• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Do Premium Headphone Cables Make an Audible Difference? Norne Audio Cable Review (video)

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
34,715
Likes
126,976
Location
Seattle Area
OP
amirm

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
34,715
Likes
126,976
Location
Seattle Area
But, the silver one sounds bright, the black one sounds dark, and the copper one sounds warm!
Yeh, I could have said those words and be done with the review!
 

milosz

Senior Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 27, 2019
Messages
317
Likes
898
Location
Chicago
Some time ago I got into an online argument with someone on Head-Fi about cables. I told him to meet me at an upcoming Can-Jam meeting and that I would pay him $1,000 if he could tell the difference in a blind A/B at a statistically significant level between a pure silver cable ( or any cable he wanted to bring as long as it was just wire and did not include any inductive, resistive or capacitive networks ) and the stock cable on any headphone of his choice on a properly working quality headphone amp of the day like an AMB Beta 22 or a CK²III. But if he could NOT tell the difference then he would pay me $1000. He dropped off the discussion immediately and I never heard from him again. I was serious, I had the $1,000 ready.

I think headphone cables DO matter - some are too stiff and physically interfere with wearing the 'phones in comfort, the ones covered in a woven jacket can be 'mechanically microphonic' transmitting noises from rubbing against things, some have low-quality plugs or connectors that cause intermittent connection or crackling from corroded metal. As long as they are well made with quality connectors, are not too stiff and don't make mechanical noise if touched- they are all good. It's good to have non-tarnishing plating on the connector surfaces - gold or rhodium - that's good for sound quality as corrosion on connectors causes trouble. Looks nice, too.

As far as silver wiring goes- if you are going to use precious metals, I'd rather see them used as something to make the 'phones look fancy rather than hide the premium material inside insulation. It makes no difference to actual sound performance as long as your headphone cables are under a few hundred feet long- silver is only 6% more conductive than copper so unless you have a kilometer of cable, you aren't going to find enough difference in conductivity to justify the cost. Silver also oxidizes MUCH faster and more readily than copper, and that can cause a bunch of problems too. I'd rather see the money that would be spent on silver wire go into more premium materials for the earcups, earpads, etc.

HOWEVER the placebo effect is a REAL effect and if silver wire sounds better to you, then by all means. Just don't collapse this perceptual wave function by doing a blind A/B test because proving to yourself that silver wire doesn't sound any better will spoil the illusion.
 
Last edited:

charleski

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2019
Messages
336
Likes
548
Location
Manchester UK
It's good to have non-tarnishing plating on the connector surfaces - gold or rhodium - that's good for sound quality as corrosion on connectors causes trouble. Looks nice, too.
Of course, all that glisters and all that ... thought I'd share a picture of a cheap 'gold-plated' connector I bought a long time ago:
IMG_20210414_230007.jpg
Beware of 'gold-plating' that's little more than a coat of paint and will rub off after minimal use. Proper hard gold plating should last a long time, though a properly nickel-plated surface is just as good. Rhodium is just there for people who like to spend money.
 

sam_adams

Active Member
Joined
Dec 24, 2019
Messages
151
Likes
354
Of course, all that glisters and all that ... thought I'd share a picture of a cheap 'gold-plated' connector I bought a long time ago:
View attachment 124051
Beware of 'gold-plating' that's little more than a coat of paint and will rub off after minimal use. Proper hard gold plating should last a long time, though a properly nickel-plated surface is just as good. Rhodium is just there for people who like to spend money.

Gold suffers as a plating material because of porosity of the plating layer—the thinner the gold plating, the worse the problem—and from poor passivation of the underlying metal. It doesn't matter whether it's hard or soft gold, if it has pores in it, is going to corrode. Normally nickel is used as a passivation layer for gold plating, but nickel by itself is not very resistant to corrosion. A passivation layer of palladium-nickel is better, but increases cost. The nickel passivation layer also suffers from the same issues as the gold plating layer—porosity. Once corrosion inducing compounds find their way through the pores of the plating and down to the base metal, you can say goodbye to the plating layers.
 

the_brunx

Active Member
Joined
Apr 7, 2020
Messages
175
Likes
379
iu-2.jpeg
These right here have a bigger potential to make an actual audible difference. and they are more softer too. Just repackage them as audiophile tuning. And you have a whole earbud rolling hobby section.
 
