SPEAKER CABLES

UPDATED DECEMBER 2014

INTRODUCTION

CLASS A

CLASS B

CLASS C

OTHER INTERESTING SPEAKER CABLES

READERS LETTERS

INTERNAL LINKS

INTRODUCTION

Speaker cable development, over the last 25 years, has been disappointing, especially when you consider how many different cable marketers there have been and how much money some audiophiles have been prepared to spend to own the highest quality. To prove that assertion, it is only in 2004 that I finally heard a speaker wire that can outperform my reference from the late 1970ís, and then not in all circumstances.

SPEAKER CABLES AND THE AUDIO MAGAZINES

Some audio magazines have claimed that every cable sounds exactly the same. They're wrong, but cable differences are almost always grossly overstated in the magazines that do claim and report the sonic differences. They may still be an avenue to achieve the performance you are looking for, and are indispensable if the ultimate goal is to reach the highest levels of music reproduction in the home.

It is also sadly true that many speaker cables, particularly the ultra-expensive, are obscenely overpriced.

The so-called "mainstream" audio magazines will never tell you this because not only do the cable companies spend really "big bucks" advertising with them, they also give the 'reviewers' themselves their cables for free. Why not, the cable companies typically pay only 4% (or even less!) of the retail list price for them from the actual cable manufacturers. Markups in the (legitimate) audio industry should never have become comparable to those in the illegal drug business. The fact that this has actually occurred is a sad reflection on both the audio press and (mindless) audiophiles.

For a more in-depth discussion of "the relationships" between the Audio Magazines and the cable "manufacturers", and its inevitable results, please go to the essay "Underground" Audio Magazines, and check out the section entitled: Audio Cables-The Ultimate Test of Integrity.

Top

CLASS A

POLK (COBRA) SPEAKER CABLE (IN PARALLEL ONLY!)

This speaker wire (6 or 8 cables in parallel) has proven to be superior to every other cable that I have compared with it, at all prices points, for over 25 years now. It was even far superior to the $15,000, top-of-the-line Kimber at the Las Vegas CES show some years ago.

The Polk is extremely transparent, lucid, clean and extended in the highs. It is not for those audiophiles looking for something "euphonic" to complement digital or solid-state sound. It is the most revealing cable ever made and it must be used in parallel or else it will sound noticeably "lean" on low-impedance, or even average impedance, speakers. For same actual examples...

Based on our collective, long-term experiences, for a standard 6' length, eight cables in parallel will work with everything, and four cables with most speakers*. The rule is simple; The overall length must be as short as possible, with the added benefit that less cables (in parallel) are required at the same time (my own Polks, since 2008, are 3' long, with 6 cables in parallel).

The Polk does have one noticeable weakness; its bass transmission is not quite the equal of some of its rivals in both the areas of weight and impact, but its bass definition is still as good as anything made even today. Even more relevant, the Polk is now the finest speaker cable in only ultra-pure, minimalist systems (such as my own Reference System). The Coincident Extreme speaker cable, see below, has proven to be superior in most typical systems, meaning those that are using push-pull amplification (and, I assume, multiple speaker drivers).

*One Polk cable will work extremely well with tweeters.

The History

Polk Speakers did not manufacture this cable. It was designed and manufactured by a cable company in Japan (the name is unknown). Polk marketed it at the time as an alternative to the early Fulton cables (see below). According to an inside source, they were aware of what they had, the best speaker cables around, but they marketed it in the wrong manner. They sold it in single pairs and in very long lengths. Unfortunately, that is the exact opposite of the correct method for optimizing its unequalled potential.

The predictable result: Very few people ever heard this cable at its best.

If that wasn't enough, all of the reviewers at the time, with one notable exception, dismissed this cable as inferior, if not actually dangerous to use (with transistor amplifiers of the time). This all occurred when there was the initial explosion of cable companies back in the early 1980's. The unsurprising result: The Polk was quickly forgotten by almost everyone.

