. I purchased Chord Shawline RCA cables and I was very disappointed the sound can best be described as flat. Looking on the web I appear not to be the only person disappointed with these cables. I have returned the cables and ordered Audio Quest Red River. Actually this is the biggest sonic difference I have heard in cables but sadly in the wrong way.

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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