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Expensive speaker wire - worth it?

1562 Views 44 Replies 25 Participants Last post by  CINERAMAX
I'm purchasing a relatively high end audio setup, and am wondering how important it is to get high grade speaker wire. I was advised to get Harmonic Technology - very expensive! I'm pretty new to this stuff, and just wanted to know what the prevailing wisdom was of the benefit of high-grade speaker cable. I'm sure there are many people on both sides of this, but of those of you who feel it's worth it, could you tell me how audible a difference you feel that it makes? Can you really hear the difference? How subtle is it?

I will have runs of up to almost 30 feet, to the farthest speaker from the amp, if it matters...


- Dave
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Thanks for the info. So, it sounds like you're happy with the high-end wiring. Good to know!

- Dave
I have found eiring to make, quite literally, a huge difference. To the point that I would now consider the wiring to be the equivalent of a component in its own right.

As with any other component there is the matter of system tuning and getting the synergy right in the whole system.

I like the "family sound" of Kimber cables, but that is not to say they are neccessarily the best choice for your system.

So far, so not so much help then!!

With high end products, you may find your dealer has some burnt in cables (and yes that's a part of it) he can lend you to see if they suit....

Or if you are the hands on type, I suggest looking at some of the DIY site and designs for cables. Try Alan Maher's (APM) site, as listed over on Tweaks forum for some very good designs.

In my opinion very worth the time involved.

I hope this helps somewhat, I know this stuff is a minefield when you start!
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Thanks, Dave. I'll check out APM.
Good cabling is the last thing you do to top off your system. It won't fix a weak component, but rather will bring out the best in your system.

As a general rule, budget 5-15% for cables.

Make sure you listen to the cables in your system before you commit.


Migliore Theater
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Harmonic Tech uses a Single Crystal Copper technology to eliminate microfractures in the copper and thus reduce "quantum noise". See

the latest issue of The Absolute Sound for Dan Sweeney's review of Harmonic Tech cabling.

I have Transparent Ultra XL speaker cabling. We won't talk about how expensive it is. A lot more than Harmonic Tech. Although I have't tried the Harmonic Tech speaker cabling, fellow Aerial 10T owner and forum member Mark Davis compared a half dozen cables with Harmonic Tech coming out the winner in his Classe-Aerial system. And if I was to do it again, I'd likely go the Harmonic Tech route, given the technology behind it (combined of course with all the Bybee internal devices for my Bryston 7B amplifiers, Aerial 10Ts and CC5 speakers, Aerial SW12 subwoofers and Vandersteen 2Wq subwoofers), as opposed to questionable technology claims made by many high end cable manufacturers (including Transparent which I own). When you get into high end audio cabling, you actually find that Harmonic Tech isn't all that expensive (but it ain't cheap if you're talking 30' runs, either!!!).

Have you thought about longer balanced interconnect runs and shorter speaker cabling!


Steve Bruzonsky
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Steve, Rob:


Rob: 5-15%? I think this puts me at the high end of that...

Have you thought about longer balanced interconnect runs and shorter speaker cabling!

Not really. Actually, I don't even know what that means! I'll bring it up, though. I'm really going on the advice of a high-end HT Consultant/Installer. His estimate of the speaker cabling ($5K, off the top of his head), seemed like a lot of money for a bunch of wires! But, to listen to you guys, this stuff is really that expensive, and is important. So, I'll see about getting the price down, but will take his advice (and yours), and use the good stuff.

- Dave

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Another speaker wire line you should look at is the Analysis Plus. They are reasonably priced.

You shoudl definitely different brands, and try to match to your new system.

Generally I avoid cable discussions, in fact some forums forbid them and file them under the heading of tweaks.

I'm afraid though, when I feel someone is going to waste an enormous amount of money, that at least they should receive an opinion from someone who comes from the engineering camp who feel cables don't make a lot of difference.

I have received many years of education in electronics and have myself worked professionally in the field for 27 years. I know all the explanations of why expensive cables don't make any difference. I won't go into it.

The "cable effect" is indefensible, the science just ain't there, short of the advertising gobbledegoop you read in the ads. Most of the claims in the advertising is accurate except it usually only applies when discussing high frequency phenomena - RF. It just doesn't apply to audio frequencies.

