Author: jimarv

Longer Burn In Times For RSX Cables…But Why?

A Plunkett Award Nomination

I don’t know if you were aware of this, but many years ago, XLO™, my former cable company, was nominated for Dupont’s® prestigious “Plunkett Award for the Innovative Use of Teflon”. As a result of this, Dupont® developed an interest in what my, barely-even-tiny-by-comparison, company was doing,  and allowed us the very special privilege of being able to access “test batches” of their full range of “under-development” (Not yet commercially available) fluoropolymers (“Teflon®-variant)  materials or our use.

Just for clarification, “test batches”, for a company of the size of DuPont®, aren’t just a test-tube full, but usually are at least a ton or two of the material under test. For some of the companies who were potential users of those materials, a ton of plastic resin might just be enough for a day or two of evaluation, but for us to make cables out of, one test batch might very well be sufficient for many years of full production, and that’s exactly what we used them for.

Faster Dump Rate

Although those days are long gone, some connections still do remain, and we have been able, once again, to access non-standard fluoropolymer dielectrics for all of our new RSX™ cables. These “Teflon-variant” materials offer a number of important characteristics for the cable-builder: low “dielectric constant” being one obvious one, but the most important may be a faster “dump rate” – the ability to discharge “dielectric-stored signal energy” faster than any more conventional material. One thing that this means for RSX cables is better sound through reduction of the negative effects of “capacitive discharge effects”.

Longer Burn-In Time

Another thing using standard fluoropolymer dielectrics means is that all RSX cables require more (longer) “burn-in time” than cables made of lesser materials – with RSX AC Power Cords taking as much as several days of ordinary use (200 to 400 hours depending on the model) before they achieve full performance. For phono cables – particularly if run with a low-output cartridge – full burn-in may seem to take inordinately long, so the use of a “cable-cooker” is recommended.

An Interesting Use For Our Phono Cables

One person, though, using one model of our new phono cables tried simply using them as interrconnects between a ”line-level” Source and Load, and reports that, even though his phono cable was obviously designed for an entirely different purpose, it still makes a spectacularly good interconnect.

When you get your RSX phono cable, you might, if you don’t have a cable-cooker, want to try this trick for faster, more complete burn-in that might just be possible by playing LPs. And, apparently, you shouldn’t be surprised if your phono cable sounds good, even as a line-level interconnect! Check it out!

AC Power Cords: The Last Six Feet – Do They Really Matter?

With some accessory AC power cords now costing as much as thousands of dollars, it’s no surprise that audiophiles are asking how the last six feet of wire – the cable from the wall to their system — can possibly make an audible sonic difference when the power it delivers might be coming through as much as hundreds of miles of other wire to get to that wall. It’s a good question, and most of the companies that make those accessory cables still haven’t come up with a good answer.

In fact, though, the answer is quite simple: The current that our audio electronics run on isn’t the AC that comes out of the wall; it’s positive and negative DC made internally, out of that AC, by the power supply section of each of our components.


Light bulbs, toasters, other home appliances, and the AC motors used in some of our LP turntables and CD or DVD players do use AC as it’s delivered by the power company. The electronic components of our audio systems, however, take the power from the wall and change it — from AC to DC of whatever voltage and polarity may be required for the specific task at hand.

The AC current coming from the power plant alternates (changes direction from positive to negative current flow and back) 50 or 60 times a second, depending on which country we live in. That frequency, plus whatever other frequencies and irregular current surges or reductions may be imposed onto the AC power as “noise” (EMI and RFI) or the effects of other uses of power along the way to our homes is what comes out of the wall.

The DC created by the power supplies in our equipment, though, is, at least theoretically, at zero frequency – either continuously positive or continuously negative, varying, if at all, only in voltage and relative current availability. The process of creating it (rectification) cancels-out and eliminates most or even all of the accumulated effects of travel from the generating plant to our homes. To the extent that its effect is canceled-out in the rectification process, even the most extreme distance from the power plant or the most extreme level of induced power line noise becomes irrelevant, and the only thing that really matters is what happens in just that last six feet of wire.

Electromagnetic Fields

To understand why this is true, it’s important to know that every current-carrying wire (the wires of an AC power cord, for example) creates and, for as long as current flows through it, maintains an electromagnetic field around it that has no dimensions other than its point of origin, and extends to infinity, diminishing in field strength or intensity in accordance with the Inverse Square Law.

Normally, the Inverse Square Law for fields is stated as: “The intensity of a field declines as the inverse square of the increase in distance from its source”. This means that the field intensity at any two units of distance (two feet, two meters, or two miles) from the field’s point of origin (the wire, in this case) will be just one quarter of its intensity at one same unit of distance. What’s easy to overlook, though, is that the same thing also applies in the opposite direction: The intensity of any field at any one unit of distance from its point of origin will be FOUR TIMES GREATER than at two units of distance, and it will continue quadrupling every time the distance is halved.

What this means is that the effects of fields get very much stronger the closer you get to the field’s point of origin and very much less as you get farther away. This is important because every time a field collapses, it induces current flow in every grounded conductor within its limits, and with all fields extending to infinity, every conductor in the universe is within its limits!

That’s the principle behind radio and television: a collapsing field from a transmitting antenna induces current flow in a receiving antenna and, voila, you’ve got music or the evening news! And the thing that makes it important to our audio systems is that before the AC to power your system gets rectified into DC, the alternating current in your wall and in your power cord is changing direction (in the US) 120 times every second (60 positive phases plus 60 negative phases) and that every time it changes direction, the electromagnetic field surrounding it collapses, inducing out-of-phase current flow in every grounded conductor (all of your components and other cables and power cords) within range.

What’s The Range?

So…what’s the range? On the one hand, out to forever, but, on the other hand, because of the squared-rate-of-decline-with-distance, only a few feet. And the very greatest effect (the greatest induced current-flow in other conductors) will be to the wiring and electronics closest to it – in short, your own system.

That’s the most important reason why AC power cords need to be shielded – not to protect the incoming AC current from distant external interference getting INTO the power, but to protect the system against damaging electromagnetic interference getting OUT of the cable and into your system! (Again, the last six feet)

What We Do That’s Different

Every reputable accessory AC power cord is shielded – including the high performance AC power cords from RSX. RSX goes much further, though.

  1. Minimize Capacitive Discharge Effects: Every RSX AC Power Cord is designed to minimize capacitive discharge effects, (a phenomenon first discovered by RSX’s Designer, Roger Skoff, more than twenty years ago), which can result in clearly audible signal cancellations or even the creation of out-of-phase artifacts at or near the “zero” line of each change of signal polarity.

  2. Demand Coupled™ Design: Another RSX exclusive feature (and reason why that last six feet is so important) is “Demand Coupled Design”. This does something no other cable brand is known to do, and, recognizing a basic fact of the incoming AC power, integrates it with the power demand curve of each component under power to produce faster signal rise-times, less hangover, greater definition and clarity, and cleaner, “punchier” dynamics.

So, does the last six feet really matter? RSX strongly thinks it does and you can prove it for yourself. Audition RSX cables in your home for 60-days risk-free. Hear the music…not the cables.

The Mysterious Dr. Tezukuri

As published in the The Absolute Sound on May 5, 2016

Roger Skoff, founder of XLO Electric™ and now the CEO of RSX™ Technologies, Inc. is a serious audiophile and world-famous cable designer who also happens to have a playful side. This came out when he had a need to avoid disclosing his identity prior to launching XLO. In this fun and fascinating article, Roger details how he created this mysterious persona.

Though XLO Electric… the high-end audio cable company that I founded… will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2016, I’ve actually been building hi-fi cables since I was a kid. As I’ve said in print many times before, I became a Hi-fi Crazy at just twelve years old, when my father and I went with one of my father’s friends to Emmons Audio in Studio City, California, one night in 1964 to help him pick out a new “component hi-fi set” (which was what such things were called in those days.)

That was the first time I ever actually heard good sound—especially bass (not just deep bass, but bass of any kind from any source), and, as you can tell, that experience and good sound in general have had an important influence on the rest of my life.

Those cables that I built back then weren’t made because I had any pretensions as a cable designer. The two principal facts behind them were: First, as near as I can remember there weren’t any commercially made audio cables available at that time, and I needed some for my system; and, second, even if there had been cables available, as a teenager and not a wealthy one, I couldn’t have afforded to buy them, anyway. Kids then, just as now, had no money, so, like everyone else—and certainly like all of us kid audiophiles of the day—I built my own out of nickel-a-foot Belden microphone cable and two-for-a-nickel cardboard-dielectric “tulip” RCA connectors. I was perfectly happy to do so because, like a great many people even today, I thought that “wires is wires,” and believed that any other claim could, at best, be only fantasy or wishful thinking.

I continued as a boy Hi-fi Crazy all through high school and into college, where other interests (girls, motorcycles, and my studies, although not necessarily in that order) pushed my hi-fi hobby into the background, and I proceeded on into the business world, where, for a while, it disappeared entirely. Finally, though, in the mid-1980s, I had been successful in business, gotten married, bought a house in a nice community, and was ready to get back into hi-fi with a fine new system.

