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Glossary
       

Hi-fi and musical terminology you might find useful....

 

   
       

Attack

The leading edge of a musical note. Every type of musical instrument has a distinctive shape to the notes played on it. The attack is the time taken for a note to rise to its full loudness. Poor quality cables can have a seriously detrimental effect on what is a critical part of music. The initial rise on a note can be lost beneath a high noise floor or altered by interference or mechanically induced noise

   

Balanced connections

An audio signal can be carried from one component to another in two ways, either single ended or balanced.  A single ended output will usually use an RCA or Din connection (very occasionally and somewhat confusingly, single ended outputs may well use an XLR connector).  The majority of hi-fi components are fitted with RCA sockets.  Most professional audio and some domestic components however offer the option of connected components via a 3 pin XLR connector. 

A balanced connection can offer some serious advantages over an RCA connection.  One pin of the XLR carries the signal, another the earth/return and the final pin carries a mirror image of the signal.  When the signal arrives at its destination, it passes through a transformer and any signal (noise or interference picked up along the length of the cable) common to both the original and the mirror image of the signal is cancelled out.  This makes the XLR balanced connection extremely useful for long runs of cable and is the reason for its popularity in professional recording studios. 

If your equipment offers both balanced and single ended connections we would advise experimenting.  In some cases the XLR connection can produce a significantly better sound quality and in others, the RCA connection can produce the more satisfactory sound.

CONNECTING RCA OUTPUTS AND XLR INPUTS

It is possible to connect either an RCA output or input to an XLR input or output.  This is done by connecting the signal pin on the XLR to the tip of the RCA.  The earth/return pin is connected to the RCA surround and the out of phase (mirror image) pin is shorted to the earth pin.  This configuration works well and allows the connection of a component fitted only with balanced outputs to an amplifier or pre-amp that only has RCA inputs.  The only potential problem with this is that XLR outputs often have a higher output level than RCA outputs, so you may need to watch the volume control.

   

Bandwidth

In terms of hi fi, bandwidth would describe the effective frequency range of a speaker or system that the speakers are connected to. Bandwidth is also a useful term to describe a cable’s ability to accurately carry a signal over a given frequency range. 

If used to explain the performance parameters of a cable, bandwidth would be used to describe the ability of the cable to transmit very high and low frequency information. As cable design gets more exotic so its ability to transmit this information accurately improves

   

Co-axial cable

The best example of a co-axial cable is the cable that connects an aerial to a television. An insulator and shield surround the central conductor. The signal travels along the central conductor and the shield screens the signal from interference and provides a return path to complete the circuit. Co-axial cables are used extensively to produce both analogue and digital interconnects. We use high quality co-axial cables to produce digital interconnects but feel that analogue signals can be better carried via a pseudo-balanced configuration cable.

   

Coherence

A term used to describe the ability of a hi-fi or home cinema system to present music as a complete and understandable whole.  It can be easy to slip into thinking about the bass, middle and treble frequencies whilst losing sight of the fact that the music you are listening to is not actually being presented in a coherent manner. The way in which interconnects or speaker cables affect the coherence of a system can be dramatic. Badly designed and poorly built cables can almost completely destroy a system’s ability to produce a coherent sound. Crucial to a system’s coherence will be a cable’s ability to move dynamic and tonal information accurately across a wide bandwidth

   

Conductors

In the case of cables, conductors are the wires used to carry the signal. These can be either multi-stranded or solid-core.

A multi-stranded conductor will be made up from a number of strands; there can be a considerable variance in the number and diameter of strands used and the way in which they are configured.

A solid core cable has a single strand conductor and as with multi-stranded conductors there can be a great deal of variation in the diameter of the single strand.

 

   

Decibel (db)

The unit of measurement used to describe the loudness of a sound, the higher the louder. The rock band Motorhead are reputed to have played concerts at volumes in excess of 130 decibels!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decibel

   

Dielectric

The dielectric (or insulator) is the material used to insulate conductors, either from each other or from a surrounding shield. The most commonly used dielectrics are all plastics and each type has a different set of electrical properties. Teflon™ is widely acknowledged as being the best dielectric material to use, but polyethylene can also be made to measure and perform extremely well. Bottom of the list in performance terms is PVC. We use either Polyethylene or Teflon™ in the construction of all Chord Company interconnects and speaker cables, we do however make use of PVC as material for outer jackets.

   

Dynamics

The dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest sound. The human ear has a dynamic range of around 140 decibels (dB). Almost every hi-fi and home cinema component will list its dynamic range. No cable can increase the dynamic range of a system, but a poor quality cable can significantly reduce it.  This can be caused by poor quality shielding which significantly raises the noise floor of the system, meaning that very quiet sounds are masked by unwanted noise.

