How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 8

There’s a phenomenon that audiophiles know well: burn-in, or break-in. Every single audio component you get, according to them, needs to be burned in. You need to run it for days, even weeks to get optimal sound. This is necessary for speakers, amps, CD players, and, yes, cables.

The concept of burning or breaking in physical devices, such as speakers, makes sense; speakers turn electrical impulses into music through vibrations, and it’s logical that a speaker, and its housing, will react to those vibrations. But suggesting that cables need to be broken in; well, that’s just typical audiophile BS.

Here’s a review of a set of cables; the reviewer has an interesting approach:

I will only review a complete cable loom, regardless of which manufacturer is supplying it. This should comprise of everything from the mains leads, through the interconnects to the speakers and might also incorporate data cables if a computer is included in the system.

Of course, this doesn’t make his review any more grounded than others. Regarding burn-in, he says:

After about three weeks of daily use the cables began to undergo a change. There was always a slight question mark in my head over their absolute resolving power through the midband and after initially feeling very complimentary of their impeccable balance they seemed to grow a little soft and somewhat dull. But, gradually a new performance level was taking shape and they just grew in sophistication and balance as the weeks rolled by. What emerged was an even livelier cable set than before with an extra edge and clarity to their dynamic resolving power. The system had put on some weight, but in all the right places, drawing the electronics together as a more enjoyable whole with an even better feeling of stability to the musical picture. Now the system was sounding like a single musically focussed unit rather than a collection of expensive components.

But then he changed one cable, the interconnect between the CD player and amp:

I am not saying the system sounded bad. In fact the sound became warmer and fatter, but the rhythmic togetherness and the whole swing and beating pulse of the music had vanished. Now it stuttered along like so many high-end systems I hear. It was certainly impressive hi-fi, but the detailed focus and explicit telling of the musical story was severely compromised.

Ah, the explicit telling of the musical story… It’s a shame when it’s severely compromised.

18 thoughts on “How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 8

  1. This whole series has been a classic, Kirk.
    “…but the rhythmic togetherness and the whole swing and beating pulse of the music had vanished.”

    Keep the series going on!

  2. This whole series has been a classic, Kirk.
    “…but the rhythmic togetherness and the whole swing and beating pulse of the music had vanished.”

    Keep the series going on!

  3. I’ve always heard headphones need a break-in period of 24 hours. If that were true, you would think they would do that before they leave the factory.

    • Some headphones need some time to sound “right”. I’m a production sound mixer and have a lot of cans. Good ones such as the Sony MDR-7506 or, say, Sennheiser HD-25/26 sound good right out of the box.

      When I got my Dynaudio BM15A active near field monitors I was surprised to find a long recommendations sheet in the box that descibed how to “play-in” the speakers the right way. I followed the suggestions and never had a problem since then.

      • Yes, as I say, I don’t disagree for speakers; and the same goes for headphones, since they, too, have actually moving parts. When I bought my Focal Chorus 806 speakers, a bit more than a year ago, I noticed a distinct weakness in bass the first few days. They opened up after that.

    • Some speakers are like that:

      All [speakers] are pre-aged, and slightly broken in when they’re manufactured.

      Apparently, some companies charge extra for this, but I haven’t found any examples.

  4. I’ve always heard headphones need a break-in period of 24 hours. If that were true, you would think they would do that before they leave the factory.

    • Some headphones need some time to sound “right”. I’m a production sound mixer and have a lot of cans. Good ones such as the Sony MDR-7506 or, say, Sennheiser HD-25/26 sound good right out of the box.

      When I got my Dynaudio BM15A active near field monitors I was surprised to find a long recommendations sheet in the box that descibed how to “play-in” the speakers the right way. I followed the suggestions and never had a problem since then.

      • Yes, as I say, I don’t disagree for speakers; and the same goes for headphones, since they, too, have actually moving parts. When I bought my Focal Chorus 806 speakers, a bit more than a year ago, I noticed a distinct weakness in bass the first few days. They opened up after that.

    • Some speakers are like that:

      All [speakers] are pre-aged, and slightly broken in when they’re manufactured.

      Apparently, some companies charge extra for this, but I haven’t found any examples.

  5. They must be having such a laugh coming up with all this nonsense. Getting paid to invent pretty phrases and imagine things like “dynamic resolving power” and “rhythmic togetherness” while other journalists have to actually go out do proper work for a living. You can understand why they want to keep this train rolling.

  6. They must be having such a laugh coming up with all this nonsense. Getting paid to invent pretty phrases and imagine things like “dynamic resolving power” and “rhythmic togetherness” while other journalists have to actually go out do proper work for a living. You can understand why they want to keep this train rolling.

  7. Those “Hi-Fi” magazines are full of BS like that. It’s unbelievable.

    People sometimes ask me how I think about cables. My answer is always the same: I don’t believe in myths. I try to avoid ultra-cheap wires and I am happy I have a bunch of really good ones. None of them was more than 50 dollars, including the tailored-to-my-needs hand-made.

    Fortunately, I have a glorious audio shack in my hood here in Berlin, Germany: Kortwich Filmtontechnik. They sell and rent the audio equipment that I use every day for a living (Film/TV production), they have certified technicians in place and they make their own, georgous stuff. Their cables are awesome. Couldn’t be happier.

  8. Those “Hi-Fi” magazines are full of BS like that. It’s unbelievable.

    People sometimes ask me how I think about cables. My answer is always the same: I don’t believe in myths. I try to avoid ultra-cheap wires and I am happy I have a bunch of really good ones. None of them was more than 50 dollars, including the tailored-to-my-needs hand-made.

    Fortunately, I have a glorious audio shack in my hood here in Berlin, Germany: Kortwich Filmtontechnik. They sell and rent the audio equipment that I use every day for a living (Film/TV production), they have certified technicians in place and they make their own, georgous stuff. Their cables are awesome. Couldn’t be happier.

  9. It’s true that you have to break-in your cables before they reach their optimum sound. What most people don’t realize, though, is that you should replace all of your cables every couple of years, preferably all at the same time so that the ages or your cables are matched. Nothing sounds worse than a brand new speaker cable mixed with old, worn out power cables. The transmission quality degrades over time and can compromise the finer details in the audio/video playback. This is especially true if you frequently listen at high volumes. The last thing you want is a worn out component cable catching fire when you turn up the volume. If you think new cables sound bad, you should hear how bad the music will sound through a cable engulfed in flame, especially when the smoke detector goes off.

    Not only should you buy the highest quality (i.e. highly priced) cables you can find, but be sure to replace them every two years in order to keep the music fresh and to keep from burning down the house.

  10. It’s true that you have to break-in your cables before they reach their optimum sound. What most people don’t realize, though, is that you should replace all of your cables every couple of years, preferably all at the same time so that the ages or your cables are matched. Nothing sounds worse than a brand new speaker cable mixed with old, worn out power cables. The transmission quality degrades over time and can compromise the finer details in the audio/video playback. This is especially true if you frequently listen at high volumes. The last thing you want is a worn out component cable catching fire when you turn up the volume. If you think new cables sound bad, you should hear how bad the music will sound through a cable engulfed in flame, especially when the smoke detector goes off.

    Not only should you buy the highest quality (i.e. highly priced) cables you can find, but be sure to replace them every two years in order to keep the music fresh and to keep from burning down the house.

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