What's a skeptic to do?

rwortman -- Thu, 01/28/2010 - 19:53

Some day we will be able to have a real discussion about the effects or lack thereof for the various cables we use to hook our system up. Unfortunately all the attempts I have seen so far have consisted of both sides digging trenches and lobbing grenades at each other.  I am 52 and have been a serious music lover for over 40 years.  My equipment choices have progressed from whatever Mom and Dad had to what is now a mix of entry and mid level high end'ish equipment. Most of it well reviewed and some just passed over by the audio press.
 Dynaco (Panor) Pas4 tubed preamp, VPI Scout/Dynavector DV20XH, Marantz DV6001, Cambridge Audio DacMagic, Logitech Squeezebox Duet, Tascam CDRW900 (for sharing my LP's with friends), Yamaha T-7 tuner, NAD C275BEE amp, PSB Stratus Gold I.   I bought those PSB's 12 years ago and I still love 'em.
I have custom length interconnects made by me from decent inexpensive coax and RCA jacks so each pair just reaches the component and it looks nice and neat behind my Salamander Designs Synergy rack. I used the stock power cords but shortened them to just reach one of the two power strips mounted to the back of the rack . I used $5 Home Depot plugs to facilitate shortening them.  One strip is plugged right into the wall and runs the amp, my plasma TV and few other video things.  The other strip is plugged into a OneAC isolation transformer/power conditioner purchased used off Ebay for about $60.  This is not "audiophile approved" but OneAC has been purifying power for various military and industrial applications for a very long time.  It's too small to run the power amp but all the low level stuff is plugged into that. Speaker wires are some 12g Monster Cable stuff I bought with the speakers.  Braided copper with a plastic rod "flux tube" running up the middle.
I think my system sounds fantastic.  I have heard better in the high end salons but mine sounds pretty damn good.   I sometimes wonder if I am missing out on something by not subscribing to the "cabling as a component" view.  I work as an engineer.  I like explanations that make sense although I know they are not always available.    I am not prepared to spend large sums of money researching something that seems to make little sense.  Here is the problem.  Many audiophiles claim great benefits from speaker wires, interconnects and power cords.  Others claim they make no difference at all.  No one has yet found measurable non-linear distortions in interconnects or speaker wires.  No one has found any measurable effect from a power cord other than a bit of filtering and shielding.  Certainly one can use a shielded power cord and construct a traditional line filter for a lot less money than what one spends on a "high fidelity" power cord.  As far as I know everyone has been attempting to measure the wire and not an audio system in which the wire has been installed.  I think this would be an interesting exercise but it seems that as far as cabling is concerned no one really wants to know the truth bad enough to spend the time and money to look for it.   The cable companies sure don't because you can charge a lot more money for mystery than you can for real nuts and bolts.    Here are the possibilities as I see them:
1.  The emperors new clothes.  Cables can make no difference and all the people that think they do are hearing things that have been suggested to them by others.  There is a lot of pressure on audiophiles to try to hear things that others report lest they be thought to have tin ears or lousy equipment.  Unfortunately this view gains some support when I read cable companies "white papers" many of which seem to be extremely fanciful descriptions of the emperor's new outfit.  However, I know that this is not true.  Some interconnect designs have been shown to have frequency response variations that should be audible but I'll be damned if I know why anyone one would want to pay money for them and speaker wires can interact with the amp and speaker in audible ways.  I sold an amp to someone that tried using a popular homemade speaker cable using Cat5 wire.  The amp's clipping indicators lit up as soon as he turned it on.  I am sure that superimposing a rail to rail ultrasonic oscillation on the music signal had audible consequences.  Changing the cable out for something with more reasonable capacitance restored normalcy.
2.  Cables can and do make a difference and the differences can be explained in terms of frequency and phase response variations, electrical noise,  or distortions caused by the cable's interaction with poorly designed or otherwise unruly output stages.  One cable outfit likes to use braided conductors with no shield for unbalanced interconnects. This might pick up audible stuff from the electromagnetically busy environment it is hanging in but that is hardly a feature worth paying money for.  Far from solid engineering, this is just plain stupid.  I suspect that many other interconnect designs have various levels of audible high frequency rolloff but this isn't something I should be paying $500 for either.  At least as far as interconnects go, it would seem that a piece of coax and a connector ought to do the job and anything that sounds different is likely to be causing distortions , not eliminating them.  Speaker wires are probably amp/speaker dependent and there may plenty of combinations in which a beefy hunk of zip cord is all that is needed.  In this case "revealing" the difference between various speaker wires doesn't mean the system is higher fidelity it just means that it is fussier about its wires.  I certainly would strive to design an amplifier that would drive anything rather than a finicky beast that would change its response to every miniscule change in load it saw
3.  Cables do make a difference and they do this by removing mysterious types of distortion that are unknown to us by methods that are equally unknown.  This is the hard nut to crack.  I would have to be an idiot or extremely arrogant to think that I or anyone else possesses all the knowledge that will ever be known about audio reproduction so I surely can't claim that this is impossible.   Here again most of the cable companies are no help.  The ones that use real engineering principles to explain their designs fail to show how they would do anything but flatten out a tiny HF rolloff that should already be inaudible and certainly wouldn't account for all the dramatic descriptions we read about the effects of the cables.  Most of the stuff written varies from the fanciful to the patently ridiculous.  "Golden ratio stranding" anyone?  Would RH pay $20k of his own money for machined aluminum boxes full of mysterious "articulation poles".  Transmission line theory applied to a system where the source impedance and the load impedance differ by 10 to 1000x?  We have engineers using inapplicable engineering principles,  engineers using real engineering principles that don't explain the phenomena, engineers allegedly manipulating and graphing new electrical parameters that no one else knows about or can measure,  and non-engineer audio enthusiasts with all kinds of cockamamie ideas and cable geometries who have all discovered and/or lucked into the means for removing these unknown and unmeasurable distortions.   They then command princely sums of money for this new technology that seems fantastically out of proportion to the cost of making the thing.  This requires a leap of faith that I might not be capable of.
To complicate this even more, I think we might have a mixture of all three.  It has been clearly demonstrated that even experienced "professional" audiophiles can be lead astray and most of them eschew any attempt to remove the visual bias from the listening tests so I am sure that some people hear differences some of the time that are not there.  Quite a few people were hearing effects from the "Golden Sound Intelligence Chip" and who is talking about that boondoggle anymore?  I am also sure that many cable designs sound different because they are acting as the expensive tone controls us skeptics have always suspected them to be.  There is also the undeniable possibility that somewhere out there in this morass are cables that truly are better in some mysterious way than the old reliables that we have been using.   How the hell do I know which ones these are and how do I assign a reasonable value to whatever these mysterious cables do?

