What follows here is a repost of my sticky over on OCF but lightly edited to bring it up to date. I hope that it will save people some cash that can be used to spend on better hardware.
OK, this is going to be a round-up of some of the common (or even less common) myths that are out there so that people can learn what to avoid. Let's face it, home theater can be a very expensive hobby for some of us and it would be best if we could avoid some of the common traps that are out there.
Don't get me wrong, if you want a thousand dollar TV or in this case a monitor as the tuner will be a separate component, feel free to go out and buy one. Just remember that the ones that they do not sell at that price today will be selling for $289.95 in three or four years simply because they do not want to pay someone to haul them off to a landfill.
So with that in mind, let's start this list. Post away and see if we can work together to save some money.
You do not need monster brand cables.
As a working musician, I swear by monster products. The “no questions asked” replacement thing has saved my bacon a few times. However, home theater systems are not in the same category. They get plugged in once and sit behind your gear, never to be touched again until you change your gear around.
Monster cable costs twice as much but performs exactly the same as cheap cables from an outfit like http://www.bluejeanscable.com/
No, you do not need gold plated connectors.
Sure, they look nice but you are going to plug them in where they will not be seen. Does anyone really think that the signal is somehow going to go through three feet of copper and then be magically up-converted at the cable end by a bit of gold foil that is just thick enough to notice?
Green magic marker does not make CDs sound better.
This one has been floating around since CDs first came out and you would think that after all this time, people would have learned but it still rears it's ugly head from time to time. It is really only a joke that some of the more experienced people foisted off on some anonymous noob twenty-five years ago but in reality, there is just no science behind the idea. It is bunk. However, it is bunk that somehow took hold and led a few manufacturers to label some green magic markers as being specially prepared for use on CDs and selling them to the unwary for $25.00 each. They are the exact same magic markers that you can buy for $4.00 a dozen at Staples or Office Max.
You cannot restore data to greater fidelity than the source file.
Any device the promises this amazing feat is a gimmick to sell hardware and does not really work as advertised. This is nowhere more true than with lossy compression formats such as MP3. When the data is gone it is gone. As well to try to restore the stereo channel data after a file has been converted to mono (not that many people do that but even so...). When the data is gone it is gone. Then too, even with formats such as FLAC the same would apply as you cannot just add data that is not to be found in the source.
While we are on this point, it also bears noting that “studio quality” is a mini myth in itself. Little enough music is recorded in a single take for that to even be possible. Most of what you see is recorded over time in a multi-session environment and layered by the recording engineers in post production. Thus you cannot make what does not really exist.
Oxygen free cable is about fake prestige. Not about superior performance.
While it is true that copper with quite a lot of oxygen would make for poor wiring (thus no company would ever intentionally produce “enhanced oxygen wire”), removing the little bit of oxygen that will occur in nature does not actually improve electrical conductivity. For brevity, I will skip the physics lesson but even if you did have high oxygen content, it would not affect the electrical properties of copper sufficiently to make a noticeable difference.
Perhaps it does bear mentioning what oxygen actually does to copper. It makes it not bend. Obviously, this would not be an optimal condition for your wires but the effect really does not show up until you get to a fairly high level of oxygen in your copper.
You do not need the latest and greatest of hardware.
One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that the more capable hardware will do more stuff. However, if you are looking to save some money, you can get a perfectly acceptable build with less expensive components.
Alternatively, you can get a build from older components that you want to reuse to save even more money. Obviously, the lower your processor speed the more likely you are to find something that is just not up to what you wanted to do. However, it happens that there are some people who are using 500 MHz processors and getting decent if minimal results.
There is no such thing as digital wire/cable.
There is such a thing as wire/cable and manufacturers will, on request, provide a spec sheet for anything that they make. Such spec sheets will include data on known physical properties of the product such as wire gage, dielectric constant and isolation at different frequencies. However, digital readiness is not a property of wire/cable and no spec sheet will mention the matter.
One property that does bear consideration is the “bend radius” of different types of coax cable. Basically, that would be how tightly you can bend a loop of such cable without causing the shielding to “open up”. Exceeding this specification can cause spurious signals to get into your signal path. Apart from that, all products are basically similar.
Joint Stereo is neither good nor bad.
As always, the devil is in the details and there is no exception here. Joint stereo is one name for a few different coding schemes ands they all have their uses. They also have some poor implementations and some better implementations.
Intensity coding is a form of lossy compression that should be used when ripping to low bit rates and the consequently smaller file sizes that they generate. Matrix coding has much less loss of data but results in larger files so is better for intermediate bit rates. Two channel stereo is still probably better when ripping at the highest bit rates as that tends to preserve the original data on a CD.
Oddly enough, if you are recording from vinyl (which some audiophiles still insist it the best form of recording as it is the original analog stream), there is really nothing to be gained by the use of a full stereo rip as the stereo image is made with Matrix coding anyway. The Sum (mid) channel is recorded horizontally in the groove and the difference (side) channel is recorded vertically in the same groove.