Saturday, February 23, 2008

Higher Quality Cables?

The Tech blogs has been buzzing (again) about more expensive cables having a value in a digital world. Consumerist reports in Monster Cables, Monster Ripoff that the retail markups on Monster Cable are as high as 80%.

Higher quality cables have always been important with analog gear. This is why good loudspeakers never come with that nasty "zip-cord" that always comes with the cheap ones. Before Monster Cable and their ilk, Audiophiles used to go to Radio Shack and purchase 16 gauge lamp cord. Monster is now considered the choice of "mid-fi" audio and video buyers. Higher-end buyers may even spend far more than the $100 or so that Monster charges, but I digress.

The issue is now one of digital vs. analog. As you may know, unlike analog, digital is either on or off. There is no in-between - either the signal is there, or it isn't.

If you accept the previous paragraph as true, then there is really no need for high quality digital cables. For example, if I have a new digital television and subscribe to DirecTV, the best way to attach these two devices would be with an HDMI cable. After spending several thousand on the TV, one might be tempted to purchase an expensive HDMI cable. "Don't do it" suggests consumerist, you may be better off going to,, eBay, or other places online.

I have a different take, however. I do agree that digital does not require better quality cables, as long as they are at a relatively short distance, probably under 5 feet. This is true of video component cables, or digital audio cables, but not HDMI. HDMI contains the digital video component, but the audio portion is ANALOG. Therefore, if the consumer relies on an HDMI cable alone for audio and video, the cable must be of a decent quality if only to carry the analog portion correctly.

Here's a better way: Rather than use HDMI (a format designed for the lazy consumer), use composite video (red, green and blue cables) for the digital picture and left and right audio cables (red and white) for the sound. If the HDMI must be used, simply connect high quality audio cables in addition.

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