How to Make a Transparent Audio Reference XL Speaker Cable

147,368

61

32

Introduction: How to Make a Transparent Audio Reference XL Speaker Cable

For my first project here on Instructables, I thought I'd start with what I think is about the coolest DIY project for high-end audio buffs.  This instructable will show you how to make a pair of $12,500 Transparent Audio Reference XL speaker cables for less than 200 bucks.  My project is based on a schematic I found on the internet, along with photos and x-rays of the insides of the Transparent Audio network box (see step 10 for everything I found).  Here are the parts you'll need:

½” black corrugated split tube, 20 ft. - $23.88
12/4 wound high strand count copper speaker wire, 20 ft – $11.20
½” black braided nylon tube, 20 ft. - $19.00
Plastic project boxes, 2 ea – $7.94
14 gauge copper wire, 10 ft - $7.59
Gold plated brass spades, 8 ea - $6.00 (I found them on eBay)
1” black heat-shrink tube, 2 ft. – $6.96
½” black heat-shrink tube, 4 ft – $11.12
½” red heat-shrink tube, 4 ft – $11.12
1000 picofarad capacitors, 2 ea - $2.12
31.7 ohm resistors, 2 ea - $1.15
½” oak dowel, 4” - $35.00 (for 36” dowel)
Black hot glue sticks, 3 ea – $3.94
Flux-core solder, 1 roll - $29.97

Total: $176.63

Here are the tools you'll need:

Pliers
Phillips screwdriver
Hot glue gun
Soldering iron
Heat gun (or hair dryer)
Wire cutters
Wire Strippers
Scissors
Masking Tape (I used a lot of it to help me stabilize things while I was working on them)
Razor knife or Xacto

Step 1: Preparing the Cable

I'm just going to explain how to make one wire.  To make a pair, just double the instructions (obviously). :)

First, cut a ten foot length of your 12/4 wire and strip off the outer jacket.  You can discard the jacket as you won't need it at all.  Use masking tape to make sure that the twist of the cable stays the way it is.

Next, strip the ends of all the wires back about three quarters of an inch.  In my case, I had red, white, black, and green coated wires.  You will use two wires for each "leg" of the cable.  So, twist the ends of the red and white wires together.  Do the same thing for the black and green ones.  The red/white will be the positive leg and the black/green will be the negative.  Once you've got them twisted together, tin the ends so they'll stay that way while you're handling the cables.

Next, find the center of the wire (5 feet from either side) and cut the positive leg.  Strip back the insulation where you just cut, combine the wires and tin them the way you just did with the ends.  This center cut is where you will later add one of Transparent's "networks."

Step 2: Prepare the Network Box

Set aside your cable for a minute and pick up your network boxes.  The plastic project boxes can be purchased at Radio Shack.  I chose the boxes that measure 5.75" by 2.75" by 2".  You could go smaller, but these will give you plenty of room to work inside them.

Mark the center point of the ends of the boxes.  Then, drill a hole in each end so your cable can go through the box.  The hole should be slightly smaller than 1/2 inch.  I drilled a pilot hole and then used a "stepping bit" to fine tune the hole.  Just take a short length of your corrugated tubing to test whether your hole is the right size.  The tubing should fit snugly.

Step 3: Build the Main Network

Transparent's main "network" is simply an inductor measuring 2.5 micro Henries that is soldered into the path of the positive leg of the cable.

To make the inductor, take a two inch long piece of your oak dowel and wind your 14 gauge solid copper wire tightly around the dowel.  In order to get precisely 2.5 micro Henries, you will need something more complex than a multimeter.  I went to my buddy's shop and used his LCR meter to measure mine.

Side note: My opinion is that you don't have to make it too precise because a 2.5 micro Henry inductor really doesn't add very much inductance anyway.  When I measured the cable without the inductor soldered in, it measured 3 micro Henries by itself.  So, without the inductor, if I wanted to add 2.5 micro Henries of inductance, I just needed to lengthen the cable by about 8 feet.  Anyway, back to the instructions.

I found that if I wound tightly, I consistently got 2.35 to 2.55 micro Henries with 18 turns around the dowel.  I think that's a good rule of thumb to go by if you don't have a complex instrument to measure the inductor.

Once you're satisfied with your inductor, use masking tape to hold it in place around the dowel.  Tin the ends so they'll be easy to solder later.

Step 4: Solder in the Network

All you have to do here is solder in the inductor to the positive side of the cable and then fish the cable through the holes in your box.

It's easy to fish with no jacket on the wires and if you do it this way you don't run the risk of burning the box with your soldering iron.

