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Do analog audio cables matter?

I’ve recently witnessed and been part of a few debates about high-resolution audio, in particular related to the Pono Player. Many people claim that it makes no sense to use better than CD quality, while others (like me) do think it makes a meaningful difference.

During those discussions, I also brought up that cables could influence analog sound, which was disputed by even more people. I personally changed my electric guitar cable from a pre-made Klotz cable to one that I soldered myself using expensive Grindycop Beast bulk cables from Sommer Cable. Since I did that, my clean guitar sound became better than ever before and I’ve received quite a few positive comments from people asking how I achieved the sound. The cable played a significant role. It thus made sense to me that higher quality cables for listening could also positively influence the sound.

Custom headphone cables

My curiosity got the better of me, and a few months ago I jumped onto a Black Friday deal and ordered custom cables for my Westone ES5 in-ears and my Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 headphones from Double Helix Cables. I received them two months later and when I tried them out, I thought there was a clear difference, not necessarily in the sound quality itself but very noticeable in the sound stage. My initial reaction was that it felt like barriers were removed and I described it in an email to Peter from Double Helix like this: “it’s a surreal experience, I feel like I’m floating in space with sound around me and inside me“.

Attempt at something scientific

This weekend, the skeptical scientist in me started wondering though. Was this difference just placebo as so many people claim? Do I really hear a difference or do I want to hear a difference? I thus decided to try to capture the difference in sound using my P5 Series 2 headphones and a ‘head’ that I assembled out of a kitchen bowl, towels and a matched pair of Avenson STO-2 omni microphones, all firmly taped together! :-)


The bowl I used has ears on the sides, which allowed me to precisely position the headphone cups vertically and I then visually aligned them so that the tip of the microphones would be placed in the middle of the cups. I obviously took special care when placing the headphones on the microphones to make sure that the position was as much as humanly possible identical for all takes.

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I then played the same music through the Pono Player, each time with different cables, recorded through my Metric Halo ULN-8 audio interface with a 96kHz/24bit resolution inside Audacity. The P5 headphones make it very easy to change the cables, you can just remove one of the magnetically attached pads and plug in a different cable.

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The outcome

When listening back to the recordings, I found that most of what I perceived as improvements with the custom cables was lost. Probably due to the microphones, my improvised head contraption, the recording process, … However, the essence of the difference still seemed to be there. To make sure I was not imagining things, I asked my girlfriend to listen to the takes and to tell me what she thought, without me being present.

She was not there during the recording, doesn’t have any experience with the headphones nor the cables, and I just told her how to switch between tracks in Audacity for listening. After 30 seconds she stopped and asked if the top recording corresponded to the custom cable because she could better hear certain details while the overall volume and sound remained very similar. She was correct and this also corresponds to what I discern.


So, do cables matter?

I’m glad to know that I’m not imagining things when using higher-end cables, but obviously the benefit is totally related to what’s personally important to you. The original cable stills sounds wonderful, I just think the custom cable provides an extra few percent that pulls the sound out of the artificial realm and into a more realistic realm. With certain recordings, when I close my eyes, it feels like the artists are performing just for me, in the same room. To make that’s worth $100 since it triggers emotions that are absent otherwise.

Show me the goods

If you want to listen to the recordings from this experiment for yourself, you can download an excerpt from here. This zip archive contains 96kHz/24bit WAV files, captured raw from the microphones in the setup explained above. You obviously need a suitable DAC and headphones/monitors to evaluate the differences. Note that this is copyrighted material from Moloko’s Statues album. I hope that having re-recorded it and merely providing fractions of the songs will not be causing me any problems. If it does, I’ll have to take the link down.

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LinnStrument iPad holder

I recently got a 3D printer and one of the first projects I undertook was to create an iPad holder prototype for the LinnStrument. After a few trials, I designed one that works great and that is printable in three parts. It works from the iPad 1 size all the way up to the iPad Air, including iPhones (the 6+ works quite nicely). Since the LinnStrument can be bus-powered from all iOS devices with a lightning connector, this is a really nice standalone expressive music-making combo imho.

