written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/31/2010
We look at what you should consider when buying Home Theater Cables and how to know whether or not you have the right cable now.
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If you've been dabbling in Home Theater as long as I have, you start to pick up little tricks and tips related to keeping your system not only up-to-date, but with the best quality you can get for the money. One such way to do this is to check on your speaker wires (if you already have a system in place) or to learn about speaker wires before you purchase anything. Let's get started talking about what kind of speaker wires you should be purchasing:
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The Actual Wire Itself
The wires to a speaker system have to be as thick as you can possibly buy without breaking the bank. The reason for this is evident if we look at the physics behind the type of electrical system we're trying to build.
As signal is pumped into the wire, the signal starts to degrade immediately. This is a real issue for audiophiles because chances are you have a cable running from your equipment to your amplifier and then out individually to each speaker. Don't worry so much about the equipment-to-amplifier cable, as long as you have HDMI or a TOSLink, you'll find that the degrading audio quality there is relatively low because those cables rely on transferring digital signal in a very short amount of space. What you should worry about is that pivotal amplifier-to-speaker wire.
Once the digital signal reaches the amplifier, it undergoes a kind of Golgi-esque processing to make sure that it reaches the right destination - that would be those red and black plugs you see on the back of the system. Those plugs work completely in electrical wiring, so you're no longer dealing with 1s and 0s, but rather an analog signal that is subject to degradation just like any other analog signal. That's why using a thicker wire will help - because as the distance the electricity has to travel increases, you'll want to be able to have a thicker wire to prevent signal loss half-way through the cable.
In order to ensure that the cable doesn't see a power loss mid way through, you'll want to buy cable that's at the bare minimum AWG 16. This number is a standard cable gauge measurement, so it shouldn't be an issue to find this kind of cable at your local cable supplier.
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The second page of our exclusive buying guide to speaker wires explains why connectors are pivotal to today's best home theater set ups. We then wrap up and give you our consensus on what should be done with regards to speaker wires depending on how much money you have to spend.
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Cable gauge is only half the story here though, buy AWG 20 and have it be stripped bare to put inside the red and black polar connectors on the back of your amplifier and you'll find that over time the audio signal doesn't have the same pop it once did.
In case you're wondering what I mean by bare wire, back in the old days of home theater, what we used to do in order to hook up a system without having to rely on expensive connectors, expensive cables, and expensive crimping systems was to hook up the cable wiring to the red and black connectors by simply exposing a piece of the wiring using scissors or a box cutter. This exposed wire would then make direct contact with the metal part inside the black and red connectors and you'd be ready to go.
But what I'm talking about was back in the late 90s. Today, solutions are far more elegant and crimping a simple cable isn't a big deal anymore. Ideally, if you have the money, you should buy a pre-crimped cable - take my word for it, crimping 20 connectors sounds easy until you actually have to do it. Of course, it all depends on which of the two fundamentals of life you have more of: money or time, as the two in this case (as they often are) are completely inter-convertible.
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In case you're looking for the in-a-nutshell kind of advice, here it is:
1. If you have money to burn for this project, I recommend buying a Monster Home Theater cable. You'll save yourself a few hours of work having to crimp connectors and expose wiring and not to mention you'll be getting a great wire at the same time.
2. If money is an issue - go down to the local cable store and buy the cheapest (but thickest!) piece of wire you can and expose the wire in order to crimp it with connectors (also sold separately). You'll waste more time, but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you made your home theater system entirely by yourself.
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If you want to read on about building your home theater system, check out these great articles: