When shopping for a speaker cable, you should not believe some myths like an expensive and exotic audiophile cable helps transmit a better signal or sound than most speaker wires. Of course, the type of cable in use makes a difference; however, it is not by any chance on the kind of exotic structure or material. Either way, you're potentially about to spend some serious cash. So, can a speaker cable wear out?
Speaker cables don’t have active parts that can wear out, with few exceptions. A speaker cable can deteriorate if the design doesn’t prevent any internal corrosion due to the bending stress and when the conductors experience severe oxidation that damages its crystalline structure.
In this article, you can expect to see more on speakers cables, namely what a speaker cable is, the considerations you need to make when choosing a speaker cable, the effects of resistance and length of the cable, and the best type of connector to use with your speaker wire.
What Are Speaker Cables?
Speaker cables are what you use to make the electrical connection between speakers and amplifiers possible. There are three significant properties that you should consider when choosing a speaker cable. The three significant properties are:
- Resistance: It is the amount of energy that a speaker cable loses during transmission. You will attain a good sound quality with more power when the resistance is low.
- Inductance: It involves any change in voltage due to the change in the electrical current. Fortunately, inductance does not play a significant role in determining sound quality. However, when its frequency increases, it becomes more significant.
- Capacitance: The higher the capacitance, the more charge the cable wire will hold at a given voltage.
Among the three factors to consider, resistance is the most important since it directly affects sound power and quality.
What Affects the Performance of a Speaker Cable?
You will feel the speaker cable's effect when its resistance becomes more significant than 5% of the speaker's impedance. To ensure better performance, you should make sure that the amount of resistance is low. Here are the factors that affect the performance of a speaker cable:
Length and Cross-Section of Speaker Cable
It would be best if you considered the length and cross-section of the speaker cable. The trick is to reduce the length of the wire but still ensure that the speakers are apart. It is also advisable to make the wires be of the same size to ensure that the speakers' impedance value is equal. Corresponding impedance ensures that the sound signal is delivered efficiently.
On the other hand, the cross-sectional area of the wire refers to its gauge or thickness. If you want a lower resistance, you should consider finding a thick cable.
The Conductor Material
There are several metals you can use for the conductor material of the speaker cable. The type of conductor you use should offer low resistance. Some examples of good conductor materials are:
- Copper: Copper is the most common conductor since it is cheap and offers low resistance. However, it is highly inconvenient since it is susceptible to corrosion when exposed to air. Therefore, speaker cable made of copper does not last long if they are not adequately covered and insulated.
- Silver: Speaker cables made of silver offer less resistance than copper. However, its price is not favorable and also oxidizes when in contact with air.
- Gold: Gold is the better of the three metals since it does not oxidize when in contact with air. However, it is costly and has more resistance than both copper and silver. Still, it can work on open terminals since it creates good contact.
There are different levels of metal purity. The cost of the conductor material may be higher, depending on its level of purity. You can therefore decide whether this has any significant advantage to the audio.
If you are looking for the best quality speaker cable, look for one that is made entirely of copper. But, if you want to save a little, look for copper-clad aluminum or copper-plated wire, which is a good alternative, and there is no plain dissimilarity in the sound quality.
How Often Should a Speaker Wire Be Replaced?
Speaker wires don’t wear out like most other components. Unless damaged or if the speaker cables suffer from being pulled, bent, coiled/uncoiled, or abused, they will perform just like they did when you purchased them. However, because speaker wires used in live performances are prone to damage, they won’t last as long as those installed permanently to power up equipment like those used in studios.
There is no exact duration that speaker cables will last, but you can expect to replace yours more often if they’re exposed to wear and tear. Having said that, you can replace your speaker wires when they become intermittent, stop working, or if you notice sound degradation or unusual noise. It’s also a good idea to have spare speaker wires in case your current speaker cables fail.
Types of Speaker Cable Connectors
The type of connector used to connect components together is very important. It is imperative to use the appropriate type of cable connector because it aids to boost the audio signal till it reaches the last speaker devices. Utilizing the wrong type of speaker cable connector and cord type results in signal loss and that will significantly affect the end sound.
Various kinds of cable connectors can help you connect your speaker cable to your speakers and sources. Your decision depends on what is available on the terminal ends of your equipment. The most common connectors include banana plugs, spade connectors, and pin connectors.
Speakers come with two types of wire terminals: spring clips and binding posts. Spring clips terminals are very easy to work with as they involve pressing down the clip, inserting the speaker cable, and releasing it. They work very well with bare wires and pin connectors.
On the other hand, binding posts can support spade connectors and banana plugs.
It is imperative to first cross-check the gauges of your speaker wires before purchasing any connector. It helps to ensure compatibility since some connectors only work with large or small wires.
The following is a video about speaker cables, gauges, and how to get the best combination of cable and connectors.
Advantages of Using Speaker Wire Connectors
The main benefits of using speaker wire connectors over bare wires include:
- Cable connectors facilitate a faster and easier connection.
- The connectors can last for a longer time than wire endings.
- It offers a reliable and stable connection with no loose wire strands that can cause a short circuit.
- The speaker plugs are durable since they are made of corrosion-resistant material.
Using a Bi-Wire or Single Wire Speaker Cable
There is plenty of debate on which between a bi-wire speaker cable and a single-wire speaker cable is the best. No matter your preference, they both have distinct differences. A bi-wire speaker cable is used when using two sets of connections on a speaker and amplifier. One set of cables carry the tweeters (high frequencies) while the other delivers the low frequencies from the amp.
A single wire speaker cable carries the full range musical signal through one cable from the amplifier to the speakers. While some people claim that a bi-wire speaker cable offers an open soundstage feel, others argue that a single wire speaker cable can deliver a more coherent and musical sound.
When purchasing a speaker cable, the most crucial factor to consider is the gauge of the cable. The lower the number you select, the thicker the cable. Speaker cables that are too thin have a higher resistance and result in the wastage of your amplifier's power and deliver low-frequency performance.
When choosing a speaker cable, you don’t have to pick an expensive option since it does not guarantee its longevity. You can select a cheap but good conductor and benefit from its services. Just as long as it is in spec.
Several factors can determine if a speaker cable can last for a long time. Such include the type of plastic used to make the insulation, exposure to UV radiation, ability to oxidize when exposed to high levels of humidity, and its ability to withstand stress due to constant bending. For a speaker cable to last longer, its conductor material must not be exposed in any way.