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Cables, Wires and Tools
The Truth About “High-End” Cables?
snake oil salesman
April 15, 2008 | by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Although marketed as a performance enhancer, many view high-end cables as the snake oil of consumer electronics.
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Posted by Charles Gary  on  04/15  at  10:59 AM

Well, I like your article, however, i have a monoprice cable 24awg (6 foot) which is good but I also have a $25.00 Monster m1000 cable from ebay and there is definitely a BIG difference in the quality on my 100 inch screen with a mitsibushi hc1500 projector.  While I don’t agree to spend huge amounts of money on cables, I think that the $10.00 difference in my cables is amazing.  Monster though is not worthe the $150.+  they charge for it.  It is good but not worth 2/10ths of the projector cost.

The Monster cable is much clearer and better more solid colors/picture.  I have even tried this with my pc and a 21 inch monitor and while it’s not as dramatic a difference, there still is a difference.  The monster has better contrast and more realistic picture with games such as flight simulator.  Here i’m just using a run of the mill dvi cable in comparison to my monster.

Posted by Mike  on  04/15  at  11:40 AM

He will think you are seeing things cause you ‘expected’ to see a difference in the more expensive Monsters.. I heard differences in my recabled headphones.. & the difference I heard was from a stock pair, & I didn’t expect to hear a difference since I’m weary on any cable effecting the sound..

Posted by LexHiFi  on  04/15  at  11:53 AM

Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn’t the cable be at fault if the distortion moved from the left to the right speaker and not the receiver? If the receiver is having issues and therefore you are hearing a ‘bad’ sound in the left speaker, even if you changed the cables, then the left speaker should still sound ‘bad’. Right?

By moving the cable and the ‘bad’ sound follows, that would mean that the cable is taking the problem with it when it is switched around.

Posted by Jeff W  on  04/15  at  11:57 AM

Say the left channel in your receiver is bad.
if you swap the connections at the receiver, the problem should move to the right speaker. 
Say the receiver is good and the speaker is bad, the same speaker will be bad even if you swap connections.
/j

Posted by steveo  on  04/15  at  12:14 PM

Some things to consider: in my experience some of the cheaper HDMI cables have connectors that sit loosely and tend to fall out. A flaw in HDMI that it does not have locks in my opinion. This of course is worse if the cable plugs up into a down facing socket.

Heavy cables - usually of the Overkill - hyped variety are so heavy as to be able to break the connection of the HDMI connector assembly’s soldering to it’s board. It helps to use a light duty, 6” or so extension to unweight the connector especially if a tight bend is needed near the connector.

Cheaper cables PROBABLY have less quality in their wire to connector construction and will fail more often. But not worth dumping for the rediculous, just keep a spare or two.

Posted by Joe  on  04/15  at  12:31 PM

Jeff
Apparently you have never actually hooked up and listened to better cables and compared them in a real environment using your EARS. Ears cannot be reproduced with any test equipment. I have personally compared many cables and not only can I guarantee you there is an audible and (in the case of video cables) a visible difference, but that any discerning consumer should be encouraged to develop their own viewpoint on the performance difference and ultimately make their own decision as to the value of higher end cables. I would gladly set up the demonstration.

Posted by Walt  on  04/15  at  12:56 PM

The $300 Monster brand HDMI connectors fell apart when I updated the sat recver; replaced it with the generic cable provided by the sat company…just as pretty a display at 1/20 the price.

Uh that is real world, real ears…

Posted by mikemcm  on  04/15  at  12:58 PM

Y’all have been drinking the Kool-Aid. If you want to check out some interesting info, the guys at Audioholics/AV Rant recently tested a truckload of different cables, from Monoprice to Monster. The cool thing is they did it in Monster’s own labs, with $700K worth of high-end test gear. The results might surprise you, check out the podcast at http://www.avrant.com/?p=265

Posted by Jack  on  04/15  at  01:20 PM

I read this article because I expected it to be full of nonsense suggesting that everyone should go out and buy Monsterously overpriced cables. I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you for writing something so truthful. Our industry is so infested with overstated marketing claims, it makes me want to give up sometimes. Keep up the good work.

Posted by hc2  on  04/15  at  02:15 PM

@Joe
Any difference you may see in video or hear in audio is NOT due to cabling on a digital set-up. If the signals are digital, they are either good or bad, not in-between. To those who say you can hear or see a difference, B.S.
The difference is in the equipment or psychological.
Digital is an “either/or”, not a “maybe”.
If you want to feel bad, you will feel bad. If you want to hear a difference, you will hear a difference.
If a more expensive cable fills this psychological need, so be it. It is doing its job. But is not based on technology, it is entirely in the psychological realm.

