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Old 07-01-2002, 05:24 PM
Syzygy is offline
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Gold plating - yea or nay?


I was rewiring my car stereo, and a question struck me. Do I really need to spend more money on the cables or components with gold plating on the connectors? Does the application of a layer of gold several atoms thick actually improve conductance to the degree that I'd hear it? I need an EE or two to weigh in. I realize that gold conducts electricity better than copper, but since the signal is traveling through copper between Points A and B, is the gold plating on the connectors at A and B doing anything except costing more? I suspect not, but I'd like to check. Thanks in advance.
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Old 07-01-2002, 10:07 PM
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You will not 'hear' a difference, specialty cables are complete snake oil. As long as wire diameter is of appropriate gauge you are good to go. "Oxygen Free" copper is clever marketing -- ALL copper wire is made this way.

Gold plated contacts make sense because they do not corrode appreciably but there is no sonic benefit.
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Old 07-02-2002, 12:10 AM
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Tedster is right, it's snake oil.

I have a pretty good size recording studio and I've used both gold and nongold connections. Makes no difference in quality.

BUT,..

Sometimes the cables and connectors are a better quality on the higher end cables with the gold ends. That will help. Plus, the cable might last longer.

BUT..

Having said that I have some cheap 20 year old RCA cables that still do the job just fine.

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Old 07-02-2002, 03:14 AM
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The gold coating is an anticorrosion feature, nothing more.

You get the same effect with nickel or chrome plated parts, or by making them from stainless steel in the first place.

But "gold coated" sells better, just like advertising chocolate ice cream topping as "non fat".
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Old 07-02-2002, 03:40 AM
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As mentioned, gold is used as an anticorrosive measure. Since connectors are exposed to air, a surface that doesn't react with air is necessary, otherwise the connector becomes less conductive over time. However, it's not snake-oil as some have posted; no other metal has the same properties.

The metals with the highest conductivity (in W/mK) are as follows:
Silver: 429
Copper: 401
Gold: 317
Aluminum: 237
Tungsten: 174

...and so on down the line. For most purposes the added conductivity of silver over copper is outweighed by its greater cost. However, both silver and copper tarnish on exposure to air; gold does not. The hit in conductivity as you move farther down the list (aluminum also tarnishes; nickel, chrome, and iron aren't even in the running) is great enough that it's worth the extra cost to gold-plate your connectors to ensure longevity.

That's why gold-plating is warranted for the long-term audiophile. Anyone care to add how long it takes a copper-only conductor to corrode enough to degrade the sound quality?


Now I've got to thinking: if you connect your copper connector and never disconnect it, will it tarnish? It's not exposed to anything but the inside of the other half of the connector. My own question is: do copper connectors suffice for cables that aren't disconnected and reconnected often?
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Old 07-02-2002, 05:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by stypticus
The metals with the highest conductivity (in W/mK) are as...
No stypticus, those numbers are not relevant! What you have listed is thermal conductivity, which in theory utterly irrelevant. However, the electrical conductivity is for many metals related to the thermal, so the numbers do show a slight tendancy. Let's have a comparative look at the numbers:


Code:
material   thermal    electric
           (W/mK)     (1061/(mxOhm) )
Silver     429       62.5
Copper    401       59
Gold    317       42
Aluminium  237       37
Tungsten   174       18
However, even this is not a very interresting number, as it assumes that you have a homogeneous rod of metal. In the case of a audio connector, this is most definitely not the case. What we are interrested in is to make contact between two pieces of metal, that are held together by a spring. The easiest way to improve contact is to use a malleable metal that won't corrode. And that is why gold is popular.

Personally I don't think that it makes any difference, but then I'm not an audiophile, just a physicist.
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Old 07-02-2002, 09:37 AM
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Read my post again. Any sonic benefits claimed by gold plated connections or 4 gauge wire are snake oil. Clearly anti-corrosion characteristics of the terminations are not. Heavily tarnished and dirty connections may well be audible compared to a new cable with clean tight connections, though, this is probably the grain of truth in the whole debate.

Copper will tarnish on the inside of the connection, yes. Copper salts will conduct very well, though, unlike many other metals.
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Old 07-02-2002, 10:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tedster
Any sonic benefits claimed by gold plated connections or 4 gauge wire are snake oil.
Crap!

