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Is it worth up grading speaker wire?

Discussion in 'Cables & Switches' started by lurker75, Feb 27, 2005.

  1. lurker75

    lurker75
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    After reading various threads on the cables and cabling Forum I'm beginning to wonder should I replace the speaker cables that came with my Sony amp and speakers for something that costs in the region of £2 a metre? :confused: With all this talk of CAT5 and DIY cables that quite frankly I don't understand and wouldn't be able to construct my own cables anyway.

    Some of the comments that I have read seem to imply that a cable is a cable and most people throw their money away purchasing pointless speaker cables.
    Due to limitations on the amp they have their own specially designed terminations but the cables can be replaced as long as the cables are not too big. I'm literally Lost if anybody can offer any useful advice on speaker cables in simplistic terms and or any recommendations of affordable cable in the price range I mentioned.

    The combined cost of my DVD player, Sony amp receiver, sub and five satellite's was about £400. Would I benefit from buying new speaker cables?
     
  2. adebov

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    It is, most definately, a good idea to upgrade the cheap cable that's supplied with most systems.
    A cable upgrade is one of the cheapest ways to improve an AV system.
    Cables costing £2 - £4 per metre will show a large improvement (so long as your ears are up to it).
    Even a cable costing £1 per metre will be better than ones supplied with systems.

    It's also not just confined to speaker cable, upgrading the interconnecting cables between your components (phone, SCART, digital, optical, etc. can all be upgraded).

    Also, if your speakers support "bi-wiring" (seperating the high & low frequency signals onto seperate cable cores) makes a huge difference. Resonable bi-wire cables can be had for £4 - £5 per metre.

    The statement "cable is just cable" couldn't be further from the truth.
    A good rule-of-thumb I use, is to spend about 10% of your total system cost(excluding the cost of the TV/display) on cables. So, if the combined price of your amp, CD, DVD, VCR etc totals £2,000 - spend no more than a total of £200 on new speaker cable and new interconnects.

    If you can't make up the cables yourself, your local AV or Hi-Fi dealer should be able to help.
    Don't skimp on plugs either - gold plated banana & phono plugs provide better connections, too.

    As I'm a bit of a cheapskate, and everything's done on a budget, I find myself a regular visitor to Richer Sounds ( www.richersounds.co.uk ).
    A currently use their "Gale XL315-biwire" cable - It falls quite a bit short of the 10% rule-of-thumb, but I'm working on a budget here.
     
  3. Knightshade

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    Check out Maplins for good cheap cable, or www.tvcables.co.uk.
    It's pointless spending vast amounts of money on cable.
    Try using simple twin and earth electrical cable for starters. Cost is about £0.15 a metre available from B&Q etc. No need to terminate just use the bare wire (I assume you have the standard 'push lever, insert cable, release lever' type of connection.
    You will not be able to tell the difference between this and 'proper' £5 per metre cable. Don't bother with fancy plugs either, it's another connection to get in the way. The fewer connections, the better the signal. The only reason banana plugs and spades are used is for convenience and aesthetics.
    Good quality cable is all you need. This does not have to cost £5 per metre +
     
  4. adebov

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    Knightshade,

    Question about the braided CAT5 UTP cable you use....
    I can see where it has the advantage over twin & earth (having tried twin & earth years ago, when the community first suggested it was a better alternative to budget speaker cables, I converted back to the "multi-stranded is best" school of thought - I preferred the sound of a stranded cable).
    But, is it really worth the hassle of braiding it, over simply buying a low-mid price "traditional" speaker cable.
    Over a multi-stranded cable, do you find the sound more open/transparent/detailed/wooly etc?

    One last thing...Where did you learn to braid as neatly as in your pictures?
     
