Top 5 High End Audio Cable Jargon Terms Explained
Modern day cable technology for audio has not had significant advances for many years. The figure 8 speaker cable design, for example, has been around since the earliest days of electronics. Today, it is increasingly difficult for manufacturers to come up with significant improvements in technology, and many resort to fancy marketing and over-jargonised descriptions to gain attention.
Whether or not these new technologies actually work is another matter, however here's a brief overview of the top 5, and what they mean:
1) SCC OFC, UPOCC, SGC, SGSCC, etc.
This is one of the most popular and flaunted current craze in the cable world. It goes by many names, but usually some abbreviation of some variant of "single crystal copper". The idea is that your standard copper cables contain many crystals per length of wire. This is because all metals form crystals during manufacture, and if under non-ideal conditions, will form many crystals in the ingot. When drawn out into a strand of wire, the crystals form distinct sections of cable, which is theorized to act as small resistors with different electrical characteristics. This then causes muddying in sound. SCC is drawn from a single crystal ingot of copper, which is made under controlled conditions and hence is also very pure (6N or 7N).
2) Smooth surface copper
This works in a manner similar to SCC, however through a different approach. A special annealing process is used to draw out the copper gradually, resulting in a smoother surface. Resistance of a cable is proportional to its cross-sectional area. Here if the surface of a wire is not constant, the cable is theoretically made of thousands of small resistors of varying qualities. The smoother surface of the wire translates to a pure conducting medium.
3) Teflon / cotton dielectric (insulation)
This is one of the less contentious technologies around, as it has stands in proven industrial applications. Electrical properties of any conducting medium is scientifically proven to be dependent not only on the medium itself, but the dielectric around the medium, ie the insulation. The better the insulation, the more ideal the electrical properties. Teflon is one of the most practicable optimal materials known to man for the purposes of insulation. Its dielectric strength is extremely high, yet it is easy to handle and serves as a good physical barrier. Its use is second only to air (excluding the possibilities of using vacuum), which obviously presents practical problems when required to separate two closely twisted wires. One way of going around this is by using a layer of cotton. Cotton is highly porous (it has many small strands, which are separated by air). Again, this may be a good way of insulating cable on a small scale, but it is not practical for speaker cables or any high output signals.
4) Silver conductors
If Teflon is one of the less contentious technologies around, then silver is one with significant backing in industry. Excluding experimental materials which are impractical to use as cabling, silver is the best conductor that we know of. It is used in high end lab equipment to link signal paths with minimal distortion. It is used for medical applications, for hook-up wire in research prototypes and in communication satellites. There has been controversy with many brands claiming silver to be harsh. This argument has some foundation, as silver has incredible high frequency performance (hence their use in demanding applications). However this factor also proves the shortfall in quality of attached equipment. Silver is known to be highly unforgiving to any flaws in the other components that are used. Logic, hence, tells us that it is not silver which is harsh, but it is rather the most honest.
5) Cryogenically treated materials
If silver is the least contentious design, this may be the most out there idea to top our 5. Cryogenic treatment involves cooling a material to extreme temperatures (-180 degrees C or -300 degrees F), which was originally used to treat certain forms of steel to improve its hardness and strength. In fact, the effect on the internal structure of steel encourages formation of finer grains. Ironically, this theory is in complete contrast to that of single crystal copper, which aims to reduce the number of grains. Additionally, increased hardness is at the cost of increased brittleness, which will thus increase the number of micro-fractures in the material. Neverheless, there are a multitude of companies out there who claim supreme performance due to this technology.
There is no doubt that many of these technologies are controversial. However, what is never in doubt is our ability to judge for ourselves. Use your ears and listen for yourself. That's the best advice anyone could give to the audio enthusiast.