Finding The Ideal Speaker Wire
This custom 45 tube amp that I’ve built is the most revealing amplifier I’ve ever used. It shows most anything that is off. That is one of the reasons that I’ve selected all of the absolute best components I could purchase and put this amp together in the high quality way that I did. The reason I’m sharing my wire search process is it now allows me to really focus on fine tuning this system. What holds true for this adventure holds true for most other audio systems so what I’m sharing is something that you too could benefit from.
In the past, my favorite speaker wire was both silver and copper ribbon cable made my MG Audio Design. Greg, one of the partners died and the other partner just wasn’t a good marketer. So MG Audio Design went out of business and no longer was a source for superb speaker wire and their website is now no longer available. I’m sure their silver or copper ribbon would be excellent with this amp but the price for that wire was hideous. Plus it really was designed for use by larger powered amps and not a 2W SET tube amp. For the 2W amp, a different wire entirely needs to be used.
An 8 foot pair of MG Audio Design top level silver ribbon speaker cable was over $6k so its not even worth considering (in my opinion). I’ve owned it and yes its excellent . . . but . . . the price is way out of balance with what you should really focus on. Put your money into the actual components and not your cables.
Since then, I’ve tried all kinds of wire for speakers and finally settled on something that is really good for the money spent. I’ve got the amp chassis wire selection really down (its perfect) but speaker wire still is somewhat system dependent and selecting it has been how I’ve always done the final fine tuning of a system (with interconnects and speaker wire). Change the system and you probably will need to shift and change your wire. So spending a huge amount of money on cables is crazy. And . . . I’m now considering using just this one type of wire and a single gauge and then putting together electronic components around it. If this is the ideal wire type, you should be able to create your audio system so that this wire works best for you. If you don’t, something is out of balance and its not the wire.
Bright systems benefit from copper. Dull systems benefit from silver. Gauge size tells you how much bass and lower midrange is produced and of course whether the high frequencies are rolled off in the process. There are way too many variable at play and it would be nice to use the absolute best wire at a reasonable cost and spend your time on more important things. I’m no longer an expensive cable snob since I’ve used and tried all kinds of expensive stuff and always found that it was very system dependent. Change the system and your need for that expensive wire goes away. I never liked that. Audio reproduction should be (and is) much simpler than that.
In all honesty, solid copper (the gauge that I’ve finally calculated is best) is good for most all good systems. If your system lacks something it probably is due to the synergy and not the system that is at fault. If you use a 15 gauge solid copper speaker cable without connectors on both ends, you are doing yourself a favor. You can use binding posts on the amp and the speakers but no connector on the wire. With that cable, you can then put a good system together without the need to spend thousands of dollars on your speaker cables. And your sound quality will be excellent.
My last reference speaker cable was 16 strands of OFC copper wrapped around a 3/8″ thick cotton rope and was using some other proprietary techniques to reduce EMF and other negative factors. However, the end result is that this cable was equivalent to 9 gauge of copper wire and didn’t work well for all systems – only those where music was “out of balance” and slanted toward artificial electronic stuff where the amount of bass produced was “king”.. I had a pair of Furutech Rodium spades on one end and when I tried the Rodium plated ITC spades, I liked them better so those are on one end and I removed the Furutech spades. The other end was a pair of WBT banana connectors. The copper WBT connectors sounded terrible with this system and the silver sounded better. But . . . I was now listening to heavy gauge copper wire and the skin effect of silver – basically silver on the connector ends. This provided an unnatural sound quality and I got rid of it.
So to experiment a bit with gauge, I removed all connectors from both ends of my wire. My binding posts now were the only place where I had metal in the signal path other than the connecting wire. I went to Home Depot and purchased a spool of their inexpensive solid copper 12 gauge wire. Wow! That was good but way too much push in the midrange and bass. I eliminated connectors on both ends and used just the stripped wire ends to connect to the amp (ETI Kryo binding posts) and the speakers (the same ETI Kryo binding posts).
To reduce the “push” I was hearing and the unnatural “thick” sound quality, I then purchased a spool of 14 gauge wire. That was better but still had some “push” and I wanted to eliminate that.
Just to see where things were at, I purchased and even smaller gauge wire from DMN Design in the UK and received that yesterday. Yes, bass and midrange were now too lean so I quickly removed that wire and moved on. The gauge was far from correct in spite of the nice way they built their wire.
I went back to Home Depot again and the only 16 gauge wire I could find was stranded (not solid) 16 gauge speaker wire. I purchased that knowing that there would be some slight grain to the sound quality due to the stranded wire but I needed to listen to 16 gauge wire to find out whether the “push” was removed adequately. Sure enough, that wire was good and had some grain but the sound quality but now sounded a bit thin. That wire was too thin! The 14 gauge was too “heavy” and the 16 gauge was too “light” but I was really close – but, I no longer fell into a readily available gauge.
The ideal gauge of wire was 15 gauge (right between the 14g and 16g that I purchased from Home Depot). However, 15 gauge solid core copper wire almost didn’t exist. So finally I had the gauge figured out and I eventually located the only really good 15 gauge solid core copper wire I could find – the Furutech FS-15S. Their 15 gauge wire was even better than OFC copper (its called u-OFC) and had a really good construction to pad the wires a bit so the background would be really quiet. I ordered 8 meters of this wire for this system and am now waiting for the wire to be shipped and to arrive. I sense that this will be the final speaker wire needed for this system and hopefully, the ideal gauge. I have no interest in spending more money or trying something else since I’ll now focus my attention on the interconnects I have between my Halo May Kitsune DAC and my custom tube 45 amplifier. Once those are selected, I’m done. But, I need to listen to the speaker wire before moving on – one step at a time.
The trend today seems to be for people to use really heavy 12 gauge or even 9 gauge wire to accentuate the bass in their systems. This does provide substantial bass and midrange but the resulting sound quality is way out of balance compared to what acoustic music should sound like. Maybe its flashy sounding and big but way too “bloated” and full of “push” for me. I like my instruments and voices to sound like they do when recorded – and as real as is possible. Really heavy gauge speaker wire doesn’t allow for that to happen. If it does, then the audio system is flawed in some way and the wire is making up for a flaw that should be fixed.
Solid core wire does sound better than stranded from my experience. Its more difficult to use since it needs to be carefully put together and isn’t flexible like stranded wire is. But, it provides a much more realistic and correct sound quality. I really like it and am surprised that I even like the Home Depot solid copper wire. Their price is super low but the sound quality is super high. It’s too bad they don’t have 15 gauge copper wire. They don’t even have 16 gauge solid copper wire. 15 gauge is the ideal size and I’m now surprised that the engineers at Furutech figured this out and that they now offer a 15 gauge solid core copper wire – their FS-15S. Even though I’m somewhat surprised, I’m glad they do. That is what I also find to be the best and confirms that my finding and my extensive work is correct. They could have offered another gauge or skipped offering solid copper altogether but didn’t.
More about this wire experiment later after I receive the new FS-15S wire.
PS – I received the FS-15S wire and find that its the best I’ve ever used. It’s perfect and is what I now recommend that you also use with this amp. The gauge, the composition of the wire, the fact that its solid core and not stranded, and the damping provided by the way the two wires are nested in their cotton fiber protective layers provides a superb sounding speaker wire.