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Friday
Jan192018

Podcast #827: Speaker Cables - What does High Quality Cost?

Ara was going through some of his typical AV websites the other day and came upon an article at Electronic House about speaker wires and was very interested to see what a site for installers had to say about the subject. We have been saying for years now that you should buy high quality cables to get the most out of your system. However, we have also been saying that high quality cables don’t have to cost a lot of money. We will examine the article, credited to EH Contributor, and give you our take.

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Speaker Cables - What does High Quality Cost?

Ara was going through some of his typical AV websites the other day and came upon an article at Electronic House about speaker wires and was very interested to see what a site for installers had to say about the subject.  We have been saying for years now that you should buy high quality cables to get the most out of your system. However, we have also been saying that high quality cables don’t have to cost a lot of money. We will examine the article, credited to EH Contributor, and give you our take.

 

First assertion:

Copper and silver are the two most common conductors used in speaker cables. Make sure the cable manufacturer is using high-purity conductors.  A quality speaker cable manufacturer should be able to tell you what purity level the conductors are that they’re using to build the cable.

This makes sense and from physics we know that copper is good, silver is better, and gold is really good! But if you want the BEST, you are talking platinum. For that, may we recommend the Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 7 Speaker Cable New 7 Series? As one reviewer put it all that matters is sound. Two five meter cables will cost you a cool $40K!

I recently decided to upgrade my audio system and decided that I needed a firm budget to keep costs under control and to avoid the temptation of overspending on products that are ridiculously overpriced. These cables fit the bill nicely. As I was about to put these in my cart, I had an existential crisis and thought that perhaps the $40k would be better spent on feeding, clothing, and housing an entire town of people in Africa. This only lasted a second however and I decided on the cables because really, the sound is all that matters in the end, am I right? Bravo Wireworld, bravo.

All kidding aside,  you are looking for cables made out of copper. You will find some really cheap cable made out of copper clad aluminum CCA. Those will work just fine and the vast majority of people won’t notice the difference between CCA and solid copper. Since solid copper wire is not expensive at all, we recommend going with solid copper wire.

 

Second assertion:

Quality cable manufacturers will typically braid conductors together to ensure the conductors aren’t running parallel next to one another. By running parallel, they could be acting like an antenna, thus making them more susceptible to picking up radio-frequency interference (RFI) from cellphones, Wi-Fi or traditional radio signals.

This is true! But only if you can hear frequencies well above what the typical human can hear. In reality at 20KHz there is less than .01 db difference. However, if you don’t believe instrumented test results. Go ahead and buy braided cables. Just don’t spend a lot of money. Here is an option that will set you back about $25 for a pair of 10 foot cables - Monoprice Affinity Premium 14AWG Braided Speaker Wire with Gold Plated Banana Plug Connectors. If monoprice scares you, SVS has some high quality braided cables that will set you back $100 for a pair (SoundPath Ultra Speaker Cable).

 

Third assertion:

A well engineered cable can be hampered by a poor quality connector. Make sure the speaker cable you’re interested in has a well engineered design and is made of conductive materials such as copper and silver.

It is OUR assertion that the statement is true. A poor quality connector will hamper the cable. It's also OUR assertion that a high quality connector will make the install clean and easy to connect. We choose to use banana plugs for convenience and aesthetic. However, there is no sound quality difference between bare wire and banana plugs.    

 

Fourth assertion:

Teflon is considered by most to be the best insulation for wire conductors. It is believed to have the least impact on the conductors.  However, there are other insulation materials out there that work well, so do your homework before choosing a cable purely because it has Teflon insulation.

Let’s assume that the “It is believed to have the least impact on the conductors” portion of the statement is true. That doesn’t mean that PVC insulation is bad. In fact, the difference is negligible at best based on instrumented test results. This was a throw away assertion. The author then states “However, there are other insulation materials out there that work well, so do your homework before choosing a cable purely because it has Teflon insulation”. So why bother even making the assertion?

 

At the end of the article the author makes three recommendations for speaker wire:

Which we think are ridiculous!

Nothing in this article changes our recommendation. Buy high quality wire but don’t over pay. With that said here are some recommendations we have.  

If you must have braided wire, and we don’t think you need them, buy the monoprice wire we discussed earlier. For all other wire, these are our recommendations:

 

We also recommend buying some banana plugs to make installs easier and cleaner:

 

 

 

 

Download Episode #827

Reader Comments (2)

Related to this podcast about audio quality, wondering your thoughts on power conditioners. These serve as both serge protection/power regulation AND supposedly condition the electrical current to eliminate interference in sound.

To use your words technically true vs practical reality?

Would love your thoughts.

Tom F New Jersey

January 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Regarding speaker cable,

A most excellent, succinct write-up dealing directly with four of the most wide-spread myths out there. Well done!

It occurred to me there is one more factor to consider: speaker guage. I have always purchased the fattest (smallest guage) wire I could that would fit the connectors (Monster Banana Plugs) I was using. The thinking here is that the larger the wire, the less resistance placed on the amplifier, like water thru a hose. Its intuitive and simple.

Does this play into your thinking when it comes to speaker wire purchases? I notice 14 AWG mentioned above. That's kinda thin isnt it?

Scott

January 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterScott Oakley

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