Feb 172018

I’ve been looking at guitars again, or more exactly, vintage Gibson ES 150 guitars. YouTube example below.

Listen to that incredible tone of “Fred Archtop’s” 1938 Gibson ES 150 “Charlie Christian“, it’s out of this world!

So what does that have to do with audio? Well, both guitars and audio intersect at music, that’s what!

Vintage 0.22uF ‘Bumblebee’ caps in my MX110Z tuner preamplifier.

You’ve heard me talk about a few “tone” trends with vintage guitars that overlaps into audio, like the use of tinned-copper wire/cables, or nice paper-in-oil capacitors like Black Beauties or Bumblebees, those vintage Allen Bradley carbon comp resistors, Alnico magnets (in speakers and guitar pickups), and of course vacuum tubes in those vintage guitar amps.

NOS Allen Bradley 56K Ohm 2W Carbon Comp Resistors.

What do they all have in common? Big round tone, or if you like to speak in acronyms, “BRT” (pronounced “brat” 😉 )

In this missive I want to tell you a little more about the relationship of wire gauge to tone, which I discussed somewhat in my Duelund DCA wire review at Positive Feedback HERE.

In the Positive Feedback review I talked about picking wire gauge that is appropriate for a given point in a system: headshell leads (fine wire), interconnects (bigger wire), and speaker cables (even bigger wire).

For a given application like a guitar pickup, for example, if you want “big round tone” you go for a comparatively heavier gauge wire for the winding (and Alnico magnets).

That’s what Gibson did for the original Charlie Christian pickup in the ES 150 that you heard above, and it’s what Lollar does in their Charlie Christian replica pickups. Big round tone.

So for example, if you’re picking out tinned-copper headshell leads you could pick from headshell leads made from Duelund DCA26GA, vintage Western Electric WE24GA, or 22GA Art of Tone, which get bigger and rounder tone as you progress towards the fatter wires (smaller gauges), which I suppose you could summarize as “fatter gauges give fatter tone”. The fatter wire gives fatter tone and smoother high-frequencies.

Art of Tone headshell leads with the Sumile phonograph cartridge.

Duelund DCA26GA headshell leads with the Sumile phonograph cartridge.

So when it comes to fatter tone from fatter wires, I’m talking in comparative rather than absolute terms, as the fatter wire in the Charlie Christian guitar pickup is still a very fine 38GA wire, but its fatter than the 41GA to 44GA wire usually used in pickups. In very general terms, if you want fatter tone in your pickups use fatter wire.

Which gauge size will work best for you will also depend on your system balance. If you’re thinking your system is a little too laid back and you want more resolution and HF energy to spice it up a bit, then you’d pick the DCA26GA for headshell leads. If you’re system is sounding a bit too forward in the upper midrange and you want to warm it up and smooth it out a bit, then you’d look at the WE24GA or AoT22GA.

Also, for a given gauge size, a Litz wire sounds brighter and more detailed than a solid-core wire, which sounds more rounded and warmer. When you think about what Litz wire is, the brighter & more detailed sound makes sense, because Litz wire is a bunch of skinny wires packaged together as a single wire, so they maintain a lot of their skinny wire sonic properties.

The nice thing about tinned-copper wire is that it gives particularly vivid and live-like HF performance, that makes brass and percussion sound startlingly real, for example, while maintaining mid-range naturalness.

So for another example, let’s say you’re using Duelund DCA12GA wire as speaker cables and it’s sounding a bit too laid back for your system, so you give the DCA16GA a try, which is more vivid in the midrange and HF. The permutations are almost endless of what you can try to give you that particular tonal balance you’re after.

Also, the insulation used also has an effect on overall tone. For example, there’s quite a few different insulations used for wires, from nothing at all, to enameled wire (common in the 1950’s and 1960’s in guitars), to oiled cotton or silk (Duelund), or fabric covered plastic like with the Western Electric or Art of Tone wires, and a lot more.

This also applies to the leads used in audio components like resistors or capacitors, where the diameter of the wire can have a big influence on overall tone.

The Lefson Premium, Supra, and Ultra resistors in the Altec A5 project crossovers.

For example, when doing the review of the excellent Lefson resistors from France, I noticed that for two models of the Lefson resisters that they were identical except for the leads. One resistor had doubled leads, and one resistor had single leads.

Guess which one had fatter tone? If you guessed the one with fatter doubled leads you were correct.

