If we argue about the cable myth topic, we can continue an endless debate. Cable manufacturers demonstrate different properties that make their cable have a dramatic impact on your speaker audio and hence users tend to buy costly cables.
How much of this is true and does the audio really improves? Since sound is a subjective topic, according to a number of users, the cable really improves the audio. Whereas the others think a mid-priced well-build and shielded cable is enough for the audio system.
While audiophiles can believe what matters to them the most, our main purpose is to elaborate on the audio cable properties and how they really work. In this article, we aim to solve the myths while proper reasoning based on engineering and leave the rest to the users to decide for themselves.
If you have a setup where you can go with shorter cable lengths, it will be the best choice. A 16-gauge cable is sufficient for short distances. Whereas if the sound setup is such that it needs longer cables, then you can choose 12-gauge cables.
Although you can buy the best-looking cables at a high budget, you can choose: Belden 5000UE 12 AWG or Monoprice 6ft Premier Series 1/4in TRS Male to Male Cable 16AWG within an affordable range.
The non-technical consumer world is the ultimate target for audio cable companies and their salesman. This article will educate you with basic definitions associated with audio cables so that you can select good wires for your system.
For your sound system to sound better expensive cables are not needed, instead, you need a good pair of speakers with well-build drivers. The speaker should be paired with a matched amplifier and placed correctly.
Myths of audio cables
- One of the common misconceptions is the ‘skin effect’. It means the change is resistance and inductions with frequency. The term and definition are not fake. RF engineers deal with skin effect. But this term is not applicable for audio cables at the highest audible frequency of 20kHz.
- Diode rectification in cables that produce nonlinear distortion. This is not possible because cables or wires are passive elements they do not have non-linear characteristics.
Cryogenic freezing of cables is a process of freezing the cable in -310 degrees Fahrenheit where the main idea is to the crystalline structure of the Copper metal. But what happens when the cable cools down to RTP? The structure returns back to the original form.
- ‘Burn-in’ of cables, which means you need to allow the cables to play music for a specific time and then it will sound better. This is not true, the speakers will sound the same from the time it is first played, and when they are played several times.
- Inserting the battery across the dielectric of the wire so that it remains ‘broken-in’ and can minimize distortion. The cable ‘break-in’ also isn’t real, no matter how long you allow cables to play, the change can’t be identified or doesn’t make any noticeable change in music.
- The cable can work as a tone control. There is no valid proof that any expensive cable with specific property can enhance the audio quality.
- Silver is better than copper in terms of conductivity so silver cables are worth buying. This statement isn’t correct because the conductivity chart shows a 5% difference between silver and copper. While being expensive, silver doesn’t affect the conductivity compared to copper.
| Material IACS(International Annealed Copper Standard)
- Gold plate connectors are the only ones that you should get. This is more of a preference than a myth. Gold-plated connectors will not do anything to the sound but it will definitely prevent corrosion while other material will corrode. Even corrosion in connectors to some extent is seen not to change the audio quality.
The other side of the coin:
- Users claim they hear an improvement in audio when they replaced one with such properties explained above.
- They believe although the quantity can’t be measured to prove that audio cables make changes they still believe in it because not everything can be proved in science.
- Cable manufacturers and vendors try to sell cables based on properties like ‘silver cable’ or ‘battery’ with cables.
- Expensive or interconnects with ‘specific properties’ like silver/gold material or ‘break-in’ features enhance the audio quality.
Determining the quality of the audio cables:
If this is the case regarding audio cables, how will you choose and make sure you aren’t following the misconceptions rather you are on the right track?
There are some general criteria that you should look for while choosing a cable. Audio cables, whether it is a speaker cable or an interconnect doesn’t work by magic. They simply follow some rules but they can never improve the audio quality as long as you weren’t using a faulty wire previously.
It is said that ‘the ideal resistance for a speaker wire is less than 5% of the rated impedance of the connected speaker.’ As long as the resistance is below this certain level, it won’t cause any audible change in the sound quality.
American Wire Gauge (AWG) is a system that designs different wires. Here, the lower the resistance, the thicker the wire and the gauge is also less. So between 18 gauge or 12 gauge, you should go for 12 gauge as it has less resistance.
This graph clearly shows the relation between the resistance and the AWG gauge.
Speaker Wire Gauge Chart: Resistance and AWG Gauge
|Wire Size||2 ohm load||4 ohm load||6 ohm load||8 ohm load|
|22 AWG||3 feet max||6 feet max||9 feet max||12 feet max|
|20 AWG||5 feet max||10 feet max||15 feet max||20 feet max|
|18 AWG||8 feet max||16 feet max||24 feet max||32 feet max|
|16 AWG||12 feet max||24 feet max||36 feet max||48 feet max|
|14 AWG||20 feet max||40 feet max||60 feet**||80 feet**|
|12 AWG||30 feet max||60 feet**||90 feet**||120 feet**|
This table shows what gauge you need based on your speaker impedance and the required distance.