Posted by Thaddeus Bonk  on  04/15  at  04:13 PM

Done! You are bonkers. How can you guarantee something subjective? Also, I look forward to the “visible” difference in the SOUND of your awesome cables.


“Jeff
Apparently you have never actually hooked up and listened to better cables and compared them in a real environment using your EARS. Ears cannot be reproduced with any test equipment. I have personally compared many cables and not only can I guarantee you there is an audible and (in the case of video cables) a visible difference, but that any discerning consumer should be encouraged to develop their own viewpoint on the performance difference and ultimately make their own decision as to the value of higher end cables. I would gladly set up the demonstration. ”

Posted by mikemcm  on  04/15  at  04:30 PM

And those high dollar cables sound even better with the $40 premium replacement fuses for your A/V gear

Get real, people….

Posted by Benny Blanco  on  04/15  at  04:30 PM

Sweet! So now I can connect a pair of “throw away” cables instead of the Mogami’s I use for my Neumann U47 Condenser microphone on my next recording session since you, the listeners, consumers, the fans…can’t tell the difference!!!!!

Posted by Ken Egan  on  04/15  at  04:45 PM

Sorry, you’re description is dealing with old technology in the 10’s of MHz, not the high speed, multi-gigabit technology such as what’s used in HDMI.
A standard HDMI 1080p data link is running at 1.485Gbps, or an aggregate of 4.95Gbps.

At these data rates, 2 phenomena come to play, skin effect loss, and dielectric loss. Skin effect relates that as the signalling gets higher in frequency, it doesn’t fully penetrate the conductor, meanin it gets more resistive in nature, losing signal level. The other, which actually dominates, in dielectric loss, which means the insulator is actually absorbing the energy being transmitted.

It’s no longer a 1 or 0 phenomena. There are other effects, such as intersymbol interference (ISI) which causes the temporal nature to smear over time.

Since HDMI is DC coupled, the cable actually will charge depending upon the run length of the bits being transmitted. This all corresponds to the FREQUENCY DEPENDANT loss of the cable.

For example, a 1010101010 pattern is the highest frequency being transmitted, being about 742.5MHz. a 1111111111 is 1/10 the frequency. Looking upon the attenuation coeffecients for say a 30ga twisted pair cable of 10m in length, you’ll find that the 111111111 pattern has about 2dB loss ( about 80% transmitted), vs the 1010101010 pattern which has 14dB of loss ( only 20% being transmitted). This means that the receiver can have significant issues recovering the signal.

Assuming a worst case margin analysis, the source say is transmitting 400mV pk pk. 14dB of loss means the the highest frequency content is attenuated to 80mV. Since it is common only to see an input offset sensitivity of 100mV in typical CMOS processes, this means the highest frequency will never be “seen” by the reciever.

Now, if the cable is only 1m or 2m in length, then the attenuation is only 1.4dB or 2.8 dB, and for VERY SHORT lengths, then a small cheap cable is probably ok for standard 1080p.

Now, if you have a deep color TV, the signalling rate is 2.25Gbps per link or 6.75Gbps aggregate.
The loss at higher frequencies is now even higher.
( 1.125GHz ). ( about 1.6dB/m @ 1.125GHz for 30ga).

So quality is directly proportional to length.

However, going to a bigger conductor size isn’t necessarily better. This is due to intra-pair skew. This skew causes timing loss due to jitter of the incoming digital stream, and is directly proportional the the total amount of jitter.

For example, a single bit time in HDMI (1080p) is 673pS. If the cable has NO attenuation (0dB loss) and it has 100 ps of skew, the actual timing window is reduced to 474pS. Not good, since the real world has attenuation.

Your arguement holds true for many audio systems, granted the conductors can handle the current load without loss

Posted by Jeff W  on  04/15  at  05:01 PM

I believe the data rate for 1080p60 is 3Gb/s.  Certainly there are 2nd order effects, but not sure it was appropriate to delve into them in this article (nor did I have the space 8-}).  HDMI cables should be twisted pair, especially for longer runs.  No evidence that high-cost cables necessarily mitigate the 2nd order effects better than a good mid-priced cable.  Finally, have you found any sources for deep-color?  I haven’t.
/j

Posted by Aaron  on  04/15  at  05:05 PM

It’s never as simple as most would like to believe. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no relationship between quality and price of cables.