Whether it’s the dramatic effects of less than one inch lengths of headshell lead wire on the overall system tone, or that of interconnects, speaker cables, power cables, wire leads on resistors & capacitors, or the interior wiring of loudspeakers, wire can have a profound effect on getting the overall tone of your system dialed in the way you want it.

If you’re not quite happy with the overall tonal balance of your hifi, it’s probably not the case that you need to change out a phonograph cartridge, digital source, preamplifier, amplifier, or loudspeakers, but rather that you need to optimize the wire connecting it all together.

But how do you approach that?

Start at the source, as it affects the tone of everything downstream.

Pick the wire you like the best at the source, then move onto the next connecting wire, say interconnects, then pick the wire you like the best there. Then do the same thing with speaker cables.

That’ll go a long way optimize the tonal performance of your system in the way that’s best for you.

If you want fatter tone for a forward sounding system try fatter wires. If you want skinnier tone to wake up a bland sounding system, go with skinnier wires.

Just remember there isn’t a single magic combination that will work for every system’s needs or listener’s tastes, but there is a magic combination that will work for you to dial in the tonality just the way you want it.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 11:35 am

  12 Responses to “Big Round Tone”

  1. Thank you for this post Jeff!

    I’ve been trying to get a handle on how the different sized Duelund cables sound, and here you spell it out clearly for us! I somehow missed your Positive Feedback article on the same subject, so I feel up to speed now.

    I do have a question for you, if I may. How would you characterize the change in sonics by adding a shield to the Duelund DCA? I have a pair of shielded Duelund DCA 16GA that sounds wonderful with either of my solid state phono units, but sounds a bit off when used between my DAC and preamp. Between the DAC and preamp, the shielded DCA 16GA sounds a bit thick in the lower midrange. Do you suppose this is from the shielding, or the gauge size? A Belden 8402 used in the same position sounds surprisingly pleasant. The 8402 is shielded, but only 20GA.

    Thank you again for all the work you do, and for taking the time to share it with us.

    Jeffrey S

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      The Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects are a great choice when you need shielded cables, typically when using SUTs with phono stages, or with components that are prone to hum without shielded interconnects (like some of my Leben gear). The Belden has nice tone and can help mellow out a system with a little too much energy in the upper mid-range as well. The Belden 8402 is a really nice and musical interconnect with great tone.

      The conductors used in the Duelund DCA20GA are very similar to those in the Belden 8402 in count and their overall 20 gauge size. The Duelund DCA20GA really excels as interconnects where shielding is not needed, having a similar tonal balance to the 8402 but with more air and nuance present. Adding shielding to the DCA20GA (or DCA16GA) reduces the amount of air and nuance, but the result still has more of those traits than the Belden 8402.

      20GA interconnects have often been optimum in my different systems, where I primarily use the Belden 8402 for connections that need to be shielded, and DCA20GA when they don’t need the shielding.

      Anyways, I hope that helps!

      Kind regards,


  2. Hi Jeff,

    I’ve not yet tried any tinned copper speaker wire in my system as I will be moving my listening area shortly. So far you’ve spoken at length about both the WE and Duelund wires. The Duelund clearly offer a terrific value for their price and I probably won’t hesitate to wire my new setup with them.

    I’d like to know if you’ve tried any other tinned copper wires which can be found significantly cheaper? Marine grade speaker wire all seems to be tinned copper and spools are downright cheap. There is also Supa cables from Sweden, who have been using tinned copper all along (check out the 5 min. video on youtube which shows the quality of construction of these very affordable cables).

    Ultimately, what I’d like to know is; just how much is the tinned copper responsible for the tone and how much of it is the insulation? Is it possible to get “some” of that vintage tone while being even more frugal and going with one of the aforementioned cables?

    Thanks for the always entertaining write-up. Any chance you’ll be trying out any vintage MM cartridges? I’m thinking of the Shure M3D family or certain old Elac or B&O which would all mate well with your tonearms… I’ll bet they’ve all got great soul!


    • Hi Daniel,

      The only other tinned-copper wire I’ve tried is the Art of Tone 22GA wire that’s made by Gavitt, which is intended for use in rewiring electric guitars to give them more of the traditional tinned-copper “vintage tone”.

      I’ve used the AoT 22GA to make a USB interconnect and headshell leads, and it was superb in both cases.

