We spent hundreds of hours researching HDMI cables and testing speaker cables to figure out what gives you the best performance for your dollar and here’s our advice: don’t waste money on cables for your new TV or speaker system.
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. This is a condensed version of several of our guides; you can find links to our full guides in the discussions below.
$100+ HDMI cables and $1,000-a-foot speaker cable are designed to make the store money and your wallet thinner. You just need decent cables that work—low-cost HDMI cables from Monoprice deliver the same picture as the pricey stuff, and the company’s tried-and-true copper speaker wire will give you the same sound quality as any exotic formulation. Stick to the basics—not only will you get great performance, but you’ll have more to spend on movies and music.
It’s a close race between HDMI cables and speaker cables for the title of “Most Overpriced Accessories You’ll Be Pushed to Buy at Your Local Big-Box Store.” But whereas analog signals can degrade over longer distances or over poorly constructed cables, HDMI cables transfer digital data—that is, the data is either there or it isn’t, so a cable either works or it doesn’t.
This holds true even over long distances. The cable will either work, or it won’t. The picture quality is perfect up to the point at which there isn’t enough signal to create an image, at which point you see nothing or the image will flash. (If you’re right at the limit, you may get “sparkles” as parts of the signal randomly drop while the TV still gets enough data to construct most of the image, but this occurrence is rare.) Similarly, a poorly made cable might not have the bandwidth for higher-resolution video, but will work for lower resolution. But, again, most of the time when a cable doesn’t work, you simply don’t get an image.
You won’t benefit from spending hundreds of dollars (or more) on expensive HDMI cables—you just need a cable that’s well made. The only legitimate reason for normal folks to spend more on an HDMI cable is if you’re sending data over longer distances, which we cover below.
After eliminating dozens of overpriced HDMI cables, we recommend Monoprice’s 6105 6-foot Select Series High Speed HDMI Cable for most situations. Sold for way less than $1 per foot, it can handle resolutions up to Ultra HD 4K (including 1080p and 3D), and it has Ethernet and Audio Return Channel capabilities. It also comes with a lifetime warranty, so if anything ever goes wrong with it, Monoprice will replace it for free.
If the Monoprice 6105 is unavailable, our runner-up is the AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable, which is just as good as our top pick—and is slightly less expensive if you have Amazon Prime, thanks to free shipping. However it has only a one-year warranty.
Active cables for longer runs or thinner cables
Monoprice Select Active Series with RedMere Technology
As we noted above, at longer distances (about 15 feet or more), or with very thin cables, not enough of the signal will get to your TV or projector for it to be able to create an image. Also, longer passive cables are often very heavy and can over time put enough strain on their connectors—as well as on the connections of your AV equipment—that they stop working. The solution is to use active cables that employ a technology from a company called RedMere: These cables siphon a little power from the HDMI connection and use it to power tiny chips inside the HDMI connectors that allow longer and thinner cables to transmit signals reliably. (A minor drawback to these cables is that they’re unidirectional, so you have to make sure to connect the correct end to the TV and the correct end to the source, but that’s easy enough to figure out.)
Our favorite active cables for longer runs and travel use are Monoprice’s Select Active Series High Speed HDMI Cables with RedMere Technology, available in lengths from 6 feet to 60 feet. Like our top pick, the Select Active Series cables cost less than $1 per foot, but they’re thinner and lighter—and, of course, they work over much longer runs. They’re also great for tossing into your travel bag to connect your laptop to a projector, or to connect your favorite media streamer, smartphone, or tablet to a hotel TV.
We have much more information about HDMI cables in our full guide.
Audiophile types almost always say that thicker speaker wire is better, and that more-expensive materials provide obviously better audio quality. Hardcore anti-audiophile skeptics say that there is no difference in cables, so you should get the cheapest speaker wire you can find.
Both camps are wrong—or at least overstating their cases. Unlike HDMI cables, speaker cables are analog, and because of the way the cable becomes part of the whole amplifier-cable-speaker system, speaker cables could affect the sound. However, after many, many years of experience reviewing every level of audio product, plus extensive A/B testing of different cables, our A/V staff can tell you that the audible differences between decent cables is subtle at best. Speaker wire is the least important piece of gear in your entire system, as the impact it makes is negligible next to the differences in your components and speakers. Plus, the amount, or type, of change a cable makes does not necessarily correlate with price. As in, a cheaper cable might sound better in your system than a more expensive one.
Given this background, we researched the countless speaker-wire options, ranging from no-name $6 50-foot spools to $1,000-per-inch audiophile offerings, and we narrowed them down to a list of more than 140 models worth considering, namely those that are reasonably priced, made by reputable companies, blessed with positive reviews, and reliably available for purchase. Our list included every company you’ve ever heard of if you’ve shopped for speaker cables, as well as a lot of brands you probably wouldn’t recognize.
A word on gauge. Speaker wire comes in different thicknesses, or gauges; most commonly you’ll see numbers ranging from 12 American Wire Gauge to 18 AWG. Confusingly, the wire gets thicker as the numbers go down: 12 gauge is thicker than 18 gauge, and thicker wire has less electrical resistance, meaning you can make longer cable runs. On the other hand, In general, thinner cable is cheaper than thicker cable and is fine for shorter lengths. Overall we suggest sticking to 12 or 14 gauge cable and staying away from ultra-thin 24 gauge wire.
For testing, we then cut our initial 140-model list down to something more-reasonable based on price, gauge, and other factors. We focused on speaker cables priced that a non-audiophile would be willing to pay for them, and we compared those cables using blind testing in a system that even a hardened audio geek would have to concede qualifies as “high end.” We also swapped in inexpensive speakers to see if that would make a difference.
Our testing showed that there really is no “best” speaker wire for every system. What’s best for your speaker, receiver, and ear varies depending on your speaker, receiver, and ear. That said, we know that most people don’t have the time, money, or desire to test every possible option to find the best wire for their particular combination of components and speakers. But Monoprice’s 2747 Choice Series 12AWG Oxygen-Free Pure Bare Copper Speaker Wire is what we’d buy for ourselves and recommend to friends. The 2747 offers excellent value (around $15 for 50 feet), solid construction, and, perhaps most important (and most surprising), better sound quality in some situations than other wires provide—but, again, in our tests the audible differences were subtle. Because it’s a thick 12 gauge cable, it’s capable of much longer runs than thinner cables. It’s the safest bet and best deal for those not wanting to spend the time trying out multiple cables to find the “best” with their system.
The only reason not to get our pick is if you want to take the time to figure out the perfect speaker cable for your speaker and amp/receiver. We can’t tell you what that will be, and we think you can spend your time (and money) better elsewhere. Even moving your speakers a bit in your room will have a bigger effect on the sound than changing your speaker cable. For most people, the Monoprice 2747 is a fantastic deal for some great speaker cable.
We have much more information on speaker wire, and on our testing processes and results, in our full guide.
These picks may have been updated. To see the current recommendations, please read Wirecutter’s guides.