Do I need a special power cord for my hi-fi system?
July 10, 2006 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Does it make sense to use a special power cord for hi-fi equipment? I'm a novice hi-fi enthusiast, and I've read that you should replace the stock power cords that come with your audio equipment, using designated hi-fi power cords (like those made by AudioQuest or Cardas) instead. But I'm wondering if laying out all that money will actually make an appreciable difference in sound quality to someone who isn't an audio engineer. My hi-fi system consists of a Cambridge Audio receiver & CD player and Hsu Research's Ventriloquist 6.1 speakers and subwoofer. My speaker cables & interconnects are AudioQuest.
posted by zembla3 to Technology (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I very much doubt it makes a difference even to an audio engineer. Without knowing what they're supposed to do it's hard for me to say 'that's rubbish', but remember there's masses of cable between your power station and your hifi which isn't audiophile quality.
posted by edd at 9:18 AM on July 10, 2006

I'd say no, not until you've made a lot of other, more significant changes. I don't know a lot about the audiophile take on these things, but I do know from my experience in recording that speaker placement, and your own position in the room, will make a difference an order of magnitude greater than replacing a few cables. Then maybe do some research about characteristics of the room itself.

To me, those cables are the worst: over-packaged, agressively marketed, outrageously priced. "Laying out all that money" is a perfectly apt description of what you'll be doing.
posted by jon_kill at 9:21 AM on July 10, 2006

I'm going to go with edd and say that unless the cord that came with your equipment actually has holes in it, replacing it just puts money in the pockets of the same sort of people who claim that they can get better audio quality with a battery hooked up to the cable, or claiming to eliminate 'audiogenic' distortion. If you're worried about your equipment at the power plug, use a UPS to clean up the power.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:21 AM on July 10, 2006

Bullshit. Mains electricity constantly fluctuates in voltage constantly and is very "dirty". There's absolutely no point in trying to deliver this signal in a more pure way.

(Your audio equipment has very fancy circuits to smooth out the imperfections)
posted by cillit bang at 9:22 AM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

The 'Bad Science' guy in the Guardian says its bollocks.
posted by biffa at 9:22 AM on July 10, 2006

Personally I think it's a load of BS. I could at least understand the use of a power filter/surge protector unit to "clean" the current before it gets to your high-priced equipment. But if you think about it, if your power is horribly unstable, wouldn't a high-priced power cord just transmit that to your equipment?
posted by junesix at 9:23 AM on July 10, 2006

Oh and there's this from the ever excellent Ben Goldacre.
posted by edd at 9:23 AM on July 10, 2006

Bah, preview, flagged.
posted by edd at 9:24 AM on July 10, 2006

But I'm wondering if laying out all that money will actually make an appreciable difference in sound quality to someone who isn't an audio engineer.

Keep that thought in mind if you're considering buying other "audiophile" gear.
posted by subclub at 9:26 AM on July 10, 2006

I think those people ^^^^^ are pretty much on target.

There's, I gather, just a very slender chance that, if you've already spent $30,000 on your sound system, spending $3000 more on wire might change things noticeably.

But you'd probably have to live in Oregon for the outside environment to be quiet enough for you to notice it.
posted by baylink at 9:31 AM on July 10, 2006

For what it's worth, you'll get the biggest bang for your buck by buying good (and space appropriate) speakers.

Modern amplifiers are extremely good, once you get above the "total crap" level, and wires are plenty good as well... in large part what you're buying with speaker-wire and interconnects is just durability. The sonic differences are essentially non-existent.

Power cables are the worst of these scams. Power flows for 20 miles across random crappy cable... and adding 3 feet of overpriced bits at the end is supposed to fix all that? A bad joke.

The reality is that this will all get fixed by the power supplies in your equipment. It's what they're made to do. It doesn't "stress" them or affect the output, assuming your equipment is at least one grade above "total feces".
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:32 AM on July 10, 2006

It's just typical audiophile tweekery.
About the only bit of kit I ever bought for my system that honestly made an audible difference was moving up from typical "lamp cord" speaker wire to the cheapest model of Monster Cable.
My buddy who works at Klipsch Speakers says their techs claim there is no difference between the two...but everyone uses better speaker cable anyway.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:45 AM on July 10, 2006

Bear in mind that the top studios which record this stuff do NOT use esoteric wires in their installations.
posted by unSane at 9:45 AM on July 10, 2006

Audiophilia, IMHO, is right up there with salt water aquariums when it comes to the slippery slope of constant tweaking. From an out view, I suggest determining how much you want to spend to rock before buying anything, then purchase the best you can within your budget.

Let us know when you are unscrewing lightbulbs in your house to clean up the electricity, filling your audio stands full of lead shot and hanging those hardwood pucks around the living room to soak up vibration.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 9:51 AM on July 10, 2006

If you're worried about your equipment at the power plug, use a UPS to clean up the power.

