Speaker cables that "really" make a difference? - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 19 Old 11-16-07, 09:45 AM Thread Starter
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Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

More snake oil?

I have been looking for some inexpensive spades to terminate my speaker wires for my new Martin Logan speakers and ran across an ad on ebay for some Martin Logan Music Charge speaker cable. Of course I immediately think to myself... uh-huh...

10' pair is $82 shipped...

Then my curiosity is triggered. I asked about these over at the Martin Logan owners forum and was led to the following response from the ebay seller:

Hello again,

OK, well, hmmmm....let's start with basic ideas. Generally speaking, most amplifiers are designed around the use with reactive loads. i.e. Dynamic speaker systems. As such, many popular brands of cables use stranded designs which can work very effectively. The stranding adds a bit of capacitance which loads the amplifier and, in general, results in a more musical sound. (Now, there are exceptions...like early Jeff Rowland amplifiers...but he was way ahead of his time)

Speakers like the Martin Logans or Magnepans are not dynamic. Electrostats and Isodynamics are far more capacitive in loads than reactive. Quite a bit more, actually.

As a result, using stranded cable designs with many amplifiers on these products results in a loss of definition at both extremes and a sort of bump in the low midrange....a sort of Grado phenomenon.

Therefore, I typically recommend the use of solid core designs with such speakers for optimum results. Certainly some designs with low strand counts can work very well...i.e. under 100 but that is a case by case experiment. The results are not price controlled at all but rather strand controlled. Obviously, once the right design is found, quality will matter. Much like diesel fuel...in the right vehicle, its great...in the wrong one and its a major repair bill and no performance.

The Martin Logan cable is a low strand design but not solid core like certain Audioquest. It was designed more for broad based applications of lower quality than you currently possess. Will it be better than what you are using...well, depends upon how your amplifier likes the number of strands in each design tested and if you are listening to the musical performance itself. If you are looking for spacial things on recordings that are multitracked.... I can't help you find things that don't truly exist. Those are fictions and anyone's guess is right.

I sense you listen to music...you picked up on the ML subs speed. Dont' forget to try 270 degrees. You might be surprised.

Well, back to winding down my time here in the midwest. I am leaving the business here and may start anew in Salt Lake City. Few folks appreciate knowledge...most want price. There little room for guys like us.

Lou Hamilton
Audible Elegance
Further responses led me to the following:

"White Paper" by Roger Sanders

Electrostatic loudspeakers (ESLs) are different. The load they present to an amplifier and speaker cables is quite unlike that of conventional magnetic speakers.

To an amplifier or speaker cable, ESLs appear as a capacitor, while magnetic speakers appear as a combination of a resistor and inductor. It therefore is not surprising that cables for ESLs have different requirements than those for magnetic speakers.

The electrical parameters of cables are inductance, capacitance, and resistance. Let's look at these elements more closely and see how they should be optimized for ESLs.

An ESL is driven by a high-voltage, step-up transformer. This transformer is inside the speaker and converts the relatively low voltage of an amplifier to the several thousand volts needed to drive an ESL.

All transformers have leakage inductance. This inductance interacts with the capacitance of an ESL to form an L/C (inductance/capacitance) resonant circuit. This produces an undesirable, high-frequency, resonant peak in the frequency response of the ESL.

It is essential that this resonance be kept in the supersonic region (well above 20 KHz) so that it doesn't alter the high frequency response of the speaker. Since the capacitance of the ESL is fixed, the only way to get the resonance high is to build a transformer with very low leakage inductance.

Designing and building very low leakage inductance transformers that will operate over a wide frequency range and at high voltages is extremely difficult. One of the reasons that some ESLs sound better than others is the design and quality of their transformers.

Inductance is a big problem with ESLs due to the L/C resonance described above. ESL manufacturers expend great effort to obtain transformers with low inductance. So it is vitally important that the cables have low inductance too. If the cables add a lot of inductance to the circuit, they can undo the transformer designer's best efforts and drag the high frequency resonance down into the audio range where it will adversely affect the sound of the speakers.

Inductance in a speaker cable is largely determined by the area between the conductors. Most speaker cables have conductors that run side by side ("twin-lead"). These conductors are separated by a small distance, so have moderate inductance. Therefore, twin-lead cables do not have the low inductance desired for the best performance when driving ESLs.

Some cables use many small wires that are woven together. This reduces inductance greatly, but at the cost of increased capacitance.

Capacitance should be low. This is not as critical as inductance, but it is important.
Remember that an ESL is a capacitor, and amplifiers find capacitors very hard to drive. If the cable adds more capacitance, it only makes things that much worse for the amplifier.

Capacitance is a function of how close the conductors are to each other. So to keep the capacitance low, the conductors must be widely separated. Note that this is just the opposite of what we need for low inductance.

Many cable manufacturers deliberately add a lot of capacitance to their cables. For example, you will find a box at the end of MIT cables, which contains capacitors. Alpha Core (Goertz) cables are made as a sandwich with two ribbon conductors very close together, which produces high capacitance and often, amplifier instability. Woven wires are close together so have high capacitance. These types of high-capacitance cables are best avoided when operating ESLs.

Resistance is the tendency for the wire in a cable to oppose the flow of current. Most cables are designed to have low resistance so that they don't significantly reduce the damping factor of the amplifier.

Some manufacturers deliberately use high resistance cables to alter the sound of the magnetic speakers by both interacting with the speaker's crossover and reducing the damping factor. When the damping factor is reduced, the amplifier cannot keep the woofer under good, tight control. The result is that the bass becomes "loose" and poorly controlled -- although some listeners regard this type of sound as "warm."

