FEW subjects polarise audiophiles as much as wires – interconnects, speaker cables and power cords. One camp says it’s hogwash, that all wires sound the same; the other swears they make a difference in the performance of a hi-fi system.
Ethan Winer, an audio engineer and musician with 45 years of work under his belt, is a debunker, and he’s made a new video that claims “all audio wires sound the same”. Here’s the video and press release he just sent out:
For years many audiophiles, and even some audio professionals, have believed that signal wires can sound different. The result has been a growth of “wire” companies selling simple RCA and other signal wires for hundreds and even thousands of dollars each. The electrical properties of wires have been understood fully for more than a century, and engineers know exactly what to measure in order to learn how audio passing through them is affected.
However, some people believe there’s more to audio than test equipment can measure, and they prefer to trust their ears. So to settle this dilemma Ethan Winer designed a Null Tester device that compares any two signal wires and reveals their difference to a level below –110 dB. The beauty of a null test is that it’s absolute, and reveals all differences, including frequency response, noise, distortion, phase shift, and every possible artefact whether known or unknown.
To subtract one audio stream from another you simply reverse the polarity of one, then mix both together at equal volumes. Whatever remains is called the Null Residual. This is very important because it dispels the common beliefs that “Science doesn’t know everything people can hear,” and that “Some aspects of audio fidelity can’t be measured using sine waves and other standard test signals.” In addition to test tones, his Null Tester works just as well using music or any other sounds as the source.
To prove the point that inexpensive wires pass audio identically to very expensive wires, Winer made a video showing his Null Tester device comparing four RCA wires ranging in price from less than US$5 to US$700. The video first explains null testing in detail, and how the Null Tester itself works, then proceeds to a live demonstration of the wire comparisons. In every case the nulled residual signals were below the noise level of the testing device, proving for certain that music sent down both wires arrived the same at the other end, with no possible audible difference. These comparisons use RCA signal wires, but the conclusion applies equally to other wire types because it proves what audio engineers have known for years: there is no magic, and everything about wire can be fully understood using the standard known parameters.
Winer’s Cello Rondo music video has received nearly two million views on YouTube and other web sites, and his book The Audio Expert, published by Focal Press and now in its second edition, is available at Amazon . He is also a principal at RealTraps, a US manufacturer of high quality acoustic treatment products.
We’ve also included two other videos here, including one in which PS Audio’s Paul McGowan replies to Winer’s video and another where the latter issues a challenge to a public debate on the subject.
Enjoy the videos and make your own conclusions. Oh, and make sure you check the comment section of each video…
Winer is a weiner!
Yup, anyone who says they can hear a difference between cables is just nuts. I mean, which are you going to believe, your own ears or a pompous ‘expert’? One who essentially says that since they can’t hear a difference… your ears MUST be lying to you…
All the ‘experts’ once insisted that the earth was flat. And here we are with another ‘expert’ insisting he knows best. His ears hear but hs mind refuses to listen…
Small minds are terrified by what they can’t explain, so as a defense mechanism against that fear they engage in willful denial.
You’ve got it all wrong. Ethan is the guy who proved the world was round, you dolts with the “magic ears” are the flat-earthers… and you’re too stupid to know it, lol.
I always get a kick out of one idiot trying to claim everyone else is the same. Stuff like this ruins the reputation of science – real science.
Boys and girls, science begins with an observation. We can talk all about the circumstances and reliability of that observation, but it begins there nonetheless. If I hear a consistent difference between cables in a stereo system – and YES, I do and so do others, at least with some cables… and YES in double blind listening tests… then we make a hypothesis to test. It that hypothesis is that there is a voltage difference in the cable to account for the sound difference, well the null test described above strongly suggests that our hypothesis is not correct. But it does not DISPROVE the observation. We have to come up with another hypothesis and test again… and round and round it goes. Science, by the way, rarely “proves,” but instead builds evidence. The evidence here does nothing to prove or disprove whether I hear a difference in cables. The absurdity goes further, because the actual claim is that “all wires sound the same.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t listen to cables with an oscilloscope, and I sure as hell don’t plug them into my tympanic membranes. Cables are part of a much larger system that can only be “heard” as a whole after that electrical crap is transduced to an entirely different form of energy at the speaker. Sorry, but we haven’t proven anything here except that we can’t show a measurable electrical difference between whatever cables he tested.
We don’t need any scientific tests to prove you’re an ignoramus. The evidence is abundant by your rambling rant. The fact there are ultra-gullible minions like you out in the world is the only reason snake-oil salesmen exist. If you were half as smart as you think you are… you would understand this too.
Whenever someone’s argument boils down to “you’re too stupid” to see how right I am, they reveal through resorting to personal attack their own inability to dispute.
