Re: Dispelling audio myths, the cable lie
I sold high-end audio and video systems for twenty-five years. Being able to play with different combinations of equipment is very instructive. Certain components go well together and sound terrific, others less so. In a basic but fine-sounding system comprising a $499 CD player, a $499 integrated amplifier and a $450 pair of speakers we took turns listening to very familiar music while a colleague substituted different interconnect cables. Each staff member chose his own favorite tracks for his turn in the listening chair. We compared only two interconnects at a time. Sometimes cable A was used first, followed by cable B. Other times cable B was in use first. In all cases the person changing the cables would go behind the equipment rack (located behind the listener!) and fiddle around for the same amount of time. Each piece of music was played for two minutes; the interconnect was then changed and the same music was again played for two minutes at the same volume setting.
Under these conditions, with familiar music I preferred the resulting sound from a particular interconnect on seven out of eight music selections. On one piece of music the results were both similarly enjoyable.
The next day, using the same exact system and interconnects, we played the same eight music selections again at the same volume setting. This time, instead of choosing a preference, we attempted to identify which interconnect cable was in use - cable A or cable B. Two of my colleagues correctly identified which cable was in use six out of eight times. Myself and one other guy got all eight correct.
Over time, similar comparisons were performed on higher performance systems. For the most part it was easier to choose a preference and to correctly identify which interconnect was in use on those higher performance systems than it was on the "basic" system.
Certain caveats may be applied to these listening sessions. They took place in a purpose-built listening room, lightly furnished, with very low ambient background noise. No electrical AC power filters of any kind were used. All of the components including the speakers were set up on low-resonance racks, stands, or spikes as appropriate. No visual or audible clues (or cues) were available to the listener. All of the system components and interconnects that we tested or compared had previously been in use for over one hundred hours.
Our early comparisons pitted the standard RCA cable supplied in the box with the CD player against four different aftermarket cables (one at a time, of course). The standard RCA cable was chosen as the "preferred" sound 6% of the time across all four listeners.
Later, using a high-performance system with all of the components from the same manufacturer, the interconnect cable supplied in the box with the CD player was chosen as the "preferred" sound 75% of the time across all four of us. On the remaining music selections it was felt to be equally pleasing to one particular aftermarket cable.
After numerous unhurried comparisons over several months I took home the interconnect that I felt was the best of the interconnects that I could afford with my employee discount. It replaced another good interconnect that had been in my home system for nearly two years. After a few minutes my girlfriend arrived home. She walked in and said "That sounds nice. What did you change?" I declined to tell her but offered to play her favorite CD. She made tea and then sat down to listen. Halfway through the first track she said the female vocals were "more natural". By the third track she pronounced it to be a definite improvement, saying that the four voices were more easily distinguished and more nuanced and that sibilance was more realistic. When I showed her that the new component was an interconnect cable that would cost me around $400 she said "Buy it. I thought you were going to say it was a new whiz-bang amplifier or something that cost thousands".
I could have saved months of listening if I'd just let the girlfriend listen for five minutes. And, hey, she makes a great cup of tea, too.