Corey Bailey
Audio Engineering
WIRE - WHAT TYPE SHOULD I USE? I’m often asked: “What’s the best wire to use for my stereo system, home theater, etc.?” My answer is: “Spend as much as you can reasonably afford.” So, this article is is aimed at the individual who is interested in getting excellent results from their AV system without having to hock the family farm. In the professional world, there are several manufacturers of professional audio and video cable. There are many more in the consumer market. Those companies in the professional arena have always published detailed information on the products they produce because they have to provide honest, accurate product information if they want to have a chance at being specified for an installation. On the other hand, the consumer electronics market is like the wild west. The wary consumer has to wade through all manner of invented terminology, unsupported claims and ridiculous prices. Somewhere, between the bargain bin and the paycheck per foot wire, is the affordable cable that will give you the best bang for your buck. Solid or Stranded Wire? The truth is: “I don’t know.” There are arguments for both. I have used both types for almost every type of audio connection and I cannot hear or measure a difference in the audio band of frequencies. However, it’s a scientific fact that as the frequency of the signal increases, the electrons move towards the outer surface of the conductor, affecting the current density and the alternating current (AC) resistance. This is called the ‘Skin Effect.’ Skin Effect mostly comes into play at radio frequencies and above so, it matters when it comes to interconnect cable for video. The jury is still out on it’s affect within the audio band. One option for the Skin Effect is the ‘Litz’ wind which, involves more than one strand of wire and one can find cable that is designed for audio using this particular wind. So, that may be an argument for stranded wire. On the other hand, the video cable that comes into your house has both. It has a solid conductor in the center that carries, at least, half of the signal and a stranded conductor on the outside, covering the entire cable, called the shield. Size matters This is particularly important when it comes to speaker cable. Size refers to the diameter of the conductor itself and is expressed as a gauge. The smaller the gauge number, the larger the diameter of the conductor. Thus, 20 gauge wire is considerably smaller in diameter than 10 gauge wire. Although I consider 14 gauge to be the minimum, I prefer 12 gauge or larger diameter wire for speaker cable. I’ve used several types, sizes and brands and I have even specified name brands in installations to avoid controversy. I have done some testing on speaker wire (both listening and bench testing), using 10 foot lengths and the results have always shown that the larger diameters are preferred. However, when I used 14 gauge or heaver wire, I couldn’t see or hear a difference. However, using longer lengths for testing may show a difference. I will use lamp cord for testing or an adapter, but not for a permanent installation. Keep all speaker cables as short as possible. However, it’s a different story when it comes to interconnect cable for your components. Wire gauge is generally not listed on the product or packaging and the thickness of the overall cable provides no clue. My advice (again) is to buy the best shielded cable you can reasonably afford and keep the cable lengths as short as possible between components. Excessive cable lengths simply create a rat’s nest behind your equipment and can lead to induced noise at any signal level, even at speaker power levels. Only use gold plated connectors if your equipment has gold plated connectors. Using gold plated connectors on nickel plated equipment connectors (or vice- versa) provides no particular benefit. If one piece of equipment has gold plated connectors and the equipment it connects to does not, it’s your call. You can connect gold plated connectors to nickel plated connectors and vice-versa. No harm will come to your components either way. That said, some dissimilar metals can cause corrosion which will cause problems. The connectors with a high concentration of Zinc are a good example. This is a good argument for quality cables and connectors. Oxygen Free Copper? Oxygen-free Copper (OFC) generally refers to a group of highly conductive copper alloys that have been manufactured to reduce the level of oxygen content in the copper to 0.001% or below. Oxygen free wire and products have many scientific, industrial and commercial applications. Audiophiles insist on its superior sonic properties although there is little scientific evidence to support the claim. We all know what happens to raw copper when it is left unprotected over time; It turns green. The green corrosion is somewhat unique to copper, brass or bronze and is known as ‘Patina’ or ‘Verdigris.’ Verdigris is that green stuff that usually appears when dissimilar items are usually made and brass is one of them and Verdigris is poisonous. For example; brass adorned leather that is stored for long periods of time. This type of corrosion can also happen to poorly made wire, even though it is ‘supposedly’ sealed inside insulation. When wire or the connectors attached to it corrode, its conductive properties change which will ultimately change the sound quality of your system. We tend to connect an entertainment system together and then forget it. So, periodically, disconnect all of the interconnect cables and re-connect them. The process of disconnecting and reconnecting will clean the connections. If you spot corrosion anywhere in or on your interconnect cables, address it immediately. Corrosion generally starts at the end or connector of a wire and works it’s way down the wire until the whole thing is green. This may be the strongest argument for OFC wire for your system, although it too can corrode. Does this mean that the cables you purchase have to be Oxygen Free Copper? Not necessarily, because lot’s of great recordings were made long before oxygen free wire came into being. Good quality cable will have superior conductivity and good connectors and last a very long time. What about the cables that often come with new equipment? Think about it for a second; Although it’s nice that the manufacturer provides the interconnect cables that you may need, the cables themselves will, most likely, be the cheapest cables that they can buy in bulk. I will often chop up these cables to make temporary adapters. Otherwise, I donate them to the nearest thrift store. So, to summarize; Purchase the best interconnect cable that you can afford and use the largest gauge wire you can find (or, afford) between your power amp and your speakers. Return to TOP of page © Corey Bailey Audio Engineering
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