As part of my shopping for that, my wife and I went to Jonas Miller Hi-Fi in Santa Monica, California, where I ran into my old friend Skip Weshner, a radio broadcaster who may very well have been the man who single-handedly started the entire folk music craze that swept the United States years earlier, and who had, in the process discovered or popularized more new stars (people like Joan Baez, Hoyt Axton, Van Dyke Parks, Bob Dylan, the Gateway Singers, Theodore Bikel, Randy Newman, and many, many more) than you can imagine, in the folk, pop, jazz, and other musical genres. Skip and I had become friends in the late 1950s or very early 60s, when he moved his nationally syndicated, hi-fi-sponsored radio program from New York to Los Angeles, and I, a devoted young fan, had gone to the studios of Radio KRHM, his local station, to meet him.

By the time we encountered him in Santa Monica, however, I had long ago lost contact with Skip, and he and I were both surprised and delighted to meet again. My wife liked him, too, so, after a long conversation followed by a good dinner, we invited him to come to our home for a home-cooked meal, more friendly conversation, and to see and hear my new system.

When he eventually got there, his only comments about the system were that it lacked bass and that he knew of the perfect subwoofer for me, which he would arrange for me to get. That was how I met Tony DiChiro, president of Kinergetics Research, and one of the very sharpest designers in the entire audio industry.

Tony, just a few days after Skip’s visit, came out to deliver an early pre-production pair of Kinergetics subwoofers (still, IMHO, among the very best ever made) and, in the process of hooking them up, noticed that I was still using my ancient nickel-a-foot Belden cables and, saying that he “just wanted to show me something,” went out to his car and brought back a pair of the cables that Harry Pearson had long been touting as the supreme “hot setup” that he used in his own personal system.

When he wanted to plug the new cables in, I told Tony that he could, but said, outright, that I expected nothing and thought that fancy cables were nonsense and a pure waste of money.

Imagine my surprise when just changing that one pair of wires made an immediate, clear, and obvious difference that we both heard and agreed on: The system sounded quite noticeably worse in a number of important ways.

That one incident cemented what was to become a longtime friendship between me and Tony, and set us off on an extended search for the perfect cable or, at the very least, the best cable available. The theory was simple: Now that we both knew for sure that cables could make a difference, if one cable could make a system sound worse, there must be others that would make it sound better, and one that would make it sound best of all, and we set out to find it.

From that point on, we both kept on the alert for news of any great new cable, and when we heard of one, Tony would use his influence or industry discount to borrow or buy a pair for us to audition. The first cables I heard that I liked well enough to actually buy were some very good (even today) skinny brown ones from Straightwire. The next was the “Cobalt” series from AudioQuest, which I tried but was hesitant to buy because they would have cost me (even in 1985 or thereabouts) some $2800 to re-do my entire system.

Before I bought them, however, something crucial happened that would change things forever: In the course of our friendship, Tony had introduced me to Judy Davidson, along with Enid Lumley one of the two women reviewers for The Absolute Sound. (Possibly the only women reviewers in audio at the time.) Judy lived just a few miles from me and had a system using all-British Naim electronics. Because Naim gear takes DIN connectors instead of RCAs, when someone asked her to review some cables that he had made, which, following the American practice, were terminated with RCAs, she was unable to do so, and called me and asked me to listen to them and give him my report.

I did listen to them, and I did call the designer to tell him that for $69 a pair, their selling price, they were quite a bargain, but that, of course, at that price they weren’t (as they couldn’t be) “world beaters.” He must have expected better, because when I told him this, he sounded thoroughly crestfallen and, to try to jolly him out of it, I told him that I had been trying quite a lot of cables lately and reading all their technical “white papers,” and that I had found very little consistency in the design theories they had set forth. This being the case, I asked him what his design theory was, and he told me that he didn’t have one, but just “dicked with” his cables until they sounded good.

Well, here I was, wanting new AudioQuest cables, but not wanting to pay the $2800 they would cost. What should I do? It seemed, to my even-then near-infinite arrogance, that if the guy I’d talked to could just “dick with” cables until they sounded good, then I must certainly be able to dick with them until they sounded even better—and I wouldn’t have to spend all that money to buy the AudioQuest Cobalts.

And that’s what I did, except that, being me and being an economist, I had both the drive and sufficient math so that—after years of study, nearly five thousand pages of reading, and more than $70,000 (so much for saving that $2800) spent on having custom wires drawn and insulated for me to fabricate by hand into cables to test my theories—I was actually able to figure out how cables work and to build the new interconnects and speaker cables that I wanted for my system. (If you’re curious, you can find write-ups on what I learned about “field-balanced” geometry, “capacitive discharge effects,” and other XLO features in XLO’s “White Papers.”)