Last edited:

mkawa

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Sep 17, 2019
Messages
783
Likes
673
don't put anything smaller in diameter than your finger in your ears. murine or other mineral oil + h2o2 solutions to soften earwax every day for a week or so and then an bulb to rinse out your ear canals the only medically recommended, safe way of cleaning one's own ears. at ENT clinics nurses use a slightly higher pressure hose, but the idea is the same.

really though, no cotton buds. my aunt once perforated her eardrum pretty badly with one. surgery was required.
 

charleski

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2019
Messages
336
Likes
548
Location
Manchester UK
Gold suffers as a plating material because of porosity of the plating layer—the thinner the gold plating, the worse the problem—and from poor passivation of the underlying metal. It doesn't matter whether it's hard or soft gold, if it has pores in it, is going to corrode. Normally nickel is used as a passivation layer for gold plating, but nickel by itself is not very resistant to corrosion. A passivation layer of palladium-nickel is better, but increases cost. The nickel passivation layer also suffers from the same issues as the gold plating layer—porosity. Once corrosion inducing compounds find their way through the pores of the plating and down to the base metal, you can say goodbye to the plating layers.
Nickel plating for marine environments uses nickel that’s been reduced with phosphorous (‘electroless’ because the process doesn’t require current) and produces very little porosity.
 

Aperiodic

Active Member
Joined
May 2, 2019
Messages
133
Likes
141
don't put anything smaller in diameter than your finger in your ears. murine or other mineral oil + h2o2 solutions to soften earwax every day for a week or so and then an bulb to rinse out your ear canals the only medically recommended, safe way of cleaning one's own ears. at ENT clinics nurses use a slightly higher pressure hose, but the idea is the same.

really though, no cotton buds. my aunt once perforated her eardrum pretty badly with one. surgery was required.

All good advice, especially for users of IEMs. which tend to push wax into the ear- the opposite of the direction the ear is trying to make it go. I have 'waxy' ears and use IEMs a lot- a 'worst case' scenario that is why I irrigate with peroxide every 10 days or so.
 

Aperiodic

Active Member
Joined
May 2, 2019
Messages
133
Likes
141
I think headphone cables DO matter - some are too stiff and physically interfere with wearing the 'phones in comfort, the ones covered in a woven jacket can be 'mechanically microphonic' transmitting noises from rubbing against things, some have low-quality plugs or connectors that cause intermittent connection or crackling from corroded metal. As long as they are well made with quality connectors, are not too stiff and don't make mechanical noise if touched- they are all good. It's good to have non-tarnishing plating on the connector surfaces - gold or rhodium - that's good for sound quality as corrosion on connectors causes trouble. Looks nice, too.


HOWEVER the placebo effect is a REAL effect and if silver wire sounds better to you, then by all means. Just don't collapse this perceptual wave function by doing a blind A/B test because proving to yourself that silver wire doesn't sound any better will spoil the illusion.

The above reminded me of something I saw years ago: Someone brought their *Phone in for service. They were using it with a pair of Grado headphones that had been 'modded' with the thickest cable I had ever seen on a set of cans. (This was back during the 'headphone jack' era.) It was the diameter of a musical instrument cable- almost as think as the phone itself. Did it change the sound? Definitely- after the thick, heavy, inflexible cable broke the headphone jack off the phone's motherboard, he didn't have any. This raised the true cost of the magic cable by the several hundred dollar cost to replace the phone. (I let the technician have that discussion.) Many 'deep end' boutique cables for home audio have the same fault.

There are a couple of scenarios where I think magic cables affect the sound: One is if you have an especially load-sensitive (ie, "bad") amp, and second, if he cable has bizarre electrical characteristics (one extreme example being the Polk 'Cobra Cables' in the early days of the magic cable era). These apparently had massive amounts of inductance which caused amplifiers to oscillate and, in many cases, blow up. But they looked cool.

If you 'hear' differences between cables, something similar is probably happening, maybe on a less severe level, or it's plain old expectation
bias as mentioned by Milosz and others- Given a choice between 'I just got ripped off for $$$' and 'My new $$$ power cable makes a night and day difference in my system', most will choose the latter.
 