Rob C (not verified) -- Fri, 02/12/2010 - 11:45

At least you admit to your potential ignorance of things yet undiscovered.  It's a shame you still feel the need to disparage that which you disagree with without personal experience. 
At least as far as interconnects go, it would seem that a piece of coax and a connector ought to do the job and anything that sounds different is likely to be causing distortions , not eliminating them. 
Or perhaps you are too biased in thinking that good old zip cord and coax can never be beaten in design.  Which seems kind of silly to me considering how much we've learned in just the past 30 years.  While these cable designs have had decades of refinement in order to provide for the lowest common denominator they are still models of what can be produced as cheaply and efficiently as possible.  Cheap and efficient will never get you the performance of the custom and proprietary.  It doesn't matter if it's cars or cables if you want performance you're going to have to pay extra to get it.

rwortman -- Mon, 02/15/2010 - 03:30

Who is disparaging anything? I thought this was a thoughtful approach that covers the bases. I laid out three possibilities one of which has to be true. If you think as Tom Martin has suggested that cables can be adequately characterized with R,L,C and shielding quality then there should be nothing about the special interconnects that is any better than a decent piece of coax and a couple of RCA jacks. If indeed something else is going on, it seems odd that all of the cable companies have found the same something in a 100 different proprietary ways. It seems to me that you are assuming that proprietary and expensive always equals better performance and this is simply not true. Many times money buys you looks and exclusivity and little else. Does a Patek Phillipe tell better time than a $15 Casio? Does a Rolls Royce outperform a Shelby Mustang? And what exactly have the cable companies or the audiophile community really learned in the past 30 years concerning signal transmission among audio components. They have published exactly 0 new testable theories. They have found exactly 0 nonlinear distortions in cables despite all the talk about strand jumping and microdiodes. I have a hard time purchasing something from a company that either lies about their product to get sales or has no idea what they are doing and unfortunately when you read the papers on many cabling websites one or the other has to be true. If it really is just R,L and C then any effects of the cabling can be cheaply compensated for elsewhere and there is absolutely no reason to pay more than $100 for any of it.

Ivan (not verified) -- Fri, 02/26/2010 - 21:55

As an audio professional of some 40 years, I watch the debate with great amusement. Get a reference (live music, unamplified). Build your system so it sounds like what you hear live, because everybody hears it differently. Listen to cables, power, interconnect and speaker in that system, one change at a time, by finding a dealer who understands that loaning things out for a couple of days allows people to hear the stuff in their own environment without pressure(we do this on weekends). If it doesn't make an improvement, don't buy it. Notice, I didn't say difference.
But...and this is important. If you HAVEN'T done this, in a methodical way, you have no right to comment.
As far as the R,L C, six winemakers in Ca were given identical grapes(Pinot Noir). Six different tastes came from those grapes, but I bet they all measured the same. Just because someone cannot hear something doesn't mean someone else cannot.
Oh yeah...my personal reference is 9th row center.

rwortman -- Sat, 02/27/2010 - 00:43

"But...and this is important. If you HAVEN'T done this, in a methodical way, you have no right to comment."

Some might say that sighted listening "tests" done over a long period of time without repeat comparisons are not very methodical. I have never tried to run my motorcycle on ginger ale but I feel fully qualified to comment on it's effectiveness as a motor fuel. Engineering is not a useless discipline that explains nothing. I can almost guarantee you that using an accurate enough method of elemental analysis those wines will NOT measure the same. Given the variability inherent in the winemaking process it is almost impossible for the same winemaker to make two batches that would give identical chemical analyses.

"If it doesn't make an improvement, don't buy it. Notice, I didn't say difference."

Easy to say. Not so easy to do. Despite all the talk about absolute references, our memory of a musical performance is not all that precise. No one is running out to Carnegie Hall to listen to a performance, recording it, and running home to play it back through his latest pair of interconnects. I think people select for the sound they like and whether it is really an improvement is something that is more truthfully told by measuring instruments than by personal preference. Additionally, not all of us are classical music fans or can afford 9'th row center seats to the symphony. Are we going to say that jazz fans have no right to comment on the quality of any audio components because they have no "absolute" reference?

vhiner -- Thu, 07/08/2010 - 17:10

So far, this discussion has taken the usual routes. I'm always in awe of how little people trust their own ears. It appears that those who start these discussions have as little trust in their ears as those who get angry when others doubt their "expensive choices." I don't know why anyone thinks that others should be impressed or moved by their opinions about things they've never actually listened to in their own systems. I also don't understand why someone doesn't simply hook the gear up and listen. (with respect to cables and power cords, you can audition anything you want for the mere cost of shipping. A number of dealers are happy to oblige) If it pleases you, you face a financial challenge. If it doesn't, go forth and be at peace. I laugh when I hear about people putting round discs on their speakers, but I've never actually heard these devices, so who cares what I think? On the other hand, I've saved up for a number of cables and interconnects I have actually heard in my system and missed as soon as they were removed. It makes me very, very happy, but God only knows if it will have the same effect on you. Judge for yourself.

