Speaker Wiring

| Updated: October 14, 2022 | Posted: |

Speaker wiring is one of the most critical components of a home theater system. It’s also quite complex and difficult to get right.

Speaker wiring might be a little confusing at first, but this article will walk you through everything you need to know about speaker wiring, including how it works, its importance in your system, the various types of wire available for usage, and our suggested speaker wire size.

Speaker Wire Bundle

What is the procedure for measuring speaker wire?

Speaker wire is measured using the American Wire Gauge (AWG). The lower the AWG number, the thicker, or larger in diameter, the wire is.

This measurement is precise because it’s based on a standard single length of a conductor rather than an area like other measurements such as resistance (“ohms”).

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The reason we use AWG instead of “ohms” for speaker wire is to prevent confusion with speaker impedance — more specifically “nominal impedance,” which refers to how many total ohms across all speakers there should be at each frequency. Impedance only indicates the actual load placed on an amplifier and has nothing to do with speaker wire size.

Is speaker wire important?

While the type of speaker wire used in your home theater system may seem insignificant, it has a big impact on its performance and sound quality.

Not only does it affect performance, but there are also several safety issues to consider. This guide will show you what kind of speaker wire is best for your system, why it’s best, and tell you what to look out for when buying it. Check our guide on How to connect Speaker wire?

What are the different types of speaker wire available?

There are three major types of wiring: copper-based (including stranded), silver-based (pure silver), and carbon fiber-based solid-core conductors.

Although each has its advantages, our recommended choice would be Type 14 AWG (American Wire Gauge) copper-based wire.

Copper Based Speaker Wire

The most frequent and readily available type of speaker wire is stranded copper. It comes in a variety of thicknesses and hues twisted together to make it easier to gauge its size because there is no single strand that thick.

While the stranded wire is cheaper than pure silver, its bigger strands can cause problems with dropouts and speeds over 10 GHz — although this would be unlikely in live sound situations where the higher frequencies are filtered out anyway.

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Another disadvantage is that it can’t carry as much power so you shouldn’t use more than 8-gauge for 100-watt speakers if you want clean sound without distortion.

Yet another downside is that it’s sorta rigid so it doesn’t provide the best sound clarity. Coming in around the middle of the road, silver-based wire is more expensive but provides better sound quality than copper-based wires.

Solid core copper-core speaker wire which is made up of a single strand of copper would be our pick for high-fidelity applications because you can get excellent performance with its large surface area that helps eliminate dropouts on low speeds and has exceptional speed capabilities on high speeds.

However, this type is more difficult to work with since it’s stiffer, which makes running your wiring more complicated if not implemented properly.

Silver-Based Speaker Wire

Another alternative for home theater systems is pure silver speaker wire.

The biggest advantages of this type of wire over copper-based options are its low resistance, ability to conduct sound well without distortion, and high power handling capacity (which means it’s less likely that you’ll blow a speaker).

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Although there isn’t much disadvantage in using plated solid core copper instead, if pushed around by local building codes or your installation requires an electrical inspector to sign off on the work, then we would recommend going with pure silver wiring instead.

Although it’s not recommended in our experience and still think 14 gauge solid core copper should be used to get the best clarity and dynamic range — plus makes everything easier when dealing with complex installs — but do what works best for you.

Carbon Fiber-Based Solid Core Speaker Wire

One final option that’s up to five times lighter than copper wire is carbon fiber-based solid-core speaker wire.

While it can handle high-end frequencies up to 40 GHz, this ultra-thin type of conductive material has a very low power handling capacity which means you should probably stick with 14 gauge solid core silver or copper wires instead unless you have to stay based on local code requirements.

This only makes sense in certain complex commercial installations where huge amounts of wiring are being used, or if weight sensitivity is an issue for instance when running your mic cable across the stage during live sound applications.

There are also other benefits to using carbon fiber conductor wire such as its resistance against and ability to block out EMI interference or RFI.

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When it comes to this sort of wire, the best thing to use is “Clapton Wire,” which has a stranded center core covered by braided carbon fiber.

The reason for using stranded copper instead of solid core is that it can conduct sound better since there is less resistance and distortion, resulting in superior sound clarity.

The main disadvantage of Clapton wire over solid-core options is that the stranded cores tend to break off more easily during installation (so make sure not to pull on them too hard) but other than that they’re no big deal.

