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Length Matters

Galibier Design - RulerRecently, I’ve seen an increase in orders for longer interconnects.

This has puzzled me – both statistically (why the change) as well as for reasons of optimum sound (why would you compromise your system).

With the introduction of our line of cables, our reach is expanding into more mainstream systems.  We’re enthused by the recognition we’re receiving, but this may well require a new series of posts to counter much of the popular internet mythology and fashion about cables.

Longer is Not Necessarily Better

We make more money by selling you longer wire, so why are we getting on our soapbox to promote shorter cables?

Well, it’s in both yours and our interest for you to get better sound.

We Have Met the Enemy, and the Enemy Is …

Capacitance.  The longer your cable, the more capacitance.  No fancy equations – just multiply the capacitance per foot by the length of the cable.  There’s one exception (step-up transformers) and we’ll cover that later.

We go to great lengths to design low capacitance interconnects.  While low capacitance doesn’t guarantee good sound, high capacitance does your system no favors.

The sound of high capacitance cables can generally best be described as a gritty midrange.  If you listen primarily to electric music, you may not notice this.  In some cases, it might even embellish the sound of an electric guitar.

If however, you listen to any acoustic music, the difference will be apparent – especially with woodwinds and strings.

Output Impedance

The effects of cable capacitance can be somewhat mitigated by both solid-state electronics (because of their much lower output impedance) as well as by balanced circuits.  If this describes your system, then you have minimal worries.

We’ll leave the discussion of balanced electronics in a home audio system for another day.

If, however, you’re running a vacuum tube based line stage (with at best, a 1,000 ohm output impedance), then a 20 foot interconnect may not be your best friend.

Crunching the Numbers

The unshielded version of our interconnects has a capacitance of about 17pf per foot (picofarads).  In short lengths, we’ve heard fairly notable differences between these cables and our shielded version which runs about 28pf/foot.

Not all capacitance is equal of course, and we (for example) prefer the sound of a 2m length of our unbalanced cable (34 pf total capacitance) to that of a 1m run of our shielded interconnect (28pf). 

It’s the reason we recommend shielding only when there’s an RFI problem to solve.

In general however, less capacitance equals more sonic “goodness”.

Step-up Transformers – It Gets Worse

If you’re running a moving coil step-up transformer, the effects of cable length are multiplied.  We explain this in detail on our interconnect page (click link).

Conventional “Wisdom”

Most dealers’ hi-fi system displays situate the speakers and power amps with a backdrop of draperies (and perhaps some plants), and the upstream gear tucked off to the side (linked by a long interconnect).

It’s very photogenic presentation.

You could make the case that without a stack of electronics between the two speakers, your system’s spatial presentation will be improved, and you would be correct.

Pick Your Poison

I’ll ask you this however … when presented with two options, which system would you prefer:

  • A system with marginally better spatial presentation characteristics but compromised distortion spectra.
  • The reverse – low distortion with slightly compromised spatial characteristics.

In a Perfect World

Like everything in life, there’s no free lunch and you get to decide what works best for you.  Our ideal setup would run the shortest cable path possible.  This is how our main demo system is configured:

  • All gear located front and center
  • Mirror imaged, monoblock amplifiers with the speaker cable terminals on the “outboard” side (closest to the speakers)
  • Short speaker cables

Clearly, this is not always possible.  In our shop (our prototyping system), we need to keep our source and line level gear off to the side.

It’s not perfect, but the choice we made goes against conventional wisdom, in that we run short interconnects and long speaker cables.