The ins and outs of audio cables
Make the most of your speakers or bring new life to old ones with our fantastic range of speaker cables. The technology that goes into them can make a big difference. With so many cables on the market the choice can often seem daunting, but with a little insight we’ll help you pick the perfect set of leads to really bring the best sound out of your hi-fi or home cinema system.
A quality connection at either end of a cable will improve usability, as well as the sound quality. High-end termination reduces the chance of oxidisation in the exposed conducting wires. Solder, oxygen and heat in the welding process add impurities that are detrimental to the sound. A combination of cold-welding and the highest-grade conductivity connectors will produce the best sound possible.
The surface of a conducting wire carries the signal the truest. This results in different types of cable giving different inherent qualities of sound. For example, a multi-strand cable offers a cost-effective and durable option. On the other hand, higher end multi-stranded cables ensure the individual threads of wire stay in the same place throughout the cable, minimising the times the electrical signal jumps from one strand to another. Silver-plated oxygen-free copper generally has a bright characteristic, due to higher frequencies travelling down the outside of the strands. Solid core cables give a low-distortion option, ensuring the cleanest signal path. This does rely on the conductor having a particularly pure surface however.
Cables are formed from ‘drawn’ metal – that is, pulled to length from a starting point. This method causes the metal crystals to form structures or grain which is directional for electrical current. Lower distortion occurs when the cable runs the signal in the correct direction. Most cables will indicate directionality on the plugs or the cable itself. Look for the direction of the writing, it should run from amplifier to speakers.
The construction of a cable has a big impact on the overall quality of the sound. The layout of the conducting wires in a cable determines its characteristics – for example, a cable with parallel conductors will have a high inductance, which is a major cause of interference and distortion to the audio. This can be demonstrated in a common aerial lead – they are designed to pick up electrical ‘noise’. In essence, spiralled wires have lower inductance – giving rise to a cleaner signal. High-end cables have negative and positive conductors spiralled in opposite directions to minimise the electromagnetic fields surrounding each conductor.
The use of bi-wire cable is advised to improve the signal from amplifier to speakers. Using a traditional integrated amplifier, the cable carries the full frequency signal over two positive and two negative paths. The double run of cable effectively reduces the signal resistance by half, improving the quality of the sound, openness and bass authority. If two power amplifiers are used in a traditional bi-amp configuration, bi-wire cables are required to carry signal from both amplifier terminals to the high and low frequency speaker terminals.
Shielding & dielectric
The basics of shielding is quite straightforward; The grounding is the part of the cable that picks up the radio frequency interference and diverts it away from the audible frequencies. The issue lays in stopping this unwanted interference from distorting the audio signal itself. Effective use of shielding materials results in a signal that is not distorted and remains pure to the original signal. The shielding material also acts as a dielectric, essentially “smearing” the timing of the music. Premium cables reduce this using advance construction techniques, resulting in a purer and more musical signal.
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Mark, Store Manager, Bristol.
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