Getting Wired Means You Can Chill
Spend extra money for speaker wire and component connectors, you must be nuts! Umm, I guess that makes me certifiable because altogether I have about $30,000 of wires in my two channel audio rig. Either I'm totally crazy (OK, maybe a little bit odd), or maybe we audiophile loonies may just be on to something. Hard as it is to believe, the wires that carry the audio signal from your amplifier to your speakers and the connectors that wire together your DVD player with your receiver can and do make a difference in sound quality.
Nordost Blue Heaven
The factors affecting a wire upgrade decision are twofold. One, how good overall the speakers and components are in your system, and two, how much you are willing to spend on wires to gain an incremental improvement in sound. These aftermarket wires can set you back anywhere from the cost of a Happy Meal for six to the price of a BMW. Assuming you have a five speaker surround sound setup and subwoofer costing in the $500 to $1,000 range, then your best bet may be to go straight down, right to the subwoofer. Getting clean tight bass is notoriously tough, but even modest improvements are clearly noticeable. After playing around to get the sub position right (corner sub placements can yield an effective bass boost, for example), buying just a single upscale wire to connect the sub to the receiver is the next right thing to do. At this surround system price level, good sub wires can be had for between $40 and $60.
After successfully achieving deep taut bass, getting a clean sounding midrange, especially for those female vocals, is the next sonic priority. And then you must tackle the highs so those cataclysmic cymbals truly crash and not merely go tinkle. If your speakers are in the $1,000 to $2,500 range then spending 10% to 20% of that amount on aftermarket speaker wiring will yield audible improvements in both the mids and highs (and lows, if they are full range speakers). If your speakers cost more than $2,500 then you probably are already in the land of the high-end audionut and I am preaching to the choir. And you already know that shelling out $10,000 or so for super-premium wires like Nordost's extraordinary Valhalla cables is not unreasonable considering what you get in return -- They are an amazing upgrade to your system.
Note that the wire upgrade focus so far is on speakers, not electronics. Speakers are the single biggest quality factor in the whole audio system chain. But after reaching a total system cost, including electronics, beyond $2,000 the wire picture changes. Replacing those cheap RCA interconnects that string your electronics together with quality wires becomes definitely worthwhile. Also bear in mind that quality sound is based on how well all the system components get along -- or don't. Component interconnects and speaker wires, just like all the other parts of your rig, have their likes and dislikes and best results are almost always obtained by trying out at least two different models or brands of wires (not a bad idea for electronics, either). So be sure your dealer has a good return/exchange policy. Proper component matching is the key to system success and a good, reputable dealer or installer can be an excellent source of buying wisdom.
Wire quality can also be issue; for example, make sure the interconnects fit tight but not so much that you need a pair of Vicegrips to get them off. And if a wire fails, 99% of the time it's because the RCA end connector on a component wire or the spade plug on a speaker wire is faulty. These naughty end connectors are usually not obvious and can be a huge source of hair pulling frustration. Finally, as a general rule it is always better to have longer runs of interconnects than long runs of speaker wires.
But long interconnects festooned about the Chippendale equipment cabinet are tacky and speaker wires snaking across the floor are dangerous. You may want to consider flat interconnects that can be tucked away flush behind that natty gear cupboard. Ditto flat speaker cables that unobtrusively run under a carpet. You can also paint these flat wires and make them disappear into the woodwork leaving you with nothing but good clean sound.
Copyright 2004, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved
21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com