Review: Radio Shack MegaCable 16-gauge Speaker cable
I hate to say it, but this modest 16-gauge cable from Radio Shack is as good as anything I’ve used, and that includes the $300 bi-wire Audioquest CV-6 I had for about a year (the old version, not the new one with AA-battery gimmick), and the $75 Kimber 4PR I was using before that.
MEGACABLE vs. KIMBER & AQ
I never enjoyed the CV-6, mainly because the damn spades would never stay connected. No matter how much I tightened the binding posts, they still loosened up and let the spades slip out - - both on my Rotel amp and ProAc’s speaker terminals. I know spades are supposed to be better, but they’re no good at all if they won’t stay connected. (The CV-6 cables were heavy and very stiff, which didn’t help matters.) As a consequence, I had to get rid of them, though they sounded fine. The Kimbers, if memory serves, sounded a little dark and less lively in comparison, but it was always a good, neutral cable, no matter which speakers I used it with: Infinity RS2, Polk RT25i and now, my ProAc Tablette 2000 monitors.
BI-WIRING SPEAKERS WITH MEGACABLE
Currently, I’m using two separate runs of 16-gauge MegaCable to bi-wire my ProAcs, powered by both sets of output terminals on my Denon DRA395 stereo receiver. I terminated the cables with Radio Shack’s gold banana plugs. (The plugs will easily accommodate bare wire from two 16-gauge strands if you were to bi-wire using only one set of speaker outputs on the amp end. However, this may not be possible with the 12-gauge MegaCable - - it doesn’t look like there would be enough room inside the plugs to accommodate two sets of cable jackets.)
At $5.99 a pair, Radio Shack bananas are $4 less than Monster Cable’s bananas (which come four to a pack and sell for about $20). They’re not quite as good-looking, and they lack the cool rubber-jacket on the Monster’s connectors, but they do the job about as well. After terminating the wires, I braided them and clamped both ends with cable ties. They don’t look half bad. However, I forgot that by braiding the wires, I’d lose a bit of length. So I ended up with about 7.5 feet instead of the 8-foot length I wanted.
WHAT IT COST
A 50-foot spool of MegaCable 16-gauge wire cost me $17.99. Eight sets of banana plugs set me back $47.92. Including PA sales tax (but not the time it took to drive to three separate Radio Shacks and clean each one out of bananas - - you’d think they’d stock lots of these, considering the prevalence of multi-channel home theater), the whole deal cost me just a hair under $70. Terminating the cables was easy, and it took only an hour.
Does 16-gauge wire seem a little wimpy to you? The 12-gauge version MegaCable costs only a buck a foot, but given the short lengths I needed, I opted for the less expensive 16-gauge, especially since I’d be using two runs per speaker. I suppose that if I weren’t bi-wiring, I would have gone with the 12-gauge wire myself just for its more substantial looks.
I can’t say how a single run of MegaCable sounds because I haven’t tried it and don’t plan to. But when bi-wired, it is a real improvement over single-wire Kimber 4PR. That came as a surprise. (Of course, it’s also possible that I simply like the MegaCable better, and bi-wiring has nothing to do with it.)
The highs are now smoother and airier, the lows much deeper and better-defined, and overall, timing has improved noticeably. Rock music and classical - - which have always tended to get congested-sounding on every system I’ve had - - both sound slightly better now, with individual instruments better defined. The most dramatic improvement, though, is in soundstaging. The ProAcs were always good in this department, but they’re even spookier now.
At first, I was worried at first about using both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ output terminals on my receiver simultaneously with only two speakers, but the Denon seems perfectly fine with it. I’ve read that an amp “sees” this configuration as a single set of speakers, not two individual pair, so there should be no problem. The output level doesn’t seem to be affected. Anyway, it’s a much neater installation this way.
