This week's Toolbox Tuesday deviates a little from the tool theme and goes the way of technology supplies. Though it's a bit of a departure from our normal posts, we still hope you'll enjoy reading it. Also, we updated yesterday's 4th of July buntings post with a few additional photos that show the colors just a little bit better. So head on over that way to check out the changes.
We've been working for quite some time on getting our whole house audio and fairly elaborate wiring project done in our house. Throughout this time, we've learned some critical lessons on where we should and shouldn't spend a little extra money to get better results. One of the most critical areas where I learned that extra dollars don't always make "cents" is in the realm of high cost speaker wire.
The debate about speaker wire is one that has raged on for what seems like ages, and a billion dollar industry has been formed out of this very hotly debated topic. From super pretentious audiophiles to Best Buy sales clerks to DIYers, most have an opinion about the best speaker wire that usually costs a boatload, but is said to provide the highest fidelity in sound, lowest signal loss, minimal distortion or interruption, and the "best possible listening experience," All this may be gospel to the preacher, but the simple truth is that it's all meant to sell you something that's overpriced, and really, all of the hype is really just sort of crap.
I know, I may have just touched a nerve there, and I hope you'll accept my apologies if you feel I've wronged you, but I mean no ill will. To be completely honest, I'm actually just trying to inform and educate you, primarily so that you can save some money down the road and help you put that extra cash towards items that matter (like speakers and components). However, if you're the owner of a "high quality" speaker wire manufacturer, or this industry somehow puts food on your table, you have every right to rant to me in the comments. Don't worry, I can take it, and maybe I'll even learn a thing or two.
As a young teenager I was bitten by the audio bug. What started with a basement boom box slowly evolved to a portable CD player, home theater, surround sound, car audio with thumping bass (hey, I was a teenager), and eventually, our whole house audio system that I love. Music and the technologies associated with listening to music anywhere have been a serious interest of mine for years, and I was one of those people who initially bought into the idea that Monster Cable, in all its stranded and shielded glory, offered a premium experience to me as a listener, and one that was worth the 10x price tag that came with the higher quality product.
The problem with my belief in the superior product was it was only based in the various advertisements I had seen, or from viewing the systems of others who also bought into the myth. I mean, how can you not believe something that says "You just spent a lot of money on your components, don't ruin it all with inexpensive speaker wire." It was a brilliant marketing strategy to say the least, sort of like buying insurance for your precious sound waves.
It wasn't until about five years ago that I realized my assumptions and beliefs were false. While in a pinch, I was forced to temporarily hook up a set of speakers using very old, partially damaged, and very low quality speaker wire. The result being I honestly couldn't tell the difference. After this finding I did a little test with the highfalutin wire and pit it against the bad stuff in a sort of speaker duel. I had a right speaker and a left speaker, one with high quality, and one with low quality, both with very long runs of wire, and I couldn't tell a lick of difference when I switched between speakers. I was floored.
Yes, I could have gone on living the lie, buying 12 gauge Monster Cable for all of our whole house audio, ignoring the evidence and instead posturing for my friends because I was too ashamed to admit I had fallen for the clever marketing ploy, but why do that? To save face? That's not my style, especially not when I had a bunch of speaker wire to buy for the rest of our projects.
Instead of dropping a serious chunk of change on some Monster brand whole house audio speaker wire, I opted to select a budget quality speaker wire to support the many speakers throughout our house. Though the wire snob that once existed within me fidgetted once or twice, I know I actually had nothing serious to worry about. And after hooking up out longest run of speaker wires, from the basement to the bedroom, and powering the system up, a little Dave Matthews Band followed by Lenny Kravitz reinforced my decision.
Just last week we had to buy a bit more wire to finish up a little speaker project, and the price of the order reminded me just why I like the decision we made. We paid a mere $30 for 100' rather than the $70-$120+ for the same thing labeled as "high quality."
As you can see from the photo, our speaker wire is a basic two connector 12 gauge wire with a white plastic jacket and a string that aides in stripping back the jacket. It took me a long time to learn what this string was for, but if you start the strip with snips, and pull on this string, it strips the jacket back for you very nicely. This wire comes in rolls of 50', 100', 200' and 500'. It doesn't have a highly molded jacket, or extra shielding, but it has worked great for us in runs of over 50 feet total.
Now I know you may still be a skeptic, and my little test may not be able to convince you of my beliefs. You're probably thinking "sure, Alex can't hear the difference, but I'm sure I could." Recently a good friend sent along an article that truly vindicated me. (because I needed vindication?) The Consumerist did a type of myth buster exercise, pitting a high fidelity speaker wire against a wire coat hanger and having a real world listening experiment with a group of audiophiles. Kind of a blind hearing test for audio nerds. The results, though shocking for many, weren't all that surprising for me.
The audiophiles had been unable to differentiate between the items given away for free by your dry cleaner, and the wire you would normally pay a premium for. The results of this test reinforced my decision to purchase budget speaker wire to run within our house. Since our installation of over 1000' of speaker wire to support our whole house audio, we've never once said, "boy, I really wish we had spent a whole bunch more money and used better speaker wire." And that's saying a lot.
I hope this little blog post was informative and educational. But most of all, I hope it dispelled a few myths about speaker wire and the need to drop your hard earned cash on the expensive stuff. Have you been the victim of this marketing hype? Or did you question the logic and go with your gut? I was fooled for many years, so there's no shame in that.
Did you enjoy reading this post? Want to learn more about our first-hand experiences with other tools, devices or items used throughout our renovation? If so, check out our complete list of product reviews in our Toolbox Tuesday section.
Note: We weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products when we see them, and hope that learning from our mistakes can help save you time, money and frustration.