While the cable between and amplifier and speaker may appear to have a straightforward job that can be done with any old piece of wire, using something carefully designed and made for the job yields massive dividends. You should spend at least ten per cent of the cost of your system on cabling if you want to hear what the source and amp are capable of. This group of six speaker cables consists of higher end models from well established brands, some are available off the reel (QED, KSL), which can save money if you don't want plugs or can solder your own, the rest come ready terminated.
The Chord Company's top of the range speaker cable is a mighty and inflexible beast that needs to be ordered to precise length if it's not to rear up snake-like behind your speakers. Its stiffness is due to the heavy-gauge copper conductors, foam polythene insulation and the way each length is twisted - each end is clamped in aluminium to keep it that way. A dual shielding system keeps noise out and each pair is factory terminated with 4mm banana plugs.
Stiffness extends to the sound which is precise and highly revealing, not to mention tight and powerful in the bass. The Signature has an upbeat quality that emphasises timing and an open balance that makes the most of spatial cues within recordings. It is also dynamically capable in both energy and level terms, small differences in level between notes are very clear and big changes in level are even more so. If you want detail, body, weight and energy it's a very strong contender, even at this price.
Great timing, spaciousness and dynamics, musically engaging
Bulky and very stiff, a little eager for some tastes
Harmonic Technology is an American cable company that has made its mark with light-transmitting interconnects - powered analogue cables that turn an electrical signal into an optical one and back again at the other end. No, I'm not kidding.
The speaker cables are more down to earth and Fantasy is one of the more affordable variants in the range. Available as a single or bi-wire cable (3m bi-wire pair - £493.50) Fantasy uses 11-gauge, single-crystal copper insulated in foamed PE (polyethylene) and PP (polypropylene). Our sample had WBT lockable banana plugs but spades are an alternative.
In our test system Fantasy proved to be an extremely charming cable, it is extremely fine and smooth while being able to resolve detail with ease. Acoustic space is well defined and instrument tone is pretty good too.
It might be a little smooth for some systems but if you have clean, revealing speakers it should work a treat. Bass is not perhaps as hard-edged as some but there's no shortage of body to bass instruments. If you're after a luxury sound look no further.
Super smooth, strong imaging, spacious and natural
Bass could kick harder
Price: £306 (3m terminated pair) More info: Kimber Construction: Litz
Kimber 8TC Special Edition
8TC sits halfway through Kimber's range of speaker cables and is traditionally clad in black and blue Teflon insulation. The Special Edition factor changes that to a more attractive mix of clear and white which reveals the shine of the copper beneath.
Each insulated conductor contains 16 VariStrand strands in differing diameter 'hyper-pure' copper and the terminations are Kimber's own plug design. For economical bi-wiring distributor Russ Andrews recommends using pre-made 8TC SE jump leads between the speaker's terminals, these cost £75 for four.
This is a very natural and clean sounding cable and one which brings a sense of warmth that is all too often missing. Fortunately this doesn't mean it lacks definition - highs are well extended and bands fully retain the spring in their step (if it was there in the first place).
Bass is weighty and full and again well timed and the midrange is where the spriteliness comes from. Great performance for the money.
Wide bandwidth, natural but revealing
Not at this price
Price: £580 (3m terminated pair) More info: KSL Construction: Litz
KSL is the international trading name of Audio Note Japan, the company that put silver cable on the hi-fi map way back in the day (1976). This is its copper cable but it sticks to the age-annealing theme that has made the ANJ name. SPC is age-annealed for ten years prior to being drawn and highly polished. Its Litz construction means that each of the eighty strands per conductor are individually insulated with the whole lot held together with a PE jacket.
KSL is probably the least sexy looking cable anywhere near its price point but don't let that fool you, this is a very revealing and enchanting musical conduit. On the one hand you get tremendous clarity but on the other there is a fluidity and nimbleness that means the music distracts from the sound. It doesn't image very precisely but is bodacious and tonally beguiling with a sense of ease that makes instruments seem entirely natural. It also delivers dynamics in living, breathing fashion that makes orchestras swell in highly convincing fashion.
Looks a bit dull
Price: £700 (3m terminated pair) More info: Supra Construction: Bifilar wound litz
Supra is one of the few cable companies that manufactures its own products and Sword is its range topping speaker cable, an unusual beast it is too. Each conductor in this attractive powder blue cable consists of two layers of individually insulated, spirally wound wires. This design is said to eliminate inductance within the cable and therefore minimise the extent to which it modifies the signal.
Sword combines excellent transparency with a smoothness that one associates with less revealing cables. It brings out the acoustic space in recordings and lets instrument harmonics flow effortlessly. High frequencies are extremely open and natural while the bass is full and multi-layered - you don't get as much kick as something like Chord Signature but there is a sense that Sword is a little more neutral and real. This lack of character in the cable is what makes it so revealing and encourages higher level listening because of the lack of distortion. Both timing and imaging are strong with depth of image being particularly impressive. It costs a lot but it does the business.
Nice colour, extremely revealing and relaxed
Doesn't look expensive
Price: £184 (3m terminated pair) More info: QED Construction: Tubular
This pearlescent white cable is the top model in a range of three X-Tube designs which all use a central 'air' core around which the wire is braided. The number four in XT-400's name indicates the area in millimetres of, in this case, silver plated copper wire that is used in each conductor. The theory behind X-Tube is that because high frequencies are inclined to travel at the perimeter of each strand it makes more sense to arrange strands in an O shape. XT400 can be purchased by the metre or terminated with QED's Airloc crimped plugs which proved a very tight fit in our power amp's terminals.
This cable has a perky and precise sound, it's less substantial than alternatives in this group and has a slight preference for higher frequencies which can emphasise the percussive aspects of music. This means that bass is tight and fast with good focus but voices can be a little 'dusty' at times. When you take price into consideration however this is clearly a decent cable and with a more relaxed system it will do wonders to inject a bit of life.
Revealing, attractive and times well
Not as relaxed as some
Group test verdict
The cables in this group are all extremely good. At these sort of prices they should be of course but the world of wire is not immune to over pricing. If your budget is tight then the QED is an attractive and entertaining option, its lively balance will suit budget and midrange systems well.
The Kimber is very strong for the money and probably represents the best value in the group. The KSL and Harmonic Technology are both charmers, the former offering greater dynamic thrill power while the latter is super smooth.
The two top runners are quite different, Chord Co's Signature is precise and demonstrative while Supra's Sword is revealing and refined. Which you prefer though will depend on your loudspeakers and your taste - don't be shy about trying them out at a decent dealer before you buy.