Josh Hill -- Thu, 07/08/2010 - 21:37

Is it really about ears, or is it about $1000 cables that color the sound with a few cents worth L, R and C but attribute the difference to their use of Albanian bat tongue oil?

vhiner -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 00:15

I pity anyone who buys products based on anything other than what they personally hear. It's a shame there's so much insecurity in this so-called debate. People who think equipment is overpriced are not in anyway injured by "overpriced" gear. Their outrage is silly and pointless. They don't have to buy it. People who buy it for any other reason than that it gives them "joy" are sadly deluded. I feel sorry for them. Those of us who enjoy what we buy are having a great time. I wish everyone could have as much fun listening to music on equipment made by highly skilled professionals as I do. The fun is in the sharing, not some absurd competition or achievement of status. Thank God someone could afford the expensive equipment of 20 years ago because their purchases have made it possible for the further development of the hobby and those advancements have "trickled down" to the equipment I am now able to afford. Even if I am deluded about everything I hear with my own ears, I'm happy. Why would anyone have a problem with that?

rwortman -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 06:09

Some folks find it a bit irritating when a company sells products that can't possibly work as they claim, that have a few hundred dollars worth of materials and workmanship at best and sell for many thousands AND (this is an important and) many in the audiophile community disparage them as tone deaf or stupid because they have not purchased the aforementioned products.

vhiner -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 09:26

When I walk down the isle of a pharmacy I don't waste my time getting irritated with all of the worthless over-the-counter medications because, and this is important, I don't have to buy them and I'm proud of the fact that I'm not so stupid as to believe outrageous claims. If I saw an ad on TV claiming that people like myself were "stupid" for not purchasing the product, I would laugh and enjoy spending my money on things that work. I'd spend more time telling people about things that do work and keep my opinions to myself about things I've never tried. But that's just me.

Josh Hill -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 10:24

But surely, even those who have a caveat emptor philosophy would agree that the frank sharing of information and opinions is valuable to all of us? If I believe that a cable is an overpriced scam and say so, I may be benefiting someone else, and if he believes that a cable is well worth the money, and makes a good argument to that effect, he may be benefiting me. The debate is accompanied with a certain amount of emotion, to be sure, but that seems to me a consequence of instincts that have contributed to the success of the group, and the individuals in it: "That be *lousy* way kill mammoth, mammoth turn around and kill you!"

Anyway, from a personal perspective, I'd like to know whether the effects of an exotic cable are a) real and b) are a consequence of hideously expensive unobtanium or can be emulated for a few bucks. And I've seen very little hard information. On one hand, I'm troubled by A/B tests that seem to show no difference, and on the other, I'm skeptical of the methodology in the typical blind A/B test, which doesn't seem compatible with my experience of how subtle differences in components often manifest themselves -- after long listening and familiarity. Nor do I completely trust my own ears. Suggestion, the placebo effect, and confirmation bias are too strong. I'd be deluding myself if I thought I was free of them.

And of perhaps of equal importance, I don't see any real efforts to judge the plausibility of engineering claims, some of which are wildly bogus. There is no way I'm ever going to react with anything but distaste to fraud or superstition.

vhiner -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 15:32

Who can argue with the reasonable exchange of ideas? Who can argue against the value of skepticism? However, I really, really don't understand people's fear of their own ears. Listen for three or four days to something. Then take it out of your system. If you don't miss it, don't buy it. If you do, start saving. I'd like someone to explain why this isn't a reasonable resolution to the debate. As for placebo effects, I would happily take sugar pills if my headache actually goes away. I don't care whether the effect is real or imagined. The proof is in the pudding. Many others before me have effectively made this point. It's usually blithely ignored and the debate rages on to absolutely no satisfying result. Listen. If it makes you feel good, whatever you've got works. If it doesn't bring you happiness, skip it. What could be more simple?

Josh Hill -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 17:43

Reminds me of when I was a kid playing in a store with the then-new Phase Linear autocorrelator. Some guy asked me what it was and I demonstrated it for him. "I don't hear anything different," he said. So I demonstrated it again. He listened, and then said "I still don't hear anything different. Should I get one?"


But seriously, as an engineer, basically someone whose hobby became his career, I've always had a fascination with the pursuit of accurate sound reproduction. And that pursuit benefits from solid information.

From a more personal perspective, I think there's some sense in what you say, and really, I can't think of any other way to do it -- each piece of equipment I've owned over the years has had a sonic signature, and some I've been happy with, some not. But I much prefer to take something home that has a reasonable chance of success, particularly now that I'm out in the boonies and have to send stuff back or resell it. And, really -- if Clark is right and the differences in amplifiers all do come down to clipping levels and freq response, or if my own suspicions and that of many others are correct and cables differ only in LRC, shielding, and connector quality, I'd just as soon save myself some trouble and some dough.

rwortman -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 17:59

What he said.

vhiner -- Fri, 07/09/2010 - 18:33

Josh, I couldn't agree more. I,too, listen to what others (who have direct experience and no vested interest) say about a product and then I take my chances on auditioning it if what they say makes sense to me. Shipping back and forth is a pain and I do all I can to avoid unnecessary effort in *everything.* Loved your "should I buy one" anecdote. Priceless.

billeames (not verified) -- Fri, 02/26/2010 - 13:35

Go to audio store and try things out. Make sure its refundable. I heard a system with 2 and without transparent reference cables (875 each!) the cables made a big positive difference. These were power cords. They say stereos create noise, and the power conditioners and power cables can clean that up. I am trying a conditioner with a 30 day refund possibility. good luck.

romazicon (not verified) -- Fri, 02/26/2010 - 15:13

As my brother-in-law has owned a hi-fi store in our small town for the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of auditioning and experimenting with a variety of different interconnects, speaker cables and power cord setups over the years. I would agree that there are very definite sonic differences among the numerous brands of these products that are available today although it has never been my experience that the differences are anywhere as dramatic as those one might experience with say a pre-amplifier, amplifier, DAC, speaker or room setup. Furthermore, the differences have generally been more subjective and not always measurable with considerable inter-observer variability. For example, while my brother-in-law and I are both fans of Pass Lab amps, we differ in our opinion of which interconnects and speaker cable go best with this amp. However, I, too, will disagree with the statement that "cheap and efficient will never get you the performance of the custom and proprietary." I don't believe that "custom and proprietary" guarantees anything (except maybe higher cost) and in the end, it is personal preference that wins out.

Jimmy R (not verified) -- Sat, 02/27/2010 - 22:11

What cables do you find that work best for pass labs I have a X250.5 and a XP10 preamp

TheArt (not verified) -- Fri, 02/26/2010 - 16:32

Getting back to rwortman's original 3 possibilities - It's a combination of 2 & 3. Cables do make measureable differences, in areas that are well understood and some which we are just now learning about.

I was a skeptic for years! When I first got into audio, I was advised to buy the cheapest cables from a good maker (e.g. Kimber, Nordhost, Audioquest, etc.), mostly to make sure they are manufactured with good materials & proper care. So I used Nordhost Blue Heaven ICs, Kimber 4PR speaker cables, stock power cords, and no power conditioner. I was very happy with the sound of my system, and stayed that way for years.

