The Story Behind Our Custom Cables
After working in the audio industry for quite a long time, i found myself incredibly frustrated with the misinformation and marketing hype surrounding analog audio cables. Being a long-time musician (many instruments), and an audio engineer for over 20 years, at that point, i used cables on a daily basis. i owned and used audio cables in nearly every price point imaginable, but couldn't make sense of the cable industry. They never listed any specs and they made wild, yet unsupported, claims. So, having learned to solder back when i was about 10, i decided to do some research, and build one for myself.
It took a year and a half of R&D, but i had quantifiable proof that most of those cabling companies were full of... feces. Any Electrical Engineer can tell you that what you "hear" can be quantified using the appropriate test equipment. i had tested and compared the actual specs on every instrument cable i could find. i even purchased lengths of bulk wire, and different brands of connectors. What i found was that there was little to no difference between most of the manufactured cables. The ones under $20 sucked consistently. But, there were a couple in that $19.99 to $29.99 range that outperformed, in many respects, most of the cables all the way through to the $200 price point. So, i researched construction differences.
It is important to understand that some cables are designed to have a "sound" that they imbue. There isn't anything wrong with that, inherently. But, allow me to sum up what is actually happening with that process: wire is a passive system, meaning that it isn't an electrically powered device. It merely transports electrons. So, the wire, itself, cannot boost any frequencies, but can only reduce them. So, that "Bass" or "Rock" cable, for example, is reductive. What i fail to comprehend is why anyone would spend several hundreds or thousands of dollars on an instrument and an amplifier rig, only to connect the equipment with a cable that is designed to eliminate the very frequencies for which they paid all that money. Or, for that matter, why they would, then, hesitate to spend more than $20 on a cable - that thousand dollar signal isn't good enough to justify any more than $20?!? But, i digress.
There ARE some construction differences between a quality cable and the ones that should be stored in the trash can. But, those differences are NOT directly linked to the price of the cable.
Connectors are a key component. Most mass-manufacturers use a compression technique, rather than solder. Its only advantage is that it is cheaper. As the cable is used, and ages, the compressed connections can deteriorate. If the connector is plastic, don't bother with it, and if it's a metal compression connector, just be informed about what you're actually buying.
So, now we come to the wire, itself. If someone prefers a cable that alters the sound, that is fine. Personally, i prefer to make EQ changes on my instrument, or in the amplification. Any cable will have some loss, according to electrical theory. The amount of loss depends on many factors, not the least of which is the type of signal being sent through it. Cables have resistance and capacitance, both of which technically affect the signal, despite what some claim. However, i am not going to bother boring you with an in-depth explanation. Wire gauge of the conductors, dialectric material, and insulation material and thickness, are all aspects that directly affect the sound. One aspect of the "sound" integrity often overlooked, even by many boutique and custom cable designers, is noise rejection. Some boutique instrument cable assemblers that i know use "quad" cable (originally intended for balanced microphone applications), which uses the twisted-pair approach to reduce EMI and RFI interference. The problem with that approach, however, is that it doesn't work as their design intends. They don't sound bad, usually, but the signal isn't actually balanced, which means the full noise-cancelling intent of the design is not employed. Further, because of the twisted wires, it usually doesn't fully function as an ideal coaxial design, either, and often isn't shielded as thoroughly as a true coaxial design. Coaxial designs consistently outperform other designs both in terms of noise rejection, and with the width of frequency response, when it comes to unbalanced signals. For balanced signals, of course, the "quad" concept is the most optimal design, as long as it is properly shielded, and the twist is tight and consistent.
Flat, or curved, frequency responses depend on the interplay of several design factors, most notably the capacitance and resistance. The dialectric is a key design characteristic which directly influences the response, and which is often overlooked by manufacturers.
In the end, i ended up with a lot of data, but no overall winner, among the mass-manufactured cables. For sound on an instrument cable, i wanted a very flat and wide frequency response (at least 5 Hz to 25kHz, +/- 3dB), and excellent noise rejection. i also wanted a flexible cable, with a high conductor strand count, and a 90+% shield (preferably both a braided shield, plus a 100% foil shield, or equivalent). The connectors had to be physically robust, and, electrically, up to the same standards as the wire.
