Edited By: Michael Plasmeier
So you made the big decision to buy a new home theater; you go to the store and find the right TV, but then the associate asks you if you want to buy their premium cables for the optimum quality. In general, cables are high margin items that stores can buy inexpensively and then turn around and sell for a massive profit. However, there are also high-end cables that claim to provide high quality results, but at an astronomical cost. Do they really provide a noticeable enough difference to justify the high cost? Do cables that you can buy at discount retailers; both a brick and mortar stores and online retailers give you similar quality results at a fraction of the cost? Some people swear by their oxygen-free, silver plated cables with gold connectors provide a much higher quality result. However, many people disagree, and resent the expensive brands of cables and they are being told they have to spend significantly more for a cable to get the best quality, at then find out that it really doesn’t provide a noticeable difference in quality.
Cables transmit a signal through a conductive piece of material called a conduit, and transmits the signal from one place to another. One either end of the there is a connector which connects the cable to piece of equipment. The material that the conduit and connector are made of varies depending on what the cable is used for and the quality. Many times higher quality metals are advertised to provide better signal quality but at a significant cost.
Much of our modern equipment is digital, as apposed to older equipment which is analog. Old equipment using analog technologies need better conduits because the signal is the actual end signal and can degrade over time from a wide variety of things. Analog signals are called such because they are analogous because the signal being transmitted has direct impact on the final result. Since most cables are digital now, the signal an encoded copy of the original represented by a stream 1’s and 0’s, and because of this it is a more protected signal, it does not suffer from signal degradation. This is because it is digitized and the signal being transmitted is just representative of the final result.
Some cables are made out of these expensive metals, some are protected or what is technically known as shielded with expensive metals to prevent interference from reducing signal quality. The other use of these precious metals is having the connectors, which connect to the actual equipment to the cables so that the connections are the best they can be. One variation that supposedly increases signal quality, especially in the audio world, is oxygen-free cables. The lack of oxygen is supposed to reduce the impedance or the opposition to signal flow and provide a better quality signal since there is less opposing the flow of signal and therefore less degrading the quality of the signal. Jay Rose had a great quote about these types of cables in his book Producing Great Sound for Film and Video he said “In my opinion, the makers of these oxygen free cables should be kept in oxygen-free listening rooms.” This may be an extreme however, it drives home the point that many reports have concluded that oxygen-free cables have be repeatedly proven to not show any noticeable difference in quality of standard oxygen-bearing cables.
The other primary type of cables is high quality conductor cable. As previously mentioned, more expensive metals typically are better at conducting a signal, this is also one of many reasons why these metals are more expensive. The two most common metals used are gold and silver. The theory behind this is because these metals are more conducive to signal flow because it has a lower resistance to signal flow known as impedance. The lower impedance will prevent signal degradation and should therefore provide a better signal quality. Expensive cables have been put the test many times including popular technology websites CNet and Tested.com, both sites compared the quality of an expensive brand-name cable against that of an inexpensive cable. However, much like oxygen-free cables; the actual difference of these cables has not been proven to provide a really noticeable difference in signal quality
The final type of expensive cable is brand-name cable. The 300 pound Gorilla in the room is Monster-brand cables, but there are also other brands as well which claim to be “high quality” cables and claim to provide higher quality signal than typical cables. Sales people are trained to tell you that the higher cost of the cable would provide you with a much better signal quality and since you are already spending hundreds of dollars on the TV you might as well but the best cables to get the most of the investment. They do this because it brings larger profits for the store. Many stores will often sell large items like televisions for the price they paid or even accept a loss to have the lowest prices and then make the significant profits on accessories such as cables. These expensive brand-name cables are typically made out of better quality materials, but as previously discussed, those cables do not provide any really noticeable difference in quality. Many times the cables are just one of the previously mentioned types, oxygen free, high quality connector materials or high quality cable material. So with a “higher quality” product paired with a “premium brand” make the cables seem as though they are better than a store brand or discount brand cable from retailers. However, this is almost completely marketing hype and as with all those other “high quality cables” the cables don’t provide enough of a noticeable difference to justify the price tag as many testers have shown comparing the signal quality using both expensive and inexpensive cables.
So is there actually any type of benefit to buying these much more expensive cables? Well, there might be a minor increase in signal quality but, to be perfectly honest, the price isn’t worth the increase in price of the cable. Another important thing to mention is that it would be more productive to save the money on those expensive cables and just buy better quality equipment. Instead of dropping all that money on cables which only transfer signals between pieces of equipment, you can get better pieces of equipment which produce better signals and typically provide a wider feature set. This would provide a better value to the consumer than any expensive cable ever could. Remember that signals are almost completely digital meaning they are encoded as 1’s and 0’s and are much less susceptible to interference because the To get the best bang for your buck from your home theater system, you are better off investing in the best equipment you can afford and then buy regular, not gold-plated, oxygenated cables. However, one thing to keep in mind is the fact that even the non-premium cables in stores are significantly marked up to maximize profits on items that cost the stores very little to buy and then they sell their non-premium cables still for around $20 depending on the quality of the cable and the length of the cable. Meanwhile, some of the premium cables can cost up to $150 for a single cable depending on the retailer. Internet retailers tend to have the least amount of mark-up so they are usually the best option as long as you don’t need them right away. The most popular discount cable website is Monoprice.com, cables can become extremely inexpensive depending on the quantity purchased, they can cost under $2. Other very popular sites are Amazon.com and Newegg.com, both of which have their own brands that are very inexpensive.
There are two important things to look at when looking at HDMI cables. The first is which version of HDMI it uses, the newer versions of HDMI support newer, high-tech things such as Ethernet networking, audio, 3D video, and other “bundled” features. The other major thing to look at is the reviews of other buyers of the cables, because although price has been proven not to provide better quality, some manufactures are better than others and any good e-commerce website will have customer reviews so that people have actually purchased the cable can tell other potential buyers whether or not the cables are well made. These two tips will hopefully help find the best cables at the best possible price instead of expensive cables that claim to be much better at a high cost. However, the quality difference is so negligible it isn’t worth the high cost.