   

Envelope

A term most often used to describe the shape of a note created by an electronic instrument that has been altered electronically.   It also has some relevance when used to describe any musical note created by an acoustic instrument.  A musical note can be split into three sections.  The attack; how long a note takes to rise from start to maximum volume.  The sustain; how long a note stays at maximum volume.  The decay; how long a note takes to die away.  The envelope of a note played on a piano will be completely different to the same note played on a banjo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADSR#ADSR_envelope

 

   

Frequency

Most commonly used by hi-fi manufacturers to describe the frequency range of components, particularly speakers (e.g. 50 Hz to 20 KHz). We might use it to describe a cable’s ability to accurately carry signals over a particular frequency range (see bandwidth).  In listening tests, high performance cables appear better able to carry musical information to a higher and lower frequency than poor quality cables.

   

Interference

A really big deal, interference is simply anything that interferes with the signal travelling along the cable. This can be electrical or mechanical and is something cable designers spend a great deal of effort in attempting to protect the signal from. Anything that interferes with a signal will affect that signal. Interference will increase the noise floor of a system, corrupt the picture from a DVD player and will in severe cases seriously affect the performance of a hi-fi or home cinema setup.

   

Mechanical noise

The way in which a cable is designed, built and terminated will affect its susceptibility to either transmitted or airborne vibration. We found that cables built to a tight mechanical tolerance sounded better than those with a lower build tolerance. So we chose to build cables this way simply because they sounded better. As well as insisting on a high build tolerance we use particular materials, which through experimentation we have established are effective at dealing with this problem. There are other companies doing some really interesting work in this area

   

Micro dynamics

Human hearing is incredibly sensitive and able to detect tiny differences in loudness. This ability is critical to the way we respond to music. A really good illustration of the way these tiny dynamic shifts are vital to a piece of music would be a piece of music played on an acoustic guitar. Music is often built around repeating rhythmic and melodic patterns, so a sequence of notes will have a regularly occurring start point. The guitar player will emphasize the start of the sequence by hitting the first note very slightly harder than the following notes. Likewise other notes in the sequence will be played slightly harder or softer to emphasize the rhythmic or melodic structure

   

Noise Floor

In almost any system there will be present, when the system is switched on, a degree of noise (sometimes audible as hiss). This can be caused by electrical noise generated by the components within the system, or by interference picked up along the length of the cabling connecting the system together. By way of illustration, assume that the noise generated by the system and/or cables is measured at 35 decibels, so any recorded sound on the music you are playing that is below that level will be masked by the noise.

A properly designed cable with high levels of wide frequency interference rejection fitted in place of a cable without these characteristics can significantly lower the noise floor of a system.

Not to be confused with this fascinating site: www.noisefloor.org/

   

Outer jacket

The outer jacket of a speaker cable or interconnect can influence sound or picture quality to a surprising degree. The most obvious purpose of an outer jacket is to protect the conductors and the shields. However, the ability of the material chosen to control and reduce external and internal vibrations (see mechanical noise) can influence the performance characteristic of the cable. We use several materials including Silicone, PVC and Teflon™

   

Oxygen free copper

Oxygen free copper is the most commonly used conductor material for hi-fi and home cinema interconnects as well as speaker cables. Often referred to as four nines copper (99.99% pure), oxygen free copper contains around 50 parts per million oxygen, compared with around 750 parts per million found in the copper used for household appliances.

In terms of subjective sound quality, cables that use oxygen free copper (dependant to some extent on the insulation material it is used with) produce a more detailed sound and cause less colouration of tone, resulting in a more natural sound.

   

Pseudo-balanced cable

This is a term used to describe a cable that has two or more sets of identical conductors. This type of cable configuration is sometimes described as balanced or semi-balanced. However this does not mean that a pseudo-balanced cable carries a balanced signal.

The term is used to describe a cable where both the signal and the return are carried by identical sets of conductors. This type of cable geometry is used throughout our range of analogue interconnects; pseudo-balanced cables can help to lower the perceived noise floor and transmit dynamic and tonal information more accurately than co-axial designs.

   

Shields

We believe that effective shielding of both audio and visual signals is one of the most critical areas of cable design.

The average house is full of potential sources of mains and airborne electronic interference, both of which can have a seriously detrimental effect on sound and picture quality. A shield does exactly what it says and protects an audio or visual signal from interference.

   

Shields - foil

At one time a foil shield was the simplest and cheapest method of providing reasonably effective shielding. A ribbon of conductive foil is wrapped around the conductor(s).

Things have changed though.   Firstly when used in combination with any of the other shields described, a foil shield can make a significant contribution to sound quality.  Secondly, although foil shields are usually produced using very light gauge foil, Chord has recently experimented with foil shields produced from heavier gauge foil.  Difficult to apply, heavy gauge foil shields have produced remarkable results, particularly when used in combination with other shield types. Chord’s flagship Sarum interconnect utilises a heavy gauge shield in combination with a flat braid shield. Combining foil and braided shield has proved so effective that all of Chord’s analogue interconnects feature foil shields combined with either braided or lapped shields.

   

Shields - lapped

A lapped shield is made up of multiple strands of copper or other conductive materials wound around a central conductor in an overlapping spiral. Lapped shields are extremely flexible and when used in cables with multiple sets of separately insulated conductors, make for an extremely versatile cable that can be terminated with a wide variety of plugs.

