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Author Topic: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?  (Read 13902 times)

Offline Sprool

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I'd be interested in a reasoned scientific debate that justifies the incredible cost of these high end mains cables for hifi. Soaring to £1999/m for top of the range, it is supposed to give massively improved acoustic response by 'cleaning up' the mains feed to your amp.
http://www.cheshireaudio.co.uk/acatalog/copy_of_Nordost.html
http://www.nordost.com/93/blue-heaven-power-cord
I suspect a lot of very expensive snake oil here, but is there a proper reason why these leads, by reducing any ac noise from all that filthy mains electricity entering your house ring mains via the grid's dirty old exterior cables, can significantly improve the sound of your Snow patrol CD whirring away in your Amstrad?
« Last Edit: 14/01/2012 08:51:14 by chris »


 

Offline Don_1

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I rather suspect that this is a con, but am sure that there will be those foolish enough to buy them.

I have yet to hear any interference on my hi-fi caused by 'dirty' mains feed. Even if such a thing exists, I'm sure that there is a far greater chance of unwanted background noise coming through the walls and windows of my lounge spoiling my enjoyment of my favourite music, or even the sound of my own breathing, the squeak of my sofa as my chest moves during breathing or a spider farting in its web.

I've heard some old tosh in my life, this is certainly up in the top ten.
 

Offline RD

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£1999/m

They're 'aving a giraffe.

A twisted pair wouldn't clean noise present at the mains socket, it would reduce the noise picked up by induction from the environment between the wall socket and the hi-fi, which would be a miniscule fraction (<1%) of the voltage the cable is carrying, which would be filtered out by the PSU on the Hi-Fi anyway. 

Quote
Twisted pair cabling is a type of wiring in which two conductors (the forward and return conductors of a single circuit) are twisted together for the purposes of cancelling out electromagnetic interference (EMI) from external sources
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twisted_pair


« Last Edit: 12/01/2012 17:25:18 by RD »
 

Offline Sprool

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Even cheap amplifiers have basic circuitry inside (a few tens of pence component cost) to smooth out peaks and farts in AC supply.
 

Offline CliffordK

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The first two cords seem to have NEMA 5-15 plugs, standard in the USA.  Do they work in the UK where these are apparently being sold?

I'm also dubious...  You have standard unshielded wires from the power substation to the local transformer, and from the transformer to your house and throughout the house. 

Then, suddenly 6 feet of shielded wire is supposed to make a world of difference?

This is the closest thing to your audio equipment, so if your equipment is susceptible to 50/60 HZ noise, the shielded wires may help a little, but it still ignores all the unshielded wire everywhere else.
 

Offline Sprool

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There's some special science about the world class speaker cables as well, with twisted minofilament insultor wrapped round the conductor before enclosing in a sheath - this extra air space provides a clearer signal current path since it is in less contact with the insulator. Do you think by rubbing up against the surface of an insulator, the signal quality might become somehow retarded, slowed down or lost?

Nordost winds a thin strand of ultra-pure FEP Mono-filament in a precisely spaced helical coil around each conductor – and then extrudes an FEP jacket over that strand. Using the Monofilament as a “stand-off”, the FEP jacket never touches the conductor. Only the FEP strand makes contact, achieving an 80% air gap, while maintaining perfect flexibility and superb mechanical damping: a one-two punch that no other brand can offer!
 

Offline imatfaal

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I remain unconvinced - I am equally sceptical each way - about the benefits/ripoffs of high end audio interconnects.  i can tell you that in a blind test about 20 years ago my girlfriend and I could hear the difference between good quality interconnects and those provided with a cd seperate (and yes we were all science (ish) students and it was a pretty good double blinded test).    I have subsequently tried to hear the difference between good interconnects and stupidly expensive and cannot tell any difference.  With a top end system one can hear the difference when an optional and isolated power feed is connected - however I have never tried this properly blinded, and even though one can hear a difference that is not necessarily good.

