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Cable Entrepreneur Does a High Wire Act

Better Cables? Certainly!

Better Cables

by Jim Bray

We need to talk about your patch cords.

Those cables that connect your audio/video system together are often overlooked when it comes to upgrading. But they shouldn't be; a good set of "interconnects" can have as much effect on your viewing and/or listening pleasure as an upgrade of the electronic components themselves.

Coupling cheap cables (like the junk you get in the box with your equipment) to your components is like buying a sports car and putting crummy tires on it. This is why high end audio/videophiles think nothing of dropping thousands of dollars on patch cords. It's also much of the reason why companies like Monster Cable have stayed in business.

And now a small Virginia-based company is marketing high quality interconnects directly to customers via the Internet.

BetterCables.com (available, not surprisingly, at www.bettercables.com) walks a fine line between high quality and low price and for the most part it succeeds.

Owner Brad Marcus sent me a selection of audio, video and computer cables to try and I'm mightily impressed. These are products that will be equally at home in a professional installation as in the average home theater and, to that end, they're available in a wide array of lengths.

The flagship products of BetterCables.com are called Silver Serpents, and the name is appropriate: the cables are thick and (depending on their length) covered with a silver mesh husk that looks almost like snakeskin. The silver-copper hybrid cables are for audio and video applications.

So how cheap is his stuff? Well, it isn't cheap. For example, the new Silver Serpent Audio Interconnect (this is the same type of RCA-connector cable you use to attach the "audio out" of your CD or DVD player to the corresponding inputs on your A/V receiver) starts at $80 a pair for a half meter length. A one meter pair, a length that should serve most average home theaters, sells for $90 and two meters will set you back $110.

Inexpensive when compared to other high end cables, though I daresay the jaws of many readers will still drop agape at the thought of spending so much on a piece of wire. But considering the results you can get, and when comparing the price of BetterCables.com's products "apples to apples" with its competition, these cables are definitely not overpriced.

As a comparison, Monster Cable lists its Interlink Reference - Reference Quality Audio
Interconnect at $130 for a two meter pair. Monster's M Silver Video M1000cv Component Video Cable lists for $200, as opposed to the Silver Serpent's $139.

Since there are three separate cables to a component video interconnect (red, blue and green), the Silver Serpent component video cable is also wonderful in one other very important area: it has big, easy to view color coordinated ends), while my Monsters (admittedly a model they no longer manufacture) make you read tiny little "cb" "cr" and "y" labels. This forces me to put on my reading glasses and, more often than not, get out a flashlight to find the corresponding labels on the DVD player and TV. Not so with the Silver Serpents.

I first hooked up the Silver Serpent audio interconnects from my DVD player's coaxial digital audio output to my preamplifier. Amazingly enough, the soundstage opened up and the overall sound got tighter and more musical. It was wonderful.

So I figured if they did that good a job on one component, why not use them everywhere? I'm now running additional Silver Serpents between my preamp and amp, as well as the more mundane satellite receiver, VCR, etc. It has been a delightful experience that I highly recommend.

And there's more to BetterCables.com than RCA jack-equipped audio and video interconnects. They also do "S-Video" cables, optical cables, "balanced" audio cables, VGA cables, and more. It's a pretty full selection.

I've also been using a five meter VGA cable that stretches from a PC to a 36" VGA monitor use for games. Spectacular - and convenient!

If you're worried about spending so much on something you may not have considered before, BetterCables.com takes the sting out of it by offering an unconditional 6 month total satisfaction guarantee. I haven't had to take advantage of it, however, and don't think I'll have any need for it.

For once, a company's name seems entirely appropriate.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.

 

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Updated May 13, 2006