Just shortly after that, as I settled back to enjoy my music and the impressed “oohs” and “aahs” of my audiophile friends, Mike Detmer, then President of Stax-Kogyo, USA, the U.S. branch of the company that made the world-class Stax electrostatic speakers and headphones (whom I had also met through Tony DiChiro), called to ask if I would be interested in writing for a new audio magazine called Sounds Like… that was being published by Jeff Goggin, formerly a staffer at The Absolute Sound.

When I said I would, Mike arranged for a telephone interview, followed by a sample article, which resulted in me being offered the job. As part of joining the Sounds Like… team, however, there was one small stumbling block: I was asked to provide a brief bio (no problem) and to describe my reference system (potentially, I thought, a big problem).

The problem was my cables: They were handmade home-brew, and, after I had heard some negative comments from audiophile friends about Dick Olsher being “unprofessional” for using his homemade “Black Dahlia” speakers as his reference while writing his reviews for Stereophile, I didn’t want the same thing said about me. To find a way around this, I called Mike Detmer, told him of my concerns, and asked what he thought. His suggestion was brilliant and proved to be a major turning-point in my career. As President of the U.S. division of a Japanese company, Mike had, over time, picked-up some knowledge of the Japanese language. With brands like Koetsu and others being both prestigious and hugely popular, he said that a Japanese-sounding name should certainly be acceptable, and suggested that I declare the cables in my system to be “Tezukuri” Reference. Because “tezukuri” means “handmade” in Japanese, this should, he told me, be both well-received and absolutely true.

That was what I did in my system write-up, but when Jeff Goggin, coming across a new “brand name” he had never heard of, called me to find out more about it, I couldn’t keep up the pretense: I broke up laughing and had to tell him the truth about my concern over using homemade cables as a reviewing tool. To my relief (and truthfully, surprise) he not only accepted the Tezukuri name, but promised to never tell anyone a word about the cables’ real origin.

That issue solved, I started reviewing and, while doing so, I was finally able to complete the most difficult of all my initial cable designs: the phono cable from cartridge to preamp. Because practically no current, at practically no voltage, must be carried by this cable without distortion or noise with nothing added and nothing lost, it was truly a bear to come up with. Once I had developed one that I was satisfied with and had thoroughly tested it in my own system and those of friends living nearby, I made another one and sent it off to Tom Miller, another reviewer for Sounds Like… (and, both earlier and later, TAS, as well) for evaluation, still keeping the fact that I had made it a secret.

When I called a few days later to see if Tom had gotten it and tried it out, he told me that he had gotten it, that he had tried it, and that it was wonderful, and launched into a whole series of questions about what the cable was, where I had gotten it, and so on. Sticking to anonymity, I told him that the name of the cable was Japanese (true) and that it wasn’t available for sale in the United States (also true—it wasn’t available for sale anywhere). As to how I had found out about it, I told him that I had heard it at the home of an audiophile Japanese-American neurosurgeon friend of mine. (Also absolutely true—I did hear the cable at the home of my neurosurgeon pal, Bill Tomori, who is a Japanese-American audiophile. Of course, I was the one who had brought the cable there, but that was another issue.) All in all, I tried to answer Tom’s questions as truthfully, but as misleadingly as possible, and to give him as little real information as I could, and we eventually ended the conversation with him saying that he loved the cable and was going off to hear more of it.

At that point, I thought the tumult was over, but that wasn’t what happened: Just a few days later, Tom called me and said (this and all further quotes are rendered as accurately as I can remember, but may not be the precise words spoken): “Hi, I’ve done some more listening to that cable and—don’t know who designed it, but I hope he wasn’t a friend of yours. It’s really pretty awful.” He then broke out laughing. It turned out that he hadn’t been satisfied with the answers that I had given him, and had called Jeff Goggin, our publisher, to see if he could get more information. It also turned out that Goggin, despite his oath to maintain secrecy about the cables, had told Tom everything. (When, after getting off the phone with Tom, I confronted Goggin with this, he admitted that it was true, apologized, and swore, once again, never to tell another soul.) In the meantime, though, I was on the phone with Tom, and Tom suggested that we should play a little trick on Michael Gindi, another reviewer for the magazine.

Just about all of us who wrote for Sounds Like… were unhappy with Gindi: We all played by the rules and waited to be assigned products for review. Not so Gindi. When something new and exciting came out (the Avalon Ascent speakers, for example, or the Jadis Defy 7 amplifier), Gindi would simply contact the manufacturer or distributor and ask for a review sample directly, instead of following procedure and going through the magazine. That resulted in Gindi getting all the good stuff and the rest of us missing out. We didn’t like it. And Tom had an idea for some gentle retribution: What I should do, he said, was to make another phono cable and send it to Gindi, saying in advance that he could only have it for a short while and must return it to me when that was over. “That’ll drive Gindi nuts,” Tom said, “He can’t stand for anybody to have anything really good that he can’t have!”

