How to Wire & Connect Passive Speakers to an Amp or Receiver

How to Wire & Connect Passive Speakers to an Amp or Receiver

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In Part One of our two-part series on speaker wire we talked about how important it is to find the best speaker wire for your system – which can not only improve your sound quality but actually protect your gear and make it last longer. 

Here in Part Two, we will talk about how to best connect that speaker wire, a tutorial that will make this task much easier to understand and to do. Connecting speaker wire properly can also make your system sound better and prevent damage and other problems with your equipment, and while many people struggle with it, connecting speaker wire is or should be, quite easy and straight-forward.

How to Install Speaker Wire

Step 1: Measure Length and Cut

The first step in installing a new wire, or properly re-installing your existing wire, is to determine the length of wire you will need. For various reasons, it is a very good idea to have the exact same length of wire on the right and left sides, so if you need 10 feet for the right side, and 15 feet for the left side, you should cut 15-foot lengths for both sides.

For home theater systems, match the length side to side for each type of speaker – for example, you may need 15 feet for each side of the front right and left speakers, and 30 feet for each side of the rear left and right speakers. They don’t have to be the same length as the front speakers, but the left and right rear speaker wires should be the same length as each other.

Make sure to leave yourself a little extra, so that you can tuck and hide wire when necessary, and so that the wire doesn’t need to drape unattractively or pull on the speakers or components.

Step 2: Split the Wire

Once you have your lengths cut, you will need to provide some bare wire on each end. If you don’t have one, a good quality wire-stripper is essential – for this and many other jobs. We would recommend the excellent and inexpensive Klein Tools Wire Cutter and Wire Stripper.

With your wire strippers, or very carefully with a knife, separate the two leads of the speaker wire by cutting the plastic insulation between them to about two inches. Then use the wire strippers to remove the insulation and expose about one inch of wire on each lead.

Step 3: Lay Out Carefully

You should lay the speaker wire out from the system to the speakers in whatever way is most efficient and looks best to you, but there are a few important considerations.

  • Don’t leave wire lying across walkways or doorways, or anywhere where people (or pets) might trip on run into it
  • Don’t lay out the wire in a way that leave it pulling down with pressure on the connectors of the speakers or stereo
  • Don’t coil, bundle, or wrap speaker wire up onto itself at any point – it should be a single, free length of wire
  • Avoid laying your speaker wire against or close to any other wires – stereo or home theater wires, AC power cords, or anything else – and also avoid any electrical appliances or other devices, to avoid interference and noise coming through your speakers

Step 4: Connect Both Ends

The Importance of Polarity

Before we get into the specific steps of how to connect speaker wire, we should first mention the most important thing when connecting any and all speaker wires – polarity. Polarity simply means having the positive lead of the speaker wire connected to the positive terminals on the speaker and stereo, and the negative to the negative – an absolute must get the best sound from your system.

Speaker wire will have two leads, and while the two wires are identical they will be marked differently – one side will usually have a + (positive) sign, and the other a – (negative) sign or the positive lead will be marked with a continuous line printed along its side’s length. If these symbols aren’t there, the speaker may instead be color-coded, usually red (positive) and black (negative).

The connectors on both the speakers’ and stereo’s back panels will also be in pairs, one for each lead of the speaker wire, and they will also be marked or color-coded. It is very important to make sure that the + lead of the wire goes into the + side of the connector (both on the speaker and the stereo) and the – lead goes into the – side of the connector. In the same way, you should always put the red side of the wire into the red side of the connector, and the black into the black.

If, between the speaker wire, the speakers’ connectors, and the stereo system’s connectors, you have a combination of + and – signs and red and black colors, don’t get confused. Just always keep red and + together, and black and – together, and everything will work perfectly.

Making the Connection

There are a few different types of speaker terminals (where the speaker wire connects, on the back panel of your speakers and your receiver or amp) which you may find on your stereo or home theater equipment and/or on your speakers, but two types are by far the most common, and it is almost certain you will be using one or the other, or both.

  • Binding Post
  • Spring-Loaded Connector

Binding posts appear in pairs and are metal posts with larger plastic knobs (usually red and black) which can be turned. When you turn the plastic knobs counter-clockwise they will start to come out toward you, and reveal more of the metal post underneath. When enough of the post itself is revealed, you will see it has a small hole through it, and all you need to do is push the exposed speaker wire through the hole and then screw the plastic knob back clockwise to clamp it down on the inserted wire.

Spring-loaded connectors also come in pairs and have plastic tabs (again usually red and black) next to metal holes. When you press down on the plastic tab, the metal holes will open up, and you can easily insert the speaker wire into the hole – again, remembering polarity. Releasing the plastic tab will close the hole back down, thereby clamping down on and securing the speaker wire.

These connectors can be found on both the speakers’ back panel and the back panel of your stereo or home theater system’s receiver or amplifier, and the exact same technique is used in both cases. Always make sure the connection is neat, and that there is no extra frayed wire sticking out or touching the other connector (which can cause a short and even damage your equipment).