“When the debate is lost, the loser resorts to slander” Socrates
Some interesting arguments from both sides but a few points are missed so let me have a go at this. Shoot holes in my theory as you wish. I feel that in their eagerness to be right, both Mr. Winer and Mr. McGowan have been a bit sloppy.
What Mr. Winer missed to point out, even though he does show it in his video, is that interconnects can be influenced by external EMI. So, even though he proves that the signal gets through to the other side with all cables used, he fails to point out that a better shielded cable will actually have a better chance to get that signal through unharmed. EMI is probably the most influential source of distortion to a musical signal in an interconnect.
Mr McGowan tries to prove Mr. Winer wrong by saying how power cables sound different but Mr. Winer shows interconnects in his video, not power cables. Although in Mr. McGowan’s defence, Mr. Winer does say ALL cables sound the same. Not ALL interconnects.
Without comparing apples with apples, Mr. McGowan’s argument doesn’t really stand.
A bit about my personal experience with coaxial cables (That’s what interconnects are) in my earlier profession.
I used to install antennas and satellite receivers. Both are connected with coax cable so very simple to compare with interconnects. By the time I started in the industry, RG6 Quad shield coax was readily available so every antenna or satellite receiver I installed got the RG6 treatment. But there were lots of old antenna installations out there with cheap white thin coax. It was clear as daylight that those cables were inferior. Their shielding was just not up to the job of keeping EMI out and on a TV screen that’s very easy to see. So going from a cheap white coax cable to RG6 Quad shield is clearly better. No argument there. Bad cable can have a bad influence on the signal.
It should be pointed out that Analog TV signal is many times higher in frequency than a music signal is. The higher the frequency, the larger the loss in the cable is and the more susceptible to interference it will be. That’s why when you talk about satellite, which is many time higher in frequency again, you wouldn’t even try using the old white crappy cable. It just wouldn’t work.
So, when you go down in frequency, to music level, the signal stays much stronger. On top of that, the cables are many times shorter than what you typically use to connect your TV antenna or satellite dish with. Chances that a properly made and shielded interconnect have a bad influence on sound quality are very low.
To demonstrate what I’m trying to get across let’s just use water as a comparison; a crappy interconnect is represented by a rusty old pipe. A properly made interconnect is represented by copper pipe and the ‘high end’ cable is represented by a pipe made of medical grade stainless steel that’s been polished to a very smooth surface inside. All pipes have the same internal diameter. Clearly, the medical grade polished pipe is the best of the bunch. The rusty old pipe will add rust to your water and it will taste like shit. But there’s nothing wrong with the copper pipe. Theoretically the water will run through the medical grade pipe more easily but when you fill a glass of water through both the copper and the medical grade pipe, you won’t notice the difference in how long it takes to fill the glass and the water will taste exactly the same because neither pipe will leave any residue in the water. This is a simple to understand theory and nobody will dispute this.
Interconnects are short and musical signal is quite robust. So from an electrical point of view, there’s very little that can badly influence the signal and therefore sound quality. To get the signal across in 100% good quality, all you need is a properly made, well shielded cable. By making a better cable, you won’t suddenly get 110% sound quality. I think that we can all agree on that; just like a copper pipe is good enough for water, so is a decent $20 to $50.- cable good enough for analog musical signal. Anyone who sells ‘digital’ interconnects is a charlatan because digital signal is just analog signal in a different form therefore falls in the same category as analog.
Music going through a cable is an electrical signal and is well understood by science. There is nothing else. It’s just about getting the signal through in full (Easily done. There’s hardly any loss in 1m of cable at such a low frequency) without interference (Not hard. Just shield it properly)
What’s also very well known is how much a room interferes with sound. And also how sensitive your ears are to timing issues. Moving your head thus your ears by only an inch will change the timing of the music reaching your ears. This might very well be the reason you’re definitely hearing a difference when cables are swapped. That’s a much more likely reason than the difference in cables.
There are of course cables that DO make a difference. Those are the cables with some kind of box in or in between it. Those boxes have a filter of some sort in them that alter the signal. Whether or not that makes them sound ‘better’ is for the listener to decide. But what they won’t do is make the signal better. Better than 100% ok just doesn’t exist.
I am certainly not trying to charge up the mountain with a flag on cables per say, merely trying to make a theoretical argument – I don’t like the name of “science” being misused. Uncertainty can be diminished by science, but never entirely eliminated. I totally get that electrical transmission in cables is “well understood,” but that does not mean we have erased uncertainty. Using a singular experiment in an attempt to prove or disprove an observation is the tail wagging the dog – there would never be any further forward progress or learning. What is known must always be challenged – and that is what I love about science.