Before sending the cable, though, Tom said that we must “polish” the original tezukuri story to make Gindi feel even worse when he couldn’t get cables for his own system. To that end, we invented the character of Dr. Tezukuri, a blind Japanese physicist, who, because of his affliction, had developed ears like a bat. The good doctor was the inventor of the cables but, for obvious reasons, couldn’t actually build them, so that task was left to his two sons—one an engineer and the other a sculptor. Both, the new story went, did the actual fabrication of the cables and, perhaps because one was right-handed and the other was left-handed (or perhaps because of their different professional skills and training), the cables made by the left-handed son were said to be better-sounding. As before, the cables were not for sale to the United States, and each one here had had to be individually smuggled out of Japan.

With that new story in mind, I built another phono cable, called Gindi to tell him about it, and, at his request, promised to send him one, but only for evaluation, and only for two weeks. After that, the cable had to be returned to me for return to its actual owner. After the cable had been sent and enough time had passed for him to have received and tried it, I called Michael Gindi and asked him what he thought. His answer (this one, I’m sure, is quoted exactly) was, “I don’t know who this Dr. Tezukuri is, but if he wants his cable back he’s going to have to send his lawyers and a small army.” He continued bubbling over with praise and asking more questions about the cable, its origin, and how he could get one to keep for himself.

I tried to answer his questions as well as I could, keeping to the now-established story, but just as Tom Miiller had done with me, I eventually got to the point where I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and broke out laughing. At which point Gindi leaped on me, demanding the truth, and I—caught fair and square—told him the truth. Once he heard all of it, Gindi insisted that we send the cable on to Myles Astor, at the time another Sounds Like… reviewer. “Serve him right,” Gindi said. “He really loves his MITs—probably sleeps with ’em. This’ll really blow his mind!”

First, though, Gindi, just like Miiller before him, wanted to add his own little bit to the Dr. Tezukuri story: One of Gindi’s contributions was that the reason that Dr. Tezukuri is anti-U.S. and won’t allow his cables to be sold here is that he was interned in one of America’s “Japanese relocation” camps (Manzanar, perhaps) during World War II, and when the war was over and he was released, he left this country, vowing never to return. It was during his time in the camp, Gindi and I agreed, that Dr. Tezukuri developed the basic principles upon which his cables were based, and it was that same epoch-making research that caused him to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics. He did not win, however, and forever-after blamed his loss of that prestigious award and the recognition it might have gained for him and his work on U.S. interference in the Prize Committee’s decision-making process—just one more example, he believed, of American duplicity and another reason for his anti-American sentiment.

Gindi told all of this to Myles when he sent him the cable and, Myles, loving the cable but skeptical, called me to verify the story, which I did.

Over the next few months, more and more Tezukuri Reference cables—phono and otherwise—were made and sent out, always with the same (or at least the latest version of) the Dr. Tezukuri story, until a goodly number of the country’s top audio reviewers had them and were using them and listing them in their reference systems. Then (as I, not being there, have been told), at a meeting of the Westchester Audio Society one night in November of 1990, Howard Mandel (not the comedian, but the designer/manufacturer of the “Altis” line of quite excellent high-end digital electronics), asked Arnis Balgalvis, a member of the club and a contributing editor of Stereophile, if he knew anything about the Tezukuri cables everybody was using, and Balgalvis told him the standard line, claiming no knowledge of them other than what everybody else already knew. At that point, Myles Astor is reported to have said, “There is no Dr. Tezukuri and there is no Tezukuri cable; the cables are made by Roger Skoff, one of the writers for Sounds Like… magazine.”

Apparently Myles had believed neither me nor Gindi about the provenance of Tezukuri cables, and had contacted Goggin, who had (now contrary to two solemn oaths), once again “spilled the beans” about their true origin, leaving Myles—not knowing that Miiller and Gindi and however many others had also received exactly the same treatment—feeling like he had been the victim of something more than just a prank between colleagues, and out to take a long-awaited revenge. Rightly or not, the result of all that was that Howard, who had a reputation as “The Gossip of the Known Universe,” apparently and instantly told everyone on the entire planet that it was I who was the source of the cables that everyone was raving about, and within just a month, by December 1990, I received more than a hundred unsolicited requests from people who wanted to buy cables.

Despite my good intentions to never go into the cable business, that was enough for me to make up a number of samples and bring them with me, in January, to the 1991 Winter CES, where people, learning these were the mysterious Tezukuri Reference cables they had been hearing of for so long but had never actually seen, were eager to try them out and, when they did, either wanted them for their own systems or to sell or distribute. The result was that I left the show with about a dozen U.S. dealers wanting to carry the line and an equal number of foreign distributors wanting to distribute abroad. In the face of such demand, I really had no choice but to go into business.