On the reductionist postion that argues that we cannot possibly hear the difference.  I remember when CDs came in and reading eminent people foretelling the imminent collapse of vinyl because of the gulf in quality; now (with top end equipment) it is acknowledged there is a gap in performance - but that it is vinyl that is in the lead.  Human senses continue to confound those who try to limit them and technology is continually trying to catch up.

As Graham mentioned (I think i was Graham- otherwise apologies) in a similar post many moons ago - as we get older we lose our aural acuity; those who can afford good systems can no longer discern the difference, and those with young enough ears to still hear the high notes abuse their senses with in-ear headphones and with the bass turned up to 11!   
 

Offline SeanB

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There is a difference between ultra cheeeeep ( comes with the box and is made for lowest possible cost using poorest material that will last out the warranty period, which is mostly a taillight warranty anyhow) and a better connection. Mid price ( and this means not that overpriced thick cable from a certain company that hypes it) will be no worse than the snake oil stuff.  The high end stuff just looks nicer, may influence your perceived response as well.

Just remember the mains coming in is carried on cables that are sometimes a century old, and are often rather noisy. The high price is just to pay for the advertising.
 

Offline syhprum

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I am always amused by the nutty ideas of hi-fi fanatics, they fret about amplifiers introducing .001% harmonic distortion and don't worry about the distortion introduced by FM radio stereo decooders, connect their loudspeakers with 100 amp flexable cable worrying about a few milli ohms of resistance when the innards of the speakers contain 15 ohms worth of regular wire
 

Offline Sprool

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sadly my ears are too shot with 15 years of pub cover band guitarring, i do like the shiny things though...
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: A fool and his money ... worlds most expensive kettle leads
« Reply #10 on: 12/01/2012 23:07:25 »
Just remember the mains coming in is carried on cables that are sometimes a century old, and are often rather noisy. The high price is just to pay for the advertising.
If you've go century old wire in your house, it's probably about time for a remodel!  The original Knob & Tube wiring is supposed to be pretty dangerous, especially after it has lost most of its original insulation, if it ever had any.  Outside, of course, is different.

Gold plated connectors look sweet  ;)
But, I'm not going to spend a wad of money to plug a gold plug into a brass socket.

I suppose I could imagine a possible advantage of shielded power cables if you allowed a coil of unshielded audio cables to rest on top of a coil of unshielded power cables.  But, then your solution might not be to buy a solid gold power cable.
 

Offline Geezer

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Re: A fool and his money ... worlds most expensive kettle leads
« Reply #11 on: 13/01/2012 01:41:54 »
I wonder how many idiots with more money than brains hi-fi officianados have coughed up the money to buy these?

Ah, the power of marketing!
 

Offline SeanB

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Re: A fool and his money ... worlds most expensive kettle leads
« Reply #12 on: 13/01/2012 19:33:41 »
I have some ( didn't pay for them - got out of recycling bin) and they are no different than good ones. Just look nicer.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: A fool and his money ... worlds most expensive kettle leads
« Reply #13 on: 13/01/2012 19:43:00 »
Quote
Topic: Worlds most expensive kettle leads

I find find that they ionize my water better than a common power cord. ;D

It cures the common cold.
I get more brown hair and less grey hair.
It smooths wrinkles.
Increases stamina.
And adds 10 years to one's life!!!
 [O8)] :) ;) :D ;D [8D]
 

Offline neilep

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Re: A fool and his money ... worlds most expensive kettle leads
« Reply #14 on: 14/01/2012 05:41:40 »
As a sheepie I of course have quite a high-end system !...erhmm...I'm quite embarrassed to say what it's worth but as someone who for seven years owned two specialist audio stores and having listened to quite literally many hundreds of systems and conducted even more number of hi-fi demonstrations I can vouch that for the audiophile out there, even the mildest hint of an increase (nay...a soupcon !) of extra clarity that brought the experience of their music close to the sound that the engineer in the studio intended it to be heard to, was a worthwhile goal.  I regularly conducted trials of systems costing many thousands of pounds and it just did not stop at high end audio cables. The positioning of the speakers in relation to the room schematics, the characteristics of the room itself, be it carpeted, have furnishings etc etc....the height at which the speakers stood in relation the the listeners ear (specifically the HF tweeter), the platform that the speakers stood on, the rigidity and isolation properties of not just the stand that the equipment stood on but the stability and isolation of each component too all played a vital role. Then comes the interconnects and speaker cable and pwer leads and mains purifiers. Interconnects and speaker cable needed to be as short as possible, speaker cables ideally the same length. The quality of the termination plugs on both ends was vital.

