When putting together a great sounding stereo system, we tend to think a lot about finding the best, and best sounding, components and speakers, and yet we often overlook very important, and very inexpensive, the part which can make a huge difference to how our audio system will sound – our speaker cables!
But how can you find the best speaker wires for your system? In this quick guide we will answer some basic questions:
- Does your speaker wire need to be replaced?
- What size speaker wire do you need?
- What type of speaker wire connectors are best?
- What brand of speaker wire sounds the best?
- What is the best wire for your amp and speakers?
Please note that this is Part One of a two-part Speakergy series on selecting and installing speaker wire.
You may also want to check out Part Two: How to Wire and Connect Passive Speakers to an Amp
Inspecting your Speaker Wire – Is it Good Enough, or Should it Be Replaced?
First we want to determine if your existing speaker wire is in good condition. Poor quality, old and degraded wire can really hurt performance and sound quality, and you should check for the following things and replace the wire if you find one or more of them:
- Is the wire is oxidized or discolored?
- Does the plastic insulation have any cracks or breaks?
- Are there any breaks in the wire itself?
- Do you have different types or sizes of wire for different speakers?
- Is the wire very thin (under 18 gauge)?
- Is it really speaker wire, or designed for something else (like electrical wire)?
If your wire is old, in bad condition, or has any of the other conditions listed above, it is essential to sound quality (and sometimes to the health and safety of your stereo system) to replace it with good, new wire. Fortunately, basic good quality speaker wire is quite inexpensive, and even extremely good audiophile speaker wire is often surprisingly reasonable.
Selecting Your Speaker Wire – What Type of Wire do you Need?
What Gauge (Size) of Speaker Wire do you Need?
Wire size, or thickness, is measured in gauge, as identified by the standard American Wire Gauge (AWG) number. The larger the number, the smaller (thinner) the wire. Many people will recommend using at least 18 gauge, but we would never use wire smaller than 16 gauge for our own equipment (which again is a bit thicker than 18 gauge), and recommend that you don’t either.
We have found that thicker wire will always sound better – especially if it is a good quality speaker wire. Sometimes there’s not a huge difference in sound quality, but it is noticeable, and anyway there’s usually a very small difference in price, so why not? So much of the fun of this hobby is in making little upgrades and tweaks and being able to hear little (or sometimes big) improvements!
Anyway, as you can see from the chart below, for longer runs of speaker wire, more powerful amplifiers and lower impedance speakers, thicker wire is always better, and even necessary, for sound quality and the health and reliability of your equipment. You cannot use too-thick of wire, though – that is, while 18 gauge wire isn’t a good idea for a big amplifier, 12 gauge wire is always fine for smaller amps.
Speaker Wire Gauge Chart – this basic chart shows speaker wire by size, or thickness, based on three factors:
- Speaker Impedance (in Ohms, or Ω – should be listed on the back of your speakers)
- Amplifier size, or power (in Watts per channel – should be listed on the back of your receiver or amplifier)
- Length of Wire – how long is the distance between the stereo and the speakers?
|Speaker Impedance||Amp Power||Wire Length|
|18 Gauge Wire||8 Ohms or higher||50 Watts or less||25 Feet or less|
|16 Gauge Wire||6 Ohms or higher||50-100 Watts||Up to 50 Feet|
|14 Gauge Wire||4 Ohms or higher||100-150 Watts||Up to 75 Feet|
|12 Gauge Wire||4 Ohms or higher||150-200 Watts||Up to 100 Feet|
|10 Gauge Wire||2 Ohms or higher||200 + Watts||200 Feet or more|
If you’ve done research on this already, or have checked out other sites, you may notice that our chart is greatly simplified compared to most, and for good reason. People really overthink the exact matching of speakers, amplifiers, and speaker cable, but if you are using good quality wire it’s really quite easy: thicker wire is safer and sounds better, and again it is not usually significantly more expensive.
We will make some specific recommendations here for the best speaker wire for your system, with great quality and great sound!
What’s the Best Speaker Wire for Your System?
An excellent basic speaker wire for a really reasonable price is the MaxBrite oxygen-free 16 gauge wire, which is durable, easy to work with, and will improve the sound of almost any stereo or home theater system – except for perhaps really high-end systems, but more about that below.
And for longer runs, you should again use a slightly thicker wire, here offered in a large spool – perfect for big rooms, multi-speaker installations, and home theater.
For high end systems there are hundreds of different makes and brands of audiophile speaker wire, sometimes costing literally hundreds of dollars a foot (!), but we here at Speakergy have found a superb audiophile speaker cable for a very low price, from one of the most beloved and respected names in audio – AudioQuest. You would have to spend a lot more to get better sound, and this wonderful speaker wire will make any system sound awesome.
Speaker Wire Connectors: Easier, Neater and Better Sounding
Should You Use a Speaker Wire Connector or Bare Wire?