Step 5: Dress Up the Cable

Now that you have your main network complete, you can add some dressing to your cable to make it look nice and to protect it from wear and tear.

Take a five foot piece of your corrugated split tubing and wrap it around the cable on one side of the network box.  Then, take your nylon braid and slide it over the tubing.  Once it is at the end of the tubing next to your network box, gently work both layers through the hole in the box.  Once you've got them inside the box, use a zip tie and hot glue to keep them from sliding out again.  I like to use the black hot glue because of the lower melting point, which makes it more liquid that the standard stuff.  That way, you can work it around the cable to make sure it fills in any gaps between your braid and the hole in the box.

Repeat the process for the other side of the cable.

Step 6: The Output Network

You may not have known this, but there is another, much smaller network on the output end of the Transparent Reference XL speaker cable.  It consists of a 1000 pF capacitor and a 31.7 ohm resistor.

All you do here is solder the cap and resistor together.  Then, use your soldering iron to melt away the insulation on the positive and negative legs of the cable 12 inches from the output end.  Using your soldering iron, solder together both wires of each leg and leave yourself a little "knob" to solder the network to.

The capacitor is soldered to the negative leg, and the resistor is soldered to the positive leg.

Once the solder has cooled slide a piece of the larger heat-shrink tubing over the network and apply some heat with a heat gun or hair dryer.  This will simply protect the network.

In order to do this step without damaging the tubing and nylon braid, I just moved them back a bit so they were out of the way.

At this point it's a good idea to take a pencil and draw an arrow on the main network box indicating the signal flow.  Like I said before, the small R/C network that we made should be attached to the output end, making the cable directional.

Step 7: Finishing the Ends

Take your spades and solder them to the ends of the cable.  I used a bench clamp to help me do it easily.

Now, take your smaller heat-shrink tube and slide them over your spades.  A red one should be used on the positive side and a black one on the negative side.  Make sure the heat-shrink overlaps onto the spade.  This will give some strain relief and it makes it look better.  Apply heat.

Notice that I didn't slide the heat-shrink on before I soldered on the spades.  I did it this way because heating the spades with your soldering iron takes a long time and causes the copper in the wire to heat up.  This can cause the tubing to shrink on you before you're ready for it.  So, get some spades that are small enough to slide your tubing over.

Next, take a piece of the larger black tubing (about 4 inches) and shrink it around where the tails come out of the corrugated/braided tubing.  Apply some heat to it, but be careful because if it gets too hot, the nylon braid will burn.

Repeat this process on both sides of the cable.

Step 8: Finish It Up and Burn It In

Now all you have to do is attach the cap to the main network box.  I took a sharpie and wrote "in" and "out" on the bottom of the box so I wouldn't forget which way to hook up the cables.  I'll do something more permanent later.

I didn't do this yet, but you may want to fill your network box with hot glue.  I'm told that this will make it so the inductor won't vibrate as much (vibrations can cause noise).  It will also make the network boxes heavier, making them lay on the ground better.

To burn in the cables, just hook them up to your rig and let it play for a few days.  If you have a cable cooker, that might speed up the process.

Step 9: Conclusion

I hope you found this project as fun to do as I did.  I've had them hooked up to my system for a couple of weeks now and they sound fantastic.

You may have asked yourself where I got the plans to build them.  Well, the internet is full of photos of Transparent cables that have been broken apart.  One of the sites that published these photos had a schematic of the design based on measurements the person took as he was taking apart the cable.  I'll attach the photos I found to the next step of this instructable.

Though it may not be an exact duplicate, I'd match my cables against genuine Transparent cables any day of the week.  Especially when you consider that they cost less than 2% of the original... and they sound fabulous!

Step 10: Photos/Schematic of Transparent Cables Found on the Internet


Be the First to Share

    Recommendations

    • STEM Contest

      STEM Contest
    • Role Playing Game Challenge

      Role Playing Game Challenge
    • CNC Contest

      CNC Contest

    32 Comments

    0
    HiFiMan
    HiFiMan

    9 years ago on Introduction

    It's basically just a copy cat version of the MIT cables.Before spending the money for parts on this do yourself a favor and go buy some Goertz speaker cables they sound far superior to this type of design.I know I own both types and I also build custom cables;loudspeakers;and electronics.Single conductors far outperform multi conductors in every respect.
    For almost $200 for the parts I could build myself some self bi amped speakers with only 3 inch long speaker cables.
    Now that's how you get transparent sound.