I guess you could argue that quality cables will always cost a little more than pure junk, but many “junk” cables are sold at incredibly high prices.

However, to over simplify digital transmission as either “good” or “bad” is not really accurate. I do not have specific information on all home theater digital interfaces, but if the signal can indeed be accurately transmitted by any given cable, it is indeed as good as it can get and no amount of “better” will result in better end results.

However, is there error correction on home audio/video interfaces? I personally don’t know, but I suspect there probably is not. Without this, it is entirely possible that data can become corrupt across a digital link. Even with error correction, there is a time associated with such correction and I’m virtually certain that no AV interface supports things like retransmissions, so errors can show up as missing or incorrect pixels in a display, or an alteration or dropout in audio.

The thing here is to balance your needs. Certainly don’t go out and think just because you paid a lot for a cable that you got a good product. For short runs (less than 5 meters), it is likely any decently made cable will do the job, but for longer runs better quality may mean the difference in enjoying a movie or looking at a blue screen, or occasional blue screens or pixelation and wondering why. The same is true of Over the Air TV reception of digital signals… Only good or bad right? Wrong, I get good signals OTA most of the time, but I get those breakups/pixelation of the video and audio dropouts sometimes. It may be “good” or “bad” at any given instance of time, but for the duration of the viewing/listening this can change between the two at any interval.

Also keep in mind that HDMI I believe uses parallel transmission, instead of pure serial transmission and is sensitive to signal skew, which is caused by differences in electrical length of the conductors in the cable. With twisted pair cables, this can be a serious issue.

So the bottom line is to shop around for cables that are made with quality materials and quality assembly, especially for long run applications. They don’t need to be expensive. If cables that came with a product give you good results, stick with them. Don’t assume however just because you see or hear something at all, it means you have no cable issues.

Posted by steveo  on  04/15  at  05:14 PM

Ken…as a degreed electrical engineer I understand and believe everything you say…and yet nothing you have said addresses the range of what the HDMI receivers will tolerate (connector/pc board/chips).

I have seen heavy but no-name 50 foot cables work perfectly. I have seen shorter absolute bottom of the barrel work perfectly. In the digital realm IF the receiver can recover the signal, there is no description of cable induced signal anomalies that will matter - the output from the receiver chip will be a nice square wave.

IF it can not, I don’t know the range of symptoms but I would imagine a complete signal failure at worst, noise at best would occur.

I thus will agree with your point that it probably does not matter, and people should not get suckered into expensive cables in the typical short length cases. And I will agree with your point that for VERY long lengths 25’ and above, better quality is better - but that does not imply expensive, or in particular, ridiculously expensive.

Until HDMI cables are formally tested and certified, and that for bit rate vs. length, we are all somewhat victims of this industry’s manipulations. A way out is start cheap and work up - but that is tough if the cables are to be buried in walls etc. and impossible to swap out.

Posted by Alan  on  04/15  at  05:19 PM

I’m so glad to see this article.
This is something that has bugged me for years, ever since a sales rep tried to see me a $80 digital optical cable when they had a perfectly good $20 one in the store - in ANOTHER PART of the store.
He still tried to convince me the expensive one was worth buying due to component quality!

I’ve seen the same thing done in other stores. It really, REALLY winds me up!

Snake Oil is an excellent analogy.

Posted by Manyon  on  04/15  at  05:37 PM

Benny, you should know better. No one was talking about microphone cables and low level audio; that’s a totally different application.

Posted by rlw  on  04/15  at  05:54 PM

Very good cables can be had for reasonable money thanks to the Internet.  I have recently stocked up on audio and video cables from MonoPrice and CableWholesale and I can tell you, without a doubt, that throwing money down the cable well is a fool’s game.

The $15 MonoPrice HDMI cable is every bit as good as the $200 Monster cable.  And the analog cables I got from CableWholesale are VERY nice indeed.  I think those cost me about $12 a pair.  Find them at this link:
http://www.cablewholesale.com/specs/10r4-02101.htm

If you simply MUST spend more money, look at these beauties for about $40-80/pr.:
http://www.knukonceptz.com/productMaster.cfm?category=eKs RCA Kables#

Great cables need not cost a fortune.  Spend the money you save on better source material and room treatments - THAT is where you’ll really hear an improvement!

-RW-

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