Does gold matter?

July 26, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Most high-end audio equipment uses a microscopically thin layer of gold plating on their connectors. We certainly do. It’s what’s expected.

And the general consensus in the audiophile community is that this layer of precious metal makes a sonic difference. I know from personal experience that the choice of precious metals like rhodium, palladium, silver, or gold, has a sonic impact on a quality constructed connector.

How much does the obvious beauty of the outer finish contribute to sound quality vs. the actual construction of the connector?

Here’s my take on it. Gold plating, in and of itself and without benefit of proper cable and connector construction, does not necessarily sound better. We can purchase gold-plated RCA cables from Amazon Basics for $6 that sound like dog-do compared to a well designed nickel plated higher end cable of proper design.

How about if we turn an old saying on its head? All that glitters is not gold might in this context make more sense if it read: All that is gold does not mean it sounds good. (ok, I am not a good adage writer :))

Perhaps the best adage of all would be Beauty is only skin deep.

It’s what’s inside that matters.

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37 comments on “Does gold matter?”

  1. I tend to think that the thin layer of gold (plating) assists in keeping
    oxidisation to a bare minimum at the points of contact.
    Before gold most RCA contacts were nickle plated & I can still
    remember what those contact points looked like over time if they
    weren’t kept clean.
    Given that RCA & XLR connections are located at the rear of home
    audio equipment, who would seriously give a rat’s arse whether they
    are shiny gold, nickel silver or black carbon when it comes to looks.
    Of course the guts of the cable &, it’s construction, is of far greater
    importance sonically than the shiny bits at either end.
    “You can put lipstick on a pig; but it’s still a pig”…
    hmm, I wouldn’t mind a hot, crispy bacon toasted sandwich right now 🙂

    **tonyplachy**
    These platforms, designed & manufactured by Townsend Audio (Engineering),
    might interest you from an engineering standpoint, since you are already set
    with your Magico CLD ‘M-Pods’.
    These ‘Townsend Audio’ platforms are ‘The Absolute Sound’ product of the year
    for 2020 no less.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ew4dRUEm-k

    1. FR, First I agree 100% that gold is for corrosion resistance. However, in my former professional life we had to find a bullet proof way of hot swapping out large multi chip modules with hundreds of contact pads on the bottom surface that are used in high end servers ( that typically cost $10M to $50M ). What we found was that a simple gold-gold compression bond formed by swiping one gold surface against other was super reliable. I do not think that audio cable manufactures had any idea about our research when they gold plated RCA plugs and sockets ( they did it for corrosion resistance and cosmetics ) that they were making super reliable connectors.

      Thanks for the video, I will keep it in mind. Since my audio system is on a second story wooden floor I take vibration control very seriously.

    2. Max is a genius. My turntable sits on one of his platforms and I have some of his bars for components. I also use his Isolda speaker cables.

      His great skill is designing a small number of incredible products that sell well for decades. His Allegri passive preamps are also considered awesome.

      1. Steven, Good to hear that you use it under your TT. That was the first thing I thought of when I saw the video. My current TT support system is 20 years old and starting to show signs of aging.

    3. Fat Rat,

      That was an interesting video. What would have made it a lot more interesting if Max was brave enough, would be to have two more speakers with seismographs on top, one sat on some high density foam and the other on a lightly inflated bicycle inner tube which behaves very similarly to the platforms Max was demonstrating.

      I have tried both these approaches under my Audio Physic speakers along with spikes and just sitting on the carpet. It was my experience that spikes were the worst option on a suspended wooden floor. The best solution I found was unfortunately (but some might say naturally) the most expensive, Stillpoints.

      I haven’t tried the Townshend platforms under my speakers but did use some of his earlier versions under my DAC and transport. They were pretty good but felt they were bettered by the Stillpoints. Btw, they didn’t work well in combination, just use one or the other.

      As I don’t use a turntable I can’t comment about effectiveness there but would recommend anyone to try Stillpoints under speakers and electronics, especially if your system sits on suspended wooden flooring. Some sort of sale or return arrangement would be preferable just in case you don’t like them. Before I made my ‘investment’ I read everything I could find about them on the internet and I don’t recall ever reading one bad thing about them except that one reviewer found a particular more expensive model gave him too much bass and he preferred the less expensive one under the component.

      I think the importance of vibration control is rather underestimated and overlooked but is something that can reap great benefits in listening pleasure.

      I know this doesn’t have much to do with gold, except perhaps that with a properly isolated system you will be listening to the gold standard, but somehow today’s replies led here. Needless to say I have no affiliation with any of the aforementioned brands and just hope my experience might help anyone who is interested.

    4. Those isolators may or may not improve a typical speaker.
      But I can believe that isolating a sub woofer from the floor is very valid.