So, i began testing and comparing bulk wire, sans connectors (which were tested and compared separately). FYI, most people don't have the equipment to do this sort of testing... Even many Electrical Engineers don't have it.
So, the results? Well, i ended up with a clear winner on paper, and a couple runners-up. The instrument (unbalanced signal) wire i found, surpassed all of my requirements, including a flat frequency response from 1 Hz through 50 kHz! To top it off, the wire remains flexible below freezing temperatures, which is great if you tend to leave your cables in the garage or car. The balanced signal (microphone) wire i found, had not only the required flat frequency response, but the best EMI and RFI rejection/cancellation of any "quad" style wire that i could find in the market!
Once i had assembled a prototype instrument cable, i started by listening (via studio mixer and studio headphones) to the mass-manufactured cables, then went to my prototype... i was blown away. My jaw literally dropped.
i was so moved by the sound, that i knew i couldn't keep it to myself. Gestalt Audio already existed as an A/V/IT systems design, retail sales, and installation company, so, i simply ordered spools of the bulk wire (as well as some of the runners-ups), and bulk orders on the connectors. i, then, came up with a trade-secret assembly process, during which the cable is tested continuously. That process, alone, took me several months to refine to my standards. The process uses the highest-grade 4% fine silver solder (lead free ROHS-compliant assembly optional), and, when fully assembled, is nearly impervious to internal water/humidity and corrosion damage. While it doesn't make an audible difference, the solder we use has 2 huge advantages: the silver content prevents leeching of the gold on gold-plated contacts, and it has an exceptionally low melting temperature, which protects the connector and cable's dialectric from prolonged or excessive heat. i also appreciate the halogen-free flux in the solder core, which is better for the environment, and my lungs. This process of researching and testing was done not just for instrument cables (unbalanced signals), but also for microphone/balanced-signal cables. All of our custom cables use the trade-secret assembly process, to ensure the best quality cables we are able to assemble.
We top off our high standards with a very unique extra feature: we imprint the client's name (2 custom lines) directly on the heat shrink! That idea was borne out of simply asking myself what features i would like on my own cables, and a desire to treat our client's the same way i would want to be treated. As a result, those 2 lines of text are provided at no additional charge.
We have some pretty major musical artists using our cables, and we are pretty happy about that, since we really don't do any advertising, and are a pretty small shop. While we make and sell our cables at an incredible value (exact prices vary - they are custom, after all!), they outperform mass-produced cables over 3 times their price.
i should add that warranties are also part of the cost of many mass-manufactured cables. This is the best explanation: Let's say you buy a cable for $100 with a lifetime full-replacement warrantee. And, let's say the manufacturer figures the typical purchaser will have it replaced 5 times on average (generously low number). Since we know they are making money, how much is the cable REALLY worth in comparison with cables with a lesser warrantee? $20.
What Gestalt Audio does with our custom cables is this: if the cable ever has an issue (defect, accidental damage, you need a straight plug instead of the right angle, etc.), contact us first, then send it back... If it is a defect, or otherwise our fault/responsibility, it is repaired/replaced at no charge... Otherwise, at our generous discretion (abuse of the service isn't cool), we will repair/fix/replace the cable for just the current retail price of the parts and return shipping. The client doesn't pay up front for a warrantee. As a musician, it is what i would have preferred to see, particularly since i've always taken care of my cables and equipment, and i understand, firsthand, how a musician's needs in a cable can change (right-angle connectors don't work well on my Strat). Now, that said, if the end user is a kid who abuses everything, isn't particular about the cable sound, and doesn't have the finances to buy a new $20 cable every week, then buy the full-replacement, no-questions-asked, warranteed cable. Buy it for its warrantee, though, not for the hype on the package. Informed customers are the best customers... and, if a salesperson or company doesn't agree with that, please don't do business with them.
One of the reasons we have chosen to make custom cables, rather than just making generic assemblies, is because we want to make sure each of our valued clients is fully informed, and is getting exactly what they need and want for their particular application.
You aren't generic, so nothing we do is generic.
We sincerely welcome the opportunity to serve you!
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us!
Owner of Gestalt Audio