I don't think you'll be able to find a UPS that can put out an appreciably better waveform that mains power. True sine-wave units are terribly expensive, and most units use a modified square wave or some other awful looking wave form. Also, the power requirements for an audio amplifier is very dynamic, and hifi kit sometimes trades effeciency for quality, meaning that it sucks a lot of power.

That said, there are power conditioners that can make a difference, I'm sure. But they are a world apart from UPSs in that they are just cleaning up the power, not trying to power equipment in the event of power loss.
posted by kableh at 9:52 AM on July 10, 2006

It's already been said, for the most part, but speaking as one who's trained and works in a pro audio environment, this, like the vast majority of "Audiophile" equipment, is a huge freaking scam. That's not to say that there aren't differences in pieces of equipment - to the contrary, they're often enormous. It's just usually in the equipment used to record the music you listen to, rather than the equipment used to play it back.

Look at it like this - There are guitar wankers (Steve Vai, Eric Johnson), there are computer wankers (OH DAMN MY VIDEO CARD HAS MORE RAM THAN YOURS@!), and there are audio wankers (DOESN'T MY $30,000 PHONO PREAMP JUST SOUND EXQUISITE?).

You'd do much better with your money to spend it on records you like than to throw it away buying any of that audiophile crap.
posted by god hates math at 9:53 AM on July 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

> True sine-wave units are terribly expensive, and most units use a modified square wave or some other awful looking wave form.

Just an important side note on that topic: the problem isn't that sine-wave units are pricier: it's that *you need a continuous UPS, not a switchover-type* in order to get anything from using one in this context.

Continuous UPS's are almost impossible to find these days, and *much* more expensive than the cheapy consumer switchover models, mostly *because* they're not consumer parts.
posted by baylink at 10:14 AM on July 10, 2006

I 2nd Kableh. A power conditioner and or voltage regulator will go much further than a $3000. power cable. Plus- BONUS, you can use it to power other delicate devices like LCD/Plasma TVs.
posted by Gungho at 10:15 AM on July 10, 2006

Do you notice any 60Hz hum in your system now? Then what problem are you solving exactly?

The only cabling difference that matters is between balanced (most commonly XLR) and unbalanced (normal tip-ring-sleeve plugs) lines. Then, as long as the line hasn't become noisy through mishandling, you're fine. If you really need to blow the money, and you've already got the finest speakers you buy laser-aligned in an anechoic chamber, go for the power conditioner.
posted by phrontist at 10:46 AM on July 10, 2006

you buy

you can buy
posted by phrontist at 10:47 AM on July 10, 2006

Response by poster: thanks for all the comments -- and for dissuading me from buying overpriced crap for which I have no need.
posted by zembla3 at 11:14 AM on July 10, 2006

More so than which cord you use it matters what you plug that cord into. Cheapo surge protector/noise filter power strips can make the sound worse with some equipment. Try it with and without and see. I have a couple of quality pre-amps that hate those things, most of the rest of the equipment doesn't seem affected. If you have this issue, a PS Audio Ultimate Outlet will provide surge protection without killing the sound. For me it didn't sound any different than the wall outlet (although I didn't really do much of a comparison), but it did beat the cheapo surge protector hands down, at least with those pre-amps.
posted by caddis at 1:20 PM on July 10, 2006

Here's a great list of "high-end" audiophile crapola for your amusement. This should give you a good measure of calibration for your BS detector.

My favorite is the Silver Rock Volume Knob, for the low low price of $485. But you REALLY SHOULD get two...

See, "the micro vibrations created by the volume pots and knobs find their way into the delicate signal path and cause degradation" and so forth.
posted by Aquaman at 1:47 PM on July 10, 2006

You probably won't see a worthwhile improvement. Concentrate on speakers and source. 'Source' includes the mastering and the source electronics. Audiophile masterings can be a huge improvement over the normal issues. More often just a little improvement, sometimes no improvement at all.. And as others have pointed out, 'speakers' includes placement, and room treatment.

Also, the routing of the AC throughout your house is at least as significant as a single power cable..

That said..

It is always about experimenting, and seeing what works for you. Try it out! But, don't spend your money until you know what works.. Take a look at what the DIY community is doing, it will at least help you learn what is theoretically possible, even if you never plan on building anything.

Power supply noise is a huge limiting factor in audio electronics. The power cable's contribution to it is probably minimal, but it isn't impossible for something like it to help (just relatively unlikely). The shield on the DIY cable might be a great improvement over the average power cable, for example. The shield might also fail safety agency approvals due to the added capacitance, or something.. Well, probably not, but you shouldn't go and make your own power cable without checking something like that out! And you certainly have to use agency approved wire and end terminations!!

It is sometimes said that you should spend 10% of your equipment budget on cables in general. That includes speaker cable, interconnects, and power cables (or maybe not power cables, because it is more important to spend that money on the speaker wire & interconnects).
posted by Chuckles at 3:20 PM on July 10, 2006

my opinion: a special power cord is abso-fucking-lutely guaranteed to be a waste of money.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 7:02 PM on July 10, 2006

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