Product: The Super Cable Cookbook
Manufacturer: Vacuum State Electronics - Allen Wright
Approximate price: US$35 (internet sales only)
Reviewer: Werner Ogiers
Reviewed: August, 2001
A couple of years ago Linn ran an ad in several magazines that went along the lines of "She's terrific in bed, she's intelligent, she's witty, and she makes her own pasta. She doesn't have a Linn. But her sister does, and that's the woman I married."*
Big mistake, if you ask me. I would always go for the pasta. And to compliment that in matrimony, I would make my own audio cables, too.
Given the modus operandi of the audio cable industry, everyone in his/her right mind should. But don't worry, I won't let this rant escalate. Back to business.
While we were arranging the reviews of the Vacuum State Electronics FVP-5A valve preamp and of Allen Wright's Preamp Cookbook, and knowing how much I detest this very subject, Allen asked me to take a look at the modestly-titled Super Cable Cookbook, too.
I did and, to my own surprise, I had a pleasant time with it.
This book offers DIY recipes (a total of 34) for ordinary and balanced interconnects, digital and video cables, AC power lines, and of course speaker cables.
Starting with a reprint of the good professor's (meaning Malcolm Hawksford, of course, and "good" because whatever he touches or teaches ends up sounding good, see LFD) investigative paper into cable fields and skin effect (The Essex Echo, Hifi News & Record Review, August 1985), followed by Wright's own less mathematical interpretation of said text, it soon developes basic ideas of how cables and their makers should behave. This goes along with hip shots at some of the more exposed members of the audiofool wire business (really liked those parts, although litigation looms around every corner), boiling down to the idea of pure, thin, solid conductors, connected with as little other metals in the neighbourhood as possible.
Primers on tools, connector types, soldering and on the requisite (extreme) cable hygiene follow, and then it is up to the recipes themselves. More than TPCB, this is a cookbook, with a myriad of concepts and schemes, from cheap, cheerful, and easy, right up to ventures requiring solid bars of silver, preferrably salvaged from the Spanish Armada, and a football team of assistants (but is American football or soccer meant here?). No, a real treasure hunt is not what is demanded here of the avid DIYer: while the top dog cables in this book all are based on silver foil, Vacuum State Electronics make these foils commercially available to those interested. Indeed, some cables can be bought as complete kits, or even in assembled form.
As befits a cookbook, the recipes are neatly listed with their ingredients, estimated cooking time, level of experience required, and their sonic level of merit, referred to the other types described in the same pages. What appeals to me is that the entry-level cables really are that: an entrance, an open invitation to experimenting with the stuff. Often for little money, or less, with parts and components that most DIYers have easy access to. Examples are using ordinary lamp cord for speaker cable, but with the + and - lines separated, lying around in a messy loop. Textbook engineers, like me, would warn you for excessive inductance and related tonal abberations. Wright says: just try it, and let your ears decide.
And why not?
All too often we forget that major credo: if it sounds good, it is good.
Likewise the cheapest interconnect: two strands of separated wire wrap wire. Flimsy, lacking any structural rigidity (heck, lacking any structure at all!), but Allen believes in it, uses it himself as I saw in the FVP-5A preamp prototype I got for review (and which sounds pretty good, I can tell you that!).
Now, did I try any of these cables? Not really, no. But it made me think about my cabling: a sorry mess it all seemed to be now. So I did make a few cables, notably interconnects, but more closely following the recipe of the cabling already present in my power amp and DAC: solid core copper wire, taken from CAT5 cable, lacquered with polyurethane, in thin teflon tubes.
I wanted the rigidity of such a construction, not trusting fine wire wrap wires between pre and power amp in an environment were almost daily unplugging and replugging is required.
I also tried solid core satellite coax for speaker cable, and the results were so promising that I might jump for a simpler version of the Risch/Loesch UBYTE method. Another suggestion of Allen's, thin solid assembly wire, sounded positively good on short runs (I tried two meters between a Cyrus One and the Quad ESLs), but in normal use I need seven meters between speakers and amp.
So, where did the SCCB lead me after all? Right ... but now leave me because I think the fetuccine are almost al dente.
* Needless to say, this ad was banished in some territories, and won prizes in others. My opinion? It was the best that ever came out of the Glaswegian company.
This little volume arrived at chez nous a few weeks back along with the authors comment that I'd "at least have a handle on why cables have effect".
The idea of reading a 100,000 words or so on cables didn't exactly appeal but I felt I at least owed it a quick browse. Over the next two days I read the thing from cover to cover, learnt a great deal, was made to think and was thoroughly entertained.
The book kicks off with an anecdote about baboons, their high frequency hearing and how cables can screw it up - by the end of it you're amused, interested and intrigued. So many books fail at this first hurdle - that of involving the reader, but by now most will be hooked. There then follows a reprint of a paper by Professer Hawksworth which tries to explain the science behind the cable effects described. Without degree level maths I skipped it (as advised by the author) and went straight to his distillation in 'laymans' terms of what it was all about.
And the upshot of all this is that wires, both speaker and interconnect, need to be thin and solid core to avoid time smearing caused by the skin effect. So out go all those megabuck hosepipes to be replaced by wire wrap of 0.25 mm diameter. He also rails against the effects of multitrand construction and the dangers of oxidisation when insulation is lifted from the surface of a wire when it is bent.
Quote - "..if you've just dropped a thou or so on some WunderKable Tipo Z from your favourite Exotic High-End hangout, and the 'sonic consultant' rolls it up in a basketball sized coil to put in his fancy store carry bag - grab your money back and make your buy from someone with some respect!"
The rest of the book is concerned with making up various cable concoctions using the 'thin is best' theory as a basis. The text is clear and liberally interspersed with anecdotes, jokes or rants against the establishment - just enough to make it a riveting read without being either messianical or dogmatic. Allen has the rare gift of making even things you don't understand sound interesting.
And the joy of the book is that much of what he describes is ridiculously cheap and easy to try out. The simplest being to just separate out your 'hot and cold' wires into individual strands. Buying enough wire wrap to build every design in the book will cost pence and Allen is firmly convinced that the best plugs to use are cheap stamped out ones rather than the "hewn from solid bronze" type now so popular.
If you get past that stage and become convinced then more esoteric and expensive designs using silver foils are offered, claiming better than ANYTHING else type performance.
The point here is that we are presented with yet another cable theory. I'm not qualified to judge how correct it is, or how significant the 'time smear' scenario is. However armed with this book, which in the final analysis is very practical in nature, you can judge for yourself with a pitifully small financial outlay.
So... Would I recommend this book - yes! In fact buy it or put it on your Christmas list...
© Copyright 2001 Werner Ogiers & Geoff Husband - www.tnt-audio.com