Then, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to audition several different sets of interconnects and a few power cords...

WOW! I had no idea what I was missing... or how GOOD my relatively modest system really could sound. The biggest shock for me was what a huge difference a good power cord can make.

IN FACT.. If you want to hear the difference cables can make, get your hands on a high-quality power cord and swap it in for the stock cord on your CDP or TT.

If you don't hear a difference... Well, that's something I should address too. If your system is not very revealing, or you don't listen too closely, it's possible you WON'T hear a difference. And if so, maybe you should not waste one penny on upgrading cables.

As I said, I was once a skeptic. But now I see... or rather HEAR.. what this is all about.
I now use all CRL Silver ICs, a Shunyata Guardian A/C conditioner, and power cords by Shunyata and Furutech. My speaker cables are still Kimber, but now 4TC+8TC bi-wires. All told, about 1/3 of the total cost of my system is now in the wires...

And - without changing any major component - it is dramatically & completely transformed!!

As an engineer, you deal with physics which is well-established and can be measured. But any good scientist will tell you that what is known & measureable right NOW is only a tiny fraction of all there is to be known & measured. And inventors like Ray Kimber & George Cardas are continually devising new & better ways of dealing with the known problems as well.

There's no way to keep up with all of this. There simply isn't! And it's not easy to discern when manufacturers are talking about real science, or spewing some hi-tech sounding BS. So really, you have no choice but to trust your ears as to what sounds best to YOU in YOUR system (... and what is a waste of your $$).

And that's what you want to do anyway! You may be curious about the science; I know I am! But at the end of the day, you came to listen to music, right? Whatever makes it sound best (and you can afford) is what's right for you.

To quote the two great sages of my youth:

ROCKY: But are they friendly spirits?


azsoundman (not verified) -- Sat, 02/27/2010 - 15:18

Perhaps in reality, this discusion is really between 'Sherman & Peabody'...
YES, I also believe there are differences, and the changes in my own 2-Channel
system bear those out. As someone who has been in the audio business now for 40 years,
I too have seen product that might approately be classified as 'Smoke & Mirrors' but also
have sold both speaker cables and interconnects to even the 'hard core engineer wire is wire'
clientele, with the following guarantee; If you do not see, hear, or deem any significant change
in your system, bring them back. So far my return rate is somewhere between 10% to 15% and
I would guess 5% of that is based on cost alone. So the world has changed a lot since the
'Wayback Machine' was invented. Personally I was always a fan of 'Dudley Do-Right'.

Tom Martin -- Fri, 02/12/2010 - 16:26

One thought is that there are many dealers (e.g. The Cable Company) who will let you try before you buy or buy with complete return privileges. One approach is to simply try different cables. We would argue that if they make your system more accurate, then maybe they're worth the invesment; if they make your system worse, obviously you send them back.

I would add that I'm not sure cables are as mysterious as they seem (thanks to the nature of most cable marketing). A cable basically has R, L, and C parameters and some sensitivity to RFI. Different cables have different RCL and EMI parameters. The most expensive cables tend to perform better on these parameters, but there are differences in the mix of what you get from each maker. It is hard to assess whether these (not always published) parametric differences will help your system. I think that's in part an information gap, but mostly an issue that predicting system interactions is complex and hard. That's where I go back to trying something. I'd take the most you'd be willing to spend and try a cable (or cable loom) with the best electrical parameters you can find. If that doesn't float your boat, I'd look elsewhere (or just be happy).

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

rscofield -- Fri, 02/12/2010 - 17:52

 I recently purchased new cables, power chords, and interconnects for my system.  I heard the difference immediately.  I am not sure why the change was so dramatic, but it was as obvious as when I updated my preamplifier.  I never thought of cables, but I found some on sale and made the purchase.  I am using MIT cables and interconnects and PS Audio power cords.  I have a SOTA Millennia w/ SME arm, ARC phono and pre amps, Pass power amps, and Revel speakers.  Call me a believer.  I do not consider myself a fringe audiophile, but I am sold on the benefits.  R/ Bob

ldevoe -- Sun, 02/14/2010 - 16:20

While there is some scientific basis for why interconnects, speaker cable and power cords sound different among the various brands that are out there, the construction of these devices does not always help the understanding of why these differences occur.  I have found over the years that there is some relationship to cost but this relationship is not linear.  Cable manufacturers usually have several products in their line and there is usually a sweet spot where you get 75 - 80% of the top of the line for less than half the cost.  There is no doubt that some cables do in fact exert tone control effects, like the MIT cable-box combinations which may help rather than hinder some components.  There are also cables that designed specifically for certain components like loudspeakers and source electronics.  Unless you have sophisticated measuring equipment in your home or office, you will have to select your cables and cords by ear.  Since it is not possible to know beforehand how cables will affect a system's sound, it is very desirable to be able to compare them before buying. I agree Tom Martin that retailers like the Cable Company provide one way of doing this in your home with your own equipment.   In the end, the advantages that most audiophile grade cables offer over zipcord and coax is that they reduce noise, shield from RFI and EMI, and allow more consistent and faster flow of electrons.  How much that is worth depends on your ears and your audio budget.

