If Capacitors Have a Sound, Why Not Cables?

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As anybody who has been in or around High End audio for any time at all will tell you, the very best way to prove that you're an engineer or genetically superior or just a FaceBook troll is to deny that audible differences exist in practically anything.  If it can't be measured, these engineers or Übermenschen or FaceBook trolls always say or even if it can be measured but it can't be instantly identified by a statistically significant percentage of listeners in a double-blind test, it's all "voodoo", self-hypnosis, wishful thinking, or "placebo effect", which seems to be the current pretend-intellectual term for all of the above.

Now, in point of fact, there really have been (and still are) plenty of products that seem like they can't possibly work in any conceivable physical universe. You've all seen them or heard of them, from the magic discs, magic dots, Bedini boxes and Peter Belt goodies of days of yore, to the magic brass bowls, magic feet, and magic "purifiers" (of any number of things) being touted (and bought and sold for amazing prices) today. Some of these may very well work, and they may very well only seem to be outrageous because their inventor or discoverer really has invented or discovered something really new. (Remember Arthur C Clarke's statement that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.") Even so, they do strain the credulity of all but the most over-the-top enthusiasts.

It isn't just the "weird-seeming" stuff, though, that has come under attack. Whole categories of much more conventional things - especially those that a great many people agree DO sound different have been questioned by claiming-to-be-knowledgeable "Techno-Luddites". Amplifiers are one good example, with the AES fighting tooth-and-nail to prove they all sound the same in at least two widely publicized double-blind tests. CD players were another. The "Perfect Sound Forever" set insisted for a good long time that, because the Nyquist Sampling equations indicated that even the earliest CDs and CD players had to be perfect, they WERE perfect, no matter how bad they sounded.

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The one thing, though, that has been challenged, denied, declared to be voodoo, and insisted to be nothing more than "placebo effect" most consistently and for the longest time is cables.  Somehow, everybody can accept that a tiny rectangle not much bigger than a postage stamp can be a highly technical, fiendishly complex microcircuit, containing thousands of electronic components, programmable to do astounding things, but, to a goodly number of people, including a surprising percentage of audio industry professionals, cables are just wire, and "wire is wire"; in no way capable of affecting the sound of a system. 

The only things that matter in designing a cable, the doubters and trolls will tell you, are inductance (L), capacitance (C), resistance (R), and, for balanced lines, very long lines, or very high (digital, RF, or video) frequencies, characteristic impedance (Z0). Materials don't matter (they say); geometry or mode of construction doesn't matter; dielectrics don't matter; nothing else at all matters; it's all just LRC. 

Have any of these "experts" (and many of them truly ARE experts, but in some other electronic field) ever considered that, to the extent that cables exhibit calculable amounts of inductance, capacitance, and resistance, they ARE inductors, capacitors, and resistors? Have they ever heard of premium components? Have they ever used them? 

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Here's where it gets interesting: Many of the very same industry professionals who most loudly proclaim even the idea of premium cables to be foolish use premium inductors, capacitors, and even premium (and very expensive) resistors in the electronics they design and premium wiring in their speakers.

How can that be? Isn't anything that measures the right number of millihenries, microfarads, or Ohms identical in performance to anything else of exactly the same measured value?

Isn't 50µF exactly the same, regardless of what a 50µF capacitor is made of? (Ceramic, mica, polyethylene, polycarbonate, polyester, Teflon, and many other materials all come to mind, just for the dielectric, and metal foil or metallized film for the plates) Or how it's made? Or whether it's a single unit or a bunch of caps of the same total value?

Similarly, if wire is just wire, why do capacitor manufacturers offer capacitors with leads made of anything from steel to "six-nines" copper? And why do they offer them either solid or stranded, or bare or insulated with anything from PVC to Teflon?

Why do sophisticated and knowledgeable electronics designers in areas anywhere from aerospace to audio buy premium capacitors and spec' them into their designs? Obviously, there must be things about premium capacitors (or inductors or resistors) that are important besides just their measured values.   Certainly some of those things may have to do with configuration, power handling capacity, or packing density, but aren't there others that have nothing to do with anything other than performance? And, in audio equipment, might not some of that performance have to do with how the capacitor or resistor or inductor (and thus the entire product and the entire system) sounds?

If capacitors, resistors and inductors can have a sound of their own and can affect the sound of a product or a system that they're part of, and if, as the "LCR Set" insists, cables are just capacitors, resistors, and inductors, why can't cables sound, too?

 

 



 

 

 

 


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