  5. Knightshade

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    Adebov,

    I tried CAT5, the solid core variety, I found it to be pretty good but not that good. At the time I was using Atlas Ikor (£75 a metre) the sound just wasn't as open, everything felt a little closed in compared to the Ikor (bearing in mind i'd compared Ikor to Red Dawn and picked the Ikor every time!) So I stayed with Ikor. Then I got hold of some stranded CAT5 cable and made up some bi wire cable. 6 cables twisted and braided together to make one cable. That gives a big surface area of cable. Terminated with some of these http://www.homegrownaudio.com/diy_banana.html with good quality silver solder.
    As for the results? Well i'm not using Ikor anymore! It's just a very transparent cable, tight inky black bass and smooth high's. Fits my systems like a glove. If It was only as good as £!0 a metre cable I wouldn't bother, it's not worth the pain in the fingers!

    As for the braiding? Many hands make light work..... Just keep the braids tight and practice makes perfect. ;)
     
  6. Nick_UK

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    You wouldn't gain much on a system of this quality. If you have spare cash, consider replacing the amp and speakers with something slightly less "plastic" :)
     
  7. lurker75

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    adebov, you only need to see this thread to see why I'm confused as to whether it's worth up grading my speaker cable. you say it's worthwhile while Nick below says it's not really worth it. Anyway if I follow your good rule of thumb I've already spent 10 per cent of my total system cost upgrading my subwoofer cable and an optical cable! I also have to do everything on a tight budget like yourself but if you think I'll see a difference I'll try upgrading my speaker cable .

    Knightshade, may be down the line I could try this CAT5 home-grown speaker cable however right now I don't have the confidence or skills/knowledge to even attempt making my own cables.


    Nick, cheers for that comment. :rolleyes: This is my latest upgrade having started watching DVDs on a PC with crappy little stereo speakers , then I bought a stand-alone player hooked up to a stereo hi-fi system, after that an all in one Sony DVD amp 5.1 system with passive sub, and finally about a couple of months ago I picked up this Sony separates system with an active sub. Unfortunately I don't have lots of money to afford a system like most people here and have to do a lot on a very small budget. Btw an amp is next on my upgrade list but that is at least a year away.
     
  8. lurker75

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    I think they have gone out of business!
     
  9. mhuk05

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    CPC Farnell sell a range of OFC speaker cable e.g 100m reel of 2 x 2mm is £43 (~) delivered.
     
  10. Nick_UK

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    When you're changing cables, you are subject to the "Law of diminishing returns", which means that you can spend a lot of money and get minimal improvement. There are other places in your system where your money would bring a much more dramatic improvement (i.e. by replacing the speakers themselves).
     
  11. lurker75

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    any chance of a link? web addy?


    so if you were me Nick you wouldn't change your cables from the ones provided by sony?
     
  12. Knightshade

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  13. Nick_UK

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    Well, I've not seen your actual system, but (not trying to be rude) you don't get much for £400, if it includes a DVD player. If you want to hear dramatic improvements, don't spend money on the wiring. If I were in your shoes, I'd stick the whole lot on Ebay, and buy something more up-market. Improving your system in dribs and drabs is not the most cost-effective way to go. That's only my opinion, though. Others may not agree.
     
  14. eviljohn2

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    I wouldn't recommend upgrading your cables. The money would be much better spent on some more media or booze so that you can enjoy what you've already got more. :)
     
  15. Fahad

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    Don't bother with fancy plugs either, it's another connection to get in the way. The fewer connections, the better the signal. The only reason banana plugs and spades are used is for convenience and aesthetics.
    Good quality cable is all you need. This does not have to cost £5 per metre +[/QUOTE]


    Reading this has worried me as my local dealer has said that I should banana plug my speaker cable to prevent the copper wires from degrading over time (as they are exposed). The cost of this exercise is over £100, so is it worth it. Its for a permanent installation.

