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PostPosted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 10:12 am 

Joined: Mon Oct 29, 2007 6:28 pm
Posts: 278
Location: Kaleden, BC, CA
Okay, if you have the option of using either balanced or unbalanced cables and you’re wondering which sounds better … or if you count yourself among those who believe that the difference between any two given cables is not that substantial, then this comparison is for you!

Last fall I bought mono-block amplifiers with the idea of placing them in close proximity to my speakers. This arrangement requires long interconnects (ICs). My 30” ZU ICs are nowhere near long enough, so I ordered a 12’ pair of Belden 8402 Balanced Cables with High Clarity G&H XLR Connecters. People seem to like this cable; it’s supposed to be a very high value cable that out performs cables costing considerably more… and it’s relatively inexpensive! Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that appeals to me. Besides I have a fully balanced system, so using balanced cables makes good sense, right?


About that same time I was hearing great things about TEO liquid cables; you heard right, liquid cables. TEO doesn’t use wire or put wire in their cables. Unfortunately TEO’s balanced cables are very expensive, so I settled for a 2 meter pair of their unbalanced cables instead. They still cost about 4x more than the Belden cables, but what the hell, my curiosity was piqued and they come with a money back satisfaction guarantee, so why not?


I wasn’t sure which cable would offer the most musical satisfaction; good arguments could be made for both and frankly that’s why I decided to buy both of them. I should also point out that my amps only have one input – and it’s XLR. As much as I love my mono-blocks, this limitation is something of disappointment that I have come to terms with. As a work around I use an RCA to XLR adapter. This adapter is a 2” thick chunk of metal that fits between the end of the cable and the back of the amp.


Yikes! That can’t be good. What effect will these adapters have on the sound?


Now in order to compare two competing cables or components, you have to start somewhere; you need baseline, a point of reference. Having overhauled my system with a new DAC, new amplification, new speakers, and new cables all within a few months of each other, I needed time to settle into the sound of this new system in order to have a meaningful baseline. If you don’t know what your system sounds like; you are less likely to appreciate or even recognize the differences of any given change.

Having two unique options for interconnect cabling I decided to start with the unbalanced cables. I listened to them exclusively for about six weeks; this gave me enough time to be well acquainted with the sound of these cables in the system. Over the course of those six weeks I listened to variety of music repetitiously, especially selected cuts from side 2 of the Beatles White Album. At the end of the six week period, I removed the unbalanced cables and plugged in the Belden balanced cables.

What happened next?

OMG! WTF? It was immediately apparent that something was wrong … very wrong. Only a few seconds in and I shut the system down. How can something as simple as changing an interconnect cable make a good system sound like complete and utter ****? It was as if my DAC had been replaced with a grossly inferior DAC. I kid you not; the system that had given me so much joy over the previous six weeks suddenly morphed into an auditory train wreck. The difference between these two cables is off the charts. So without further delay I returned to my baseline.

Now to be perfectly honest, in addition to switching interconnects, I had to make one other relatively “minor adjustment” to compensate for the difference in length between the two ICs. Because the unbalanced cables are about half the length of the balanced cables, I had to supplement the shorter ICs with a 6’ pair of speaker cables in order to reach the speaker terminals. With the longer ICs, I used high quality 8” jumpers instead. On the surface this difference if anything should work in favor of the balanced cables, especially since the jumpers and speaker cables are made by the same manufacturer. Had all things been equal, I wonder how much better the unbalanced cables might have been were they not handicapped by the RCA to XLR adapters and the longer speaker cables?

OTOH, I also wondered if moving the amps so close to the speakers could have been a detriment to the amps performance and thus skewed the result. The reason being is I use isolation platforms under my speakers…


oops - I forgot to take a picture with the amps on the platforms.


Placing the amps on these platforms exposed them to vibration, which I suspect could have possibly worked against the balanced cables. For that reason I decided I would try doing a second comparison at a later date using the same speaker cables. In the meantime, having no use for the 8” jumpers I sent them back for a refund.

After another 6 weeks had passed I decided it was time to give the balanced cables a second shot. This time the same speaker cables would be employed for both ICs. I determined to keep the balanced cables in place at least one week before switching back to the unbalanced cables.

How did it go?

It was a tough week; I didn’t do as much listening as I had planned because my system didn’t sound right. Compared to the unbalanced TEO cables, the Belden balance cables sound tonally emasculated, lacking body, texture and tone; they are steely, harsh, incomplete, lacking presence. The net result is emotionally devoid and disengaging. It’s like the difference between eating fresh bread and eating stale bread. The difference is immediately apparent. I never imagined that cables could sound so different, but what I discovered here is that cables can literally make or break your system. Lousy cables are like thieves; they strip a system of its virtue and bring it to its knees; they distort and contort the integrity of what’s given to them and make what could be an enjoyable experience comparatively intolerable.

In conclusion:

Don’t underestimate the impact cables have on your system.

• Cables can and do sound vastly different.
• Balanced cables are NOT inherently better than unbalanced cables.
• Upgrading ICs can be every bit as effective as a major component upgrade.
• Inferior cables seriously impair the performance of your system.

The associated gear used in this test:

• Nuprime DAC-10
• DAC Maraschino King Cherry mono-blocks amplifiers
• Spatial M3 Turbo S open baffle loudspeakers
• Cerious Technologies Graphene Extreme Speaker Cables

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 10:21 am 

Joined: Tue Sep 25, 2012 1:54 pm
Posts: 717
Location: Calgary, AB, CA
Pictures are not loading for me.

Appreciate the write-up nonetheless!

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