Are these crazy expensive studio cables worth the cash? How come I can buy a Livewire XLR cable for a literal fraction of the price of a Monster cable? And then I see these ridiculous audiophile cables asking a thousand dollars or more for a single cable? What's the deal? Do they actually produce better quality audio?
It all boils down to some folks not understanding the mechanics and physics of the different types of audio cables, and then a portion of those people being complete suckers for marketing.
Before I realized there was a difference between the music studio community and the audiophile community, I was reading a lot of information from audiophiles that I'm guessing isn't correct. One of the things I'd see is people buying insanely expensive cables and making sure they never touched the ground, didn't bend or turn corners too sharply, and other stuff they had seemingly reasonable explanations for.
But I'm questioning everything now that I'm finally ready to buy some cables for my home studio. Can you break down what makes a cable valuable and what's just delusion and "woo?"
Thank you for being a voice of reason,
Ethan, we are glad to be of service. Yeah, the audiophile community seems to make sense at first until you start seeing the obvious crazy stuff. Then you're forced to reevaluate everything, all the way down to whether Duracell or Energizer sounds better in your remote control for your speakers.
No, it's not worth buying the ridiculously pricey cables. So why is there such an enormous price difference? It boils down to there being three types of people in the audio industry:
The pragmatists are the starving artist type. They need a cable and have enough experience to know that they are all actually producing the same quality of audio. They may not know why, but they've confirmed it amongst themselves a million times over. If they need a new cable because they lost one at a gig, then they blow $15-20 on a Livewire and go about their business.
The professionals are the guys like studio engineers or live music operators who know they won't lose cables constantly or have them stolen. They also know that the audio quality is the same, except for a few details in their build.
Some have better shielding so you get a bit less noise in the signal. But the main thing is that the connectors and shielding are of higher quality and won't be breaking and fraying any time soon.
The gullible people are the audiophiles who spend tens of thousands of dollars on cables and then turn around and listen to 128 kbps MP3's and claim there's a difference. Some people claim they can hear the difference in which brand of battery they use in their remote control...
They buy trillion dollar record player needles and quadrillion dollar speaker systems, and then use zero acoustic treatment in their listening room. It's a giant case of the placebo effect strengthened by confirmation bias and their minds trying to dodge buyer's remorse.
If you're looking to buy a digital cable of any kind, don't fall for the tricks. A difference of $10 here or there is fine. The build quality of plastic around the connectors might be thicker, they might come with color-coded bands to help you stay organized, etc. But there's no reason to be paying $100 for an HDMI cable (I'm looking at you, Monster Cables).
A digital signal consists of binary code. It's literally a string of zeros and ones. No noise can enter that signal and confuse it, change it, disrupt it.
If you're on the hunt for some analog cables for your living room or home studio, then sure you need to be concerned with shielding to some degree. The truth is that most cables offered on the market are shielded and shielded enough.
No cable is going to resist the 60 Hz hum if you lay it across a power adaptor. Some might brag about their gold foil shielding and all of that but even that doesn't increase the price of the cables astronomically.
The reality here is that you might not want the bottom rung especially if you unplug and replug them in a lot. Those are the kind that eventually will have the cable pull away from the connector and fray some, causing you to replace it eventually.
The ones that might cost an extra $20 are better built in that regard and are built well enough that these companies are willing to offer you a lifetime warranty, such as Mogami does. It's typically worth it. The nice ones are lifetime purchases.
The price difference between the bottom tier ($20-$25) and the middle tier is almost negligible ($40-$50). The difference comes from the quality of the build (not the quality of the audio that pops out the other end) and perhaps the cost of the packaging and some of the marketing budget. And of course you'll pay more for a longer cable because it requires more material to make it.
The top tier of absurdity is completely based on lies. Marketers know that there are some people who equate price with quality. That's not always true and in this case it's never true. But it only takes a handful of sales to make it worth their time. And as you know, there's a sucker born every minute.
Don't be a sucker when it comes to studio cables. Keep it realistic and that's what it will be.