30 November 2010

SuperCables CookBook - Review (1/2)

Recently I got a chance to read the "SuperCables Cook Book" (3rd edition) by Allen Wright of Vacuum State Electronics and I thought I would share my findings.  As the title implies, this is an instructional book on how to make various cables.  The book covers balanced and unbalanced line level (interconnect) cables,  speaker cables, mains (power) cables, digital cables and even video cables.  The book is just shy of 200 pages and retails for 40 Euro and that price includes worldwide postage.

I thought of writing a book review only with no chat about the technical gems held within. That was until I finished reading the book through. I found not only some cable designs I would like to build but some confronting mathematical and theoretical proof that thin wires rule over thick wires.

SuperCables CookBook

SuperCables CookBook Review
The book is spiral bound, with a clear plastic front cover, black card-stock back cover and the paper quality is low.  For about the same money one can purchase beautifully bound, hard cover manuals full of color photos, but let's not judge a book by it's cover.  One plus about the spiral binding is the book will lay flat which makes it easy when working from a particular page.  Unfortunately the image quality is poor and boring – the images look like black and white copies of color photos.  You don’t find yourself looking at a picture of a good looking cable and think “I want to build that”, but don't let that discourage you.  Some of the images are of such poor quality that it is hard to work out what point is being displayed.

Apart from the usual trademarks, disclaimers, copyright warnings etc. The book opens with Contents, About the Author, Introduction and A Brief History.  It then works you through the theory and concepts of electricity traveling through a conductor.  The book then works it way into speaker cable constructions, interconnect cables, mains cables etc.  Toward the back of the book more varied cable types can be found, balanced, digital and even video cables. The list of cable types is very comprehensive.  I must congratulate the author on covering such a huge range of cables. 

Reading the Book 

There are three ways you can go about reading the book.
  1. You can read the book cover to cover;
  2. You could skip the preface, author, intro, theory and concepts and jump right to a cable recipe.  For many you can follow a recipe, construct the cable and enjoy while never looking back;
  3. But here is my suggestion after reading the book.  Read from the front cover to the theory. Jump the theory but read the concepts.  Then find your first cable to build and you will likely not stop at one.
Working through the theory and maths, no matter which famous mathematician developed them, will not make you a better cable builder.  However, understanding and the concepts for better cable construction and applying those concepts will.  If you read nothing else prior to your mystical journey into strange cables, read the concepts section from pages 42 to 52.  Other portions of the book that are must reads, Connector Basics and any of the other “Basic” sections in the book.  This may be “basic” information, but it is good information that is often overlooked or forgotten.

Cable Construction Pages
There are 35 projects in the book and the project page layout is excellent.  Across the top of the page is the cable project you about to start, “#7 Intimate Silver Foils” which makes it obvious what this cable is made of.  The other guides on this page are: Sonics, Difficulty, Pro’s, Con’s.  Some have a numerical rating other a verbal description.  The next section outlines the Materials required supported by some more images.  The Materials are numbered.  From here we go to Method, once again numbered.  At the end of the method, which is really a step-by-step list of how to put the cable together, you may find some other notes.  For example, “if using Lemo’s (a brand/type of connector) and “if using RCA’s”.  This layout makes it simple to follow and construct.  The author also makes comments about what you may experience when listening to the cables in an attempt to rate and compared the many cable recipes in the book.

Lessons Learned
Here’s what I discovered and do agree with:

  • Thin (even ultra fine) wire is better than thick wire;
  • Thin foil is better than thin wire;
  • Cheap light weight plugs are better sounding than extra heavy ones;
  • All dielectric is bad, some not as bad as others;
  • The best plug is no plug;
  • Separated wires sound better than clumped;
  • Solid core wire is better than stranded,
  • Solder with a few percent silver or copper is good;
  • The shorter the wire length the better (I think we all can agree here);
  • Skin effect does occur at audio frequencies;
  • Plumbers Teflon tape has more than one use;

Summary - SuperCables CookBook Review
As I stated earlier the book is very comprehensive on the subject of cables.  It also highlights tricks and traps when making cables and safety issues when dealing with mains power cables.   The book is well thought out, hand-holding and thought provoking.  The SuperCables CookBook challenges preconceived ideas about materials used in cables, cable construction, plugs and even how a cable should look.

At around $AU60 the book is not cheap.  Do I recommend the book? Yes I do.  If you want a good read, buy a novel.  If you are a DIY Hi-Fi nut, this book will ease your cravings.  Expert or novice the book guides you through each build with the goal of producing a better sound from your system at very little cost.  Just don’t tell your friends you replaced your expensive speaker cable with a few strands of 30 AWG silver plated copper wire wrap.  They may have you certified.

Mark Houston - retro-thermionic.

To email Mark, type out the email address.
Part 2 of the SuperCables CookBook review covers how a couple of the cable recipes from the book perform in my system.  In the 3rd installment of the series Mark and Ron give the 30AWG wire wrap cables a good listen.  See The Fine Wire Audio Cable Shoot-Out for the story.

DIY Hi-Fi Cable Projects


  1. Greetings Mark,

    Thank you for sharing your notes on this book. I've been interested in this book for a while so I will be looking forward to your follow up notes.


  2. Hi,
    The supercable cookbook belongs to all the things which are needless in the world...
    Any influence of cable characteristics like thin or thick or inductivities/capacities etc. to Audio are much overrated, mostly by People with half knowledge about physics.
    And definitely No: Skin effect cannot occur at Audio frequencies, that's bullshit. This starts at appr. 1 MHz upwards measureable, but never audible.
    Oh Boy...


  3. Great Article it its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. its was really valuable. thanks a lot.
    Power Cables