      I have placed lightly inflated inner tubes under mine. Standing in bare feet nearby I feel less floor vibration, less “sounding board” and that is a Good Thing”

  2. As most of us know ‘Gold’ is a terrific conductor of electricity and of course oxidation is extremely minimal if nothing at all in some cases.
    However in the end you can’t polish a turd. I knew I’d use that expression at some point again. I mean as Paul said, you throw some cheap inners together then decide to thinly plate a small layer gold over the Jack?? it won’t do squat.

  3. Hi! Paul
    I thought the accessory we bought was good when it was gold plated (brass) but it sounds like hell. After more than 40 years of interest in hifi, I have found out that you buy the cat in the bag! Today, my connectors are made of copper with Rhodium lining!
    Haven’t tried silver plating yet! I bought ETI XLR a few months ago and have never heard anything so good, have also bought ETI RCA, it is the best you can get! When you build speakers yourself (mine was built in 1999) you can improve and replace parts that sound better!
    When you buy new speakers ready-made speakers, you do not replace components unfortunately!
    but components are saved even on an expensive finished speaker!
    my system I have improved with expensive cables (Ansuz)
    have never heard anything so good! if you have a sense of hifi and can hear the difference, then you can go far. But everything has its price and the price is not always equal to quality! listen to what you want to change and hear if there is a difference or save your money!
    Regards Ove
    Denmark

    1. Metallic silver has the highest electrical conductivity of common materials, better than copper or gold, as I recall from an old science (physics? general chemistry? both?) class, It also oxidizes/tarnishes relatively easy to form a thin layer of Ag2O over the surface. In high voltage applications this not so much of a problem as the current is able to ‘punch through’ a thin layer of tarnish. In low voltage applications, it can be more of a problem though. The references that I have given a quick perusal are rather vague as to the details of what constitutes high and low voltage applications.

  4. The gold layer on audio plugs & sockets is usually incredibly thin, flash plating of maybe 0.25 microns thick or maybe a bit more. It doesn’t take much for it to wear off in a tight plug/socket. Is the visual advantage and its absolute resistance to corrosion worth it?
    Where’s King Midas when you want him?

  5. Audiophiles want gold connectors because the industry tells us that is better. True, when it comes to oxidation, gold is better.
    If, however, the inputs and outputs of a device are made of copper/silver, then it’s best to use cables with copper/silver connectors. Just clean the contacts on a regular basis.
    After all, silver and copper (in that order) are the best conductors.
    Problem is that copper/silver connectors are hardly available; “gold-plated” is the magic word, even on 3 dollar cables. LOL.
    BTW., if I had to choose between gold and rhodium, I’d choose rhodium. It sounds a bit more neutral, gold “warmer”. A matter of taste I think.

  6. The just skin deep beauty is not even the weakest point. Those I spoke who are deeper into such connection topics say, given the same core material compared, the gold plating is worse than no plating, as it works as an add. unwanted material transition. It works against oxidization yes, but full Silver or Rhodium, or even the pure original lesser sophisticated core material with different care taken against oxidization would be clearly better.

    So what we all mostly have on our equipment is just used because its either cheaper than the proper solution or simply an inferior pseudo standard, which just has established because manufacturers otherwise would get tired of usual audio press reading and shiny images watching customer’s complaints.

  7. Gold connections to me make the music sound a tiny bit softer, so there is a bit of coloration happening.
    Thinking about it what is the point of plugging in a gold banana connector into a solid brass speaker binding post?
    The real secret of signal continuity is a tight secure connection.

  8. At the end of the day, if you’ve put a lot of cost into making a product, and it consequently has to sell at a high price point if it’s going to generate any sort of profit, then it doesn’t hurt to apply a bit of glitz to the finish. If it’s gotta be expensive, then people are going to want it to look expensive. As long as it doesn’t *hurt* the sound, we’re good with that. And if it *improves* the sound … well, that’s a bonus.

  9. I’ve always thought the use of gold plating was just to stop oxidation issues at the points of contact. I worked at a small power supply manufacturer for 25 years and we did a lot of military work. Some of these supplies used plug in control boards or modules and all of the contacts had to be gold plated to control oxidation of the contacts. We bought gold plated connectors and for pwb boards with edge contacts we gold plated the fingers of the board in house, those boards would plug into gold plated connectors,

    These supplies had to go through military acceptance testing that included temperature cycling and humidity cycling to prove the units were protected against environmental stresses. You could fail these tests if the gold plating was too thin so we had to measure the thickness of the plating on any boards we gold plted in house (the boards were first nickel plated and gold was then plated over the nickel), as i recall we needed 20 micrometers of gold plating to meet the mil spec. I’ve seen some gold plating that is so thin it can be rubbed off with a coarse cloth so periodic testing of parts is important.

