People buying home audio systems and home theatre systems today demand high-quality, crystal-clear audio like the kind experienced in movie theatres. While the newer systems are manufactured to provide optimum performance, users also must not neglect the cables and interconnects that establish connections. These are crucial factors that affect audio output, and a high-quality speaker cable brings out the full potential of the audio system.
Several types of speaker cables are available using various materials, which vary in purpose, quality, and prices. Since the basic functions of cables are to propagate electrical signals between components, maintain signal integrity right through their run, handle high voltages, and keep out noise, it is important for users to acquire knowledge about the various cables types and their capabilities, including the thickness or gauge of the cable wires, the cable length, and the composition of the cable. Cable terminations of the right kind that meet the specifications of the system make a difference as well.
Consumers who learn about the different types of speaker cables, cable terminations, shielding on the cables, and cable adapters are prepared to make an informed choice when buying speaker cables for their home audio systems. eBay offers numerous varieties of speaker cables and other accessories at competitive prices, allowing shoppers to compare the different types available and select from amongst the best.
Construction of a Typical Speaker Cable
Speaker cables are typically made using several components that include two stranded copper conductors, each covered with insulation. Conducting materials of the right thickness or gauge are crucial components in speaker wires. These wires are then twisted together and bound using fillers and this arrangement is sheathed in a jacket, which is the outermost layer. Speaker cables generally do not have shielding because there is not much radio frequency interference (RFI) from other external sources in electrical circuits. Various brands may use different conductive materials, fillers, insulation, and sheathing to manufacture their speaker cables.
Factors to Consider When Buying Speaker Cables
Audio cables fall into four basic categories: patch cables, speaker cables, microphone cables, and instrument cables. The first aspect to consider while buying a cable is its intended use. Having identified that, the next considerations are the type, thickness, length, terminals, and connectors of the cable.
Conduction and Insulation Materials
Speaker cables generally use high-purity, braided, oxygen-free copper wires for their low resistance and high conductivity. Some use silver, which has higher conductivity; however, silver is expensive, and impure silver reduces the efficacy to less than that of copper.
Insulation materials (also known by the technical term, dielectrics) such as Teflon, polyethylene, thermoplastic rubber, TPR, and polypropylene are generally used to insulate the copper conductors. The relation between conduction and insulation here is best understood by the statement, 'current needs copper and voltage needs insulation'. Voltage is a measure of the energy carried by the charge, the push of electricity through the wire; hence, the need for robust insulation. Insulation material for speaker cables also must be heat resistant and flexible.
Gauges of Conduction Materials
The power amplifier drives the speakers via the speaker cable, which propagates substantial electric current from the power amplifier to the loudspeakers. The thickness of the copper conductors in speaker cables measures as the gauge number: as the gauge number reduces, the thickness of the copper increases. Thicker wires offer less resistance so as not to limit current flow and to increase conductivity. Ten-gauge wires are capable of preserving signal integrity effectively enough to deliver high-quality low-frequency bass signals to the subwoofers, while 12 gauge for surround sound speakers are considered ideal speaker cables for home speaker systems. In home theatre systems, the receivers obtain and amplify audio signals, which are then sent to the surround speakers and subwoofers. Both bass and higher frequency signals in the traditional two-channel speaker system are handled together; therefore, 10- or 12-gauge speaker cables are ideal for preserving signal integrity to produce better audio in stereo speakers.
Front speakers should ideally have the same length of cable, thus ensuring equal power distribution and signals. As some signal degradation is always present in speaker cables, and greater cable lengths tend to magnify this effect, keeping speaker cables within reasonable limits is desirable. The AWG (American Wire Gauge) has made the following recommendations for the required gauge for specific cable lengths
Length of Speaker Wire
80 feet (24 m) or less length
80 feet (24 m) to 200 feet (61 m)
10- or 12-Gauge
200 feet (61 m)and more
Balanced vs. Unbalanced
Two leads or conductors in the speaker cables, the positive and the negative, carry amplified signals from the receiver or amplifier output terminals to the speakers. These cables may use various types of connectors such as banana plugs or pin connectors or the cables may connect using bare wires. Speaker cables may be balanced or unbalanced depending on the number of conductors in them.
