Speaker Wire Myths

by David Lipscomb Google

    Stereo and home theater enthusiasts continually seek new ways to improve their systems. Realizing this, manufacturers and sellers of expensive speaker wire offer products using a combination of science and marketing. Unfortunately, sometimes the latter overtakes the former, creating a scenario where you may end up paying a premium for wire that does little to enhance your listening experience. Keeping a watchful eye on certain terms and myths will help you make a better purchasing decision and save money that you can invest in speaker and component upgrades.

    The Thicker the Better

    For longer runs, the thicker the wire the better. However, there is a point of diminishing returns. For example, in runs of up to 100 feet, you can use 16-gauge lamp cord without issue. As the distance from the amplifier to the speaker increases, you should increase gauge to minimize the effects of resistance along the cable. At 100 to 200 feet, you should move to 14 gauge. From that distance to roughly 400 feet, 12 gauge works very well. In reality, using extremely thick speaker wire for short runs might provide an impressive visual effect but almost no audible benefit.

    Skin Effect

    A commonly cited "problem" with speaker wire is the effect of higher frequency information tending to travel to the outer perimeter of the wire and lower frequencies trending toward the center. While this is electrically true, the effect is predominantly noticed over miles of cable in frequencies that we do not use for audio. This problem is "solved" by speaker wire companies using proprietary windings or other technologies that fix a problem you never had.

    Speaker Wire Lengths

    A common myth with speaker wire is that each length must be identical to eliminate phase shifts or a reduction in soundstage. The theory is that small time delays in the signal may interfere with a stereo image. Since the electrical signals on a speaker wire travel near the speed of light, as with skin effect, it may be noticeable over miles of cable but not over a variance of just a foot or two.

    Break-in

    Break-in is the theory that over time, the tiny electrical current passing over and through the metal speaker wire physically alters the wire enough to create an audible change. This myth is widely accepted as the amount of time it takes the average listener to adjust to the new wire, not a change in the wire itself. Wire "cookers" and break-in services are offered to perpetuate this myth.

    Silver Versus Copper

    Copper wire is by far the most common type used in high-voltage and speaker cables alike. Only silver exceeds the conductivity of copper, at most by 5 percent; however, the increase in speaker wire cost for silver is offset by a small or nonexistent improvement in sound. Silver wires purport to increase high frequencies. In fact, many copper wires are plated with silver, perpetuating the skin effect myth.

    About the Author

    David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.

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