If you’re building a new studio and have reached the connectivity part, you’ve come to the perfect place. Today we’re going to talk about audiophile cables, whether they make a difference, and ways we can improve audio quality in the studio.
Until recently, audio cables were referred to as “speaker wires,” and this was hardly causing celebration. After convincing you to drop your life earnings on a pair of towering quadraphonic speakers, the salesperson at a stereo store might toss in a bale of the old twisted copper, plastic-encased material as a complimentary gift.
What mattered was whether you could play the newest Foghat or Aerosmith record at ear-splitting decibel levels. Contrarily, the speaker wire could have been more interesting.
True, but that was back then. These days, if you go to a large box retailer or browse a home electronics website, it will tell you that your expensive digital audio equipment will sound terrible unless you connect your speakers with a premium audio cable.
If you’re an obnoxious audiophile who thinks cables are the new bling, you can quickly drop as much on a set as a rapper does on gold and diamond-encrusted necklaces, which is to say anywhere from $30 to $40.
In what follows, we will discuss whether audiophile cables are better than standard cables.
Do Audiophile Cables Make a Difference?
There is no difference if you think switching out the cords on a TV or the home theater system will improve the audio quality. Using a different cable will only improve the sound quality as much as using any other cable—however, many claims to be able to distinguish one audiophile cable from another.
Manufacturers of audio cables and some reviewers of audio equipment claim that listeners are harsh to their ears if they do not choose and invest in high-quality cables. However, many audiophiles and skeptics argue that this is all hogwash and that the price is the only significant difference between cheap and expensive connections.
For example, magician-turned-skeptic debunker James Randi once offered one million rewards for proof that Pear Audio’s ANJOU cables were audibly superior to those of a less expensive brand. Likewise, a snarky online audio reviewer said he could achieve the same sound quality as premium wire with a few straightened coat hangers.
Wilson Rothman, writing for Gizmodo, argues that there is evidence that premium cables may better preserve the strength and clarity of an audio transmission than cheaper ones.
He says high-end cables’ internals are typically constructed of highly pure copper or silver or even exotic materials like palladium, which are more conductive than the materials used to construct their less expensive counterparts. In addition, electronic filters integrated into some headphones’ construction help remove unwanted low-frequency noise from the audio signal.
The real question is whether or not you can truly hear what is displayed in those impressive specs. There is truth in between, says CNet’s audio expert Steve Guttenberg.
The use of high-quality audio cable will likely result in a more precise, more accurate reproduction of the source material to the discerning ear of an audiophile with high-end speakers. However, those with less refined ears may not notice a significant enough change in sound quality to warrant the additional cost associated with switching to a different cable.
Streaming music services simplify tracking old favorites and learning about new acts. If you’re serious about music, listen to high-quality, lossless files on your headphones or stereo.
The internet rates available through typical ethernet cables are more than adequate for streaming lossless audio files; hence, using an Ethernet cable does not affect sound quality. Ethernet cables may reach up to 100,000 kbps, but the maximum bitrate of high-fidelity or lossless music is just 1,411 kbps.
Using an Ethernet cable will not negatively affect the audio quality of your laptop, speakers, or headphones. When you listen to music online, your computer requests data about the track over the internet and then plays the song.
The bitrate of the file and the speed of your internet connection determine whether or not a file can be streamed or downloaded. The amount of information contained in a file, measured in bits per second (or “bits per second,” or “bits/s”), is directly proportional to the bandwidth requirements for its transfer.
Depending on the use, there are six distinct classifications of Ethernet cables. The typical user will likely purchase a Cat 5 ethernet cable with a maximum transmission speed of 100 Mbps.
Using one of the market’s most reasonably priced Ethernet cables, such as the AmazonBasics Ethernet Cable, would enable your PC to achieve these maximum speeds. The actual download speed of your Internet connection also relies on your ISP and data package.
Your sound quality is unaffected by the speed of your ethernet cables, but the speed of your cables will determine how much buffering you experience with your music output.
How Effective Are Expensive Ethernet Cables?
Most users will not benefit from a more expensive Ethernet cable, as a Cat 5 line provides sufficient maximum stream delivery. If you, like me, have invested in a Gigabit internet connection, you may wish to acquire a Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable. Both of these cables have transmission speeds of 1 Gbps.
Some Internet service providers, such as Google Fiber, provide 2 Gbps connections; therefore, you will need a Cat 6a, Cat 7, or Cat 7 cable to achieve those speeds on your PC. Although some ethernet cables cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, they need to provide a discernible improvement when accessing the internet, particularly when streaming music.
