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Monday, January 3, 2011

The $8,450 Speaker Cable

It curious how susceptible some people are to outside suggestion. The way we feel, see and hear can be easily manipulated, sometimes even by ones own self (which is the basis of the power of positive thinking or making your own reality). Here's an example.

I worked in a studio once that had a 3-way toggle switched on a panel at the edge of the console. The switch wasn't wired to anything (the console's previous owner installed it), but a bunch of us decided to label it anyway in the middle of blowing off some steam during an especially long session. The Aphex process (read here for more on Aphex the process, not the company) was especially hot during those days, so that's what we labeled the top position. Someone had the bright idea to label the bottom position as "B-phex" (there was no such thing), and the middle position was off.

You wouldn't believe the number of clients that swore that B-phex sounded much better than either Aphex or Off. Sometimes they would even fight over which sounded better, with some swearing that Aphex was brighter and more natural than B-phex, or vice versa. Even after I told them in a laugh, they still claimed they heard the difference between the positions of the unconnected switch.

Audiophiles are a lot like that only they take the powers of suggestion to an extreme, much to the tremendous detriment of the wallets. We've all heard the stories about some poor schmuck paying $800 for a wooden volume knob because it makes the sound "cleaner," but here's another one.

This time it's pair of 8 foot $8500 speaker cables by AudioQuest, which are terminated at each end with common banana plugs. The specs say that they're solid PSS silver using "dual star-quad technology" and are "optimized for full range." OK, silver is actually a great conductor but even if they're made of the 4 pounds of the stuff as they claim, that's only about $1500 worth of silver at todays market price of about $23 per ounce.

The best part is some of the comments on the advert on Amazon, which is worth looking at for a good laugh. Some examples:

"We were fools, fools to develop such a thing! Sound was never meant to be this clear, this pure, this... accurate."

"No other cable has the tensile strength to properly and efficiently garrote a lycanthrope, asphyxiate an Esquilax or even gag a mermaid."

"Not only did these cables sound ok when I jammed them into my ears directly (Painful, but worth it) they also cured my cancer, my wifes kidney disease, and the ED issues that my neighbor had."

"My cats chewed on this cable and now they can both speak. One of them is gay and the other wants to kill me. I would have rather not known."

The sad part is that some people out there actually bought these things and managed to convince themselves that they were worth it. Granted, cables can really improve your sound, but in this case you're spending about $8 grand extra for nothing but the hype and the ability to laud it over your neighbor (and that's being generous).

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7 comments:

Gian Nicola Beraldo said...

Hi Bobby,
please, tell us which cables improve sound quality! Do you mean balanced vs unbalanced?

Thank You
Gian Nicola

Bobby Owsinski said...

As far as premium cable, I've seen a lot of studios with Kimber Kable (which can also get very expensive). You won't hear a difference unless the rest of your signal path is optimized though.

A cheap alternative that's been used for years is just get the largest gauge stranded cable that you can get. Some studios have even used welding cables.

Gian Nicola Beraldo said...

Thank You Bobby for your reply! Please, let me understand completely: mic cable, line cable, or even power supply cable? What do you mean with weldin cables?
I use XLR, TRS cable made by myself...
I hope I am clear enough!
Thank you
Gian Nicola

Bobby Owsinski said...

These are speaker cables only. Welding cables are the bug thick ones used in arc welding.

Marc Sterling said...

The "Balls" Button.

When they first installed the API desk at Kaye-Smith studios in Seattle, in the 70's, there were a few empty monitor source select buttons. They were backlit buttons with pop-off caps where you could insert a label.

On day, I typed up "BALLS" on a label and stuck it in one of the empty buttons.

When someone would be searching for that sound, I'd ask them if maybe it needed more "balls"? Yes was always the answer. So, I'd reach over, push in the "Balls" button which would light up and the turn the monitor knob, which was right next to the button,up a couple of clicks, maybe 2db.

Instantly they'd all go "yeah".

Little did I know it would get a reputation. Clients used to request the balls button. It was mythical. As far as I know it was still on the console a decade or so later when they sold the desk.

Nothing like a little volume boost...

Marc Sterling

James Clark said...

thanks for sharing this interesting post... I really like it.

Speaker Cable

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