In the case of an ESL, it is best to use a medium resistance cable as this will "damp" the L/C resonance and reduce its magnitude. Since the L/C resonance should be supersonic, this damping effect may not be audible. But reducing even a supersonic resonance will make life much easier for the amplifier.

Of course, if the ESL's transformer is poor, the L/C resonance will be in the audio range and damping it with a medium resistance cable will help smooth out the high frequencies.


Sanders Sound Systems cables are uniquely designed to meet the needs of ESLs in three ways. They have low inductance, low capacitance, and moderate resistance. How is this done?

Because the conductors need to be close together for low inductance, but wide apart for low capacitance, simultaneously obtaining low inductance and low capacitance seems impossible. But surprisingly, there is a solution to this problem.

Coaxial cable construction places one conductor inside the other. So electricity "sees" the conductors in the same place. This results in very low inductance.

But what about capacitance? Doesn't a coaxial design place the conductors close
together forming a high-capacitance cable?

Not necessarily. The conductors can be physically separated by a significant distance using a thick, high-value dielectric to produce very low capacitance while maintaining ultra-low inductance.

The resistance is determined by the size and length of the conductor. Sanders Sound Systems sizes the conductors to obtain medium resistance in the typical range of cable lengths used by most audiophiles.

This type of cable design should only be used for ESLs. It is not ideal for magnetic
speakers. To deal with this, Sanders Sound Systems makes a cable that is optimized for magnetic speakers and is described below.


Unlike electrostatic speakers, conventional speakers use magnetism for their operation. Therefore cable requirements for these are different than for ESLs. Cable manufacturers know that capacitance, inductance, and resistance interact with the passive crossovers found in most magnetic speakers and can alter the frequency response of your speakers. So they deliberately juggle these elements to get their cables to make your speakers sound differently than other cables.

Because each speaker design is different, various cable designs will interact with each one differently. So it is impossible to say that any particular cable is "better" than another. All you can say is that you like or don't like the way a particular cable sounds in your room and with your speakers. This fact is the reason that there is so much controversy regarding cables.

Sanders Sound Systems has a different cable design philosophy. Instead of deliberately making cables that will alter the sound of your speakers, we believe that the speaker manufacturer is in the best position to know how to make his speaker sound best. So the cables we sell are designed to NOT alter the frequency response of your speakers. That way you will hear your speakers as their designer intended.

To avoid interactions with your speakers crossover, a cable must have very low inductance, very low capacitance, and very low resistance. We achieve this by using a very large, coaxial cable. As previously discussed, the coaxial design keeps inductance extremely low. The conductors are separated widely, which keeps the capacitance low. We use 10 gauge wire, which keeps resistance low.
Sanders Electrostatic Speaker Cable 12' pair = $600.00

Don't worry, I haven't lost all my marbles yet.

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post #2 of 19 Old 11-16-07, 10:03 AM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Here's a good read on speaker cable. It dispels some myths about speaker wire marketing hype.

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post #3 of 19 Old 11-16-07, 10:07 AM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Sonnie wrote: View Post
Don't worry, I haven't lost all my marbles yet.
i didn't understand all that supposed scientific mumbo jumbo ... but it's good to know we haven't lost you to the "undead" yet.

i either build my own cables and terminate them with the monster quick lock plugs (just a little bit more expensive than radioshack ones)


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post #4 of 19 Old 11-16-07, 10:41 AM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Do you get a Magic 8-ball with purchase?
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post #5 of 19 Old 11-16-07, 11:41 AM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Looks like you're on the right track Sonnie. I went rounds with Gene at audioholics when I bought my speaker wire and he told me all about RLC like what you have been reading above. In the end I found some Monster Cable that really did make a difference in sound but through experimentation I found that on some speakers they sounded no different than cheap old 16 guage wire. I would imagine that the engineers at Martin Logan know what they are doing and if they design a wire specifically for their speakers it's going to be a good bet.
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post #6 of 19 Old 11-16-07, 11:44 AM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Seriously, this is why I get so turned off at the companies that sell the so called better speaker cables and interconnects. If it needs to be explained with so many words that simply confuses the buyer to make it sound like a better product when in the end unless you put the stuff on a scope and run tests in the real world there is no audible difference. Your just throwing away your money

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post #7 of 19 Old 11-16-07, 08:51 PM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

The stranding adds a bit of capacitance which loads the amplifier…
I wasn’t aware that capacitance could load an amplifier...

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post #8 of 19 Old 11-17-07, 11:52 AM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Geezus! $8.00/ft.!!! Makes me wonder about the rest of the Martin Logan price structure.
I know we're all suckers for today's advertising in some way or another . . . . . Sonnie . . . . . walk on by this one even if they are labeled Martin Logan.
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post #9 of 19 Old 11-17-07, 11:58 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Well actually it's $4 per foot if you figure each cable, but even that's a little bit too strong for me.

I'm very confident that I'll just pick up some inexpensive spades like I had planned to initially and fit those on my little ole 25 cents per foot cable. I do have some super stiff stuff... like maybe 10 guage 10 strand wire I purchased from Lowe's a while back. I think it was 60 cents per foot. It's just sooooo stiff and hard to work with. It kept pulling my nanners out of my terminals.

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post #10 of 19 Old 11-17-07, 12:08 PM
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Re: Speaker cables that "really" make a difference?

Sonnie wrote: View Post
I do have some super stiff stuff... like maybe 10 guage 10 strand wire I purchased from Lowe's a while back. I think it was 60 cents per foot. It's just sooooo stiff and hard to work with. It kept pulling my nanners out of my terminals.
Therein lies the argument against overkill.
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