How can I identify a safe speaker wire?

When it comes to speaker wire, there are two primary things to look for: gauge and connectors.

The thickness of the wire is referred to as a gauge, while how it will be connected to your equipment is referred to as connectors. Solid core and stranded are the two most frequent varieties of speaker wires.

Speaker Wire Guage

The speaker wire gauge is how thick the wire is, not to be mistaken with its resistance. The thicker the speaker wire, the more power it can carry without breaking or smoking.

Wires that are lower than 14 AWG should never be used as they will not be able to carry enough power over long distances and over transformer taps.

The minimum wire gauge required for electrical safety in your home theater system is 18AWG. The reason for this is that it can handle high-power speakers safely and because it has low resistance, which increases sound clarity. Using a higher gauge than 18AWG can reduce audio quality.

Solid Core Stranded Core

Solid core speaker wire is made up of a single strand of copper, while stranded wire has several smaller strands wrapped around the conductor.

In terms of performance, they’re both about equal so you can pick whichever one you think would be easier for your application based on what comes in different lengths.

If you have quite a bit of length from source to destination, then go with solid core wiring since it tends not to fray or break as easily when handled rough (although this doesn’t apply if you’re using Clapton Wire uses stranded copper instead). If you’re dealing with a short length of wiring that’s easy to move around and flexible then go with stranded wire instead.

The other thing you need to watch out for is whether or not your connectors are going to be compatible. The most common options here include spade blade connectors, banana plugs (which we’ll be using), and barrel connectors (Pioneer makes one specifically made for speaker wiring called “banana jack adapters”).

Except for barrel connectors, which don’t work very well at all since they tend to break easily and slip off as soon as cables are moved even slightly, both spade blade and banana plug options perform about equally as well.

For those who use mono amps or power amps that require speaker wire with banana plugs, you can also buy cables that already come with them attached so there’s no need to do it yourself.

I think the best option here if this is your first time installing speaker wire is to go with something like what we’re using for this tutorial which is dual-terminal (2-pin) Pioneer Type S banana clips (one side has a plastic flange).

These come in both 14 and 16-gauge sizes and tend to perform very well at least over the last few years whereas other options seem to be more hit or miss depending on who makes them.

It should be noted though that other brands may use other types of connectors, which, unlike our 2-pin connectors, look like they would make installation much more difficult.

In addition to the difference between solid core and stranded wire, there are also a few different types of insulation material being used for speaker wires these days.

One common variant uses PVC insulation which is more flexible than nylon insulation but tends to be less durable with lower melting points so if you do have any custom cables made up using PVC it would be best not to run them over high heat sources (like near speakers or other equipment that gets hot).

Another option out there is Teflon, which has better heat resistance properties but at the same time doesn’t flex as easily so it can be harder to run wiring through tight spaces if you’re not careful. Nylon insulation is probably the most commonly used type nowadays since it offers both good flexibility and heat resistance without being too brittle like PVC insulation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What gauge wire should I use?

Typically speaking here you want to pick the lowest gauge that your equipment is rated for; however, it’s best not to go any lower than 14 AWG (American Wire Gauge) as anything smaller tends not to safely maintain its current carrying capacity.
If you plan on using 8 AWG or larger wiring then be sure your power supply can handle it since some amps (especially older ones) may run into issues with this size of wiring.

Is stranded wire better than solid core?

Not really, although there are a few differences between the two:
Solid Core: – The best choice if running long lengths of cable – Doesn’t flex easily so it’s best to avoid bundling and wrapping it around other stuff (other than using ties) – More durable if the insulation is harder (like nylon or Teflon insulation) – Provides less surface area for electricity to flow through, which means there will be slightly less voltage drop over distance compared with stranded wire.
Stranded: – The best choice for shorter lengths of cable since it fits more easily into places where you need to put bends in the wiring – Doesn’t break as easily as solid core wire when handled roughly (since there isn’t a single solid copper core like with solid core wiring). – Offers better flexibility and doesn’t kink as easily as solid core wire.
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Richard

About Richard

Richard is a creative with deep experience in music and audio. He plays several instruments, composes evocative scores, and has worked as an audio engineer for over 15 years. Before founding ColorViewfinder, he supported audio projects for large corporations. Richard is an audiophile passionate about the latest sound technology. His goal is to create the best possible audio experience for the audience.