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Nov 30, 2009

DIY (FM Antenna) Speaker Wire Recipe

Posted by The Advanced Audiophile

Yesterday, I was setting up a system for the kitchen, which was already wired with what's called "lamp cord" (cheapest speaker wire you can get). Mind you, I had "Belted" the speaker wire to sound better. Still, I wasn't sure I should leave this in, because it seemed like the Castle Clyde's (fine old British bookshelf speakers finished in a beautiful wood veneer) I intended to use in this system, deserved better than this. But the speakers I was hooking up the wire to at the time, were the JVC "cardboarders" (mini-component speakers mentioned here in another article). Looking around to see what I had on hand for wire that I could experiment with, in the hopes of improving upon the zip wire, I found some FM antenna wire. Despite the cheapness of the speaker wire, the antenna wire was much thinner. For a quick listen, I attached a length of the antenna wire to the zip wire (on one speaker channel), without bothering to remove the zip wire. I left the other JVC speaker as is, with the zip wire.

At first, I wasn't sure it was an improvement, but then I quickly realized it was better than I was expecting. I had some jazz music on at the time, and the midrange was doing things I'd not heard on these speakers. The sound was awesome, to use an overused word. At that moment, I was getting a level of music reproduction out of the system in general, that a purpose-built budget high end audio system would have a hard time equalling. Horns, trumpets, snares, cymbals, electric guitars... all of these things were being reproduced with their proper colors intact. Most budget high end audio does not do this, and mid-fi? Forget about it. Mid-fi (aka mass consumer audio) doesn't even try to get this right.

So was this a fluke, or was the FM antenna wire this good, I wondered? I then removed the zip wire from the chain, and hooked up the FM antenna wire directly to amp and speaker terminals, on both speakers. Although the sound was related to what I'd previously heard, it simply wasn't as good. I thought this might be because I tied a reef knot into the zip wire (explained in another article), and the FM wire did not have any. So I did such a knot into the FM wire, but it still wasn't as good. Then I hooked up the zip wire again to the FM antenna.... and there it was. The original liquid sound had more or less returned. The next day I tried this again at a different place, on a different system, with different antenna wire. Same results. It sounds better with basic speaker wire attached. But which way? Antenna before or after the wire? Well, I tried this both ways and found the antenna wire best when it was connected to the speaker terminals. Which means, one length of standard speaker wire (aka zip wire) is connected to the amp, the FM antenna is connected to the speaker wire, and the antenna wire is then connected to the amp.

I then compared my FM antenna/speaker wire combo to some thick (12 guage?) but basic level Monster wire I had in my wire stash. I had originally conceived of buying something like this to hook the Clyde's up. The comparison between the two was not unlike the comparison between the antenna wire and the cheap speaker wire. Only the Monster's were better. The Monster wire, as compared to the FM antenna wire, had a fuller, fatter, perhaps larger sound. So more body on instruments and such. However, it was slower on transients than the FM/speaker wire combo. The antenna wire combo had a more liquid-y midrange ("liquid" is good), and a thinner, but quicker sound. This translated into a very clear advantage to the FM wire combo when it came to sheer musicality. Or "ability to engage". I simply found the music much less boring to listen to on the antenna combo than on the Monster wire. The Monster may be a more impressive sound on first demonstration, but is less involving in general. Also, for all I know, I may get better results by tripling the antenna wire (I wouldn't double it, though. Even numbers are usually bad ju-ju).

I later "Googled" to see if this was an original idea, and all I could come up with is people advocating speaker wire as FM antenna wire! The closest thing is probably the trend of using magnet wire for speaker wire, but it's not the same thing. My premature thinking on this subject is, as larger guages of speaker wire (represented by a smaller number, note) improve upon some aspects of the sound, they degrade others. With the better thicker wires, in effect, trying to correct for this.

Tip: If you wish to reproduce this, I can not stress enough the importance of getting directional flows right. Otherwise, unless you get lucky, you will not reproduce the results as well as I had them. I do this by feel in two seconds (see "The Force" article). But for most people, this means having to listen to each leg of the antenna wire, to see which one mates best to the positive terminal (other wire goes to negative). Moreover, it also means testing the wire as a whole, to see which end is best mated with the amp, and which should go to the speaker. (Same should be done with the straight speaker wire).


"Monster" cable. So-named
because the sound is beastly.
The following comparisons were done in about a minute's time, on one channel only. I left the Monster wire on the other channel, to hasten the testing, and also because for some wires, I only had enough for one side! A second test with the Romex vs. Antenna wire showed there'd be little difference in my findings, even if I had set up both channels.