Here are some pictures:

LinnStrument iPad mount 3

LinnStrument iPad mount 5

LinnStrument iPad mount 4

LinnStrument iPad mount 2

LinnStrument iPad mount 1
… and here are the STL files and the original design document from MOI in case you want to print one yourself:

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LinnStrument : the ultimate open-source hacker instrument

The video and slides of my Devoxx BOF “LinnStrument : the ultimate open-source hacker instrument” are available

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LinnStrument is released!

It’s done, we’ve released the LinnStrument!

After a successful trial run of LinnStruments to San Francisco bay area customers last month, we’re about to ship the next batch of 37 LinnStruments to U.S. customers only. These units will be shipped between November 17th and December 5, depending on your position in the order queue.

Order here.


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Limited availability of the first LinnStruments

The first production units of the LinnStrument are ready!

Before the general release, we’re selling a small number of units to residents of the San Francisco bay area.

Contact if you’re interested!

linnstrument straight, noaka 8-26-14-crop-u15412

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LinnStrument performance with and without expression

With The Last Of Us remastered coming out tomorrow on PS4, I couldn’t help trying to play The Choice on the LinnStrument. This instrumental from Gustavo Santaolalla touches me deeply every time I hear it and I hope I’ve done it justice with this LinnStrument performance.

I’m using the row-per-channel configuration so that each row acts as an individual string. The sound is coming from Trilian with an 8-part multitimbral setup (one for each row).

With Expression

I recorded the LinnStrument MIDI data into Cubase and afterwards removed the per-note pitch bend and per-note pressure expression data. Below is the same performance, with the audio that just uses notes with velocity, as you would play on a regular MIDI keyboard. Some parts are of course not entirely correct anymore since the glissandos are gone. I considered editing the MIDI data, but decided to keep it a one-to-one translation instead.
I hope this allows you to evaluate how new expressive controllers are able to breathe life into a performance.

For the really technically inclined, you can download the MIDI file with the recorded performance and all the original expression.

Without Expression

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EigenD as a super-flexible VST host

Mark Harris has recorded a few videos that demonstrate EigenD’s usefulness as a super-flexible VST host.

They show that it’s suited for any midi controller, and also in particular with interfacing with Reason 7.

Aimed at newcomers to EigenD and Workbench, it shows creating an entire setup from scratch, including building a small Stage interface.

Midi input, Audio, Audio Unit, CC routing Stage

Alternative routing, VSTs as FX, Midi clock sync

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EigenD : Free and Open Music Performance Environment

EigenD is a general purpose music performance environment that is now completely freely available and has been open-source for a few years. It has been created for the Eigenharp instruments, but was from the get-go designed as a common platform for all digital music instruments and controllers.

EigenD can be downloaded from:

EigenD’s sources are available on GitHub:

Here’s a demo video of how I use EigenD to configure a live performance environment for my electric guitar, combining the power of my favorite plugins into a single comprehensive configuration.

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Moogfest 2014 : Roger Linn on LinnStrument and new Expressive Controllers

Roger Linn introduced his last version of the LinnStrument at Moogfest and talks about the importance of expressive controllers, this is the full recording of his lecture. I gave a short demo of the Eigenharp as one of the examples. I’ve started helping Roger out with programming the LinnStrument software, since I think that it’s a great solution from people coming from existing grid controllers.

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Moogfest 2014 : Mobile Synthesis and Future Forward Controllers

Here’s the full recording of my talk at Moogfest 2014 about “Mobile Synthesis and Future Forward Controllers”.

This includes mentions/demos of the Eigenharp, Leap Motion and Thalmic Labs Myo, as well as Animoog, PPG Apps WaveGenerator, DrumJam and iConnectivity iConnectMIDI4+, and much more.

Lots of audience questions at the end also.

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