Sound degradation through audio cables

Q: I have a brand new iPod photo (color iPod) that I want to connect to my home stereo. I purchased the appropriate Dock and want to connect it with a 1/8”-to-RCA jack cable. Is there a limit on the length of the cable I can use before the sound quality might be compromised? Also, what are the ideal volume and equalizer settings on the iPod? My home stereo is located one floor below where the iPod will be. I will likely run an adapter cable that will 25 to 35 feet long.

– Glenn

A: If you play your music through a Dock, the iPod’s volume setting won’t affect the music’s volume. The Dock’s jack is a line-out jack, which is unaffected by the iPod’s internal volume setting. As for the equalizer, that depends on your music, your environment, and your ears. This article tells you more about using the iTunes and iPod equalizers.

As for the length of the cable, there’s no simple answer. Audiophiles will insist that you’ll need expensive hand-made or special cables in order to avoid sound loss past 6 feet, but professional musicians have opined that quality of analog cables isn’t significantly compromised even at distances of 25-33 feet (10 meters). There is a natural loss of gain with long unbalanced cables, potentially audible in the high frequencies, but it would be most pronounced at around 33 feet and beyond. Digital cables are another story.

Kirk McElhearn is the author of several books including iPod & iTunes Garage. His blog, Kirkville features articles about the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X and much more.

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