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What to Consider When Buying Speaker Cables

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What to Consider When Buying Speaker Cables

A hi-fi system can involve an expensive outlay, and if cables need to be purchased separately, or to replace existing ones that are part of a complete system, there can be a lot at stake. A hi-fi system is a good example of a system that can be impacted. The performance experienced can only be as good as the weakest link allows. If speaker cables of inferior quality are purchased, then audio reproduction suffers. However, if the quality of the cables exceeds that of amplifiers and speakers, then money spent on the cables can prove to be a wasted investment.

Some simple research into the types of speaker cables available in the marketplace can help shoppers make considered and sound purchasing decisions. The process of finding quality speaker cables involves having an understanding of the function of speaker cables in a system. With its large variety of speaker cable options, the online auction site eBay is a valuable resource that can result in an satisfactory purchase.

Why Are Speaker Cables Important?

The quality of an electrical signal determines how well the sound from an amplifier is reproduced, and the resistance across all elements of the speaker circuit can determine speaker performance. The speaker circuit includes the speaker itself, the speaker cable, and the connectors at either end. The quality of contact made by connectors, along with the speaker wire resistance, are factors that can easily be addressed to ensure a high quality of audio reproduction.

An audio system, especially one that is assembled from individual components, delivers an audio profile that is the sum of its constituent parts. All parts of that system, including speaker cables, have an impact on the sound produced. Each component, including speaker cables, should be designed to introduce no major changes on the tone of music produced.

A number of factors affect the choice of speaker cables that work well in a particular audio or hi-fi system. Physical characteristics, such as distances for cables to be run over, the desired sound quality, as well as the budget have an impact on the purchase of speaker cables.

Composition of Speaker Cables

Speaker cables are responsible for transmitting an electrical signal from an amplifier to the speakers. The cables used should affect the strength and profile of that signal as little as possible. Other than precious metals, copper is among the more superior conductors of electricity. Copper is considered to be such a successful conductor of electricity that it is used as the benchmark by which other conductors are measured.

Oxygen-Free Copper

The more impurities removed from copper in its manufacture, the better it conducts an electrical signal. This is thought to make oxygen-free copper, or OFC, the ideal copper for speaker cables. Oxygen-free copper is produced using a process of electrolytes rather than heating with oxygen, which burns and leaves impurities. It is also refined to have further impurities removed. The resulting material is 99.99 percent copper. Although this t is an expensive form of copper, it is recognised as having an insignificant effect on the electrical signal, provided appropriate gauges are used.

The Gauge in Speaker Cables

One important aspect of speaker cable is thickness. The bundle of copper wire at the centre of a cable is identified by AWG, or American Wire Gauge, which is often referred to as "gauge". A lower-gauge wire has a larger core of bundled copper fibres, and the thicker the cable, the better its capacity to pass a signal from amplifier to speaker. The majority of speaker cables on the market have a gauge weight between 12 and 16.

Longer distances require lower gauge values. Generally a 16-gauge cable is considered adequate for cable runs of less than 15 m, whilst cables above this mark benefit from 14-gauge thickness. When cables are required to be run between rooms, long runs are unavoidable and may actually require in-wall cables. In-wall cables are designed to minimise signal loss as well as be capable of withstanding kinks and twists that arise from this type of installation.

Speakers are rated in Ohms, indicating how much resistance they have to electrical currents. This impacts the distance and gauge that they should be used with. The below chart provides the recommended maximum distance, in metres, and the gauge of speaker cables to be used with different speaker loads.

Wire Gauge

2-Ohm speaker load

4-Ohm speaker load

6-Ohm speaker load

8-Ohm speaker  load

22 AWG

1 m

1.8 m

2.7 m

3.6 m

20 AWG

1.5 m

3 m

4.5 m

6 m

18 AWG

2.4 m

4.8 m

7.3 m

9.7 m

16 AWG

3.6 m

7.3 m

10.9 m

46 m

14 AWG

6 m

40 m

18.2 m

24.3 m

12 AWG

9.1 m

18.2 m

27.4 m

36.5 m

10 AWG

15.4 m

30.4 m

45.7 m

60.1 m

Thicker cables are also beneficial when high quality audio reproduction is being sought, such as with a home theatre installation with 5.1 or 7.1 channel configuration.

