Best speaker cables 2020 Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best speaker wire you can buy in 2020.
A good speaker cable (speaker wire to our American friends) can't make your system sound better than it really is, but it can and should ensure that every last drop of performance makes its way from your amplifier to your speakers.
Conversely, a poor speaker cable can definitely make your system sound a lot worse than it really is, so it's absolutely worth budgeting for decent cabling when buying or upgrading your system. Fail to do so and you'll end up with cheap, poorly made cables that will waste the talents of the expensive kit on which you've just forked out.
Do remember to budget for the lengths of speaker wire that you need (and the number of speakers you're wiring-up if it's a surround system) and bear in mind that the cable prices we quote usually don't include the banana plugs that you'll see in the pictures, largely because you don't necessarily have to buy them.
They make connecting, unplugging and reconnecting easier, but they don't make the sound any better. In fact, many people believe a bare wire connection to be sonically superior.
Whatever your opinion on that matter, it is undeniable that cables make a difference, and these are the best we've tested.
AudioQuest’s Rocket 11 – on the budget end of its Rocket range at £12.50/m – could just be the hi-fi speaker cable to give your system a new lease of life. We love it so much it's been a What Hi-Fi? Award winner three years in a row.
AudioQuest has taken a lot of care with the configuration and quality of the conductors used inside the Rocket 11. It uses semi-solid true-concentric conductors and long-grain copper – all to improve performance and reduce any interference that might degrade the sound.
There’s a perceptible improvement in the way systems perform when the Rocket 11 is plugged in, compared with rival speaker cables. Music sounds crisp and clean, with a punchy sense of dynamism that's a joy to listen to.
Read the full review: AudioQuest Rocket 11
The original Rumour was introduced way back in 1996, and at the time was only Chord’s second attempt at a speaker cable. It says much for the original design that, cosmetic changes apart, this audiophile speaker cable has remained pretty much the same until now.
Chord’s development work with high-end ranges such as ChordMusic and Sarum T showed significant improvements could be made to the Teflon dielectric material used. While the subsequent high-end solution of Taylon proved too expensive to use in products such as the Rumour X, a more reasonably priced alternative XLPE (Cross-linked Polyethylene) was found instead.
With the Chord plumbed-in, our systems deliver a crisp, clean and dynamic presentation. We’re impressed at the musically cohesive nature of the sound and the way our systems render subtle dynamic shifts with such finesse. An easy choice for a What Hi-Fi? Award winner.
Read the full review: Chord Company Rumour X
Monetary savings are not necessarily accompanied by a reduced level of technology or care on Chord Company’s part. The C-Screen's specifications are similar to speaker wires further up the hierarchy.
Beneath its white outer jacket, the C-Screen features what Chord Company describes as multi-stranded oxygen-free copper conductors, insulated with low-density polyethylene and arranged in a twisted-pair configuration to reduce interference. The white outer covers a PVC casing designed to reduce mechanical noise and space the conductors correctly.
So what is all of that in today’s money? Essentially it translates to recognisable Chord Company performance, favouring your system's cohesion and musical performance over outright analysis.
Read the full review: Chord Company C-Screen
QED has always been about clarity, detail and insight, with the Reference XT40i speaker wire being no exception. It will allow any budget-to-midrange system to show off all the information at its disposal, providing it with accuracy and precision. Just what you'd expect from this Award-winning stable.
The nearly 50-year-old British company is introducing its brand new Air Gap dielectric to these 99.999% oxygen-free copper cables, a technology that increases the separation of conductors inside the cable and thus the amount of air between them. In turn, this halves the dissipation and capacitance characteristics inside the cable.
The Reference XT40i also retains QED’s X-Tube formation, where cable conductors are gathered in a tube-like shape around a hollow insulating rod to equalise current densities, delivering low inductance and presenting a consistent and even load to the amp.
Read the full review: QED Reference XT40i
The increase in clarity and punch when using the Atlas Equator 2.0 over budget alternatives should be lauded, especially at this relatively affordable price. If you think your budget/midrange hi-fi system could do with a sonic spring clean, but not sure what needs upgrading (and don’t want to spend too much), plug this Atlas speaker cable in. You might find it’s just what your system needs.
The cable has a multi-core construction, consisting of a pair of identically matched conductors. Atlas uses oxygen free copper (OFC) conductors in the 2018 version of these speaker cables. The purity and amount of copper used has been increased from the previous Equator version that we reviewed in 2014, too.
Atlas believes that less oxygen results in better sound quality, and while OFC conductors are claimed to improve conductivity, the increased purity of copper should result in a cleaner overall sound.
Read the full review: Atlas Equator 2.0 (2018)
The Rocket 22 continues the fine work of its Award-winning sibling and, in a suitably talented set-up, the difference in price between the two can be justified by the improvement in scale, detail and authority.
The design of this audiophile speaker cable mirrors that of the cheaper model, but uses higher quality copper conductors with a polished outer surface that’s claimed to give a ‘sweeter’ high frequency performance. The conductors use strands arranged in concentric layers, where each layer spirals in the opposite direction to the one below it.
The cable also uses AudioQuest’s Noise Dissipation System, which is essentially specially designed layers of shielding that reduce the impact of RF (Radio Frequency) interference and EMI (Electromagnetic Interference).
Read the full review: AudioQuest Rocket 22
For the money, there isn't much to grumble about as far as the XT25 is concerned. It allows for an extremely insightful and detailed sound, which is up there with the very best at this level. Music is encouraged to display an airy sense of openness with plenty of subtlety and sophistication. It's the kind of cable that would be a good option for warm-sounding, less spacious set-ups.
The XT25 is another beneficiary of QED’s X-Tube technology, which first came to light in the company’s Award-winning Silver Anniversary XT cables more than a decade ago. Along with low DC resistance, low-loss dielectric and its near entirely oxygen-free copper make-up, QED says its cables measure better with audible sonic improvements when compared with other hi-fi speaker cables.
At this price, and in many areas, they are absolutely correct.
Read the full review: QED XT25
If you're looking for a speaker cable that can fit into tight spaces, then the Clearwater is definitely an option. It's terminated in attractive dinky plugs and is covered in an almost jelly-like jacket which helps with flexibility.
We were impressed with its ability to keep music sounding balanced, involving and cohesive while it also helps deliver plenty of power and depth from low frequencies. Add natural-sounding vocals and lashings of detail into the mix and you've got yourself quite the speaker cable.
Read the full review: Van den Hul The Clearwater