SteveB (not verified) -- Sun, 02/14/2010 - 18:58

First and foremost, your speakers wire and cables need to be in reasonably proportion to your equipment. If you have a $500 stereo, you are nuts if you spend another $500 on wire and cable. Get a $900 stereo and spend a $100 on wire and cable for a much better return on your investment.
Also, if these cables are so great, why don't they publish the specs on them; ohms per meter, inductance per meter, capacitance per meter, conductivity per meter. If they are changing parameters, then give us the measurements of the parameters they changed.
We can all see the changes and advantages of certain speaker wire. Some wire is a large bundle of smaller bundles of bare wire; bundles within bundles. Others use braded shield-like wires; that's got to reduce the inductance. But, was the inductance that bad to begin with, and couldn't they accomplish the same thing by simply counter winding the return wire? 
Some speaker wire uses a blend of fine wire twisted around a solid wire. That would seem to make sense. But, where are the specs indicating the difference it makes?
Just by chance, someone posted the specs on some very basic straight foreward AWG 16ga speaker wire, and calculating the various impedances in the inductance and capacitance, I determined that they had no effect at frequencies below 18.5khz, and in other cases, no effect below 40khz. So, I suspect that top quality wire can only drive those numbers up higher.
However, if you are listening to 20khz limited CD's, there is nothing up there to listen to, or to be effected by the wire. If you happen to have vimyl albums, it may be a different matter, but there is a limit to the cutting head'sa ability on vinyl too, that limits the upper frequencies.
Sorry, but it seems that all the advantages to better speakers wire, and I don't deny that it is better, happens well above the range of human hearing and well above the range of available music.
Indications are that humans can detect sounds up to about 100khz. They don't hear that as a musical tone, but they are aware of it. But in a world filled with the limits of mechanically cutting vinyl, and the absolute 22k cut off of CD's, what is there up above these standard frequencies to listen to? 
Again, I think the advantages of better and great quality wire and cable are real, but I think they seem to be effecting things that are beyond the range of comprehension, and beyond the range at which any available medium can deliver music.
They are better, but are they better in a way that matters?


ldevoe -- Sun, 02/14/2010 - 19:05

Steve, while the specs might suggest that AWG 16 gauge wire is as good as anything out there, the reality is that there are audible differences between this wire and some of the high end products out there. I would suggest that you do a double blind experiment in the comfort of your own listening room. If you cannot tell when 16 gauge has been replaced by whatever audiophile cable you choose then you should stop since this would be good enough for your ears. This is how I have chosen cables, interconnects and cords. If I could not tell the difference, then I stopped at that point wherever it was.

Tom Martin -- Sun, 02/14/2010 - 21:16

One reason that listening has some advantages is that we don't always know all the system parameters where basic cable differences might show up. For example, in Steve's 16 ga. example, I calculate that a 20 ft. run would have about a 0.7 db impact in frequency response with some speakers due simply to the voltage divider effect. That is almost certainly audible to some people.That FR difference would show up, in the example I used, at 300 hz, with a smaller impact, but probably audible, at 2500 hz. My point isn't that you will for sure hear this (because your system is different), but that in some systems, with some configurations, a specific wire would have a simple, predictable impact if we knew a) all the system parameters and b) had a complete understanding of electrical engineering. But, in reality, system interactions can be complex and hard for most consumers to predict.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Tom Martin -- Wed, 02/17/2010 - 09:33

Among other things, with the amp to speaker connection you are dealing with much greater variations in impedance on the speaker side of the equation. Those variations interact with amplifier and cable impedances and can noticeably change basic parameters like frequency response.
Similarly, there can be more interactions between preamp and amp due to impedances. There may be other reasons as well.
As a general rule, one would think smaller signals would be more susceptable to cable issues, but these impedance interactions need to be factored in.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

prepress -- Wed, 07/07/2010 - 09:56

This could explain much of what I've heard. In particular, I've noticed differing treatments of organ bass pedals on a particular track I use for these things, "The Strife is O'er" from "For God and Country: Hymns of Joy," a collection of music for brass, organ and percussion.

Paul -- Wed, 02/17/2010 - 15:26

I'll try to keep this short. My previous system was:
NAD T753 surround receiver, NAD C275BEE to drive the mains, Cambridge Audio 840C cd player, B&W 603 S3 surround setup, and a HOST of power conditioner and power cable and RCA and digital cable upgrades. These included Nordost Vishnu, PS Audio Solois in-wall and PS Audio and Richard Gray power/surge/filters.
As I added each cable/accessory upgrade (one at a time) over a few years, I would notice improvements at each step. If there was no improvement, I would return the cable back to the audio dealer where I shop. I am lucky to have a dealer that let's me test drive for a couple of weeks and if no improvements I can return at no cost.
I finally reached a point where the additions of more cable/accessory upgrades did not provide any further sonic benefits for my (entry level) equipment. The equipment was running at close to maximum potential and only a component upgrade would make make much of a difference.
However, as a result of the upgrades I have cabling in place which in actuality is more suited to a higher end system than what I was using.
I have since upgraded my system, and it is now -- NAD C275BEE amp, Cambridge Audio 840E preamp, Cambridge Audio 840C cd player, and PROAC Response D Two speakers, pluse some other digital and analog sources.
For me the addition of the preamp and the PROAC speakers and going strictly 2 channel was a huge improvement, far more than I ever experienced by cabling upgrades. However, the fact that I had upgraded my cables previously meant that I had a foundation in place that is well matched to the newer setup. The sound now is so sublime that I have no interest in further cabling upgrades.
I think that with a much higher end setup, upgraded cables will help but how much difference they make will depend on a host of other factors including room dynamics, and what you are trying to achieve. Cabling upgrades I have found can help with improved dynamics and a "cleaner" delivery of musical detail, but in some cases that might not be what you want. For example, if you have a system that you currently believe to be on the "bright" side, then additional clarity and more detail may make the system unlistenable. You have to know what your goal is when you upgrade your cabling. Are you simply looking to get full potential from your system, or are you trying to resolve a problem? If the latter, then you likely  need to examine how your components work together, and remove/upgrade the component(s) that are creating the issue for you and not spend time trying to find cabling to "fix" the issue.


ldevoe -- Wed, 02/17/2010 - 15:51

I completely agree with your sensible approach to cable upgrading.  You have a very nice system with enough resolution to hear differences among cables.  One point that should be kept up front is the synergy of the source components.  I have found that trying to assemble components from a single manufacturer as long as the quality is good results in the smoothest integration since audio companies design these units to be used together. Mixing and matching components of different brands is a bit of a crap shoot and definitely requires the ability to audition them together.  No cables that I am aware of will fix impedance mismatches or correct for incompatible voicing.

blackfly -- Wed, 02/17/2010 - 20:40

I use Audioquest cables, Pythons to be exact.  Not very expensive but shielded and good contact.  My system is reasonably expensive.
Using the cable as component theory I should spend more.  But my sound is clear, clean and robust.  I get no interference and find with the amount I have spent on the cables and IC's (about $700) is sufficient.  Cabling and IC's that are THOUSANDS begins to reek of profiteering to me.  I cannot afford them, and only if I had the ability to do so would I.  I have a 2 year old Bryston 14B SST.  It has a stock cord from Bryston.  So you are telling me that a amp that is about $7K is packed with an insufficient power cord?  Do you not think Bryston, having spent all this time on the amp, would then skimp on the performance with a substandard cord?  Not likely.  The amp is intended to be used as rated with this stock cord.  I find it funny that the $300 I spent on the AC wall upgrade to dedicated 20 amp mains was substantial, and NO amount of cabling could of given the same result as the improved wall receptacle.  The dedicated circuit opens up the amp tremendously, and the soundstage, imaging and clarity is much better.  I am use to it now but it really was night and day different.  But for only $300 and a few beers an electrician did more than ANY cable could of. 
Or how many terminate the unused RCA inputs on their preamps?  I tried the Cardas caps and they were junk; they stopped nothing, but old ones, the type with the pin in the centre, stopped all leakage and noise.  I paid $10 for enough to fill in the back of my preamp and I get cleaner, clearer sound than what any cable could.  I tried to find them at local audio shops and only one, the store I bought my Bryston from, had the Cardas types. 
I think most have a hard time getting past the fact IC's and cables are simple; wire, shielding, insulation and yet can cost several hundreds, or thousands, of dollars per foot when in practice they are easy to make.  Components on the other hand, need machining, electric parts, capacitors, powersupplies...  I can see why so many get their backs up at high end cable pricing when actually it is the entire high end pricing that is outrageous in most cases.
But I admit it:  I would buy better cables if I could afford it and no more money on the actual rack components and speakers would do anything.  But I do not think of them as critical as there are so many other things that are cheap (and free) that can affect and improve the sound more. 

rwortman -- Thu, 02/18/2010 - 22:44

If you want some interesting reading go to the US patent search website and enter Brisson; Bruce as a search term.  You will come up with the MIT cabling patents.  You may even choose to believe what you read provided you have no electrical engineering in your background.  Here is an example that I believe covers current designs.  There are no references in any of the patents to "poles of articulation"   That seems to be a marketing invention.  It should also be noted that the only qualification for a patent is uniqueness, you don't have to prove that anything works as described or otherwise.  patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser  It is interesting to note that he seems to think that a normal speaker cable "pre-emphasizes" high frequencies which a series inductance and shunt capacitance will not do and says that his networks make the manufacture of high performance audio cables LESS expensive.   There is another patent in there for a cable using multiple conductors, some of which will carry the high frequencies and others the low.  This seems to be a common bit of magic since  many cable makers claim this and none of the cables in question contain any method of sending the respective frequencies up the right wires.  This is one of my problems.  There may be some actual advances in cable construction out there but no one seems to be telling the truth about any of it.   Just once I would like to hear a cable maker say " We tried a crapload of different configurations and this one sounded the best.  We have no earthly idea why."

Tom Martin -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 10:49

Check out the article I mention below. It seems to say that separating high and low frequencies looks like it has measurable benefits. The method for this, at least in bi-wiring, is to use the crossover to do the separating, I believe. I know others who believe this is hooey (does nothing meaningful).

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

rwortman -- Sat, 02/27/2010 - 00:28

I was referring to single speaker wires that have specialized wire sizes, coatings, or other things within the same cable that are supposed to be optimized for different frequencies with no explanation how the audio signal is supposed to decide which wire to flow in. I am pretty sure if you strip the "high frequency" strands out of any popular litz bundle type of speaker wire, plug them into the wall, and hold one end in each hand, the low frequency signal will still get through and electrocute you. More the point that if you accept that speaker wires are important, anyone with a bit of electrical engineering knowledge would also know that most of the explanations written about how they work are nonsense. That leaves the skeptic wondering if the manufacturer really doesn't know how they work or is telling lies to sell cable. Neither leaves one with a warm feeling.

blackfly -- Fri, 02/19/2010 - 21:30

I know a thing or two about patents.  All you need to prove is that your idea is original and hereto unknown.  Not necessarily that it does anything.
I am curious to know if ANY of the effects REALLY high end wiring can be achieved with a simple 10 band EQ.  I find it funny the high end talks about "this amp being clear and defined" on the highs or another "robust on the bottom end" when a 3dB boost by and EQ can do the same thing.  It seems to me that the high end expects the COMPONENTS or CABLES to do the EQ'ing for them rather than buying a good quiet EQ to do the same thing.  At MUCH cheaper pricing.  But then I remember that the high end is rife with ego, and an EQ would suggest that something is either wrong or amiss. 
But so long as people pay for it there will be those who make it.......
Funny that the magazines push high end cables and routinely promote through acceptance of ads for such cables.  Coincidence?  Not at all.  Moreover, if I were able to get MIT Oracle cables at "special pricing" like some reviewers I would be glowing too.  I think this is true of all high end gear.  But outside of those who have the most to gain by the sale of high end cables I do not hear much promotion. 

prepress -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 05:45

In my own system (which is where it counts ultimately) I've noted that cables make the most difference the further down in the chain; that is, from preamp to power amp and from power amp to speakers. I've not heard anything much different from source to preamp.
Each change from preamp to amp (Tara Labs Quantum 4, Kimber Hero, Audioquest King Cobra) produced a difference in how things sounded—particularly the low end.

blackfly -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 21:10

I might explore this route in the year. I might try some BETTER cables in the "critical" parts of the path (pre to main, or source to pre to main) and explore this. But I will NOT spend more than $300 for a set of cables, and in my system they must be 6 foot.

rscofield -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 10:15

If you want to keep radio shack wire in your system then do it.  We can each choose to spend our money as we please.  I an quite happy with the sound of MIT cables and PS Audio power cords in my system.  Some of the claims may be marketing and snake oil, but I certainly heard an improvement in my system when I made the change. Before this I was using a wide variety on cable and interconnects costing less that $500.00.  Ten years ago, I would have never thought I would spend as much as I did on cables, interconnects, and power cords.  However, as the cost of my overall system increased this became a huge weak link.  I tend to believe that most successful businesses are built on good products, and I tend to be skeptical that everyone is trying to take me for a ride.  However, shady claims do exist.  The one I fondly remember is the clock that reduced line noise.  Never heard it, but I was skeptical on that product.  Vote with your wallet. The choice is yours.  Bob

blackfly -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 21:16

I think foremost that you assume I am using (or anyone else here) from using radio shack cables. I STILL have my original pair from RS and they have given up the ghost. The housings are cracked, and one pair has simply stopped working, despite good care.

