The Definitive Guide to Choosing
Speaker Wires and Speaker Connectors
All you need to know for correct Speaker Wiring
Do not under-estimate the importance of good quality speaker cables and speaker connectors. These represent a final important link between that expensive home theater receiver or multi-channel audio amplifier and the speakers in the room. Use of inappropriate wire thickness, poor quality speaker wiring, and low quality speaker terminals, will all impact speaker performance.
We are not saying that there is the need to break your bank account on very expensive exotic speaker cables to drive your speakers. Contrary to what the AV cable manufacturing industry wants you to believe, the use of oxygen-free copper and silver speaker wire do not deliver better sound in comparison to the use of standard copper wire of the appropriate thickness. However, as well will show you in this speaker wiring guide, knowing the technical requirements for a correct system setup is essential for the best results.
Speaker Connection Basics: Polarity & Gauge
Each speaker requires a two-wire connection between the positive and negative terminals on your home theater receiver or amplifier, and the speaker unit.
Polarity: The fact that we are dealing with positive and negative terminals means maintaining correct polarity is essential.
This is especially important in a multi-channel audio environment as incorrect polarity will throw the respective speaker in an out-of-phase mode with the rest. For this reason, speaker cables and terminals are normally color coded―black for the -ve terminal and red for +ve side.
Gauge: Wire is identified by its gauge or thickness; normal thickness range from gauge 18 to 10. The smaller the number, the thicker is the copper conductor, and the better its capability to pass the amplified audio signal. Most speaker wires that come with HTiB systems are normally gauge 18; this is too thin to be of any use except for very short lengths―typically less than 20 feet―and only in low to medium power systems. A thicker wire gauge is required for longer lengths; in other words, which speaker cable gauge to use depends mainly on your speaker wire length.
You can use the following chart as a guideline:
Wire Gauge (AWG)
Less than 50 feet
50 to 100 feet
100 to 150 feet
more than 150 feet
Gauge-16 is the minimum recommended for short runs; it represents the best option for moderately priced systems when speakers are close to the AV receiver. Gauge 16 wire is relatively inexpensive while its thinner gauge makes it easier to work with when passing along door frames and under fitted carpets.
Using the length factor as a guide to determine which speaker cable gauge to use should generally suffice under most applications. However, we suggest using the next thicker gauge to that indicated in the above table when working with lower impedance 6 and 4 Ohm speaker loads. And in case of 2-Ohm speakers, gauge 12 is the minimum we recommend for distances up to 30 feet.
The main reason is that a speaker cable represents additional load on the amplifier, which load is in effect added in series to that of the speaker impedance. Ideally, the total speaker wire resistance should only represent a very small percentage in relation to the connected speaker impedance. In his interesting and detailed article on Speaker Wire - A History, Roger Russell recommends a total speaker wire resistance of less than 5% of the nominal speaker impedance though as he admits, this is somewhat on the conservative side in that most amplifiers would tolerate even twice as much (i.e. up to 10% of the speaker load) without any noticeable audible effect in performance.
In any case, the fact remains that the thicker most practical wire you use for your speaker connection the better as it reduces the load on your amplifier while delivering more of the amplifier output to your speakers. This means that use of appropriate thick wires for speaker connections will make it easier for your system components to deliver the fine musical detail audiophile-quality music systems are capable of, as well as the blasting effects in surround sound.
Article continues after this advertisement.
There exists a variety of speaker cables and wires ranging from standard pre-terminated cables and in-wall speaker wires, to ultra-flat speaker cables with self-adhesive backing which can be easily concealed by being painted over, run underneath flooring and carpets, or covered with wall paper.
The main difference between 'speaker cables' and 'speaker wires' is that speaker cables are generally pre-terminated with speaker connectors; instead, the term speaker wire is mainly used for custom lengths that are then terminated with speaker connectors by the user. Note however that some use the term 'speaker cable' to refer to a more robust and higher quality speaker wire.
Pre-terminated Speaker Cables and Standard Speaker Wires
You can buy complete speaker cables in standard lengths pre-terminated with the respective speaker connectors. However, if you order pre-terminated speaker wire, always check the type of connectors for compatibility with your equipment. In addition, it you are after in-wall installation, ensure that the end connectors will pass through the access holes in the wall.
Alternatively, you can purchase the required length of wire―always adding a little extra per speaker to allow for a margin of error when measuring cable runs―and then connect the required terminals to suit your needs.
14 AWG x 250 Ft Oxygen Free In-Wall Wire CL2 Rated UL Listed
In-wall installations are ideal for multi-channel surround sound setups and multi-room audio installation throughout the house.
However, it is important that with any in-wall installation, you use appropriate certified wires (UL listed, CL2- or CL3- rated) that comply with national standards for resistance to fire, chemicals, abrasion, temperature extremes and voltage rating.
Both CL2- and CL3- rated wires will work fine for home theater speaker use; the difference between the two ratings is that CL2 wire is rated for up to 150 volts while CL3 is rated for up to 300 volts.
Surface-Mounted Wires for Speaker Use:
There is no doubt that surface mounted wiring around the room can be extremely distracting and unsightly especially with today's multi-channel surround speaker set-ups. Yet, an in-wall installation is not always an option.
Self-adhesive flat wire
In these circumstances the use of surface mounted wiring channels and cable management solutions as detailed in our 'wiring solutions' guide, will provide a simple DIY alternative that while not as aesthetically pleasing as an in-wall installation, it still provides for an aesthetically acceptable cable mounting solution. Often, these channels can be painted using the same wall paint used for your walls to make them practically disappear from site.
