Coat hanger wire is just as good as a high-quality speaker cable

Coat hanger wire is just as good as a high-quality speaker cable

Summary: Believe it or not, coat hangers can be used as audio cables, and the sound quality is almost indistinguishable from systems with expensive cables.

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Here's a question that pops up regularly in the Hardware 2.0 mailbox:

Does high quality cabling make any difference to audio/video quality?

When you're in a store and faced with a cable that costs a few bucks and another that costs a few hundred bucks, it's easy to think that the expensive cable must have some special secret sauce that the cheap cable is lacking, and that the cheap cable is somehow going to offer you a sub-standard, lower-quality experience.

And if you're spending big money on AV or home entertainment hardware then it's easy to be tempted to go for expensive cables just in case you're not going to get the best from your gear.

And that's exactly what the makers of the expensive cables want you to think.

I've always maintained that there's no difference between cheap cables and the expensive cables, with the exception the price, the packaging, and the hype levels. In the testing I've done, I've never been able to see or hear any difference whatsoever between the cheap stuff and the big bucks stuff. And as we move from analog to digital, it makes sense that the cable won't make a difference.

Either those 1's and 0's are getting down the cable, or they're not. It's that simple. I always buy cheap cables and have been more than satisfied with the results they deliver.

But I'm no hardcore audiophile. Maybe people with better kit -- or better ears -- than I have can tell the difference between cheap cables and the expensive stuff?

Nope.

There's an interesting albeit old post over on the Audioholics forum where folks with some very good kit decided to put Monster 1000 speaker cables up against probably the worst cabling you could have - coat hangers.

The outcome says it all:

After 5 tests, none could determine which was the Monster 1000 cable or the coat hanger wire. Further, when music was played through the coat hanger wire, we were asked if what we heard sounded good to us. All agreed that what was heard sounded excellent, however, when A-B tests occurred, it was impossible to determine which sounded best the majority of the time and which wire was in use.

Needless to say, after the blindfolds came off and we saw what my brother did, we learned he was right...most of what manufactures have to say about their products is pure hype. It seems the more they charge, the more hyped it is.

The more they charge, the more hyped it is. Remember that.

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36 comments
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  • Believe it or not, any web browser works just as well, regardless of brand

    of tablet, expensive or not.
    iYawn
  • Excellent article

    and absolutelly true. But then some people believe that the sound is far better with Monster Cables simply because they paid 5 time as much. They'll swear to it.

    What's even more amusing is that Best Buy was selling like a $1000 HDMI cable or something. I found the site of the manufactuer and looked at their catalog.

    Would you believe an electric cord, the standard style used for computers and a whole range of electrical products, selling for $395!!

    The "shielded" cable was supposed to elimiate any noise pickeed up by the house wiring!
    William Farrel
    • Magic power cable

      A audio manufacturer I once worked for was approached by someone wanting to sell a $500 IEC power cable. We waited until he left, then laughed our tails off.
      MC_z
      • MAGIC POWER CABLE?

        Give your $ to monster cable or whoever if you want.
        I go to the hardware store/depot and get # 12 clear lamp cord by the reel 500'.
        It is identified for polarity(one side has a ridge, the other is smooth).
        Then go buy some quality audio equipment with the $ the monsters did not get.
        # 12 wire is good for 20 amps(20,000 watts) ac power.
        and knock the drywall off the walls when you crank up that new system!!!!

        The old saying is a fool and his money go their seprate ways.
        GASGTO73@...
        • Well, Mr. Expert

          Cranking up your equipment is going to damage your ears to the point where you can't hear subtle differences. The average listening range is around 80 to 85 dB for a home stereo. when you start cranking up the music, those subtle differences seem to go away because your ears are getting assaulted. Most pop recordings have so much eq, limiting, compression, and other signal processing, they can swap out a sampled instrument over the real one and you can't tell the difference because they are taking away all of the harmonics which can help one identify a real recording vs a sampled recording. There is a lot of criteria. Yes, to someone that can't tell, sure, why waste your money. But to someone that can tell, and it's important to them, then go right ahead spend what you can justify.