The distance between the conductors should be short but not together. This will help to reduce inductance.
This refers to cables like RCA or XLR. These are used to connect sources like a CD player, turntable, etc. to the amplifier or preamplifier.
A certain amount of shielding is important to reduce the crosstalk and interference from RF devices or other wires around the interconnect. A shielded twisted pair or coax cables. But if you increase the frequency of shielded twisted cable above 1MHz, the losses in the cable increases.
So you need to look for coax cable that has shielding like the Belden 1694A coax cable which is double braided foil shielded. Compared to twister cable, the coax has better noise immunity. This is particularly designed for video components and if your cable can transmit 1080p video, then it will work with audio as well.
The capacitance of the interconnect should be smaller. So that while you have a high input impedance of a preamp and high capacitance interconnect then there is a chance that it can affect the high-frequency part of the audio.
Should the material of the cable be silver or copper? Silver cables are well-known for good conductivity but the cost of pure silver is very high. If you compare the conductivity of copper with silver, you will see that the difference is very small and doesn’t compensate for the high cost of silver.
So while choosing cable material you can put your trust on copper and rely on their good conductivity. There is another material known as Copper-Clad Aluminum (CCA) which is an alloy. These CCA are expensive and the resistivity is likely to be higher than pure copper such as the resistivity of a 14 gauge CCA cable is equal to the resistivity of 16-gauge pure copper.
For connectors, gold-plated are famous because they look aesthetic and prevents corrosion but they will not have any impact on the audio.
Usually, the cable length affects the audio quality so based on your setup the smaller the length the better. However, if you need a longer cable that doesn’t necessarily affect the sound with noticeable changes.
The length of the cable should be taken into account. It is best to look for short cables. With HDMI cables, you shouldn’t wonder about the rumors or myths you hear because either the video and audio on the screen will work or it will not.
If you stream videos that are up to 1080i, then use HDMI Category-1 cables, and if you watch the video with 1080p resolution or higher use the Category-2 cable. The lengths of Cat-1 would be 45 ft. and for Cat-2 around 25 ft. If you think need a cable with a longer distance than mentioned above, you can use active HDMI.
What is the truth and which one should you believe?
If you really want to know the truth behind audio cables you need to give effort into understanding the basics of engineering to figure out that the myths are actually there. You can visit the audio forums and there you will get mixed and rough opinions.
Audio cables are important if compared to ones that are faulty or a bad batch of products, other than that if you buy mid-priced cables from known brands you will be good to go. These are known as audio jewelry where if you buy expensive ones that look good with golf-plated connectors it will enhance the aesthetic of your system.
What if you find a difference with expensive audio cables?
Several tests on most-sensitive equipment showed that things like skin effect, silver cable, or cryogenic freezing don’t enhance the quality of a speaker. However, if you think you notice a change once you installed the ‘high-end’ cables then it might be due to confirmation bias.
The fact that you bought expensive cables that have the ‘listed’ properties by the manufacturer makes you feel the sound is better or different. At the end of the day, you are free to choose what matters to you.
You can get some of the best audio cables from Blue Jeans, Monoprice, AudioQuest, etc.
How much should you spend?
If you spend $1000 on your speaker cables does it mean that the audio will shift to a whole new dimension? Well, that is not the case. There are cables of different price ranges and you should neither go for cheap ones nor the expensive ones. Rather go for medium price range cables that meet your requirements (resistance, inductance, gauge).
Generally, there is a rule of 10% that says you should spend 10% of the total cost required to set up the sound system. So there is no need to go after costly cables but if you like the looks and aesthetics that another factor.
High Budget Cables
Middle Budget Cables
Low Budget Cables
This topic is one of the most controversial ones in the audio industry. Based on the marketing of audio cable manufacturers, it is easy to fall into their trap. Before being an easy target for them you should at least do your research to look into basic definitions and their relation with audio cables.
The purpose of this article is to shed light on the truth and allow non-technical music lovers to have a better understanding of what really matters. Whether it is the speaker cable or an interconnect, the ultimate purpose is to have lower resistance cable and go with shorter cable if you can.
If you really want to enhance the audio of a sound system, the audio cables play a minor role. Instead of cables, you should look for ideal speaker placement better amplifiers or high-end speakers. At the end of the day if your listening tests show a noticeable difference by changing the cables you can do so without any hesitation.