Polk-The Science Behind It

There are no "secrets" or "magic" behind the unprecedented performance of this cable. Polk simply has the lowest inductance of any cable ever made, which means it is the "fastest" cable, and it is also the cable with the most extended high frequencies.

The actual wire is very fine and pure, and it is very well damped on both its inside and outside by polyethylene. Both the resistance and capacitance are high. The resistance can be easily reduced by both shortening the cable and also running them in parallel. The high capacitance is not a problem for tube amplifiers, but it may be a serious problem for unstable (meaning usually older) transistor models.

Identification

The Polk is round* and about the same diameter as a common interconnect. Through the clear outer plastic, you can see the very fine green and copper wires, bundled together, and intertwined (overlapped) with each other.

(*There is also a flat version of the Polk, but it is not as good.)

The reason there is not a "short circuit", despite the numerous overlaps, is because every single wire has a clear insulation around it, which must be burnt off to make the required connections to the amplifier and speakers.

Building Polk-A True Project

Polk was never manufactured and/or marketed in its optimum form. It must be built using the original, raw, single-run cables. This will not be a simple, "fun" project. It is more accurately described as a true challenge, as I will now explain in more detail:

Caveats: The Polk is very tedious, difficult and even dangerous to build and terminate properly:

1. All the paralleled cables must be exactly the same length, or you lose focus.

2. All the "greens" must be in parallel together, and so must all the "coppers", never both green and copper "runs" of the same cable.

3. All the green and copper individual wires and "bundles" must be kept totally separated from each other or there will be a "short" (use a voltmeter to verify this).

4. A very high temperature soldering iron or solder pot is required to remove the clear insulation on each tiny strand.

5. The fumes, resulting from burning off the insulation, are toxic.

6. The paralleled cables should be in as intimate contact as possible, to reduce both micro-vibrations and inductance.

Further- Amazingly, the Polk cables were made out of copper. Only one audio reviewer heard (and measured) the potential of this cable when it was available, brand new, 30 years ago; Peter Moncrieff of International Audio Review. Here is part of what he wrote in IAR Issue No #9:

"If only Polk's resistance were lower, it would be a virtually perfect speaker cable...The beautifully flat error curve of Polk suggests a plan for creating the virtually perfect cable: run many Polks in parallel."

I, and a few of my associates, just followed Peter Moncrieff's theoretical "plan", and it actually worked. That's why it is still in Class A after all these years.

Further (11/05)- This Japanese designed and manufactured speaker cable, only marketed by Polk in North America, was also sold in Europe by another name. This was unknown to me until I received this e-mail from a reader:

"Here in Norway, the Polk Cobra (speaker cable) was sold under the name Monitor Audio. I bought a pair of Polk Cobra on ebay last year, and they are identical to the Monitor Audio I have. I bought the Monitor Audio back in the early eighties."

Personal Note- Needless to say, my description for the Polk Speaker Cable now also applies to the equivalent Monitor Audio speaker cable, and so do all the respective caveats and warnings.

Digital Pictures

These pictures will allow clear identification and should also clarify my detailed termination instructions, already posted above. Many people have asked me for these pictures over the years, and they now finally exist:

1. My Current Reference Speaker Cables: They are 3' in length and have 6 Polk cables in parallel

Polk Cables 001


2. An ultra close-up of the terminations of the cables above.

Polk Cables 002


3. The two slightly different types of (round) Polk cables.

Polk Cables 003


COINCIDENT EXTREME SPEAKER CABLE

This cable did what no other speaker cable has done in the last 25 years; it outperformed the Polk Speaker Cable, head to head, and it was my own (8') Polk cable that it beat out, so there was no chance of an inferior pair creating a false outcome. In the past, the Polk, my own Polk, has always been better than any speaker cable I've compared it with, no matter what the system, no matter how "cold" the Polk was, literally or figuratively, no matter what music was being played. This time it wasn't better.

I was too shocked to remember all the details, but the Polk sounded murky, veiled and compressed by comparison. This incident happened in June 2004, on one of my trips to Toronto, my former home for decades. Since this was highly unexpected, I decided to make some more direct comparisons, and with other experienced listeners present.