Many will tell you they hear the difference. Do you think it has anything to do with the fact they just spent $5000. Maybe, maybe not.

Actually I have always thought of expensive cables as an art form - they look really great and demand respect because they're so darned expensive. I certainly admit to enjoying the way they look. They're fun, not effective.

Even if you have no electronics background, before you get baffled by any alternate claims and there are many, think about this. This is a piece of wire which can basically only have three properties - resistance, capacitance and inductance. It can easily be shown with formulas that at audio frequencies, the values of these three properties are negligible for the distances you require.

Keep in mind all the wire inside that set of speakers you're connecting your expensive speaker wire to is generally thin 16 gauge costing a few cents a foot.

The proponents of expensive cables put this science on hold and would argue only that if they hear the difference, it's there. You'll have to decide for yourself. Unfortunately the discussions on this topic always degrade to name calling and the thread is rightfully shut down. I'm not interested in going there.

I'm not saying to use cheap thin wire with poor connectors, this is a recipe for certain failure.

For speaker cables use zip cord with quality banana plugs at both ends. Ten(10) gauge would be excellent. It offers very low resistance per foot. At the distance you are mentioning it's capacitance and inductance will be negligable. The banana connector are excellent mechanically sound connectors and so make and keep a good connection. Use gold plated if you're so inclined - it is malleable and makes a better connection to the speaker post.

That's kind of a minimum acceptable requirement for any cable.

A good 30 foot set should cost you less than $100.

I too have a fairly expensive system, three Bryston power amps combined with a Bryston SP-1 processor and expensive speakers and subs. I consider it high end. I use 10 gauge zip cord for all my speaker connections.

If you or anyone else are bent on spending $5000 on speaker cables, then that is great. Good for you - I'm not about to argue.

I just wanted you to have an alternate opinion that just about every engineer around will also have.


[This message has been edited by bruce (edited 12-01-2000).]
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I've gotta go with Bruce on this one. Spend $2K on the cabling and buy yourself 3 spare bulbs for your new DILA...or 2 spare bulbs and a stack of DVDs.
Originally posted by bruce:

Generally I avoid cable discussions, in fact some forums forbid them and file them under the heading of tweaks.

I'm afraid though, when I feel someone is going to waste an enormous amount of money, that at least they should receive an opinion from someone who comes from the engineering camp who feel cables don't make a lot of difference. <snip>
Thanks Bruce for your opinion. Its not that I'm cheap (well, http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/wink.gif ), but I always knew that my 500ft roll of 14 gauge zip cord still made the speakers throw out sound. Yes, it probably should be 10 gauge, and I've never really used BANANA connectors, but its a whole lot cheaper than Monster Cable - which, at my level, is all I would buy.

Thanks also for going out on a limb - I'm sure it can be a heated topic and I hope it doesn't get out of control this time.


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Thanks for the input. Science! Bruce, your arguments are very compelling. It's been tough for me to understand how the cabling could make a difference, but people do swear they can hear it (including my installer), and why should I doubt them... This is very confusing. I really don't want to waste that kind of money on alchemy, but I want to get the best out of my system, too. Hey, here's an idea! Maybe I should get an A/B comparison of the same system with different speaker wiring!

While we're on the topic of controversial tweaks - how do you guys feel about power conditioners (also suggested for my system, and not cheap, either)?

Sorry if this is starting a war, but I'd really like to hear your opinions!

- Dave
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Dave, I don't think power conditioners are a controversial topic. Even Bruce would agree that clean power is important(BTW I pretty much agree w/ Bruce's speaker wire assesment). EMI and RF noise can really do a job on soundstage and high frequency detail. My suggestion is to get decent middle-of-the-road speaker cable like lower end Audioquest or DH Labs T-14, and spend a good bit more on the power conditioner....maybe $500-$600 on cables and maybe $800-$1000 on line conditioning. Then take the spare $3500 and buy yourself a DVD or two, and send the rest to me http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif


I too am one of those "prove it to me" people. In fact, for quite some time I wouldn't recommend high end cables to my clients. Then one day I met a guy who asked me to throw away my science and use my ears.

