Do Speaker Cables Really Make a Difference?
Speaker cables are those long wires that connect speaker to receiver. They deliver the sound from your CD player, PVR, or turntable to your speaker outputs. While there are wireless speakers, that’s an entirely different subject. Many people wonder if there are different types of speaker cables. Is it possible to buy cheap dollar store speaker cables for your home theatre system, or do different types of speaker cables really make a difference?
Many people question this as speaker cables are often sold at electronics stores, and the salesperson will recommend one type over another. Your first thoughts may be as to why the cables can be nearly half the costs of the speakers! Not only that, but there are a wide range of price differences. If you ask any electrician, they’ll say they’re basically all composed of the same copper, plastic, and metal materials.
Generally, most people will agree that you can have differing speaker brands, and they will each sound different. Speakers can be up to your personal listening preferences, and the type of room they’ll be installed in. Of course different electronics will also sound different, such as a CD player, receiver, turntable, TV, etc.
There is great controversy over speaker cables. The controversy obviously lies more with your “premium” types of “high performance” cables which can cost considerably more. You’ll get everyone from beginners, to music professionals, who take one side or the other. Some people will say it doesn’t make one bit of difference. An electrician will say it’s all wires. Some people will say it does matter how they’re made. And even some experts can oscillate back and forth. It all comes down to whether they are worth what they cost.
What We Can Agree On
Have you ever purchased cables from the dollar store and they’ve broken after a few months? They’ve made with micro thin wires and a thin covering of protective plastic. The reason they broke is that the cable got twisted around and physically broke the wires inside.
Your At Home/In-store Experiment
The only way to prove to yourself that premium cables are worth the cost, or not, is to do an at-home or an in-store experiment. It should prove to your personal satisfaction whether the materials and how a cable is made will actually influence the sound of a stereo system. Other considerations may include whether factors such as capacitance, inductance, and resistance can also impact the general sound of your speaker cable.
Anytime you purchase a cheap electronic product, they usually include speaker cables in the box. Most of us have some of those lying around. If not, ask a friend if they have any in their junk drawer, or buy a cheap set from the store. Keep in mind that this experiment involves cutting up cables, so don’t use an expensive set. You’ll also need an X-acto knife.
Most speaker cables or wires are held together by a lengthy strip of plastic. Some are clear, some are black, it depends on the manufacturer. Usually these are called lampcord or zipcord. You’ll notice how are made as two wider sets of wires with a plastic join in the middle. One is for the white and one is for the red part of your polarity.
Begin by opening up your speaker cord. Cut that plastic joiner along it’s length until you have a set of two cables.
Your next step is to make a circular cut around the cable’s jacket as close to the RCA connector as possible. The key is to cut as far through the plastic as you can, but to not cut the braided shield part underneath.
In total you want four circular cuts, for a total of four, including both ends of the cables.
Your next step is to make a single long straight cut on each cable, from the circular cut of one cable, to the circular cut at the other end of the cable. You want to cut the plastic but not the wires underneath. You may find this a bit tricky, so start by making a sharp bend in the cable starting at one of the circular cuts you have made at the RCA connector. This has the benefit of opening and widening the cut you previously made. It should now easily lift off and pull away from the shielding.
Place your blade between the shield and the jacket and the blade should slide right along. Now you should be able to just pull off the cable’s jacket in one long continuous strip.
After you’ve removed both cable’s jackets, put them back on. It helps to mark them so you place them back on the same spots.
Your test cables are now ready. Not only are they both the same materials, but the same construction, etc.
Plug your cables into your stereo system just like you would if you were planning on using them. Let them burn-in for several hours. Now your testing experiment is ready to proceed.
Play your favourite recordings. Listen to them until you know how the system’s sounds. Play the same songs over again.
The next step involves doing nothing else but removing the plastic jackets off your test cables. Leave the cables still plugged in. Now, listen to those same songs again.
While this experiment is based on the fact that surrounding materials may or may not affect your listening enjoyment, it doesn’t touch on manufacturers who may use higher quality copper in the wires that decrease inclusions and imperfections that can weaken the signal.
And most people agree that if you’ve spent under $100 on your stereo system you might as well use the cables that came with the packaging, but if you’ve spent thousands, then go ahead and buy those high end cables, because they will sound subtly different.
Conduct your own experiments. You’ll soon reach your own conclusions and can make your purchasing decisions accordingly.