      The tinned-copper composition of the conductors is responsible for much of the vividness (and other characteristics) of tinned-copper interconnects and speaker cables that I’ve been writing about, and its musical & sonic presentation is quite a bit different than that of the silver & copper conductors used in interconnects and speaker cables. You can read more about it in my Duelund DCA cable review at Positive Feedback, and my “vintage tone” blog posts here at my blog.

      Essentially, the overall tone of the tinned-copper interconnects or speaker cables is primarily affected by two things, the first being the overall gauge size, and the second whether the conductor is of a Litz or solid core construction.

      The AoT 22GA is a “fused Litz” design, where the individual conductors are fused into one conductor with tin. It basically sounds like a single conductor.

      The Duelund DCA12GA, DCA16GA, and DCA20GA designs are all Litz designs, which differ in the GA size and number of the different Litz conductors used in their designs, and tends to give them more vividness in the upper midrange and high-frequencies than solid core designs of the same GA would.

      The type of casing (or lack of it) / dielectric material / shielding (or lack of it) used to wrap the tinned-copper conductors all affect the way they sound.

      In general, adding each of those tends to “soften” the vivid presentation of the tinned-copper conductors. So something like the Belden 8402 which includes a lot of casing/dielectric/shielding material is a lot softer sounding than the Duelund DCA20GA which has nearly identical conductors but in a vintage style minimalist oil-soaked and baked cotton dielectric. While they both have that characteristic tinned-copper goodness, the Duelund provides a more vivid, detailed, and nuanced presentation because of the decreased amount of materials wrapping the conductors.

      So to summarize, tinned-copper, copper, or silver conductors contained within interconnects & speaker cables have their own unique sonic & musical presentation, but their overall presentation is affected by the wire gauge size, the number of conductors used, and the amount and kind of materials used to wrap the conductors.

      If you decide to try those other tinned-copper wires, let me know how it turns out, I would be interested in your results.

      I’ve really enjoyed the vintage Pickering and Shure cartridges I’ve heard in my system, but I haven’t tried the Shure M3D family of cartridges. How would you describe them?

      Kind regards,


      • Wow, thanks for the in depth response! You sure do know how to treat your readers Jeff, I’m confident that I speak for others when I say that it is much appreciated!

        I’m currently using a Shure M7N21D tracking at 2.5g on a Lenco L70 with bakelite headshell in a decidedly vintage system (Scott 299B, Klipsch Lascalas) and it sounds great, confident without being strident, lots of slam and dynamics. I’ve read it likened to a glorified mono cartridge (as though that were a bad thing) because it doesn’t image like a champ, nor does it have as much “air” as current offerings. In that regard, I suppose it does sound a lot more like live music, a wall of coherent sound. The conical tip (yeesh!!) does a great job of pushing surface noise way back, ticks and pops are significantly reduced in my experience. As an added bonus, replacement stylii are cheap, which evidently is a recurring theme in my case!



        • Hi Daniel,

          That’s a sweet system you’ve put together!

          I like your description of the Shure M7N21D, it seems like a cartridge I would like a lot. I’ll have to see if I can find one to try!

          Kind regards,


          • Thanks, I think it is a pretty sweet setup. I assembled it about ten years ago as a 28 year old student and novice audiophile and it has remained essentially intact ever since. I understood quickly in my journey that striving for great tone was cheaper and ultimately more satisfying than chasing all those other audiophile goodies that I love to hear on high end systems. I’ll soon take the plunge toward tinned copper wire a see where I go from there!


        • I adore Lenco turntable. I had Lenco L78. I put SME 3009 tonearm on it. But Lenco L70 has a great own tonearm!
          Most of audiofiles don’t suspect, that Lenco turntables sound much better that all their modern belt drive turntables with toy car motors. Most of belt drive don’t have such good PRAT, pitch acuracy and musicality like Lenco turntables have.
          I had Nottingham Analog Spacedeck and was shocked when once I listened Lenco in comparison to Spacedeck!

  3. Hi Jeff,

    As usual, a very nice write up and lots of detail :)!

    Thank you for sharing with us, and best of luck in chasing the down old wonderful prewar Gibson tone, sweet!

    Kind regards,

  4. Hi Jeff,

    I don’t believe the Duelund DCA 12-20GAs are in fact litz wires, i.e. having individually insulated and configured strands.

    Best regards
    Lars Bo

    • I suppose it would be more correct to refer to the Duelund DCA wires as “multi-strand” wire as the individual wires that make up the conductor are not insulated.

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