You can make your own high quality (even high end, with some care) speaker cable using cheap and easy to find cable. The down side, is that although it is not difficult to make, it is slow work, and hard on the fingers. It consists of 5 simple braids of 3 pairs of Cat5 wires each, which are then braided together.
The cable to use (Cat5, Cat5e etc.) is a cable intended for computer communication. It consists of 4 pairs of wires, each pair twisted together. This twisting eliminates noise introduced into the cable because the noise is introduced equally into each wire (in which the signal is travelling in opposite direction in each wire in the pair), and will be cancelled out. So it is important that the twists are maintained. In fact, the finished cable sounds better if you make sure that all pairs are twisted equally tight. It is also very important that the cable you use is for installation (do not use patch cable, which consists of stranded copper, the stranding introduces noise in the sound, the treble will sound gritty). Each wire is solid core 0.5 mm across, and the isolation is made of polyolefin, a derivative of polyethylene, which is a quite good dielectricum. Teflon, FEP etc. (plenum cable) is no longer used as isolation in Europe, because the resulting gases when it burns can be toxic.
The cable is made in shielded and unshielded versions. Get the unshielded one, it is cheaper, and there is less work involved in removing the wrapping. There is a nylon rip cord inside, use this to remove the outer cladding.
A copper wire that is 0.5 mm thick has a square area of 0.20 mm², and a resistance of 87.5 Ω/km (at 20 °C). A finished speaker cable 3 m long, consisting of 15 pairs, will have a square area of 2.95 mm², and a round trip resistance of 0.05 Ω.
Making a flat braid is done using an odd number of strands (3, 5 and 7 in the projects on these pages). The braiding process consists of taking the rightmost strand, and cross it over half of the remaining strands (1, 2 or 3). Repeat from the left side, and make sure that the resulting braid is not too loose (but don't over-tighten eiter). Repeat until finished.
You will notice that the braiding process will quickly tangle the loose ends of the cable. After a short while you will have to pull one of the strands free (for a 3 strand braid), and the other two will fall appart. In order to avoid having to pull out a strand every so often (and this gets more difficult the longer the cable is), you should coil up one of the strands, and hold the coil together using a clothes pin. Release one loop of the coil at a time, and there is almost no limit to how long you can make these cables (more than 5 meters, and you should consider rearranging your speakers and amp).
When braiding the 5 and 7 strand versions, you should coil up 3 and 5 of the strands - 2 strands can always be left free.
The cables in this picture consist of:
It is the 15 pair cable that is tbe exciting one. It contains only little more than half the number of pairs than the 3x3x3 cable, and it is very even, much smoother than the fairly lumpy 3x3x3. This makes it easier to make and to hide behind the speakers. I also believe the absolutely symmetrical structure gives it a better treble response (I have made all the varieties, so I have some practical experience).
Braid the 5 single braids together by taking the outermost left braid, cross 2 braids, take the outermost right braid, cross 2 braids, and so on. Try to avoid twisting the single braids, it gives a nicer looking cable, but it probably won't affect the sound.
The braiding results in shrinkage (the individual pairs meander back and forth inside the finished cable). Start with cables that are 1.4 times longer than the intended finished length. If you want a 3 meter long finished speaker cable, start with 4.2 meter long Cat5 cables.
The 4 twisted pairs inside the raw cable has a different number of twists pr. meter. The orange pair is twisted most. This is done to avoid cross-talk in the cable for its intended use, which is computer communication, carrying 2 duplex sessions in one cable. But for HiFi use, this is bad.
I have so far made 3 sets 5x3 of speaker cable. The first one was 3 meters long, and was just braided as described. It was very good in all areas, except the high treble, which was a little too agressive for my taste. The cable will get better in use, but this one took unusally long to burn in. So I decided to make another set, and this time everything was going to be done right.
The second pair was 10% shorter than the first pair, but it was much better sounding at once, before burning in. I can only attribute this to the fact that all pairs now have the same number of twists pr. meter (and are also of the same length), the difference in total length is not significant. It might be because if the pairs have different twist rate, they will also have different total wire length, resulting in the signal arriving at the speaker very slightly out of phase in the pairs of different twist rate, resulting in the treble loosing definition.
The third pair is the same length as the second pair, but in this one all the pairs have been twisted up extra - in fact the increase is 40% on the orange pair. Care was taken that the frequency of turns on each pair was as similar as possible, so that all pairs in the completed cable would have the same number of twists.
Make a template to ease the checking of correct twist rate. Simply fasten a piece of reference wire to a stick, and check by holding the wire beeing twisted up over the template.
If you don't have a drill to twist the pairs extra with, you can ensure even twist rate by using only one colour in one cable. You may use only green wires for one cable, and only blue wires for the other cable. Of course to do this you will need twice as much cat-5 cable, but on the other hand, you can make two sets. Perhaps a project for a couple of friends? The result is every bit as good as twisting up the different colours - it is not the actual twist rate that is important, but that the twist rate is the same for all pairs in the cable.
This third 5x3 cable is the first cable using Cat5 I have made that sounded really good at once. Normally I have to place back the baffles on the speakers for weeks while burning in a new set, but for this one there was no need to do so. In fact, it is the best sounding cable I have had in my system, and you would have to spend serious (or even silly) money to buy something commercial that sounds better. So, if you contemplate to make this cable, do yourself a favour, and twist all the pairs to the same number of twists as the orange pair (or more).
To terminate the cable, separate the pairs, and twist them together, all coloured ones for one pole, and the white ones for the other pole. Cut, and untwist just enough to strip the ends. Retwist, and terminate. I prefer banana plugs, spades tend to work loose.
You can expect to use 10-15 hours making a pair of cables 3 m long.
For the masochists (although I no longer recommend this cable, it being overkill in all ways), try the 21 pair Cat 5 speaker cable.
If you have speakers that can be bi-wired, it is easier and probably at least as good, to make two cables that are single braided. Use 7 pairs for the treble, and 9 pair for the base, and braid them all in one go. This results in a somewhat flatter cable, and with less shrinkage. This is what I currently use in my system.
If you have done some research on this topic, you will have noticed that many authors will recommend that you use a plenum version of the cable. This means: Use a FEP or Teflon coated wire. (I even saw one state that it is a waste of time to use anything else.) This kind of isolation is mainly used in USA. Usage is discouraged in Europe, because the resulting gases when it burns (in an established fire) are toxic. For this reason, this kind of cable is difficult to obtain in Europe. Don't worry, the geometry of the cable is very important, so use the ordinary kind, which is covered with polyolefin (an excellent dielectric, even though Teflon may be better). If you still think you will get better results with the plenum kind (and you can obtain it), be aware of the fire hazards of using Teflon.
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