Connector Plating and Other Metals – Conductivity in Cables
All cables (with the exception of fiber cables) are made using metal. Looking at any cable, users can see metal in the connectors on the end. Some connectors are entirely made of metal while others are mostly plastic and contain small metal pins. Regardless of how much metal is used in making a cable, and regardless of what exactly that cable is used for, these materials are all used for the same purpose: to conduct electricity. Any user who has handled various cables over the years, as most people have, has probably noticed that different metals can be used from one cable to the next.
Why are Certain Metals used in Cables?
So why are different metals used? Is there a metal that is better than the rest? There are many different factors that go into selecting what metals are used in making a cable. The first of which is conductivity. The list shows the commonly used metals in cable manufacturing, from most to least conductive (rated assuming the metals are pure).
- Carbonized Steel
- Stainless Steel
As the list above shows, soft metals are better at conducting electricity. Many people believe that gold-plated connectors are the best but gold actually comes in 3rd place for conductivity. Along with this, conductivity is not the only factor involved when creating cables and other similar electronics like circuit boards.
Most commercial cables, from coax to Ethernet and more, are made with copper cores. But while the underlying cable is copper, the connectors at the end of the cable are covered with a different metal, typically gold. While copper is an excellent conductor, it is less than excellent at resisting corrosion. Most of the copper conductor at the core of any cable is protected by the dielectric and jacket. But those end pieces still need to conduct electricity, so the copper there is covered with another conductive metal (gold) that resists corrosion. Direct contact with copper can cause gold to tarnish so there is usually another metal, most commonly nickel, put between the two to act as a barrier as well.
How Much Does the Type of Metal Matter?
A gold ¼” connector (left) vs a nickel version (right)
There was a time when gold-plated cables were measurably better than any of the alternatives. For example, many electronics stores would recommend getting gold-plated HDMI cables to go with a new television or DVD player. While many places do carry gold-plated HDMI even to this day, there are laws, rules, and regulations that all cable manufacturers have to follow. These certification requirements ensure cables are made to comply with certain standards, which includes how well a cable performs.
As technology has improved, new engineering techniques have made it possible to increase the quality of cables even when using less conductive materials in their manufacture. A nickel-plated cable today can be on par with or even better than a gold-plated cable from 20 or 30 years ago. There are exceptions to this rule, most notably with audio equipment. ¼” connectors can have a noticeable difference in sound quality depending on what material they are made from. But this is by-and-large the only case with modern cabling where the type of metal makes that much of a difference. Standards in quality assurance tend to improve at the same pace as technological advances and it shows in many products available today, including cables.
Regardless of what type of cable you are looking for, ShowMeCables carries a variety of products made from gold, copper, copper-clad steel, nickel, and more. Have questions about any of the cables or other products we carry? You can reach our Sales team at 1-888-519-9505 or Sales@ShowMeCables.com