One of the most ubiquitous pieces of technology nowadays is the USB cord. They were first introduced in 1996 and have since become standard in audio applications such as recording, playing back, and creating new music.
Despite widespread skepticism, there is evidence that USB audio cables affect essential factors like sound quality, DAC performance, and interference. Their impact is minimal, however, in the vast majority of cases.
Many businesses state that they provide the best audio cables and advertise their wares as being perfect for audiophiles. Unfortunately, many of these manufacturers sell their cables in this manner merely to enhance sales.
As a matter of technological fact, all USB audio cables will function the same. The most critical factor, however, is whether or not the performance improvements are evident. Over the past quarter-century, USB cables have changed how we use computers and listen to digital audio. Different USB audio cables cost anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds.
The importance of audio cables to sound quality is a topic that is frequently brought up in conversation. When we record audio or utilize them in live sound, particular instruments or microphone cables, for instance, are more prone to interference or noise concerns.
Because of the digital nature of USB cables, they do not degrade audio quality like analog cables, instrument cables, auxiliary cables, or XLR cables. A USB cable either works with the protocol you’re trying to use or doesn’t.
Some research implies that the analog output of a Digital-to-Analog Converter is impacted by cable length (DAC). It is well-known that shorter USB connections result in marginal gains in this regard. Remember that the difference is negligible and will likely maintain the USB cable’s sound quality before you rush out and buy the most costly short USB cable you can find.
Whereas investing in a high-end analog instrument or XLR cable can guarantee optimal sound quality and low noise, USB cables are significantly more reliable due to their digital design. This is because data is transferred through USB connections, not sound, when connecting a computer to a digital audio converter (DAC).
Therefore, there will be no change in audio quality, dynamics, or anything else due to differences in the USB cable’s electrical components. Before being sent via a USB cable, the audio is encoded into binary data.
Is USB Better Than Optical?
Digital audio can be transmitted from a source to a DAC via USB or optical wires. The answer to the question of which provides higher-quality sound is nuanced but crucial. Regarding digital communications, the primary distinction between USB and Optical cables lies in their formats.
Audio from the source is distinguished from USB signals by treating them as two different devices. This means that the PCM data from the source device is transmitted directly after it is sent from the audio driver. Digital signals are transmitted via an onboard chip in optical cables. Since the data received by the DAC is typically resampled, it is not strictly identical to the signal delivered by the audio source.
However, using a USB or Optical connection does not increase sound quality noticeably due to this distinction. Even the most attuned ears would need help distinguishing the two. Remember that if an optical cable is bent or otherwise damaged, it could disrupt the signal. This could decrease sound quality compared to USB cables, which are often more flexible and less prone to physical degradation.
On the other hand, USB audio cables are more likely to be disrupted by electrical and radio interference. It’s not common, but when it does happen, it can severely degrade the audio. Because of the potential for both types of interference to degrade the sound quality of an audio system, some users choose to use optical cables instead.
The effect of main cables on audio quality is a topic of heated discussion. People often report great improvements when swapping their ordinary wire for a rather expensive Hi-Fi mains cable. However, others maintain that the power cord does not affect the audio’s quality.
There isn’t a discernible change in sound quality when switching between different Hi-Fi mains cables because the differences in amp power and noise are so minor. In addition, corporations rarely share complex data to back up their promises, and A/B tests need to confirm the reported advantages that customers describe.
The primary function of power cords is to carry electricity from an electrical outlet to various electronic devices, such as an amplifier, a source of audio, or a computer. In other words, they aren’t involved in transmitting signals in any way.
To put it another way, they don’t act as a transmitter for sound. Therefore, they are unable to affect your audio signal directly. An audiophile cable will not alter the frequency response of your device. Notes won’t gain or lose any strength or punch due to the cord you use. Furthermore, there is no noticeable change in the form or shape of the transient signals, and the distortion levels remain the same.
The knock-on impact is not zero, but it is small. Your audio source can expect a low output volume if the cable has a high resistance. However, the difference is only one-tenth of a decibel after traveling for fifty feet fifteen and a quarter centimeters. Total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) is a second feature that distinguishes standard audio cables from Hi-Fi ones.
Here are some context-setting examples: A regular conversation takes about 60 decibels, whereas a hard metal concert can reach up to 120. A gain of only 0.2 dB is, therefore, negligible. The AC cables in the walls of your building could be more pristine too.
Because of this, the last few feet of cable between your outlet and your component won’t make a significant difference. It has been widely reported by those claiming to have professional recording experience online that recording facilities scrimp on main wires. The takeaway is to keep an ear out for further optimization options that could help you achieve better sound quality.