    0
    3dave2
    3dave2

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    Hi, HiFiMan.
    I trust that you are keeping well?
    Just latched on to this very interesting subject.
    Always, as a keen improver to achieve improved sound on ones sound system on a low to moderate budget, this system I would love to try.
    Question...Do you still supply this unit cable?. When it comes to capacitors and ohms
    it's a little beyond me.
    Kindest regards
    David Neale.


    0
    amclaussen
    amclaussen

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I agree with your statement about bi amped speakers...

    About 20 years ago I was helplessly rtying to make a four way speaker to work properly... even using very tolerant 6 dB/Oct simple crossovers, and with a full electronics lab at hand, I found that the passive corssover was the worst offender in the whole chain of sound reproduction!

    Later on, I tried the much straightforward process of multi-amplifying with Active crossovers. I still find amazing that most audiophiles spend huge amounts of money and effort pursuing perfection, buying or making a big, expensive and exquisite amplifier, and then throwing into the trash its signal when trying to connect thru a passive crossover with all its unavoidable flaws!

    Even more amazing is the never ending quest for the "magical" cable, esoteric cones, ethereal sanbags and other "improvments" paid by wealthy people beieving in the black-magic approach to audio!

    Kudos for saying that bi amplifiying (or multi-amplifying) is the best way to transparet sound! Amclaussen, Mexico City.

    0
    cassinii
    cassinii

    1 year ago

    Is it possible to use the CR circuit with cinch RCA cables?

    1
    Angus Black
    Angus Black

    2 years ago

    Ok people, what some of you might not fully understand yet is what the transparent cable network is and what it does. As discussed, it is made up of 3 common electronic components; a resistor, a capacitor, and an inductor (choke). These things make up a common LCR network, which you will also find in every speaker crossover, and radio tuner.

    The electronic values of the components ( in ohms, farads, and henrys ) dictate the frequency where a choke-off (blocking of) begins, and the rate at which it happens.

    In a speaker, the Woofer, midrange and tweeter each have a different LCR network tuned to block certain frequencies from reaching the different drivers. In the case of the transparent speaker wire, this LCR network is tuned to choke/block/remove high frequency radio “noise” from the speaker cables. Because all wires ultimately act like antenna for whatever the heck electrical EMF is in the air. Cell phone, microwave oven, Walkie-talkies, TV and radio broadcast.... the ignition from a car driving by.

    And even though you don’t “hear” this radio noise, it bangs around in the wire and speaker crossovers and adds congestion to the overall music signal, making it a bit dull.

    if you live some where way out in the sticks, and there is no radio frequency noise getting to your wires, then the LCR network will have nothing to filter out, and it will make no change to the overall signal. But in an urban area, there is a ton of radio noise, and the network makes a difference.

    So, if you have a high resolution, audiophile stereo, and good ears, and a good recording, you will notice a lower noise floor, more dynamic range, better bass or instrument separation with A LCR network on your cables. If, on the other hand you have a cheap system and listen to poor quality recordings, the audible difference will probably not resolve itself.

    And, yes you could put all 3 components in a box right at the speaker, instead of the having the choke in the middle of the 10’ wire. I imagine Transparent Audio” do that “mystery black box” in the middle of the cable to justify the absurd cost. You will notice on their website that they now also sell just the short little network for 50-100$ So you can run any wire to it and gain the benefit.

    All this said, I would guess the DIY cable is probably 90% as good as the expensive cable. They do after all have precise measuring gear at their factory and can account for total cable capacitance, reluctance, resistance, reactance, yadda, yadda, yadda.... and their cable is quite fancy, but the LCR is the star of the show!

    Incidently, a simple ($12 ) LCR network is also used in expensive power conditioners, but it is tuned to a much lower frequency, because Line voltage runs at only 50 or 60 HZ, and the network wants to filter out all electrical noise frequencies above that.

    0
    hforbach
    hforbach

    2 years ago on Step 10

    Hello,

    I found your instructions for the speaker cable on a web and since I am very curious about audio components I have recreated it and it is just great.

    Thank you for the instructions.

    Kind regards

    Helmut

    0
    FongT1
    FongT1

    3 years ago

    Thks for this great instructable. I made the cables and am enjoying them v much. A few questions i have - must the inductor be at mid point and the resistor capacitor at the speaker end? Why not combine them in 1 box to be inserted at one end. That way, you can plug in whatever cables you have before into this network box. After all, these are the 3 components that make the cable sound good.

    0
    1scienceguy
    1scienceguy

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very, very cool project. Thanks for taking the time to do it right!

    Please continue to share your audio DIY projects. There are others of us out here that dabble in the same area.

