Have You Listened to Your Cables?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Callus McFinger, Feb 3, 2018.

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  1. Callus McFinger

    Callus McFinger

    Feb 22, 2016
    When things go wrong with your gear, what's the primary culprit? The cable...always check the cable! What about when everything's working fine? The cables are ignored. If you want to upgrade your sound, then most players will figure out how much they can budget for the next big purchase of an amp, cab, or maybe even a new pedal (we'll keep our basses out of this discussion). But, have you ever critically listened to your cables?

    I've seen a lot of musicians with incredible instruments and gear connecting it all with a mish-mosh of decent and crap cables, even though most of us know that the final output will be limited by the weakest link. Just imagine upgrading your overall sound with a single $40 purchase. So, have you listened to your cables?

    This post may not apply to players already spending big money on really good cables, as I haven't been able to expand my critical listening to include a range of high end cable suppliers, but hopefully it encourages those who think the cables simply just "need to work", to make their next upgrade a good cable - and maybe one in particular.

    In fairness, I need to divulge that I made a personal contact at the CES Show with an employee at Monster who supplied a new cable to review, but only because I'm still using two 20 year old Monster Performer 500 Bass cables (I'll refer to my old friends as MB500) that I bought in the 90's. The new and old cables are both part of the Prolink series, and the new one is now simply called Monster Bass (I'll refer to it as NewMB). He wanted an honest assessment, so here's my best shot.

    Here's a pic and description of the setup I used for listening tests:

    Equipment used:
    - 5 string Zon Legacy with Bartolini pickups and preamp - various EQ settings were used during testing; D'Addario coated nickel roundwound strings
    - Quilter Bass Block 800 - used to power the headphones (eq set flat); plugged into passive input for more gain (the Bart preamp output is set a bit low), Gain and Master at 12 o'clock
    - Boss Line Selector LS-2 - A>B mode; gains set at unity (12 o'clock, which I believe is unity on that unit)
    - Sony MDR-7506 headphones (one of the industry standard pro studio phones that provide an un-hyped, fairly honest rendering of the signal)

    Signal chain:
    Zon > Monster StudioLink 500 patch cable > Boss Line Selector LS-2 Input > Loop A/B > StudioLink 500 patch cable > Quilter > MDR-7506

    Test method: I patched the cables being tested into the LS-2 loops, and switched back and forth fairly quickly to evaluate the differences

    Well, it's true, you can hear the differences. The first time (20 years ago?) I noted this, it was through a far less controlled setup - basically, I just plugged different cables into an amp. The initial reaction when comparing the Monster Bass (MB) cables (old and new versions) to most others is that the MB's are less bassy. Huh? What's happening in cheaper cables, from a layman's description, is the signal is getting a bit mushy, washed out, woofy, or that there's added 1st and 2nd octave low frequency overtones. (this comment may spawn a sharing of technical opinions, but this is just one way to describe how it "sounds") Upon further listening, you realize there is more energy focused on the note fundamentals coming through the MB cables, both down and up the fretboard. One strange perception from this difference is that the notes sound shorter, or tighter, but nice and round. Does this have to do with phase alignment of the frequencies in the signal? Also, there seems to be less addition of high midrange overtones, which sounds like there's less distortion, so the overall tone is less edgy and sounds smoother. I also believe the high end overall is a bit sweeter and crisper, except when compared to the George L's, but too many guitarists and drummers have reduced my critical listening capability of high frequency material. I started using hearing protection too late!

    When compared to the NewMB cables, the following cables sounded:
    - Whirlwind Leader 20' - this was the reference comparison, and matches the description above; older model with the braid covering, but a bit newer than my MB500's
    - George L short patch - a little less punchy, but not really woofy; top end was as crisp or crisper; midrange very nice - a touch more character, without being edgy; a bit lower output; this is the only other premium cable I compared
    - Old MB500 - almost identical - at first I thought it was less bassy, almost as if the NewMB was a bit woofier, but that wasn't it. The MB500 had a tad lower "output" (transmission? higher/lower resistance?...talk amongst yourselves), so the extra bass I heard in the new cable was a result of extra amplitude overall; I thought the MB500 wasn't as crisp on the top, but that may have also been due to it's slightly lower output.
    - StudioLink 500 patch cable - closest sound to the New MB, with just a slightly lower output
    - Crappy molded patch cable - similar to the Whirlwind

