Author: Karsten Hein
Category: High Fidelity
We use speaker cables to connect the output stage of our receiver, amplifier, or power amp to our set of loudspeakers. While this sounds to be an easy enough task to perform, there are some considerations to be made to assure the best type of connection within our budget. As with all wire connections, there are the following specifications to be considered: resistance, capacitance, and inductance. Of these three properties, resistance is found to be the most significant, yet the precise combination of all three properties over the full span of frequencies will create the unique sonic signature of a speaker cable.
To assure for low resistance, speaker cables should be as short as possible and of equal lengths. Ultimately, this means we will need to place our system between the speakers, with the speakers themselves placed as close together as possible, and as wide apart as acoustically necessary, considering the room and listening position.
Since corrosion is the enemy of any connection, bare wire connections are not common among audiophile listeners. Instead of bare wire, two types of terminations are commonly used: banana plugs or spades. Mostly, the termination is soldered onto the wires, using lead or silver as base material. Screw-on terminations often displace the wire material and, with time, may lead to a poor connection. Low mass terminations, such as hollow bananas or thin spades, usually offer superior musical imaging with increased fine dynamics when compared to their higher mass gold plated alternatives found in many High End shops.
Cable designs often take into consideration the effects of interference on wires and the disparate characteristics of different strengths of wires. Kimber Cable, for example, braid their speaker wires and use different thicknesses of strands within a single cable, others may twist or externally shield their wires. Personally, I have found twisted tinned wires with beryllium hollow banana terminations to be the most musical in my systems. On the downside, tinned wires have some of the longest run-in times imaginable, with their full sonic potential taking 200+ hours of usage to unfold. Especially in the first few days, I did not find it easy to stay in the same room with them, given their at first poor sound balance. Just to compare: The run-in time for OFC copper cables is estimated at around 80 hours.