According to audio cable manufacturers and some audio equipment critics, if you don't pick your cables with the utmost care and spend the right amount, you're cheating your ears cruelly. On the other hand, there are plenty of audiophiles and skeptics who insist that's a bunch of bunkola, and that there isn't really that much of a difference between low-end and high-end cables, except for the price tag. James Randi, the magician-turned-skeptic debunker, offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that Pear Audio's ANJOU cables sounded better than a cheaper brand [source: Randi]. One snarky Internet audio reviewer even claimed that he can get the same sound quality as premium cable from straightened coat hangers [source: Becker].
On the side of premium cable purists, Gizmodo writer Wilson Rothman says there's a body of research indicating that premium cables may indeed maintain the strength and quality of an audio signal better than cheaper cables. The insides of premium cables, he notes, tend to be made of exceptionally pure copper or silver, and sometimes even exotic materials such as palladium, which are more conductive than the stuff inside their cheaper cousins. They also sometimes have added design features, such as built-in electronic filters, which weed out low-frequency interference that shouldn't be in the music [source: Rothman].
The big question, though, is whether or not you actually can hear what shows up in those impressive specs. According to CNet audio expert Steve Guttenberg, the truth is somewhere in the middle. If you're a hardcore audiophile with top-of-the-line speakers, you probably will notice a cleaner, more accurate sound when you use premium audio cable. But for people with less refined ears, the choice of cable may not make that much of a difference to justify the expense. "It's like asking if you need to drop $50 or $100 to buy a good bottle of wine," he writes. "No, unless you're a wine connoisseur; most folks are perfectly happy with a nice $10 variety" [source: Guttenberg].