DIY Cabling by Kah Heng Question: Can you spend less than $50 and get an absolutely fabulous set of interconnects AND speaker cables at the same time?
Well, I think I can! Just the other day, on one of my rare sojourns to Sim Lim Tower to buy some other things (actually, parts to make a simple shutter tester), I went up to the third floor and found a shop that specialises in all sorts of electronic cabling: B & Lee Electronics, #03-35 Tel 2882725. I went in out of curiosity and found that they sell 'good-looking', 2 core, shielded, silver coated cabling at $10/m. I thought, what the heck, so I am being a little unscientific, no harm trying. I bought 1.5m for $15 (model no. "83322, 2 core cable", white colour - note, I didn't take down the brand, I am telling you as it is from the receipt) to make a 0.75m pair.
Elson, the person serving me was rather nice, he directed me to a roll of Belden cabling and mentioned that his friend used those for speaker cables and had thought that they sounded like "thousand dollars speaker cables" ("Belden 1583A"). Well, I reckoned he was exaggerating. I checked the construction of the cable and they looked 'decent' - solid core copper cables in 8 separate insulated strands. They looked like one of the cheaper Audioquest cabling. When he said $0.70/m, I said "13 meters pleeese". That's $9.10 for the speaker cables.
Look, I have spent only $24.82 (incl. of GST) so far on both sets of cables. I needed plugs for the interconnect cabling so I bought what they had in their store. Some brand that I don't have the box for right now, but its UK made, and really really oddball since the four plugs in the pack come in FOUR separate colors (black, blue, red, gold)! - that cost another $16 bucks - I could have bought much cheaper RCA plugs from the basement shops which would probably not make much difference to the sound, but I was kinda lazy. That makes a total of $40.82. Well, that's it, that's all I had spent.
Went home, soldered the pair of interconnects, plugged them in, and WOW! They sounded better than my pair of DH Labs, which are no pushovers BTW. The new cables were not just highly detailed, they have a very tight and balanced sound. More importantly, it had none of that high treble shrill from some 'branded' silver-coated copper interconnects I had tried previously. Vocals had the right amount of forwardness, and the bass was beautiful. The overall weight of the music was just right.
Hey, this is the cheapest pair of outstanding interconnects that I own! Actually, these are the best sounding interconnects for my Cambridge Audio amp and cd player.
How about the speaker cables? I plugged them in and they were excellent. Good transparency, good weight, though not as transparent as my DH Labs speaker cables. But hell, for $9.10, how can one complain? They are actually really really good. My $200 DH Labs are only that bit better and they are 20 times the price.
I suspect that these Beldens would make terrific AC cords as well.
Well, if anyone asks you where they can buy really cheap and better than 'average' cables as starters, you might want to suggest that they try these. They simply don't sound 'cheap'!
ps. By the way, B & Lee also sells very good UK made banana plugs at $3 each. Not gold-plated though. Tsung-Yang tries out Kah Heng's Tweak!
Anyway I have also DIY'ed an interconnect and speaker cable after reading Kah Heng's cable DIY tweak. The interconnect had quite good results, but the speaker cable was a bit too bright-sounding for my taste (system, maybe? I'm currently using Supra speaker cables) But I guess the DIY speaker cable would be good for Home Theatre where long runs of (cheap) cable is more practical.
Leslie goes to Sim Lim Tower and finds some more cable
I came across this shop on level 2 called LHS Electronics Enterprise (Unit #02-27). The person in charge, Mr Robert Lee is a rather friendly and helpful guy who is always happy to share his knowledge/experience with those cables.
I was looking for a interconnect cable, and he introduced to a Belden 89259 which is a coax, multistrand conductor design. I later noticed this was recommended in Jon Risch's website and got to know more about this cable. According to Jon Risch, the insulation is teflon. Anyway, I bought 3m at $9/m. I then got 4 RCA plugs (Daiyo brand, locking) and got home to make my 1.5m pair of interconnect. Not expecting much, but I did hear a difference compared with my VDH The Source (bought loose and terminated myself), used between CD player and pre-amp. I can't really describe well exactly how different (I am no good at doing this), but it is definitely better. I hear better ambience, more open/spacious (improved sound stage?) and better details and emotion in the vocals. With the VDH, the sound seemed to be more flat, less dynamic and restrained. I was listening to Carol Kidd's Gold Disc and frankly, I think she sounded more "live" and there was more emotion in her voice. The background is also quieter. End result (and most importantly) is: I enjoyed the music more and want to go on listening (you know what I mean?). Now can you tell me what happened? This Belden cable has since replaced my VDH.