    Conclusion: The new cable's an improvement! Or, does the passing of endless hours of signal through a cable reduce it's ability to transmit a signal (it becomes slightly quieter)? The new cable may not be much of an improvement, as the MB500 was still better than all the other cables, but the slightly hotter transmission is probably always a good thing, as long as the new cable is just as quiet as the old one. Since I haven't needed to, I've never compared them to more expensive cables, but why would I? They transmit a clear bass tone that seems cleaner and more punchy, sounding like a well damped amplifier interacting with good speakers. Is it an impedance thing, or just lower resistance? Monster talks about solid core plus mid/high windings, but I really have no clue. What I know is that these cables support my punchy playing style really well, and my old cables, with the gold plating completely worn off, are still going strong with no crackles or issues. The MB500's are still a little tight in some jacks, but that's old news, and not an issue with the NewMBs! My problem is, I now want to go buy another new Monster Bass cable to get the maximum benefit of their design! After this critical listening test, it may be time to further reduce the weakest link effect in my chain, and also invest in a few of their 8" Monster Bass patch cables.

    I was actually expecting that I was going to find out that 20 years ago, during my first MB cable listening test, that I was being very subjective and was just under a placebo effect. Nope. Years ago, Monster developed a unique product that is rugged, instrument specific, and a decent value (with a lifetime replacement warranty!!), and the latest revision is just as good. Nice work Monster! Next time you're looking at gear, consider upgrading your cables.
    SakuBass, Mili, CZGunslinger and 2 others like this.
  2. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    Rat Tale has much more effect on tone. It's all passive too.

    Any cable that takes a signal in one side, and some modified signal comes out the other end is not what I'd want. Knobs on the bass and pre-amp are much more useful.
    lomo, Whil57, Sixgunn and 2 others like this.
  3. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand
    Around 10 years ago I was asked to evaluate some Elixir cables. I didn't have nearly as good a setup as you to test them..... I simply played a bit, swapped cables and played again. My test rig was a lowly Squier Strat guitar into a Peavy combo amp.
    I could notice a difference and believed that with higher end gear you'd probably notice more difference.

    I also told the importer that at $120 (Aussie dollars) there wasn't enough difference compared to a $40 cable to make me part with my own money for the Elixirs. Ten years later and I've had a couple of failed cheap cables but those Elixir's are still perfect after hundreds of rehearsals and gigs.
    pudgychef and Groove Doctor like this.
  4. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    You lost me at "Monster". I don't like their business practices. I do like decent cables, and that's what I use.
  5. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    I bought a cheapo instrument cable when I bought my amp, because in my mind I was going to build a better one.
    So, I bought some Mogami instrument wire & two Amphenol connectors.

    I think my mind wants me to believe it sounds better, but TBH I'm so tone deaf I probably couldn't tell unless there is a large difference.
    The cheapo cable still hangs here for when I use my Drop pedal.
  6. BadExample


    Jan 21, 2016
    TL;DR, but I did enjoy the pics...
  7. You don't need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on esoteric cables to have a good cable; $20.00USD should buy a good quality low capacitance cable with Neutrik connectors. Don't buy 30 foot cables unless you intend on cutting it up into a number of shorter cables, the capacitance accumulates over longer lengths. I personally wouldn't use a cable any longer than 8 feet.

    Cables do not wear out from passing signal; they do wear out from physical damage: stomping on them, rolling heavy gear on casters over them, stretching them, etc.
    lomo, Haroldo, matthewbrown and 10 others like this.
  8. bass12

    bass12 Have You Met Grace Jones?

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I've bought some more expensive cables in the past but came to the conclusion that there wasn't any noticeable sonic difference between the $25 cables I'd been using and the $100 "upgrades". I'd rather spend my money on other things.
    cbnutt, gebass6, Lvjoebass and 3 others like this.
  9. bass12

    bass12 Have You Met Grace Jones?

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Just curious, what are their objectionable "business practices"?
    sinlapse13 and saabfender like this.
  10. MordBass


    Nov 1, 2017
    I used to do sales/consltng with audio/video stuff and we had a shocking demo that I set up at one store.

