Do Cables With EQ Built-in Make Sense in a World with Digital Room Correction?

There isn't an audiophile print publication willing to say what I am about to say. 

AR-1-1-MonsterSpeakerCable.jpgAnd that's fine. They can chase the dragon the way that they always have, but I'm going to suggest a whole new way of looking at a controversial topic in the hobby: cables. 

For years, with the sage advice of Noel Lee from Monster Cable, we have been told that good cables are essential to reaching the audiophile holy land and, on many levels, he was and is still today correct. His point back in the day was for AV dealers to learn to sell (his or even other brands) cables to make much more profit margin in any given audio-video transaction. That is a legacy that made many people in the audiophile and home theater business a lot of money over a long period of time. 

Physically, having cables that are well shielded, are reasonably flexible, that pass every bit of the signal from any AV point A to point B, and also have rock-solid connectors at the ends help to make a more reliable installation. So, it's sort of a win-win: consumers get a better system and dealers make more money. But as with so many things, audiophiles have taken this way too far. And there are a number of reasons for that. 

AR-1-2-Cello-AudioPalette.pngFar too many audiophile cables are designed to augment the sound of a system; in other words, they act as a filter or equalizer of sorts. As we head towards 2020, though, do you want to outfit your system with pricey cables that change the sound your system but without any meaningful way of controlling those sonic alterations? The alternatives include increasing the physical room treatments in your room and the growing number of rapidly improving room correction software systems, from Audyssey to Anthem Room Correction, to Dirac, to Trinnov, and so many others.

In the old days, the audiophile print people would poo-poo anything to do with using a graphic EQ. 

I remember this vividly when selling Cello products like the Audio Palette back in the mid-1990s. The elders said that such EQs introduced phase shift into the signal and that you are better off going without the sort of sonic shaping that a product like the Audio Palette could deliver. That was and is even more so today an absurd claim.

AR-1-3-SSL-Console.jpgThink about any studio record that these people love, be it Electric Ladyland, Dark Side of The Moon, Aja, Brothers in Arms - you name it. Are these records recorded live without a mixing console as you might try with, say, a string quartet or a small jazz ensemble? Nope, they are recorded using upwards of 128 tracks, all of which have significant tone controls on them. Add to that the fact that nearly every recording studio monitoring system is EQ'ed, as is the mastering lab that the record is finished in. 

A Friend of the publication, Bob Hodas, has made his post-Village-People career on accurately tuning said world-class studios all over this fine planet so they output the best sound possible. Simply put: EQ has always been a meaningful part of the recording and mastering process, even if historically audiophile pundits crapped all over the idea of being able to allow you, the listener, to have room or program EQ.

The question I am asking isn't about the relevance of EQ for the modern audiophile, though; the question I am asking is: should we use our cables for EQ versus the new, powerful tools that we have today?

AR-1-4-Crazy-roomDiffusers.jpgIt is always a good idea to have your audiophile room well treated in the physical domain, meaning actual treatments on the walls, floors, and whatnot. It is singularly the best bang-for-the-buck upgrade you can invest in, and every engineer or AV executive who knows a thing or two will tell you such. 

The magazines push the constant changing of gear, as that is good for the business. What's good for your system, though, is getting your room acoustics right first and working on gear upgrades next as your budget allows while taking time to also enjoy the journey along the way.

But things have changed in meaningful way on the electronics side in the past few years. Dennis Burger writes about this extensively at HomeTheaterReview.com when he talks about room correction for AV Preamps and today's best receivers.

AR-1-5-Anthem-str-stack.jpgTen years ago, room correction was a hot new feature that made for quite a buzz term, but often the automated results lacked life and vibrancy. But guess what? Room correction software from various developers has gotten really, really, good in just a few short years. Guess what else? Meaningful room correction solutions come in products ranging from a $500 AV receiver to a $750 ELAC integrated amp, to a $4,000 Anthem STR stereo preamp, to a state of the art Trinnov Amethyst DAC-Preamp costing upwards of $10,000. And this is only scratching the surface of audiophile products that will be coming with high performance room correction solutions that can digitally fix issues with your system.

Is it better to solve these problems in the physical world with actual treatments? Absolutely, yes, it is. But given said tools to buff out any rough sounding issues in your room is a sea change for audiophiles looking to get the most performance from their system in their own room. Not enough lip service has been given to the importance of what digital room correction can do to help today's audiophile - even one on somewhat of a budget.

AR-1-6-Wireworld-Cables.jpgSo, will audiophiles actually embrace digital room correction now? I think audiophiles who aren't afraid of change and new technology will. The vast sums of money that can be sent on voodoo-based, colored sounding audiophile cables can be invested in more predictable and more performance-oriented audiophile product categories.

I want to also be clear that by no means am I advocating that audiophiles should switch out their cables for thin zip cord or any other flimsy, poorly made cable. But please remember - physics are physics. A cable with a good amount of copper (or silver, or...) in it can typically pass signal very effectively. A cable that is fantastically shielded can effectively keep external noise out of your system. A cable with really well-made connectors at the ends can make really solid analog connections and last for generations of use. These are all very good outcomes that any audiophile wants for his system.

I am asking the question: do you need to have said cable inject a "sound" into your system anymore? 25 years ago, I would have said that you did. Back then, these cables simply sounded better with the equipment of the times and God knows, I sold my fair share of $3,000 speaker cables. Today, I am fonder of cable from the likes of Wireworld (and a few others) who focus their design fully on making cables that don't sound like cables.

How do you look at cables in your audiophile system? What do you look for cables to do for you in the modern day and how has that changed over time? We want to hear from you in the comments below. Post away...

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