From their point of view, it would be silly to invest £3000 in a cd player and then connect it to a £3000 amplifier with a £20 pair of interconnects. And then to connect the amp to a £4000 pair of speakers with cable that cost £3 a metre. Why have all that Rolls Royce quality inside when using "Lada" connections. Lets not forget also that it may not be one amp....no no..they may decide to bi amp...or even tri amp via a pre amp..i.e take a stereo amplifier and break it down into several individual components and feed the speaker drive units with individual isolated power, this woudl of course require even more runs of deliciously expensive speaker cable !

Forget tone controls...anything like that in a system is another component for the signal to travel through and to become tainted by........no...change the system instead to achieve the desired sound i.e: change a component or try a different cable. I'd just as often do demos just for interconnects and speaker cables alone.

If headphones were being used....forget the headphone socket...buy a £500 headphone amp and use a £1000 pair of heaphones..then you can use a headphone pre-amp and control amp too !

When it comes to the audiophile, the true perfectionist who music is a very serious passion then even the slightest nuance makes a big difference. And yes, then comes mains purifiers that can get rid of all the RF interference and clean up the power so that the components are receiving clean power with no fluctuations.

Once whittling down the number of systems/components in our demo rooms ....after a few hours then the client would take the system home for a home trial over the weekend...such is their passion. You simply must try it out in your own home....and of course...you must not play the system from cold...no no...turn it on...get it running for an hour before use...it has to warm up.

Fact is..the audiophile...it IS important and in the many many hundreds of hours I have spent listening to systems I can say that when your ears are in good order then you can indeed hear the differences. Some systems may offer more more three dimensionality...putting you right in the middle of stage or just in front of it when set up correctly. This is where speaker arrangement is so important. One interconnect may add a dash of extra midrange whilst another might tighten the bass.

After the system has done all the hard work then this is why good quality speaker cable is vital. You want to maintain that effort put in by the system and have the signal sent to the drive units in it's pure form.

You could also consider breaking down a CD player into a transport mechanism ie just the platter to put the cd on and then connect it (via more lovely expensive cable to a high end DAC and then again (via eevn more lovely expensive cables ) to the amp.

And when it comes to turntables....oh my !...you got the arm, the stylus cartridge, the isolation plinth, the plnth itself etc etc

I have to say that I love music with a passion...I love my high end system but I am not an audiophile. I do see/hear the differences that cables make..even the differences that system equipment stands make but past a certain point it's a law of diminishing returns (in my opinion) and if the client was happy that they could sincerely hear the difference then spending oodles of dosh on a cable to them was worth every penny. In a lot of cases it was not upgrade the hi fi but change the cables instead.

Some would have even dedicated music rooms..furnished appropriately and sound-proofed accordingly!..Hey...a man (and the occasional girly) has to have a hobby eh ?

They were happy...I was quids in !!
« Last Edit: 14/01/2012 19:06:18 by neilep »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: A fool and his money ... worlds most expensive kettle leads
« Reply #15 on: 14/01/2012 06:17:52 »
I have to say that I love music with a passion...I love my high end system but I am not an audiophile. I do see/hear the differences that cables make..

The question is not about shielded audio cables, but rather about a shielded power cable.

Personally, I don't like using 18 gauge power cables for anything, but I suppose they are ok for some things.

Have you tried a controlled/blinded experiment with the power cables?  Have the spouse swap the $2000 power cable for a $5 power cable (12 gauge or 14 gauge if you wish).  Then see if you can tell which cable is being used without seeing it.

