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Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

Posted June 19, 2012 11:27 AM by rawlifelivin

Of all the overpriced electronic components available to consumers, the most targeted by audio enthusiasts the world over are cables. Whether the discussion is over analog interconnect cables, speaker wire, or digital transmission cables, a broad range of products in all categories attempt to do the same thing: nothing. The ultimate goal of any audio/video cable, be it analog or digital, is to maintain the posterity of the original signal. By this definition, the best cable is no cable or, more realistically, a cable that distorts the signal the least. Today, I'll be discussing HDMI cables specifically. High Definition Multimedia Interface cables have been the standard for digital audio/video communication for the better part of the 21st century. The company that is most often accused of overpricing HDMI cables (as well as other products) is Monster.

With their $180 4 foot M2000 HDTV Hyper Speed Cable, one is left to ponder "what makes this cable SO much better?" According to Monster, this cable allows you to "Get the finest picture and sound from 4Kx2K resolution HDTVs, advanced projectors, Blu-ray Disc™ players and game consoles, and see cutting-edge 3D movies and games come to life with full support for dual 1080p video streams." For most users however, these features will never be utilized. Price inflation isn't only limited to their extreme high-end products and is seen even on their most rudimentary cable.

For comparison, let's first look at another entry level cable. Amazon offers a 3 meter high-speed HDMI cable with Ethernet, 3D video, and ARC (Audio Return Channel) support for $7.50, as well as a price break on two of the same cables for $9.99. This cable meets the standards of the latest HDMI format (1.4) and should perform near identically to Monster's entry level, the HDMI Basic. Monster's HDMI Basic is a 1 meter HDMI cable with the same features for $24.95. At this price one could buy 4 amazon cables with over 12 times the total length. The only apparent difference is that the HDMI Basic is CL-2 rated for in-wall applications. If this is a make-or-break feature while shopping for cables, consider BlueRigger. They offer a 5 meter cable meeting the standards of HDMI 1.4 and CL-3 for $9.95. Even the cheapest of cables, such as the DVI Gear 2 meter cable ($1.59), offer many of the same features as name brand products.

Monster may be the offender that is most often in the public eye, but to be fair, many other companies are guilty of the same act. Audioquest produces high-end HDMI cables that can skyrocket in price up to $2700 for their Diamond Series. While there seems to be no apparent reason for such inflation, I am no expert on digital data transmission. Perhaps someone out there who is can shed some light on the subject. Until then, my money will go to the company which produces a cheap, sturdy cable without unnecessary bells and whistles.

Sources:

Amazon.com

Monster.com

Audioquest.com

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#1

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/19/2012 12:33 PM

Good post. I agree that many "high-end" audio components can be replaced by equally performing parts for a fraction of the price (particularly mid range headphones).

One thing that CAN'T be denied however, is the significant improvements that can be provided to a system by.... wait for it.... Brilliant Pebbles.

Enjoy those little beauties and order yourself some ASAP.

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/19/2012 12:49 PM

It says the pebbles will enhance my sound, but it never mentions how. I suspect this might be something similar to snake oil.

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#3

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/19/2012 3:20 PM

The only valid scenario I've ever seen cable quality making a difference in audio performance was when the cables were constantly disconnected and reconnected. The frequent flexing of cable and movement of connectors can quickly make intermittent connections that degrade audio or other signal quality. The two predominant classes of professionals making their living with audio cables being constantly manipulated are those in the performance industry (musicians, roadies, etc.) and audio equipment salesmen.

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#4

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/19/2012 3:28 PM

While a digital signal couldn't care if the cable was #4 or #22 gauge, an analog signal has to conduct signals that vary in frequency from 0 to 20000 hz. A very small and long cable will introduce losses in the line, something that doesn't affect a digital signal. Monster cable is overkill. I have 30 feet of it that a friend gave me years ago. Since I have it, I may as well use it, but I would never buy it.