    0
    DaleB13
    DaleB13

    Reply 4 years ago

    I just ran across this topic by chance. I find it very interesting and certainly an interesting approach even if not following the original design to the last nuance.

    I have strong reservations about much about what has been said. It seems we all want to reproduce the 'original' sound (or video) and ensure the best fidelity possible in the process.

    Well, if a musician is in a studio singing into a $1000 mic and that signal goes through a cable (not like an MIT or Transparent, but unbalanced coax) so many feet to a recording console, how do we reproduce that as close as possible?

    I mean all those elements must affect the signal in some way that is vastly different that what the signal encounters leaving a CD player until it is mechanically reproduced in our listening room. Why think only speaker cables make such a difference?

    The recording engineer is also listening through quality headphones or speakers in an environment that is different than any of ours.

    Through evolving technology and engineering we can receive excellent sound in our listening room. Not 'faithfully' reproducing the original signal, but certainly close enough to enjoy what we hear even if it not the same as siting in a recording studio only 10 feet away from the performer, or in a high end theater during a live performance (the best reference for training our ears).

    In the end, all our impressions whether collective or individual are based on experience and the accuracy of our senses not to mention the quality of our loudspeakers and just as important, the acoustic properties of our room.

    Playing around with different 'quality' wire may have some effect, those I suspect it is marginal to such a small degree that trying to split hairs between which is better is an exercise in futility. To be honest I've done it myself at high end dealers, being too cheap to spend more than a $100 a pair of wires, only to find a pair I could put together myself using soft KnuKoncepz wire (wrong spelling methinks) because they have more strands and smaller profile compared with more popular wire for the same gauge and much greater flexibility. These cables do offend some audiophile because they are further from the concept of 8 gauge battery cables.

    Maybe some you have such sensitive and acoustically defining components that changing out speaker cables actually makes a notable difference. I am not saying that is not the case, but for me really stretches the point that any difference can be easily quantified as better or worse. Like whip cream on top of a sundae, I think the topping dissolves into something rather undefinable over a relatively short time. Just my opinion, which is largely based on personal experience which I admit may be lacking. Plus, doing some design on cables in the aerospace industry which really did have to perform 'in the clouds'.

    0
    kris2ff3r
    kris2ff3r

    Reply 4 years ago

    Highly unlikely you can buy a 1000$ unbalanced mic, all professional mics are balanced. Transparent also makes interconnects, (RCA, XLR, etc)

    But speaker cable is what they are most famous for, it is basically the same design in their interconnects. And in this case the speaker cable is most important since it filters away noise from the ''final'' sound coming at the speakers.

    And this tutorial is baced on a hifi setup, not recording a recording studio. In recording the interconnect cables obviously has a bit more to say since the sound is going through them before being recorded. In hifi you already have the playback.

    0
    MikB
    MikB

    10 years ago on Introduction

    A warning to "noobs in this field" (and others) -- the original item seems to be an Audiophile ( spelt A-u-d-i-o-p-h-o-o-l ) product. Nobody in their right mind spends $12,500 on some 10ft speaker cables, whatever "filter" or "network" is in the middle of it. And if you did, just think how much you'd have to spend on the amplifier, the speakers, the pristine sound sources ... to truly appreciate them.

    And now that it's "for less than 200 bucks" -- it's still too expensive for what it is.

    All you need is some reasonably thick good quality copper wire to connect your speaker and amplifier. Most "improvements" beyond that are just marketing and hype.

    "Burning in" cables is another really strange pseudo-science part of the marketing. It means nothing ... other than a small extra charge on top of the already overpriced cables :)

    Consider that if you were buying the parts to build these in bulk, it would cost even less than it cost you. So look at the mark-up on the originals! Ouch!

    Under the "be nice" policy, it's impossible to say how bogus the original item really is. Nice work reverse engineering it and building it, that helps to expose what you're getting for your $12.5k, but I wouldn't go out of my way to build one of these!

    I'd love to see some proper blind A/B tests of these cables against a 10 foot length of welding cable or ordinary 15 Amp mains cable.

    0
    vicweast
    vicweast

    Reply 5 years ago

    There is some science that supports the OPPOSITE side of your comments. The well-read reader will not be able to scoff at verifiable real-world aspects of burn-in for cables and components. Used equipment of an above-basic-quality generally sounds "significantly" better than new equipment. Why? It depends on the nature of burn-in, some has to do with the properties of insulators around wire (they can seriously color the sound until they are burned-in) some have to do with properties of electronic components in the signal path (capacitors especially will change their dielectric with use). For cables, the dielectric constant varies according to the material and whether it is laying on something (such as wall-to-wall carpeting).

