How and Why to Buy Cheap Cables

Looking for a new HDMI cable, or perhaps just a new 3.5mm cord, to connect your music player or phone to your car or home stereo?  Have you seen cable prices in stores that are sky high?  Fear not, as more than likely you can buy one of the cheap off-brands and get the same kind of quality.

The Truth

There is a secret about most accessory cables and its that many of the cheap/off-brands perform just as well as that expensive name brand.  This is especially true with digital cables, such as HDMI and Ethernet as digital signal generally is either received or not received, and not much can cause interference.  Personally, I rarely pay over $10 for any type of cable I need and you shouldn’t either.

Why Can I Buy Cheap Cables?

Cheap cables exist as they are cheap to produce for any manufacturer.  Most cables are expensive just as a result of having a name brand, or being sold at a retail store for a large markup.  Many times you can find name brand cables for cheap online and, as long as they are bought through reputable sellers, will be exactly what they say they are.

Another reason reliable cables can be found for cheap is that usually the cables themselves are not very complicated.  They have a very specific purpose and if they don’t work somewhat reliably, they aren’t worth selling as there is a huge amount of competition.

What To Look For

When buying cables it is easy to overpay as most stores(at least in the United States) have huge mark up and only sell a select few of each cable from specific large name brands. I generally shop at thrift and dollar stores where all items are $5 USD or less, and they carry a number of off-brands.  Usually these are fantastic for finding a quality cable.  Also, I get a chance to see the cable before purchase and even could return it if necessary with no charge for shipping.  With that said though, as long as pictures are accurate online, these tips can help you find good cables there as well.

So, what do you look for when you in off-brand cables?  Here are the things you need to assess.

  1. Quality of plastic used in packaging – Packaging quality is related to product quality.  I usually find packaging costs will be cut first, so a well packaged cable should be high quality.  It is possible to find a good cable that is poorly packaged, but it’s more of a gamble.
  2. Quality of rubber or plastic used on the cable – Although sealed in plastic, usually you can look at the color and texture of the cable along with looking for any visible or glaring seams.  I am sure you have experienced some forms of cheap products with similar traits, and you only need to look for them.  If there are wide seams, or plastic ‘fins’ from a bad form mold, it’s safe to assume you want to avoid it.
  3. Cable thickness – You want the cable to look(and be) thick enough to do the job and provide adequate shielding.  Avoid thin cables at all cost, they are easy to break and more likely to give you problems.  There is also a chance that a thin cable could be underrated  for the power that’s expected to run through it, making it hot when using and dangerous to use for long periods of time.
  4. Advertised Features – Look at the packaging to see what exactly it can and cannot do.  I have seen cases where there were two different HDMI cables at the same price in the same dollar store.  However, of the two, one specifically named it could handle 1440P as well as contained a high speed Ethernet channel.  Clearly if they are advertising it, it by rights should have what they claim (or warrant a refund).  The other was very generic and did not list anything other than being an HDMI cable.  As quality and features can vary for this type of cable, I picked the one that clearly stated it’s specifications.  Do not assume that a cable will have anything other than whats advertised on the packaging!
  5. Online Merchant Reviews – If you are purchasing online, do not fall prey to sellers who masquerade a knock-off under a valid brand.  If the price seems to good to be true, it more than likely is.  If you can find the price at one online store, others should have it for around the same price.  I have read numerous reviews online for products where people purchased an item and were sent off brands instead.  Stick with trusted sellers that have overall positive reviews.

When You Should Pay More

There are cases for buying name brand cables, or at least more expensive off-brands.  These range from finicky cables such as phone chargers and power cables for any device.  Although many off brands will function, I would personally avoid purchasing any cheap cable for something that needs to be used while unattended.  Sure a cheap laptop charger may be tempting, but you don’t want to catch your room on fire while its charging and you are not around to put it out.  Same thing goes for expensive phones too!

Closing Thoughts

Well there you have it.  If you haven’t heard by now you don’t need to pay an arm and a leg to get your TV hooked up to your DVD player.  Or any other device to device situation.  Be smart about how you buy and you should find you are rarely let down by cheap/off-brand cables.

What has your experience been with cheap/off-brand cables?  Success?  Failure?  Let everyone know in the comments down below!


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