    Took a NAD cd player and receiver... connected to a pair of Canton towers. The gear was on a stand in the center of the speakers and a single chair was in the sweet spot. The left RCA and speaker cables were the cheap stuff that comes in the box, while the right side were monster. Nothing too ridiculous though... I think the speaker cables sold at $200 for a 10 ft pair and the RCA's were about half that for a 1M pair.
    The whole idea with this setup was that I could stand behind the stand and adjust the balance on the receiver very quickly as the guest pointed to which side they wanted to hear. I would never tell them which was which until afterwards so there was no predetermined bias to prefer the "upgrade". Of course the better stuff sounded better to 99% of people but what was shocking was when you stuck the balance in the middle and listened. With both channels playing, you could very clearly tell that one side was putting out deeper and more pronounced bass and mids. I even made a song of 4 tracks of bass guitar at home all layered over each other with equal panning. It was essentially a bass line and then a solo over it... so two tracks that i then copy/pasted and each line got a hard pan for both speakers. It was remarkable to hear the whole image shift to the side with the better cables.
    Lvjoebass and Callus McFinger like this.
  11. MordBass


    Nov 1, 2017
    As somebody that worked in the industry and had a number of Monster reps, noel lee is a known to be a huge D bag that treats people terribly and fills all of his packaging with extremely far fetched claims of "science". He also famously wouldnt respond to a certain audiophile offering him a million dollars if he could tell his own companies flagship speaker cable from a lamp cord in a double blind test.
    FWIW their products are durable and had an outstanding warranty so I did purchase a number of them....at 80% off lol
    dralionux, twinjet, 58kites and 4 others like this.
  12. They sold 1/4"+ oversize plugs to make them feel solidly connected. That stretched out user's jacks makIng standard cables wobbly... or so the story goes.
    RRR, HolmeBass, Plectrum72 and 11 others like this.
  13. MordBass


    Nov 1, 2017
    Truth. I have a Zon that basically requires monster cables because the previous owner used them for 15 years.
  14. mobdirt

    mobdirt Guest

    Jun 14, 2017
    especially since i started making my own, belden, mogami, canare all good, even the way cables are soldered makes a difference to the sound
    40Hz likes this.
  15. SactoBass

    SactoBass A retired civil engineer who likes all-tube amps!

    Jul 8, 2009
    Lake Havasu City, AZ
    Regarding Monster cables for bass:

    I cannot confirm whether there is any truth to what I read years ago about Monster cables for bass, but what I read was, those cables were designed to remove some of the high end frequencies, fooling the user into thinking that those cables provided more bass.

    Also, (and again, I cannot confirm this), but I recall reading that the 1/4" plugs that Monster was using were ever-so-slightly larger in diameter than what most other cable manufacturers were using, making it an uncomfortably tight fit in some 1/4" jacks.

    This is going back 20 years ago or so, so maybe things have changed since then. I am only sharing what I recall reading back then. So please take that for what it's worth! :thumbsup:
    Tom Henry, Al Kraft, Gabbs and 2 others like this.
  16. Callus McFinger

    Callus McFinger

    Feb 22, 2016
    My intention was to see if I there is a notable improvement in (subjective) sound quality based on cable choice, and clearly there is a difference. Thanks for the link to your analysis.
  17. I did a similar blind test with the monster cable rep who was trying to get us to carry his product. I compared his speaker wire to 2 lengths of coat hanger wire straightened out. He couldn't identify his product while switching back and forth between the copper and steel conductors.
    If you want some high quality speaker wire for cheap, buy some 2 conductor 14AWG trailer cable. It's relatively fine strands, and has a nice flexible jacket.
  18. mobdirt

    mobdirt Guest

    Jun 14, 2017
    ..oh and btw, never buying ready made cables ever again

    edit: REDCO
    Dominic DeCosa likes this.
  19. Rick James

    Rick James Inactive

    Feb 24, 2007
    New Jersey
    That's not how valid listening tests are done. The right way is double blind, where neither the person listening nor the person conducting the test knows what's being listened to. With the right test methods you get results like the ones here:
    Do Coat Hangers Sound As Good Monster Cables?
  20. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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