A Second Audition and Comparison-In my own System

I then borrowed a pair of these new "Extreme" speaker cables to use in my own system, in Florida. I heard them for a while alone, and then with one of my associates. We, of course, made another direct comparison with my own (reference) Polk Cables. The results were surprising (and confusing to me at the time), because they directly contradicted the results I had heard earlier in Toronto. I even delayed posting my/our observations until I could make some sort of consistent and rational sense to them. After an investigation, reconstruction and analysis of all the listening comparisons, I feel I now know and understand what happened, and why.

To cut to the ending; the initial comparisons between the two speaker cables in Toronto were made with a (highly modified) push-pull pentode based tube amplifier (Stromberg-Carlson AP-55). The comparisons in my own system were with a (highly-modified) Single Ended Triode amplifier (Golden Tube 300B). The Coincident Extreme was superior in the former comparison, while the Polk was superior in the latter comparison (it had more inner detail and low-level information, better focus and less homogenization). The Coincident Extreme, in both comparisons however, sounded louder and more "upfront", and it also had superior bass impact and weight.

Why the differences? Just as I discussed in detail with the AP55 versus the Coincident MP 300B amplifiers, the inherent sonic problems of all push-pull amplifiers, including even the finest using tubes, can and will obscure the subtle, rare and most important qualities of the finest software and other hardware, and, in this instance, speaker cables. This has now become an "Audio Truth" to me, based strictly on my (our) experiences. While I've long "believed" in it as a "working theory", my two 2004 ("ice water in your face") experiences have made it into a "Basic Rule", which is quite different.

Current Perspective and Evaluation

I believe the Coincident Extreme will outperform the Polk, and every other speaker cable that I've heard, in most systems. Plus it is actually available new, which means it can be custom terminated at optimum lengths. It is relatively expensive, but it's far from "crazy priced" ($ 1,695 for an 8' Pair). It's flexible and appears thinner than average, but this is only because Israel Blume, the owner/designer, decided to eliminate all the costly (in money and sonics) "filler" that is typically added to the actual transmission cable. Why then include the filler in the first place? Because many audiophiles also need to impress their eyes when they purchase their components, including (maybe even especially) their cables.

What about the Polk? Why do I still have it in Class A? Because the Polk, when heard at its absolute best, which means with "all-out", ultra-purist, minimalist systems, is still the finest overall speaker cable that I've heard. I realize that hearing it at its best is somewhat difficult to accomplish, but then this entire website is dedicated to all-out and "extreme" measures to reach the highest possible levels of music reproduction, regardless of the inevitable impracticalities.

Further, the Polk takes considerable time, effort and resources to find and build. The Coincident Extreme has now converted the Polk into a fringe cable for serious "purists" (such as myself) and dedicated DIY hobbyists. Actually, and ironically, it's the Polk itself that is now "Extreme", in more than one sense of that word.


Top

CLASS B

Nothing at this time

Top

CLASS C

Nothing at this time

Top

Other Interesting Speaker Cables

WIREWORLD GOLD & SILVER ECLIPSE III- These were among the finest speaker cables I know of manufactured in the late 1990's. The Silver is exactly one half of the Gold. Unfortunately, both are a lot of money, especially the Gold, which is double the price of the Silver. They are also very stiff and difficult to work with, but that is only an issue if you are constantly changing components or positions. Considering it took 20 years to even approach the reference cable (Polk), I donít have much hope for improvement in the future.

These are both silver cables and with pure silver connectors. This cable is very accurate and revealing and it is not for audiophiles who are looking for a "pleasant" or "forgiving" sound. The Polk cables above are even more revealing, have a quieter, darker background and a more focused sound. The Wireworld cables are more "up-front" and "exciting" to listen to than the Polks, and they also have superior bass reproduction. So, some listeners might still prefer them overall to the Polks.

Note- I have not directly compared these cables to the much less expensive Coincident Extreme cables above.

