Conductors (I.C.'s, RCAs, internal wires, speaker wires) - diyAudio
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Old 25th November 2005, 06:49 AM   #1
bigphil is offline bigphil  Canada
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Default Conductors (I.C.'s, RCAs, internal wires, speaker wires)

I have an honest and humble question for everyone. Especially those who I've seen getting fired up about various conductors and connectors in other threads.

Do metal alloys, and elements, and treatments (annealing, rolled, etc.) actually do anything to improve or degrade the sound coming from our audio equiptment? One reason I ask this is because I was under the impression that most of the people on this board are EE's, and I have seen a lot of discrediting done to audiophool mythologies that are common elsewhere on the net (rightfully so). However, when it comes to a simple thing such as wire, it seems everyone agrees that the material used will in fact make a notable difference in the sonics of our equiptment. I guess it is totally irrelevant that the signal travels in those little etched boards for a MUCH longer time than being carried through I.C.s and such?

Before anyone replies, please try to restrict your answer to the MATERIAL specifically (i.e. gold, silver, copper) and their various alloys and/or treatments. I don't want to know about connectors, or termination or braiding or anyting like that (YET).... just the material for now.

The reaons why i am so skeptical is because I am an engineer myself (3rd year mech.), and I was under the impression that the main property to look out for when dealing with electricity was its conductivity/resistivity, I was not aware of anything else really. If this is the case, shouldnt the materical choice be standard and unargueable? Has anyone done blind listening tests to compare different materials (specifically materials)? I'm aware that there could possibly be something else that I am missing (one metal is more capable to pass high frequencies than others maybe? - weirder anomalies occur in science everyday), which is why I'm asking... I'm not looking for a flame war. Thanks in advance for any *truthful* and *thoughtful* replies.
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Old 25th November 2005, 06:47 PM   #2
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Some generalizations in a very thorny swamp. For those who do hear the differences, and take a careful approach there are some areas of general consensus.

Conductor purity. One rationale is that impurities form microdiodes. Whether or not purity past 5N's matters is less settled. One thing that is fairly clear, is that cleaning connections regularly makes a real difference, which supports the purity observations. Oxidized copper is a bad conductor, and before semiconductor diodes were invented, copper oxide diodes (varistors) were used for signal mixers. Rhodium plating is sometimes used for stability over time.

Grain structure. One possible reason many prefer silver is there are many fewer crystal boundaries than in typical copper. Cast copper is preferred by some. Broad consensus is that silver is slightly more forward or transparent and/or analytical than copper. Silver plated copper gets very mixed reviews, depending on the source. Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) has been generally accepted for a long time for applications such as cartridge windings, as well as wires.

Dielectric. Same issues apply for cables as for other capacitors; fairly strong consensus that the least Dielectric Absorption is the best, and that foamed Teflon is the best insulator. This also suggests that shorter is better.

Connections. You have to connect the wire; and the method of connection and the connectors seem to matter. Some solder, some crimp hard enough to cold weld, and some treat the wire/connector before crimping. The intermetallic interfaces of dissimilar metals creates a (very poor) Schottky diode and thermocouple junction; some prefer to minimize the number of such interfaces; hence solid copper connectors with thick gold, and no nickel layer separating the gold and copper. I prefer lug/lug connections on a barrier strip to banana plugs.

One reason there is so much controversy is that those companies that clearly know what they are doing, such as Kimber and WireWorld, do NOT publish proprietary detailed manufacturing information. A great deal of the marketing stuff I simply do not believe. They aren't going to tell you why their cable sounds good, but need to say something, anything. This is a fountainhead of BS physics. Some small, boutique companies that make highly regarded cables and also sell materials for DIYers do "tell all" but they do not have broad cable lines with cost and quality increasing in step, so their discussions are not very broad. And some (usually short-lived) small companies make lousy cables, set a really high price to suggest excellence, and then tell you that the cables are so good that they expose problems in the rest of your system that you could not hear before. Usually accompanied by some really amazing physics interpretations; such provide easy ammunition for those who have an emotional investment in arguing that expensive cables are just traps for the gullible.

Breakin. Very contentious. Easy to hear for some, especially with better cables. Easy to evaluate; silently break in one of the pair of cables for 100 hours, then compare the two.

And then it gets personal. If you do not hear the differences, don't pay for them. Some people are color blind, some are tone deaf, and I see no reason to assume that all are capable of hearing effects that are a lot smaller than the differences between speakers. Some systems simply lack the resolution to allow anyone to hear the differences. You won't on a system that uses an AR-3 and a receiver full of (aged) electrolytic coupling caps. It is difficult to evaluate speaker cables if the interconnects are not halfway decent. And there are additive effects. A bright cable in a soft system may sound great; in a bright system, it won't. So evaluate carefully; multiple longish (2 or 3 minutes) passes may be needed for a mild sonic signature to emerge.

Testing. As a long time analog designer, telecomm and audio, I firmly believe that there ain't no magic, and NOTHING breaks the laws of physics, although some fairly obscure laws may be involved. Having spent a lot of time staring at precision test equipment over the years, it should be noted that it does what it does very well. However, no test that I am aware of directly shows the effects of dielectric absorption on music. DA correlates pretty well with perceived capacitor quality, all other things like termination methods being equal, but I have not seen any test that shows the effect of DA on the signal. Most musical instruments produce asymmetric waveforms, but testing is done with symmetrical wave forms, and is done at levels where the contribution of microdiodes would be undetectable. (Note that one very skilled engineer did look for microdiode effects at low levels, and did not find them. Others differ.)
I believe that unless the cable or interface circuitry is pretty badly designed, things like skin effect, resistance, inductance and capacitance are pretty well out of the picture. Speaker cable resistance is usually negligible compared to voice coil resistances, and often less than crossover resistance, so Damping Factor is not likely to be a major contributor.

I think this forum is a DBT-free zone, so no discussion there.

And in the end this is a hobby! For fun! We're discussing tools for assisting the enjoyment of music. Whether cables do or don't help your enjoyment of the hobby is personal, and really all that matters.
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