Engineers and audiophiles have locked horns time and again, in one long argument about the attributes of speaker and interconnect cables for high-resolution audio reproduction. Audiophile designs for wire and cable products are often strange and fanciful, and for the most part they haven't earned a lot of respect in the engineering world. Audiophiles, meanwhile, often find that engineers do not take their evaluations of cable products very seriously. The result can be that these two groups talk past one another, as the audiophile appeals to the realm of subjective experience and the engineer dismisses it all as nonsense.
At the Belden Engineering Center in Richmond, Indiana, there was an engineer who found himself in the odd position of having one foot in each camp. Galen Gareis had decades of experience in designing practical, well-engineered cables for a wide variety of professional applications; but he was also a high-end audio enthusiast, and when he began to try different audio cables, he heard differences for which he could not fully account. But why? Most engineering problems are basically problems in optimization, and if you don't know what it is you're trying to optimize, you're flailing in the dark. For Galen to take his expertise and turn it to the task of redesigning audio interconnect and speaker cables, he'd need to better understand what these designs needed to do.
A standard approach to any problem in audio cabling begins with some fundamental measurable attributes of wire and cable: R (resistance), L (inductance) and C (capacitance). But Galen came to believe that while these factors account for MUCH of what goes on in a cable, it is still possible for cables with the same R, L and C to have different sounds. The difference, to a great extent, comes down to time -- that some factors which are not taken fully into account in measuring overall R, L and C do affect the relative speeds of parts of the signal as they travel down the signal path. For example, while VP (velocity of propagation) is typically stated as a constant, it actually varies, and varies substantially, with frequency within the audio band. Ideally, one wants every part of a signal to travel at the same speed, and Galen looked to ways to mitigate and balance frequency-dependent effects upon signal timing.
The results of this work are set out in five papers which we link here, and which we encourage you to read because they set out the philosophy and process of design of these cables in considerable detail. The first, "Time," deals with the nature of the problem to be solved: aspects of wire and cable which cause timing issues. The second paper is Galen's RCA and XLR cable design brief, setting out in detail how he arrived at the designs for the first generation of Iconoclast cables for line-level interconnection. The third paper is his speaker cable design brief, which does the same for the Iconoclast speaker cable design. The fourth paper addresses a refinement to the RCA and XLR design, known as the 4x4 (in the case of XLR) or 1x4 (in the case of RCA), designed to reduce inductance. The fifth is a memo detailing the rationale for the Generation 2 speaker cable, with a larger number of smaller conductors than the Generation 1.
It is, we think, one of the hallmarks of cable voodoo that its methods and notions are always obscure -- proprietary terms of uncertain meanings on the technical side, and vague promises framed in the most poetic and inspirational terms on the subjective side. We don't aspire to rewrite the laws of physics, or to craft lovely descriptive phrases. This is engineering, and the results of audio engineering are in the domain of sound. We open the book to you on our engineering; as to sound, we invite you to decide whether you like what you hear.
|Time||Sets out the problem: time-dependent aspects of wire and cable design.|
|RCA/XLR Design Brief||How the Iconoclast RCA and XLR cables were designed, and why.|
|Speaker Cable Design Brief||The how and why of the Iconoclast Speaker Cable design|
|1x4 and 4x4 Design Update||Iconoclast "Generation 2" interconnects incorporate a unique mini-star-quad design, described and explained here.|
|Generation 2 Speaker Cable Design Update||Iconoclast "Generation 2" speaker cable design rationale.|
These designs are all, in a certain sense, "impractical." They represent optimization of design constrained only by what can feasibly be manufactured, without regard for cost of manufacture -- engineering unconstrained by budget. As a result, they are substantially more costly to make than conventional products are, while also being priced substantially below some of the stratospheric prices one sees in the high-end audio world. Whether this is an expense which will be worthwhile for you is precisely the judgment that only you, not we, can make; but if you are seeking the best in audio performance, we encourage you to give Iconoclast a try.