You’ll need speaker cable to connect your amplifier to your speakers and interconnects to connect your other HiFi components together.
The quality of your cabling makes a massive difference to the quality of your sound. You can easily hear the difference between cheap basic wire and good quality speaker cable. There are dedicated manufacturers of HiFi cabling who put massive amounts of research and development into creating cables and interconnects which will get the best out of your system.
If you use poor quality cable on your system, you won’t get close to experiencing the full potential of the other equipment which you have invested in. An analogue audio signal is very complex. Cheap basic speaker cable is usually basic copper wire insulated with PVC. It will get the electric current from the amplifier to the speakers, but it won’t provide the clarity, detail, dynamics and timing that quality cabling is capable of.
There are a couple of things which make up the quality of cable; the material and construction of the conductors themselves and also the performance of the insulation and shielding.
Better quality cables use oxygen free copper conductors that are often silver-plated. Copper on its own can provide a warm sound which can lack detail in the higher frequencies. Copper can also oxidise over time, causing a lack of conductivity. Adding silver plating to a copper cable not only protects the cable from oxidising, it also allows for more detail in the higher sound frequencies.
As the current passes along speaker wire, most of the current is actually carried along the outside of the conductor. For this reason, the insulation used on the wire also affects the sound! More accurately, the matching of the insulation material to the material of conductor effects the tonal quality of the sound. Silver plated copper wire can sometimes sound excessively bright and tiring to listen too, but by having a suitable material used for the insulation, the harshness can be controlled.
So the copper on it’s own can produce an overly warm sound. Silver plating it brings out more high frequency detail, then using a more suitable material for the insulation takes away the bright harshness.
Another important factor in the design of the cabling is shielding. Some cables have either a braided metal or foil layer on the outside of the insulation, with another layer of insulation over the top. This protects the signal from electromagnetic interference, which can cause drastic loss in signal between components. Some cables are shielded with string strands. Cheap cabling is usually completely unshielded.
Speaker cables can either be attached to the speakers and amplifier by clamping the stripped ends of the wire into the binding terminals. To provide a cleaner and more convenient termination, banana plugs can be fitted to the wire so that the cabling can be easily plugged in.
The most commonly used analogue interconnect is an RCA cable. There are used to link components together, such as, the amplifier to a CD player, tuner or streamer, or to connect a pre-amplifier to a power amplifier.
To connect to digital components together, such as a CD transport to a DAC, you need a cable to carry the digital signal. This is either done using a optical cable (also known as a Toslink) or a digital coaxial cable. Optical is fiberoptic, it works by beaming blips of light along a cable made from strands of glass-like material. Coaxial just transmits the digital signal as an electrical pulse.
As a digital signal is a simpler series of On and Off pulses, instead of the ever changing flow of an analogue signal. The quality of digital cables aren’t quite so critical. They do have some part to play in the performance of the system though. A bad cable or connection could create timing errors or jitter. Digital signals have to be written and read at a consistent and constant speed in order to be accurate. A lack of accuracy can introduce a hissing or clicks to the playback.