But you must remember that for many, perhaps most, that expensive cables are the LAST resort to explore, and not the first. As I said, a $300 bit of work on your electrical feeds to convert to 20 amp mains will do FAR more than any cable can. But that is not to say a "reasonable expendature" would be worth it IF nothing else could be worked on. For example, in my own system, I would like to get the new Bryston BDA 1 to upgrade the CD player, and the current internal DAC is not slouch. But I would spend the money on a component before a cable.

Tom Martin -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 10:40

It is worth reading the first article posted in our cable data thread:
I have no particular axe to grind here. Basically, on one hand I'm bothered by the way cables are marketed (and the lack of goals or explanation for how those goals are pursued), but on the other hand I acknowledge that the system interactions are complex and I've learned to generally be empirically-oriented (rather than theoretically).
My read of the article referred to above (assuming the technicians didn't make basic science mistakes) is:
1. It is fairly easy to measure signal differences caused by cables in actual audio systems. This at least suggests that the differences that people hear between cables might be real.

2. We tend to focus on the parameters of the cable, say they are simple, and reject point 1 as if the cable were simply a pathway. But the article makes it quite clear that we have to think of the cable as part of the component circuitry. I like the thought experiment "I'm going to add some resistors, capacitors and inductors to you amplifier, how do you feel about that?". My answer is "Now I'm not so confident that the cable is meaningless."

3. Taking into account the meaning of point 2, we have to allow that the differences that a given cable makes will be hard to generalize. As an example, you have different speakers and amps than I do (in all probability), so if the cable is "in circuit" it is hard for me to say that its effect in my system will be the same in yours.
Two final thoughts. First, rwortman makes the very good point that even taking this into account, we have no indication that creating cables that work with a given system is a costly endeavor. Second, I will simply add that we don't know that it isn't expensive. If you assume that low RCL values minimize interactions, it could be that getting all those values to be low over realistic lengths requires costly materials and costly geometry (the general cable manufacturer's claim). If you assume that special RCL values work in certain circumstances, then cables are like custom suits -- and custom is usually costly. Costly here is amplified by the margin structure of a niche, high-service distribution system (the one that will let you try cables in your own system). If you assume that RCL values don't matter, then you save some money. If in this latter case, you are bugged by how other people spend their money, you should distract yourself by buying some new music.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

ldevoe (not verified) -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 14:23

These are very good and sound points. Given the subjective nature of how cables change the sound of any system,assuming one does not measure the changes in audio output, it makes the issue of cable reviews even more difficult. Reviewers will often have equipment that differs from that of potential buyers. Further, comparing cables is difficult unless there is a switching network (which introduces other effects into the system). Therefore, they must rely on auditory memory which is notoriously problematic and suffers from irreproducibility.
Few audio component manufacturers also make cables which are specifically designed for their equipment. When possible, I have asked equipment designers directly what cables they used for their equipment testing and refining. Even this additional step may not be entirely helpful since their other sources may differ considerably from those of buyers.
At the end of the day, cable purchasing is a trial and error process, hopefully abetted by retailers who will allow borrowing and comparing at home.

ScottB -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 17:07

For an example of what minimizing the reactive electrical components (CL) of a cable can do to production costs, see the Shunyata cables, which have to be hand wound to create their particular "Helix" design geometry:


Tom Martin -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 17:12

We should just add the possibility that cables are expensive "non-tone" controls. What I mean by that is that it is possible, in the scenario where low RCL and EMI properties are hard to engineer, that the values that create lower distortions are the expensive ones. Said another way, it is not axiomatic that the expensive cables alter the system more than the inexpensive ones.
I refer to distortions here because I thought the article in the data cache claimed to measure different transient distortion levels, not just FR differences (though FR alteration is a distortion). I might be mis-remembering.
Your idea of an interface standard is interesting. As I gaze out at 6 (non-standard) remotes sitting on my coffee table, I'm not optimistic, but one can always hope.
If you are bugged by the nature of reviews of cables, I'd suggest that you start another thread quoting specific reviews and articulating how they are or aren't helpful. The OP asks another question (which I think has been a useful thread). Similarly you could start a thread on whether the observation that expensive gear makes meaningful differences in music reproduction is built on the assumption that if you have a low cost system you are deaf or have a bad system. I will say for the record that our editors do not believe that there is any correlation between system cost and either deafness or suckitude. At least above some threshold level, like $500.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

blackfly -- Sat, 02/20/2010 - 22:03

If you really think cable cost is directly related to manufacture or research then explain how speakers, at equal pricing, can have MUCH MORE research dollars expended on the cabinet, drivers and crossover and, most importantly, MATERIALS, and effect the sound FAR more than cables?  When one actually examines the cable "issue" it becomes clear:  R+D is purely bunk, and the cost of manufacture can only be justified if all the work is done PURELY by hand by one man, negating cost of scale.  Moreover, I venture to guess that the R+D is bunk on its face in that it is WIRE going from one component to another, and does not need a new circuit topology, power supply design, driver design, crossover design....  When one really examines it all, the questions really add up and are not "attacking the religion" but "attacking the truth".
And if I am so wrong, why is it that Robert Harley, the chief "defender of the faith" has not piped up here?  Where has RH's glowing review of the obscenely priced MIT cable that "gave a jaw dropping increase in resolution, detail and bottom end weight"?  Perhaps we are asking a "taboo question".  But I think I speak for many, and those outside of the industry that the cable proponents are simply being led to water and made to drink.

Tom Martin -- Sun, 02/21/2010 - 11:43

Let's assume for a moment that RH is an honest guy and reports what he hears (I know him pretty well and I promise that is the case, so the assumption isn't that mind-bending). At the same time, let's say RH (and other reviewers too, but you brought up RH) really really likes music and values deeply its accurate reproduction. That, in my experience is also true. Now, let's say the MIT cables, in his system, make a small but musically meaningful difference in approximating the absolute sound (as described in his review and your quote). I can understand how he would be impressed and excited about this discovery, and want others to know. I have talked to many readers who do want to know.