Assuming you don't have a loose connector, my bet is that you would be unable to tell the stereo performance between the $5 power cable and $2000 power cable.  Coolness may still count for something, but that is a lot of dough for a cool cable.

I suppose if you are working on commission, then selling as many $2000 power cables as possible is good.  :)

Now, there are some good $50 or $100 surge protectors.  APC and Isobar make excellent surge protectors, and might be a good investment for your arm and two leg stereo equipment.  I don't think I would add a UPS unless you are dealing with computer equipment.  Would a power outage scratch an LP?
 

Offline RD

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« Last Edit: 14/01/2012 07:34:21 by RD »
 

Offline chris

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #17 on: 14/01/2012 09:10:51 »
In all of my studio wiring I use a balanced system; put simply, this means that the signal is applied across two conductors in the cable, which is surrounded by a screen. The signals in the two conductors are subtracted from one another in the target component. And because any noise induced in the line will have occurred in both conductors equally, when this subtraction takes place the noise is removed and only the original signal remains.

This is particularly important when long cable runs are used, and under circumstances of close proximity to dirty sources (like mains AC, transformers and so on, as opposed to the porn channel on TV). Most high-end and professional systems operate on this basis.

In terms of the huge spend on audiophile gear, I agree with Neil that it's very much in the trained ear of the beholder. After 10 years of making radio programmes and podcasts, I can hear almost every edit point and cut that other producers have made in their broadcasts. But Before I "got my ear in" like this, I was oblivious to all of this, as, I'm sure, are most of the general public.

Chris
 

Offline Sprool

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #18 on: 14/01/2012 09:38:16 »
I'd just like to thank neilep for his entertaining insight into the world of high end audio - a good read and a good contribution. Obviously there must be differences to be heard of companies would not sustain their markets, whether peoples perceptions are aspirational and tangible is an interesting debate - what is a significant improvement for some may be negligible for others depending on the outlay. I'd like to ask neilep for his opinion on the power cables. I can see that different speaker cables have different impedance, capacitance and resistance which can colour the transmission of different frequencies, I can hear this in good quality long guitar cables. But what about the power leads? Is it just that having bought a high end amp for £11,000 they cannot face using a £3.50 power lead? Can a significant sound difference really be heard by spending £1999 on a power lead?
 

Offline graham.d

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #19 on: 14/01/2012 17:54:38 »
This is one of the most interesting discussions on HiFi that I have come across. I think Neil's input is very interesting. I can't disagree with the idea of anyone spending many £1000s on HiFi not wanting to take a risk on a few quid of mains cable. There are plenty of reasons why you may want to screen power cables from RF interference (switching spikes mainly) but it really only works if the power supplies in the walls are also screened, which is unlikely in most homes. In fact, the HiFi equipment should really be designed to adequately filter such interference.

At the end of the day it is down to marketing a product to get as many sales as possible and that some people will buy anyway because the money is not so importent. The majority of people cannot discern whether the manufacturers claims make any sense so there will be sales if the bullsh*t is good enough anyway. As for listening tests, these are VERY dubious unless over a range of music, in a near perfect environment and have a large number of "testers". As I think Neil points out, the environment and positoning of speakers is of huge importence. If individuals can discern some differences in a listening test, they may wish to make decisions on that basis, but it would not necessarily be reliable evidence on which other people should base their own decisions.

If you want to hear the ultimate in HiFi then go to listen to live music. Of course you have to put up with the room/hall acoustics and a noisy audience, but it is the music that should matter. Even then there are few live music events are not electronically amplified, and with imperfect speakers, - actually I find that most sound engineers seem to over-amplify to the point of ear damage, let alone distortion, even for music genre that would not normally be associated with being loud.

I know of someone who equipped a studio for a very well known popular singer/pianist He specialises in this field. He supplied custom designed systems with not only gold plated connectors but gold plated knobs! If you can afford it then why not? It was VERY expensive. Most of us try to be rational though as funds are more limited.

