Stepping up to the Plate

There has long been a great deal of controversy in the mobile electronics industry about the performance and sonic characteristics of high-end speaker cables and interconnects. Well, there needn't be any debate, the sonic improvement experienced when upgraded cables are used is clear and obvious, even when using moderately priced equipment.

Recently my father bought a new set of home speakers, JM Lab Chorus 706's to be exact. Great little bookshelf speakers from the musical geniuses at JM Lab in France. They feature awesome tonal balance and great dynamic response. Anyways, during the discussion with the salesman, the topic of higheend cables can up. While I figured there had to be a difference, I figured the return on investment would be small, and not worthwhile.

A few weeks later, my father arrived home with 20 feet of AudioQuest CV-4 speaker wire.  It wasn't too expensive, about $2.00 a foot. I was very surprised by the wire's configuration. Inside the large insulator are four individually insulated solid copper conductors. Two of the conductors are 17 AWG and two are 20 AWG.  I was even more surprised to hear that one of each size was to be used for the positive connection and the other set to be used for the negative.

Now, it seemed to me that all the rules of physics had been thrown out the window when this cable was designed, but upon the completion of some research and some testing, things proved to be otherwise.

We set up the speakers in my parents bedroom and connected them to his 25 year old Sony receiver and 15 year old NAD CD Player. Good equipment in their day, but definitely not exotic. To make the A/B testing simple, we connected some 12 AWG car audio speaker wire to the speaker A outputs and the CV-4 to the speaker B outputs, then both ends to the speakers.  This way we could quickly switch between the two cables.

I loaded up the Focal Demonstration Disc 1 for listening, as this is the music I am most familiar with. I use it as the basis for all my test reports in Performance Auto and Sound magazine. One of the toughest tracks is Rebecca Pidgeon's 'Spanish Harlem'. Any tonal anomalies in the midrange really stand out with this track.  I listened for a short while, noting some brightness in the upper midrange, and only average focus on the soundstage.  It did sound good though. This was with the 12 AWG cable, from a reputable car audio company.

I switched the receiver over to the Speaker B outputs to check out the CV-4 cable.  With no other change other than restarting the track, much of the brightness was gone, and the imaging had improved. Rebecca's voice shrank from the size of an umbrella top to about the size of a basketball. I was very impressed.

Some of the 'tricks' AudioQuest uses to achieve this great performance are:

Solid Cable: The electronics needn't jump from one strand to another while traveling through the conductor. This improves the cohesiveness of the signal, all the electrons tend to flow together.

Two small cables: The 17 and 20 AWG cables net out to 15 AWG.  The benefit is that the skin effect (tendency for high frequencies to travel along the outside of a conductor) are reduced with these smaller cable diameters.

Polished Surface Conductors:  With a smooth surface, the high frequencies that do tend towards the outside of the cable needn't be bumped and jarred by imperfections in the cable, they can flow along smoothly.

Difference sized conductors:  The two sizes compensate for the 'characteristics' of the other conductor.

There are other wonderful cables on the market, and I am not saying that AudioQuest is the be-all, end-all in signal transmission.  But, I was very impressed with their sonic performance.

A couple considerations though, before running out to spend lots of money on car audio cables.

1: Are you upgrading the weakest link?  If there are inexpensive components elsewhere in the system, you may want to upgrade those first. You can get bigger sonic improvements from a good head unit, amp or set of speakers than from cables.

2: In the mobile environment there is a great deal of vibration. Solid conductor cables may not be a perfect choice as they may work harden and crack from constant flexing.

3: Having your existing system properly tuned is the most important consideration in getting good performance from your equipment. The best equipment in the world can still sound terrible if not used properly. If you need help, ask for it.