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Best 3.5mm Audio Cable Choices
A 3.5mm audio cable provides an electrical path between an audio input device like your smartphone or MP3 player and a set of speakers like the ones in your car. They come in various lengths and are also commonly called aux cables. This buying guide will focus on providing you with the best 3.5mm audio cables that are used to connect consumer audio devices together worldwide.
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Last Updated: 2/12/2019
In a Hurry? Here’s Our Top 3
7 of the Best 3.5mm Audio Cables
Anker 3.5mm Premium Auxiliary Audio Cable
iXCC 3.5mm Audio Cable
iVanky 3.5mm Aux Audio Cable
Amazon Basics 3.5mm Audio Cable
Mediabridge 3.5mm Audio Cable
Oldboytech 3.5mm Aux Cable [2-Pack]
Syncwire 3.5mm Aux Cable
What Are 3.5mm Audio Cables Used For?
For consumers, 3.5mm audio cables are mainly used to connect audio output device to speakers. In professional audio, 3.5mm audio cables can be useful when listening to a new track on several different sound systems.
For instance, lets say you just bounced part of your new track to .wav and you want to listen to what it’ll sound like on your home stereo system, in your car, in your friend’s car, and on your uncle’s club system. You’d transfer the file to your smartphone and then use a 3.5mm audio cable to connect to each of these audio systems.
How to Pick the Best 3.5mm Audio Cable
In this section we’ll run through what to look for when shopping for the best 3.5mm audio cable. It’s worth knowing that there can also be a good amount of clever marketing behind these cables, and this can add to the price without significantly increasing the quality. Lets take a look:
Shielding for the Best 3.5mm Audio Cable
- Just like in XLR cables used in pro audio, the shielding is a woven mat or spiral of copper fibers that wraps around the main conductors of the audio cable.
- Shielding reduces or eliminates electromagnetic interference from external radiation sources like your smartphone. This means the shield will reduce outside noise and pops from passing to your speakers and ruining your Gwen Stefani sing along session.
- The most common shielding materials are plain copper, tin plated copper, and aluminum laminate foil
- Usually the denser the shielding weave is, the more noise and RF radiation it will reject. This also takes longer to manufacture and will ultimately cost more money.
- The conductor is what transmits the the audio signal from the audio device to your speakers.
- Copper is the best material for the cable conductors.
- Oxygen-free copper (OFC) is not known to have any significant increase in conductance. It’s all marketing hype. Still, some audiophiles insist on having it even if it costs them more.
- Heavier-gauge conductors will reduce flexibility and increase capacitance, which we’ll talk about later, but are more durable.
- Cotton placed between conductors and shielding can help eliminate friction and static discharge interference.
Insulation & Jacket
- The insulator is the material that surrounds the bare copper conductor inside the cable.
- common insulator materials are PVC, polyethylene, and Nylon
- some manufacturers inject nitrogen into the insulators – this doesn’t make a difference, it’s just fancy marketing.
- The jacket is the material that surrounds everything inside the audio cable (shielding, insulator, conductor) and what is found on the very outside of the audio cable
- PVC is a good choice for durable and reliable jacket material.
- Some 3.5mm audio cables will also use a Nylon braid as the jacket – these are more durable
- We want a cable with a high bend lifespan, which is the number of bends that the cable can withstand before failing.
- Heavier-gauge conductors increase the overall capacitance of the cable measured in picofarad per foot (pF/ft).
- Higher capacitance can modify the voltage signal being transmitted through the conductors, therefore distorting the audio being reproduced by speakers, monitors, headphones (both open-back and closed-back), etc.
- Very thick insulation will reduce capacitance.
- Capacitance with 3.5mm audio cables is largely irrelevant to us because the conductor wire gauge will not change or vary much from case to case. Don’t worry about it!
- In general, longer cables will be more prone to signal degradation, interference, and tangling
- Aim for the shortest length needed for your specific application
- If this 3.5mm audio cable will be for your car, anywhere between 2 ft to 6 ft should do. If you want to be able to pass the aux cord to someone in the back seat, shoot for a longer length like 10 ft to 15 ft.
Connector Quality for the Best 3.5mm Audio Cable
- Many low-quality 3.5mm audio cables fail at the connectors.
- Gold-plated contacts are more resistant to corrosion but not 100% necessary.
- Silver contacts are actually more conductive, and they’re also cheaper than gold contacts.
- Step-down connectors are the best. They have a small step on them that allows room for the connector to fit into the case of your smartphone without popping out.
- The best 3.5mm audio cables have hard metal outer shells. These will add to the longevity and reliability of your cable in the long run.
Of course, when we are choosing the best 3.5mm audio cable we should naturally be concerned with sound quality. The video below shows an interesting experiment that compares the sound quality of four different aux cables.
As we can see and hear, the sound quality is indiscernible between the four cables. Keep in mind, however, that these cables were not exposed to high amounts of RF radiation during the test, so one with better shielding would perform better than one without shielding (homemade cable, we’re looking at you!)
It also may be difficult to make a judgement due to the quality of the speaker being used in the experiment. Using a pair of studio monitors may tell a different story. And obviously just by looking at them, we can tell some will last much longer than others.
- Oxygen-free copper makes no difference in audio quality
- Nitrogen infused insulators make no difference in audio quality
- Don’t worry about signal distortion due to increased capacitance from heavier conductors – wire gauge will be very similar across the board
- Gold-plated connectors are more corrosion resistant than silver, but are less conductive and slightly more expensive
- Shielding will make a difference in audio quality by rejecting RF interference
- Jacket material and connector build quality will make a difference in longevity, reliability, and fitment compatibility. Pay attention to the cable’s bend lifespan.
The reality is, there are a lot of really great choices out there when it comes to choosing the best 3.5mm audio cable. This can sometimes make it difficult to make a decision! Paralysis by analysis, they say. That aside, there definitely are some things to look out for that set the best above the rest. There are also added things that aren’t 100% necessary and add to the cost of the cable without increasing quality. Here are some of the take-aways from this buying guide:
- Oxygen-free copper and nitrogen infused insulators are just marketing hype!
- Gold-plated connectors are a great choice for conductivity and corrosion resistance.
- Shielding will 100% make a difference in audio quality. It rejects radio interference and blocks outside noise from ruining your listening experience.
- Jacket material and connector build quality are essential if you want a reliable and durable cable that will last you many years.
- You should choose the shortest length needed for your specific application
We’re all done here. Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps you make a great choice for your 3.5mm audio cable purchase!