          When measuring equipment, its important to know what test equipment and testing procedures are being used. Obviously a $100K test equipment is going to be more accurate than some cheap massed produced test equipment that costs $1000. So, you might want to ask whomever is trying to sell you something, what test equipment was being used, why and what tests were they running and can you look at the test results from their product vs another product you are familiar with. MOST companies actually use pretty crude test equipment, believe it or not, but some use VERY expensive test equipment and testing for different things in different scenarios. It all depends on what level of expertise they have.
          RichDavis1
      • What audio mfg did you work for

        Was it PA equipment, MI equipment, home stereo equipment and was it a low end mfg selling products to the low end market vs the high end market?

        I'm just trying to qualify your position. Did you do any tests using expensive precision test equipment?

        On some equipment you might not be able to tell, but apparently there is equipment where they can tell the difference. I'm not suggestiing that that particular company makes a product you can tell the difference or not. There are a lot of products on the market and some companies are using VERY expensive test equipment to see differences in what might make a power amp or another product not get adequate power or filtered power. Some power amp cable companies use filters to reduce the noise level, which can sometimes make a difference. I've talked to one such company that does have patents on their power filters and I went through a bunch of equipment that I owned and they indicated which products would have a difference and which ones would not. They explained why certain equipment might have an improvement and which one's wouldn't. But their cables were for reducing line noise that gets into either the audio or video signal. The average person might not be able to tell since the average person probably can't tell the difference between a recorded piano and a recording of a sampled piano. Some CAN tell the difference. Can you tell the difference between a REAL piano and a sampled piano? Have you ever tested yourself with that? Some can actually tell the difference, if the recording is good enough on what brand piano was used as there are sonic characteristics of different piano mfg. And in the right conditions they can tell the difference between say a Boesendorfer and a Yamaha or a Bluthner. Some have exceptionally trained ears for that since they are around that equipment and the recording is properly done without any altercations to the recordings, which only some recordings are made. Most of the pop music is so altered, it doesn't matter, but to someone that listens to mostly reference quality recordings, they have their ears accustomed to listening to details that the average Joe can't tell.
        RichDavis1
    • LOL

      "The "shielded" cable was supposed to elimiate any noise pickeed up by the house wiring!"

      LOL, that's like trying to improve the ride on your wife's Camry by replacing the shocks on your Taurus.
      dsf3g
    • Well, he may have a point with that shielded cable...

      Well, he may have a point with that shielded cable, but there're a few problems: One, shielded or not, if it's not properly grounded it won't protect it from anything; Two, a ferrite core costs about a penny and does the exact same thing. :)
      olePigeon
    • HDMI...

      I recently bought one of those newfangled LED TVs, and then needed 3 HDMI cables. In one store, the cheapest cables cost 20 euro, for 1 metre cables. In the DYI store I bought 3 1,5 metres cable for 10 euro.
      They work great.
      CarlitosLx
  • From an audio professional

    There have been several variants of this test over the years and they're generally consistent. The thing to look for in a cable is overall construction quality: Is the strain-relief good where the connector meets the cable? Does the insulation appear to be thick enough to withstand a little pinching as the cables weave under and around furniture? If it's RCA, does it grip the jack well? Otherwise does it fit snugly inside the jack?

    These are all issues of basic build quality and it is worth paying a little more in that regard. But the oxygen-free/aligned electron/cold-sink silliness is just that.
    MC_z
  • People who think

    they can are deluding themselves. Electronics don't care and higher resistance in the wire would at best limit the max volume. Get over it, cheap cables are just as good electrically as expensive. There is NO electrical arguments you can use. It's just not true.

    This is the biggest lie ever.
    timspublic1@...
    • they can are deluding themselves.....

      With only a couple of exceptions to your post.

      [i]Exception # 1:[/i] Low level [b]audio[/b]. With low level audio, the materials used for the [b]connectors[/b] makes a [b]big[/b] difference. Many cheap tin plated connectors encounter reliability problems as they age. Nickle or gold plated connectors are preferable (depending on your budget).

