audio cable

Last week, we got asked the following question: ’Do audio cables go bad?’

Now you may find the answer to that question a very obvious one, fact is that when you type in this exact question in Google, it comes up with quite a long list of exact this question on forums. 

Clearly, it’s on a fair amount of peoples mind. And it is a question that actually has a short plain-and-simple-answer AND a long there-is-more-to-the story-answer. 

So let’s get cracking. 

 

When it comes to Audio cables, there is a wide range of products at an even wider range of budgets out there. The range goes from budget Rapallo brand cables to outrageously expensive silver-plated 99.99999% oxygen free copper cables with special technology designs for high performance and minimal distortion. 

The short answer to our above question is that in theory a good cable should last forever.  That is because there is nothing really about a cable that wears out by use. In the end, there are no active parts. But that’s ‘in theory’. In reality, over the years, does a cable deteriorate? 

 

This is what takes us to the longer answer. 

We talked to a audio cable provider who claimed that the most common cause for speaker cables to break down was pets. No need to say more on the topic.

 

Secondly, there is an issue called ‘bending stress’. 

For this, we need to have a talk about the materials used to make the audio cables. Most often that is aluminium on one end of the quality (and price) spectrum and copper as a step-up. Between these two material there is an important difference in quality, power handling and signal.

Copper-Clad Aluminium (CCA) wire is the least costly option. CCA wire utilizes an aluminium core that is clad or dipped in copper. It is often the option of choice for lower powered systems or restricted budget applications. 

The alternative is Oxygen Free Copper wiring (OFC wiring is refined to remove virtually all oxygen and other corrosive elements.) OFC wiring provides a better electrical conductor to aluminium because it does not expand or contract with heat and can carry a higher current load. The improved efficiency of OFC wiring will also allow your sound system to run at its maximum efficiency. 

But that’s the efficiency side.  Apart from the fact that the power transfer is not on the same level as Oxygen Free Copper wiring , Aluminium wire is also more brittle.  Over time it can result in ‘a short’ if the cables are not handled carefully. Sharp bends, extreme force during pulling of cables can break strands within the wire. This is something to be aware of. Also, if you decide to opt for CCA, we strongly advise to test your CCA cables before you close down the wall and put the plaster boards up.

 

And then there is oxidation (you were waiting for this one weren’t you?)

While there is no real wear to the conducting part of the wire if conditions are as they should, the jacket could degrade depending on the plastic used. A poorly made jacket could degrade from UV exposure for instance, and  as a result the conductor could oxidize (such as if moisture could be captured under the jacket).  

Apart from the fact that Aluminium is more brittle,  OFC is less prone to oxidizing in the jacket close to cut ends or where the copper comes into contact with the air.  Oxidation will look somewhat similar to a rust like yellow-brown colour and it will inhibit the wires ability to carry audio signals as well as it once did when new. This will in turn degrade the audio signal and make your amplifier work harder than needed and also increase voice-coil heat in your speakers which degrades audio output as well.

So it’s fair to say that, given a dry environment where wires aren't exposed to physical abuse, a good quality cable can last a very, very long time. 

Obviously, faulty solder points and terminations are another point to consider. 

 

So, what do you do in case you do suspect a faulty cable? 

Here’s how to locate bad wiring:

Step 1: Connect one end of your voltmeter to the negative (-) port of your speaker. Connect the other end to the (-) port of the stereo receiver to which the wire should be connected. If you have wired the (-) line of this speaker properly, the voltmeter will indicate that you have completed a circuit. Typically voltmeters light up or beep when a circuit is completed, but each meter is unique. Perform this test with the positive (+) ports of the speaker and the receiver as well; the voltmeter should also indicate a completed circuit. Repeat this step with every speaker.

Step 2: Disconnect the voltmeter from the stereo receiver/AV receiver if the meter indicates that you have not completed a circuit, and systematically connect the meter to each of the speaker ports. If you have done the wiring correctly, then the meter will indicate that none of these ports complete a circuit. However, if the meter indicates that one of these ports complete a circuit, then you have connected a wire to the incorrect port. If this does happen, then disconnect the wire which completes the circuit from the stereo receiver or AV receiver, and connect it to the port that it should be connected to (in other words, if the wire's mate is connected to a (-) port of a left front speaker, then the errant wire is meant to be connected to the (+) port of the left front speaker).

Check the connection of the speaker wire for each speaker by gently tugging on the wire where it connects to the terminals on both the speaker and the receiver. If you have poorly connected the speaker wire, you will notice that the wire will come loose from the terminal easily. Poorly connected wiring also will appear frayed and uneven at the tip where it is exposed.

Step 3: Run a new wire from the speaker that is giving you problems to any available port. If the original speaker wiring is faulty, the new wire will produce good quality sound. 

However, if the problem persists, there is nothing wrong with your original wiring. The issues being created are most likely due to an issue with the receiver or the speaker itself.

In case you don’t have a voltmeter or it’s just in the too hard basket, just give the guys from Rapallo a ring for some trouble shooting.