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The Retail Cable Ripoff

November 10, 2005

I am so incredibly tired of the current retail practice of selling over-expensive, dubious-featured, gold-plated cables, I could just scream.

It started a couple of years ago — suddenly, if you were in a consumer electronics shop, and bought a piece of gear, the only cables you could buy to go with it were these high-dollar “Monster” cables (or a similar knock-off) selling for 5 – 20 times the price of normal cables.

The gullible, clueless and those with more money than time bought them, and the rest of us went to Radio Shack, or a local “electronics” shop and bought ordinary cables that worked as well.

The computer stores soon followed suit; a couple years ago I needed a short USB cable in a hurry, and was stunned to find that there were essentially no cables at CompUSA for under $20 (and many products, such as printers, just quit including them.)

I started buying cables online, whenever possible.

A little shopping around will reveal good deals from many online retailers, and there are some spectacular deals on eBay, particularly if you buy in a bit of bulk to save on shipping charges, and watch the ratings of the dealers carefully.

In the past year I’ve bought a few dozen Cat-5e cables in lengths from 2 – 20 meters, and none were more than $10 with shipping, buying 3 – 6 at a time. I try to keep a small stock of cables that always seem to disappear or need replacing, etc., and have found similar deals on USB 2.0, Fireware, HDMI cables, etc.

Last night I was in a bind; an RJ-45 (“ethernet”) coupler and cable got damaged, plus I also needed a TOSLINK optical cable damaged in a different incident, and so I made a quick run to Radio Shack, only to discover that they’ve been “Monstered.”

25 feet of Cat-5e — $20. Well, not horrid; it’d probably be $30 – $50 at CompUSA.

How about an RJ-45 coupler? There’s one next to the Cat-5 — oops, it’s $6.75.. Huh? I can’t remember the last time I paid more than a buck or two…

Of course, the last time I bought them, they were over with the phone gear (“8 conductor phone coupler”; same difference.) Sheesh, they’re $6.95 there…

I flinched when I started looking for the TOSLINK cable. The audio cable section is a little sparse, and no fiber optics to be found there. When I ask, I get proudly steered to the “Monster Cable” display.

2 meter TOSLINK cable? $30. Oh, but wait — it’s got gold connectors…

GOLD CONNECTORS?? It’s a f**cking OPTICAL cable!!!

It doesn’t need gold connectors. It doesn’t need METAL connectors. It’s not going to conduct electricity! It also doesn’t need this expensive 3/8″ silicon jacket, and the gold “racing stripes” on each connector. It’s supposed to be a cheap strand of fiber optic light pipe, with just enough plastic coating to keep the light in and out, and a pair of cheap plugs on either end to hold it in place….

So, I rant a little, and I finally pony up the money, to get it done that night…

* sigh *

Folks, it’s coming up on the Holiday consumer electronics buying season. Do everything in your power to save a little cash, and do not encourage these ripoffs any more.

Plan ahead wherever possible, figure out your cabling requirements, and buy your cables online, or plan a trip to an old fashioned electronics store, if you still have one in your area, and buy the right cable, but buy the cheap cables.

Despite what the salesman and some of the consumer electronics magazines (that advertise the crap heavily) will tell you, things like gold connectors, “low oxygen copper” and all of the rest of the marketing crap that’s “featured” on high dollar cables will do little if anything to enhance your experience, unless your wallet is just too heavy and you need to lighten it.

Save your money.

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