I knew I should have checked here first! I recently upgraded my home theater system (which previously consisted of a 10+ year old $200 all-in-one stereo so it was overdue). I spent the money I had budgeted on the system then went WAY overboard buying cables after the fact. I was shocked at the cost of these things! I bought monster cables that ran something like $3.50/foot (and there were even more expensive versions than that). Considering that I now have a rats nest of cables running from the DVD to the amp to the TV to the speakers to the tuner and so on the final tally for CABLES ALONE was over $300 frigging dollars! I almost crapped myself twice at the price (once at the store and once when I had to face my wife with the bill).

Now I learn I could have done just as well with a $20 roll of wire and a few connectors from Radio Shack. I had a sneaking suspicion I was being robbed but I was too excited to hook-up my new system to back-off and do the research I should have done in the first place (although I frankly didn't have a clue as to what I was in for regarding the cable...big surprise there).

As an aside one set of the Monster cables actually has arrows on it indicating the direction the electricity is to flow (i.e. from the DVD in to the amp). Is that just more BS? IANAEE but that seemed silly even to my low tech knowledge of this stuff.
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Old 07-02-2002, 10:28 AM
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Thanks all. I had a sneaking suspicion I was being misled. I know that the way a cable is constructed, i.e. shielded and twisted, can make a difference with regard to audible RF and EM interference, especially in a car, so I won't buy the cheapest cables. But at least I know gold connectors aren't necessarily required.
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Old 07-02-2002, 10:43 AM
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Syzygy, gold plated connectors are a complete waste of time for a car installation. Think about all the extraneous noise that enters the cabin while you are driving. Any minute improvemnt that gold might give you would be totally wiped out. Just buy some reasonable cable and use the savings to buy something that really would make an audible difference, like better speakers.
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Old 07-02-2002, 10:59 AM
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Quote:
the final tally for CABLES ALONE was over $300 frigging dollars
Sages on the Home Theater Forum recommend spending 10% of your total budget on wiring. I'm curious to know what percentage your $300 represented. Would you mind sharing?
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Old 07-02-2002, 11:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by stypticus
Anyone care to add how long it takes a copper-only conductor to corrode enough to degrade the sound quality?


Now I've got to thinking: if you connect your copper connector and never disconnect it, will it tarnish? It's not exposed to anything but the inside of the other half of the connector. My own question is: do copper connectors suffice for cables that aren't disconnected and reconnected often? [/B]
The copper connectors are plated with tin typically and are not bare copper. I have some that have been in service for over 35 years and they still work fine. I don't think there has been enough change to matter.

To measure the increase in resistance for these connectors would require a pretty sophisticated measurement setup with four wire sensing.
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Old 07-02-2002, 11:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by KneadToKnow
Sages on the Home Theater Forum recommend spending 10% of your total budget on wiring. I'm curious to know what percentage your $300 represented. Would you mind sharing?
On the face of it I wouldn't mind sharing except for the realization that this would publically decry my idiocy. Still, others may as well learn from my mistakes.

My system cost $1,300 so I spent around 23% over the cost of the system on cabling. Mind you, I bought more cables than I strictly needed. For instance, I have an optical output on my DVD that is necessary if you want to get DTS audio. However, the assholes that be in their quest to protect their property from copying made it so that some DVD Audio (as in audio only) can only output the best signal via the analog outputs. As a result I am stuck buying cables for that (3' long each and six cables total for a 5.1 setup...there goes $60+ right there). I also have my satellite tuner which is separate from the TV so it needed its own set of cables.

And so on and so forth...it all adds up quickly.
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Old 07-02-2002, 12:23 PM
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- - - Gold plating doesn't matter, in my experience: I have miniature 3.5mm cables I bought to use for home studio PC/minidisc recording.
The 6-ft long gold-plated "deluxe" Radio Shack one costs $11.
The 25-foot plain silver one from CableUp/Teac costs $4.
Comparing the two side-by-side I can't hear much of any overall level loss from the longer cable, except for some high-frequency loss, that is to be expected with any cable. One of Radio Shack's selling points for their deluxe cables is that they are "fully shielded", but even the cheap cable has full shielding nowadays.
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Old 07-02-2002, 06:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Whack-a-Mole
As an aside one set of the Monster cables actually has arrows on it indicating the direction the electricity is to flow (i.e. from the DVD in to the amp). Is that just more BS? IANAEE but that seemed silly even to my low tech knowledge of this stuff.
Directional cable....

