Expensive cables=SCAM, and some reasonably priced, high-quality cable recommendations

Week of October 30th, 2005

Q: I read your excellent column that was ran recently regarding speaker wire. Do you feel the same concepts hold true for connector cables? That is, that there is no perceptible difference between most connector cables (assuming we’re comparing similar connection types).

Specifically, I’m wondering if the difference in HDMI cables that I’ve seen promoted makes any sense at all. I’ve seen a 4 meter Monster Cable “Premium HDMI” cable sold for $300 and a twelve-foot HDMI cable from Radio Shack for only $34.97. Can you shed any light on this?

-Gary Morgan, Minneapolis, Minn.

A: Interconnect cables are pretty much the same- wires don’t have specific sounds, including connection cables, and scientifically-conducted testing has confirmed this. There are some differences between speaker wire and interconnect cables, however.

Speaker level (high-level) electrical signals are too strong to be affected by anything but enormously high interference, which you would not find in a home. That’s why speaker wire isn’t shielded- no need.

Low-level signals carried by interconnects, however, are subject to interference, so you need a shielded cable and good quality construction to ensure reliable operation. This doesn’t take a fortune, however. You can get an excellent audio and video cables for under $20. I myself tend to use stuff from Wal-Mart, usually the Philips-Magnavox brand. Many audiophiles would fault me for using inexpensive interconnects in a quite expensive system, but if it doesn’t make a difference in the sound, why waste the money? It’s kind of like filling your toilet tank with Dasani or Perrier- money out the window, or down the toilet in this case because tap water flushes just as well. It’s not like I have trouble spending money myself, or recommend that others do so. either. If someone wants to spend $50,000 on home theater speakers, I stand up and cheer- go for it! But 12-foot long wires selling for $300- absolutely no way.

As for that $300 HDMI cable- HDMI is an all-digital signal and very easy to transport. The claims made for digital cables are preposterous, even more offensive to me than the claims made for other connection cable products. I have seen digital audio cable claiming it gives you “increased clarity”… HOW? It’s digital! It is either right or wrong and there is no way to enhance it… and if it is wrong, you will hear digital artifacts like pops and clicks, not reduced clarity. Get the $35 HDMI cable and spend the money you save to get a better HDTV, a new DVD player, better speakers, 250 Slurpees, whatever.

There are two ways I can see to justify expensive cables. First, if you have an expensive system the expensive cables will jazz up the appearance more than inexpensive ones will. Call it “Audio jewelry”.

The second reason, and this is a personal philosophy of mine- is taking care of your retailer, specifically if it is an independently-owned one and you are building a personal relationship, or making a large system purchase. The cables have extremely high margins- that is why they are promoted so strongly in the enthusiast magazines and in the big-box stores. I’d never spend $100, let alone $300 on a connection cable, but a few sets of $50 cables included in a large purchase, thats different. Don’t buy them because they will make a difference in the picture and the sound, because they won’t. Buy them to support their business operation and to thank them for the excellent service.

If you need good quality connection cables and like to shop online, I can recommend two specific sources. The Dayton Audio line from www.partsexpress.com is well-regarded and offers excellent quality at extremely low prices. (When you are at the website, check out the Dayton powered subwoofers selling for only $125 and $140. They are two of the best bargains in audio, and the budget home theater enthusiast’s best friend.) If you want something premium quality, check our Blue Jeans Cable at www.bluejeanscable.com. Unlike most wire companies, they don’t make unrealistic claims for their products and the quality is top-notch.

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