After changing the brand name to “XLO,” which everybody agreed was both easier to say and more commercial-sounding than “Tezukuri,” I founded XLO Electric Company, Inc. in March of 1991, which means that in this industry where so many new companies appear, shine brightly for a short while, and then disappear again forever, XLO will soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Thanks, Dr. Tezukuri, wherever you are. You done good.

Capacitors, Speakers, Cables and Other Magic Stuff

Well more than half a century ago, when I was a kid, the teacher in my high school Physics class did something I will never forget. Let me tell you about it. Maybe you’ll want to keep it in mind, too.

He Blinded Me With Science

One day, as part of his regular lesson, the teacher (sorry, but after all these years, I simply don’t remember his name) brought out an electroscope—a device for indicating the presence and polarity of an electrical charge []—and showed us how it worked by using it on one of the batteries kept on hand in the classroom for just such purposes.

He then brought out a “U”-shaped thing made out of three pieces of wood, each six or eight inches long, arranged so that one piece formed the bottom of the “U” and the other two were set perpendicular to it, one at each end and pointing upward, to form its vertical “legs.” ( I  I ) Each of those legs was wider than it was thick, and each had been notched at the “top” (across the upper ends of the U, and parallel to the bottom piece) so that it could act as a holder for one of the next two things the teacher took out and set on the demonstration table.

Those were pieces of (probably) one-inch dowel, each about four or five inches long, to which a thin metal disc, perhaps three or four inches in diameter, had been attached across (perpendicular to) the end, (—I) and which had been drilled-through axially, so that an insulated wire could be soldered to the disc at one end, passed through the dowel, and have a couple of feet of slack hanging off it, with an alligator clip at the other end.

It Gets Interesting

That’s when it started to get interesting: First the teacher picked up each of the dowel/disc/wire assemblies (from this point on, let’s just call them “handles”) and, holding first the disc, then the dowel, then the wire and alligator clip next to the electroscope, he showed us that no part of either of the two “handles” or their attachments was charged. Then he set the two handles onto the notches on the upright Legs of the U-shaped “frame” in such a way that the dowels were in the notches; the two discs were facing each other, perhaps an eighth of an inch or less apart (—II—); and the two wires were hanging-free of the dowels pointing in opposite directions, with their wires loose on the table.

Stored Electric Energy

Finally, he touched the two wires from the handles to that same battery that he had used before and re-checked for charge. Sure enough, the “handles” (or at least their discs and wires) were charged, which he explained by saying that the two discs (the “plates”) separated by the non-conductive air space between them (an air “dielectric”) had formed a capacitor—device for storing energy, which is created any time two (charged) conductors are separated by any non-conductor.

To demonstrate just how much energy had been stored, he then touched the two alligator clips together, and was rewarded with a spark, bright enough for the whole class to see. This, he said, was caused by the release of the stored energy, and proved it by once again using the electroscope to check for charge, finding none remaining.

Things Started To Get Weird

What followed next was when it started to get weird:  First, he re-charged the “capacitor” by again touching the two wires (the alligator clips, actually) to the battery and, with the electroscope, verified that it was, in fact, re-charged. Then, taking one of the handles (—I) out of the frame ( I  I ), he held it up to the electroscope and checked it again. No charge. Then he picked up the other one (I—) and checked it. Also no charge. Finally, he held the electroscope in the space between the two upright legs of the frame, where the gap between the plates had been ( I  I ), and checked that, too. No charge there, either.

Okay, we thought. The capacitor had been taken apart, so there was no more capacitor. No surprise if there’s no charge, right? It seemed only reasonable; but when the teacher re-assembled the capacitor and, once again, touched the two clips together, there was another spark! Amazing!

Where had it come from? Where was the energy stored if it wasn’t in any of the previously known-to-be-charged parts? Could it be in the air in the space that had constituted the dielectric between the two plates? That didn’t seem possible because the air, being fluid, was constantly circulating through the room—including through the space where the gap between the plates had been—so that, if it had been the air that was holding the stored energy, it would reasonably be expected to eventually disperse throughout the room and be lost to re-capture. That that wasn’t the case was proven by the last part of the teacher’s demonstration.

For that, he once again re-charged the capacitor and once again took it apart. This time, though, he had two of the students carry the two “handles” to two opposite corners of the classroom and leave them there until just before the end of the class period.  Then he had them brought back to the demonstration table; re-assembled the capacitor; and again touched the alligator clips together, getting once again—even after all that time—a spark that seemed fully as bright as before.


