A basic knowledge of wiring and cabling connections can still leave you scratching your head when it comes to figuring out what your entertainment system needs or deserves. Steven Hill of manufacturer Straight Wire shares five tips.
1. Leave room in the budget. For a system with a $2,000 LCD TV and moderate components and speakers, budget 6 percent to 12 percent for wires and cables. For a high-end system, figure 8 percent to 14 percent for average lengths. We urge consumers to keep their components close to the left, center and right speakers if possible, since these wires will carry the most information.
2. Be sure to test-drive. Many consumers spend even more after auditioning premium cables and finding the overall synergy still has good value. One of the great benefits of specialty retailers and integrators is their knowledge of high-end cables and wires. Consumers can be skeptical and think these items are sold just to make an extra profit, but those who have tried out higher-quality connections in their system are amazed at the improvement.
3. Seeing and hearing are believing. When looking for differences between basic and upgraded connections, trust your ears and eyes. Color bleed, sharp edges, and black levels are a few of the details to focus on when judging video. Look for increased focus, precision, soundstage and dynamics for audio.
4. Don’t skimp on any cable that’s put behind the wall. Once the finishing work is done, you will not be able to change the wire behind the wall. Be careful, because some integrators use inferior products in the wall-to-wall plates and run five to eight feet of something good on the outside. If the integrator or salesman does not suggest upgrade options, ask for them. You don’t have to buy them, just consider them.
5. Beware of the basic. Most cable TV, satellite TV and building maintenance guys hook up your system just to work with basic composite video and the cheapest cables they can find. Many high-def TVs and audio systems are hooked up with S-Video and speaker wire that resembles angel hair pasta. Ask a professional to use the quality wires your system deserves.
Still thirsting for more about wires and cables? They are the arteries and veins of your electronics systems, after all. Hill offers three “cable fables”—misconceptions you may hear along that need to be cleared up.
Fable: Interconnects don’t need to be shielded.
Fact: You can’t always predict the RF (radio frequency) and other forms of interference found in many homes. Many high-end interconnect cables without proper shielding or shield termination hinder system performance. Most background noise and grounding problems can be eliminated with well-shielded signal and video cables. These are not as critical for most speaker cables unless you are running them directly over AC power lines.
Fable: Silver is better than copper.
Fact: While silver offers greater theoretical conductivity than copper by about 1 percent, it has a different sonic structure (clearer and faster for highs, not as full for bass). Silver molecules are smaller and closer together than copper. The size and spacing of copper molecules makes them the majority choice for mid- and low-frequency applications.
Fable: Breaking in cables makes little difference.
Fact: Just as amplifiers and speakers will sound better after 30 to 50 hours of use, cables may have a one-time capacitive effect when the insulation is first exposed to the current. The insulation will stabilize electrically, giving greater depth and warmth to midrange frequencies, and the cable will sound smoother thereafter.
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