GOERTZ SILVER (TOP OF THE LINE)- This cable is very fast, extended, transparent and clean. It also has very low inductance and high capacitance like the Polk. Some amplifiers may have problems with these cables. Like the Polk, this is also very neutral and revealing, and not recommended for euphonic filtering. I haven't heard their latest models.

COINCIDENT TRS- This is the "Reference" cable that Coincident claimed was even better, overall, than the Polk. (Israel Blume of Coincident agrees with me that the Polk has been superior to all the other speaker cables until this time, including his own original CST 1, just below.) It is around double the price of their original (CST) model, $ 1,100 for an 8' pair.

I have heard this new Coincident TRS cable in my own system, after a thorough break-in, and it is a noticeable improvement over the original CST 1. It has a larger, more focused and detailed sound and it is also more dynamic and upfront.

However, it is not as good as the Polk in the most important areas of music reproduction, low-level information, ultimate transparency etc. It is better in bass impact, and it is also a little more "upfront", which is probably caused by its lower resistance. Two other experienced (and objective) listeners agreed with this assessment.

I was not able to directly compare the TRS to the other Class B cables above, but the differences, from memory, will be similar to those of the CST 1, though the disadvantages will be reduced and its strengths enhanced.

COINCIDENT CST 1- This well-made cable is in some ways competitive to those above, but it is far less expensive. It is superior to the other Class C cables, though the others may prove more desirable in system matching, and the inexpensive Goertz may still have more high-frequency extension and detail.

It is made out of 6-Nine copper. This cable is $ 600 (US) for an 8' pair. Its main strengths are its focus, smoothness and powerful bass transmission, but it doesn't have the same sense of "immediacy" or "aliveness" as either the best Wireworlds or the Goertz, in Class B. The new TRS is also noticeably superior, though they have some common "family" traits, as can be expected.

This cable, and the more "all-out" and expensive version of it (the Reference), appear to work particularly well with Coincident's own speakers, which shouldn't be surprising.

WIREWORLD POLARIS & EQUINOX III- These cables are similar in configuration to the Eclipse series above, but use copper and a lesser quality dielectric. They are still very neutral and revealing, but they donít disappear or have their siblingsí unique immediate and "alive" qualities. These cables are also not recommended for those who are looking for a particular sound that complements some problem with their system.

CARDAS NEUTRAL REFERENCE & HEXLINK FAMILY- These cables (there are a few different models) are basically neutral but still forgiving. They are slightly warmer and more full-bodied than pure neutral, like the Magus/Luminescence preamplifiers. The recent Neutral Reference has the least of these qualities. These are recommended for those who want to complement digital or solid state problems, or for those who prefer a warmer than pure neutral sound.

GOERTZ (LOWER PRICED)- These "ribbon" cables are excellent performers. This includes the entire copper series and the less expensive (narrower) of the silver series. They sound similar to the Polk, but lack the inner detail. However, these are available and arenít "crazy money".

CAVEAT: Some amplifiers have stability problems with these cables, mainly because of their higher than average capacitance.

FULTON- These cables, there were two models, "Brown" and "Gold", were very popular in the late 1970's and early 1980's. In fact, I was a dealer for them for a while. As far as I know, they were the first "audiophile" speaker cables, so they actually created this new "component" category. They were never that good and now they are obsolete.

Basically, they were extra thick, copper, lamp cord wire, like standard Monster cable, but with silver plating. The Brown was 12 or 10 gauge, while the (extremely stiff and super thick) Gold, was either 6 or 4 gauge. They had both a high inductance and a bright sound. They did have good bass because of their low resistance, especially the Gold, which is probably still a good choice as a subwoofer cable. Other than for that one specific application, both cables are now obsolete and should be avoided.

Top

READERS LETTERS

**********************************************************

CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readersí letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore or High-End Audio. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore or High-End Audio. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

**********************************************************

ANTI-CABLE SPEAKER CABLES- I don't have any direct experience with these very reasonably priced cables but, fortunately, a veteran reader has come to the rescue. He compared their cable to the original Coincident CST 1 speaker cable, which, while more expensive, is a cable I've always considered excellent value for the money. Here's his letter, with only minor editing:

"I'm done. I repeated the A/B three times and re-arranged the system within our living room to enhance the sonics (to the detriment of my wife's preferred asthetics) to ensure I got things right... I only assessed the ACs wound at approximately 1 twist per 1.5"; as they come with fully separate + and - wires per channel; I can't state categorically that I had them perfectly optimized, although some AA posts seemed to suggest that I had.