Magic Applies To Our Audiophile Hobby

But magic that applies directly to our audiophile hobby: Remember what  I said before about any two charged conductors separated by any non-conductor being a capacitor? Well, if you stop to think about it, it should be obvious that it’s not just things called “capacitors” that are capacitors:  Electrostatic speakers, like Quads, Martin-Logans, my own favorite, Acoustats, and others are capacitors, too. (The stator(s) [fixed grid(s)] and the moving diaphragm are the “plates”, which are separated by an air dielectric.) And so are all of the cables, both power and signal-carrying, throughout your system.

Where this is significant is that, in our hobby, where debate among audiophiles is often about not just which component or other system element is better, but about whether it makes any difference at all, cables are among the most hotly argued items.

Ears, Measurement And The “Placebo Effect”

Many (including me) believe that they obviously do make a difference and urge us just to use our ears to decide for ourselves. Others, citing “placebo effect” and other such psychological phenomena as support, declare that hearing, unless it’s under “double-blind” conditions, is not to be trusted and claim that, unless something can be measured, it simply doesn’t exist.

The engineering-types among those latter usually contend that the ONLY things that can affect the performance of a cable (and thus the sound of the system that it’s a part of) are resistance (R), capacitance (C), inductance (L), and the characteristic impedance (Z0) that arises as a result of them. The possibility of influence by any other factor seems to be rejected by them entirely.

What they neglect to realize in doing that is that capacitance, while similar to resistance and inductance in that it is affected by materials, quantity, and spatial (distance) considerations in determining its gross value, also has a strong time component to its effect, which the others, in themselves, do not:  Different dielectric materials not only have different dielectric constants (how much energy they can store per volume of material), but they are also different in the rates at which they can take-on and release stored energy.

Because this energy, once stored, is released back into the signal path out of phase with the incoming signal, either canceling incoming increments of signal or creating out-of-phase discharge artifacts, this is hugely important and is, in itself, proof that cables or any other capacitor in your system can make a difference to its sound.

Different Capacitors Sound Different. Do Cables?

When electronics designers—whether tube or solid state—create a circuit, they not only specify the value of the capacitors to be included, they also specify their type  and dielectric (film and foil, ceramic, tantalum, polypropylene, polystyrene, oil-filled, etc.). That’s because capacitors of different construction, even if of the same value, sound different.

Different capacitors sound different. So do different electrostatic speakers. Why should cables NOT sound different? Once you take time domain effects into consideration and their ability to cause phase shift and the cancellation or addition of signal elements, it would seem to take magic for them NOT to!

Building a New System: Where to Start?

Are you going to put together a new High-End audio system? Start with the cables! Read on to find out why this can give you better sound and save you thousands of dollars, now and in the future.

“The Best In The World”

My name is Roger Skoff. I am a cable designer, and, after selling my former company, XLO, some years ago, I have a new company (named RSX Technologies) that I am in the process of founding, and our products are already being referred to as “The New Best in the World.” Before you immediately leap to conclusions though, and assume that what follows must just be an attempt to sell you something, let me tell you that, at least initially, RSX will have only a very limited line of products, NOT including either interconnects or speaker cables—the cables a person building a new system would most likely to need to buy.

I don’t have a dog in this particular fight, but I DO have inside knowledge that you can benefit from, so keep on reading.

Speakers and Cables: Designed By Experts?

The first thing to know about any system is that, of all of the components going into it, the two least likely to have been designed by an expert are the speakers and the cables:  Anyone at all, with any level of knowledge at all, can take any driver at all or any combination of drivers; put them into any box, or no box at all, with any crossover or no crossover at all; wire it together and hook it up to an amplifier and a signal source, and it will produce sound, and he will be able to declare himself a speaker designer.

Similarly, any person at all can take any two conductors—a 30 gauge Kynar insulated “hookup” wire, for example, and one of the support cables from the Golden Gate Bridge (or a bobby pin and a railroad track)—and arrange them to complete a circuit between one electronic component and another, and they will pass signal, and the person doing it can claim to be a cable designer.

Electronic Components: Designed By Experts!

So how does that matter? Well, consider this:  NO ONE can start hanging transistors, tubes, capacitors, resistors, switches, inductors, and various other electronic components together at random (probably not even that “infinite number of monkeys over an infinite period of time”) and have it turn into a usable amplifier, preamp, CD player, or other High-End audio device. In order to get any such thing to function at all, a person needs to have better than just a “pretty good” idea of what he’s doing or it simply won’t work!

