Do Expensive Audio Cables Really Make a Difference?

The audio cables you use when listening to or playing back music can make a difference in how you hear things. Your audio cables will translate the sounds from your source to a receiver. They will do this as transparently as possible, ensuring you receive the most accurate sounds from whatever you hear.

When looking for audio cables, you might think that you need to spend more on them to get the best results. Audio cables are often made with various materials to help conduct audio signals and get things to work well. But sometimes, the materials they use might be more expensive than necessary. 

These include some items that might not be easily visible when you get a cable ready. But the threat caused by these items can be significant, especially if you don’t recognize what you are getting out of something you want to manage.

But many people are willing to pay extra money on audio cables because they assume a more expensive model will be more efficient. The truth is that expensive audio cables aren’t going to be as effective as you wish. 

This guide will help you understand many aspects of how audio cables work and why sometimes the most expensive items you could find won’t make much of an impact on how your audio sounds.

What Is the General Price?

The cost to purchase an audio cable can be substantial in some cases. You could spend anything from $10 to $100 on an audio cable. The price will vary surrounding its construction and other features. 

But whatever it is you use, you have to look at where you are going with your work and have a sensible plan for whatever might work when you’re trying to get an audio cable working for whatever you need you to have.

The Main Consideration For the Audio Cable

An audio cable is necessary for translating the sound from a source. The design should be as transparent as possible, as it should not cause the sound quality to become weak.

Some cables can pick up noise after a while. Sometimes the signals will also degrade, making it harder for the sounds to go forward.

The audio cable must be planned accordingly and with the best possible results. You can use a suitable cable to help you transfer your audio signals well, although proper care is necessary for its success.

Conductor – A Thicker One Works Better

The first thing to see involves the conductor you use in your audio cables. A conductor features a wire or a series of wires that aren’t insulated from each other. The wiring setup will allow an electric current to move through the audio cable.

The conductor is measured in square millimeters or by an American Wire Gauge level. A model with a higher gauge number has a smaller diameter, thus being thinner. The thickest wires will have less resistance, therefore being more capable of carrying current.

You will likely spend more money on something with a thicker body. But since the thicker wire can handle more current, it will not be as likely to experience a blowout or other power-related issue. It can take more energy than other items.

You’d still have to review the quality of the audio equipment you’re using when getting your conductor ready. The energy output should be kept in check. You can stick with a standard model if you don’t plan on handling more energy in this situation.

Conductor Metal – Some Metals Are Better

All conductors feature a metal body that can convey electric signals and process them well. But the metal type you will find will vary by product.

Here are some of the more common conductor metal materials you’ll find on today’s market:

  • Aluminum – Aluminum is the cheapest option available. It does not produce as bright or clear of a sound as other wires.
  • Copper – Copper produces a more balanced sound. It does better in conducting energy, although it requires a proper coating to prevent oxidation from being a threat and harming the quality of the sound.
  • Silver – Silver is more conductive and produces a brighter and more noticeable sound. But they can also oxidize, so a coating is also necessary.

Silver is a more expensive component for wires, but it is more effective than copper. Silver preserves the quality of the sound better than other items. It conducts energy better than other items, providing a good body that is efficient for many needs.

Be advised you won’t find gold as a conductor metal, which is rare and exceptionally expensive. But it can work on the cable conductor ends.

Shielding – Is a Heavy-Duty Item Worthwhile?

The shielding over the conductor is necessary for its success and stability. The shielding will balance the ground, positive leg, and negative leg wires. The design allows the two legs to operate in opposite polarity, while the ground wire helps convey the signals and move them forward well.

The shielding will come with a few parts to preserve the body and support the grounding process:

  1. A dielectric insulator will prevent the current from flowing outside of the conductor body. The design ensures the current flow will stay intact without impedance.
  2. A metallic shield will go over the insulator. The braiding material adds a physical barrier.
  3. A plastic jacket will go over everything to create a flexible body routed in many places.

The shielding process ensures the protection of the wire while keeping the quality of the sound in check. But the problem with many shielding items is that they often come with exotic materials that might look more interesting, including some with fashionable alloys and compounds for use.

The more expensive shielding materials aren’t going to impact the quality of your audio cables all that much. The costly components will often be as effective as a cheaper item. The real difference is that the more expensive items will look fancy and engaging without adding much of an impact on whatever you have for your use.

The general question is how you’re going to handle your wires. All wires can physically come apart if you don’t take them well and store them correctly. The external quality of the wire isn’t going to be as essential to what is inside.

Connector – The TS Is the Weakest

The connector on an audio cable appears at the end of the wire. The connector links the cable between different devices. It is vital for producing the best connection, but its standard will make the most significant impact on what works.

The connector type on a cable can come in many forms, with some being a little better than others. But some of the more expensive ones may be more suitable for specific applications:

  • TS-A TS connector features a tip and sleeve as its contact points in a 1/4-inch or 3.5mm port. 
  • TRS – A TRS connector uses a tip, ring, and sleeve in a ¼-inch or 3.5mm port. It looks like a TS link, but it features two darker rings. It produces a more balanced signal, allowing you to carry a proportional signal.
  • RCA – You’ll use two separate plugs for an RCA link. These are different plugs for the left and right speakers. The RCA standard has been used since the days of the phonograph, but it can also work for modern devices.
  • HDMI – The HDMI standard has been more commonplace in the last few years, as it can support high-definition audio signals. But the HDMI plug is best for digital playback materials and other items that can handle HD signals.