      [i]Exception #2:[/i] Internal computer cables. As the [u]unfortunate[/u] owner of an early "personal computer", (a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1), the problems with tin plated edge connectors totally ruined an otherwise unique experience (for that point in time). The urging to keep a stock of `pink pearl` erasers on hand to clean off the oxidation was one well heeded. Those of us who tired of monthly teardowns to remove the oxidation found that by soldering on [b]gold plated[/b] Berg stick headers, and replacing the ribbon cable connectors with [b]gold plated[/b] IDC connectors; those problems vanished. Ever look at the contacts on most modern memory modules, IDE/SATA interface connectors? They are [b]gold plated[/b] for a reason.
      fatman65535
    • Radar

      Nah, the BIGGEST lie ever has got to be the radar & laser jammers from Rocky Mountain Radar. They actually improve the radar reflection, which is why law enforcement don't shut them down. BWAHAHAHAHA!!! Being in the U.S., you would think that kind of crap would be illegal, but nothing stops the almighty buck.....
      Tinman57
  • True...

    I suggest everyone conduct an actual, honest to god, double-blind test to determine how precise your hearing is. Some time ago I ripped most of my AAC's to 192 bit on my iPod. Had I performed double-blind testing before then I would have ripped no higher tan 160 bit and saved mself some space, because when I performed such a test I discovered that the highest bitrate I can reliably distinguish is 128 (I can distinguish 128 from 92). And my theory is that you should go one bump above the best you can distinguish, to give yourself a little margin.
    dsf3g
  • Capacitance, amps etc

    Some of the finest studio condenser microphones in the world (most of them vintage) are transformer coupled at the impedance conversion from Hi-Z to Lo-Z. The wire in those transformers are unbelievably thin, are long distance wound around bobbins, yet they pass the full audible frequency and detail exceptionally. Of course its low amplitude, but the preamp is more important than the cable. When talking about speaker cable its more important how many amps the cable can handle than its construction. Not to mention that most of the "snake oil" cables use multitudes of thin and thick wires and there is a slight amount of oxidation that can't be helped, plus the shield is a ground and they may be insulated between the wire combinations. Two conductors running side by side with a small dielectric between them (or even just dissimilar metals) results in a change of capacitance, which affect audio frequencies and losses. Its entirely possible that monster cables are actually slightly detrimental to audio, although probably not even negligible. BTW, gold connectors are also not good for audio. Most will tell you gold is a better conductor, but it isn't in comparison to pure copper, nickel, silver, etc.. Gold is used in connectors because it has very low corrosion (and yes, gold can oxidize under the right conditions).
    I12BPhil
  • Agree but some details

    1) Article (not title) lumped all cables together analog and digital. Yet it still holds true. Cheap HDMI cable works fine or not at all and so does cheap speaker wire.
    2) You have to compare apples to apples. On a high power system 20 gauge speaker will not compare favorably to 16 gauge. So buy cheap wire but make sure it isn't too small for the job. Keep the wire short as possible. So if cheap wire means small gauge and expensive wire means big gauge then you could hear the difference if the small gauge is too small. But given equivalent gauges you should be fine. Note that 16 gauge should easily be able to handle 500 watts continuously as long as you don't go past 30 feet.
    3) Patch A/V cords carry small signals unlike speaker wire so. But as long as the cable isn't total junk it should work fine. Keep these as short as possible to avoid picking up noise.
    4) Length changes things. So for very long runs you need to up the gauge.
    DevGuy_z
  • Lamp cord works fine

