Audiophiles: Cable burn-in

Audiophiles: Cable burn-in

Some people worship a God, others claim to see the future in the stars or banish evil with crystals. Even worse, some audiophiles claim to understand electronics while wasting their money on the audio equivalent of Kabalah Water.

This is a regular look at some of the crazy audophile products available to people with little sense but a lot of money.

Product: Cable burn-in services.

Price: 1-2 metre cable = $30.00 per pair of cables. (bi-wire costs an additional $10.

Claims: To achieve optimum performance, speaker cables and interconnects must have signal run through them for hundreds of hours – a process that fine-tunes the cables, and makes a big difference in the sound of your system.

Cold reality: This claim is totally bogus. Equipment such as valve amplifiers and speakers (since they contain physical moving parts) do go through a ‘burn-in’ period before they settle down to a fairly consistent level of performance, but cables are just not prone to this.

Excluding physical damage to the cable or oxidisation on the connectors, there are tiny changes that take place during the life of a cable but certainly not detectable by the human ear. Imagine if you placed a block of aluminium in your garden and you tried over a period of 50 years to notice how much weight it has lost due to wind erosion? There will be some change but certainly not enough for you to notice.

The idea here is that they ‘burn-in’ the cable by running signals through it for a set period of time (72 hours according to this company). This is meant to create ‘significant audible improvements’ by changing the cable. Unless they are pumping excessive current through the cables, thus causing them to overheat, there will be no appreciable changes. The kind of heat needed to change the crystaline structure of the copper is likely to cause a fire – thus rendering the cable fairly useless anyway.

On the web site you’ll notice that they are careful to avoid making specific claims regarding the changes. As an electrical engineer, you would measure things like capacitance, impedance, resistance to determine the characteristics of the cable. Note that none of these ‘burn-in’ companies claim to change these characteristics in any way, all they do is make vague claims about ‘stunning musical performance’. Obviously something that can’t be measured with ease.

If you are considering using the services of this company, I’d suggest you do the following.

1) Take the cable to an electrical engineer and have them discover the electrical characteristics of the cable. Resistance, impedance and inductance are useful. You need to make sure that the connectors are clean since oxidisation can reduce the conductivity.

2) Send your cable away to be ‘burnt-in’.

3) When your cable comes back, use it. Do you notice any improvements?

4) Now have your engineer run the same tests on the cable. Are there any changes?

An audiophile will most likely answer ‘yes’ to question 3 and ‘no, but that’s not the point, it sounds better’ to question 4. I’m going to see if I can get a chance to test some of these cables myself but I welcome comments from anyone who has already tried this.


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