I amaze myself sometimes. I’ll fuss over some purchases for weeks, months even. When I got the new audio rack, I felt as though I deserved to get some new interconnects, seeing that my system was held together with a collection of interconnects that was haphazard at best.
The Audioquest Evergreens I purchased were not very good–the sonics seemed OK, if a bit thin, but they were picking up noise. At $34-ish each, I was not happy with the outcome. Even some cheap older cables of mine were dead quiet.
So I looked at others. Blue Jeans Cable was at first an option, but since it was simply Belden coaxial video cable with gold plated RCA plugs on each end, I felt I could do better. I came to the conclusion that I could make my own cables, with my choice of interconnect cable and connectors, and save a bit in the process.
It was shopping for cabling that took some time. While some would claim a wire sounded good, others would say it was thin or bright. A second wire would sound good to some, and others would say it was dark and muddy. Just opinions! But I did get an overall idea that pure silver cable could be on the bright side, whereas some all-copper cables could be the opposite direction and come across as dark.
Cardas had some nice copper Litz wire (stranded copper, where each conductor is insulated by a lacquer, similar to the windings in a transformer), but it was hard to find it in stock. Kimber had some of their braided cable used in the PBJ interconnects, so that was an option. Finally I decided to give the DH Labs Silver Sonic BL-1 cable a try. The strands have a copper core with a silver cladding, so it theoretically could have the best of both worlds.
I also shopped around for RCA phono plugs, and finally decided to give the Neutrik ProFi plugs a try. They have a unique design. The ground connector is spring-loaded, and is even with the tip, so that you can safely unplug it while your equipment is live. (The idea is that your ground connection is made first when inserting, and broken last when removing.) The strain relief is unique also, using a cinching collar that tightens onto the cable. They give you spare collars in the package for a different diameter of wire.
One thing I should have done, and may still do, is buy some braided sleeving and heat shrink tubing to give the cables a better finish. Not necessary, but it does give them a nicer look and feel. One thing, though, is that the cable does have directional arrows on it so I likely would use a different heat shrink tubing on each end to tell them apart. One minor complaint about the cable–the lettering rubs off. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but that might eradicate the directional arrows, which could be a problem down the road.
I can’t answer the question that the wire itself is directional, but the way I wired these cables does require that the correct end is connected at the source, and the other at the destination.
I used what is called a floating shield. The BL-1 wire has two conductors, plus the shield. It could be used for balanced interconnects. In this case, however, one conductor is connected to the tip, the other to the ground, and on only the source end of the cable, the shield is also connected to the ground. (Your source would be like the CD player end of the cable connecting to a preamp.)
The result came out rather well. The cables look professionally finished. The Neutrik plugs clamped down tightly on the cable, so I would probably destroy the wire before I’d ever pull it out of the plug. The collars did take a bit to tighten down though. And if I did go with the heat shrink tubing, I would have to use a larger collar.
As for the sound, the cables are dead quiet. The floating shield works perfectly. Sonically, they may still be breaking in, but I can’t quite put my finger on what is different. Things just sound….cleaner? I know the silver might be adding a little more detail, but the midrange, especially vocal, sounds very clean and open. The sound bites of the children playing at the beginning of “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls”, by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, struck me as sounding particularly lifelike.) Reverb trails are also nicely rendered.
Bass did seem a bit thin on some days, but on others, it is no different from how it was represented with my other cables. (I often sit in a corner of the room working at a desk where bass is somewhat amplified, so it’s a bit sensitive to bass levels.) Even if the cables do turn out to be slightly on the bright side, that will compensate for the speakers I’m working on.
So overall, I’m pleased with the outcome, and the total cost for each cable came out between one half to one third what DH Labs sells their finished cables for. Do the phono plugs make a difference? Perhaps, but I doubt I’d hear it. The Neutriks are heavy, solid, and gold plated. I have only made two sets so far (Oppo 105 to preamp, preamp to amp), and have one more to go (moving coil pre-preamp to preamp).
If you are at all handy with a soldering iron, making your own interconnects is quite rewarding, and can save a bit of money. Quite a bang for the buck!