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  1. #1
    Aging Smartass
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    Audiophile power cables: do they make a difference?

    After tinkering around with the Hi-Fi tuning fuses and discovering that they make a very substantial improvement in the sound of my speakers, I started looking around elsewhere for areas for yet more tinkering, and the subject of power cords came up. I have no experience whatsoever with power cords and was curious as to whether or not anyone at AR does, and what your conclusions might be.

    I made a quick google search, and was astonished at how expensive "audiophile" cables are, and am skeptical that they're worth so many hundreds of dollars, especially since I'd have to replace at least three such cables in my system if I were to take this step.

    So, do any of you have any experience with upgrading your equipment with "better" power cables, and was it worth the effort and expense?

  2. #2
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by emaidel
    So, do any of you have any experience with upgrading your equipment with "better" power cables, and was it worth the effort and expense?
    Oh yes. In fact, extended discussion of that topic is what originally brought me here. I was amazed at how much time and effort some exerted to opine that they had no effect whatsoever. Never mind the fact that none of those opponents ever used one. Details.

    The usual arguments against the value of aftermarket cords run like this:

    1. "There's nothing that can be done to that power cord that's going to have any effect whatsoever on what the power supply inside the component receives and does with the power once it gets inside the "box". Reference: here.

    2. "Let me see, the electric power you receive in your home has been generated many miles away. It is transmitted via copper cables for that distance which can be quite significant. It then reaches your home and traveles throughout your entire home on copper cables. After all this copper electrical transmission you are telling us that the last foot of cable makes any difference whatsoever. Amazing." Reference: here.

    The problem with using theory is that you often lose the forest for the trees. In the first example, Woodman is thinking entirely within the box. He assumes that the benefit is to the component *wearing* the aftermarket cord. Such completely ignores the ability of some cords to prevent the infusion of noise back into the AC line shared by other components. If you follow the thread referenced, you'll find that he thinks that a power cord functions like the hose on a gas pump. Such is a poor analogy since no one drives down the road filling their tank. When I pointed out that some cords use active RC networks, he commented that they were no longer cords. Naturally, he demonstrated his complete inexperience with said.

    The second argument is the more common one. How can the last three feet have any effect after "miles and miles" of cable between your house and the sub station. Once again, narrow application of theory completely misses the points. First of all, I don't find any need to *fix* the quality of the power coming from the grid. [aside: I have noticed recently during the 100+ days here in AR that the voltage has dropped a touch from the usual 117-118 down to 114-115]. The villains live inside my house and have no compunction whatsoever to not spill all sorts of noise either directly into or indirectly via RFI through the AC: computers(3), cable boxes(3), network routers, access points(2), TiVOs, CD/DVD players(6), wireless phones(3) along with any number of computer controlled devices such as microwave ovens, dishwashers, washers, dryers, etc. Many cords serve as effective filters just like a water filter. Yes, Virginia the last three feet can make all the difference in either case.

    I have had discussions with several audio designers on this topic. Luke Manley of VTL recognizes the value and says he provides a basic 16 gauge cord with his products knowing that owners either have or will choose their own. Jud Barber of Joule Electra shares that view. He prefers the Elrod cords. Nelson Pass has quietly upgraded the power supplies and RFI filtering in his X and XA amplifiers. While that is not an endorsement of cables per se, it does acknowledge the origin of the problem they address. He is also the father of many Adcom designs as well. Ole Lund Christensen of GamuT didn't supply a cord when I bought the CD-1. He says he would provide a basic one at no charge, but here again understand the value of aftermarket designs. Here is a notion of his thoughts (follow link):

    Ole's thoughts

    I use a combination of aftermarket cords and power conditioners and find they provide a noticeable benefit. I won't suggest that the differences are profound, but they are there and for me, meaningful. They are largely of the subtractive nature so that the benefits elude some listeners or in some cases, find the noise they filter beneficial to them. The short answer is that power conditioning lowers the noise floor. If you regularly listen to rock music at concert levels, then you would never hear the improvement. They are most easily detected at the low end of the dynamic scale. Previously camouflaged details are now evident. The sweet decay of orchestral bells linger on. Music with wide dynamic swings takes on new passion in the punctuation of the silence. As I have gotten older, I now find the treasure is found at the low end of the dynamic scale, not the loud end. Years ago, I compared a reviewer friend's Kimber Palladians to my Harmonic Technology Magics on my system. Since he favors choral music (has been a bass in the Atlanta Symphony Chorus for thirty plus years), we played Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda by Holst. Here is a piece with ethereal sounding female voice. Articulation and vocalization was rendered more clearly with the Magics.

