Building a hi-fi system? Don't forget this crucial element (which so many people do)

Building a hi-fi system? Don't forget this crucial element (which so many people do)
(Image credit: Future)

If you're building a hi-fi system, there are all sorts of things to consider. 

Do you want to stream your tunes or listen to CDs, or both? How about connecting a record player? Active or passive speakers? An all-in-one source and amplifier or good old fashioned separates? Thanks to the streaming revolution and the emergence of all-in-one systems, there are more options than ever.

Whatever you choose, one thing we do still agree on here at What Hi-Fi? is that for the best possible sound quality, some form of separates system is the way to go. What's more, picking the right components is a great start, but there are a range of other factors that can still affect the ultimate quality of your sound. And one of them, brace yourselves, is cables. 

Some people get very worked up over cables. We don’t. They’re necessary for your system to work, on a basic level, but more to the point, in our experience good cable will really make the most of the kit you’ve bought and ensure you're hearing it at its best.

Many people don't believe us, or choose not to believe us, even though it has become one of our mantras when talking about building a hi-fi system: spend around 10 to 15 per cent of your system cost on cables (interconnects and speaker cable). 

Of course, that's a rough estimate, and the cheaper the system, the less likely you are to really hear the benefit of top notch cabling. But if you're building a new hi-fi system or just considering how you might upgrade the system you own, you really should give serious consideration to your cables as part of the process. It's one of the most cost effective upgrades you can do.

Chord Company Rumour X

(Image credit: Chord Company)

Naturally we suggest you use our cable reviews as a guide to make a shortlist before you buy. If you're able to visit a hi-fi shop, you may even find that they will lend you the cable to try at home (taking a deposit as security, of course!) and that way you can hear the difference for yourself before you you commit to a purchase. 

Don't hear a difference? Fine. Like any aspect of hi-fi, it's your ears you have to please so if you don't hear the benefit, feel free to save your cash - but we're confident that good cables should deliver a benefit.

There are a few other things to consider once you've chosen some cables. It’s important to ensure that mains and signal cables are kept as far away from each other as possible. If you have a capable set-up, the degrading effect of having the two physically interact can come through in an added coarseness to the presentation, combined with a lack of subtlety. Yes, really. Once more, if you don't hear a difference, that's just fine; feel free to save your money.

So remember: try to spend 10-15% of your system's value on cabling. Check out our round-ups of the best audio cables and best speaker cables for our recommendations, and then prepare to hear your system at its very best. And if you've been using the cheap freebie cables, that might be for the first time...

Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is Content Director for T3 and What Hi-Fi?, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for more than 15 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).