That’s why the difference between the very best possible electronic device and the very worst one that functions may be less than the difference between the very best and worst speakers or cables. And with speakers, the problem is compounded (making your choice of speakers to buy even harder) by the fact that the room that it’s playing in can have an immense effect on the sound of a speaker, with the exact same speakers sounding completely different in different listening rooms or even in different parts of the same room. (Ask Norman Varney about this. He’s an expert on such things.)

So why start with cables? And do cables really make any difference at all?

Cables DO Make A Difference

Let’s take the second question first:  Yes, they do! Even though there’s on-going controversy about it on nearly every one of the Hi-Fi sites on the social media (and in the print media, as well), the fact of it is that, despite many of the engineers or engineers-manqué among us declaring that cables don’t affect a system’s sound, and saying that the only things about them that matter are resistance (R), capacitance (C), and inductance (L), the truth is that cables are—from a physics and field-theory standpoint—wildly complex, and it’s fiendishly difficult (and expensive) to get them to NOT have any effect on the signals they carry.

That’s why cables are so difficult to properly design; why they’re so important to the sound of your system; and why, in putting together a new system, cables are the place to start. (If, incidentally, you’re interested, you can see why engineers are so often wrong about wire by reading my article “Electrical Engineering and the High-End” in The Absolute Sound, March, 2015.)

The Job Of Cables

Unlike any other component of an audio system, cables’ only job is to carry the signal from one place (a preamp, for example) to another (an amplifier). In doing so, anything at all that they do to it, other than to simply pass it along, is problematic:  If there are signal losses, that’s bad—they’re not letting you hear all of the exquisite detail that’s on the recording and that you have paid so much to buy great components to reveal for you. If they add anything (like hum, noise, or capacitive discharge artifacts from poorly designed or selected dielectrics [the cable’s insulation]) they’re also keeping you from enjoying your music to its full extent and, again, keeping you from hearing all and only the performance of the other gear that you’ve spent (or will spend) so much to buy. Similarly, any change at all to the signal—from its source (the phono cartridge, CD player, tuner, streaming device, or whatever else), all the way through to the speakers, is distortion and, if the cables are contributing any part of it, they’re not properly doing their job.

Cables Should Be Neutral

What you need cables to be is “neutral”—to neither add nor subtract anything from the signal they carry, and to not change it in any way in the process. And, if you can find some that are (or that you can afford, and that even come close) buy them; they’re the perfect first purchase for your system.

The reason for this is that no matter which part of any system you’re auditioning, you’re not just listening to that one thing: You can’t hear a speaker without cables, an amplifier or receiver, and a source component. Neither can you listen to any other part without all of the others. That’s why a system is called a system: It’s an agglomeration of parts, all of which are necessary to play the music and create the sound you want to hear. And all of it must eventually go through cables at one or more points along the way.

That’s why cable neutrality is important, and why the critics may be absolutely wrong when they describe a cable as “system dependent.” What they mean by that is that usually a cable will seem to change the sound of the system it’s plugged into, and that it will sound different on different systems. That’s not bad; that’s GOOD! Just as, if you pour chocolate syrup all over everything you eat, everything will taste of chocolate, so will a cable that’s “colored” (has a distinct sound of its own) make every system it’s used in sound the same. What you want is NOT that, but the cables that, when you try them on a dozen different systems, the systems have a dozen different “sounds.”

Audition Cables

And that’s exactly how you can find out which cables are the most neutral:  Get hold of a bunch of different cables, and try each one out on as many different systems as you can. The cable that sounds the most different on the greatest number of systems is the one that’s the most neutral and is the one that you should buy.

Once you’ve got your cables, you can then go into your dealer’s demonstration room and, using them, listen to all of the other components that you need, knowing that you’re hearing those components, to the greatest degree possible, exactly as they really sound.

All Demo Systems Are Not Equal

Beware, though, if the dealer has set his demo system up with a “dark” sounding “Thing A” and a neutral sounding “Thing B”, connected by a “bright” sounding cable, (or any other mix of components where the flaws of one thing are used to cancel out the flaws of another). Adding a neutral sounding cable to a system like that will actually make the system sound WORSE when you put in the more neutral sounding cable. That’s one reason, just in itself, why you should always try cables on as many systems as possible.

If you do that, and if you actually do find neutral sounding cables, and buy them and use them as the basis for your own system, you’ll not only have a better sounding system, that gives you a more accurate presentation of the glories of the music, the sound of your other components, and the interaction of them with your listening room but, when you later buy other components or speakers to upgrade your original system, you won’t have to spend more money on cables. The ones you’ve got will already be neutral and, except to buy some that might be even more neutral, you won’t have to buy any cables at all. You can either keep your cable money in your pocket or spend it on better other components or on improving the acoustics of your listening room.

Start with the cables; it makes good sense and it makes good sound!