Koeitje

Major Contributor
Joined
Oct 10, 2019
Messages
1,465
Likes
2,101
People find it very hard to admit they are are fallible.
 

hestejoe

Member
Joined
Jun 4, 2020
Messages
17
Likes
6
Has Amir done anything similar on cables (wires) for speakers? It would be interesting to test cables representing a few orders of magnitude difference in price.
 

Robbo99999

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
2,785
Likes
2,304
Location
UK
Well I suppose it's wrong to show ill will to a company if the products are not totally totally extortionate, but no way would I buy a cable for $250, and that was the cheapest of the 3 tested! About 5 yrs ago (well before I knew anything about ASR) I bought an aftermarket cable for my K702 headphone, but it only cost me around £20, it's a Van Damme cable, decided to go short (1 metre) for convenience as well as quality (I thought shorter = better sound quality), this one: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00MVCN9WQ
At the time, I remember switching between the stock cable & the Van Damme cable, and eventually I decided I couldn't be sure there was a difference...and if there was a difference that maybe a slightly slightly better impact on the bass. No, but that was before I really knew any "audio science", and before I knew of ASR.....at least I didn't come to the conclusion that the new cable transformed the sound! :D
 

KeithPhantom

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
May 8, 2020
Messages
555
Likes
518
Cables make a difference...in your wallet.
 

Yevhen

Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Dec 12, 2020
Messages
50
Likes
11
Location
Netherlands
@amirm thanks for the review. I believe that to see any difference in distortion, probably caused by passive intermodulation (PIM), you need to run some power through the cables (PIM won't appear on a high impedance input of AP). In radiofrequency domain, where PIM is becoming a real issue, they measure it with 2 tones 2x20W. Normally the difference between good and bad RF cables is like -130dBc vs -110dBc. But I didn't see any measurements in 20Hz-20kHz range. Most probably all the OFC copper cables will be just good enough.
https://www.anritsu.com/en-us/test-...e PIM test,corroded connector, or nearby rust.
 

Stokdoof

Member
Forum Donor
Joined
May 14, 2019
Messages
47
Likes
85
Location
The Netherlands
Hi All,

Just to share the following tweak that should also work with headphone cables:

I prepared the following experiment to improve the sound of my system by adapting interlinks like described below.
The difference I hear is incredible.
So much more juicy and sweat the sound, like never before.
Pity I cannot do measurements since I do not own the proper equipment.

20210218_080952.jpg


Interlink Update :
Take 2 Pink Lady or Elstar apples and use a tool called “appelboor” or “apple corer” to remove the core.
Feed both cables trough their own apple and connect it to your system.

Enjoy the music,

Thanks,
Stokdoof,
 

Robbo99999

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
2,785
Likes
2,304
Location
UK
View attachment 124078These right here have a bigger potential to make an actual audible difference. and they are more softer too. Just repackage them as audiophile tuning. And you have a whole earbud rolling hobby section.
don't put anything smaller in diameter than your finger in your ears. murine or other mineral oil + h2o2 solutions to soften earwax every day for a week or so and then an bulb to rinse out your ear canals the only medically recommended, safe way of cleaning one's own ears. at ENT clinics nurses use a slightly higher pressure hose, but the idea is the same.

really though, no cotton buds. my aunt once perforated her eardrum pretty badly with one. surgery was required.
Yeah, and I learned a couple of years ago that there is a "natural conveyor belt" type system in your ear that pushes wax out of it's own accord. Scientists discovered this by marking a spot "with a pen" on some people's eardrum, and they then discovered that this marked area starting moving outwards to the sides of the ear canal and then over time made it's way outwards up the ear canal to end up as a spot on your earlobe! So basically your skin grows from the inside out in your ear to help drive out wax & debris. Obviously that's a slow process, but it is a thing. Cotton earbuds are the worse, they're just gonna push the wax in deeper, making it more likely to form a plug, plus it's working against our natural conveyor belt I mentioned.

I've had my ears professionally "syringed" a couple of times, and the clarity of hearing immediately afterwards was amazing! So yeah, wax & blocked ears are not our friends. (Although I'm sure some wax is good, as it almost certainly has some function, maybe to collect debris or to physically protect & look after the skin of the ear canal.....no idea just my thoughts).
 
Top Bottom