So you’ve set your budget aside for your brand new home cinema set up – the AV receiver and the brand new HD Television has been chosen. You have decided how best to position your 5.1 surround sound speakers, and where to hang the TV. Now you eagerly anticipate just well your media room will work be when watching ‘Tron-Legacy’ in all its crisp Blu-Ray glory.
But wait… hasn’t a very important part of the puzzle been overlooked here? How are you going to really appreciate all of this if your cables connecting this equipment together hasn’t been taken into account?
Cabling is commonly overlooked and taken for granted. Good quality cables are extremely important, they really do give you better sound and video performance.
Here are are some key points to consider when selecting cables for your AV system:
- The gauge of a speaker cable is an important factor. Usually thicker gauges (represented by a lower AWG number) are better than thinner gauges. It is also safer to assume that ticker gauges are more expensive than thinner gauges, as more materials are used to manufacture the cable.
- Consider the length of your cable run. The longer the run, the more chance there are of signal loss. Signal loss would lead to poor sound quality.
- It is best for each speaker in your system to use a cable length that is the same for all speakers. to have the same or as similar length runs to each speaker – by doing so you are lessening the resistance if you had mismatched cable lengths and it ensures that the speakers all have the same amount of power going to them and therefore producing sound at the same level.
- Copper is the more commonly used conductor in speaker cables, primarily due to cost and its excellent conduction properties. It does however oxidise over time. Manufacturers try to remove as much oxygen out of the copper before manufacturing a cable – you may have seen 99.999% oxygen free written on the side of an audio cable before, the level of purity ensures that the copper is more conductive. Depending on the insulation used to protect the copper conductors, it is likely that these copper cables will oxidise over time. Oxidised copper does remain conductive, but sound quality will diminish as the cable effectively ‘rusts’ over time
- Silver is also used quite extensively as a conductor. It has a lower resistance than copper, which means that fewer strands can be used, therefore its gauge can be thinner than a copper counterpart to attain the same performance. Silver has already oxidised and will not oxidise any further, so there should be no degradation in sound quality over time. Silver tends to sound more ‘toppy’ (more treble) than copper. To some this is a bit shinier and clearer than copper, to others this extra treble may not be desirable. Some cabling manufacturers have come up with a number of tricks to reduce this effect.
- The outer jacket or the insulation of a cable is another facet of a cable’s construction worth paying some attention to. Materials such as PVC, Silicone and Teflon are commonly used and not only provide protection, they can act as a method of dampening so as to avoid the audio quality being affected by outside interference such as knocks and bumps that can cause vibration and affect the overall sound.
- PVC is most commonly used and is permeable. It also perishes over time. It is common for insulation to start breaking and flaking after a 10 year period. This will will allow air and water in, causing copper conductors to oxidise and fail. Thus a PVC/Copper combination speaker cable is not suited for long term or permanent installations.
- Teflon is probably the best insulator. It can with withstand extreme temperatures. It is non-permeable, nothing can get into the cable, or out for that matter. Because of Teflon’s unique properties, these cables can withstand fires, or even be used outdoors for direct burial. One speaker cable manufacturer also believes that Teflon reduces the ‘toppy’ characteristics of silver conductors
You should never discount the importance of good quality cables. They will continually ensure that you get better leading to the best possible sound out your equipment. Good cable, if purchased wisely, can be considered a once-off expense; once your cable has been installed it is likely to remain and stay in-place.
Although technology changes continually and the process you may choose to keep up-to-date with these changes, the one facet of your installation that can remain is your higher quality cables.
One last analogy we can give you is this: You would not drive a new Ferrari on dirt roads – so why should should your new high-performance audio equipment be expected to run on cables (roads) that are of a poor quality.
We advise all customers to set aside between 10-15% of their budget for the purchase of audio-visual cables. This percentage range ensures that there is proportion to the quality of the cable versus the cost of the equipment. However, as stated earlier, if you buy expensive, decent, good quality cables the chances are you’ll never need to buy them again.