Thursday, June 10, 2010

Can Tweaking Your AC Cables Actually Make a Difference?

Electrical engineering-based logic dictates that doing such tweaks shouldn’t make a difference, but does tweaking your AC cables by using higher quality cables improve your hi-fi system’s sound?

By: Ringo Bones

As with the crappy quality freebie analog interconnect cables that most seasoned hi-fi buyers are already familiar with, an overwhelming majority - if not all – freebie IEC AC cords that come free with newly-purchased hi-fi equipment is stifling their ability to display their full sound quality potential. More apparently so when entry-level audiophile AC cords are substituted to the free AC cords that came with your CD player or other hi-fi audio equipment. Inexplicably, major electronics manufacturers seem to be unable to move away from supplying crappy analog interconnect cables and IEC AC power cords with their products.

From an electrical engineering perspective, one can logically deduce that tweaking the last ten feet of your AC mains cables by using higher-spec copper wiring configured in proprietary geometric configuration that results in RFI and EMI noise cancellation shouldn’t make a difference, doesn’t it? I mean the AC power that traveled from the generating plant all the way to your home is not exactly made with copper of 99.9999% - i.e. of six-nines purity. Neither are they ceramic-coated with superconducting “space age” materials nor have Teflon dielectric, and chances are doesn’t have conductors arranged around some mystical geometric pattern. Existing electrical codes around the world specify that 99.9% copper is good enough. Then why does using fully tricked-out AC cables – even those IEC AC equipment entry-level ones priced at around 20 to 25 US dollars – during the last 10 feet of mains to your CD / DVD player and power amp make such a noticeable improvement in sound quality?

I’ve heard the theories before – most are dismissed by “mainstream” / “tenured” electrical and electronic engineers as mere voodoo, but more importantly, I’ve heard the difference. As in greater dynamic range as if the music being played seems to immerse from a blacker background then shining brighter than it did after the generic AC cords had been substituted with better ones. My converted audio-buddies who were mere civilian bystanders – in audiophile terms - when I first asked them to be listening guinea pigs back in the late 1990s had since swore that AC cable tweaking makes a more-than-noticeable difference. Even with a beer-budget version of the test that I have conducted when I replaced the AC mains cabling of my out-of-warranty power amplifiers with well-reviewed entry-level speaker cables.

Yes, even speaker cables of suitable thickness to handle the power demands of the integrated amplifier or power amplifier you intend to use them with had shown a marked improvement in sound quality. After asking a qualified electrician in our neighborhood if what I’m doing violates any existing electrical codes. He says – it is still usually a he even till this day – given that those speaker cables are rated up to 600 Volts AC or DC, it is quite ok to use them as mains cable. He says they may even be safer than existing “zip-cords” oft used as AC mains cabling since these speaker wires contain more copper – i.e. thicker diameter. They are only a few percentage points purer than the copper used in freebie AC cords – 99.9% of ordinary zip-cords versus 99.999% of the hi-fi speaker wire. Can that much purer copper result in an inexplicable increase in sound quality?

If you’re lucky enough to have an integrated amplifier or a power amplifier that still works / you are still using that has already past its warranty and you are confident of your DIY soldering skills. You can try replacing the captive AC cords of your preamplifier, power amp or even the CD / DVD or other front-end with entry-level speaker wire like those from Bandridge, Gale, or Cable Talk that are priced between 1 to 5 US dollars per meter to improve its sound quality. This tweaks works very well with entry-level solid-state integrated amps with old-style captive AC cords, making them sound much closer to budget tube amps made during the Golden Age of Stereo or those 3,000 US dollar French-made solid-state integrated amplifiers.

Another source of cheap AC mains cords that are way better than the freebies that came with your CD / DVD player or integrated amp’s Styrofoam packaging are those IEC AC cords designed to protect against Van Eck radiation phreaking. Remember Wim van Eck, that Dutch computer researcher who in 1985 published the on how electronic emissions from a computer can be eavesdropped? Well, a friend of mine from the US State Department gave me – as in for free - 30 sets of IEC AC cords that formerly used in their computers that are capable of Van Eck Radiation filtering back in 1998 after their office computer workstations were issued “improved” models. Those 30 sets of 1992 Van Eck Radiation-compliant IEC AC cords also improves sound quality of my equipment that takes IEC AC cords. About as good sound quality wise as models priced between 500 to 1,500 US dollars from Electra Glide, Yamamura and even Cardas.


VaneSSa said...

Even entry-level speaker cables now feature those shiny rope-lay weave of 6N-Purity (99.9999%)oxygen-free copper strands arranged in figure-of-eight geometry. Inexplicably, using them as AC mains cable substitutes more often than not results in a much-improved sound quality. Eliminating that "gray" electronic sound inherent in entry-level / under 500-US-dollar integrated amplifiers. I swear this tweak works!

Ringo said...

Too bad this tweak doesn't work on my i-Pod which is now currently used to improve my colloquial Urdu, Pashtò and other Hindustani based language skills.

May Anne said...

I do agree, Apple's i-Pod sure does sound electronic and gray. Any ideas on improving i-Pod sound quality?

Letiche said...

Given that balanced power for technical power applications - as in those fancy AC power conditioners in AV applications - is already recognized in the US National Electric Code Article 530, should there also be a proviso for higher-spec AC cables?