The gold-plated connectors on stereo jacks, HDMI cables, and Ethernet connectors might look good, but are they good for anything? Or can you save money on the next cable purchase?
Why is gold used in cable conductors?
The reason gold is used in plate conductors is its slow erosion. Copper is the “gold standard” in terms of conductivity, but it fades quickly when exposed to the elements. For this reason, exposed copper conductors will not be practical. Gold tarnishes at a much slower rate, although it is less conductive than copper.
A tarnished connector is more likely to cause problems than an undistorted connector, especially when dealing with analog signals. Gold is used to protect the copper and to ensure that the surface of the conductor is able to transmit or receive a “clean” signal.
When copper oxidizes and begins to deform, its resistance increases. For this reason, gold is used in all types of cable, from stereo jacks and audio connections to Ethernet cables for networking and HDMI cables that transmit a digital signal. If the HDMI connector isn’t gold-plated, it’s probably nickel-plated instead.
Also, manufacturers know that gold has a certain allure due to its physical attributes and condition. A gold-plated cable connector is more marketable than a nickel-plated connector, whether or not there are visible benefits.
How to Avoid Buying a “Fake” HDMI 2.1 Cable
Gold connectors will not “boost” your HDMI signal
One of the major products that have adopted gold connectors in the past decade or so is the HDMI cable, which transmits a digital signal. The main advantage is the same as with any other type of cable: gold is less susceptible to corrosion. Unfortunately, there is a firm belief that gold-coated cables somehow improve signal quality.
The problem is that you will only notice a degradation in signal quality if your HDMI cable is faulty. There are tell-tale signs of an HDMI cable failure, such as white stars or dots on the screen. That’s why you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on an HDMI cable: it either works or it doesn’t.
You’d better spend your money on a modestly priced cable that meets the HDMI 2.1 specification, which supports higher bandwidths of up to 48 Gbit/s. These cables will allow you to transfer 4K HDR video at up to 120 frames per second, expanding the capabilities of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
If you have existing cables that do not have gold-plated connectors, replacing them with cables is of no use to you. If you’re having trouble transferring high-definition (4K) content, HDR video, or high frame rates, your cable may be out of date and not up to date.
Analog signals are a different story
While HDMI cables are used to transmit a digital signal, audio cables carry an analog signal. Digital signals consist of 1 second and 0 second, while analog signals use a waveform that is then interpreted by the device at the receiving end.
Compare a stereo amplifier that receives an analog signal from a CD player to a TV connected to an HDMI device such as a game console. Small differences in the analog waveform can be misinterpreted by the receiver, resulting in lower sound quality. An oxidized conductor can increase the potential for subtle waveform variations.
With an HDMI cable, there is no waveform to be “misinterpreted” – the signal is intact or not. This does not mean that the HDMI cable cannot be defective, as mentioned earlier. But two cables in good working condition should carry the same sign of “quality” whether they cost $9 or $99.
Most of the connections we use now are digital, and they are not likely to suffer the same drop in quality as analog connections in the past.
Gold connectors can mean high-quality cables
Another reason to go for a gold-plated connector, even if it’s of little use, is the overall build quality. Although it is not a general rule, cables with a gold-plated connector may be of better quality overall. They may be more expensive and target a different audience.
You are unlikely to find a stronger, more durable cable that is not gold-plated. So if you’re looking for something that will last a long time, for travel, or just to have a string of bad cables letting you down, you might end up with a gold-plated connector by default.
HDMI cables are no different than other types of cables, such as the ones you use to charge your phone or connect headphones to an amplifier. Spending more money to get a cable with a stiffer coating and a more durable conductor will pay off in the long run. This is especially true for cable that you will be connecting and disconnecting often.
Unfortunately, AV retailers tend to overestimate the quality of the cables, possibly because AV equipment is too expensive to start with. Buyers may feel they need to spend a few hundred dollars on cable to “make the most out of” a TV that costs a few thousand dollars, but this is not the case. Check out How-To Geek’s list of the best HDMI cables to see just how affordable our top-rated cable recommendations are.
Gold is not necessary
With most cable purchases now dedicated to purely digital connections like HDMI and USB, the gold-plated connectors aren’t that important. The most important thing is not to fall victim to marketing and overpay for a cable that offers no tangible benefit over a cheaper version.
There are other things to watch out for when buying a cable, such as avoiding using a USB-C cable that could damage your devices, and avoiding “fake” HDMI 2.1 cables.