    So, where do I start? As for cables, I have always purchased them with a money-back trial arrangement. The value differs from installation to installation so that you really don't know how a given cable will work. I've had the good fortune of comparing a number with other audio buddies. At the outset, I might recommend buying an inexpensive conditioner like a $100 Monster unit for use with sources (turntables/CDPs). I wouldn't use them with devices that require lots of current, but they can provide lots of bang-for-your-buck in shielding the rest of the system against the RFI nasties that virtually all digital sources emanate. Alternately, you can make your own cord using industry standard parts. I have one cord based upon Belden 83803 (double shielded fire alarm cable) using Marinco connectors. The recipe can be found here. I use it with my CDP.

    rw

  3. #3
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    THanks for the response. I don't ascribe to either of the theories of the nay-sayers, but I have a real problem with power cords costing thousands of dollars, just as I do a price tag of $3,800 for a pair of 1 meter interconnects.

    Whether I'll purchase new power cords, or try to make them myself (unlikely!) remains to be seen, but at least I know I'll experience an improvement by doing so. Fortunately, the removable power cords on my amp, preamp, and SACD player are all heavy-duty cables, and likely a good deal better than standard zip cord with plugs on each end.

  4. #4
    VIP Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    The second argument is the more common one. How can the last three feet have any effect after "miles and miles" of cable between your house and the sub station. The villains live inside my house and have no compunction whatsoever to not spill all sorts of noise either directly into or indirectly via RFI through the AC: computers(3), cable boxes(3), network routers, access points(2), TiVOs, CD/DVD players(6), wireless phones(3) along with any number of computer controlled devices such as microwave ovens, dishwashers, washers, dryers, etc. Many cords serve as effective filters just like a water filter. Yes, Virginia the last three feet can make all the difference in either case.

    rw
    I agree that noise and interference is number one factor in house AC outlets and should be addressed. But wouldn’t money be better spend on an excellent AC line filter rather than Power Cord that have mediocre filters (granted that PC have a filter).

    And most after market PC don't even have any type of filters. But yet the manufacture brag about how it can improve AC because it use hospital type connectors, it is thick as garden hose or have better insulation material. And yet the most important culprit in AC (noise) goes un-addressed in these PCs.
    Last edited by Smokey; 08-25-2008 at 02:24 PM.

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    Emaidel you can buy an effective power cord from companies like Transparent or PS Audio and I'm sure others for around $200.00.

    What got me started on after market power cords was a trip into the hi fi shop to pick up a multi outlet power conditioner to bring home and try. I thought there could be something there but dismissed power cords. The sales rep gave me the conditioner and threw me a cord as well and told me to try it. I almost gave it back to him but thought, what the heck. I first tried the conditioner I did not like the effect it had on my Krell amp, it took some of the attack away. So I set that aside I wouldn't pay the kind of money it cost if it wasn't beneficial for my whole system. Then I replaced the power cord on my CD player with the aftermarket I was given to try. I just sat in amazement at the improvement. I didn't know how just replacing the cord could do anything but there was no denying the improvement in sound. I then began to rotate the power cord in and out of my other components. Each time there was a noticeable improvement with the largest heard in my phono stage followed by my CD player. I was excited about the improvements I heard. The next day I took the conditioner back, I kept the one power cord and walked out with a Transparent power cord for every single piece in my system. I think that expenditure was a total of at least $1k. So I can vouch for the Transparent. I can also vouch for the MIT Z-cords. When I bought my Linn amp I didn't have an upgrade for that one. I was a bit low on funds and ended up buying the MIT Z used. The power cord made a significant difference in performance of the Linn, I don't know if it was because of the amp being digital or what but that was the best $75.00 I think I've ever spent.

    I don't want to run down a list of improvements in each component but as E-stat mentioned in all was a noticeably quieter background and clearer images of what was being listened to. When I say "quieter", the background was blacker.

    www.amusicdirect.com offer a wide variety of power products and give a 30 day return if you don't think there was an improvement, or not enough. I'd suggest trying one on your CD player first. The same site used to offer a free DVD from PS Audio on the history of electricity. This is a good watch if still available.