 Magnet Wire: Numerous audiophiles have advocated using magnet wire for years, as speaker cable. I've seen some rather serious systems hooked up with the stuff. And for years I've been meaning to try it out, so with this round of tests, I finally did. Magnet wire is essentially transformer wire, so I pitched into my stash of transformers and created speaker cable from the windings. This means placing the wires a distance apart in packing tape, and sanding off the ends to remove the red varnish used. Sounds like: Frankly, after all the hype and hoopla... I expected better. I expected it to clobber my FM Antenna Wire recipe. That, it didn't. But it certainly had its charms. I compared it in the kitchen system, to what I was using prior: standard gold-silver 18 (or 22?) guage speaker wire. The sound of the magnet wire was not unlike the FM antenna combo in its elevated reproduction of timbre. Perhaps this is why some audiophiles like it. But to get that, I had to take an unpleasant reduction in bass and body, that the standard cheap speaker wire was giving me. I preferred having both of them wired up, in the manner I did the FM antenna combo. However, when compared to the FM antenna "recipe", I was getting better bass, timbre and body from that.

 Telephone Wire: This is something I've seen some DIYers advocate. I've never used it in the past as speaker wire, because I always found it favored the midrange. Top and bottom end cut off, and prominent in the 2hz to 2khz range, around vocal reproduction. (Wonder why?!). I'd last heard the stuff ten years ago. For this test, I twisted the 4 wires together (red, black, yellow, green) and applied one telephone wire to positive and one to negative (8 wires total). Comparing it's sound to the FM antenna wire today, I'd say it's not that far off from the antenna wire, in terms of its ability to distinguish one tonal color from another in musical instruments. Except it's nowhere near as good, and in general, too pointed toward the upper midrange.

Heat-resistant wire: I had some white cloth covered copper stranded oven wire left over from repairs I did on my range. About 14 guage, I would guage. Soundwise, it wasn't that bad. I'd put it just above good standard no-name 16 or 18 guage speaker wire. It's just that it didn't perform like the Romex.

Romex type solid core wire: Actually, this isn't by "Romex". The writing on the jacket says "Cabletech 14/2". But it is probably similar to what you would find inside your walls, hooked up to the electrical outlets. It is stiff, flat, pvc insulated three wire solid-core copper. One wire is nude and acts as ground wire for an AC outlet. I did not connect that wire, but left it in the insulation. I simply connected the black insulated wire to the black speaker terminal, and white to red. (As with other wires, including audiophile wires, I found the writing on the jacket properly corresponds to the direction of signal flow. That is, the writing should read from the amp output toward the speaker input.)

This wire produced a subjectively louder and more powerful sound. Overall, I liked it. I felt that in general, and for this system in particular, it was a better choice than the antenna wire combo. It had greater depth of soundstage, more bass, a fuller sound, and behaved very well on complex passages. Yet the antenna wire was still beating it in terms of ultimate liquidity / tone, and I found myself wanting to listen to the song for longer, on the antenna set up. But the Romex did most things well, and I still felt myself listening to the song for longer than I might have with lesser wire. For as much importance as I place in the proper reproduction of tone, I thought it was worth the relatively small trade off in this case.

Ideally, the Romex would not be all white, but black and white. There is a morphic resonance that occurs with speaker wire coloring, in which black "empathizes' more with the black terminal, and white or red insulation empathizes more with the red terminal. (This implies that the widespread use of these colors matching these other colors, creates a kind of energy that favors this sort of match-up). So if my Romex was, say, black and white instead of just white, it would probably sound better.

Addendum: I decided to ditch the Romex in favor of the FM antenna combo. It's because a bit later, after testing the same cd on headphones, I found the midrange to be screechy, and it started to feel like an assault on my senses. Not exactly an experience conducive to enjoying music! I was trying to "morphic message" the problem away, but even that wasn't working. It was simply creating a screechy midrange with better definition. Was this headache-inducing midrange the fault of the amp or was it the speaker wire? Something told me it was the speaker wire (something just didn't feel right, energy-wise). However, the Romex speaker wire was not connected to the amp at the time. And did I mention I was testing on headphones? But it was at least connected to the speakers. So I ripped the Romex out of the speakers and kept it well away from the stereo. I felt a bit better after having done so, and indeed the midrange got tamer, and I was able to breath a little easier.

But still, not tame enough! Since there was nothing connecting the speakers to the amp any longer, I set up the FM antenna/speaker wire combo once again, connecting the wire from the amp to the speakers. Then, instead of listening on the speakers, I tested the speaker wire again via headphones. Now the screechy midrange was reduced even further! Ergo, it appears solid core copper may create greater tension than stranded wire.

Mind you, there was still some screechiness left in the midrange. So it wasn't entirely the fault of the Romex. It could just be the Romex was bringing out the flaws of the amp's limitations. I can't say at the moment, but the Romex might be acceptable if the ancillaries are extremely smooth or dark in the mids. I already know this amp (under test) to be flawed. It's the Realistic "System 7" receiver (featured in another article). It has a button on the back to add bass boost equalization, in order to bring out the best of the Minimus 7 speakers it was intended to be paired with. If on, there's no problem with screechiness in the midrange. But then, the midrange sounds like it's missed its stop and is back in the last town you visited. Remove the EQ boost and the amp sounds like you simply switched to another EQ boost. One where you asked it to bump up the upper mids a few notches.

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James Clark said...

Thanks for sharing such a informative post. I really like it.

Speaker Cable