The distinction we have drawn many times, and one whose expression merits continued refinement, is between "obviousness" and "meaningfulness". We readily say, as background to what we do, that we care about subtlety and are on a quest to identify subtle but meaningful improvements.

We also say, though this too merits repetition and refinement, that we do not attempt to (nor can we even if we wanted to) determine two key things:

1. How a given reader should compute the value equation -- it is your money and your musical experience and your life (and there are excellent products at almost every price level, so rational people could make very different choices)

2. Exactly which approximation of the absolute sound will bring you closest to the music

So, if there is a "faith" here it is a faith that values a) the music experience and b) the quest to approximate the absolute sound, subtle step by subtle step. The faith has nothing to do with cost; in fact, to a reviewer we would prefer that the cost be low rather than high.

We have also learned over time that we are not in an ideal position to assess business models or engineering theory. So, we have chosen to be empirical about our work. Many arguments rest on some logic that says what we hear can't be true. I think that is true of blackfly's "R&D is bunk" argument above. To which we strongly suggest: review points 1 and 2 above, aka try it for yourself -- you are the judge.

Because we review high (and low) priced gear, and some of it is very good, I know we can be seen as advocates of expensive stuff. But that is a misreading. Any positive coverage of expensive stuff isn't coming from some theology of glitz, it comes from the experience of equipment in the context of the philosophy outlined above.

Hope that helps. Also note that if you are annoyed by the presence of expensive gear, stick to The Perfect Vision and Playback sites. They rarely step into the stratosphere.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

blackfly -- Sat, 02/27/2010 - 21:11


I happen to live in Vancouver where the Olympics are thus the absence of a speedy reply.

First of all, I can assure you that in the future I am going to be far more able to afford expensive gear than you. I can guarantee it. Do not insult my already $40 000 system by suggesting that I go to low cost mags. That on its face insults me. Moreover, I did not spend over $7000 on an amp (Bryston) simply because I could. I did so based not only on sound but practical matters; something cables clearly miss. The Bryston has a 20 year warranty. I wonder what cable company can boast that. Your assertion of the fact that there is a "theology of glitz" is simply a copp-out. Name me ONE endeavour, of ANY type where the most expensive of the genre has been shown to be a complete fraud/waste/ripoff. None. Why? Simply because in most endeavours the higher cost can be shown in some way justified. Porsches are better cars, with better engineering, thus better performance. Ditto for boats. Gems have rarity, as does art. But in audio this is not the case.

Pure copper wire can be had by anyone. What they do with it from there is totally diverse. But you Tom, forget that audio plays on human pyschology, of which I know something, and since nothing can be proved in a concrete matter (convienent) like the clarity of gems, 0-60 times or pitch stability (of boats) audio can basically say whatever it wants and have NO regress or accountability, from anyone. All amps can spec well but most will agree that after that they will sound different. But there are NO specs for wire, no agreeable ways of knowing any unifying parameters....nothing. On most audio I believe there is a component of "in the ears of the beholder" but an amp can either drive low impedences or not, something we can all measure and agree on. But cables have nothing like this. Funny that RH so supports Tara Labs cables and wire and also owns them. Ditto for Wilson speakers. Makes one wonder if the reviews that are so glowing are self serving for the "deal" they get on gear. I am certain they do not pay retail like you and I would. I would love to get the REAL deal on how many are made, sold and whether the buyers are "simply wealthy" or "hardened audiophiles who worked and saved every penny for them". I doubt such data exists.

I the future Tom do not assume that because someone questions high end pricing they are simply exclusionary. Most get money and means by NOT spending it foolishly and suggesting that anyone who does question something contrary to common thought should "focus lower" is very insulting and demeaning. It is nothing more than racism of a financial sort which is one of the very reasons the high end is a dwindling hobby and people like you suggesting so is one reason why the likes of me have such a hard time defending it to those who know better or just don't know.

Tom Martin -- Sun, 02/28/2010 - 13:37

Sorry, no insult intended.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Tom Martin -- Sun, 02/21/2010 - 11:13

I agree with rwortman that this has been a civil and interesting discussion, so far. I appreciate the fact that he or she encouraged everyone in the OP to try to make this civil and not a entrenched epithet war. Ironically, I now have to simply say that misreading posts and jabbing people in the eye doesn't help if that's really what you want (i.e. if you want a civil discussion). Examples of this are in the two posts above from rwortman and blackfly. I essentially said "it is possible that low RCL values reduce cable distortions, and it is possible that it is costly to make cables of realistic lengths with low RCL values." In case you are not native english speakers, "possible" means "it might be the case or it might not be the case". That is, "possible" does not mean "axiomatic", which can be defined as "universally true". Similarly, in the phrase "if you really think cable cost is directly related..." the word "is" would normally be read as meaning "generally true". "Always"  or "Generally" and "Maybe" are just not the same concepts at all, just like 7 and 3 are not the same number. If you want a civil discussion, you might at least acknowledge the point of view expressed by other posters, and then go on to separately express your opinion (or start another thread).

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

rscofield -- Sun, 02/21/2010 - 13:33

The number of cable manufacturers, the number of models, and the number of people purchasing them may support the fact that audiophile cables are as necessary as any other component.  I can not explain why so many people would be producing them if people were not buying them, and I do not believe that all the purchasers are not hearing an improvement in their system.  If they were not the manufacurers and the market would contract, and we would be seeing less intead of more of these products.

Tom Martin -- Sun, 02/21/2010 - 14:54

I believe you are correct that people are buying cables in reasonably high volume (for the audio niche). I think rwortman's argument was that a) some people may hear differences, but those differences probably aren't improvements or if they are improvements they are expensive given that they're just tone controls and b) some people (especially trained professional reviewers and consumers seduced by their writings) think they hear things that they in fact do not. This could create a sizable market. I would add that we know cables are higher than normal components in profit margin, so dealers certainly have a reason to sell them, perhaps by encouraging a) and b).

That said, I would concur that there is possibility c) which is that (some) cables make real improvements that cannot easily be created another way. That too, would support a market. Note that a), b) and c) can all be true at the same time.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

rwortman -- Sun, 02/21/2010 - 15:11

This is an exactly correct summation of my points. Including C. See my point 3 above. My difficulty is in believing that although C may be true in some cases, it is nearly impossible in this mine field to determine which ones.

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