    Also, as E-stat has shared there are differing opinions on this and questions as yours normally start a war so the only way you will know for yourself is to try one. Please share your results if to decide to.
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  6. #6
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    But wouldn’t money be better spend on an excellent AC line filter rather than Power Cord that have mediocre filters (granted that PC have a filter).
    In my experience, most conditioners limit the current delivery and thus the dynamics for power amplifiers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    And most after market PC don't even have any type of filters. But yet the manufacture brag about how it can improve AC because it use hospital type connectors, it is thick as garden hose or have better insulation material. And yet the most important culprit in AC (noise) goes un-addressed in these PCs.
    I am certainly not an apologist for all cords, but the ones I use are all double shielded as well. The power amps do benefit from the larger than bone stock gauge.

    rw

  7. #7
    Oh where have ye gone RL?
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    Are the thick power cables that you used to see with older CRT computer monitors double insulated/shielded? I'm never able to find the AWG of the conductors but I'm using one with my Emotiva amp on the assumption that it can handle a higher current draw. Since it was made to be used with an appliance that is a large producer of RFI (EMI?) noise, I'm wondering if it's providing me with at least a small measure of protection as well.
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  8. #8
    VIP Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    In my experience, most conditioners limit the current delivery and thus the dynamics for power amplifiers.
    There is saying in electronic that there is no free lunch. You always have to sacrifice something to gain something else. In your case you seem to sacrificing clean power in favor of more power.

    But in reality, if conditioner is quality made with high power rating, there is no reason to not be able handle power spikes. Usually the weakest link in ac power chain (as far as noise is concern) is component internal power supply itself as it convert AC to DC. If adequate filtering is not done at this stage, you will have noise riding on DC voltage no matter how clean AC is.

    I am certainly not an apologist for all cords, but the ones I use are all double shielded as well.
    Double shielding are effective again higher frequency noise such as RFI, but they ineffective again lower frequency interference such as house hold interference, and noise that is already embedded in AC. That is why line filters are recommended if one wants clean AC power.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich-n-Texas
    Are the thick power cables that you used to see with older CRT computer monitors double insulated/shielded? Since it was made to be used with an appliance that is a large producer of RFI (EMI?) noise, I'm wondering if it's providing me with at least a small measure of protection as well.
    I doubt if they are shielded. But if they are you will have protection from high frequency- not low frequency interference. Since Low frequency magnetic shield effectiveness is directly proportional to shield thickness, one really need a thick shielding to be of any use in low frequency protection.

  9. #9
    Oh where have ye gone RL?
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    Thanks Smokey! Good info.
    Mitsubishi 57732 DLP TV
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    Double shielding are effective again higher frequency noise such as RFI, but they ineffective again lower frequency interference such as house hold interference......
    Concur.
    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    I doubt if they are shielded. But if they are you will have protection from high frequency- not low frequency interference. Since Low frequency magnetic shield effectiveness is directly proportional to shield thickness, one really need a thick shielding to be of any use in low frequency protection.
    "really thick" is an understatement. 2 inches of copper at 60 hz..

    EMI below 1 to 2 Khz is completely misunderstood.

    Cheers, John

  11. #11
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    In your case you seem to sacrificing clean power in favor of more power.
    Sacrifice? I'd say the Harmonic Techs do a fine job of conditioning.

    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    But in reality, if conditioner is quality made with high power rating, there is no reason to not be able handle power spikes.
    At least that you can think of. I find practical experience far more valuable.


    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    Usually the weakest link in ac power chain (as far as noise is concern) is component internal power supply itself as it convert AC to DC. If adequate filtering is not done at this stage, you will have noise riding on DC voltage no matter how clean AC is.
    Okay. The VTL amps have 500 joules of power supply.


    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    Double shielding are effective again higher frequency noise such as RFI, but they ineffective again lower frequency interference such as house hold interference, and noise that is already embedded in AC. That is why line filters are recommended if one wants clean AC power.
    Agreed.

    rw

  12. #12
    VIP Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jneutron
    Concur.

    "really thick" is an understatement. 2 inches of copper at 60 hz..

    EMI below 1 to 2 Khz is completely misunderstood.

    Cheers, John
    Yikes, that is really thick shielding at 60hz. Imagine going for lower frequency protection sheilding

    Since really thick shielding might not be feasible for consumer market, would using cable geometry to our advantage (such as star quad geometry) be a good alternative for protection.
    I know star quad cables have advantage of reducing the EM field around the cable itself as to reduce interference to nearby cable, but was wondering how effective are they against low frequency protection from outside sources?

    I think E-Stat and Rich might also be interested in that answer also

  13. #13
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    I think E-Stat and Rich might also be interested in that answer also
    I'm interested in strategies and materials that provide real world benefits.

