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?