Speaker technology, as with most technologies, marches steadily forward. New construction techniques, driver design and many hours spent listening in the real world by those with ears qualified to hear, combine to bring us closer to the ultimate goal of all high quality loudspeakers … to reproduce, perfectly, the live musical event.
This lofty goal may not be achievable, but the striving for perfection produces innovations that result in better and better sound for all of us to enjoy. Once you have decided on the pair of loudspeakers that are music to your ears, you will enter the wonderful world of cables and connectors.
Cables can be described very simply as being fixed line filters. They allow subtle, or not so subtle, tonal image definition, and focus changes. In some cases signal path configuration will enter into the system’s equation. So, when selecting your cables, choose those with attributes that enhance the sound pattern to please your ear. Selection should be as simple as telling your audio specialist what gear you have, and he or she should be able to recommend the specific cables which will further the goal of getting closer to reality. In some cases this may be accomplished by simply minimizing a sonic anomaly in your system.
Connectors also play a role in the overall sonic signature of the cable. The goal of all good quality connectors is to maximize the contact area while minimizing signal degradation through corrosion. Maximum contact is achieved by using the right connector for the job. For example, if your amplifier has the facility for using a spade or banana type speaker connector, the use of a pin type or straight wire connection will offer less overall surface area, which will result in a subtle, but audible, reduction in “impact and attack”.
Gold is used on all high quality connectors, because it is an inert metal which doesn’t oxidize, it has no sonic signature and acts simply as a conductor. Interestingly, as much as 40% of all the gold in the world is used for making electrical contacts.
In the past all speakers had a single set of connectors for hookup to an amplifier, one positive one negative. As technology marched forward, high end loudspeakers sprouted an extra set of connectors, one set dedicated to high frequencies, the other for low frequencies. This innovation gave us two new options for speaker connection, which we call Bi-wiring and Bi-amping.
These loudspeakers come with external jumper straps installed between the two sets of terminals. In this mode conventional speaker cable may be used. If we remove these jumpers and run a dedicated speaker cable to the high frequency connectors, and another to the low frequency connectors, terminating at the amp’s common outputs, the speakers become Bi-wired. Specific Bi-wire cable is now available, providing us with two sets of tonally specific cables, to obtain the desired sonic improvement.
This wiring setup powers the high frequency (HF) and low frequency (LF) drivers directly. The benefit here is a lower signal loss through the speaker’s crossover, and allows the HF and LF drivers to run in their full frequency range. The speaker enclosure, drivers and overall philosophy must have been designed specifically with this method of hook up in mind. So, adding a second pair of connectors to those old loudspeakers in the basement will be non- productive! The net effect achieved with Bi-wiring is a wider frequency extension in both directions. In other words, the highs go higher and the lows extend deeper. This also aids the dynamics (quick volume changes) and demands a tad more power.
With the simple addition of new cables, a noticeable increase in sound quality is attainable with any multi-connection loudspeaker. As this new technology has now filtered down to the more affordable price range, it is not unusual to find good quality speakers boasting Bi-wire and Bi-amp capability, priced as low as $500.
This brings us to the second option, Bi-amping. This is a more exotic (read expensive) route to go, in that it incorporates two amplifiers. In a Bi-amped system one amplifier drives the right and left speaker’s HF inputs while the other drives the LF drivers. This configuration allows us to use two different power amps, a big one for the power hungry bass and a smaller one for the less demanding high frequencies. You can match the particular attributes of a power amp to a more specific job in this way. For example, a small but sonically sweet sounding amp can be used for the highs, along with a brutish heavy sounding amp for LF only, this gives you the best of both worlds.
Be aware that both amplifiers are run in stereo, not to be confused with “mono blocking”. A mono block system also uses two amplifiers with one driving the right channel full range, the other running the left full range. Hence, each amp is a single or mono amplifier, requiring two to reproduce a stereo signal. To add to the confusion, a mono blocked system must use identical amps for both channels to ensure a balanced output, both in volume and sonic signature. A mono blocked system may also be Bi- Wired as well.
In conclusion, the sound produced by any speaker can be improved, cost effectively, with the addition of matched high quality cables. If your speaker has more than a single set of connectors, Bi-wiring can further improve their capability, and additional amplification can take us yet another step on the path to sonic Nirvana. Does this ever end? We sincerely hope not!