An HDMI-based connector will cost more to use, especially since the material can handle more data at once. But you may not require an HDMI connection if you don’t have high-definition audio needs. A TRS or RCA setup will be suitable in most situations.

But regardless of whatever you choose, a TRS, RCA, or HDMI connector will be more effective than a TS one. The TS connector isn’t very effective in creating a consistent connection. It may not link to a device as well as a similar TRS model.

Solder Point – A Necessary Segment

The solder point is also vital to the success of the connector. The solder point that links the connector device together should not break down or come apart. A weak point will produce a less effective sound that might not work as well as you hope.

It is often tough to identify the specific solder point being used in a cable. But silver is more common, as it is highly conductive. But the small size of the solder point isn’t going to influence the cost as much. Silver may be a precious metal, but the minimal amount of silver used here will not be much of a concern.

The essential part of the solder point is that it is well-built and will stay on the connection for as long as necessary. A quality solder joint will be clean and shiny. It will also have enough of a solder compound that allows enough connection between the wire and terminal. 

A poorly-made solder will not be practical and valuable for your needs, mainly if it features a dull body and isn’t making the proper solid contact between the wire and the terminal.

Connector Material – Are Fancy Metals Best?

The metal on the connector will influence how well this portion works. The metal will conduct the transfer of energy from the main cable to the final spot for work. Silver will be the most common item used here, but gold is more effective.

Gold does well for the connector because it does not oxidize or break apart as fast as other items. It also responds to audio signals in less time, producing more accurate responses without lots of distortion.

You’ll spend more on gold connector materials, but the added cost will be worthwhile. The gold coating is good enough, as gold is rare enough of a material. The item doesn’t have to be made entirely with gold. A simple plating or coating is suitable enough for your use.

OFC – Works Well For Long-Term Use

One thing you might see in some of the more expensive audio cables around entails OFC or oxygen-free copper. OFC is a copper material that has less than 0.001 percent oxygen in its body. 

The oxygen components are removed to allow energy to move through without as much resistance. The design provides a more conductive body and is perfect for long-term needs. The wire will not be subject to oxidation. It also works without as much heat, plus it can work well in longer runs.

OFC is a helpful material, but it is not as common for your use. OFC cables are often prepared through extensive work and will not require any concrete coating for their use. The design provides a good body that makes it easier for the connection to stay functional.

But while OFC materials can be effective for a while, they may be too expensive. You won’t get any better sound quality from an OFC compound as you would with something more durable like silver. But the OFC material isn’t going to break apart while in use, plus it is easier to maintain.

You could benefit from OFC if you’re looking for a maintenance-free wire. But don’t expect its higher price to make it a more suitable material than something else you can use.

Length – Longer Isn’t Better

Many longer audio cables will cost more, what with these requiring extra resources for their production. While a longer cable may be convenient for your audio needs, it isn’t always helpful.

The problem with a longer cable is that it will experience signal degradation. As the signal travels along the cable, it starts to weaken. The signal becomes less efficient as it travels over more distance.

Longer cables are often marketed as convenient for many people, with the design moving over a longer distance and providing a better connection for more materials. But these cables will not work as well in many situations, thus making it harder for you to get the best possible audio signals in whatever you use.

Is a Bluetooth Link Going to Be Any Better?

You could also go in a different direction and eschew your audio cables for a Bluetooth link instead. A Bluetooth connection may sound convenient, as it doesn’t require any physical cables for use.

A Bluetooth link may cost more than traditional cables, what with it using more technical features while also being more convenient for most needs. But it isn’t going to be as helpful for your connections as you might wish.

A traditional connection will produce better audio quality than a Bluetooth link. The audio syncing process may be a hassle, as there will likely be a delay between the source item and the Bluetooth output. The issue is not as noticeable when playing music, but it will become an issue when you’re trying to watch a film or another video.

Bluetooth connections also require a consistent connection that might not be as easy to follow as you would wish. The connection can become disrupted by many outside sources, the least of which is the distance between the Bluetooth device and the primary audio source. Therefore, you cannot expect a Bluetooth connection to be any better than a more traditional setup.

There’s also a potential for the Bluetooth link to die out if the battery doesn’t work well. The sound will go out right away if the battery power is lost. You never have to worry about this with a traditional audio cable, although the cable would still need to be sturdy enough to work in many cases.

A Final Consideration

While expensive audio cables might sound helpful, you should not assume they will be any better than what you might find on the market. More expensive parts can be effective at times, especially regarding what conducts energy and transfers the content. 

But the exterior design and the length of the wire may not be as critical as you might expect. Don’t forget about the connection type, as some high-end connection options that cost more may not always be necessary.

Take note of how you’re finding audio cables by looking at your audio needs. Look at whether you need a fancy cable for your audio, especially when you consider its components. You might not always require something fancy.

Be aware of how much you could spend when getting an audio cable ready. You don’t want anything that is too cheap and may not be made well. But never assume that the more expensive and fancy models out there will be any better for your use.

Audiophile Haven

AudiophileHaven is a site dedicated to Hi-Fi audio, and helping others learn more about premium quality sound equipment.

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