We are often asked whether it is wise to purchase expensive cables for connecting all components in a home cinema system. Although it can differ per component and per cable, it is generally not the case that more expensive cables also offer much better audio or image quality. In this article we put a few cables together and answer the question whether Should you buy cheap or expensive cables for audio and video?.
Before we discuss the different cables and whether or not to buy expensive cables, I would like to note that this article is not aimed at those who purchase a home cinema system for thousands of euros and therefore have a different ‘mindset’ when it comes to accessories. When you pay big bucks for a home cinema system, you obviously don’t want to run any risk with the cables and other accessories, you also have a considerable budget for this and an expensive cable is often a choice that can and should be made without thinking.
Cheap or expensive cables?
Most of the questions we get are about HDMI cables and luckily this is the one that is the easiest to answer. Various tests have already shown that for the average consumer a cable of 5 or 10 euros has the same effect as a cable of 50 or 100 euros. So don’t let the store fool you, even a cheap cable can offer you good image and audio quality.
The reason for this is that the signal is digital and may or may not be sent through a cable. The cable itself has no influence on the quality. However, it should be noted that if you are going to use longer cables, about 5 meters or longer, it is better to spend a little more. You actually have to spend more because there are not many long and cheap HDMI cables. Then take a cable that has higher quality materials for minimal resistance in the cable. Then you can be sure that the signal will also last over a long distance. So it is not the case that you have a poorer picture over a longer distance with a cheap cable. The signal simply receives too much resistance on the way, so that the receiving component, often a TV, cannot use it and therefore no image is shown.
Digital audio cables
Almost the same conclusion applies to this as for HDMI, but for optical cables (also called Toslink) you can pay attention to the build quality. These cables are more susceptible to breaks when you have to go through some bends and the connection can sometimes break faster than another cable. But, here also applies; don’t spend more than a few bucks for a cable. A good optical cable, made of good materials and with a solid connection, is also available for 20 euros.
Also for digital coaxial cables you do not have to spend 100 euros and with short distances you get the same quality of a 15 euro cable as a 70 euro cable. However, if you go longer than 5 meters, it is advisable to choose a cable with a better shielding so that the signal remains of high quality. It is also wise to look at the quality of the connector. When you sometimes shift some cables or components, the connector of a cheaper cable can break more quickly. A gold-plated connection is also recommended, because this will ensure that the copper connection itself will in any case not rust.
Analog audio cables and speaker cables
Opinions are quite divided when it comes to analog cables, and we’re talking about both speaker cables and analog audio cables that connect components. Without going into too much technical detail, there are quite a few differences you can find between expensive and cheap analog cables. These have to do with, among other things, resistance, inductance and shielding. Differences in quality between one and the other cable can arise at these points, but do you also hear these differences? The answer to this often lies with the person himself, the frame of reference and the home cinema system.
When you have a home cinema system that costs 500 or 1,000 euros together, the chances are small that you will hear the difference between a cheap and an expensive analog cable, if there is any difference. However, if you have a system for which you paid 500 euros per speaker and placed an expensive amplifier in it, you could hear the difference between a cable of 10 euros and a cable of 200 euros. Especially because you don’t buy such an expensive system without reason. Your frame of reference is already a lot more extensive than when you buy a simple system and your requirements for quality are higher.
All in all, there is a chance that you will hear the difference between a cheap and an expensive cable, when tested with the correct (usually expensive) home theater system and with the correct frame of reference. Compare it with wine: do you have to spend 50 euros for a good bottle of wine? No, unless you are a true wine connoisseur. Most of us can enjoy a 10 euro bottle just as much and not even taste the difference. In short, for the average consumer with a home cinema system of less than 1,000 euros, a cheap cable is in most cases an excellent choice. If you are a so-called ‘audiophile’, you will notice every detail and it is wise to make the right choice in cables.
Again, it must be said that when you start working with long cables, spending a few euros extra for good shielding is often the better choice. Especially for speaker cables, it is better to buy a somewhat thicker cable if you have to go through some walls or have to bridge a long distance (possibly even under the floor). A gold-plated connection for the audio cables is also recommended to prevent rust.