Can Power Cables Reduce Noise?
Using a Hi-Fi mains cable does not significantly reduce background noise. That makes sense, as a power cord isn’t in charge of soundproofing. Instead, the power supply is responsible for dealing with any noise. The entering ac signal is filtered and converted to a DC signal by components in the power supply.
Then, an isolation transformer is placed in the power line immediately after the point of entry for the signal, and it removes the high frequencies. The signal then travels through a series of additional steps until its voltage is constant and its slope is zero.
Consequently, the power supply will be responsible for virtually all the noise in your power signal. If there is buzzing or other noise from your speakers, the issue is not with them. This is most likely due to a ground loop problem, which it cannot remedy by using a high-quality audio power cable.
How To Find Better Cables?
You don’t need to drop much cash on stereo gear to benefit from high-quality audio wires, although doing so could improve the sound. On the plus side, if you stick to these basic rules, you should be able to find a set of cables that won’t break the bank but will still let you rock out.
The problem is, while you can go to a store and listen to different sets of speakers and compare how they sound to you, the salesman probably would object if you asked to hear the same set of speakers with different brands of the audio cable. This necessitates the use of corrective lenses.
It would help if you had a cable that degrades the electrical signal as little as possible while still carrying the electricity. Find oxygen-free, multi-stranded copper cable for optimum performance. And generally speaking, the thicker the cable, the better, especially if you want to stretch the wires over a distance of more than a few feet.
Any other electromagnetic noise should not distort the signals sent to the speakers. You should select a cable with at least two shielding layers (foil and braided shields) beneath the insulation.
This is the audio cable’s plug-and-play connector for the amplifier and speakers. Buy cables with gold-plated connectors if you want the highest possible sound quality. This precious metal has a meager electrical resistance and will ensure a clean signal transmission from your amplifier to your speakers.
Standard OFMC wire with an AWG of 10 to 12 is sufficient for most living rooms, as noted by Audioholics critic Gene DellaSala unless you’re wiring the Bat Cave. It takes specialist cables to be able to extend cables over great distances.
Similarly, if you want to get all fancy and hide your audio wires behind walls or under the floor, you’ll need to utilize cables explicitly made for that purpose. It would help if you displayed a CL2 or CL3 rating from Underwriters Laboratories on the product’s label.
How is Sound Transmitted?
When you listen to music on your stereo or home theater system, the system takes the digital data from a CD or other source. It converts it into an electrical signal before sending it to the speakers. The cones in the speakers vibrate in response to changes in the signal, recreating the sound.
Audio cables serve this purpose by establishing a physical link and a path for the signal. In its most basic form, an audio cable is just a bundle of metal (often copper) wires that can carry an electrical current.
To retain the electricity inside the cable and prevent radio waves or other electromagnetic sources from interfering with the transmission, the cable is coated with an outer jacket of plastic insulation and extra layers of shielding in the case of modern cables.
In the past, while connecting speakers to a stereo, one had to shave off a little piece of insulation and expose the end of the braided wire with a knife or other tool before it would fit into the spring clamp on the back of the speakers. However, most modern audio cables feature a pin or plug connector on the rear, reducing clutter.
The metal in speaker cables typically produces some resistance, so not all the power gets through, but in an ideal world, a cable would convey that current perfectly. That’s why the audio from your speakers could be more faithful to the original recording.
Unfortunately, wire resistance increases proportionally to the distance the wire is forced to extend. One solution to this issue is using a thicker gauge of wire, which improves the wire’s ability to transfer electrical current.
The American Wire Gauge (AWG) number indicates the thickness of a wire; the lower the number, the thicker the wire. For example, a 16-gauge wire is sufficient for runs up to about 82 feet (25 meters) in length.
The $20–$25 price point is significantly lower than the $40–$50 range often found in the middle tier. The price differential results from factors such as the complexity of the packaging and the allocation of a portion of the marketing budget rather than the quality of the sound output. A longer cable will naturally cost more, as more material is required to produce it.
The absolute ridiculousness rests solely on fabrications. Marketers know that specific consumers would automatically associate a higher price with lower quality. It’s not always true, and it certainly isn’t here. However, even a small number of sales will be worthwhile.
Death metal enthusiast here. I am a Romanian musician and producer with over 13 years of experience in the music industry. I’ve experienced all types of Metal up until now, playing Melodic Death Metal, Brutal Death Metal, and Black Metal with different bands. Learning by doing is my base principle, which is why I’ve been drawn to sound design from an early age. Read more…