The 'Sound' of Capacitors..

Frequently asked questions on capacitor types, ratings, brands, use and abuse.

The 'Sound' of Capacitors..

Postby Greg » 13 Feb 2010, 09:11

Do different capacitors types really sound different at the frequencies seen in guitar pedals, amps, speakers ?

What do you think ?

If you do think there's a difference, what type do you prefer ?

Some interesting and questionable claims in this article:

http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2008/Apr/Auditioning_Tone_Capacitors_Part_II.aspx

I especially like this: " If you want to use the vintage caps, make sure that you use vintage cloth wire inside your guitar and the Gibson fifties vintage wiring, otherwise you will not fully experience the tones from these caps."
So you don't get the proper effect from the cap unless you connect it with old wire ?
:mrgreen:

When people start making claims like this "tends to pronounce the mid frequencies a bit", I really have to question it.
Frequency response is easily checked and I bet no cap will show a difference.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby oldgravity » 13 Feb 2010, 10:05

Greg_G wrote:" If you want to use the vintage caps, make sure that you use vintage cloth wire inside your guitar and the Gibson fifties vintage wiring, otherwise you will not fully experience the tones from these caps."


As soon as you read something like this you know you can completely write off anything else the person has said. The guy's name is "Dirk Wacker". :hmmm:

Personally, I don't notice or care about the differences in caps. I use boxed metal film caps, any brand, because they have a small footprint, are made up of right angles and come in a variety of nice colors. All more noticeable and important than the sound differences. :wink: They are generally pretty reasonable in price, too.

However, I don't really build many drive pedals, or low parts count effects in general. I find that individual components become fairly unimportant in large designs, but when you're building something with only 5 parts, those parts might matter a little more.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby RnFR » 13 Feb 2010, 10:55

there have been some studies. gus posted a link to one of note. there is also this one-

http://sound.westhost.com/articles/capacitors.htm#ref

i'll see if i can find the other one. i think i have it downloaded.

got em. these two studies i believe have similar, yet different findings. if i remember right, one says it only matters with high voltage signals. not sure though, it's all very tech, and it's been a bit since i read them. no cloth covered wire here! [smilie=a_wizard.gif]
didn't we already start a nice thread on this topic?
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby Greg » 13 Feb 2010, 13:15

RnFR wrote:there have been some studies. gus posted a link to one of note. there is also this one-

http://sound.westhost.com/articles/capacitors.htm#ref

i'll see if i can find the other one. i think i have it downloaded.

got em. these two studies i believe have similar, yet different findings. if i remember right, one says it only matters with high voltage signals. not sure though, it's all very tech, and it's been a bit since i read them. no cloth covered wire here! [smilie=a_wizard.gif]


Yep.. there's a few cap studies around, but they're pretty much all from an Audiophile point of view.. they're concerned with frequency response near the limits of hearing, low distortion, etc.
Like most things Audiophile, there are characteristics they think are detrimental that may actually sound good in the twisted devices we all like..
non-linear frequency response
inherent distortion
dielectric absorption

RnFR wrote:didn't we already start a nice thread on this topic?


I did a search on all threads with "capacitor" in the topic heading..
There's a couple of general threads about what capacitor types to buy for effects, etc.. but nothing specific on how they sound and what people prefer that I can find.

FWIW - I don't personally think there's any magic in caps, but interested in what others have found.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby IvIark » 13 Feb 2010, 15:00

I've got mixed feelings with this one. I don't think there's any magic in caps either in so much as I don't think there's one cap that is best at everything and sometimes the cheap ones just work better, particularly with lo-fi things like fuzz pedals. But there are certainly differences to me in the results I get with various cap types, although a lot of it can be subtle. I don't think those differences may justify the sheer quantity of different caps types I've got to some people and you could make great sounding effects with anything, but I like to have a variety of choices so I'm not stuck with the same components every time. Parts collecting and experimenting is the most fun part of the hobby for me.

I've thought about doing a minimal component booster like an LPB1 and using a 3 position 4 pole rotary switch to swap out (same value but different type) input and output caps, just to see how I would quantify the differences between say ceramic, greenies and paper in oil.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby mictester » 13 Feb 2010, 15:00

Greg_G wrote:FWIW - I don't personally think there's any magic in caps, but interested in what others have found.


You're EXACTLY right! A 1nF (1000 pF) (0.001µF) capacitor sounds the same whatever it's made of. At the kind of voltages and frequencies we're interested in, there's precisely NO DIFFERENCE between a polyester, ceramic or mica or any other sort of capacitor with the same value. Just use whatever fits on the PCB!

You have to remember - "Audiophiles" have to justify their being duped for outrageously expensive junk. I used to know a hi-fi salesman. He once told me that his company had just bought in some "amazing" speaker cable. It retailed at £40/m. After some argument, we set up a proper double-blind test on his amazing cable and my cable (which I told him was the best that I'd "heard"). The tests were carried out by 20 people (including some "golden-eared" Audiophools). NOBODY was able to distinguish one cable from the other. My cable was ordinary, twin 5 Amp lighting flex....