I decided to take home 3 sets of wire from work, to use in my system. I didn't change ANYTHING. My system at the time was a $1200/pr set of Mirage OM series speakers, a sony cd player and a denon AVR-3300 receiver.

The first set I tried were $80/pr. They sounded better than zip cord. In fact, the bass was much improved and the clarity was also.

The second set was a $250/pr set of standing-wire. WOW! I never knew my system was able to produce so much bass!

The third set, at $800/pr blew me away. In all honesty I thought I had upgraded my amplifier and bought a real cd player. The difference was awesome. So much in fact that even my girlfriend (anti-electronics) liked the sound.

Where I work we have Motorola to the north and Intel to the south. I get every electronics engineer standing with in 5 miles in my store. I have time and time again told people to try the cables. If you don't like them bring them back. I have only had one set returned. And he upgraded to even better cables.

Forget the science. The cables are as important as any other part of the system. If you don't hear a difference, return the cables. I've had people tell me they don't hear Cd vs SACD differences.... oh well. Sure, there is a point of diminishing return, to you that point might be low. Don't knock it unless you have tried it.


Dan Henderson
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I spent a lot of time auditioning about 8 different expensive speaker wires. In general I found that most cables either gave you better bass or a sweeter treble-but not both. The Harmonic Tech's were as good or better than all but one cable and at about half the price. The only cable that to me was clearly better was the Transparent Reference with XL technology.

Steve's point (several posts ago) was to put your amp between the speakers and run a long interconnect to the amp and shorten your run of speaker wire. Generally, interconnects are less expensive for the same quality of cable. This allows you to save some money or to buy a better grade of cable for the same money.

Cables can color the sound and can soften a bright system or vice versa so they really need to be done after your system is completed. Of course the ideal is that your system is so good that you want the cable to be as neutral as possible.

Audition as many cables as you can before you decide. I know that the audionut.com will allow you to try out Harmonic Tech cables before you buy.

Good luck.


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For the record, I have a B.S.E. and M.S.E in engineering. I'm a senior engineer at a major corporation.

Frankly, I don't care if anyone agrees with me or not.

I once took the position of Peter A (The Audio Critic) and Bruce. He wrote a multi-part essay that was actually pretty interesting. Long ago, Peter described how cables did not make a large difference in his experimentation. He measured the freq. response and found that cables approximated low-pass filters with similar freq. response curves. Peter found that the largest measurable difference was in the roll off between various brands. I once posted to this and other forums about how ignorant one must be to believe there could possibly be a difference.

To this end, I actually constructed my own set of cables for my reasonably high-end system. I cross connected a pair of Belden 89259 (copper coax, teflon, conductor, teflon) per speaker, twisted the cables to minimize inductance, and terminated them with high quality terminators. This cable recipe was recommended by Jon Risch, who published AES paper, preprint #3178, "A User Friendly Methodology for Subjective Listening tests", presented at the 91st AES convention, October, 1991. Measurably, these cables are quite superior to many high-end cables due to the low C, good I, and reasonable R. It is well known that the topology, configuration (biwire vs. single wire), materials used for conductors, materials used for insulators, wire topology (very important), external interactions/shielding, as well as the RLC impacts the performance of a cable. The question is: to what degree?

One day, an audio reviewer came to my home to listen to my system. He insisted that my cables were inferior and that he could hear differences with his Tera Labs cables. Frankly, I thought he was insane.

A few weeks later, I decided to do my own comparisons with several popular low to high-end cable brands to form my own opinions. For some comparisons, I also invited some fellow engineers, one with a Master's degree and one with a BSE, to help me evaluate them. The MSE was highly biased against cables as I was.

Results: The Harmonic Technology cables were significantly smoother than the rest. The sound was so much more fluid and realistic. The noise floor was quite good. Finally, the improvement in the soundstage was absolutely apparent and very significant. I was quite shocked by the results. Question: How does one measure the ability of a cable to project an unbelievably realistic soundstage?

To shorten this response, there were three partitions:

Harmonic Tech was far superior to the rest for the reasons noted above.