    Many thanks

    Fahad
     
  16. Light_User

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    What a load of tosh some of you guys are saying. I have had lots of equipment over the years, mainly at the "budget" end of the market. Speaker and interconnect cables have always made a big difference to the sound quality, even at this level. In recent years, I have not spent mega amounts. Currently, I am using QED silver anniversary speaker cable (was just under £2 a metre) and recently brought cheap Ixos 1002 interconnect cable on e-bay at £12 to replace Cambridge Audio's Pacific cable. That was a fantastic upgrade. I actually have something called bass and a more "lively" sound (yet still nicely controlled and articulate etc for you proper hfi buffs out there). My current system is cheap second hand equipment, namely - rotel 350 cd player, marantz 6010 se amp, nakamichi 150bx cassette deck and kef cresta 3 speakers, total cost about £200. I have not enjoyed my music so much since the days when I could afford "decent" equipment like a Linn Sondek LP12 etc... and yes, even then good quality speaker and interconnect cables could make a big improvement to sound quality. Don't put people off what will be a worthwhile improvement. End of rant. :mad:
     
  17. lurker75

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    It's confusing isn't it Fahad!

    Nick,I know you don't get much for £400 but as I said before this is my latest upgrade from a Sony DAVS 400 all in one DVD/receiver to my current system. This is quite an upgrade from my point of view and my finances point-of-view too. If I could afford something more upmarket then I would have already but for the time being this is the best I can afford and I'm trying to make the most of it without being told to dump the whole lot on eBay! Having said that it may have cost me £400 for the all of the components but had I of bought them separately (DVD + Amp and 5.1 speakers) they could have cost me £700+.

    Originally I asked about upgrading speaker cable because I'm trying to make the most out of my system. I thought (possibly mistakenly) changing my speaker cable from those provided by Sony to something like £2 a metre speaker cable might help improve the sound further.

    Unfortunetly There doesn't seem to be a consensus on what I should do.
     
  18. NicolasB

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    I'm always sceptical about AV cables in general and particularly about speaker cables. Cables that are (effectively) putting a significant capacitance in parallel with the speaker could have the effect of muting the treble, but I think you'd have to try quite hard to find a speaker cable with enough capacitance to actually make an audible difference. (You might find a shielded line-level interconnect that does - that's a different story).

    In my experience there are only three significant factors with speaker cables:

    1) Don't ever coil them. If they're too long, then concertina them.

    2) It's good to keep them well away from mains cables and from each other to avoid interference. If you need cables to cross over each other, make them cross over at right angles, don't lay them in parallel.

    3) Far and away the most important issue is that, at any frequency, the impedance of the cable must be a small fraction of the impedance of the speaker. So, for example, my Nautilus 803 speakers are nominally 8 ohms, but can go as low as 3 ohms at certain frequencies. I like to keep my cables to below 5% of speaker impedance, so the total impedance of the wire has to be <0.15 ohms (and I usually aim for <0.1 ohms for safety). With speaker cables it's usually only the resistance that makes a significant contribution to impedance, so if the cable has a resistance of <0.1 ohms then it's going to be fine for 803s.

    The only time I've ever heard speaker cable make a difference to the sound of a speaker is if the resistance is too high. What happens then is that the percentage of the amplifier output that is expended in the speaker rather than dissipated in the cable can vary detectably with frequency, which affects the speaker's overall frequency response.

    (This, incidentally, is the only reason why bi-wiring would ever make a difference: it's a quick way to halve the resistance of the cable).

    Two (verified) anecdotes illustrate the point nicely. In the first a cable-sceptic invited an audience who believed in the virtue of expensive cables to come to a demo. He played a piece of music using cheap-looking speaker cables. Then he made a big show of switching the cables over to these huge, expensive looking things, almost an inch thick, and played the music again. Everyone in the audience said things like "oh, that's so much better, oh please tell me you can hear the difference there, it's night and day!"

    It turned out that actually both sets of cables were dummies, and that the wires actually connecting the speakers to the amp were identical in both cases and hadn't been touched. (There are, of course, a lot of reasons why a system might sound better as a result of cables being changed that have nothing at all to do with the "quality" of the cable - placebo effect is just one. Other possibilities include a new cable not suffering from corrosion at the contacts while an old one does.)