On a home theater system, make sure to connect the correct speakers (front, rear, subwoofer, etc.) to the correct speaker outputs. If you are connecting speakers to a stereo system, you will probably have a choice of Speaker A or Speaker B, and if you only have one pair of speakers it doesn’t matter which you use (though we always, for some reason, choose Speaker A – it just seems to make sense…) but make sure you have that selection (Speaker A or Speaker B) chosen on the front panel switch of your stereo receiver or amp.

Banana Plugs – Easy, Secure, and Sound Great!

When you follow our instructions, securely connecting speaker wire is quite easy, but there is a way to make it even easier, and more secure, and to get even better sound from your system – the banana plug. There are actually three types of connectors that you can put on the ends of your speaker wire and use instead of the bare wire – Banana Plugs, Spades, and Pins – but Banana Plugs are our favorite for sound quality and ease of use.

Installing Banana Plugs

Installing speaker wire onto banana plugs is very similar to connecting speaker wire to a binding post, as detailed above. It is, in fact, easier, since you can hold the banana plug in your hand while doing it, and don’t have to bend behind your stereo or speakers. The banana plug will have a screw that needs to be turned (and the banana plugs should include a little tool to do so) which will reveal a small hole in which you insert the speaker wire. Put the exposed end of the wire into the hole and turn the screw in the opposite direction to clamp down on the wire and you’re done! Please remember polarity – + to +, – to -, red to red, black to black.

Once the wires are connected to the banana plugs, the plugs themselves just plug into the spring-loaded connectors or into the end of the binding posts. With binding posts in particular this makes things much easier since you don’t even need to unscrew the plastic knob. You will find that the post has a hole at the end which is exactly the right size to securely accept the banana plug – just plug it in!

You can find more information about Banana Plugs and the other types of connectors in Part One of this speaker wire series, but here we can at least recommend our two favorite Banana Connectors, one with great sound and material quality, and the other even better – a true audiophile product.

Mediabridge Banana Plug Corrosion-Resistant 24K Gold-Plated Connectors:

Additional Tips and Warnings on Connecting Speaker Wire

  • If you are doing an in-wall, in-ceiling, or under-ground installation, make sure you use wire approved for such use – UL-rated speaker cable that’s tagged CL2 or CL3.
  • Always make sure that polarity is correct – positive to positive, negative to negative (see above – The Importance of Polarity).
  • Never leave speaker wire where it can be tripped on or run into – this can cause injury and damage your equipment.
  • Do not bundle or coil speaker wire upon itself, do not bundle it with other signal wires, AC power lines, or anything else, and keep it away from appliances or anything else electrical.
  • If your wire is old and frayed, replace it, and don’t skimp – good wire sounds better and lasts longer!
  • For longer runs of wire (over 50 feet), low-impedance speakers (6 ohms or lower), or high power amplifiers (over 100 watts per channel), use thicker gauge wire – at least 14 gauge (for more information on selecting the right size speaker wire for your system, please see Part One of our two-part series on speaker wire).

Special Installations

How Can I Connect My Speakers to a Television?

Some televisions, especially fairly recent models, may have speaker terminals built in. These are usually the spring-loaded variety of terminals which we discussed above, and you can follow the exact instructions above to connect speakers to those TV sets.

If your TV does not have clearly marked speaker connections, however, this means that the TV also does not have an amplifier built in with enough power to drive passive speakers. In this case you cannot connect those speakers directly to the television, but must instead run a cable from the television’s “line out” “audio out” or headphone plug to an “auxiliary,” “line in” or “audio in” connector on the back of your stereo or home theater receiver, and then play your speakers normally using that system’s amplifier.

How Can I Connect My Speakers to a 3.5 Inch Output Jack?

A 3.5” jack, or a mini-headphone jack, normally has a very small amount of power output – plenty to drive headphones to a good volume, but not nearly enough to drive passive speakers. As such, you cannot connect such speakers directly to the 3.5 inch jack. You can, however, like with our television example just above, run the headphone output into a stereo’s line level inputs, and connect the speakers to the stereo.

How Can I Connect Speakers Using a Bi-Wired or Bi-Amped Connection?

For stereo systems in particular, there are a couple of special installations which you might hear about, or even want to try with your own system:

  • Bi-Wired Speaker Connection
  • Bi-Amped Speaker Connection

Both of these special connection options require specific speakers that have two sets of speaker terminals on the back of each speaker – one for the tweeter and one for the woofer. If your speakers don’t have this, you cannot do either bi-amplification or bi-wiring.

Bi-wiring means to run two sets of speaker cable from the single set of speaker outputs on the back panel of your stereo receiver or amplifier. You have to connect two wires to each of those binding posts on the system itself, and then run one to the tweeter connectors on the speaker and one to the woofer connectors. While many audiophiles tout this method as a real improvement in sound, we here at Speakergy have honestly never noticed any difference, and don’t recommend bi-wiring – a bit of a waste of time and resources, and anyway it can actually cause sound problems since you might not get as good of a connection on the back panel of your stereo system.

Bi-amplification is different, though, and just awesome. It is also very expensive, since it requires a separate active crossover, separate amplifiers (one for the tweeter and one for the woofer) and separate speaker wires. If you are going to bi-wire your system, all of the above instructions for how to properly connect speaker wire still apply, but you might want to contact us directly for more guidance.

Watch a Video On How To Connect Speaker Wire