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What matters re: audible differences in sound quality?
post Jan 3 2013, 17:23
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Although Iím sure this information exists in various threads and on other sites, I havenít found a site/thread that is up-to-date and includes a good overview. Thus, can you either point me to some threads/sites and/or verify if the following information is accurate? Of course, if it is not accurate, please do correct and supply appropriate links. Thanks!

In regards to audible differences in sound quality:

What Matters:
Speakers and Headphones
Room Acoustics (if not using headphones)
Length and shielding of certain types of cables, and whether cables meet required specs for the given task (e.g., does USB cable meet USB specs).
For tube amps and/or pre-amps, different tubes will alter the sound.

What doesnít matter:
As long as relevant specs are met (e.g., USB cable meets relevant specs for USB 2.0 or 3.0; HDMI cables have appropriate features for specific usage, etc.), there is not any audible difference in SQ between inexpensive cables/speaker wires and 'audiophile' cables.

What Might Matter:
DACS (clock/jitter issues)

Hi-Rez recordings (have heard rumors, but have not been able to verify that the Boston Audio Societyís double-blind tests that resulted in the release of the well-known ďAudibility of a CD-Standard A/D/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio PlaybackĒ paper were faulty because a high resolution master was not actually used. Also see: "24/192 Music Downloads...and why they make no sense"

USB cables should separate the signal ground from power ground and shield the signal and power connections from each other. For example: iFi Micro Gemini USB cable

Cable Length Questions:
I believe it is accepted that maximum cable run is relevant in regards to digital signals. Recommended lengths:
USB max length is 5 meters
Coax (S/PDIF) is 10 meters.
Cat5/6 ethernet is ~50 meters.

However, I am not sure about the following:
*Digital Audio Cables should be at least 1 or 1.5 meters b/c internal "reflections" can develop, which will increase jitter.
[Edit] FWIW, Just spoke with Blue Jeans Cable, and they said if you can 'hear' the jitter, you have bigger problems than cables; thus get what you need, whether 3 feet or 1.5 meters.

*Some claim that USB cables should also be at least 1.5 meters as well, while others claim they should be as short as possible.

TIA...don't want to waste money, though I might purchase Blue Jean Cables instead of Monoprice or C2G with the thought that although they may not sound any different, they are less likely to break, have loose connectors, etc.

This post has been edited by sawdin: Jan 3 2013, 17:46
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post Jan 3 2013, 19:45
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Ethan Winer has a web page with some good information.

There are some other things that can sometimes matter, such as amplifier power, noise, distortion and frequency response. My home theater system with surround sound and huge speakers (including a pair of 15" subwoofers) sounds a LOT better than my portable boom box. wink.gif

With a (resonably good) digital source and modern electronics, distortion and frequency response are usually better than human hearing. But, if you have an analog source (vinyl records or tape), these can be big issues. Noise can be an issue with amplifiers.

Once the signal hits the speakers/headphones, every speaker/headphone has audible differences in frequency response. And of course, speakers & amplifiers can distort if over-driven.

For tube amps and/or pre-amps, different tubes will alter the sound.
A good tube amplifier can sound just as good as a modern solid state amplifier. It just costs 5 - 10 times as much to build an equivalent tube amp. So, by using 1950's technology, you can end-up with something that sounds just as good as a modern amplifier, at a higher cost and with less energy efficiency! biggrin.gif I assume McIntosh tube amps have no sound of their own, and sound identical to any good solid state amp.

It IS possible to build a tube amp that's immune to normal tube variations. Tubes do vary, and their characteristics change as they age. In my opinion, it's a poor design if changing tubes (or aging tubes) changes the sound (assuming the tube has not "worn-out", died, or is otherwise out-of-spec). If you ship an amp, and the specs change after a few weeks or a few months... It might get better, or it might get worse depending on how the tubes age... The manufacturer has no idea how the amp sounds, and that's just very poor engineering!

But, some tubes amps are designed to have a "tube sound", and sometimes changing to a different brand tube will change the sound. For example, guitar amplifiers are not designed to be "hi-fi". The guitar amp/cabinet are part of the overall instrument sound. A Marshall amp sounds different from a Fender amp, and that's intentional. Guitar players often prefer tube amps, and they often like the way tube amps sound when driven into distortion.

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Jan 3 2013, 19:58
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