For a modestly priced audio system in which the speakers are located in a single room and are close to the amplifier, a 16-gauge cable should deliver acceptable audio performance across the loudspeaker circuit.

Speaker Wire Connectors

Some form of connection mechanism is needed at either end of a speaker cable, and careful consideration is required to ensure that the audio signal is transmitted with as little interference as possible. Each cable consists of two leads, usually marked positive (+) and negative (-),  and it is important that correct polarity is observed when connecting both cables.

Speaker Connectors

Speakers normally come with either 5-way binding post connectors or spring connects. The 5-way binding posts have a central post with a screw-down connector that securely holds bare wire, spade connectors, pin connectors, and banana plugs. The collar is threaded, and it can be loosened to allow a cable to be placed underneath before retightening it to make contact. Spring clips use a simple spring loaded mechanism to trap either bare wire or pin connectors.

Bare Wire Connectors

Bare wires may appear to be a very straightforward way of connecting cables but, over time, they can unravel and fray. Frayed cables can lead to a short circuit. Bare wires that are connected with a pressure connector such as a spring catch can break, leading to a poorer signal and lower audio performance.

Pin Connectors

Speaker cables that come with pin connectors are easier to work with than bare cables. They can be relied upon to provide a good connection between cable and speaker, regardless of whether they are used with spring connectors or 5-way binding posts.

Banana Plugs

A banana plug has a single 4-mm post that has lengthwise springs that bulge outwards slightly, making them look like bananas. The threaded collar of a 5-way binding post has a receptor that is designed to allow banana plugs to be connected to the speaker. They simply plug into the middle of a binding post and are held in place by the banana springs to provide a solid connection.

Spade Connectors

Spade connectors are flat connectors with an open end. They are designed to fit underneath the collar of a 5-way binding post and make good contact because of the physical force used when tightening up the collar.

Speaker Cable Lengths

Speaker cable, regardless of its quality and gauge, can always have an impact on the signal it is carrying. If speakers are placed at different distances from an amplifier, then it is important to ensure that similar lengths of cable are used for both speakers to ensure that signals to both speakers are impacted similarly. Cables of different lengths can lead to speakers producing sound at different volumes if this step is overlooked.

Buying Speaker Cables on eBay

To find the available types of speaker cable on eBay, simply type "speaker cable" in the search bar on the eBay homepage.  Once you have entered your search terms, eBay returns listings for you to look at in more detail. You can begin to review each item description by simply clicking on the listing.

If there are too many listings, then consider the search suggestions that eBay provides to help narrow your search. eBay’s suggestions appear as you undertake a search, and one click executes them as new searches. You can also change your search term to something more specific, so "speaker cable OFC" returns listings with all of these words in the descriptions. Alternatively, using the website’s advanced search tool allows you to enter parameters such as price range, location of the item, as well as type of seller. Creating searches on eBay is quick, easy, and very flexible so that even a shopper who is new to the website has a high likelihood of finding what he or she is looking for.

Conclusion

Whatever the type of audio system installed, sound quality can be enhanced with the correct speaker cables. On the other hand, audio quality can be diminished if the speaker cables or connectors are of insufficient quality. When purchasing speaker cables, one must consider factors such as cable gauge, the type of connector, and length of the speaker cables.

Using an online retail platform such as eBay is ideal for purchases of this type, due to the wide variety of products available on the website. While conventional retailers may stock a limited number of brands, eBay’s online format eliminates issues related to display space or smaller variety of products. The website helps buyers find reasonably priced items, thanks to its auctions and a network of sellers in diverse locations. By utilising the website’s user-friendly tools and reviewing a seller’s background, one can be confident about finding the right speaker cables that can enhance an entertainment system.

 
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