I happen to be an EE and I think its silly too. Audio signals are AC, which means that for half of the sound wave they are moving in one direction and for the other half of the sound wave they are moving IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. If it was directional it would make the sound quality really, really bad.

Metals aren't directional, so how could they possibly make a directional cable out of copper? Things like semiconductors (i.e. diodes and transistors) have directional characteristics, but you wouldn't want anything even remotely like this as an audio cable because you don't want your cable to be directional, at all. The next time someone tells you they have directional cable, remind them that if its truly directional its distorting the sound and making it worse.

One more thing. Gold and tin connectors will form a non-conductive layer between them, but I've heard different stories about exactly how bad this effect is. The basic rule though is if your car stereo has gold connectors then you want to use gold plated cables. If your car stereo has tin conenctors then use tin. Don't mix and match your metals.

Quote:
Originally posted by Syzygy

I realize that gold conducts electricity better than copper...
Actually, no. Copper is the better conductor. The only advantage of gold is that it doesn't corrode. Take a look at the stuff they haul up from the bottom of the sea from old shipwrecks. Copper coins are a black indistinguishable mass. Same for silver (which is actually the best conductor out of gold, silver, and copper, not that your ear could ever hear any difference). But the gold coins all come up shiny and spiffy.

Keep it in perspective. They don't use gold connectors in the rest of your car's electrical system now do they?

Lower capacitance cables will make a MUCH bigger difference than whatever the connectors are made out of on the ends, and even then in short runs like a car stereo you aren't going to hear any difference. But in a 25 foot cable you will.
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Old 07-02-2002, 11:55 PM
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From what I understand, gold is not a terribly good electrical conductor. It is used on wiring terminals because it better resists oxidation/corrosion. You could just give the connectors a twist every year or two and get the same effect.

When choosing a car audio cable, here are the factors you might want to consider:

1. Price
2. Appearance (especially if it's a show system)
3. Build Quality (occasionally, you'll run into cheap, no-name cables with terminals that easily break or fall off)
4. Noise rejection (noise meaning annoying car alternator whine)

Any claim a cable has of making your system "sound better" is nonsense. The cable's job is to transmit signal from Point A to Point B-----any change, even an "imrovement," is undesirable.

I've done plenty of installs using the cheapest cables around---sometimes just old junk I'd found in my basement---and most of them had no noise issues at all. I've never had a brand-preference for wires. Copper is copper.

Since noise-rejection techniques are different for home and car audio, you might be likely to get a better result by sticking with cables that are labeled for automotive use.

The current thinking is that "shielded" coaxial cable is noise-prone when used in cars. Everyone these days is using "twisted-pair" cable.

My recommendation would be to buy whatever suits your particular budget and taste. And if you do end up with system noise, there are proper troubleshooting techniques that can be followed to determine the cause---don't just assume it's the cables.

Regarding your original question, most of the quality-built cables on the market also have gold plating, so you probably won't be able to avoid it even if you wanted to. Although platinum-plating seems to be the latest "markineering" novelty.

If you want to are really interested in some serious, intelligent, cable discussion, visit the boards at www.carsound.com, especially anything by David Navone or Richard Clark.

Chris Luongo
Car audio hobbyist since age 12
Professional mobile electronics installer since 1998
Regular poster at www.carsound.com
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Old 07-03-2002, 04:00 AM
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Granted, there's no comparison in build quality and materials with the specialty cables versus the el-cheapo-comes-with-the-$100 cd player cables. I like quality stuff -- it's just that we are talking about frigging wire here -- even the finest terminations and heavy duty wire shouldn't cost more than 40 or 50 bucks,, TOPS, not 900 or whatever the current flavor of the month is. Better off buying a nice tube amp, but that's a debate for another time


There are $300+ power cables available, too -- (the length of wire from the component to the 110 power outlet) if you really want to blow your budget, the claim is that it aligns the molecules or some other insanity. Great work selling stuff like that, if you can get it.
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Old 07-03-2002, 05:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Chris Luongo
Although platinum-plating seems to be the latest "markineering" novelty.
What on earth would be the (pseudo) scientific reasoning behind that?
I mean, with gold I can understand. Appart from being expensive, it also has certain interresting properties, like being inert and malleable, without being too crappy a conductor. Platinum on the other hand is a worse conductor, and much harder. (I've found conflicting information on the oxidising part. I don't know if it forms an oxide or not.)