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#5

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 9:30 AM

I had a set of Monster interconnect cables for my SACD player that I replaced with a set of Audio quest cables, and I feel I noticed a difference. Sure I might be justifying my purchase, but I didn't spend a lot on the Audio quest cables, and I had my doubts on whether there really would be a difference in the cable. I honestly feel the Audio quest cables sounded clearer in the upper end of the audio spectrum. I am not recommending that anyone buy Audio quest cables, but for analog interconnects, I do recommend good cables. As far as digital is concerned, it either works or it don't. A better cable will not give any better picture or sound, IMHO.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 10:07 AM

There is no doubt in my mind that higher quality analog cables (especially speaker wire) can make a difference. I've heard arguments that high end speaker wire is sonically indistinguishable from stock copper wire. Although I find this hard to believe, a lot of companies can over do it. Point and case MIT Cables; to me, there is nothing that can make a speaker wire worth more than a new car...

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Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 10:35 AM

When I bought my TV, they tried to sell me a HDMI cable for about $50. I ordered one from Amazon for about $6 that works just fine. People that don't know any better think that more expensive automatically means better.

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Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 10:50 AM

I am sorry to say but speaker wire is a ripoff for anyone that does not move their speaker wires daily. Now significantly under sized gauge wire with long cable runs to a speaker can make noticeable sonic differences and poor quality connectors on any cable can certainly make big differences. There is also a very marginal advantage in using silver clad wire because silver oxide conducts reasonably well and is very soft, but once again this comes into play only if one regularly disconnects things.

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#9
In reply to #1

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 11:12 AM

Brilliant Pebbles = Pet Rock.

$129 for a baggie of aquarium gravel? They are pretty, I'll admit that.

At least you can drink the snake oil.

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Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 12:01 PM

High end copper wire is measured by the purity of the copper. The closer to 100% pure copper, the more expensive it is. I don't know what the purity of ordinary lamp cord is, but I don't think it is impure enough to affect analog signals, especially for speaker cables. An analog signal will be affected mostly by the length of the cable, not the purity of the wire. A long or very thin wire presents a voltage drop between the speaker and the amplifier and that is cause for the amplifier to ramp up to maintain volume. Ramping up introduces distortion. To eliminate this, we go to larger cables, bigger amps or more efficient speakers. The goal here is to fix the weak link, the cable. Replacing it with a "monster" cable, won't help if the components at each end of the cable are not top quality. It will not improve the sound. In fact, the cable may be better and accentuate the poor quality of either the speaker or amp.

Certainly if I could afford all top end components, high tech cables would be part of it. After all, it's only money.

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#11
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Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 12:01 PM

Agreed. While some companies offer higher quality cables, many fail to explain to any degree what makes their product better. I am currently using 14 AWG solid core electrical wire from home depot and it does the job very well. If I had a larger hifi budget, I would audition different high end cables but for now the only other speaker wire I plan on purchasing is Blue Jeans Cable. They offer tried-and-true Belden wire with welded terminations without any fancy packaging or upscale price tag. I particularly like this company as they educate the shopper as much as possible instead of using vague marketing terms to trick people.

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#12

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 12:27 PM

I know!

YBCO wire has a superconducting critical temperature thats about 20°C warmer than liquid nitrogen boils at one atmosphere. We can market superconducting speaker wire that is cooled by liquid nitrogen to get the absolute pure sound of their electronics into their speakers. I'm certain that an eight foot pair of YBCO wires can be placed in a suitable insulating tube of Styrofoam to maintain the liquid nitrogen for less than the $36,000 of those MIT cables.

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#13

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/20/2012 9:16 PM

I recall back in the late 70s an article that was published in a popular electronics magazine that explored and even had instructions on how to produce mercury cables.

Quite a plumbing job as I recall.

I believe it was intended as a lampoon on the very subject of this thread.

I tried to find that article to share with CR4 but had little success after investing a few seconds of search time. I did find a contemporary manufacturer of liquid cables...

