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Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

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 Rocket 11

(Image credit: Future)

1. AudioQuest Rocket 11

A sensational speaker cable and 2020 What Hi-Fi? Award-winner.

Reasons to Buy

Flexible build
Clean, precise and fluid sound
Excellent compatibility

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

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

Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

2. Chord Company RumourX

Chord Company hits the mark again, with the excellent Rumour X.

Reasons to Buy

Promotes a lively, cohesive sound
Design is easy to accommodate

Reasons to Avoid

Rivals offer more refinement

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

Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

3. Chord Company C-Screen

A brilliant budget option if your system needs an upgrade.

Reasons to Buy

Full-bodied, warm and expressive
Helps your system’s punch and drive

Reasons to Avoid

Some rivals offer more detail/space

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

Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

(Image credit: QED)

4. QED Reference XT40i

You'll struggle to get your system sounding cleaner at this price.

Reasons to Buy

Offers system great clarity
Precision and accurate timing
Great price

Reasons to Avoid

Best help tie music together better

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

Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

5. Atlas Equator 2.0 (2018)

This nicely built speaker cable is an easy and affordable way to boost your system’s performance.

Reasons to Buy

Clean, detailed delivery
Good weight and balance
Flexible build

Reasons to Avoid

Pricier rivals offer more drive

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)

Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

6. AudioQuest Rocket 22

A flexible, well-balanced speaker cable that should work well in a wide range of systems.

Reasons to Buy

Refined and informative character
Aids an authoritative sound
Flexible configuration options

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

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

Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

7. QED XT25

This budget speaker wire allows for impressive levels of clarity and detail.

Reasons to Buy

Clarity and space in abundance
Allows for loads of detail
Encourages dynamics

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

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

Best speaker cables 2020: budget and premium audio cables

8. Van den Hul The Clearwater

This quality speaker cable displays plenty of insight and dynamic ability.

Reasons to Buy

Attractive, durable design
Power with clarity
Refined, detailed sound

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

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

  • abacus
    And you can provide independent verifiable proof of this?

    Bill
    Reply
  • Mike Hunt
    abacus said:
    And you can provide independent verifiable proof of this?

    Bill
    Of course they can't. None of these cables work any better than a length of twin and earth cable you'd find in a skip. They might look nicer but they perform no better, and when you see that suppliers are offering a burn-in service, you just know that they're selling snake oil.
    Reply
  • Kurt Reply
    Oh a couple of know-nothing know-it-alls. What a rarity for a hi-fi forum.
    Reply
  • Mike Hunt
    Kurt Reply said:
    Oh a couple of know-nothing know-it-alls. What a rarity for a hi-fi forum.
    It actually seems quite prevalent.
    Reply
  • alantb
    abacus said:
    And you can provide independent verifiable proof of this?

    Bill
    Hi Bill
    Having just spent a week reviewing three cables at home (Chord Epic X, Chord XL and Tellurium Q silver 2) I can say a firm 'yes'. There were substantial differences in the sound, and the enjoyment of the music they offered. I even involved two intelligent sceptics - my wife and an old friend; they were both surprised that they had a definite preference for one (luckily the same I liked!) and used words to describe their reasons that were similar to each other's and to mine.
    Give it another go, maybe?
    Reply
  • Mike Hunt
    alantb said:
    Hi Bill
    Having just spent a week reviewing three cables at home (Chord Epic X, Chord XL and Tellurium Q silver 2) I can say a firm 'yes'. There were substantial differences in the sound, and the enjoyment of the music they offered. I even involved two intelligent sceptics - my wife and an old friend; they were both surprised that they had a definite preference for one (luckily the same I liked!) and used words to describe their reasons that were similar to each other's and to mine.
    Give it another go, maybe?
    Utter nonsense! If someone could hear a difference then there was something drastically wrong with some of the cables. Send them back for a refund!
    Speaker cables sound different... LOL!
    Reply
  • alantb
    Mike Hunt said:
    Utter nonsense! If someone could hear a difference then there was something drastically wrong with some of the cables. Send them back for a refund!
    Speaker cables sound different... LOL!
    But the perceived differences were in the degree of rightness, not wrongness.
    Reply
  • Ian Betts
    alantb said:
    But the perceived differences were in the degree of rightness, not wrongness.
    Mike Hunt said:
    Utter nonsense! If someone could hear a difference then there was something drastically wrong with some of the cables. Send them back for a refund!
    Speaker cables sound different... LOL!
    Mike Hunt..... If you say your name quickly enough, says it all really! 🤣🤣
    Perhaps you are confusing the conductance and resistance of an electrical cable when used for DC current or that of a 50Hz mains cable with the inductance and impedance of a cable when used to conduct an AC current with frequencies from 20Hz to 20kHz. The impedance of a cable can be quite different at different frequencies and this can clearly affect the voltage/current which arrives at the speaker terminals. It's not rocket science!
    Reply
  • Mike Hunt
    Ian Betts said:
    Mike Hunt..... If you say your name quickly enough, says it all really! 🤣🤣
    Perhaps you are confusing the conductance and resistance of an electrical cable when used for DC current or that of a 50Hz mains cable with the inductance and impedance of a cable when used to conduct an AC current with frequencies from 20Hz to 20kHz. The impedance of a cable can be quite different at different frequencies and this can clearly affect the voltage/current which arrives at the speaker terminals. It's not rocket science!
    There are only one group of confused people here, and it's the audiophools.
    I posted a reply earlier, with a link to all the information necessary to disprove this cable nonsense, but you either can't understand it or chose to ignore it, but if you do understand it, please feel free to offer a rebuttal, explaining why and where the information is incorrect.
    https://books.google.ie/books?id=l1ul2d2jh0QC&pg=PA436&lpg=PA436&dq=RLC+lumped+element+analysis+cables&source=bl&ots=QsHFenkZKU&sig=ACfU3U39DF5U6iSvYtIhwqJrVA30IqLdmA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwivlaW3hL7nAhWVVBUIHVswAMAQ6AEwFHoECA4QAQ#v=onepage&q=RLC%20lumped%20element%20analysis%20cables&f=false
    Reply
  • Ian Betts
    Mike Hunt said:
    There are only one group of confused people here, and it's the audiophools.
    I posted a reply earlier, with a link to all the information necessary to disprove this cable nonsense, but you either can't understand it or chose to ignore it, but if you do understand it, please feel free to offer a rebuttal, explaining why and where the information is incorrect.
    https://books.google.ie/books?id=l1ul2d2jh0QC&pg=PA436&lpg=PA436&dq=RLC+lumped+element+analysis+cables&source=bl&ots=QsHFenkZKU&sig=ACfU3U39DF5U6iSvYtIhwqJrVA30IqLdmA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwivlaW3hL7nAhWVVBUIHVswAMAQ6AEwFHoECA4QAQ#v=onepage&q=RLC%20lumped%20element%20analysis%20cables&f=false
    Hello Mike. I would be more than happy to read your supporting information but I cannot find the link in your previous post that you refer to. I see a link to a publication on Sound Engineering. Is that what you referred to? If not, could you be so kind as to repost your link?
    Thank you.
    Reply