Unbalanced cables have two conductors one to carry signals and the other for ground and such cables are prone to noise and hum. If unbalanced speaker cables are used, the length is best kept as short as possible to minimise noise.
Balanced cables have signals running along three wires, a positive, a negative and ground. The positive and negative conductors carry the same signal with opposing polarity. At the destination the receiver or amp flips one signal and once again polarity of two signals is established. Noise picked up will be common to both conductors and flipping one signal causes the remaining two to cancel out each other, thus eliminating noise. When long cables are needed, balanced cable connections will ensure noise reduction and better audio.
Speaker Cable Connectors
Speaker cables may terminate with various connectors types and these are a safety measure against short circuits. The connector types are pin connectors, RCA connectors, banana plugs, speakon connectors, and TRS plugs.
Pin connectors have a straight or angled pin, and ideally matches spring-loaded clip speaker connectors or with five-way binding posts.
RCA connectors, also known as phono plugs, are designed for coaxial cables to carry audio-video signals. The name RCA derives from Radio Corporation of America, the company that introduced the design.
Banana plugs are similar to pin connectors, but the pin shape resembles a banana being thick in the middle. Banana plugs are available in single and dual configurations, corresponding to one or two wires in the speaker cable.
Speakon connectors are used in PA systems to establish connection between amplifiers and loudspeakers. These have a built-in locking mechanism and can be easily pulled out like banana plugs.
TRS plugs are also known as audio jacks or phone jacks and is available in three sizes, 6.35 mm (1/4 inch), 3.5 mm (1/8 inch), and 2.5 mm (3/32 inch), and in three design styles as well called TS, TRS, and TRRS plugs.
Speaker Wire Terminals
Speaker wire terminals that establish connection with loudspeaker units are of two types, the spring clip and binding post terminals. Both mechanisms are easy to work with. In spring clip terminals, the clip is pressed down, the wire inserted and the clip is released and the spring loaded mechanism locks the wire securely in place. Binding posts have a hole in the centre for banana plugs and pin connectors to establish a secure connection. The collar on the binding post may be removed to accommodate spade connectors and the collar is refitted over the connector.
How to Buy Speaker Cables on eBay
One can buy speaker cables as spools of varying lengths ranging between 1 m to 25 m or just the required length. Various types of speaker cables along with the connectors are readily available on eBay. Thousands of listings of speaker cables and other accessories allow the shopper to select the best from a wide array of products and brands. Be sure to check on shipping: amongst many eBay's useful features is that sometimes items qualify for free shipping, making for an even better deal.
Shoppers can read details about the product and browse through the images uploaded by the seller. On products where the zoom function is enabled, shoppers can see close-up images of the products. Detailed information and images are generally provided; however, if doubts persist, shoppers can email their queries to the seller before buying. After receiving a satisfactory reply from the seller, the shopper can go ahead and finalise the deal on eBay.
Enjoying a movie on the home theatre system or listening to favourite tracks on the audio system is pleasurable if the audio quality is crystal clear. Even with top-notch audio systems, the audio quality sometimes is not up to the mark. Speaker cables are largely responsible for quality audio output, so cables are an important consideration.
Buying speaker cables is easy when one is aware of the types of cables, the designs available, the connectors that match the jacks on the system, and the lengths required. Speaker cables that have a good gauge on its wires, which translates as thick wires, handle audio signals without distortion. Whether wires are balanced and unbalanced makes a world of difference to the speaker output, as balanced connections have noise cancellation, improving the audio quality. Length of the wires and how far they run also impacts audio signals with long lengths causing signal degradation. Here too, balanced cables are effective in curtailing noise and disturbances.
Several types of connectors at the ends of the speaker cable, such as pin connectors, banana plugs, RCA connectors, and phone jacks, make it easy to establish contact with the receiver or amplifier, as well as contributing to enhanced audio performance. eBay offers a great assortment of speaker cables and all manner of audio equipment. With the right speaker cable, connectors, and terminal, users can enjoy good, theatre-quality audio in their homes.