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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When Audio Cables Cost More Than Cars

During a recent interview with mastering legend Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering for the 3rd edition of The Mastering Engineer's Handbook, he mentioned that he rewired his entire studio with Transparent Cable and both he and his clients were astonished at the improvement in sound. I wasn't familiar with the brand so I decided to check it out.

Talk about high end, here's an example of the company's most expensive power cable (from their online catalog).

Their power cables are priced from $195 to $2100 (I usually pay about a buck).

Okay, if a $2100 hundred dollar power cable isn't enough for you, how about an RCA cable for $11,580?

In fairness, they also sell RCA cables as low as $95 (I'm used to buying them for around 50 cents).

Perhaps you're looking for speaker cable. Here's one that goes for $34,735.

Of course, they also have them for as low as $210.

And of course, we all need lots of XLR mic cables around. How about buying a few of these babies for $20k each?

They also have them for as low as $485.

Normally I would scoff at the perceived worth of cable at this price, but I have to trust Bob Ludwig on this. All I know is that it's out of my price range until I have about 5 hit records.

Does anyone reading have experience with these cables? Comments?

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Brunovdc said...

It seems they are reducing noise levels ... I kinda understand that for audio and power cables ... though I wonder if it really makes a difference. a double blind test would easily help... but I cannot get my hands on such cables either ...

Minneapolis Musician said...

Come on people. This is clearly ridiculous. They play on the fact that if you expect to hear a difference, you will believe you hear a difference. And if a famous mastering engineer tells his clients that he spend a couple hundred thousand dollars on amazing cables and the sound is so much better...they, too, will think they hear a difference.

Unknown said...

If Mr Ludwig was 'astonished' at the difference in sound after he installed however many thousands of dollars of interconnect cable in his studio--which was presumably performing adequately up to that point, since it's hard to imagine him working in unsatisfactory conditions--it begs the question of what inspired him to cough up the dough in the first place.

Or was it given to him in exchange for his testimonial? (much more likely... on the Transparent site, it never actually says he bought it). On the site he says Transparent understands how to "eliminate noise problems". Are we to infer that Gateway had noise problems before?

This is pretty silly. He's a shill.

Unknown said...

On the transparent site, Ludwig is quoted saying "they understand how to eliminate the noise problems and create a neutral cable". Are we to infer that Gateway had noise problems before? Or that his interconnect was coloring the sound in a detrimental way?

This is silly. Ludwig is a shill. Perhaps he needs a new boat or something?

Pedro Villalba said...

A good collection of ABX test about this thread:

Unknown said...

Complete BS. Sorry but there's no way.

Glenn Galen said...

Nice resource, Pedro.

I think we can pretty much assume that this is all psychology. I suspect it is similar to the art market. Perhaps some of you saw the recent "60 Minutes" piece on the art forger that fooled all the experts by painting abstract expressionist paintings he claimed were by famous artists?

Above a certain quality level, better sound is subjective. It's an emotion. A belief. Pay enough, and you really kick the need for belief into high gear.

Audiophiles have always been the perfect target for such schemes. Seems like it will go on and on. Especially if you add some gizmo into the circuit, or some unusual material to give the hopeful mind something to hang its belief upon.

Also, from my point of view, recording and mastering engineers are often audiophiles (just spending someone else's money, if they don't own the studio). I suspect they can be tricked as well as anyone else.

You know how you need to put a project away for a week sometimes because your ears get "fatigued" from closely attending to a set of tracks for hours and hours?

Engineers are as human as the rest of us. They can be fooled.

Anonymous said...

I call Shill. And if he had noise problems before, then I want a refund on my mastering.

senormedia said...

Perhaps he had some bad regular cables before that were giving him noise issues, and replacing those solved the problem.

Juan said...

I actually think that Mr. Ludwig had a point. He has a reasonable ammount of knowledge, experience and reference gear to notice any difference, and that's something good for what he offers. In an acurate state-of-the-art enviroment like he does work everyday, a subtle difference for most listeners may be a huge difference for him. He even produces his own AC for power up his mastering studio. Who knows, it will be always a subjective topic.

IMHO, paying for a cable something like 35K is absurd, at least for everyday audio pros.

Yes, there are many electrical aspects that actually have an impact on frequency response, signal loss, noise performance -to name a few- because cables behave like an inductor (when running side by side others), like a capacitor (because insulation materials act like a dielectric) and like a resistor (specially noticeable in long run cables). All these factors interact with electrical signals (audio) carried over them, causing all sorts of side effects.

There's enough R&D available for everyone over Internet to improve cable performance without breaking the bank.

mixmoney said...

Cables certainly all sound different. I am the first to wish that this wasn't true, but it is. Line level devices tend to be less sensitive, but microphones and guitars and basses with passive pickups are *very* sensitive to cables. Even cables as short as a few feet sound extremely different when used between a guitar and an amp. See for yourself - make or buy a cable made from Canare GS6 and then compare it to a cable made from Gotham GAC-1. These two cables cost about the same in bulk (under a dollar a foot at local suppliers in LA). These cables sound extremely different from each other - not good or bad, but very different.

The same can be said of Canare, Mogami, Belden and more audiophile cables like VOVOX. I can recognize many different brands of cables simply by their sound. Again, none is "best" but they all have a definite color.

I haven't done the tests with IEC power cables, and I don't want to!!!

Nathanael said...

It strains credulity... still, if Bob Ludwig says he hears a difference, I believe that he heard a difference. The real question is, did he have to pay that much for that improvement? I doubt it. No doubt he could easily afford it easily, though.

I lean heavier on the empirical than the subjective when it comes to audio. But once upon a time I worked for an audio retailer who had Monster cable come in and demo their analog audio cables for us, to compare with our in-house cables that, in my estimation, were more than good enough. They hooked up some 10' TRS cables between some prosumer grade studio monitors and audio interface (Mackie and Focusrite respectively, as I recall), and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. There wasn't a noticeable increase in SPL, but the audio sounded noticeably more "clear." It was not a subtle difference. Me and a colleague kept switching between the two sets of cables for the next 10 minutes after the formal demo, with different listening material, and we couldn't help but acknowledged that there was something real going on in the signal chain, not in our heads. The more expensive cable made a real difference for the better. To this day I don't know why exactly.

This experience really threw me, because I was always of the mindset that boutique cables were snake oil. Granted, those Monster cables were not priced into the stratosphere like the cables Transparent are selling ($315 for a 0.5m USB cable??? REALLY?), more like double the price of our reasonably priced line of cables... but I can't say anymore that cables don't matter. In some cases, they do make a difference. Why anybody would pay that kind of money for digital cables is beyond me though...


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