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The Cable Fable: Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality?

The Cable Fable: Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality?  · 


We’re discussing some crucial circuitry fundamentals and an ongoing debate amongst audio users: Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality?

Ever looked around your home studio and tallied up the amount you’ve spent on audio cables alone? Of course, the result was a staggering amount that could surely have been spent more wisely on synths.

Surely a cable is just a cable? Questions like these will be answered as we look into some important aspects of cable designs and hopefully we can demystify the playing field a little.

Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality?

Balanced Audio Cables

Within any two-conductor balanced circuit, there is an input stage (driver), an interconnected cable (line), and an output stage (receiver). A balanced circuit uses what is known as a differential device as its receiver, which is key to its design.

Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality?
Balanced TRS leads. · Source: Thomann

This differential device only allows the sum of the signal on the two twisted conductor wires to pass through. What this means is within differential mode signals, the difference in voltage between the two conductors will be equal to the signal transmitted by the receiver.

Therefore, if there is equal voltage on both conductor wires, they cancel each other out, known as common mode rejection. The reason this design is so effective comes into play when any type of interference and the resultant noise is present.

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As the noise will be carried across both of the twisted conductor wires at the same time, it is canceled out as soon as you plug your TRS or XLR cable into your audio interface (a differential device). Meanwhile, the audio signal carried on only one of the wires passes through unaffected.

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Although shielding is not a part of the signal circuit within a balanced circuit, it can protect the twisted conductor wires from electromagnetic and radio frequency interference within a balanced TRS or XLR cable.

Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality: Cross section
A cross-section of a shielded cable. · Source: Shein

If you’re looking for durability, flexibility, and protection, cables with braided copper shielding offer the best all-round solution. While cables with threaded shielding are also flexible, they don’t provide the same degree of protection from interference.

Furthermore, you might come across foil-shielded cables which are most commonly used for installation purposes. While the shielding properties of foil are still good, the medium doesn’t offer the flexibility of braided shielding.

Naturally, because cables with braided shielding are more expensive to produce, they cost more. However, now that we know some of the different types of shielding, we know what to look for in the spec sheet.

Cable Capacitance

Capacitance or capacity are terms you’ll often find on the spec sheet of an audio cable, but what makes this an important factor? Well, within an audio cable, the two conductors and their insulation form a capacitance that holds an electrical charge which is measured in picoFarads (pF) per meter/foot.

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Capacitance is an important factor, as it can play a huge role in affecting the character and sonic quality of an audio signal. Some of the factors that affect cable capacitance include:

  • Cable length
  • Type of shielding used
  • Frequency rating
  • Impedance rating

When it comes to recording or amplification, passive instruments like guitars and basses are easily affected by capacitance and it can often change the tone. Most of us would naturally react by simply boosting EQ settings on the amplifier or in a DAW.

However, a cable’s job is to carry a signal in the most transparent way possible. The idea of selecting a cable according to its tonal characteristics is abstract at best. So, if anything, less is certainly more when it comes to cable capacitance.

While manufacturers prescribe different audio cables for different applications (such as recording instruments or mastering), it’s far simpler to seek out the clearest, cleanest signal transmission ever.

Solving the Distance Problem

With all this in mind, shorter is always better when using analogue balanced audio cables. As cable capacitance increases with cable length, how do we solve the problem?

Do Audio Cables Affect Audio Quality? : Audio over CAT5
Audio over CAT5 solutions from Radial Engineering. · Source: Audio University / YouTube

Luckily, balanced audio signals can travel much greater distances without any degradation over ethernet (CAT5). Properly shielded balanced cables become expensive and cumbersome when you’re dealing with great lengths.

In addition, there’s also the obvious risk of losing signal quality. Alternatively, audio over CAT5 solutions allow you to transmit four channels of audio over relatively inexpensive CAT5, CAT6, and CAT7 cables.

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This has become a tried and tested solution for using shorter XLR leads in live sound, broadcast, and recording situations that require signals to be sent over distances over 30 meters (+/-100 ft).

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Verdict: Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality?

Yes, but this doesn’t mean that a more expensive cable will deliver a noticeably superior sound. Rather than spending blindly on the most expensive cable you can find, look at the specifications carefully and ensure you get the right cable for your needs.

While gold or platinum-plated connectors may increase the longevity of a cable, they run up the price tag without affecting the audio quality. As we’ve discussed, by looking at the type of shielding used in a cable and its capacity, we can ensure that we get the right cable for any application.

Watch out for manufacturer recommendations when it comes to cables because they are still businesses. In the Hi-Fi industry, for example, prestigious companies like Gryphon Audio and Chord make a large portion of their revenue on Audiophile-grade cables.

Instead, do your homework and build up your own knowledge base from your own research from multiple sources. This way, you understand the jargon and your next cable purchase becomes less of a wool-pull.

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The Cable Fable: Do Audio Cables Affect Sound Quality?

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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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