Also, if you are interested, they sell a kind of power cable. It's 14 guage I think (if I remember correctly), 3-core (multistrand), a drain wire, and with a layer of (aluminum?) foil shielding. It's $12/m and I bought 2.5m to replace the original cable for my Wonpro power strip.
I would like to add that while I indeed heard an improvement in the Belden 89259 over the Van Den Hul, I believe your readers would be well advised that I do not intend to say that this Belden 89259 cable is better than The Source. I should say that the Belden could just be better matching than The Source in my system. Or, perhaps I did not do the termination properly and those factory-terminated may sound much better(?)
Having said that, I would like to share again another Belden cable which is also recommended in Jon Risch's website. The cable model is 89207. This is a twinax cable, again with Teflon cover (and quite stiff due to the jacket and insulation). Following recommendation by Mr Robert Lee, I connected one conductor (copper, multistrand) to the center pins of the RCA plugs. The other conductor (tinned, multistrand), I connected to the ground of the plugs. For the braid, the source end is left unconnected while the other end is connected to the ground together with the tinned strand. I tried this between pre and power amps (the Belden 89259 was used between CD player and pre-amp). This was compared to my existing interconnect, which is also Van Den Hul - D102. This was also bought from reel and terminated myself. The result? Well, it just happened that the Belden 89207 is again better-matching with my system. The improvement is similar to what I experienced with the 89259, so I actually got more of what I liked. In addition, to be fair, I must say that there was a little difference in the way I terminated the D102. The D102 is similar to Belden 89207 in terms of construction - twinax with braided shield. But, initially, I terminated it the same way as the Belden 89207 (pseudo-balance). Then, I learned from VDH's website that we can actually connect both the conductors to the center pin, and the braided shield to the ground (unbalance). I found that unbalance termination sounded better than pseudo-balance. But when I compared this VDH in pseudo-balance to the Belden 89207, the Belden sounded better in my system. So now I am using all Belden interconnects in my system. I tried switching the place of Belden 89207 and 89259, placing the 89207 between CD-Pre and the 89259 between Pre-Power. They didn't sound as good. So I changed back.
My own trials with Belden 89207
I picked up 2m of 89207 at $9/m with the intention of making 2 x 0.5 m pairs. So far, I've made 1 pair because I only bought enough RCA connectors for 1 pair - mainly because I bought some cheap ones - 4 for $10 with the intention of getting even better ones for my 2nd pair if the 'experiment' is successful.
Basically, the 89207 is a teflon coated twin-axial cable with an aluminium mesh sheaf and a foil sheaf. Following Leslie, I connect both of the cables to the signal end and used the aluminium mesh sheaf for the ground. I then lobbed some solder onto the joint. Fortunately, thanks to a securing screw on prevents the cable from moving, the joint does not come under stress (don't yank on the cable to remove it, pull it out by yanking the connector) as I don't trust my soldering skills that much :)
As it was a 0.5 m pair, I could only use it on my CD to pre-amp connection (pre-amp to amp needs 0.8-1.0 m).I did a simultaneous A/B as my CD player has 2 outputs (the 89207 was on the variable output set at max). In addition, I put it in the downstairs system, which was its intended location, between pre-amp and amp.
I have to say that balanced sounds more transparent than unbalanced/single-ended. I could hear more into the recording and solo female vocals like Mary Black's Speaking with an Angel and my favourite Julia Fordham vocal/piano tracks Invisible War and Behind Closed Doors sounded chillingly good (subject to my reservations about the cable sound -- yes, balanced still sounded fatiguing). If anything, I could also hear 'more' of how the 89207 sounded.
Theoretically, balanced should sound better if your equipment is balanced. The Sonic Frontiers Line-1 is actually a fully balanced pre-amp, meaning that a single-ended signal is converted to a balanced signal in the pre-amp. This means that feeding a balanced signal would skip 1 step (the conversion to balanced). I will seriously consider getting a balanced interconnect (hmm, I think the new Sony SACD players also have balanced outputs :))
So how does it sound?
Actually, very good. On careful A/B vs my XLO type 1, I have to say that from the midrange to treble, the interconnect was virtually indistinguishable. the 89207 did not have any of the roughness that I heard with the Blue Angels though I would have to say that the XLO seemed a tiny bit more refined (but I it is said that the variable output is a tiny bit brighter/rougher, but I've never detected that before; but draw your own conclusions).
Listening to Julia Fordham's Towerblock, Tori Amos' Pretty Good Year and a host of other regulars, I was stunned by how the 89207 was as expressive as the XLO type 1 in every way. Perhaps on extended listening I might find the 89207 a bit more fatiguing but as I've said, its less fatiguing than the Blue Angels so it is in a very high clalss already.
If the 89207 has any discernible weakness, I would say that the lower mids/upper bass are not as rich and full as the type 1s. A slight, slight, hollowness was detected. But this is a barely perceptible difference 'found' by someone who puts a track on repeat and listens over and over again :) But note that in my experience, the 'dominant' sounding interconnect is usually from the pre-amp to the amp. As such, other differences between the type 1s and the 89207s may have been covered up by the Blue Heavens.
Update: More listening has revealed another difference which is rather difficult to pin down : musicality and coherence. When I tried listening to Texas' most excellent latest album Hush (I've been a fan of Sharleen Spiteri since the start), the most 'Rock' sounding music that I listen to, I found that the music did not seem to 'gel' and it times became hard to follow. Part of this could be attributable to the slight edginess (described earlier as 'fatiguing') that made the treble seem slightly out of place. With the XLO, the music seem to 'flow' more freely. Again, this is a rather difficult thing to pin down: when I did a 1 for 1 A/B comparison, I did not really spot it. However, it is entirely possible that this attribute might not be present in some other systems, or since everything is relative, the 89207 may still seem more coherent and other 'brand-name sub $100' interconencts. note: this applies to both balanced and unbalanced.
Listening downstairs, the 89207s replaced a pair of $60 Sony interconnects (Sony actually makes rather decent interconnects). The 89207s sounded a smidgen sweeter and more open than the Sonys. Note that because the BNS speakers downstairs have very smooth sounding silk dome tweeters, brightness/roughness is hard to assess. When I finish up the 2nd pair of interconnects and wire up the CD-pre-amp with 89207s as well, I'll have a better idea on the 'sound' of the 89207s. They are probably similar to Leslie's VdH interconnect in presentation so if Leslie
Assessing cables is rather subjective and system dependent, but I'll try anyway:
Transparency: Very transparent. Equal to $200++
Important Note: Its all system dependent, and if
you read the various comments, there are some differing opinions. I
feel that its a bright cable. However, as mentioned, when I used it
on my downstairs speaker with a very smooth silk dome tweeter, this
brightness was insignificant. The cable just didn't do too well with
my nasty metal dome tweeter upstairs :)
A 0.5m interconnect for $9+10=$19? [$29 for balanced] What are you waiting for? 89259 or 89207? Your choice :) Also, who knows, you might do a better soldering job and get better sound...
Update on Daiyo connectors: Ok, I finally made a 5.5 m pair of 89259s for my surround speakers. I have 1 m left.. just nice for a 0.5m pair of interconnects. For this project, I used the Daiyo connectors and they're nice and easy to use (screw-on, no soldering required). Will do a sound comparison when I make the 0.5m pair. I found the Daiyos at a shop in Sim Lim Square. Cost $20.60/4 (there is a larger size at $14/2).
Note: Shaun informed me that Daiyos are $15/4 at SL Tower but I bought them at $20/4 at SLS :( I will get the info on the shop in SLT that sells the Daiyo and get back to you..
Leslie's Comments on my comments (on the 89207)
You mentioned in your article that you have connected
the 89207 with both conductors to the signal (center pin)? Have you
tried with one conductor to the signal and the other to the ground?
With this connection, the mesh should then be connected to the ground
only at the source end. This is how I connected mine (pseudo-balance).
Also, I think I have made a mistake in my last email about experiment
with the 89207. I said I compared it with VDH D102 in pseudo-balance
connection. This is wrong, the VDH D102 was terminated in unbalance
mode - i.e. both conductors are soldered together to the center pin.
In the case of VDH, unbalance mode sounded better (to my preference)
than in pseudo-balance mode.
My own trials with Belden 89259 (new)
I've also made a 1m pair of 89259 with Daiyo connectors. As such, this should be identical to the ones Leslie made. As this was a 1 m pair, I was able to listen to them in both the CD-pre and pre-power location.
My testing methodology is was similar to that when I tested the 89207. Again, I want to stress that comparing cables is not that easy. Sure there may be obvious tonal differences, but apart from that, I find interconnect differences very subtle.
Transparency: Less transparent than the 89207 and
at the same time, less bright. Around the $100 range
I really had to listen carefully to a wide variety of CDs before coming to the above conclusions. I have to admit that on some tracks, you couldn't really any obvious difference, but on others, which emphasised the extremes of low and high frequencies, differences emerged.
My basic conclusion is that the 89259 is a rather pleasant cable with flaws mainly of omission (save for the midbass lift) at both frequency extremes. Listening to my favourite reference disc of the moment, Tori Amos' to venus and back, with loads of low synth notes and cymbals and hi-hats highlighted this. The cymbals in Glory of the 80s sounded splashy and did not 'shimmer' as well as compared to the Nordost Blue Heavens (and the Blue Heavens are supposed to sound splashy compare to some even more expensive cable). The low synth notes of Suede sounded as if they were pitch-shifted up - more midbass and less real low bass (as mentioned above, this was confirmed on the Zephyrs and JA 50s). It was a great relief to put back the Blue Heavens and to relisten to Suede again.
Also, be aware that the presentation of the 89259 is different from the 89207. The 89259 has a more laid back and recessed kind of sound while the 89207 sounds more like the Nordosts (coincidence that the 89207 is a high bandwidth low loss computer cable and the Nordosts are modelled on computer cables as well?)
The 89259 is worth trying at the price though unlike
some more passionate fans of the 89259, I do not think it is as good
as high end cable. Personally, I like the 89207 better even though it's
performance is more uneven (i.e. can sound overbright in some systems)
because it has the potential to do really well in systems with no metal
Kin's Comments on Belden Power Cord
I'd like to share my own DIY experience with the Belden 14-gauge 3-core shielded power cable. (this is the $12/m one mentioned by Leslie and the one I have). I found the result to be as good as, if not better than, most sub-$200 power cords, such as the MIT Z-Cord II and the XLO Green Cord. Bass is definitely cleaner and more weighty than with the supplied cord. Voices are less strained and cymbals are more realistic. (I guess it also helps to have good cables and interconnects.) It is without any surprise that I have since replaced the power cord on my WINSTAR distributor with this. I am also powering my McCormack DNA 0.5 Deluxe amplifier with this cable.
Comments from Shaun
Being a real cheapskate and thus wanting to save on cables. I hunted high and low for this belden cable. I am sure its not available in Sim Lim 1 year ago, so I guess the shopkeepers there must have a lot of people asking for it and thus brought it in. I ordered 100 feet of it from the distributor at Sim Lim Tower in the end. OK, to cut my long story short. I make quite a few variety of ICs and a pair of speaker cables using my belden 89259. I would say the stock cable used as interconnect (unbalanced) is better than most cables retailing at $150 and below. I also made a twisted pair of unbalanced IC which Risch claims to be as good as ANYTHING available commercial. Drool...but unfortunately it didnt live up to my expectations. Its significantly better than the stock 89259 cable, but not better than most sub $500 cables I have heard. I believe part of the reason is because I am still an amature when comes to DIYing....small details are important, according to Jon Risch (BTW, he is such a nice guy, he will answer almost anything question about his DIY cable receipe). For those who are thinking of doing this (89259 twisted pair), please be prepared to spend 1 whole afternoon doing it.... well for me, its a very frustrating exercise and I a hell of a time trying to make the twisting stay together. I am a poor student then, so its still worth it for me. The way I see it, audiophiles have so much energy to try different tweaks, DIY cabling is a way for us to channel this energy, and in the process save some $$.
Speaker cable. Again, not bad, but I think not quite worth the trouble. Risch again claims that its as good as anything out there, thus I am disappointed. Anyone have experience with this please share. BTW, Jon Risch has mentioned that choice of connectors are critical and almost as important as the cable itself. So You may want to experiment with better ones. TS Lim (DIVA designer - YC) uses the basic Daiyo (lockable) ones selling for about $15 (for 4) and I thought his cables sounded not bad. (note: Leslie also used these Daiyo connectors - unfortunately, I'm a real cheapskate and I'm using a cheaper one at $10 for 4 :), if you want to spend, Neutrik Profi connectors cost $50 for 4 - these are the ones used on Nordost Blue Heaven/Red Dawns -YC) However, I suspect the shield for the core is not teflon.