Chord CrimsonPlus employs a lapped shield in combination with a medium gauge foil shield.

   

Shields - braided

A braided shield uses multiple strands of copper, interwoven around the conductor insulation. The density of the weave will have an effect on the efficiency of the shield. The density is usually given as a percentage of coverage; this can vary enormously but typically will be between 83 and 91 percent.

Chord CobraPlus has a braided shield in combination with a medium gauge foil shield.

   

Shields - flat braided

A variation on the more commonly found braided shield.  Flat braid shields are technically complex to apply using a flat ribbon wire in place of the more commonly used round wire.  Flat braid shield however can produce a very high coverage (up to 100 percent) and are extremely effective to very high frequencies. Chord use flat braid shielding extensively.

   

Shields - used in combination

All shield types can be used in combination with each other to produce still higher levels of shield effectiveness.

The Chord Indigo interconnect uses a foil, braided and flat braided shield to protect the signal from extremely high frequency interference.

   

Shields - various configurations

There are many ways of configuring a shield or shielding system. The simplest method is to connect the shield to the plugs at each end of the cable. The shield protects the signal conductor and acts as the signal return.  However many manufactures of interconnect cables for use with hi-fi equipment (including Chord Co) adopt a pseudo-balanced configuration. Since the signal return is now carried by an identical conductor to the signal carrier, the shield need no longer form part of the circuit. This means that the shield can be connected at one end only or not connected at all and left fully floating.

   

Silver

A lot of the cables in the Chord range employ silver-plated conductors. Silver has a marginally lower resistance than copper but our primary reason for using silver is its ability to accurately carry both small and high level signals across a wide frequency range. However, the insulating material used influences the tonal characteristics of silver. We use Teflon™ extensively; this ensures an extremely neutral tonal quality across the frequency range. Other insulation materials can introduce unwanted colourations to parts of the frequency range.

   

Silver plating

So far we have chosen to use silver-plating rather than use solid silver wire. We have experimented with this and feel that the extra price of silver wire does not justify itself in terms of performance.

   

Stereo image

Stereo image is used to describe the sound from a system as it appears between the speakers of a hi-fi system and relates to both width and depth.  If an image is good it is easy to locate individual performers and instruments and also to gain an impression of instruments being either behind or in front of each other. 

Image can also relate to the ability to place a sound at a particular height.  This is an area where cables can play a massive part in producing a good and believable image and for many people, good imaging adds hugely to the pleasure of listening to reproduced music.

   

Timbre

In "This Is Your Brain On Music" (written by Daniel Levitin) can be found the Acoustical Society of Americas definition of timbre, which is that "Timbre is everything about a sound that is not loudness or pitch". The only way this helps is by illustrating just how complex timbre is. Timbre is the information that lets us define what a musical note is played on. The timbre of a note played on a guitar is completely different to the same note played on a piano. Two otherwise identical guitars can have very different sounds because the body of one is rosewood (brighter tone, better defined bass) and the other mahogany (softer, less attack to notes). This barely scratches the surface of what is a vast and complex subject, but it is one of the areas where properly designed cables can have a profound effect.

One of the biggest challenges for anyone involved in hi-fi design are bowed instruments. The tonal complexity of a string quartet is extraordinary and it was the desire to transfer as much of that complexity as we could that led to the use of the advanced shielding systems we use in many of our cables. Timbre also plays a vital role in the way music communicates emotions and our emotional response to music is critical to our love of music.

   

Timing

This is a hugely important area; we feel that it is vital that a hi-fi or home cinema system delivers music in a coherent manner (or with good timing). To enjoy music, be it a film sound track, a favourite CD, a download, or vinyl to its full extent, it is vital that a system delivers that information accurately. Good timing gives so many insights into the special relationship between musicians. Good timing makes your foot tap.

No cable can improve timing as such, but once again poor quality cables can have a dramatically negative effect.

   

Tone

Ideally, a system should have an even tonal balance; in other words it should not emphasise one particular tonal frequency over another. If a system or component does emphasise a particular tonal frequency range it is often described as coloured.

Cables can and do influence the tonal qualities of a system and research into this has shown that there is an important relationship between the type of conductor and the material used to insulate it. Get this right and it is possible to produce a neutral balance right across the frequency range

   

Ultra-cast copper

A variation on oxygen free copper. Ultra-cast copper is cast then recast to further eliminate impurities. In theory this should make Ultra-cast copper the conductor of choice in all Chords’ products, but despite much experimentation we have yet to successfully produce an analogue cable using Ultra-cast copper.

The area where we have achieved real results with this material is digital signal transmission.  Both the Prodac Pro-Digital and the Signature Digital interconnects use Ultra-cast copper conductors. Despite the fact that a digital cable carries a digital signal, the Ultra-cast copper conductors in direct comparison to more conventional oxygen free copper conductors produced a markedly more detailed and natural sound. Although the tonal characteristics of both cables cannot be attributed solely to the choice of conductor material, Ultra-cast copper obviously has a marked influence.