Choosing loudspeaker cables

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So you think that you connect your expensive amplifier to your expensive loudspeakers with a couple of bits of wire found in a box in the shed. Or do you take the advice of the rather nice chap in the HiFi shop who wants you to splash out £500 on his very clever speaker leads. I think the answer lies somewhere in between these extremes.

To begin with, lets consider how speaker cable differs from other interconnects in any audio system. Cables used to connect a CD player to an amplifier will at most carry hundreds of millivolts with a few milliamps of current. The amount of energy delivered is at a very low level, so you don’t need some monster interconnect that’s as thick as your thumb ! Speaker leads, on the other hand can carry tens of volts at quite large currents, sometimes in excess of 10 Amps.

The cable itself can be thought of in terms of its inductance L, its capacitance C, and its resistance R. This LCR model is used by engineers to model the performance of an interconnect as the bandwidth of the signal it carries is varied. Without going into great detail, the two most important parameters here for speaker interconnects are its R and L components. The R value causes energy to be dissipated in the cable itself, and the L component causes distortion of the signal by slowing down its rate of change.

Another factor to consider is noise picked up by the cable from external sources, or from the other interconnect. Most speaker cable is of shotgun construction, i.e. two cables joined together side-by-side. There will be signal interference from one cable to the other. This is called crosstalk, and is a function of the signal magnitude and the distance between the cables.

So in practical terms what should you look for in a good speaker cable :

1)  Cable with a large cross sectional area (csa). Cables with large csa such as 6mm exhibit very low resistance.

2) Cable which is multi-stranded. Solid copper cores are not flexible or practical, and have little audio benefit.

3)  Good quality gold or silver plated connectors at both ends. Spade terminals provide the largest surface area of contact which means a lower contact resistance.

4)  High purity copper conductors or Oxygen Free Copper (OFC). This is really about reducing the iron content of the conductor, which improves its resistivity.

5)  Look for speaker cables that are sold as individual cable and not shotgun construction.

 

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