What Audio Cables Should I Upgrade?
There are almost as many choices for connecting cables and power cables as there are for components and speakers. Here are some thoughts about picking the right ones for your system.
Let’s assume that you are currently using the stock cables that came with your components and you want to upgrade them gradually. The first cables to replace are the power cables. Good power cables will lower the noise floor and improve dynamic range, thereby making a noticeable expansion between notes.
Next, you should replace the connecting cables that carry the analog signal. The pre-amplified analog signal that comes out of a DAC, pre-amp or receiver is the most delicate and vulnerable signal. Invest your money here.
Speaker cables rank third in importance. After the signal goes through the amplifier, it becomes less vulnerable; and, if the cable is wired under the floor or walls, burying a high-end speaker cable may not be the wisest investment. In most home theater configurations, a standard CAT-6 cable buried beneath a plasterboard wall or strung through a ceiling will work well—and will allow you to spend your money on more essential cables.
The cables carrying the digital signal—HMDI, OpLinx, digital co-axial, or Ethernet—will not produce a profoundly audible difference in sound quality unless your system is particularly high end (ie. $20,000+ speakers, $10,000+ amplifier, strong front end equipment, etc). The digital signal is just 1’s and 0’s. Any good cable should give a good result.
Stock cables are low quality products. They are cheaply made and mass-produced, simply for the purpose of allowing the consumer to use the component right out of the box. Many audio manufacturers do not invest in stock cables with the assumption that the cables will be replaced. As such, you should always replace stock cables with products from Audioquest or another dedicated cable manufacturer. Even the lowest-end cable from one of these companies will be better than the stock cable that came with your component.
Most manufacturers of high-end cables offer products of different grades. Various grades (and prices) of cables pair well with different components. However, there comes a point when getting a superior cable will not produce a noticeably better sound. Buying the least expensive cable from a dedicated cable manufacturer is all you need for most “normal” consumer audio systems.
To summarize, the most noticeable improvement in sound will come from better power and connecting cables. Most consumers won’t need to spend thousands of dollars on an upgrade, especially if your system is a more inexpensive “out of the box” product. However, all would benefit from replacing their stock cables with products from dedicated cable manufacturers.