Prepare for disbelief......http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/teoaudio/liquid.html

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Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/21/2012 11:43 AM

That is the most rediculous review I have ever read. I cannot imagine anyone buying such a cable. If there is a market for such a product, it might be in Saudi Arabia or other oil rich countries. This is a product for billionaires, not mere millionaires.

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#15

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/28/2012 5:52 AM

The simple fact is we can measure the difference between any two different cables simply because they are different. Size, color, mass, length, density, composition, ductility, we could make a hundred parameters to measure - some of which might have some bearing on how the cable effects the audio signal passing through it.

What is far more misunderstood in the common marketplace is the effect that the insulation and physical construction (parallel, twisted, braided, stranding), capacitance and inductance of the cable has on the signal and in audio, on the sound.

Reaching agreement over argument is even more difficult when the discussion comes to - "can these different cables make an impact on a digital signal, a digital audio or video signal?"

The fact is - any change in cable changes the signal and has an effect on the output of the connected device. The question is - can we measure it, and more than that - can we see it or hear it?

There is no question that there's a difference in the audio quality of low capacitance twisted pair speaker wire when compared to parallel zipcord/lampcord of the same guage. The difference is even greater when two channels or two bandwidths are run in parallel, or worse, in the same conduit. Ask anybody in the telephone business who has ever done any wire work. Why are the pairs twisted? Same thing is true for Cat5.

As to the "digital is all the same so the wire doesn't matter" belief... well, it's just not true. There are HUGE differences in the error rates between lousy cheap cables and the better cables. BUT - here's the dirty little secret - unless you practically cut the wire or start unplugging the wire intermittently, or some other highly abusive and unlikely treatment, you won't see it on 98% of the consumer products on the market. The error rates of the source material - even on blue ray - are so high to begin with that a few more errors from the cable is just not going to make a difference. If your source material is cable, God help you. Fios or Uverse, maybe a better cable might make some difference. Satellite, you could possibly notice less pixelation, and maybe, maybe, less color fringing and posterization from loss of color bit depth.

Reality? Cables2Go, WalMart, BlueJeans, and even my corner Dollar Store now have HDMI cables that will function, to some degree, in the right environment. We have a system running two displays off a splitter and 2x100' HDMI cables that cost $35 each. It's as close to perfect as the client can want. They can't see any difference in the 100' cable and the 5 foot 90$ cable we used to set up the displays. Notice I said "they can't see"...

Another factor that is not considered is that a "perfect" cable won't fix a lousy DVD player or other source... but a "perfect" source can shove a signal down a cable that you might think is cheap junk because it doesn't work on other players. All this holds true for HDMI repeaters, and the HDMI receive section of your displays, also.

Bottom Line - you can definitely measure a difference. You may or may not be able to see a difference. If you are stuck watching Cablevision in a 1-in 500-out system in a giant apartment complex, put the cable box next to your display and get a $4 HDMI cord. Save your money for the cinema or BlueRay disks.

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#16

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

01/12/2013 7:44 PM

There seems to be some confusion here based on most of the dialog.

HDMI cable is designed for low power Radio Frequency range analog and digital data signals to be processed into data, audio and video signals.

It is not intended as an audio frequency cable for earphones(although it can be) or speakers that require a greater power handling capability.

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#17
In reply to #1

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/21/2013 12:08 PM

Will this never die???

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#18
In reply to #4

Re: Economic Audio: HDMI Cables

06/21/2013 12:14 PM

If you are speaking of copper wire, both analog and digital signals require many different gauges depending on bandwith, voltage levels, distance (especially), etc. A major difference being that if a digital signal does not reach the distant end at an acceptable level due to the varying causes of loss then the signal may as well not even exist. It all matters.

USB is a perfect common example of being limited by distance.

When you say 0-2k I assume you mean speaker wires? I have many analog signals which cover well into the MHz range...they're called carriers.

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