    This past weekend, I was treated to hearing a really nice system that uses Nordost Odin speaker and ICs with Valhalla PCs. Incredible "hear a gnat fart" resolution. This is the sound of the source!

    rw

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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    I'm interested in strategies and materials that provide real world benefits.

    This past weekend, I was treated to hearing a really nice system that uses Nordost Odin speaker and ICs with Valhalla PCs. Incredible "hear a gnat fart" resolution. This is the sound of the source!

    rw
    I have no experience with the Odin but a bit with Valhallas. Is the former that much better than the latter?

    Gosh, I've always wanted to hear a gnat fart!
    Form is out. Content makes its own form.
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    By the way...

    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    I'm interested in strategies and materials that provide real world benefits.

    This past weekend, I was treated to hearing a really nice system that uses Nordost Odin speaker and ICs with Valhalla PCs. Incredible "hear a gnat fart" resolution. This is the sound of the source!

    rw
    ...whatever became of the fellow that claimed wires all sound the same and cited that silly Roger Russell article with every post? RamRod or something like that? Did he give up? He had a nice sense of humor - and I'm not just referring to his embrace of the laughably incomplete Russell experiment!
    Form is out. Content makes its own form.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    Yikes, that is really thick shielding at 60hz. Imagine going for lower frequency protection sheilding
    It gets much worse at the lower frequencies. So much so, that we've switched all the monitors here to LCD to keep the colors accurate on the display. Mu metal tend to saturate at the field levels we work with, and it is not always feasable to put the monitors outside the 5 gauss boundary.
    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    Since really thick shielding might not be feasible for consumer market, would using cable geometry to our advantage (such as star quad geometry) be a good alternative for protection.
    Yes, geometry is the best for structures at or smaller than a wavelength.
    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    I know star quad cables have advantage of reducing the EM field around the cable itself as to reduce interference to nearby cable, but was wondering how effective are they against low frequency protection from outside sources?
    The external inductance (geometric inductance) is the actual relationship between the current within a wire, and the total amount of energy that is stored within the magnetic field outside the wire.. As such, it also defines the ability of the wires to receive magnetic energy from an external source. So the answer is yes indeed, the geometry will affect the ability of the wires to couple to external sources.
    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    I think E-Stat and Rich might also be interested in that answer also
    I've not seen hide nor hair of Jon lately. I hope all is well with him.

    Cheers, John

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    VIP Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Thanks John.

    Quote Originally Posted by jneutron
    It gets much worse at the lower frequencies. So much so, that we've switched all the monitors here to LCD to keep the colors accurate on the display. Mu metal tend to saturate at the field levels we work with, and it is not always feasable to put the monitors outside the 5 gauss boundary.
    I am supposing CRT got replaced by LCD monitor.

    CRT monitors not only very susceptible to outside interference, they are also great source noise themselves. I had a slight hum in my system and after many trial and error, fine out it was caused by an IC that was running too close to behind my CRT TV. Had to reroute IC cable away from TV to minimize the hum.

    The external inductance (geometric inductance) is the actual relationship between the current within a wire, and the total amount of energy that is stored within the magnetic field outside the wire.. As such, it also defines the ability of the wires to receive magnetic energy from an external source. So the answer is yes indeed, the geometry will affect the ability of the wires to couple to external sources.
    That is interesting. So If I understand correctly, the less external inductance a wire have (stored magnetic field), more immune it will be from external sources.

    I hope Jon is alright too. He probably just got tired of all the politics involved in day to day operation of AA

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    I am supposing CRT got replaced by LCD monitor.
    Yes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    CRT monitors not only very susceptible to outside interference, they are also great source noise themselves. I had a slight hum in my system and after many trial and error, fine out it was caused by an IC that was running too close to behind my CRT TV. Had to reroute IC cable away from TV to minimize the hum.
    Yah, crt's are noisy critters by default. The vert and horiz deflection coils are supposed to create big fields, keepin the fields only within the tuber is a tough thing to do.



    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    That is interesting. So If I understand correctly, the less external inductance a wire have (stored magnetic field), more immune it will be from external sources.
    Yes. The perfect transmitter is also the perfect receiver. The better the wires couple to the external world, the better they become at transmitting as well as receiving.

    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    I hope Jon is alright too. He probably just got tired of all the politics involved in day to day operation of AA
    I believe he has been different since the accident some years ago.. Perhaps a re-orientation of life priorities. I wish him well.

    Cheers, John

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    VIP Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Thanks again John.

