In the Defense of Snake Oil & Audio Video Cable.

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Snake oil, a traditional legitimate Chinese liniment, was used for arthritis joint pain.
Its dubious reputation, derived from bogus remedies, contained no authentic snake oil.
19th-century grifters peddled this ‘fake snake oil’ using outrageous false claims.

False claims are not limited to pain relief remedies. All facets of commerce have their dubious remedies. Even our audio/video industry has had its share of modern-day grifters.

However, the audio/video community also includes misguided cynics who have mislabeled good products as snake oil of the dubious kind. They have dismissed groundbreaking achievement.

The Defamed

In that light, I will defend a product category pioneered by some of the most gifted, knowledgeable,
and gracious men and women in the audio/video industry. This list includes Karen and Jack Sumner, Carl Smith, George Cardas, Ray Kimber, Bruce Bisson, Bill Low, and many others.

Their talented minds have put the dual lights of engineering and trained ears/eyes on the longest circuits of an audio and video system; the speaker cables and component interconnects. These extended circuits negotiate the same obstacles as the short circuits of the system’s components. The obstacles include noise, resistance, and the reactant forces of inductance and capacitance.

These pioneers have substantially improved high-fidelity audio and high-resolution video.
I’ll explain how. But first, let’s review the obstacles.

Noise and Unwanted Resonance

Noise is a random sound that masks the sound of the voice and musical harmonics.
In addition, random electromagnetic energy creates noise that distorts/smears audio & video.

As unwanted room noise, electromagnetic noise can bleed in and out of its environment.
For example, long parallel strands of wire in an interconnect or a speaker cable can behave as an antenna that attracts and generates electromagnetic noise.

In addition, similar to problematic acoustical reverberation, impeding electrostatic force within the cable can temporarily trap and randomly release bands of audio out of phase from the balance of the original waveform. Random audio/sound is noise.

Resonance is a function of how electrical inductance plus capacitance responds to fluctuating
low-frequency audio energy, bass. Unwanted resonance creates deviations from flat frequency response.
The result distorts audio. Resistance, inductance, and capacitance are the fundamentals that set the electrical resonance table.

Resistance is a process that converts impeded electrical energy to heat.
Electrical current flows initially along the surface of a wire. As the current increases, it will ultimately penetrate and saturate the cross-section of each conductor. The resistance to the flow rapidly swells and converts the electrical energy to heat. This a great design for a toaster heating element.

Inductance defines a magnetic field that establishes the boundary of an electrical circuit. Though not as tight as an electromagnet, speaker wire and interconnects are coiled parallel circuits that create a magnetic field/boundary. Inductance impedes electrical energy.

Capacitance — An inductive magnetic-boundary stores low-frequency energy as an electrical spring of energy. This spring-like energy impedes low-frequency energy and defines capacitance.
Capacitance impedes electrical energy.

Reactance Resonance Dance

Inductance is the force that squeezes the capacitance spring. Resistance sets the table for each.
The resisting spring-like interaction between inductance and capacitance describes reactance.
When inductive reactance equals capacitive reactance, it produces a ringing peak.
This ringing resonant frequency creates deviations in frequency response – distortion.
This electrical interaction also band-passes, traps, stores, and randomly releases high-frequency energy.
The random electrostatic out-of-phase noise mentioned earlier.


You cannot eliminate noise and impeding resonant forces.
But design choice can minimize distorting effects.
For instance;
• Shielding plus the interleaving of the insulated conductors (twisted pair geometry)
tame noisy antenna effects.
• Many strands of pure copper, silver, or silver-coated copper reduce resistance, which translates into
a better energy transfer.
• Polypropylene insulation infused with air pockets reduces capacitance,
which minimizes the spring-like interaction

The dilemma is each choice affects the other. More insulated strands increase inductance and capacitance, while fewer strands increase resistance. The coiled-like interleaving of twisted pair geometry can shift resonance to an unsuitable frequency. But quality manufacturers work on the problem with the same strategies utilized in speakers and electronic components.

They select a mix of resistive, capacitive, and inductive trade-offs that fulfill their performance goals.
Many augment twisted pair noise reduction by limiting cable bandwidth with a low-pass filter network. Twisted-pair variations can also phase re-align the bass frequencies with band-passed high frequencies.
In addition, a filter network can complement the twisted pair technique to “re-tune” the resonant peak to a less offending audio frequency.

Bottom Line

If unwanted resonance or noise can exist in the short circuits of the system’s components, then it also exists in the longer circuits of interconnects and speaker cables.

However, improved interconnects/cables can be of little help if the system components or the room are the prime source of noise and or unwanted resonance. The high-performance goal is to minimize compromise at each link in the electrical path — plus the room acoustics and lighting. Everything makes a difference in a high-performance audio/video system.

Select this LINK for more information — Stereophile’s John Atkinson & Transparent Audio’s Jack Sumner.

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