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.
How to choose the right audio cables for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
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.
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 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
We move from one Award-winning Chord cable to another. 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 C-Line mentioned above, but they do cost more, which is why they find themselves in second spot on this list.
During testing, we found it really quite unsatisfying to listen to the same songs with anything else of a similar price. They allow for 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 is brilliantly capable of letting you hear where your money has gone.
Read the full Chord Company Clearway Analogue RCA (2022) review
Despite its über-budget price tag, the Profile punches above its 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 also shows ability with its handling of dynamics.
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
How we test audio cables
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 them to rivals at the same money 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 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.
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"Helps tie instruments together", "Helps with detail and timing" and "Spacious, clean soundstage".
I notice you seem to no longer review digital cables. Why is that?
If you are really worried, get your cable from a Pro Music Store, (They will be a fraction of the price of these so called super cables) as then you will have the same quality as used in professional film & music production studios, whose equipment makes even Hi-End Hi-Fi sound mundane.
MetAlbertR's remark about digital cables is interesting. Have they finally worked out that there is no difference in digital cables?
Basically, it's about the profit margins. Having worked in the photo retail industry years ago, I know that in order to keep competitive with the mail-order houses the profit we would make on a high end camera might amount to being $40. However, if we sold the customer on the idea that "you need a UV filter to protect that precious front element!" we would garner $20 profit out of the $40 sale of the filter.
THe cable thing seems much the same - perhaps retailers cannot get much margin on the big gear that is always comparison shopped by potential customers; but once they decide they like that amp or speaker setup then pushing the "special" cables for "better sound" sounds like much the same strategy.
For me It was proof enough that spending £90 on RCA cables on a connection between a £600 CD and £500 AMP would pay dividend's and it proved so, I already had £40 C-LINE RCAs and when replacing with the £90 Clearway RCA cables I was very pleased with the gain in detail and midrange clarity, there where instruments not detected before that where now present.
I have now upgraded the AMP to a MF M3i and run a M-DAC+ and have tried a couple of cables Digital Chord Clearway and Tellurium blue Q digital and the Tellurium is better although cost a fair bit more.
Of course if you have mismatched amps, decks, CD players, Dacs, or there poor quality HiFi then your not going to here the difference are you.
For all those doubters out there stop bleating about a multi million pound industry being a load of old cobblers, if it was then by now those that spend vast amounts of money would have just fitted bell wire because if they don't here an improvement then they would look else where, that's because they can afford to.
Anyone out there in doubt go to a good dealers, ask for a demo of a £1000 amp, £1000 CD player and dealer chosen speakers to match that are all run in, tell them to put say Chord C-LINE RCA cables between amp and CD, then listen to a good CD that is not load head banging rock and roll but say Fleetwood Mac, Tusk, Brown Eyes. listen a few times and listen to that fabulous guitar work, then ask for the cables to be changed to Clearway RC's, you will hear a resounding difference in the detail and space around the instruments.
Simple really a child could tell you the difference.
Did you do a double blind test on the cables with everything level matched so as to rule out inconsistences and placebo effect, if not then your claims are just opinions and not facts, so your assertion that a child could hear a difference is totally nonsensical.
I realise this post will not change your mind or belief (Just like a flat earthier will always ignore the truth and keep posting easily debunked claims) but hopefully it will help others to not fall into the same trap and have an open mind so that they realise that just because you believe you hear a difference doesn’t mean there actually is a difference. (Hence the level matched double blind test)
In the final analysis always try before you buy and if you are happy with something (Whether it actually makes a difference of not) and you can afford it, then go for it, as happiness cannot be measured.