    You don't have to believe what you read on the Internet, but you can research what you want on the Internet and if you do that on this topic you will come to understand that there is a mix of real and mythological effects ...but there are real ones.

    The fact is, electronics change over time.

    0
    MikB
    MikB

    Reply 5 years ago

    You are absolutely right. There is a lot of science that applies here to prove the efficacy of cable burning, directional copper wires, energy pyramids and many other devices used to improve the sound of equipment.

    Off the top of my head "the placebo effect", "marketing and persuasion", "peer pressure", and tell me, is it gravity that provides that sinking feeling that you just spent $10,000 on a bit of wire. Or is it something else ;)

    Of course components change over time: But -- degrade or improve? Your call!

    I fully support the original author's experimentation -- and if the effect turns out to be real -- then the author has the last laugh over the audiophools (buyers AND sellers), because they spent < $200 to achieve the same ends. That's when the scoffing really starts.

    0
    vicweast
    vicweast

    Reply 5 years ago

    Be careful... There are both excellent and nonsense cables available at many price points. Have you heard a reference-level system with reference cables? You really should be able to hear the difference between legitimate cables costing very little, legitimate cables costing in the hundreds and excellent cables costing much more. There is a difference, but there are also vendors who charge for nothing special ...at all price points.

    Personally, I like solid wire conductors in oversized insulator jackets that are Litz braided. In solid wire, I prefer silver to copper or gold. A cable like that is expensive, but it does not cost $5000 or 10,000. An IC would cost in the mid-hundreds depending on the connectors, and a 6' (shorter is better) speaker cable will cost around $1000 or more depending on connectors (none is better than the wrong metal). It is expensive, but is it necessary to "enjoy" good sounds? No. Is it necessary to hear detail and spatial resolution you can't hear in lesser cables? Resoundingly: YES. (You won't go back.)

    Two important points.

    First, you will likely get ripped-off buying high-end cables unless you really do your homework ...and if you don't get ripped-off you might not have the listening "vocabulary" and experience to understand exactly how much higher-quality information your music is being presented with.

    Second, the big rule here is keep the signal path as short as possible and do NOT add (or subtract) anything from the signal being carried by the cable. It's this second point that bothers me about cables like the Transparent one: You are taking frequencies out of the signal because there are other shortcomings in the wire and/or connectors. ...I would start with better wire (and possibly in a better topography, such as in a braid) before I started adding band-aids to fix the choice in wire. There is a huge amount of informed research on theses topics, just like there are a large number of uninformed statements made by people who lack either experiential learning or a foundation in theory.

    The topic of cables always invokes skepticism and on the other side, over-hype. But there is a great deal to discover in the research which if you put it into practice your sounds will be much more revealing and rewarding. Unfortunately, the rule of weak-links applies here, so get ready to replace gear. I like the path of kit building, because then you can also upgrade the caps and resisters and if you choose "correct", then you can swap out tubes as well ;-)

    0
    translucentcable
    translucentcable

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the compliment MikB. It was a fun project to reverse engineer.

    0
    Robert1975
    Robert1975

    Reply 5 years ago

    Hi
    I have a one question.
    How many Volts must have this resistor and capacitor?
    Thanks.

    0
    dawnmathew56
    dawnmathew56

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    What If I needed a longer speaker cable, say 10 meters long? What would vary? Any Idea how transparent makes their XLR interconnects?

    0
    MaxxZ
    MaxxZ

    5 years ago on Introduction

    hi, if i use 9/4 awg speaker wire for this project, do any of the values need to change for the capacitors, resistors, and windings on oak dowel .?

    0
    Bob Sm
    Bob Sm

    7 years ago on Step 3

    FYI, Transparent doesn't use your buddy's measurement equipment. They first use vastly more precise equipment that measures down to a 1/100th of a ohm, etc. and they use an entirely different cable than you can buy off the street. They also match the components to the cable and cable length, so just buying off the shelf cable and making an inductor that measures between 2.35 and 2.55 isn't going to be the same thing. I think your winding isn't tight enough, which might lead to the different measurements. Inductors usually have to be tightly wound and to not cause any ringing either.

    I would first find out what test equipment these companies use, examine their actual cable since they have specific cable geometry, dielectrics, winding, and cable mfg which yield a specific end result and then they design the network around the cable and which frequency range they are trying to "neutralize", if you will. Good try though. Plus, how new is the cable in question that this was modeled after? Do they make the exact same design? They have introduced new product designs over the years.