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Tangled Web: Revealing Previously Unknown Properties Of Audio Wire & Cable

Fun with physics, electronics and other audio principles.

Editor’s Note: Nothing discussed here is true… Right? :>)

Check any good handbook of physical constants and you will find that silver has much lower resistivity than copper. In fact, silver has the lowest resistivity of anything that is solid at room temperature, and is thus suitable for making wires.

However, the practical solution is to use thicker copper. Still, to avoid the debilitating nature of skin effects, the best solution is to use silver plated copper wire.

Of course, not to be overlooked is the fact that copper is reddish, and so will tend to brighten or warm up the sound, while silver, being white, will tend towards a neutral presentation, which can be tweaked with additional brightness by selective use of gold-plated jacks and plugs.

The type of wire insulation used can grossly affect sound quality. For example, rubber-type insulation acts as a shock absorber that dampens dynamic peaks (such as turning the crack of a rim shot into something more like a thud). It also has a high coefficient of friction, which slows the passage of sound through the wire causing the musical pitch to be lower.

To counteract this effect, musical groups have to tune to a concert A as high as 450 Hz in order for the correct musical pitch to be reproduced through the sound system.

The best wire insulation is Teflon, which is a very firm material with a very low coefficient of friction. This allows the sound to slide easily through the wires without dampening the peaks or slowing it down.

The colors of wire insulation should be selected according to light spectrum wavelengths and absorption. Generally bright colors are reflective. Therefore, bright colored insulation will reduce high frequency loses by reflecting high-frequency audio back into the wires thus maintaining clarity and brightness.

Dark, absorptive colors should be used for low frequency wire insulation. By absorbing and carrying some of the low frequency energy, dark colored insulation actually increases the effective diameter of the conductor — a good thing for improving the high current flow needed at low frequencies.

You should also rack your signal sources above your amplifiers, and rack the amplifiers higher than the loudspeakers. This is so that the electrons don’t have to struggle uphill through the wires to get the sound out. You’d be amazed at the difference that can make.

Also, both loudspeakers should be placed to the same side of the amp, so that the cables are subject to the same Coriolis forces owing to the earth’s rotation; failure to observe this can result in truly nasty phase shifts.

Of course, your mileage may vary…

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