I won’t go through the entire list of music I listened to, but I spun an equal mix of LPs, CDs and SACDs from Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, Aimee Mann, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, Harry Chapin, Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek…(you get the idea). I also listened to some jazz LPs (mostly Keith Jarrett and Wes Montgomery) and classical (on NPR as well as LPs from Classic, Telarc, Philips, Deutsche Gramaphone, Naxos and CBS Masterworks—I mention the labels rather than the artists and materials because we all know some sound better than others. But in partcular, an early 1980s Telarc LP of Carl Orff conducting Carmina Burana was spectacularly dyanamic. Great system test and, for an early PCM recording from the dark ages of digital, it still sounds surprisingly good.)
I now feel a little foolish about having spent a lot of money on speaker cable in the past, given how good this cheap stuff sounds (I mean, geez, it’s only 36 cents a foot). At the same time, I’ve turned the bananas on my speaker terminals so the Radio Shack logo doesn’t show. And I have to admit, the MegaCable doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the Kimber 4PR. Because my system is in my living room, that’s a concern. But it sounds so good, I’m keeping it - - and recommending it to anyone who has a low- to moderately-priced hi-fi. With the $100 or $200 (or more!) you save versus more exotic stuff, you could buy an armful of new CDs or…better yet…about 100 used LPs.
Best of all, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it. Grab a spool for $17.99, connect the bare wire, and if you like it, then you can spend the money for terminations. If you don’t, hey, you’re only out the price of one CD. For me, this is far and away the best tweak I’ve ever, ever, ever tried - - bi-wiring is more fun when it doesn’t cost a fortune! I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to use a single run of MegaCable, either, even over the expensive stuff and even with much more expensive electronics and speakers.
IS LAMP CORD THE REAL REFERENCE?
My month-long experience with the MegaCable was so inspiring that I immediately switched out my AQ and Kimber interconnects for cheap $20 Monster Interlink 200 cables I had laying around in my Big Bag O’Cables. Bad idea. The Monsters robbed the music of openness, airiness and sparkle. I switched back and forth and got the same result each time.
If high-end cables are really ‘tone controls,’ as some people suggest, then maybe companies engineer their cheaper interconnects to sound dark and flat so you’ll step up to the more expensive models. For instance, I can say that the Monster Interlink 400MkII is a giant step above the Interlink 200. Whether the differences between cheap cables and more expensive ones are “engineered in” or not, who knows? But for now I’m sticking with my formula of cheap speaker cables/better interconnects. I’m not an engineer, so I have no idea whether the signal that travels through an interconnect is different than the current that passes through speaker wire, and whether the way it reacts (or doesn’t) to the conduit is affected by the materials, cable jacket, etc.
Here’s a thought, though: when was the last time you tried the ‘freebie’ interconnects that come with some components? As soon as I bought my first mid-fi system, I bought good cables along with it. So I’ve never actually tried it with $2 Radio Shack patch cords. Maybe someone who has the time and energy should swap out their audiophiles interconnects for a set of these cheapies and see what happens. (As I’ve said time and again, the best sounding component in my system is a Rega P2 turntable with a tonearm cable that looks like it cost, at most, $5.)
Since I’m beginning to suspect that lamp cord is really the reference in speaker wire because it has no pretensions engineered-in, perhaps the same is true of interconnects. I’d love for someone to try it and post a follow-up.
Denon DRA-395 stereo receiver with MM phono section
Rega P2 turntable (with P3 glass platter and None-Felt mat)
Denon DL-160 moving coil cartridge
Pioneer DV-563A universal disc player
Philips CDR-785 CD Recorder
ProAc Tablette 2000 loudspeakers
Radio Shack MegaCable 16-gauge speaker wire (bi-wired)
Various Kimber, Audioquest and MonsterCable interconnects
MonsterPower HTS2500 Power Center
AudioQuest MC cartridge demagnetizer
Record Doctor II record cleaning machine
Sennheiser HD580 Precision headphones
Sony ProAudio MDR-7506 studio monitor headphones
Audioquest CV-6 (bi-wire)
Various generic 18-gauge hookup wires