    Yes, I remember when Jon had that accident. I see his name off and on while browsing AA once in a while, but as you said he doesn’t post as often.

    BTW, did you see this post from me while back where I expose my little secret

    Anybody Member of other forums on the net?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    Yes, I remember when Jon had that accident. I see his name off and on while browsing AA once in a while, but as you said he doesn’t post as often.

    BTW, did you see this post from me while back where I expose my little secret
    I certainly missed that one..

    Cheers, John

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    Hey JN...

    ...what's up...

    Garbanzo beans are still a trend I see...

    jimHJJ(...wire is wire...)
    Hello, I'm a misanthrope...don't ask me why, just take a good look around.

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    If you repeat a lie often enough, some will believe it to be the truth...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Resident Loser
    ...what's up...
    Just hangin out..woikin with NEC, grounding and shielding, superconducting widgits...same-o same-o..

    Sometimes I'm the bug (student), sometimes I'm the teacher (windshield).

    Howzabout you? anything interesting?


    Quote Originally Posted by Resident Loser
    ...
    Garbanzo beans are still a trend I see...

    jimHJJ(...wire is wire...)
    I think I've been away too long..garbanzo beans??

    Cheers, John

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Resident Loser
    ...what's up...

    Garbanzo beans are still a trend I see...

    jimHJJ(...wire is wire...)
    So this is what it takes to bring you back here RL??? How 'bout hanging around for a while this time?
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  24. #24
    Forum Regular hermanv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jneutron
    It gets much worse at the lower frequencies. So much so, that we've switched all the monitors here to LCD to keep the colors accurate on the display. Mu metal tend to saturate at the field levels we work with, and it is not always feasable to put the monitors outside the 5 gauss boundary....snip...
    Hi John; Although LCD usually has small M fields, I've had some interference problems with the E field from the fast pixel switching edges, seems to be worse for larger screen sizes.

    Comment? Or doesn't high frequency noise effect the tests you pursue?

    And one last thing, are we talking about wire again? Sigh. Since we last spoke, I've replaced my interconnects with Cardas reference series, expensive, but a little this side of insane. Made my own speaker cables (Cardas raw material, 8 feet long), 9.5 AWG litz wire for woofer. 8.5 AWG multi strand (extra low inductance) for mid and (gasp) silver for my tweeters. The oversize gauge on the mids did help clarity. Tried all kinds of wiring schemes, ended up with the crossover at the amplifier end and separate cables to each driver for the long (8 foot) runs.

    I did rewire the house for a dedicated feed for my stuff (unclear if it made any difference) and I am still resisting the custom AC cable idea. Not that I'm ideologically opposed, just another expense when I believe the equipment designer has some responsibility to make his power input at least a little noise immune (both gozinta and gozouta ).
    Herman;

    My stuff:
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by hermanv
    Hi John; Although LCD usually has small M fields, I've had some interference problems with the E field from the fast pixel switching edges, seems to be worse for larger screen sizes.
    Comment? Or doesn't high frequency noise effect the tests you pursue?
    Ah, I guess I never really specified, did I?

    Tubers change colors and move to the side when the widgits we test are powered up. The basic problem stems from the magnetic field of the cables we use to run the current from the supplies to the magnets.. Any monitors within 10 feet or so of the cable tray is affected.

    Quote Originally Posted by hermanv
    And one last thing, are we talking about wire again? Sigh. Since we last spoke, I've replaced my interconnects with Cardas reference series, expensive, but a little this side of insane. Made my own speaker cables (Cardas raw material, 8 feet long), 9.5 AWG litz wire for woofer. 8.5 AWG multi strand (extra low inductance) for mid and (gasp) silver for my tweeters. The oversize gauge on the mids did help clarity. Tried all kinds of wiring schemes, ended up with the crossover at the amplifier end and separate cables to each driver for the long (8 foot) runs.
    Logically, I like your setup with the crossover at the amp. With mids being the biggest impactor w/r to localization, your guage statement is also consistent with what I would expect.
    Quote Originally Posted by hermanv
    I did rewire the house for a dedicated feed for my stuff (unclear if it made any difference) and I am still resisting the custom AC cable idea. Not that I'm ideologically opposed, just another expense when I believe the equipment designer has some responsibility to make his power input at least a little noise immune (both gozinta and gozouta ).
    Most equipment designers do not understand well what it takes to make their equipment impervious to ground loop issues, both externally via cables, nor internally by routing and design.

    Cheers, John

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