Regarding cables, look – I haven’t always heard differences and when they are there they are small. I satisfied my desire to know a long time ago by all the double blind listening stuff. Satisfying, in a way, but a pain and totally detracted from the enjoyment of the hobby. I mean, isn’t this about enjoying music? It’s an emotional experience. Furthermore, we’re not trying to save the world or stamp out disease here – I don’t get the name calling and claims of craziness by the almost evangelical cable deniers who misuse the name “science” in their arguments.
I think there is a fundamental challenge here as well, in that we are dealing with a special sense and how the world is perceived through it. Does all coffee taste the same? Does the softness of a fabric feel the same to everyone? We could concoct all sorts of experiments to try to explain this, but if the thing we are testing is consistently perceived as different by some people then it IS different.
If I have an objective here, it is merely to soften this up – we don’t know everything, including with what happens in the interaction of cables with a stereo system and how we perceive the produced sound – let’s all be open to the reality of uncertainty. We’d all be better off.
Fact is that there are differences in everything, even identical twins !
A simple test I’ve performed in an effort to separate my own bias’s from, involves two rca interconnect cables through which I’ve played music to completely oblivious listeners, people whom have zero interest in the subject of audio itself.
One cable is constructed from ~100% pure carbon filament wire, the other ~100% pure silver filament wire.
They both have zero issue passing audio & video signals far beyond that required for human perception.
A rudimentary test will show that one has higher resistance than the other, and conversely that one has higher inductance than the other.
Again, nothing which prevents either from passing signals FAR beyond the human perception limits with negligible deviations from absolute linearity.
Does music ‘sound’ discerningly different in comparison to one another ?
Yes, very obviously to ANYBODY who has listened, however… as to which one is considered ‘better sounding’ is entirely subjective, and the same subject may differ in their preferences ‘subject’ to many factors !
Irrespective in all instances the perceivable audible difference between the two cables remains consistent.
This is but one example of clearly observed differences between cables, although with many other cables I have.. if there are perceived differences in the audio band, they are so minute as to be virtually impossible to define even though their electrical characteristics also measurably differ by significant margins.
Same, same, but different 😉
there will be listenable differences if using different speaker cables or interconnects, but the difference is quite small compared to listening to different /changing pair hifi speakers. Cable thickness, meterials used and fabrication process, spiraling technique etc, and insulation really does makes a difference in providing cleaner signal and reduce loss of audio frequencies. And those small differences might only be listenable when using very expensive hifi speakers. Maybe those qualities might not be measurable when using a oscilloscope that’s why he said so…
This is the methodology Bob Carver used to “copy” the distortions, er “sound”, of high end amps. And yes, those that disagree with his methodology need to break out something refutable. Ethan is right. Not sure how you can argue with the methodology, because his maths are spot on.
The more I read, the more the better your material is.
I have covered lots of their other sources; however, only here,
I have found valid information with this kind of necessary facts
to bear in mind. I suggest you’ll publish articles with a variety of topics
to upgrade our knowledge, mine specifically. The language is another thing-just brilliant!
I believe I’ve already found my ideal supply of their
most up-to-date information, thanks to you!
One question here if all cables were created equal then why is copper and gold considered some of the best conductive metal there is, think about it, if not hell we could all just jump on a new train and buy all aluminum wire and be just fine lolol, yes there is alot of hype out there regarding some cable, but it goes way beyond how this gentlemen is testing here it’s not about testing a single wire so much, it’s about how it can perform packed in a bundle of 100 or more and how they will affect each other under load, cross talk and RF control then the quality of metal and content of that metal does come into play, I am an engineer that does all repairs maintaining 2 complete largeformat real world recording studios and a mastering suite this is so far beyond testing a single wire that’s like listening to a cheap recording console with one track up thinking this sounds great but as soon as you load the console down it becomes a wash of frequencies that are almost unintelligible I won’t quote my experience here because I don’t believe in chest pounding but I will just say that i learned alot from jeep harmed while working with him and leave it at that
One question here if all cables were created equal then why is copper and gold considered some of the best conductive metal there is, think about it, if not hell we could all just jump on a new train and buy all aluminum wire and be just fine lolol, yes there is alot of hype out there regarding some cable, but it goes way beyond how this gentlemen is testing here it’s not about testing a single wire so much, it’s about how it can perform packed in a bundle of 100 or more and how they will affect each other under load, cross talk and RF control then the quality of metal and content of that metal does come into play, I am an engineer that does all repairs maintaining 2 complete largeformat real world recording studios and a mastering suite this is so far beyond testing a single wire that’s like listening to a cheap recording console with one track up thinking this sounds great but as soon as you load the console down it becomes a wash of frequencies that are almost unintelligible I won’t quote my experience here because I don’t believe in chest pounding but I will just say that i learned alot from jeep harned while working with him and leave it at that