    I remember some Zenith TV’s in the early 50’s had large turret tuners that had gold FILLED contacts that wiped on gold plated bronze phosphor leaf springs – absolutely bullet proof. Those tuners were extremely well built and heavy, rotating them would shake the whole TV. Later on tuners were smaller and usually just silver plated, that was prone to failure when air pollution became a problem in later years, Radio Shack sold a lot of tuner spray because of that.

    1. Gold contact points is a must have for aircraft to prevent galvanic reactions due to wild temperature change with altitude.
      One little known point about gold contacts regarding soldering pins and pcb contacts. They discovered gold would migrate / leach into the solder over time weakening the integrity of the connection and eventually leading to complete failure. A good manufacturer will crimp the pin on the wire first then solder. Some of the brands we use just dip the wire in a solder pot and push it into the connector. I have had an expensive set of speaker cables that I could pull the banana connectors off the wire by hand.

      1. The 1st rule I learned back in the early mid 70’s, especially when point to point wiring was ‘the way’ …
        A solid mechanical connection was the foundation to any good solder joint. Solder was primarily a corrosion inhibitor.

        I follow that rule today whenever I can.

      2. The cables I use are all Kimber Select and are terminated with WBT connectors. All of the actual physical connections of the connector to the metal wire are mechanical. No solder.

        1. I like the WBT products in general. Especially like their low mass speaker binding posts.
          Lately thou I have purchased speaker cables with naked ends and use a special copper laced grease on the bare metal for protection. One thing to avoid, connectors with Gold plated setscrews. These setscrews gall with very little pressure rendering the connection useless.

    2. “These supplies had to go through military acceptance testing that included temperature cycling and humidity cycling to prove the units were protected against environmental stresses.”

      Been there, done that! 😀

  10. I knew a rich family who had gold-plated faucets throughout their new house. A couple of months later when I visited, the faucets looked awful. The maid had used Comet cleanser and much of the plating was gone.

    1. Insert The Flying Burrito Brothers album reference here.

      Did the rich family fire the maid without giving her any references? Had they given this woman (probably from poor to modest background) any special instructions concerning the relative softness of gold? Did they even know about the relative softness of gold themselves?

      1. No, no and no. These rich people were from the Middle East. They should have been very familiar with gold plating. Before the family left the country for several weeks, the wife told the maid to scrub everything clean and spotless, and probably instructed her to use Comet in the bathrooms. Once the finish started abrading, exposing bare brass, the maid probably scrubbed even harder to try to even out the tone. They did not fire the maid. Yes, she was poor. from Guatemala. Several weeks later the maid disappeared, just before the wife discovered some of her expensive jewelry was missing.

        1. Nothing is ever simple, is it? Thank you for the elaboration and elucidation.

          I am reminded of an expletive frequently used by science fiction author Larry Niven’s character(s) Beowulf Shaeffer (and/or Louis Wu and/or others):

          TANJ! — There Ain’t No Justice!

          In the meantime, happy listening! 😉

  11. And what about receptacles? Oyaide, for example, makes several versions of audiophile AC receptacles: R0-Beryllium copper base metal no plating; R1-Beryllium copper base metal with platinum base plating and palladium finish plating; SWO-DX-phospherous bronze base metal with silver base plating then rhodium finish plating; SWO-GX phospherous bronze base metal with extra thick 24K gold plating, or SWO-XXX-24K phospherous bronze base metal with gold base plating and palladium finish plating. Which sounds the best? There are other brands, of course. I have the SR Black UEF outlet on one system. Trying to compare the sound of all these would make one go crazy. And they all have their so-called burn-in periods. It’s insane. There are so many factors. For my main system I went with Oyaide RO receptacles with no plating because it was recommended to me by Louis Motek at LessLoss as the most natural sounding. I also have the WPC-Z mounting frames that look cool and supposedly reduce vibration. Probably the value of these upgraded outlets diminishes when a conditioner or PowerPlant regenerator with different receptacles goes between the wall outlet and the audio components, but my intuition tells me that even with a conditioner or PowerPlant in the chain, the construction of that primary wall outlet makes a difference.

  12. Agreed Paul, the construction of any part or component is more important than the material used. The gold plate ensures a corrosion free connection which will sound better than a corroded connection. But you can revive any connection with a good cleaning. Just because a cable is gold plated doesn’t mean it’s a high quality cable. I have heard some poor sounding cables that were gold plated.

  13. The physical interface of the cable with the component is also very important, ie the ‘fit and finish’.
    That said, there are contact enhancers that take it a step further. Not sure if anyone above mentioned this.

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