Gold-plated connectors on stereo jacks, HDMI cables, and Ethernet connectors might look nice, but do they serve any purpose? Or can you save some money on your next cable purchase?
Why Is Gold Used in Cable Connectors?
The reason gold is used to plate connectors is due to its slow rate of corrosion. Copper is the “gold standard” in terms of conductivity, but copper tarnishes quickly when exposed to the elements. For this reason, bare copper connectors would be impractical. Gold tarnishes at a much slower pace, even though it is less conductive than copper.
A tarnished connector is more likely to cause issues than an untarnished one, particularly when it comes to analog signals. Gold is used to protect the copper and ensure that the surface of the connector is capable of transmitting or receiving a “clean” signal.
When copper oxidizes and begins to tarnish, its resistance increases. Gold is used in all manner of cables for this reason, from stereo jacks and audio interconnects, to Ethernet cables for networking and HDMI cables which transmit a digital signal. If an HDMI connector lacks gold plating, it is probably coated in nickel instead.
On top of all of this, manufacturers are aware that gold has a certain appeal due to its physical attributes and status. A gold-plated cable connector is more marketable than a nickel-plated one, whether or not there are any visible benefits.
Gold Connectors Won’t “Improve” Your HDMI Signal
One of the main products to adopt gold connectors over the past decade or so is HDMI cables, which transmit a digital signal. The main benefit here is the same as any other cable type: gold is less likely to corrode. Unfortunately, there is a persistent belief that gold-plated cables will somehow improve the quality of the signal.
The problem here is that you’re only likely to notice a degradation in signal quality if your HDMI cable is failing. There are telltale signs of a failing HDMI cable, like seeing stars or white dots on the screen. This is why you should never spend a lot of money on an HDMI cable: they either work, or they don’t.
You’re better off spending your money on a modestly-priced cable that meets the HDMI 2.1 specifications, which supports higher bandwidths of up to 48Gb/sec. These cables will allow you to transmit HDR 4K video at up to 120 frames per second, maxing out the capabilities of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
If you have existing cables that don’t have gold-plated connectors, replacing them with ones that do will yield no benefit. If you have problems carrying high resolution (4K) content, HDR video, or high frame rates then it’s possible your cable is old and doesn’t meet the required specification.
Analog Signals Are a Different Beast
While HDMI cables are used to transmit a digital signal, audio cables carry an analog one. Digital signals are made up of 1s and 0s, while analog signals use a waveform which is then interpreted by the device on the receiving end.
Compare a stereo amplifier receiving an analog signal from a CD player to a TV plugged into an HDMI device like a games console. Small variations in the analog waveform may be misinterpreted by the receiver, resulting in lower sound quality. An oxidized connector can increase the likelihood of subtle variations in the waveform.
With an HDMI cable, there is no waveform to “misinterpret” — the signal either makes it intact or it does not. That’s not to say an HDMI cable can’t be faulty, as previously noted. But two cables that are in working order should carry the same “quality” signal whether they cost $9 or $99.
Most connections we use are now digital, which aren’t susceptible to the same decrease in quality as the analog connections of old.
Gold Connectors May Mean Higher Quality Cables
There is one other reason to go for a gold-plated connector even though it will likely have little benefit, and that’s overall build quality. While it’s not a “golden” rule, cables that feature a gold-plated connector may be of higher quality in general. They’re likely to be more expensive and aimed at a different demographic.
You’re unlikely to find a more rugged and durable cable that lacks gold-plating. So if you’re looking for something that will last long term, for travel, or simply because you’ve had a run of bad cables fail on you, you might end up getting a gold-plated connector by default.
HDMI cables are no different from other types of cables, like the ones you use to charge your phone or connect your headphones to your amplifier. Spending a little more on a cable with a tougher coating and more durable connector will pay off in the long term. This is especially true of a cable you’re going to be connecting and disconnecting a lot.
Best HDMI Cable for Gaming/PS5
Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for audiovisual retailers to oversell cable quality, likely since AV equipment is expensive to begin with. Buyers may feel like they need to spend a few hundred dollars on a cable to “get the most” out of a TV that costs a few thousand, but that’s simply not the case. Check out How-To Geek’s best HDMI cable roundup to see how affordable our top-rated cable recommendations are.
Gold Isn’t Essential
Since most cable purchases are now for purely digital connections like HDMI and USB, gold-plated connectors simply aren’t that important. What’s more important is not falling victim to marketing and paying over the odds for a cable that provides no tangible benefit over a cheaper version.
There are some other things to look out for when buying a cable, like avoiding a USB-C cable that may damage your devices and steering clear of “fake” HDMI 2.1 cables.