This comparison has proven to be very frustrating. The two speaker cables are like night and day - each one's strengths cast a glaring spotlight on the other's weaknesses. Listening to one implies being dissatisfied with the other. The ACs are more harmonically complete, resulting in a richer sound, and cast what I felt was a more palpable soundstage. I felt they also had more weight in the bass region (think of the 'slam' of the low registers on a grand piano) and made the CST1s seemed pronouncely rolled off at the higher frequencies, which was very evident on cymbals. The CST 1s excelled at speed, precision and organization. They had better inner detail, even though they seemed to veil the music slightly in the harmonic richness sense, which allowed subtle nuances of the musician to perceived.

For low-level information retreival, here's what I've observed:
1. The harmonics that identify instruments and enables them to sound natural or "musical"; **ACs SUPERIOR**
2. The decay of the individual notes and their harmonics; **I'M NOT POSITIVE, BUT I'D HAVE THE CST1s AHEAD HERE EXCEPT FOR THE HIGH FREQUENCIES **
3. The subtle, instantaneous shifts of dynamics and their intensity and emphasis (also known as micro-dynamics and dynamic shading) enabling musical "expression" to be sensed, heard and felt; **DEFINITELY THE CST1s WERE SUPERIOR**
4. The sense of ambience and space, allowing the listener to both hear and be "there"; **ACs SUPERIOR**
5. The complexity and separation, or absence of homogenization, of all of the above, reducing "boredom" and "listener fatigue"; **CST1s SUPERIOR IN SONIC HOMOGENIZATION (I.E. FROM THE SAME INSTRUMENT) - ACs SUPERIOR IN SPATIAL HOMOGENIZATION, SUCH AS SEPARATING SIMON & GARFUNKEL SINGING INTO THE SAME MIC**
6. and the sense of both continuity and a continual and consistent presence, which has also been described by others as "continuousness". **I DON'T THINK I HAVE A REFINED ENOUGH EAR TO DETERMINE THIS ONE - CERTAINLY NOTHING 'JUMPED OUT AT ME' TO INDICATE ONE WAS SUPERIOR HERE**

If I was to describe this succinctly, I would say the CST 1s were more immediate as they allowed an emotional and cerebral connection with the musician that eluded the ACs, but the ACs were more musical in that they better portrayed the harmonic richness and acoustic splendor of acoustic instruments. Based upon your audio philosophy, I'd put the CST 1s ahead in absolute terms. From the Class C 'bang for the buck' perspective (i.e. cost is a factor), I'm not certain what to say. 6' CST 1s are $495 US new and ~$300 used on Audiogon; my new ACs were $60 US. Having heard both, I certainly wouldn't buy the CST1s new, as I would go AC and put the $400 difference in cable price towards a better component, NOS tubes or in the bank to save towards a higher class cable (i.e. Class B Coincident TRS). At the used price for the CST 1s, I honestly can't say which is the better value, although the ACs give you quite a bit for $60 US; a $60 speaker cable shouldn't make me somewhat dissatisfied with my CST 1s.

I should also add that the ACs are stiff and somewhat awkward to work with being solid core. Their spades are narrow and somewhat flimsy (to be expected for the price), so binding post size must be specified when ordering. Lastly, for the 3rd A/B I defeated the pre portion of my integrated tube amp (easily the weak link in my system) and controlled the volume from both my digital and analog front ends. I hope this is of help. I further hope that what I've observed seems reasonable."

Personal Notes- This reader must be thanked for all the effort he made for this direct and pretty thorough "review". The Anti-cable speaker cables sound like a great buy to me, especially considering the increasingly ridiculous prices for many new cables. The Link to this company is in the Link File.

