Robert Stein has been a music lover for decades and decided to begin offering a unique service to other kindred spirits. In 1989 he formed The Cable Company that offers both new and used cables, plus dabbling in vacuum tubes and analog products. As a company that has assisted tens of hundreds of audiophiles over the years, they have a very unique ability to form a good database of which cables appear to work best within certain music reproduction systems. In fact they operate the "Cable Library" service offering home trial on over 60 brands of cables, so they have no axe to grind or only a few brands on hand to "push". They compile feedback from "Library" users to find what work best in a given situation. So when we here at Enjoy the Music.com™ were seeking out a cable guru, Robert Stein was on top of the list.
Q: So do cables really make that much of a difference in a music system?
A: About as big a difference as any other component.
Q: Like a component?
A: Well cables do not have sound; they only interact with the components which do have sound. But think about cable matching as completing a circuit, for example a preamp + interconnect + amp is a circuit. An amp + speaker cable + speaker is another circuit. A good cable choice is one which allows the circuit to function optimally, and therefore the components to perform the way they are designed to perform. When this happens - when the components are operating to their potential - this is a big difference.
Q: So how do you choose a good cable for a system? Are reviews helpful?
A: Sometimes, but as often as not cable reviews are misleading. Why? Because the cable, which can only interact to make sound, is being ascribed sonic characteristics because of the way the the performance of a particular system is affected by that cable. The problem is generalizing about the characteristics of a cable based on tests with a small group of electronics. Some of the reviewers get this, some don't.
Q: And what about the personal preferences of the reviewers...
A: Actually I wouldn't worry about that as much as the methodology and the tendency to want to generalize. In fact we find that when you get the cable matching right, everyone, or almost everyone, agrees that the sound is better, which makes sense because it is simply a matter of the components functioning better when the cable match is right.
Q: Ok, so if reading reviews is of limited value, how do you pick a cable?
A: The best way is to try some cables out in your own system, which is really where the rubber meets the road. And this gets to why we started up The Cable Company in the first place. I found myself in a situation where in typical audiophile fashion, after having read all the component reviews, and driven most of the retailers in the New York Metro area crazy with endlessly evaluating components, I put together my dream system, except, what about the cables? Even in NYC the dealers mostly carried the same 2-3 brands and really couldn't offer much help from the perspective of a demo like they could with active components. So out popped the idea of a Cable Library service, where an audiophile could borrow cables to try at home.
Q: But there are so many cables to try...
A: Over time we have tracked the listening results of our customers who are testing cables at home in a component -specific database. This enables us to help a new customer shortlist the cables most likely to succeed in their system to narrow the universe of cables to a manageable set for evaluation. We also use this database to make recommendations to our international customers who can't access our Library service, and also to anyone else who for whatever reason isn't able to go through the evaluation process, or for people who want some advise buying used cables through our usedcable.com operation.
Q: Is used cables a big business for you?
A: It's a pretty good business for a number of reasons. First, it makes it possible for use to offer better value for trade-ins from our customers buying new cables or other products. And it is a great internet "niche" in it's own right - I mean a lot of the internet mentality is getting things for free - like information - or cheap, like a perfectly good used cable under warranty.
The Cable Company