    The other story involves an audio exhibition a couple of years ago, where the well-known speaker manufacturer Quad wanted to show off some of their new high-end speakers. To demonstrate them they hired a guy who was a sound engineer: his job was mixing music tracks to produce the final recording. He was very well known, and well respected: had won a number of the most prestigious awards in the music industry, so he was about as "golden-eared" as it's possible to get.

    One journalist noticed, during the demo, that the speaker cables looked a bit unusual - they were a bright orange colour. So he asked about them, and it turned out that they were actually mains extension leads of the type normally sold for use with Black & Decker hedge trimmers. So, out of all the possible types of speaker cable this supremely talented sound engineer could have chosen, he'd actually chosen mains flex - because, in his opinion, that sounded as good as anything else does.

    Lurker75, as you can see from my signature, I have what some people would regard as a fairly high-end system (total price of all components when new would have been ~£15,000). The speaker cables I use are from Maplin, and cost 69p per metre. They sound fine. With a set-up like yours the speaker cables are the last thing you should be thinking about upgrading.
     
  19. Knightshade

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    Fahad,
    I was trying to steer people away from using £10-£50 a pair banana plugs. Not trying to dissuade you from using banana's altogether. Cheap Banana plugs are just as good audibly as their more overpriced counterparts.
    If you were to miss out the plugs and connect direct to the contacts on the amp and speakers then soldering would be the best way. This has the disadvantage of voiding all warranties!

    No one said anything about using rubbish. I don't believe spending a fortune on cables is necessary, good quality is all you need.
    When it comes to audio I'm not particularly interested in compromise I have a no compromise system and have simply recommended the best cable I have found at any price bracket.
    The two people who've asked for advice would probably not benefit from a cable upgrade anyway. Now recapping the output stage of an amp that's money well spent.
     
  20. MPK

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    Well, there are some people who would also doubt the difference in quality between a £5,000 amp and a £10,000. The same is the case for speaker cables. But then there are certain facts, for instance that silver conducts electricity better than copper. Whether there is a significant improvement in sound quality or not, only men in sandals and wooly jumpers can answer I guess, as with many other things in HiFi. I believe that there should be a certain correlation between the prices of individual components such as player, amp, speakers and also cables. No point splashing out on £400 speaker cables if you have an amp worth £300.
     
  21. bobbypunk

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    The two things I disagree with are
    1. The response from many has been that the original sony speaker cable which is low grade 13 strand copper cable should not be changed, I believe that cable of not much cost from maplin or the other places stated (or cat-5 / mains flex) would make a much worthwhile difference. Personally I would probably say QED micro IF you want a branded cable.
    2. Banana plugs! There are benefits to them which haven't been explained. The cheap ones are good as any to a point and they do help protect copper cable from oxidising but there are two types that are better you can use crimped plugs or QED use a system called Airloc they aren't cheap (£5 per plug) but they make a better connection with the cable.
     
  22. Knightshade

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    I agree with you Bobby but £5 a plug on a £400 system is probably going to be out of the question and probably offer an undetectable difference over the El Cheapo plugs from Maplins.

    Lurker,
    At least you're seeing both sides of the fence now....!

    MPK,
    In theory silver is a better conductor, however it still tarnishes and I've found low frequencys tend to loose out slightly to good quality copper. This comes from making my own IC's and using off the shelf cables. Interesting to hear if anyone else has found this?
    As for the amps? No I don't think there's a big difference between £5000 and £10000 amps. I couldn't detect a difference between the Linn Klimax Solo and the Densen beat 350, (Blind testing frequently gave the wrong answers!)yes, the case work on the Linn is a thing of beauty but when I needed at least 6, Slightly less elegance worked for me and kept the wife happier......
     
  23. Nick_UK

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    I'm not sure I understand why ? If you're suggesting that this will have an inductive effect, you have two loops (because there's two cables), with the current going in opposite directions, so any effects would cancel ?
     