We all know that the reason they're being sold is that they're being marketed at a higher price, but I'm wondering if there's any accompanying PR bullshit, to dupe customers.
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Old 07-03-2002, 07:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by engineer_comp_geek

Directional cable....
...

Metals aren't directional, so how could they possibly make a directional cable out of copper?
That's not the point of directional cables. These cables don't have the shielding soldered to the connector that gets plugged into the signal's destination. It's so that any noise picked up by the shield doesn't get into your amp, or deck, or whatever.
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Old 07-03-2002, 07:51 AM
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Since lots of EEs and audiophiles seem to be checking in here, would anyone object to a brief cable-related hijack? Methinks it would be a better use of bandwidth than starting a new thread.

Long story short, I just changed the cable running from the DVD player to the receiver. I swapped out the optical (this went to the CD player) cable for a coaxial. When I did, I was faced with a choice of cables. Both had what looked like identical RCA plugs. But one said "Digital" and one was a regular audio/visual cable. Guess which one was seven bucks more? Did I really need to drop the seven bucks? I would think that with digital signals and EC (do DVD players have error correction?) I would be LESS worried about signal transfer. Hey, all ones and zeros, no? Why should I care about the sound quality of ones and zeros? Any SD?


Thanks!

Rhythmdvl
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Old 07-03-2002, 10:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tedster


There are $300+ power cables available, too -- (the length of wire from the component to the 110 power outlet) if you really want to blow your budget, the claim is that it aligns the molecules or some other insanity. Great work selling stuff like that, if you can get it.

$300 power cables? How the hell can a metre of highly refined metal make the slightest bit of difference when the rest of the building is connected with ordinary household wiring?

The only way this wank can have any substance at all is when the entire electrical linkage from the generating plant at the powerhouse to the hifi component is connected with identical wiring.

Incidentally, when Monster Cable and similar products first appeared on the Australian market a few years ago, a leading Australian electronics magazine (known for its objectivity) subjected them to double blind testing with ordinary electrical cables of similar sizes. Both audio and electrical tests were conducted, using the best of scientific instrumentation. Despite their best efforts, the tests were unable to discern any difference, either electrically or audibly, between the audiophile cable and the ordinary stuff. So much for the claims of the golden-ears!

(Sorry, no cite on this, but the magazine was called Electronics Australia, and is now defunct).
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Old 07-03-2002, 01:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Rhythmdvl
But one said "Digital" and one was a regular audio/visual cable. Guess which one was seven bucks more? Did I really need to drop the seven bucks?
Digital signals are higher in frequency than audio signals and they are also square waves instead of smoother analog wave forms (square waves have a much higher harmonic frequency content). "Digital" cables will be lower capacitance wire (to handle the higher frequencies involved) and will have better shielding to stop the high frequency noise from the square waves from affecting other equipment.

That said, digital signals can tolerate a much higher degree of signal corruption than analog signals, because a slight degredation of signal is basically ignored. It is only when you get enough degredation in the signal that you actually cause bits to be misread that you have a problem. Add to this the fact that the "other equipment" involved in your stereo system is probably designed to filter off external noise anyway and from a practical standpoint you may not notice any difference between the two cables.

7 bucks seems kind of steep to me too.
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Old 07-03-2002, 05:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Servo


That's not the point of directional cables. These cables don't have the shielding soldered to the connector that gets plugged into the signal's destination. It's so that any noise picked up by the shield doesn't get into your amp, or deck, or whatever.
Di'adario's directional guitar cables apparently pick up shortwave radio if plugged in the wrong way round, which would seem to support this idea.

milo
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