Does Wire Matter?

Naturally, whenever the subject of premium cabling for home a/v systems comes up, the important question arises: does wire really matter? 

The answer is that sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, and that when it does, it's a purely subjective question whether the improvement in sound or picture is really worth it.  Because we've seen some rather odd products being sold and some rather strange claims being made, we feel it might  help to take a quick, common-sense look at the cables in your a/v system and ask what they do and whether, and why, it matters.

Cables That Don't Matter

At the outset, let's start by looking at the big distinction between cable types: there are cables that carry audio and video signals, and cables that don't.  Audio and video are carried in various forms: RF ("radio frequency"), component video, composite video, S-Video, and stereo analogue audio are the principal, though not the only, forms.  These days, though, there can be a lot of other wire associated with an a/v system: telephone lines connecting satellite receivers and PVRs to the outside world, control cables allowing a TV to be used to program a VCR or allowing a PVR to change channels on a satellite receiver, and all manner of power cords, from the little transformer supplies for small a/v accessories on up to regular three-pronged power strips, extension cords, and power supply cables. 

Absent some sort of known malfunction, there's very little reason to think that replacement of control or power cables will improve your system's performance at all.  There have been a lot of strange claims made in recent years about power cords, and people paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for them; but the fact is that a power cord, so long as it's well-constructed and undamaged, correctly sized for the load, and driving a reasonably well-designed power supply, should make no difference whatsoever to the sound of your system.  The same goes for these other non-signal cables.  If they seem to be working, don't mess with them.      

Cables That Do Matter, and Why

That leaves us, then, with cables which actually convey information from point to point in your system.  The electrical principles involved in moving information through a wire are well-established and not really all that mysterious; if you would like to read a bit more detailed treatment of the subject, at the risk of slight brain-bending, take a look at this page, where we've constructed a sort of short lesson in electricity for you.  But the thing that you need to know is that a cable doesn't simply shunt electricity from one point to another without alteration.  The manner and extent to which a cable deviates from that ideal is directly related to the physical structure of the cable and its connectors.  In general, a cable does three important things to a signal: it (1) attenuates the signal, (2) contributes its own inductive and capacitive reactance, which can alter different parts of the signal differently--of particular importance, attenuating some frequencies, such as high audio notes, more than it attenuates others, and (3) exposes the signal to electromagnetic energy from other sources which can enter the cable and pollute the signal with noise.

The extent to which a cable does any or all of these things to a signal is determined by the cable's physical structure and the environment in which it operates.  Attenuation of the signal is directly related to the nature and configuration of the conductors.   Inductive and capacitive reactance result from the structure of the conductors themselves, their placement in relation to one another, and the nature of the material placed between them.  Exposure to outside electromagnetic fields is heavily influenced by the extent and type of shielding provided by the outer braid of the cable.   Ditto for the connectors, which contribute their own capacitance, inductance, and shielding characteristics, and ditto yet again for the juncture between the connector and the coax and between the connector and the jack.  So, while it's true that "wire is wire," the big questions are "what kind of wire is it, and what is it doing?" 

Now, it seems that there's a lot of mystery surrounding cables, much of it created by those in the business of selling them, and our experience is that the higher the asking price is, the deeper the mystery usually runs.  But the fact is that these basic, well-known aspects of an audio/video cable are the fundamentals which control whether it conveys a signal poorly, satisfactorily, or exceptionally well.  A well-insulated, well-shielded, physically durable, low-capacitance cable terminated with fully-shielded, impedance-matched connectors that make sound electrical contact with both the coax and the jack will outperform all comers--cheap or expensive--every time.  Electrons don't know how much you spend on cable; they only know what your cable looks like inside. 

How Much Does It Matter, and is it Worthwhile?

This is where things turn subjective.  Better cables will deliver cleaner signals throughout your a/v system; that's a fact, which can be objectively proven.  But how does that translate into what you see and hear when you watch and listen?  It's fair to say that people differ greatly in their ability to tell the difference between cables or components, and meanwhile, systems vary in their response to different cables.  We think you'll find our cables well worth the money, but of course there's only one person who can decide whether the upgrade in audio/video performance is worthwhile, and that's you.  We hope that by offering you these cables at a less-than-bank-breaking price, and with an unconditional 30-day money back guarantee, we make it a little easier for you to choose the ultimate in a/v performance for your home.


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