Never Buy Expensive Cables (or cheap ones)

I had an experience with my wife’s car the other day that reminded me about this piece from 2014. I have updated the information and prices to be current for 2016. The bottom line (as I state below) is… it is ALWAYS the cable.


In 2016, you can walk into any Best Buy (or other similar store), and buy a 35”, HD, LCD, LED, Widescreen, Flat Panel television for less than $200. (The one above is only $199.) It hangs on your wall and weighs sixteen pounds. In 1996, I paid $2,000 for 35”, Square, Tube, Low-definition television that weighed more than 200 pounds. This is an amazing example of technological advancement, and price reduction, in fewer than two decades, especially when you consider that the $2,000 spent in 1996 has a 2014 value equivalent of $2,932. (you can look up that kind of thing HERE)

Cables

My giant TV from the 1990s

Unfortunately, if you walk into that very same Best Buy and ask for a nine foot, in-wall HDMI cable to hook your new $200 TV up to your cable box, or satellite receiver, the store-brand options start at $30! The cable costs one-sixth the cost of the TV? That would be like buying a $30,000 car and the first time you needed tires, the dealer said “yeah, no problem, $5,000.” It all started back in the 1980s with Monster Cable for speakers and the situation gets worse with every technical advancement.

You should never buy expensive cables… or cheap ones.  Stick with me kind reader, it will all make sense in the end.

Growing up I had an uncle who wasn’t really an uncle. He was an adult cousin of my dad’s, but we called him uncle. He lived two streets over and had two daughters that were close to me in age. I was, to say the least, an active boy. I had endless energy and I talked… a lot. I spent quite a bit of time playing with my cousins (who wouldn’t if you had cousins two streets over) but I didn’t really get along with my uncle. It may have been because I was an “excitable boy,” or because he had only daughters, or because fundamentally he was a bit of a jerk. It was probably all of the above. So, whenever I would arrive at their door he would greet me with “hey, here comes the accident waiting to happen.” Like I said… bit of a jerk. We’ll get back to him in a minute.

As I have mentioned before, in the 1990s I worked for a company in New Jersey that made high-end audio electronics. I learned a lot at that job, but if I had to narrow it down to the single most valuable lesson it would be this:

Whenever there is an issue with a complex audio or video system, the problem is a cable.

If you think about it, it makes sense. In modern electronics cables are the only moving parts. They are the only pieces of a system handled by clumsy (and sometimes dirty) human hands. They are tested only a single time at the factory, and they are the only part of a system that is regularly manhandled, pulled, pushed, coiled, wrapped and dragged across the floor.

Cables

Live Pink Floyd – Flying pigs and all.

We once got a call for help from the production company for Pink Floyd who was setting up for a huge concert at Giants Stadium. Their ten-million dollar sound system has been brought to its knees when a roadie drove over the end of a cable with a forklift.

Trust me, it is always the cable.

Growing up, the aforementioned uncle was a really big audio guy and always had some kind of fancy stereo set-up. Years later he got heavily into video, and ran a little business out of his basement doing wedding and local sports videos. One Christmas I was back in Rochester from New Jersey and we were visiting with this uncle and his family, and he asked if I wanted to see his video setup. As he was explaining the racks of equipment, he told me that he was having trouble with a fairly expensive video switcher. I listened as he described the problem and after a moment I said:

“It’s a cable, it’s always a cable”

Cables

S-Video cable

He dismissed this idea as crazy, since it was much more fun and dramatic to blame his expensive video switcher. This particular setup had a number of components daisy-chained together with s-video cables. So, I asked him if he had a new, unopened cable?  He took one off the shelf; we tested it and proved it was good.  I then crawled behind the rack with the trouble and, one cable at a time, replaced each s-video cable with the known good one. My uncle stayed on the other side and watched the problem he was having. When I got to the third one, the problem disappeared. It WAS the cable.

In this case, he had used really inexpensive, dare I say, cheap cables. The bad one looked fine. It wasn’t twisted, frayed or bent, it was simply no good.  Suffice it to say, he never called me an “accident waiting to happen again.”

Here’s the deal. Retail stores don’t make that much profit on the “super deal” TV that gets you in the door, but they make insane profits (remember Crazy Eddie) on things like cables. Don’t fall for it. I’m not saying that really expensive cables won’t work, I’m saying that in 99% of all setups they are categorically unnecessary. At the same time, no-name, really inexpensive, poorly made cables, like you might find at closeout type stores or direct from China on eBay, will disappoint you every time. They might work at first, but if you dare move them around or even look at them wrong, they will break.

So, what is a reasonable person to do? First and foremost, plan ahead. The sales guy at Best Buy knows you want to hook that TV up TODAY, but if you can wait a few days you can save big money ordering good quality cables online.  Here’s what I mean:

Description Price Wait time
Sonax – 6.6′ In-Wall HDMI Cable $29.99 None

Wired Home HR1409 9 ft. High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet Supports 3D and ARC CL2 Rated

$5.65 3-4 days
Monoprice – 10ft 28AWG High Speed HDMI® Cable w/Ferrite Cores $4.01 3-4 days

 

Both Parts Express and Monoprice are great companies known for high-quality products at reasonable prices. Spend some time at both websites and you’ll see what I mean.  Avoid buying cables at any store in the mall or at Radio Shack. I am not exaggerating when I tell you this:

BBguySm

Run away from this guy!

Retail sales people generally have no clue about cables other than the lies they have been taught to tell you.

Knowledge is power and once you know the real deal about cables, you can actually make a sport of listening to retailers spin their highly-profitable tales of doom about why you need expensive cables.  All lies. Sometime I go in and ask dumb questions just to see what they’ll say – I haven’t been disappointed yet.  I would love to hear your stories about insanely expensive cables, so hop into the comment section below and tell us about your experiences.

BONUS – From Gizmodo: The Seven Types of Employees You Meet at Best Buy

Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 thoughts on “Never Buy Expensive Cables (or cheap ones)

  • Thank you for the advice. It will come in handy as all three boys are angling for a larger screen television. I’m still content with the 27″ in the armoire, but they are motivated – especially with March Madness.

  • My father finally caved and bought his first flat screen last summer (and embarrassingly at that, after my grandfather embraced the new technology before him). I told him return the cables because I knew where to get them for five bucks. But once I told him he’d have to buy them online, he immediately balked.”I don’t trust giving my credit card number out on that internet,” he said. “I have more faith in face-to-face contact with the man at the store.” I replied, “You mean the guy who sold you $60 cables??”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *