Featured image of post Do the various cables in the HIFI audio playback system really affect the sound quality?

Do the various cables in the HIFI audio playback system really affect the sound quality?

Does the quality of the analog audio signal line affect the sound quality? So, does the digital audio signal line also affect the sound quality?

Does the cable really affect the sound quality of the entire audio system? This point of debate seems to be an eternal topic among HIFI enthusiasts. Times have changed, and the amount of knowledge and information covered by the Internet today is so huge that the way we look at things should also change. In the past, we can “check the truth” through the Internet for the disputes arising from the inability to obtain accurate information through authoritative institutions or organizations! The audio-visual strategy in this issue will lead everyone to explore the truth of the HIFI world. All HIFI enthusiasts are invited to take their place, and the big ship of knowledge is about to set sail!

To talk about whether the cable will affect the sound quality, we must first clarify what is “sound quality”?

When we use various headphones or speaker equipment to enjoy music, the word that is most often mentioned is “sound quality”. For example: “How is the sound quality of a certain earphone?”, “How is the sound quality of a certain speaker?”, or “How is the sound quality of a certain MP3 file?”. While blurting out these words, have you ever thought about what the “sound quality” in your mouth refers to? If we are not even sure what we mean by “sound quality” in what we are saying, is it impossible to talk about everything that follows? Or, if everyone’s understanding of sound quality is different, then when we talk about “sound quality” together, various misunderstandings will inevitably occur, because what we mean by “sound quality” is not the same thing at all.

In this case, is there an official or more scientific definition of “sound quality”? The answer lies in the word “HIFI”. The full name of “HIFI” is “High-Fidelity”, which means “high fidelity” in Chinese. It is generally believed that in the entire audio playback system, the higher the “fidelity” of the final sound from the speaker, the higher the quality of the sound, that is, the better the “sound quality” we call. In order to avoid the confusion caused by using one word to explain another word, let’s introduce in detail what “fidelity” is.

“Fidelity” can be simply understood as whether the degree of sound restoration is high or not. We all know that any sound coming out of a speaker must have been recorded from nature. For example, if we put a symphony CD in the CD player to enjoy the music, then this melodious melody must be recorded from a large concert hall. Imagine that if we go back in time, buy a concert ticket, and actually go to the concert hall to enjoy the feast of the symphony, then the “sound” we hear at the scene will be exactly the same as what we hear from the speakers ? Well, if you have such a question, it means that you have understood what “fidelity” is. When we use audio equipment to listen to music, the closer the sound from the speaker is to the original recorded sound, the higher the “fidelity” of the audio system, that is to say, the better its “sound quality”.

Speaking of this, we should be aware of one thing. That is the quality of the “sound quality” that we finally hear, not only depends on the playback equipment we use. Audio playback system equipment such as headphones, speakers, power amplifiers, etc. is only one part of ensuring “sound quality”. If you want to hear excellent “sound quality”, you need to check layer by layer from the recording of sound, and go through a lot of processes and transfers before you can finally form a good listening experience.

Does the cable material play a role in the final “sound quality” of the playback system?

HIFI enthusiasts will raise various questions about whether the wire affects the sound quality, mainly because the wire seems to be only used for connection in the entire audio system, and the structure of the wire is much simpler than that of large-scale equipment such as speakers and power amplifiers. up. People are usually more confident in things that they can quickly grasp their structure and “understand” at a glance, and they are firm in their judgments and conclusions. Once someone makes an unreasonable explanation for such a simple thing or claims that it has a special function, people will be very curious about this new conclusion. This is why people in the HIFI circle have been discussing the question of “whether the wire really affects the sound quality”.

If you just enjoy the “cable problem” among HIFI enthusiasts after dinner, and are not really interested in the conclusion, then you don’t have to care too much about the “truth”. On the contrary, if you really want to understand the truth, then you will be very interested in the following content.

Let’s start with how cables transmit signals. Whether it is an analog signal or a digital signal, they are transmitted in the form of “electrical” signals when they are transmitted in the cable. Take the signal transmission technology of most cables today as an example, usually a metal wire can transmit a signal after being powered on. By controlling the level of the “level value” at the sending end on the metal wire, the corresponding level value can be read at the “receiving end” at the other end of the wire. “Level value” as the name suggests, it is a specific value, high and low. These “values” are the signals we need to transmit. As long as these “values” don’t change in transit, then the signals don’t change. That is, the signal arrives perfectly from the sender to the receiver.

But the above is just an ideal state. In reality, due to the different materials and lengths of the cables, and the electromagnetic interference of the surrounding environment, the signals that need to be transmitted will “variate”. For example, the value of the level signal transmitted to the wire at the sending end is “5”, but the level signal is attenuated due to the length of the cable, and the level signal received at the receiving end becomes “4”. Of course, the “mutation” of the signal does not occur every time, but occurs randomly with a certain probability. If we want to reduce the probability of signal errors, we must use better cables.

Combined with the “sound quality” mentioned in the previous chapters, we can know that we always hope that the cable should be as accurate as possible when transmitting signals, and not change the original sound content, so as to ensure the “sound quality” to the greatest extent. But the actual situation is that when the cable transmits the signal, it is difficult to ensure that the signal is 100% unchanged. Once the signal “mutates”, the original sound content changes, that is to say, the “fidelity” of the sound decreases, and the “sound quality” naturally decreases.

Does the digital signal cable affect the “sound quality”?

In recent years, the debate among HIFI enthusiasts on wires has gradually focused on “digital signal lines”. There is a more common saying that “the digital signal line transmits the numbers of 0 and 1, so it will not affect the sound quality”. Through the explanation in the previous chapter, we have learned that as long as the signal is transmitted through metal wires, no matter what kind of signal is likely to “mutate”. So, why does the above statement “digital signal lines will not affect sound quality” appear in the HIFI circle? In fact, this statement is not groundless and has some truth, but this conclusion is drawn without a complete understanding of signal transmission technology.

During the transmission of digital signals, the probability of error is indeed much lower than that of analog signals. Let’s start with the principle of digital signals and learn more about the advantages of digital signals. First, the sending end will input a “level value” into the metal wire. To illustrate the problem, we simply define the level value as 10 levels, which are 1 to 10. If the level value received by the receiving end is one of 1 to 5, the receiving end considers that the number “0” has been received; otherwise, if the level value received by the receiving end is within the range of 6 to 10, it is considered The digit “1” was received. This is the principle of digital signal transmission. It is not difficult to see that the fault tolerance rate of this transmission method is very high. If signal attenuation occurs during transmission, for example: the level value is attenuated from 4 to 2, it will not affect the final received signal, and the signal received by the receiving end is still digital “0”. This is why it is often said that digital signals are error-free. But if we think about it carefully, the digital signal is not 100% error-free. For example, if the level value is attenuated from 6 to 5, the receiving end will receive the wrong digital signal.

Based on the above mentioned content, we can draw such a conclusion. When the signal transmitted in the cable is an analog signal, the sound quality is more likely to be affected by it. If a digital signal is transmitted, the sound quality is less likely to be affected, or far lower than an analog signal.

However, I believe that some people will raise some other doubts. For example, some people may wonder that digital signals follow a specific protocol during transmission, and the protocol itself has a verification feature, which will detect digital signals that have errors during transmission in time, and require the sender to retransmit these erroneous digital signals . So, why do you still say that digital signal lines will have an impact on sound quality? It is not difficult to answer this question. We know that any error correction mechanism has a cost overhead, and audio digital signals are no exception. Imagine, if the sender retransmits a certain digital signal, will it cause a temporal break in the originally smooth audio stream? Of course, the current digital playback software will first buffer the audio stream for a period of time. This buffer time can make up for the fragmentation of the sense of hearing caused by the wrong retransmission of digital signals to a certain extent. However, the buffer mechanism is also limited, and it is impossible to buffer for an infinite time. Therefore, when the digital cable used by the user has obvious quality problems, a large number of digital signals have errors in the transmission process and need to be retransmitted, resulting in the loss of sound quality of the entire audio system.

The gap between theory and practice

Having said all that, I believe that HIFI enthusiasts have a theory-based opinion on whether cables will affect the sound quality. However, from a theoretical point of view, it is obviously just talking on paper. To correctly view whether the cable will affect the sound quality, we need to combine reality.

Through the above theoretical knowledge, we have repeatedly mentioned a concept, that is “probability of error”. The impact of cables on sound quality is actually a matter of probability. Although there is no 100% error-free cable, when audio equipment is used in a home environment, the probability of those signals that are transmitted through the cable is high. To what extent will it be heard by our ears? These questions are the real basis for every HIFI enthusiast to judge whether to buy high-end cables.

Unfortunately, it may be difficult to give precise answers to the above questions. Science is a very rigorous subject. Without professional instruments and software for testing and measurement, it is difficult to obtain exact data. However, here we can share some past experience with you. Experience is often valuable and practical. Generally speaking, analog signal lines are more worth upgrading than digital signal lines. If you have a soft spot for cables and have a limited budget, it is a priority to upgrade the analog cables. Compared with analog signal cables, please use qualified products produced by regular manufacturers for digital signal cables, and try to choose digital signal cables with appropriate lengths, because the longer the cable length, the more serious the signal attenuation, and the area affected by the surrounding electromagnetic interference will also be affected. bigger.

In the end, let’s talk about those “luxury level” fever cables. From a micro level, the more luxurious the wire material is, the more beneficial it is to the “accurate transmission” of the signal. There is no upper limit to the luxury of wire materials, but the reality is that the “rice” in our pockets is limited. Therefore, if a certain HIFI enthusiast has a lot of money and can pocket thousands of yuan or even tens of thousands of yuan of cables with a wave, then he has every reason to play with these high-end cables. However, if you, like most people, are a working class with a monthly income ranging from several thousand to tens of thousands of RMB, there is actually no need to pursue these “luxury-level” cables. It would be a better strategy to spend the spare cash on hand to upgrade other audio equipment, and the sound quality improvement you will get will be more significant.

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