    Have always used lamp cord and it works great. Just watch polarity. I am no engineer but I suggest that unless I am comparing two or more audio systems side by side (which I never do) that the sound I get is pretty much perfect. Of course I don't have expensive equipment but for most everyone but the audio snobs there is not going to be any difference in perceived quality I think. Using better cables will not make your hearing better either, I know that for a fact.
    falonia
    • Well, obviously

      it takes a good room, the right source material, equipment to sometimes actually tell the difference. Some cables I haven't heard any difference, some I have. I just bought a Meridian USB Director DAC connected to my Mac and then it runs to a pair of powered Paradigm A2 speakers. DEFINITELY good products for the money, but not obscenely expensive my any means. Since my speakers can be connected by either 3.5 mm and RCA, I first tried 3.5mm since I had an Audioquest 3.5 stereo to RCA cable that I bought since I needed a long cable due to speaker placement. Everything sounds great. I then, for giggles, connected a lower end Transparent cable since I wanted to try something that might work better but wasn't obscenely expensive. I normally use MIT Cables on my home theater system and I do hear subtle differences with the digital inputs. Yes, I tried others first and they were harsh sounding, so I did compare those to others.

      Now, I got the Transparent Cables, connected them up to my Meridian Director DAC to the Paradigm A2's and it wasn't a small difference, it was a HUGE difference. I'm talking about a night and day difference. It was almost the difference between listening to a 16/44 recording and a 24/96 recording on a good system. to me, that's a HUGE difference. Well worth the extra expense.

      I will admit that depending on what brand/model cable, the equipment you are using, whether or not you actually have somewhat sensitive ears, a good room that isn't too noisy with decent room acoustics, one can tell differences in some cables. Sometimes not. Every scenario is different.

      It's like can you tell the difference between pitch accuracy? A trained musician can tell as little as 2 cents difference in a note, but the average Joe Blow might not be able to detect a 5 cent difference. If you've been around a lot of acoustic instruments in really nice acoustic rooms and listen to a lot of good recordings of acoustic instruments that don't have a lot of modifications in the recording process, then your ears are probably better trained to hear subtle differences, but if you are used to listening to typical commercial pop music, on basically low end systems, you probably couldn't with a lot of cables. Some maybe, some not. It takes time to develop one's ear to hear these differences and they are usually more noticeable when the music is at a normal listening range under 90dB. If wear earbuds and Beats headphones at loud volumes, listen to lots of distorted amplified music, you probably couldn't tell the difference.

      FYI. SkyWalker Sound that does classical recordings for audio and for film sound tracks uses MIT Cables. Bob Ludwig, who is one of the most prestigious mastering engineers in the business, uses Transparent cables in his mastering lab with his $100K Eggleston Works Ivy speakers, and ultra expensive Cello power amps. I'm not going to say that these PROFESSIONALS that are used to tracking, mixing and mastering classical recordings for sonic clarity that they wasted their money on expensive cables. THEY hear a difference. But one doesn't have to have the equipment they have to tell, it can be heard on less expensive equipment.

      Bottom line, first cables have to be broken in for about 2 weeks by having music played through them 24 hours a day for them to become optimal. That's a must for ALL cables. But depending on your system, your ears, etc. Some can tell both positive and negative influences of different cables in a system, especially when dealing with analog components.

      Yes, using those AB test switches affect the test.

      Now, the other aspect that I'm finding is that the people that are against high end cables haven't used the precision test equipment and testing procedures that companies like MIT and Transparent are doing, they may not be listening to them in the same environment, or be able to have empirical evidence against MIT, Transparent. Just some Yahoo CLAIMING they hear no difference is just as valid as someone saying they do.

      A lot of people put so little importance on cables as they just don't want to learn, don't care, don't have trained ears and don't know what to listen for, and those people aren't the customers of higher end cables. That's fine, but before you put down someone's 40 years of testing cables using test equipment that is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, has a lot of patents, and is used in criitical listening environments with respected industry professionals, then you might want to look in the mirror and ask yourself, what makes you the expert?

