Cables should be treated as an actual component of hifi, not just an accessory to quickly forget about or a necessary evil that looks a mess and costs too much. Their importance is way to often underestimated. While their job might be considered simple that is to carry a signal from point A to point B, they should do it with as little effect on the signal as possible. Easier said than done of course! Why should they be treated better? Well an amplifier’s sole job is usually just to make the signal louder, simple enough too in theory, but most people will agree that a lot of consideration must be taken into account over how it does it, what effect it has on the sound, matching with other components in the system and more. The same is also true for cables.
Cables range in price from virtually free to extremely expensive. The free ones usually come in the box with many lower-end hifi products, thrown in just so you can actually get the unit up and running without making another trip to the store. Most of the time these are not very good and should be kept just for emergencies or the kids room. The next step up offers some improvements, better materials, better shielding and better connectors. These should be used only as a minimum unless your system is only used for background music and not for serious listening. After this, the skies the limit for cables. There are cables out there that cost more than most people’s entire hifi system or more than most cars. While I certainly do not suggest you need to go to extremes (unless you earn least 7 figures!), you should consider and evaluate cables as you would any other piece of hifi equipment.
So why do prices vary so much for cables? At lot has to do with the type of materials, how they are made and the research time involved before they are put on the market. It is easy to buy some connectors; some coaxial cable and build a signal cable interconnect for between the CD and the amplifier. But every mainstream manufacturer does that as well. And they probably all sound the same and are all pretty cheap. However the next level and upwards is where we are really interested. There are so many different types of materials, there is the wire itself, copper is common but many alloys or coatings such as silver can be used as well. Even the type of insulation, the spacing between the wires, the number of strands and more all can have an effect on the sound. This applies for all types of cables, be they speaker cables, signal cables or digital cables.
The same goes for the connectors, there are many types out there and they can often look the same. One recent Australia invention is the Bullet Plug by Keith-louis Eichmann, which has found global status amongst high-end RCA cable manufacturers. It is not alone as Audio Note, Cardas and WBT also make great quality connectors using a high degree of engineering skill and top quality materials. The RCA plugs and sockets are used mainly for low-level signals, be they digital signals, audio signals or composite video signals. Of course other connectors are used for these signals as well, for example sometimes higher-end equipment has balanced XLR connectors, in which a positive and negative version of the audio is carried to reduce external noise influences.
Speaker cables are usually unshielded while low-level signals are often not. Shielding can have detrimental effect in some cases but it also serves to reduce electrical noise finding its way into the signal. The lower the signal level, the more likely any external electrical interference will get in. This is why speaker cables generally do not have shielding, as they are quite high in level compared to the signal between say a CD and am amplifier. Some cables are also directional; the manufacturer will state this on the packaging. This is usually because there is some extra shielding which is only connected at one end, usually the source end. High-end cables can take some time to reach their peak in performance and hence a burn-in time is suggested. I have not heard of any technical reason why this is so, but a lot of anecdotal evidence exists.
An oft-overlooked area of cables is for video. Many people will purchase cables that match the performance capabilities of their audio system, but don’t both for the video. If anything, video cables should be even better than audio because the video signal itself has a much higher bandwidth than audio, hence needs a better conduit to travel through. Restriction or distorting the video signal can result in a loss of sharpness, bleeding of colours and artefacts to the image. With the price of large screen television these days, it is certainly worthwhile upgrading your existing cables. But which to use? Most video systems have the option of various types of inputs and outputs. You should always use the best one available to enable all the components to connect together. Depending on the system, it may be S-Video, component video or even HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface).
All hifi and video people should have a close look at their existing cables and see if they match your system. It may be an easy way to obtain an upgrade without the other half even knowing about it! Cables can be bought from all AV stores but usually the better ones will give you a wider choice.
Written by Leon Gross, originally published in Audio & Video Lifestyle magazine.
Looking for a specific product? Click here for our site index.
Order by phone: (02) 4627-8766 or 0411-88-1967
Offices in Sydney and Melbourne
General enquiries: +61 (0)2 4627-8766 or (03) 9859-0388; email us: email@example.com
Copyright © 1999-2013 Soundlabs Group ® Pty Limited
ABN 64 088 708 472