How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 3

In two previous articles I showed how hi-fi magazines write about cables. They make things up, say things that make no sense, and sometimes copy and paste reviews for different products from the same company. I don’t want to harp on this too much, but I thought it would be interesting to look at how multiple cables can make your audio system sound like it’s powered by unicorns.

In a standard audio setup, there are four types of cables you can upgrade to audiophile versions and prices. There’s the AC cable, that goes from your wall socket to your amplifier, CD player, etc. Then there’s the interconnect, the RCA-plug cables that connect, say, your CD player to your amp. Finally, there are speaker cables; they run from your amplifier to the speakers. If you have a DVD/Blu-Ray player, there’s also the HDMI cable that connects that device to your amplifier, or to your TV.

Audiophiles think that changing any of these cables can make a huge difference in the quality of the music you hear on your stereo. So what happens if you change all three of these for pricey audiophile cables?

Start with the power cable, or mains cable, as they say in the UK. According to What Hi-Fi? magazine (all of the quotes below come from their reviews[1]), a £150 mains cable:

took everything we could throw at it without stumbling. Images were pin-sharp, and exquisitely revealing, colour was natural and rich, while motion was smooth.

It made our reference kit sing, too, with its ability to apply dynamics on tap, combining a taut sound with seamless integration.

I find it hard to imagine how a mains cable would “stumble” with different types of content; after all, it’s only supplying AC power, which the various hi-fi components convert to DC power using transformers. But I love how it can “apply dynamics on tap,” and provide a “taut sound.” Of course none of those statements mean anything at all.

The What Hi-Fi? reviewer does not, however, say which components used this cable. Was it the TV, or a DVD/Blu-ray player that got the cable, which give “pin-sharp” images? For the sound, did it go into the amp? Mysteries.

Let’s move on to an interconnect; I’ll just stay with an analogue interconnect, used to pass audio from a CD player to an amplifier. There’s one at £731, more than I paid for my player:

In every system we tried, their effect is the same. The leading edges of notes are as sharply defined as you like, and pack a mighty punch when the music demands.

More than that, the sound delivered is timed immaculately. This means not only that the hard-charging rhythms of Radiohead’s Kid A are punched out in all their glory, but also that the interplay between instruments is preserved and easy to appreciate.

These cable majors on control, insight and agility, not on making things sound nicer. It will help a system communicate the drive and enthusiasm in a piece – it’s all about communicating the drama and passion of music.

I think it’s important that the “leading edges of notes” be “as sharply defined is you like,” but I’m not sure what that means. It’s great that the “sound delivered is timed immaculately;” I wouldn’t want a cable to hold back and delay sound. And that third paragraph, aside from its grammatical incoherence (don’t they have copy editors at What Hi-Fi?) is confusing. It’s all about “control, insight and agility,” rather than “making things sound nicer?” Does that actually mean anything in English?

Whatevs. On to an HDMI cable; one that sends digital information, that in no way can change the sound of anything. Cables don’t influence the ones and zeroes of a digital stream, they just move them from one end of the cable to another. For £300, you can get a cable that:

really does impress with its clear, detailed, realistic picture. Even more apparent is the sonic ability of this cable. It sounds controlled and composed.

The level of refinement and finesse that it encourages is there for all to hear. It’s capable of delivering the explosive adventures of Rambo with gusto and is equally adept at creating a tense atmosphere during Batman Begins.

What’s confusing here is that I always thought it was the TV – and the source, the DVD or Blu-Ray player – that were responsible fro a “clear, detailed, realistic picture.” The cable is just something that passes the bits from one device to the other. As for the sound, it’s good to know that it is “controlled and composed.”

Let’s end this brief tour with speaker cables. This type of cable is the most varied and exaggerated. Here’s a £148 cable (the review does not specify how much you get for that price):

In every system we tried, the effect was the same. The leading edges of notes were as sharply defined as you like, and packed a mighty punch when the music demanded.

More than that, the sound delivered was timed immaculately. This means not only that the hard-charging rhythms of Radiohead’s Kid A were punched out in all their glory, but also that the interplay between instruments was preserved and easy to appreciate.

This cable majors on control, insight and agility, not on making things sound nicer. It’ll help a system communicate the drive and enthusiasm of a recording – it’s all about communicating the drama and passion of music.

Isn’t it interesting that the review of this cable, just like the interconnect I cited above, says that “the hard-charging rhythms of Radiohead’s Kid A are punched out in all their glory,” and that “This cable majors on control, insight and agility, not on making things sound nicer,” getting the grammar right this time? And not only do these vapid texts show that these reviewers just make things up, but that they have no shame in copying their texts for products from the same company.[2]

And that begs the question: if, for a given company’s cable, the results are exactly the same for an interconnect and a speaker cable, why buy both? What exactly are they reviewing? A set of cables – i.e., the interconnect and the speaker cable – or each one individually? If they both do the same thing, you’d be better off just getting the speaker cable, as it’s about one-fourth the price.

So add up all these extraordinary results, and what do you get? Exactly the same music you’d get with standard cables. But, in my example (and I did not choose the most expensive cables), this is more than £1,200 spent on cables.

Well, I think you get the picture here. Save your money; instead of spending money on expensive cables, buy music. After all, that’s what your audio system is for, right?


  1. I’m not picking on What Hi-Fi? magazine specifically, but they are an easy target.  ↩

  2. When I pointed out in an article yesterday that What Hi-Fi? had the exact same text for two different cable reviews, they replied on Twitter “That’s a tech error with our CMS, which pulled in the same copy as product names identical. We’ll correct. Thanks.” One day later, and they haven’t fixed it; because it’s not a tech error with their CMS, but rather their reviewers. The copy is not exactly the same: one has a header, and there are differences in capitalization. Just as, in this example, it’s obvious that the copy is not the same: one has a grammatical error, and the other has corrected it.  ↩