In my piece on why you need an Adam Audio A7X studio monitor and a Sub8 subwoofer I said in my conclusion that I was going to cover cables as well. The reason is that I have been struggling with the question whether a microphone or a speaker cable can make a difference. As a person who tries to be insensitive to nonsense some marketing departments seem to churn out I always try to find objective or scientifically based arguments to either underpin or counter such statements. In the case of cables, I have long been puzzled by the divide between two types of audio pros: the ones that believe cables do influence the sound and those that dismiss the idea as rubbish.
I won’t deny it, I am a cable freak, but not because I think a cable can make bad equipment (or badly set up equipment) sound better, but because I have some strange sort of urge to buy a cable whenever I see one that looks well made. It’s almost an OCD. And I do think cables can alter the sound that you put into a recording or that you hear when listening to a pair of good speakers. But I don’t think that, by buying an RCA cable of 30cm costing 300 Euros I can make my 500 Euros worth low-quality sound equipment (audio interface to speakers or headphones) suddenly sound like it’s cost ten times the price.
What I do believe and actually can hear clearly is that a 25 Euros speaker cable with XLR connectors is not going to leave the accuracy and sound quality of 1200-Euros-a-pair Adam A7X’s and another 700 to 1100 Euros matching subwoofer intact. It is crystal clear to me that oxygen-free copper is all over the place, whether it be a cheap cable or an expensive one, but it is also crystal-clear that a more expensive cable has better shielding, better connectors, probably better soldering, better sheathing, etc. And that all that is going to be reflected in the sound is self-evident.
The question is, though, whether there is an audible difference between a Mogami Gold Studio with Neutrik plugs costing 85 Euros and a Vovox cable with Neutrik plugs costing 350 Euros. Vovox will tell you there is, of course, but most US-American audio engineers will tell you it’s pure marketing fluff and that if you think you’re hearing a difference it’s because you paid so much money a psychological phenomenon called the “marketing placebo effect” (E.g.: Psychology today, “How your brain makes you think expensive wine tastes better”, 2017) kicks in.
Why bother to test the Epilogue SOMMER Cable
I’m not falling for that, but as I said, I am sort of a cable freak, so when I read claims that a cable sounds better because it has a very, very low wire-to-wire capacitance of 35 pF, I simply must know more about it and ideally try it out for myself. And that’s how I got to test a pair of the SOMMER Cable (in some countries sold under the brand name Hicon) microphone/speaker cable with the name Epilogue which is wrapped in a bright yellow sheath and fitted out with Neutrik “SATIN” XLR connectors, which have rotated, genuine gold-plated contacts in the male and female versions (these are produced by Neutrik especially for SOMMER Cable and are not commercially available).
I pitted this cable against a pair of Mogami Studio Gold and Vovox Sonorus direct S cables.
The first thing that surprised me was that SOMMER Cable, the company, not just sent me the cables but also an almost encyclopaedic catalogue. It was soon clear why they did. It turns out SOMMER Cable is a German manufacturer who not only makes cables for audio and video but also has a full spectrum of equipment and cables for use in conference and such rooms (think European Parliament sized), in OB trucks (OB stands for Outside Broadcasting) with cables for connecting the OB truck to the concert hall or other place where audio and video is captured, etc.
On top of that, my press contact sent me a case study in which the Epilogue was used by Grammy-winner Da-Hong Seetoo when he recorded the Emerson String Quartet in 2018 (https://www.sommercable.com/en/news/2018-01-23/Da-Hong — https://www.discogs.com/artist/720218-Da-Hong-Seetoo — https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1893458/?ref_=nmbio_bio_nm).
I’d say if it’s good enough for a Grammy winner, it sure will be good enough for me, but more to the point: it should be good enough for sound designers and sound engineers working on movie or video tracks for any type of project.
The proof of the pudding is in the listening
I hooked up the Vovox cables first and listened to a number of musical pieces I know from way back. Trying out audio equipment this way has one advantage: if you listen to specific music often enough, you develop what is known as auditory memory. That is probably not infallible, but it will be accurate enough to know if some parts sound very high-pitched or with plenty of bass and how harsh the high frequencies actually sound.
The Mogami Gold Studio sounded balanced — no extremes in the highs and none in the lows — with much more detail audible than with my older cables. This cable is my current favourite precisely because it sounds so balanced and detailed. Before the Mogami’s I had some cheap Cordials and an equally cheap Italian unbranded cable. They were OK but lacked detail and, more importantly, were broken after a few times plugging in and out.
The Vovox, which is unshielded, sounded very harsh in the highs. To make matters worse with this cable, the A7X has plenty of higher frequencies to share due to its X-ART tweeter. The Vovox was routed near a bunch of electrical wires and power adapters. The cable being unshielded, I decided to first reroute it to see if it made any difference. It did. When I made sure the Vovox was further away from the electrical stuff, it sounded less harsh but still with pretty outspoken focus on high notes. Much of the harshness of this cable, I concluded, was probably due to interference. What the Vovox does have, though, is an excellent stereo image. It’s even more outspoken than with my Mogami’s.
The SOMMER Cable (Hicon) Epilogue was next. So what did I find? Well, they sound a lot like the Vovox Sonorus but without the harshness. Instead, the highs with this cable sound like satin. The detail is outspoken, the stereo image is outspoken but on the whole it sounds much more friendly. That was with CD recordings from Deutsche Grammofon, Sony Classics, and other baroque, classical and contemporary music labels.
More importantly, there also was a subtle improvement when I reran the tests with older DPA Microphone d:dicate voice recordings where the highs were also less aggressive without sacrificing the accuracy. My own sibilance that drove a YouTube subscriber up the walls was clearly audible but the screeching character it had with the Vovox — and screeching my voice is objectively not — was much less present with the Epilogue.
Where this leads to
As Pascal Miguet, Product & Sales manager at SOMMER Cable told me, as far as the sound image with exaggerated highs is concerned, there is a very simple trick with various coatings that slightly raise the upper mids. Miguet has no doubt that cables can change the soundscape.
As I already concluded myself from going through the company’s entire product catalogue, SOMMER Cable is a manufacturer that offers cables with some sound coloration as well as neutral cables which are, for example, used by broadcasting companies.
Miguet states that the technical parameters are what you hear. And as far as shielding is concerned, he says that good shielding is extremely important. The shield conductor, Miguet says, should always be at the same distance from the wire. That means, if the wire is off-centre or the shield is not laid properly due to overlapping or poor braiding, it adversely affects capacitance and attenuation and this can, of course, affect the sound, which is especially the case with guitar cables.
So, next time you’re in the market for audio cables, think of them as having a sound of their own, be it a subtle sound. And don’t take your decision on buying one over the other too lightly. I, for one, and I am not alone, will happily recommend a SOMMER Cable (or Hicon, depending on where you live) Epilogue as a speaker cable for a studio or hi-fi environment.