Are premium audio cables worth the investment?

How to Find the Right Cables for Your Listening Needs

While you don't have to spend thousands of dollars to get the absolute state of the art, using good quality audio cables may make a difference in how your stereo equipment sounds. 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 audio cable. That means that you have to rely on specs. On the plus side, these simple guidelines should enable you to find cables within your budget that will help you to rock out.

  • Good Conductivity: You want a cable that transmits electrical current with as little resistance, or degradation, as possible. For the best results, look for oxygen-free, multi-stranded copper cable (OFMC, for short). And generally the rule is: the thicker the cable, the better, especially if you're going to stretch the cables over a distance of more than few feet.
  • Shielding: You don't want other sources of electromagnetism to junk up the signals transmitted to your speakers. So look for a cable with at least two shielding layers under the insulation, such as a foil shield and a braided shield.
  • Connectors: Again, that's the part of the cable that plugs into the speakers and the audio source. For the best results, buy cables with gold-plated connectors, since that metal has extremely low electrical resistance and will transmit the signal from the wire to the speaker with minimal degradation [source: Home Depot].

But don't sweat it. As Audioholics critic Gene DellaSala notes, a standard OFMC cable with an AWG of 10 to 12 is fine for most living rooms, unless you're wiring the Bat Cave or the Palace of Versailles [source: DellaSala]. If you do need to stretch cables over long distances, you need specialized cable. Similarly, if you get fancy and run your audio cables behind walls or under the floor, you need to select cables that are designed for that sort of use. Check the label for an Underwriters Laboratories certification of CL2 or CL3 [source: Home Depot].