The best speaker cables (or speaker wire to our American friends) can't make your system sound better than it really is, but they 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 hi-fi system. Fail to do so and you could end up with cheap, badly made cables that will waste the talent of your expensive kit. (The same goes for the cables connecting your electronics, so make sure you invest in decent audio cables too.)
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 – you can specify the lengths and termination during the buying process.
Banana plugs 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, so choose what works for your system.
Whatever your opinion on that matter, it is undeniable that cables make a difference, and these are the best speaker wires we've tested below.
How to choose the right speaker 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.
If you're embarking on getting new speaker cables for your system, a starting point could be to get in touch with the manufacturer of your stereo speakers and ask if they recommend a particular brand or model of cable. After all, engineers will have spent hours experimenting during the development process and you might be given a valuable nugget of information that might make your job of finding something suitable more simple.
You could also speak to a dealer to see if they've tried different speaker cables during demos and have found any that work particularly well with your pair of speakers. First-hand advice is always valuable.
Otherwise, when it comes to picking the right speaker cables, a lot of your decision-making will revolve around price and your specific hi-fi system.
As a general rule of thumb, we'd recommend setting aside 10-15 per cent of the total cost of your system for all 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 speaker cables.
If you currently own an excellent entry-level set-up, you may not feel the need to spend big on cables, and that's totally fine. However, you might find that trying a new set of cables is an easy and effective way to upgrade your system's sound without spending big bucks. 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 cables to get the most performance out of your system.
One last piece of advice would be to not pick a cable option 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 audio system.
The original Rumour was introduced way back in 1996, and at the time was only Chord’s second attempt at a speaker cable. This audiophile speaker cable has seen various iterations since then, with the previous five-star RumourX (2018) now superseded by the latest RumourX (2022) model.
It's incremental changes throughout, but all of these add up to a fine performance upgrade at this price.
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 RumourX, a more reasonably priced alternative XLPE (Cross-linked Polyethylene) was found instead in the 2018 model. Chord has introduced a new multi-metal alloy for the pug plating in the 2022 model (changed from previous silver), which claims to tarnish less over time and offers better connection quality.
With the Chord cable plumbed-in, our reference hi-fi system delivers a crisp, clean and dynamic presentation, just as before. But the bass performance is tauter, the top end is more refined and there's an ounce more subtlety. We’re impressed at the musically cohesive nature of the sound and the way our systems render subtle dynamic shifts with such finesse. It's not essential to upgrade if you already own the previous RumourX cables, but if they're looking a bit worn, the 2022 version will give your system a decent performance lift.
Read the full review: Chord Company RumourX (2022)
AudioQuest’s Rocket 11 – at the budget end of its Rocket range – 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 several years running now, having batted off new competition to keep its crown for many moons.
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
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 per cent 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 Rocket 22 continues the fine work of its Award-winning sibling (above) 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