There is so much ill-informed bullsh*t in this business because, as the saying goes, bullsh*t baffles brains. I also find it difficult to appreciate why anyone would think music on vinyl sounds better than a high quality CD - there is not a lot of justification for this by almost any scientific measure of quality. Perhaps there are those who think the directly-cut wax cylinder is better again.
 

Offline neilep

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #20 on: 14/01/2012 19:28:14 »
I'd just like to thank neilep for his entertaining insight into the world of high end audio - a good read and a good contribution. Obviously there must be differences to be heard of companies would not sustain their markets, whether peoples perceptions are aspirational and tangible is an interesting debate - what is a significant improvement for some may be negligible for others depending on the outlay. I'd like to ask neilep for his opinion on the power cables. I can see that different speaker cables have different impedance, capacitance and resistance which can colour the transmission of different frequencies, I can hear this in good quality long guitar cables. But what about the power leads? Is it just that having bought a high end amp for £11,000 they cannot face using a £3.50 power lead? Can a significant sound difference really be heard by spending £1999 on a power lead?

Thanks Sprool.

I personally do use the power leads that came with my amp, cd and turntable but I do have them all plugged into a high(ish) end mains purifier. The power cables do not just simply transport current from the source to the equipment. They can add outstanding improvements to your listening  pleasure through (so called) advanced filtering, as well as providing clean, uniform currents which improve the clarity and timing of your audio.

The mains purifier leads I have are enhanced with silicone rubber insulation, as well as silver plated copper, and can offer various benefits to the clarity and quality of audio and also visual reproductions

Further improvements can be made (believe it or not) by cryogenically treating the cables !!..yes..indeed !..I can't explain the chemistry/physics of it but reduce the temperature of the leads to cryo sub zero temps and cook them there for a while really changes some of the properties......for the better. I've conducted blind tests between cryo treated mains leads against their non cryo treated counterparts and the results have been beneficial !

In my humble opinion....If you have invested in a real quality amp..I would consider trying a news mains lead that helps to purify the source electricity. After all...besides rewiring the whole house....cleaning up the power source that feeds all the components does help....but I would always suggest to try and demo it if possible.
 

Offline neilep

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #21 on: 14/01/2012 19:29:17 »
This is one of the most interesting discussions on HiFi that I have come across. I think Neil's input is very interesting.

Awww..thanks Graham !
 

Offline graham.d

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #22 on: 15/01/2012 10:18:48 »
By way of balance, as this is a science website, I can see very little scientific justification improving mains leads. By all means add a filter if there is any problem with noise spikes from other household equipment and avoid "earth loops" i.e. Star connect the equipment earths and have a single ground path. Neil, if you think you get better sound from an amplifier with special insulation, cryogenically treated wire etc. then that's fine, but it is a huge stretch to scientifically justify any of this.
 

Offline peppercorn

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #23 on: 15/01/2012 14:40:20 »
Right! That's it! I'm off to start a firm making Methanol Fuel Cell 'Separates'.

Watt What better way to control the quality of your electrical supply than to make it 'locally-sourced'?!
If a lead can go for two grand, then an even Eight K for the dedicated F.C. system is practically giving it away!! ;D

Of course, you'll have to buy my special audio-specific Methanol refills for the system.
Warning! - Powering off standard naphtha could ruin your listening experience!

;)
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #24 on: 15/01/2012 15:34:10 »
Peppercorn, I wish you well with your methanol fuel cell project.
Once you have got the rich "audiophiles" hooked on the idea I will start marketing my  hydrogen powered fuel cell technology. (As used by NASA!).
As long as I get the marketing hype right (and I remember to gold plate things for no clear reason) their insatiable demand for "new stuff" in the name of audio excellence should get me well onto the gravy train.

In the meantime, can I sell you a green marker pen for a tenner?

Of course, if anyone does a double blind trial we are both in trouble but nobody has bothered yet, so I guess we are fairly safe.
 

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Re: Why are kettle (IEC) leads for high-end audio so expensive?
« Reply #24 on: 15/01/2012 15:34:10 »

 

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