Good stereo or home theater systems and good speakers will have high-quality binding posts or connector terminals for attaching speaker wire, and it is pretty easy to make a good, solid connection even with bare wire. Still, you will notice that any real high end systems will always have good quality connectors at the end of their speaker wire.
Speaker wire connectors neatly terminate the bare ends of the wire, they make connecting the wire much easier and more secure, they improve the sound of any system and they make sure that the sound and the connection won’t degrade over time.
Banana Plugs, Spades, and Pins – What Are They For, and What’s the Difference?
There are three common types of high-quality speaker wire connectors:
- Banana Plugs
- Spade Connectors
- Pin Connectors
These connectors are normally made to a very high standard – solid, heavy-duty and of the best materials, and are gold- or silver-plated to increase their conductivity. As a general rule, the easier a musical signal can flow from the amplifier to the speakers, the better the sound, and conductivity at connection points is a big part of this, and where often sound quality suffers. But not with good connectors.
Banana Plugs: The Best Overall
Banana Plugs are probably the most popular of the three speaker wire terminators, and not just because of their funny name. They are really easy to connect wire to, simply plug right into the binding posts or connection terminals on your system and speakers, and offer a solid, highly conductive connection and great sound quality. They are also solid and secure, and will maintain the same great connection over time.
We recommend two different Banana Plugs – Mediabridge and AudioQuest. Both will make the whole process of connecting speaker wire much easier, and both will noticeably improve your system’s sound, but the AudioQuest Banana Plugs are true high-end products, suitable for even the most discerning listener and the most premium systems, and are especially good to use with the AudioQuest wire we’ve recommended above (though they work equally well with any speaker wire).
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Spade Connectors: Super-Secure and Sound Great
Spade Connectors, also called Y connectors, are open clips which you place around the inner post of your speakers’ or system’s binder posts, and then you can tighten the post’s outer knob down really tight, making for an extremely solid connection with superior conductivity and great sound. Spades are a little harder to connect wire to, and a little harder to connect to speakers and amplifiers, but are still a popular choice, and offer the most secure connection over time.
We go to Mediabridge again for the best quality and best sounding spade connector for a stereo or home theater system.
Pin Connectors: A Must-Have for Certain Jobs
Pin connectors are little posts – similar to Banana Plugs but thinner – which are good for some inexpensive stereos and speakers. Certain stereo equipment has spring-loaded connector terminals, which are really designed for inserting bare speaker wire. They have two plastic tabs for each wire (usually red and black) next to metal holes, and 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.
Most of these spring-loaded terminals are big enough to handle even bigger (thicker, or higher gauge) speaker wire, and can also easily accommodate the thicker pin of a good Banana Plug, but some are quite small, and this is where using a pin connector is important – to, again, offer a more secure connection and better sound quality for this smaller terminal.
Our favorite pin connector is made by Eightnoo, which comes in a 4 pair package for connecting a par of stereo speakers. It is easy to connect, made from good, heavy material and gold plated for the best conductive qualities, the best connection and the best sound.
5 Frequently Asked Questions about Speaker Wire
How can I tell which speaker wire is positive – red or black?
It is extremely important when connecting speaker wire to make sure the polarity is correct – that is, to make sure the positive connector on the speakers are always attached to the positive connectors on the receiver or amplifier, and the negative always connected to the negative.
Normally the positive side of the terminals on your speakers or amp will be colored red, and the negative side will be black. Sometimes there will instead (or also) be a + symbol for positive, and a – symbol for negative.
On speaker wire, the positive side will also often be coded with red, or with the + symbol, or it might have the word “positive” written on it or a continuous white line along its length. The negative side may have a – symbol, or black coloring, but it may not have any markings.
What speaker wire do I need for in-wall installations?
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.
How can I test speaker wire?
You can use a multi-meter to determine if a speaker wire is able to pass musical (electrical) signal, or you can simply connect the wire between your amplifier and speaker and see if it plays music. Be careful to start with a very low volume, to prevent any possible damage, and then turn the volume up slowly.
If you are in doubt, or even if your speaker wire seems to work but looks old, worn or damaged, you might want to replace it with new wire just to be sure – good speaker wire is inexpensive and can really make a difference to sound quality and to the safety and health of your equipment.
How can I hide speaker wire?
You can run speaker wire under furniture or baseboards, but be sure that there is no pressure on the wire at any point. Also try to keep speaker wire away from any other wires – audio, electric or anything else – or electrical appliances, which can cause interference and hurt the sound quality.
If you are thinking of running wire inside the walls or ceilings, or underground, please see question two just above.
How can I convert speaker wire to RCA?
If your speakers or stereo have speaker wire terminals with female RCA plugs, you will need to solder good quality male RCA plugs – like these Gold Plated RCA Connector Plugs – to the ends of your speaker wires. It is not recommended, however, to use already made cables with RCA plugs, as these are usually optimized for other purposes and meant for lower electric current – which might damage your equipment or degrade sound quality.