:thumbsup
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby dai h. » 13 Feb 2010, 15:03

Everybody knows that 97.5% of the music audiophiles listen to is sonically compromised since a lot of music is from a bygone era and (gasp, shock, horror) Monster cable was not available back then.

So real audiophiles work on time travel technology so they can travel back themselves and tell everyone how much the sound is/was being compromised through use of non-audiophile cable, special audio grade caps, and non-gold plated contacts, etc. or send back specially targeted "audiophile care packages" (with detailed instructions for installment, of course) to locations we now know to have had classic recording sessions.

It's really true. But you probably won't find out about it since the government doesn't want you to know.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby soulsonic » 13 Feb 2010, 18:21

"tends to pronounce the mid frequencies a bit"

I've noticed that this seems to be the case any time you replace the tone cap in a humbucker guitar with one with a value around 20nF. RnFR knows what I mean, he swapped a cap in his SG one time when I was visiting and it made a big difference for the better in a way that anyone could easily hear.
I personally feel that cap types can sometimes make a subtle difference, especially when you take things like how they respond to vibration into account, but I think the real key to choosing a good tone cap for a guitar is finding the value that will give the right interaction with the pickup.

In one guitar, I tried a 6n8 tone cap with a SD Hot Rails pickup; it gives a very pronounced mid peak, almost a Rangemaster-y sort of sound!


On another note: real audiophiles don't use Monster Cable. They (justifiably) turn their noses up at it. There's much goofier stuff out there if you want to be crazy about cables. Personally, I hand-made my hi-fi interconnects by braiding silver-plated teflon wire. It works great! Also, common CAT5 cable makes really nice speaker leads!
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby Dirk_Hendrik » 13 Feb 2010, 21:19

I'm not sure wether to participate in this thread since the tone ( ;) ;) ;) ) has been set already and tends toward "naturally its bull, one cannot hear the tonal differences between caps".

And I tend to disagree... somewhat.

No. I cannot hear the difference between cap a and cap b.

But I can hear the difference between a circuit with caps a and caps b when multiple are involved in that circuit. It's the sum that starts to add up. In a similar way I cannot hear the difference between a carbon comp resistor and a metal film but I can hear the difference between an overdrive with carbon cop resistors and one with metal films. Again, it's the summing up.

And for that reason I tend to frown on components (caps among them) choice in some pedals. Capacitors that were developed specifically for RF filtering on computer mainboards are, IMHO, not the best choice for audio. To give an example.

but that's just my 2 cents.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby dai h. » 13 Feb 2010, 22:09

IME (trying different caps) there seems to be something there (that is, seemingly audible differences) but not totally sure. And usually these types of threads never seem to go anywhere but an endless parallel. But in the interest of discussion, something I've wondered is if there might be conditions (such as frequency response characteristics, emphasis) or configurations (such as lots of feedback or whatever) that might make small differences more apparent. Something like the Bateman articles, interesting as they are, personally I wouldn't be convinced that following them will necessarily give best results for everything. Probably, there has been lots of "good" music made using lots of "bad" caps (whatever is considered "bad", "poor", etc. be it ceramic, tantalum, or whatever). It'd be stupid to totally discount the scientific method but an end audio result can be subjective with art.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby RnFR » 13 Feb 2010, 22:41

I have to say, i'm with Dirk on this one. :thumbsup you might not be able to hear the difference right away by just switching out one cap on a board, but these things do add up. and to tell you the truth, i have made some listening tests with two extremely different caps of the exact same value, and i swear i could easily hear a difference. for the record, one was ceramic, and the other was a fancy russian polystyrene. i found it was easy to tell that one was simply "clearer." now whether or not it is always that easy to tell the difference is another story. i'd bet most of the time it's not.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby Ripdivot » 13 Feb 2010, 22:53

I have spent many hours trying different caps of the same value in many of the pedals I have built. When ever I have been able to hear a difference in tone it has been because the caps are a slightly different value from each other. In other words their tolerances vary quite a bit. If you measure 5 different types of caps on a cap tester that are all 100nf you will find that they will all measure differently (by as much as 20%) and in my opinion this is what we are hearing when we here a change in response. I once tried 3 different types of caps in a tone control circuit. I sorted through the caps testing them until I found 3 that measured the same value on the cap tester..... Guess what??? I couldn't hear any difference at all. Long story short I don't worry much about what type of caps I use any more.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby Greg » 14 Feb 2010, 00:57

soulsonic wrote:
"tends to pronounce the mid frequencies a bit"

I've noticed that this seems to be the case any time you replace the tone cap in a humbucker guitar with one with a value around 20nF. RnFR knows what I mean, he swapped a cap in his SG one time when I was visiting and it made a big difference for the better in a way that anyone could easily hear.
I personally feel that cap types can sometimes make a subtle difference, especially when you take things like how they respond to vibration into account, but I think the real key to choosing a good tone cap for a guitar is finding the value that will give the right interaction with the pickup.

