Audiophile Speaker Cable: Snake Oil?
Audioquest Everest is the most expensive speaker cable in the world. For a mere $21,000 you get 3 meters of it complete with “Counter Spiralling Geometry” plus “Spread Spectrum Technology” conductors. Perhaps you would rather skip the cable and buy yourself an automobile.
Extreme cases like this bring home theatre fans into debates about the importance of speaker wire. One camp argues that cables merely carry a signal and that the Everest mentioned above is no better than a $5 spool from RadioShack. The opposing camp swears that there is a marked difference in sound quality when using a lavish cable of superior quality.
So which side is to be trusted? From past experiences when heated debate ensues and sides divide, the truth is often hidden somewhere in the middle.
Inexpensive Speaker Wire
Stranded vs. Solid: The Real Choice
Cables made from a solid piece of copper are usually sold at a premium over thinner gauge wire made from thin strands. These are the two main types. Any lingo or features that go beyond this are merely marketing hype.
Choosing between the two depends on whether you need a highly flexible solution or not. Obviously stranded wire bends more easily.
Fraying at the end of stranded cable can be pretty annoying when connecting it to your speakers or a receiver. You can always attach inexpensive plugs on the end of the leads to remedy this however.
Is there a difference in sound? Having tried both solid and stranded in my home theatre setup at home I’d have to say yes. To my ears, solid cable has a noticeably cleaner, brighter sound. I still use stranded cable on the rear surround speakers for two reasons: it’s cheaper and more flexible. In addition the front speakers handle more direct sounds while the rears deal with softer more diffused sounds. With this in mind, using both type of cables, playing off their distinct advantages and disadvantages, makes even more sense.
Hype, Flashy Looks and Monster Cable
People love to slam Monster Cable on message boards. There are worse offenders, selling exotic silver cables at prices towering over anything Monster offers. The reason is likely because Monster is usually the highest priced cable you will find at your average electronics store like Best Buy. The really outrageous stuff is only found at obscure high-end shops (that audio skeptics avoid) and online.
One thing that is certain is that name brands carry very little weight in the area of audiophile speaker cable. These companies are masters at coming up with buzzwords and a fancy cable exterior. Luxurious looking cable attracts attention to itself when shopping but you have to wonder if you really want it to stick out in your home. In my mind cable is meant to be as low profile as possible.
Like with many consumer products there are a very limited amount of factories that make speaker wire. However, there are slews of different brand names selling speaker wire in all kinds of packaging. So how is this possible? The reason is that marketers are merely stamping their logo on what the factories produce. Therefore, brands mean nothing.
Beyond Brands: Getting Quality Cable
When you talk to audiophiles about speaker cable two names come up consistently: Blue Jeans Cable and Canare.
Blue Jeans Cable makes quality stuff by hand according your specifications (choose only the length you need). That sounds expensive but it isn’t. It is a small business that has managed to get a solid reputation online. Kurt got his start in broadcast quality cable and now makes everything from HDMI, DVI, component, digital audio and of course speaker wire.
Canare is very popular with music studios, broadcasters and savvy musicians. It’s another great choice for no-nonsense cable that sells at a reasonable price. You really have to get skeptical about watching movies with vastly overpriced cables when the audio professional that did the soundtrack used no-frills Canare cables to record everything.
Don’t write off quality cable because of snake oil salesmen vastly overcharging for products. Between cheap RadioShack wire and the stuff that costs a fortune there are a number of great-sounding solutions that will allow you to get more out of your movies and music.