  24. johnnyhaynes

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    Consider making your own speaker cables from quality solid core copper co-axial .
    The trick is to solder the copper shielding to the core of the adjacent cable .
    I then shrink wrap the 2 cables together.
    There is some sound logic behind the soldering of the shielding re induction .
    I believe expensive Ixos cables use this principle.
    Believe me its worth the small effort
     
  25. NicolasB

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    Oh, well, yes, but who can be bothered with that? :) Much simpler just to not coil it in the first place....


    Sure, but so what? It's not a particularly big difference. If any given copper cable has too high a resistance then all you have to do is switch to a thicker copper wire: changing to a silver one of the same thickness is far more expensive and makes far less difference to the resistance.
     
  26. Nick_UK

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    Well, this is the crux of the whole thing. If your speaker cable has more resistance, then you just wind the volume up a little. Most amps have plenty of power in reserve. My Yamaha is usually set at -42dB when I'm watching TV. So what's the point in using unwieldy thick wire - just turn up the wick a little ? :smashin:
     
  27. NicolasB

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    Well, that's not true, of course, for reasons which I have already explained in some detail. If it were the case that the impedance of a loudspeaker was purely resistive (i.e. remained constant regardless of the frequency of the input signal) then you would be quite correct - but it doesn't. You would also be correct if the impedance of the cable varied with frequency in a way that exactly tracked the speaker, but, again, it doesn't. (Speaker cable impedance typically is more or less constant with frequency).

    So it's important that the impedance of the cable remains a small fraction of the impedance of the speaker at all frequencies. You cannot achieve that simply by turning up the volume.
     
  28. Fahad

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    Reading all of this I must confess to the following:

    1. Absolutely confused.
    2. As a lawyers, we are always accused of writing in an imcomprehensible manner, but some of you guys are just too technical!
    3. My take is that essentially any standard wire should be ok.

    At risk of exposing my stupidity even further, may I ask a simple question?

    Right now I have low quality (according to my locar av dealer) monster speaker cable for a 5.1 THX Ultra 2 Jamo set-up. I am setting up a 7.1 set up, and because of room layout will need to replace the centre speaker as well as provide cable for the two new speakers.

    Can I mix and match, and just buy QED silver cable for 3 speakers.
    Should the front 3 speakers all use the same cable,
    Do I need to replace the cable for all the speakers, with that being the suggestion of my dealer; and finally!
    As i will be routing the rear speakers along the sides of the wall, and they will be bunched together, will that result in a loss of quality/interference?

    Please forgive the number of questions and the fact that I am not so bright!

    Fahad

    Please forgive
     
  29. Fahad

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    Re-reading my thread, apologies for not applying spell check, and to clarify I'm not changing my centre speaker, just the speaker cable as the existing one is too short.

    Many thanks

    Fahad
     
  30. NicolasB

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    Personally I think QED silver cable is a waste of money, but not everyone agrees with me. Even if you think it's worth paying £4 a metre or whatever it is for speaker cable (which I don't) silver-coated copper strikes me as a rather odd design. The way cables like that are made could result in a layer of oxidation running all the way along the cable between the silver and the copper (which could do all kinds of odd things), and it's also possible that higher frequency signals would experience less resistance than lower frequency ones as compared with a pure-copper cable. (This is because of something called the "skin effect" which means that high frequency signals tend to flow through only the outer part of a conductor. I haven't run the numbers, so I've no idea whether this effect would be strong enough to be audible, but I have heard that silver-coated cables are supposed to sound "bright" - maybe that's why).

    Anyway, wrenching myself back from the technical aspects :D I would say:

    1) Assuming that the cable you are using is thick enough and short enough (the longer it is the thicker it needs to be) you won't have any problems mixing cable types - but that (for the reasons outlined above) silver-coated cables might just possibly be an exception to that.

    2) I don't think you will have significant interference problems. It's usually only mains cables that cause trouble.

    Your dealer is obviously very keen to get you to spend money on this stuff, so why not ask him for a practical demonstration? Get him to make some cables up for you, then switch them back and forth a few times with your existing cables and see if you can actually hear any difference. If you can't then there's not much point in spending money on the new cables.
     

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