Audiophile cables, worth every penny?

Audiophile cables can go for a lot of money. Do they make a difference?

XLO Signature 3 interconnect cables Steve Guttenberg

High-end cables are a controversial subject, even among audiophiles. I know an extremely wealthy audiophile who uses cheap hardware store wire in his $200,000 hi-fi system. He thinks audiophile cables don't make a difference, so he doesn't use them. That's fine with me.

When I was a high-end audio salesman I sold a lot of very expensive wires to my customers, including customers that didn't initially believe cables would make any real difference in the sound of their hi-fis. "It's just wire" was the classic rebuke, I've heard it thousands of times. I'd offer my customers a choice of "free" wire or high-end cables for $500 or more. Some customers would just take the free cables and be done with it. But I'd get some doubters willing to try the expensive cables, with a promise that I'd return their money if they didn't hear a difference. I'd suggest starting with the good cables and live with them for two weeks, and then replace the expensive wires with the free ones. If they sounded the same, great, they'd get their money back. Only one out of four would bring back the expensive cables, and I think that best demonstrates my case. Even when people are motivated to return cables to get a refund, most did not. They heard enough of a difference to keep the expensive wires.

I do not recommend quickly switching back and forth between cheap and expensive cables, that mostly produces confusion, and "proves" there's no difference. The best way to determine the worth of the wire (or any upgrade) is to simply live with it for at least a week, then go back to your original gear. If at that point you don't hear a difference, don't buy the new cable. That's the bottom line: don't invest in better cables if you can't hear the difference.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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