      I used to think it's crazy to spend $$$ on cables, until I took the time to learn about them enough to get my ears better trained on decent quality equipment and then actually perform my own tests in my own home. Yes, some cables I could hear subtle differences, some I couldn't. But there are a lot of variables at work and some cables are better matched for equipment than others and that's largely due to the output and input impedance on equipment. Not all pre amps, power amps, speakers have consistent impedences from brand/model to another and THAT affects the interaction with a cable. There is no such thing as a perfect cable that's completely neutral sounding. That has been proven by MIT. Call em up. They have test equipment and criteria that can dictate what a perfect cable SHOULD look like. They are attempting to come as close as they can and unfortunately, it's a lot of research, a lot of testing, and it's not cheap.

      But if $3 zip cord floats your boat, then fine, but don't put down someone else's R&D over the span of 40 years that has a TON of patents that can prove otherwise with MEASUREMENTS.
      RichDavis1
  • Subjective vs Objective

    Well, there is A/B testing and there is A/B/X testing. And then there is the subjective comparison over time... In most A/B and A/B/X testing there is a switch which becomes part of the evaluated circuit. This element nullifies the validity of the test when used to test cables, since the cable is now married to the switch, which has become part of the circuit under test. Also, the simple fact the makeup of the human psycho acoustic mechanism is somewhat goofy for the most part makes the fast switching between outputs rather tedious and desensitizes the listener to differences that are generally subtle. In this test scenario the listener is not relaxed and enjoying the music, but is under the stress of a test. So, unless there is a profound difference between A and B in some category, the comparisons tend to muddle. Having a background in electronics and component level repair, I see the value in the A/B and A/B/X testing method for components, but have come to value it less and less in the old speaker wire battle.


    For the sake of argument, one day I and a friend spent three hours listening to specific cuts from some excellent CDs using a baseline system which consisted of Krell components and B&W 801 speakers all interconnected with the top of the line MIT cable that was way too expensive. The value of that system at the time was way over $50,000. On the other wall of the room was a system with Rotel components and B$W 805 speakers, connected with Monster Cable, I think. We would play two or three cuts on the $$$ system and then put the CD in the "cheap" (less than a 10th the cost of the big system), move our chairs and sit back and listen to the same cuts. We did that three or four times to get a real feel for the things we felt were different about the presentation of the music delivered by each system. Then the sales guy installed a set of the lower priced MIT cable in the cheap system. We went about our routine and both of us noted that the cheap system had a certain liveliness and transparency that was closer to the presentation of the expensive one. This took us about three hours, critically listening and comparing. We came to the conclusion that the better cable would be a good addition to the cheap system in this case. It was too expensive for my pocketbook and the perceived improvement was subtle, but that is one of the fun aspects of music listening and equipment evaluating. I would be very happy with 14 gauge zip chord more than likely once the system is up and running at my house. But if I had the money for higher priced cables in my budget I would do some subjective auditioning to make my choice, not A/B/X testing...
    notme403@...
  • Agree heartily!

    WRT speaker cable, I usually just go down to Lowes and buy the "by the foot" lamp cord in 16 ga. for basic home stereo use. It's cheap, plentiful and man can exploit it. If I have to run cable a long distance and/or in places that might be more abusive to the cable itself, I buy 14 ga. rubber jacket two conductor. If color doesn't matter the orange heavy extension cord wire is great.

    You do not want to use shielded cable on a speaker run, the higher current can create some weird tonal changes due to capacitance issues between the conductors and the grounded shield. Also for long speaker wire runs, you'll want to use twisted pair wire of the appropriate gauge, 14 or bigger, to help reduce induced RF interference. I attended a church right off an interstate highway and the truckers' CB transmissions would sometimes come through loud and clear... made for interesting sermons at times. ;)

    One benefit of using "somewhat" more expensive patch cables is that the really cheap ones use very small gauge wire for the coax core lead; they break easily if pulled or pinched just wrong.

    I'm a guitar and bass player, so I've sprung for the Monster brand guitar cable once. The main benefit for that was a heavier jacket, and really solid 1/4" plugs on each end. No audible difference really; it was supposed to be especially made for bass guitar... yeah whatever. The main thing there, again like the patch cables, has to do with the hardiness of the wire itself and the quality of the connectors. I don't think the electrons care when they're only running 15' down the cable.
    peter.bittle@...