February 2011 issue

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February 2011 issue
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World Mail    February 2011 issue        


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Your experts are -

DP David Price, editor; NK Noel Keywood, publisher; PR Paul Rigby, reviewer; TB Tony Bolton, reviewer; RT Rafael Todes, reviewer (Allegri String Quartet); AS Adam Smith, reviewer; DC Dave Cawley, Sound Hi-Fi, World Design, etc.



Our mains cables make a difference, Russ Andrews has shown the Advertising Standards Authority. 



I read with great interest the letter concerning the effect of cables and interconnects. Ever since I found out that my uncle’s interconnect cost more than my car at the time (second-hand!) the topic has fascinated me. I was told that you needed a certain level of equipment to hear the difference those braided solid silver cables make. To me, this sounded like a load of cobblers. His brother, who worked in pro audio, expressed the same sentiment, commenting that the quality of the coupling medium and workmanship of the soldering made more difference to the sound than the cable itself.

A while back, while I was building up my AV system, I realised that the strip I was using did not have surge protection. I considered Isotek products but in the end came across the Tacima six-way on special offer because nobody was buying it (this was about 6 months before the 5-star review). I bought it thinking that I’ll use it for protection until I worked out another solution. I’d paid no attention to the claims on the packaging for the same logic as the ‘dirty miles of grid cable’ argument. I was more concerned with its surge protection properties. On using it though, the difference it made was amazing to both the sound and picture. Like a veil was lifted. The wife who was with me commented on it straight away (it's still there five years later and I’m scared of shelling out more and being disappointed).

This revelation opened my mind to the notion of passive components affecting audio. This got me into the actual mains cable which I swapped about with bought ones, but alas did not hear any difference. This was until I changed the DVD player to Blu-ray recently and had to re-configure the rack. I couldn’t be bothered to sort the spaghetti at the back, so I left the mains cables to the shelf they serviced and moved the components around. All of a sudden the music opened up a notch again with the only differences being mains cable and the shelf level that the CA640H front end was on. The cable was a TM3 connections shielded item left over from previous experiments, the dearer ones being sold on.

Why I didn’t hear this difference before? I don’t know, as I must have tried every combination before with what I had, but then again I’ve changed speakers twice since.

As for interconnects, I did my own pseudo experiments which I think fair enough considering the vast amount of pseudo-science on the topic. I used three cables, two of which I made. They were 22awg solid silver in Teflon, Maplins shielded interconnect and a QED Reference Audio Revolution. The QED was my base reference. I then listened to the other cables and heard a subtle but apparent difference. Which honestly I wasn’t expecting to hear.

The silver wire had its own distinct sound. I’m not much for describing sounds but the analogy would be that the Maplin cable sounded more ‘CD’ and the silver wire sounded like a good radio broadcast. I could not tell a difference between the Maplins and the QED though. In an effort to make the difference more tangible, I ‘listened to the cable’ by putting the gain all the way up with no music, then measured the SPL from the speakers from about 5” on an iPhone app (I know...). The static sound with the silver wire hooked up was enough to almost drown out the hum of the transformers. It was much less with the Maplins wire, with the transformer hum being more prominent. The QED had the least sound, mostly the faint hum. Still, during normal listening I couldn’t hear the difference between the latter two.

I then put the silver wire inside the copper braid and guess what? I couldn’t tell the difference between the lot of them. Due to my ‘experiments’ I’m more inclined to attribute this differences more to the configuration of the design and less on the properties of the conductors.

Conclusion: I would say I’m a cautious convert to the ‘yes’ argument. My only bone to pick are the pseudo scientific explanations about these differences. Personally, I can’t see the obsession with the topic as the differences seem so subtle as to be immaterial, yet I suppose it all depends on the music and components of the user that determines the level of attention to this part of the system. I think Greg ‘Letter of the Month’ Gilding got it right and good on him.

Finally, I think manufacturers shouldn’t feel like they need to justify the cost of their accessories with rubbish science. If it’s a luxury item, people will buy just because they can and they want to is enough. I think the optimal performance and craftmanship build of the most expensive cables stopped before thousands of pounds; most of the price is prestige and luxury. If you can afford it (you have to be doing something right to be able to) and take pleasure in owning it, then why not? This might sound like heresy but it’s not always about the sound of the system but how it makes you feel when you look at it even before you listen to it. The difficulty admitting to this fact by a lot of people, in my opinion perpetuates and generates a lot of the hi-fi waffle and audiofoolery.


Jezza (Jeremy Villanueva)


Thanks for your experiences Jezza. There’s long been a tug of war on this topic between those who believe that cables can affect sound, usually because they have heard differences, and those who ‘know’ that cables can do no such thing, based on electrical engineering principles. The arguments for and against can move into quite esoteric realms fairly quickly, and they can also become ‘heated’ and move into open warfare. Those who dispute that differences exist believe science is on their side (in truth, the standard ‘lumped parameter’ electrical model) and this is happening at the moment because of a complaint made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that claims made by Russ Andrews for a mains cable were misleading.