Straightwire level 4, Transparent mid-level, Belden 89259 cross-connected, Audioquest, and others were pretty similar -- much more difficult to differentiate.

Ultralink, bi-wire 12-gauge on bass and 14-gauge OFC, sounded muffled. Note that these are just pure copper cables, like those recommended by Bruce.

Re: representative sets. No, I didn't evaluate all the cables on the market. I didn't evaluate Analysis Plus, which I'd like to do sometime.

Also, you can see by the partitions that there was a set of cables that were pretty close, with widely varying price. As a result, be sure your sample set is as large as possible. Try to include Harmonic Tech.

Re: spending the money and trying to justify it. Actually, I had loaned all the cables and had not paid a cent for the use of them. I did custom order a slew of HT cable as a result of my auditions, but again, I didn't even purchase the cables I auditioned.

Re: cables in speakers. My speakers have bundles of varying thicknesses of 6 9's copper. The bundle size in inversely proportional to the frequency range handled by the drivers (bass == most bundles, treble == least). I do not recall the gauge, but they are quite significant. The cables are also extremely short.

Re: more wiring data. Bi-wiring is provably measurably superior.

But, in the end, you have to decide if:

a.) you can hear the difference, depending on the resolution of your ears or system.

b.) you can afford the difference.

I shotgunned (double run) HT cable to my front three speakers. I bought HT speaker cables for all speakers, HT interconnect from preamp to amps, and HT digital cable.

Enjoy the music.

-Mark Davis

* No affiliation with Harmonic Technology.

[This message has been edited by mdavis (edited 12-02-2000).]
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Look at PS Audio's Power Plants...

The word from many, many reviewers is that this device can make a significant difference. I haven't bought one yet, so this is hearsay from me, but there are lots of happy customers here on the AVSForum.

I hope to report my experiences with these devices soon.

Search the archives for lots of information. Read the discussion forums on the PS Audio website.



[This message has been edited by mdavis (edited 12-02-2000).]
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Science is based on experimentation. Why is everyone afraid to do a double-blind test? I hear stories about how "I picked up a $1000 speaker wire and wow what a difference it made!" That's not a true test, nor is it proof. IMHO!

Originally posted by mdavis:
Results: The Harmonic Technology cables were significantly smoother than the rest. The sound was so much more fluid and realistic. The noise floor was quite good. Finally, the improvement in the soundstage was absolutely apparent and very significant. I was quite shocked by the results. Question: How does one measure the ability of a cable to project an unbelievably realistic soundstage?

Thanks for the post! Very informative, and very convincing. The opinions of a converted educated skeptic are always very compelling. So, you've come over to the dark side, huh? EJ makes an excellent point, though - why hasn't anyone just done a double-blind test? Or even a "single-blind" test? This would be very easy to do, and would put to bed once and for all what seems to be a long running debate - about whether or not the cables have any affect at all. Actually, I'm wondering if you did just this - you didn't say what your comparison process was. When you did your comparison, did the listeners know which was which? Even better would be if you did something like listening to each cable 10 times or so without knowing what it was, and judged the quality... Without this, we're still left with one person's opinion against another's.

- Dave

[This message has been edited by Dave T (edited 12-02-2000).]
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The idea of doing a blind test is a good one and was planned already for sometime next year when our magazine starts on the web site. In fact, our very own Dr. Timothy Adams has already brought this up for my review. Based upon what we've found thus far, cables certainly can make a difference in your sound system. But, your system must be relativly matched and have fairly high-end speakers to hear it. The more problems you have with the links in your system, the less likely it's going to matter about the cables. In my view, I think cables should be the last thing you buy once everything is in place. Then, you can throw in any brand you choose to determine what's best. Note, it's best to keep the brands the same though for your connections otherwise you are compromising the chain and won't have a true test.

I won't say I've heard everything out there in cable land, but I'm certainly most found of Transparent cable. I'm using the ultra and refererence cables in my system along with balanced interconnects which really makes a big difference. The cost of such cables can be quite expensive, but if it's done in a well matched system with good enough equipment it certainly does make a difference in what you hear.

Happy listening,



Come visit our new theater site at: www.AudioVideoForum.com
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