The Home Audio Cables Myth

Home audio cables have been a hot topic for years in the home audio world. Most speaker cable reviews are useless though - find out why...

This article should tell you straightaway that there is no compelling evidence either way that certain types of cable or interconnect have an audible effect on music reproduction.

There are, however a few basic rules to know about. But first, lets take a look at some extremes...

How much do you think you could spend on top-end speaker cabling? How about $5000 for a pair of ONE meter cables, with each addition meter costing another $2,000? No typo.

And $2,500 for eighteen inch jumper cables. I won't name the manufacturer, but this isn't even the most expensive example from their range!

I don't know about you, but I find these prices a little on the high side. And some of the claims made for increased performance remind me of the tale of the Emperors' New Clothes.

If I'm going to spend $20,000 on a home audio system, I'll want to make up a short list of the components that meet my requirements. Then I'll go and arrange some listening tests with the dealers.

During the listening tests, I would change out one component at a time, to see if I could hear any difference between (say) a $2000 amplifier and a $5000 amplifier. An so on. I would certainly want to see if I could hear any difference between $100 cabling and $5,000 cabling.

But the problem is that doing direct comparisons is very difficult. We need to hear the two possibilities within seconds of each other - bam... bam - and back - to make a realistic judgement.

The time it takes to swap over components can take several minutes, and that's too long. We need a switching box that allows two lots of inputs. Then we need instant switching between the two, so that you can flick backwards and forwards between the options.

This "switch" method will work well with comparisons of home audio cables.

Of course, the switch itself will introduce some degradation to the signal, but it is the same for both home audio cables on trial.

I have to tell you that it's extremely difficult to find any dealer who will do this kind of comparison for you. This is because most people will not be able to detect any difference on sound quality between cables, until you go down the quality ladder to the thinnest, cheapest wire.

THEN there is a difference.

So, what are the basic rules?

First, whatever cable you use must be cleanly and securely attached to the equipment at either end. Clean all contacting surfaces with some alcohol, and make sure the plugs fit nice and tight. Remove, clean, and re-fit all plugs once a week.

Second, you DO need to use a reasonable thickness of cable.

The one basic rule is that the electrical resistance of the cable should not exceed 5% of the rated impedance of the speaker. Most speakers are 8 Ohm, but can drop to 4 Ohm or less. The minimum thickness wire should be 16 AWG, but 12 AWG would be better.

Go for a multi-stranded copper wire cable of 12AWG (2mm) thickness.

Third, keep the length of any speaker cable to less than fifty feet (15 meters). The shorter the better, for ANY connection. And do not coil any cabling - straight runs only.

Fourth, nothing else matters. You don't need "oxygen-free copper", nor silver sheathing, nor fancy braiding. You won't hear any difference.

Note: AWG = American Wire Gauge. 12AWG = 2mm conductor diameter (wire, not including the thickness of the insulator).

If you simply MUST have dedicated home audio cables, take a look at the Chord Company's Carnival Silver Screen cables. At $10 per meter, it's a lot more than simple multi-strand 12AWG cabling, but at least you're not in $5,000 territory!

A faster, cheaper way to improve your audio's quality is to get a simple digital to audio converter.