7. Interconnects


Author: Karsten Hein

Category: High Fidelity

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Audio signals are usually transmitted between the units by means of wires. The plugs may range from 5-pin DIN via RCA and jack-plug to XLR balanced studio standard. For home and even High End audio designs, the most common type of plug is still the RCA/cinch coupling. This type of connection has some practical advantages, e.g. no converters needed, but it also features some inherent design flaws for optimal signal transduction. Optical connection can be made via Toslink (light pulse). Although widely available, this is not commonly used by audiophiles, as the music often becomes dull, and good signal converters are rare.

As a result of all this, RCAs interconnects have long since become significant components in their own right, because, depending on the materials used in the design of cables and plugs, the sonic character of the system will be influenced by them. From detailed to confined, from dynamic to dull, our system’s musical signature will be shaped by its compatibility with the interconnects used between source and pre-amp and between pre-amp and power amplifier.

In my own tests I have found that no two interconnects create the same sonic effect and that the preference of one interconnect’s sonic characteristics over another greatly depends on the electronic environment that it is used in. This means: an interconnect that has been found to be beneficial for phono to preamp connections may well perform poorly in all other positions in our system. The phono to preamp connection is a very special one in which much attention needs to be placed on shielding to avoid humming and other interference.

Looking at our own system, it turns out that every position is a special one. A CD player for instance may benefit from a braided wire (e.g. Western Electric, Kimber, etc.) instead of a solid shield, whereas a 5-pin to cinch (e.g. Sommer Cable) is not misplaced on an FM radio tuner. I have learned that the best way of finding the most suitable interconnect for a position is through trial and error. All interconnects shown in the picture have one thing in common: they do not fit my system in its current stage and have been replaced.

The interconnects from left to right are: 1. Neutrik NF2 (on Kimber Tonik); 2. Sommer Albedo; 3. Fadel Art IC4; 4. Wireworld Composilex 2. - Of these, only the Kimber would be considered more than Mid-Fi.

Plugs and wires individually, and especially in their combination, show different properties in terms of their resistance, capacitance, and inductance. Of the three properties, resistance is deemed to be the most significant, yet the precise combination of all three properties, over the full span of frequencies from at least 10-30.000 Hz, in the end creates the unique sonic signature of an interconnect.

In September 2019, Rainer Langlitz and I tested the resistance, capacitance, and inductance of four interconnects of different manufacturers at just one frequency (1,000 Hz) and found each one to be different from the others. Measuring the full band of frequencies would most likely have revealed each interconnect’s unique signature that sets it apart from the rest. At the time we did not have the equipment to conduct a more thorough investigation.

Quality interconnects will usually show an indication of the direction in which they should be connected. This is usually the direction in which the steel was rolled and the wire was produced. We can confirm the importance of the direction by inverting only one channel. If we have set up our system according to steps 1-7, the phantom center should be off during the inversion.

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