The use of surface-mounted wiring channels allows for more than just speaker wires to pass through, thus explaining their rather not so compact nature. If your only requirement is to conceal speaker wires, use of ultra-flat speaker wire represents a more aesthetically pleasing option that is far less intrusive on your room decor.
One such option is the self-adhesive flat wire shown here for speaker use that comes from Sewell. This is a 16 AWG twin wire that can be almost totally concealed by being painted over once installed on your walls.
Should you use expensive Oxygen-Free and Silver Speaker Wires, or opt for the cheaper Standard Copper Wire?
In an attempt to enjoy the best sound, some may want to consider expensive exotic speaker cables using oxygen-free copper or even silver wire. But apart from an extremely expensive price especially in the case of 'silver' speaker cables, the use of these expensive speaker wires do not lead to any noticeable difference in audible performance. Why?
Oxygen-free copper wire comes with a slightly lower resistance than standard copper speaker wire but the difference is too small to make any difference in speaker applications. In reality, oxygen-free speaker wire can be considered to be the same as standard copper wire when it comes to resistance. The slightly lower resistance arises not because of the removal of oxygen but because the process used to remove oxygen helps remove other impurities present in standard copper, which impurities lead to a minimal increase in the copper wire resistance.
In contrast, silver wire has a lower resistance compared to that of the same gauge of copper, meaning a thinner silver wire may be used in replacement to thicker standard copper wire. But the use of silver would make even standard length speaker cables extremely expensive especially in a multi-channel speaker setup, and this without actually leading to any benefits in audible performance.
The reality behind these very expensive cables is that exotic AV cables are associated with huge profit margins - profits that are possible thanks to the 'magical' hype brought by professional sales people that praise the 'magical' benefits of such cables without any scientific proof to substantiate their claims.
Cable Quality and Sound Performance
At this point, one very valid question that may arise is: What kind of wire is best for your speakers?
The simple truth is that irrespective of whether you use silver, standard copper, or oxygen-free copper, there is no difference in the audio quality as long as the wire resistance is just minimal compared to the speaker impedance.
The only difference that may arise with different speaker wires is between multi-stranded and solid speaker wire. But this difference is one of convenience and not sonic quality. Due to its rigidity, solid wire is generally more suitable for in-wall applications while the added flexibility offered by multi-stranded wire makes the latter more suitable for end termination between say a speaker wall-plate and the speaker unit.
We are NOT saying that any low quality wire will do. Some wires, despite their thick insulation, still come with a thin copper conductor inside. So be aware of such manufacturers' tricks; do not be mislead by the wire external thickness alone.
This does not mean that insulation is not important. Rather, one major issue with cheap speaker cables is that some poor quality wires come with an insulation that does not offer a sufficient barrier to atmospheric elements to prevent the copper strands inside from corroding along the full length of the wire. Worst still is that with some cheap wires, the insulation itself may be the cause of copper corrosion, a clear sign that materials used in the manufacturing of the speaker wire were not researched correctly. These low quality speaker wires should be avoided at all cost.
In addition, some low quality speaker wires are not coded to help you identify the correct polarity to maintain proper phasing between speakers; unless you trace each separate wire, you risk inverting speaker polarity.
This discussion would not be complete without touching upon the issue of speaker connectors. More important than the use of expensive oxygen-free copper or silver wire is the quality of the connectors used to connect the speakers to your amplifier or AV receiver.
These often use a pressure device, either through a spring loaded mechanism or through the use of a binding post type connector. Spring terminals will only accept pin connectors or tinned base wire ends. Binding posts accept many types of connection, including pin, banana plug and spade.
Spring Terminals: Spring terminals use spring-loaded connectors to create a compression connection around the pin connector or bare wire.
The spring terminal connection is limited by the small size of the actual connection surface, and the fact that the connection itself is not as tight as other options.
To help obtain a better connection, it is important to pull slightly the wires after these have been secured in the terminals. This will cause the teeth inside the connectors to 'bite' into the wire.
Typical spring-loaded connectors found on low to mid-range equipment.
Binding Post Terminals: Normally used in professional and high power applications (over 100-watts), binding posts create a connection by either accepting banana plugs, or by screwing down over spade connectors.
Binding posts make a significantly better connection to speaker wire than spring terminals because the connection is more mechanically sound.
Whether it is spring loaded or binding post, you are always creating a connection by forcing two metals against each other. Unfortunately, this is not the ideal way―though it is the most practical ―of providing the best connection between your amplifier and the speakers.
Pressure connections often deteriorate with time. This explains why in some cases, simply removing and cleaning the wires and terminals and reconnecting them can make an audible difference, the same difference many hear when replacing their speaker wire with some expensive speaker cables. A soldered connection―possibly using silver solder―straight from your amplifier output direct to your speaker would surely provide a lower resistance connection. The problem is that this type of 'soldered through' setup is not practical.
Use of good quality speaker terminals and speaker connectors is thus more important that the use of some exotic speaker wire.
Speaker Connection Tip:
NEVER rely on a bare wire connection when connecting wires between your amplifier and the speakers. Bare wires tend to corrode, leading to a degraded connection over time. For a solid connection, terminate speaker wires with the appropriate connectors such as the 24k gold-plated banana-type speaker plugs shown here.
Use of speaker connectors also helps safeguard against harmful short circuits as a result of loose strands from bare wire between the positive and negative leads; remember that damage from a short circuit may vary from a simple temporarily amplifier shutdown to a costly amplifier replacement.
Are you looking for Home Theater Cables?
Amazon.com offers an extensive range of home theater speaker cables and connectors at significantly reduced prices.