In one guitar, I tried a 6n8 tone cap with a SD Hot Rails pickup; it gives a very pronounced mid peak, almost a Rangemaster-y sort of sound!


On another note: real audiophiles don't use Monster Cable. They (justifiably) turn their noses up at it. There's much goofier stuff out there if you want to be crazy about cables. Personally, I hand-made my hi-fi interconnects by braiding silver-plated teflon wire. It works great! Also, common CAT5 cable makes really nice speaker leads!


Sorry soulsonic, I was really looking for people's opinions about caps in effects.. so linking to an article about Tone Bypass caps in guitars was somewhat misleading.
(I can see how the mids thing could be different in that context).
I just found some of the comments in that article to be a bit bullshitty and it sounded like the guy had little understanding.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby oldgravity » 14 Feb 2010, 01:02

RnFR wrote:I have to say, i'm with Dirk on this one. :thumbsup you might not be able to hear the difference right away by just switching out one cap on a board, but these things do add up. and to tell you the truth, i have made some listening tests with two extremely different caps of the exact same value, and i swear i could easily hear a difference. for the record, one was ceramic, and the other was a fancy russian polystyrene. i found it was easy to tell that one was simply "clearer." now whether or not it is always that easy to tell the difference is another story. i'd bet most of the time it's not.


Just out of curiosity, did you actually measure the capacitance or were they just the same nominal value?

I'm guessing you measured, so no insinuation that you're a dummy is intended here, but several times I've heard people saying things like this (or even more dubious things about silver solder, etc.) and they haven't bothered to actually measure values. Or they build 2 of something, put different caps in each, then say they hear a huge difference, disregarding the tolerances of all the Rs, and especially pots.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby oldgravity » 14 Feb 2010, 01:04

Greg_G wrote:Sorry soulsonic, I was really looking for people's opinions about caps in effects.. so linking to an article about Tone Bypass caps in guitars was somewhat misleading.
(I can see how the mids thing could be different in that context).
I just found some of the comments in that article to be a bit bullshitty and it sounded like the guy had little understanding.


That website has a history of yoinking articles that they find on the web and cobbling them together and putting their own name on them (no parallels need be drawn here to the realm of effects, of course! ;)) so I think saying that they have little understanding is about accurate.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby Greg » 14 Feb 2010, 01:08

Dirk_Hendrik wrote:I'm not sure wether to participate in this thread since the tone ( ;) ;) ;) ) has been set already and tends toward "naturally its bull, one cannot hear the tonal differences between caps".

And I tend to disagree... somewhat.

No. I cannot hear the difference between cap a and cap b.

But I can hear the difference between a circuit with caps a and caps b when multiple are involved in that circuit. It's the sum that starts to add up. In a similar way I cannot hear the difference between a carbon comp resistor and a metal film but I can hear the difference between an overdrive with carbon cop resistors and one with metal films. Again, it's the summing up.

And for that reason I tend to frown on components (caps among them) choice in some pedals. Capacitors that were developed specifically for RF filtering on computer mainboards are, IMHO, not the best choice for audio. To give an example.

but that's just my 2 cents.


I'm glad you joined in Dirk.. there's no right or wrong here, just opinions and thoughts.

I agree that if there is a difference it would show up more as an accumulative effect.

What type of caps were developed for computer mainboards (ceramic?), and what type do you prefer.. and why ?

Does voltage rating of caps have any effect on the sound of caps ?

Where do different caps make most difference.. signal path.. filters ?
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby RnFR » 14 Feb 2010, 01:24

oldgravity wrote:
RnFR wrote:two extremely different caps of the exact same value


yes. :wink: it was a very simple circuit and no pots were involved. the difference i heard was more audible in the high end of the spectrum just when changing out simple coupling caps. so even if there was a bit of a difference, it would've probably been perceived as a change in the lower frequencies rather than highs. but once again, these are two very different sounding caps(relatively), and my guess is this isn't something that you would normally notice. also, i should point out that i am a sound engineer by trade. i don't claim to be Mr. Golden Ears, but i do listen critically on a daily basis.
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby RnFR » 14 Feb 2010, 02:38

here's a couple more articles-
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby Greg » 14 Feb 2010, 02:56

RnFR wrote:here's a couple more articles-


Good articles.. thanks.

I keep seeing references to how capacitor properties are affected by circuit impedance...
:hmmm:
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Re: The "Sound" of Capacitors..

Postby culturejam » 14 Feb 2010, 06:44

I've never actually built two of the same circuit at the same time with only the cap material being different. So I guess maybe it's not fair for me to make an assertion one way or another.

But in paying around with simple circuits on a breadboard, I've not been able to discern differences in capacitor types. I also have not been able to hear a definitive difference between metal film, carbon film, and carbon comp resistors.

I'm not saying there isn't a difference, it's just that I haven't yet been able to hear it.

Maybe we could set up a little test for ourselves. Like a really simple circuit with as few caps as possible. Then we could all breadboard and swap out cap types and see if we can hear it. Or maybe even record clips and compare. What do you guys think?
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