The analogue information passing between your source (be it a CD player, turntable or music streamer) and stereo amplifier is complicated – and there's an awful lot of it. So connect them wisely, because, like every component in your audio chain, your audio cables can make a significant difference to the sound your system ultimately delivers.
We've rounded up the best audio cables we've tested for a number of different budgets. So whether you're watching the pennies or your high-end system demands a little more investment, these RCA interconnects can make the most of your hi-fi's potential.
The quick list
Best audio cable overall
The sweet-spot combination of price and performance, this C-line interconnect cable is compatible with a wide range of hi-fi products.
Best budget audio cable
Ideal for budget or entry-level systems, this long-running audio interconnect remains a solid buy for replacing the cheap cables that come in the box.
Best audio cable overall
If you've ever wondered what difference a metre of cable can make to your system, we'd urge you to give the C-line a listen.
This is Chord Company displaying once again an understanding of what makes hi-fi great, with the best RCA cable we've heard at the budget end. It never loses sight of what matters – the musicality of your system – and also helps enhance your system's detail levels, making for an entertaining and informative listen.
Read the full Chord Company C-line review
Best budget audio cable
Despite the über-budget price tag, the Profile analogue interconnects punch above their weight, helping to deliver a tight sound that’s uncluttered and airy. Detail levels are surprisingly good for the money too, and the well-made Profile cables also show ability with their handling of dynamics.
These cables have been around for years now and remain a solid buy. As a first upgrade for an entry-level system (where components are a couple of hundred pounds or dollars each), these QED interconnects are a great option.
Read the full QED Profile review
Best premium audio cable
The original Clearway analogue interconnects have been around for a little while and they were revised in 2022 to introduce a new plating to the plugs.
They deliver a step-up in quality from the cheaper C-ine mentioned above, but they do cost more and their talents will be heard more obviously in systems that are at mid-level price and above.
During testing, we found it really quite unsatisfying to listen to the same songs with anything else of a similar price. They allow for our system to deliver an open, crisp and rhythmic sound and dynamics are communicated with confidence. The price tag might weigh heavy on many listeners’ wallets – and the cheaper C-line remains a class leader we can still get behind – but for those who can justify the outlay, the Clearway Analogue RCA (2022) is brilliantly capable of letting you hear where your money has gone.
Read the full Chord Company Clearway Analogue RCA (2022) review
How to choose the right audio cables for you
A good starting point is to consider getting in touch with the manufacturer of your stereo amplifier and asking if they recommend a particular brand or model of interconnect. After all, engineers will have spent hours experimenting during the development process and you might be told some valuable nuggets of information which might make your job of finding something suitable more simple.
You could also speak to a dealer to see if they've tried different cables during demos and have found any that work particularly well with your amplifier.
Otherwise, when it comes to picking the right audio interconnects, a lot of your decision-making will revolve around price and, of course, your system, whether you're putting one together or already have one set up.
As a general rule of thumb, we'd recommend setting aside 10-15 per cent of the total cost of your system for cables. In the case of a hi-fi set-up, you'll be looking at analogue interconnects, speaker cables and, potentially, a digital optical or coaxial cable depending on the sources you're using. So you'll want to dedicate a share of this to a pair of suitable analogue interconnects.
If you currently own an excellent entry-level set-up you don't need to spend big on interconnects. However, at the same time, there's nothing stopping you from trying more premium pairs to see how your system reacts. As you can see from our list below, there are some brilliant budget options available.
On the flip side, If you own a high-end set-up, we'd suggest looking at price-comparable interconnects but you could also audition some cheaper interconnects too.
One last piece of advice would be to not pick purely on the star rating. Read our reviews to help you understand the character of the cable and see if it matches the character of your system.
How we test audio cables
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics. We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the testing process, ensuring consistency across all the products we test.
The first thing we do to a pair of analogue interconnects is run them in by connecting them to our reference system. In our experience, their impact on a system can change over time so we make sure they have a couple of days with an audio signal running through them.
When connecting them, we also pay attention to the cable directionality which is usually marked on the cable sheath of plugs via the use of arrows. These arrows show you the direction of the signal from the source to your amplifier.
During testing, we start listening through our reference system as its transparency allows us to hear exactly how the characteristics of the cable are affecting the sound. We also connect them to a more price-compatible system to hear how they work in a more typical scenario. We compare each cable to rivals at the same price in order for us to reach a verdict and star rating.
All our review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer, to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as impartial and thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to our verdicts on audio cables, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any of our other Best Buy pages, you can be confident you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
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