And as you are surely aware a reader complained to us that we were misleading readers by stating that sound quality differences exist. But we can clearly hear sound quality differences and being unable to say so is simply a form of censorship.


I believe readers are aware this is a contentious subject and are able to make up their own minds. The best we can do is to be honest about the situation and I am more than happy to say that performance differences are not measurable in cables with normal levels of capacitance and inductance.


Purely on the basis that listeners commonly describe silver as having a bright sound, copper a more even balance, if often a less insightful one, and carbon as ‘laid back’, it seems that materials are having an influence. Cable manufacturers and hobbyists say the insulating sheath also affects sound quality and it seems that PTFE is preferred to PVC, to mention one example.


Then we come to screening, the subject of the ground currents when chassis are at slightly different potentials due to mains transformer leakage (etc) and of course resistance to Radio Frequency Interference (RFI). On the latter Russ Andrews tell me that they have submitted evidence that their mains cable reduces RFI and they are awaiting a ruling by the ASA about whether their claims for it making a sound quality improvement are justified. So, you see, it can get a little ‘unpleasant’ out there when the subject of cables comes up. This is where the fundamentalists jump out of the woodwork and where I don my tin helmet and start digging! NK



I am a long term LP user. I have happily used a Linn LP12 and Ittok arm since 1984. Now, with a Hercules power supply installed a few years ago, the turntable has performed well. The arm has carried a succession of MC cartridges, originally from a much loved Koetsu Wood and currently to a Lyra Dorian. Regretfully a Koetsu replacement has been priced out of my reach, but the Dorian, while brighter and possibly less dynamic, has been adequate for my needs.

However, as one of your senior readers, now in retirement, my hand is becoming less and less steady. Even though the table is mounted on a very firm wall shelf, to safely lift the arm from the run out groove without triggering suspension bounce has become something of a problem and I have been looking for a means to stiffen the suspension without destroying the freedom from acoustic feedback the suspension is designed to achieve.

Hence I was interested to read recent comments in your magazine and others about the forgotten qualities of Idler and Direct Drive Turntables. I had seen and been impressed by Technics SP10 turntables, which were being introduced here in use in new FM studios in the 1970s. When one turned up on e-bay recently I successfully bid for it.

Now the table is mounted on a solid plinth similar to Technics recommendation. One thing I did not realize is that because the Ittok mounting boss is 60mm in diameter, you can’t achieve the 211 mm pivot-to-arm bearing distance for the Ittok before it fouls the turntable support frame. Luckily, I had available a Consonance LT100 arm which is slightly longer and had a smaller arm boss and with some juggling could be made to fit. I mounted a virtually brand new Accuphase AC2 cartridge.

So now I have two first class turntable systems. Which is better? Actually, meaningful comparison is difficult, because I have two separate turntables, two different arms, and two different cartridges. But I am fairly certain that the Technics system, with the Consonance arm, and Accuphase cartridge is better than the Linn. Transients, dynamics, detail, sound staging and perceived distortion are all improved. Bass is more solid and the midrange is superb. In fact, CD played on my Marantz S15 SACD player is different but equal to LP on the Linn setup, but I think the Technics is an order better, and now my preferred source.

John Drew

Melbourne, Australia


Technics SP10 Direct Drive truntable, a rave from the 1970s, "is an order better than CD" says John Drew.



Hi John – well there you go! I think 'which is better' type questions such as these are ultimately a bit futile. In truth, it's more about 'which do I prefer?' Now, if you were comparing a Linn with a BSR autochanger, then I think we'd all be a bit surprised if the Linn lost, but the SP10 (with decent arm) is a superb deck, and so you're comparing two types of excellence. Here then, it's more down to the vagaries of taste. In my opinion, the Technics is punchier, tighter, crisper and more propulsive than the Linn, but the Linn is more beguiling, sweeter and smoother than the Technics. As such, you decide; it's a bit like Sushi versus Aberdeen Angus beef, where I wouldn't be too upset to have to live on either...

Incidentally, on a related subject, the reason we've made such a big fuss about the Technics SL1200 (which is genetically very similar to the SP10, albeit 'shrunk in the wash') is that it's one of the most misunderstood decks in the hi-fi firmament. There are many audiophiles, schooled on twenty five years of Linn-centred vinyl listening, who simply don't realise that the Technics is a serious turntable, just as the LP12 is. Indeed, I've had conversations with some who still think it's made of plastic, when I think there's likely more plastic in a Linn than a Technics (well, it does have bigger plastic hinges!)...


I don't want to startle people; in some ways I prefer the Linn by a long way; it's a great deck. But my point is that so is the Technics, and people who dismiss it are simply ignorant.

Each to their own then, different strokes for different folks. Now, I'm off to listen to my Michell GyroDec, which is an entirely different kettle of fish... DP



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