MOGAMI CABLES

This letter, from an interested reader, provides some observations about a cable I heard many years ago. There's some very minor editing and my bold:

"Like most audiophiles, I have gone through all kinds of audio cables; maybe eight different kinds through the years, not counting power cables. I have heard an equal amount in other peopleís systems. While not owning any very high priced cable (above $1k per meter) I have heard a few examples and generally thought they exaggerated detail retrieval. Your experience with the discontinued Polk cable got me thinking recently to try some Mogami cable, which I have used with recording gear, but never tried with an audio system.

Mogami wire is used in many professional recording studios. Anyway, I had Mogami interconnects constructed with Neutrik RCA connectors (the cost was about $50 for a 6 foot pair, with about $30 of that due to the premium connectors). The interconnects look inexpensive and are as flexible as a wet noodle. I also got a 10 foot run of Mogami speaker cables with spade connectors (about $100), which look more substantial, but are still fairly flexible. When I hooked these cables up, and played the first LP and CD, I felt like an audiofool for spending so much money on all the other more expensive cables. In addition to outstanding clarity and tonal balance, what impressed me most was the boundlessness of the sound. I was reminded of the Haitink/Philips recording of (Debussy's) Iberia that you mentioned in your Supreme Recordings, except that I was now hearing it to an increased extent with most of my records. The bass clarity and extension is also noteworthy.

I did notice a slight increased gentleness to treble transients. At first, I thought the cable had blunted these transients, but closer listening led me to conclude it was due to the removal of distortion, rather than loss of detail. These characteristics remained stable when I used the cables in each of my 3 systems, which is a first in my experience for a cable. In the past, my cables have had definite system interactions, and I never was able to use the same one for all types of systems. At these prices, folks donít have to trust my opinions, but can try it for themselves. There is another widely used pro cable company called Canare. However, I do not recommend their cables for audio systems." (9/09)

MOGAMI CABLES

A veteran reader has provided further information about his experiences with Mogami cable, which many audiophiles feel are some of the best values available today. Here it is, with my bold:

"...Only Mogami W3103 (2 conductor @ $2.80 p foot) or W3104 (4 conductor@ $5 p foot) speaker cable receives my highest recommendation. Their model number W3082 is half the price, but noticeably less transparent. At these prices why cut corners? These prices are for unterminated cables. Terminations are another $30 or 40 per cable. BTW, the recommended interconnects are model 2528, also cheap. I have found much less system dependency with these cables. I use them with all 3 of my systems that I described in a previous message. I find Redco a reliable vendor for sales and assembly of these cables." (01/12)

Top

INTERNAL LINKS

THE REFERENCE COMPONENTS

AUDIO CRITIQUE

THE RECENT FILE

The Supreme Recordings

My Audio System

External Links

Top

If you have a question, or want audio advice and/or consultation:

Important Notice- As of October 1, 2012, there is a minimum fee of $ 10 for me to answer a simple enquiry, which means any question that I can answer quickly without research. Anything else will cost more and I will accordingly provide quotes for approval. PayPal is being used for its convenience, universality and security. If interested, click on "Ask Arthur".

There are two exemptions to the payment fees. 1. Those readers who have provided an important service (usually information that was posted) to this website over the years. 2. Those situations where I feel that I overlooked something important and/or was obscure in my post, and thus some necessary clarification is required on my part. That will always be gratis. I don't believe in being unfair or petty, especially to my own readers.

Telephone Conversations- If a reader feels it is necessary to actually talk to me directly, this can be arranged if I also feel it is appropriate. There will be a minimum fee of $ 50. Ask for the details before paying the fee.

Finally, a veteran reader wrote that I "should also have a link for (generic) donations to keep the website going". I replied that the Donation button can also be used by appreciative readers for that purpose. Needless to say, any unsolicited donation from a generous reader receives my sincerest thanks and gratitude.

"Ask Arthur"
Official PayPal Seal

To contact me for any other reason:

Arthur Salvatore

COPYRIGHT 1999-2015 ARTHUR SALVATORE