In a sea of audio cable industry snake oil, we’re sure you’re wondering,
What really matters when buying cables?Save your money by avoiding overpriced cables with outlandish claims. Below are some common myths to look out for and some important things to consider when buying audio cables.
1. Conductor skin effect
In some applications like power transmission lines, an electric signal tends to travel through the surface of a conductor and avoids traveling through the center of the conductor. Many cable companies claim that their design limits the skin effect and measurably improves your sound.
The TruthWhile skin effect is a very real issue for large scale power transmission, audio signals are in such a low-frequency range that the skin effect is negligible at best. The skin effect is only an issue in high-frequency applications. 20kHz is the highest frequency that humans can hear. If we calculate the skin effect on a 12 AWG speaker cable like Gene from Audioholics does in this article, we find that the skin effect results in a loss of only -.014dB. Your speakers, room acoustics, and the human ear have a much larger effect on your sound than the skin effect.
2. Cable break-in
Don’t be fooled - any company that claims this thinks they can trick you into hearing better sound after a month or two. “Break-in” is a commonly used term throughout the industry. It is the idea that the dielectric of a cable changes and aligns itself to the electromagnetic field of the signal traveling through the conductors.
There is no scientific evidence to support the idea of cable break-in, but there are still those who claim it improves sonic qualities. We’re not against optimism. We’re just not full of crap. Don’t drink the audio industry kool-aid and save your money for legitimate cables.
3. Cryogenic treatment
Cryogenic treatment is the process of freezing cables to -320 degrees Fahrenheit before use. The claim is that freezing the conductors of the cable at ultra low temperatures aligns the crystalline grain structure of them resulting in desirable improvements.
Again there is no scientific data to support this notion. Cryogenic treatment can improve the durability of certain metals, usually steel, by stabilizing impurities. For example, the process is used to create strong tools or car parts.
But, steel is a terrible metal to use for audio cables. It is one of the least conductive metals out there! Copper and silver are the best conductors of electricity and the preferred metals for audio cables.
4. Cable signal direction
You might hear this phrase tossed around quite a bit. It’s the notion that a cable has an established signal direction, the direction in which it was initially used, and that this signal direction should not be reversed.
The reality is, assuming the connector ends and terminals are the same, the cable will work in both directions and the performance will be equivalent.
5. Cable elevators, risers, or lifts
The claim is that the cables’ magnetic field can interfere with the surface it is laying on. Essentially, the magnetic field can “reflect” from the surface back into the cable and cause distortions.
There is no evidence to support these claims, and these unnecessary devices are merely for looks. They are in no way proven to improve cable performance.
1. Shielding is Important
In the modern age, wireless signals are all around us all the time. The rapid growth and spread of technology means that these wireless signals will become more widespread and more likely to cause unwanted interference. Cellphones, wifi, and Bluetooth signals can enter your cables, but shielding can block these signals and preserve your sound quality.
2. Length is a Factor
No matter how well a cable is designed, cable length will always impact performance. As the length of a cable goes up, so does the risk of unwanted interference and signal loss. We always recommend keeping your cables as short as possible, but we understand that is not always possible. A well constructed and shielded cable will help combat this issue.
3. Conductor material plays a role
The best conductors to use for audio cables are pure silver or pure copper. Both are valued for their high conductivity, but copper is more widely used due to the high price of silver. Additionally, some variations are constructed with silver-plated copper. However, because the metals have different conductivities, the sound is more likely to travel through only the silver plating and not the copper.
The purity of the conductor will affect performance more than anything. Look for Oxygen-Free High Conductivity (OFHC) conductors. This means that a significant percentage of oxygen and other impurities have been removed from the conductor resulting in high purity.
4. Wire gauge should not be overlooked
The amount of wattage your system is using will determine the total gauge size needed for safe and optimal performance. The standard is 14 gauge wire minimum for the transmission of 250 watts of power. Many electronic devices use much less than this, but some speakers and listening setups may be using more. If your system uses more than 250 Watts, we recommend a higher total gauge cable.
5. Quality connectors matter
Truly, the best connectors are no connectors at all. But, if you can’t hardwire your system, gold plated connectors are the industry standard. Gold plating exhibits great corrosion resistance when exposed to oxygen and has good conductive properties. Connectors range from basic to extremely high end and flashy.
The bottom line is:
Choose connectors based on your personal needs and the type of connection being made. Overall, always choose quality connectors.
We hope these myths and facts will help you choose quality, reasonably priced cables to complete your listening room, studio, or whatever your setup may be.