In this follow-up to our previous post on “How To Wire Up Your Speakers!,” we delve into the process of choosing an appropriate speaker wire. With a multitude of options available and conflicting information, the choice can be overwhelming. Therefore, it is important to understand key factors such as wire construction, determining the right wire size, and calculating the necessary wire length.
The first step in deciding what wire to buy is knowing how the speaker wire is constructed, and what key properties to look for. The first property we are going to look at is what type of core the wire is made out of, stranded or solid.
Stranded wire core is made of many thin strands of copper that are twisted together and insulated with non-conductive material. Stranded wire core is very flexible and can withstand bending and twisting without breaking. It is also available in larger gauges. Stranded wire core is best for situations where the wire needs to move or bend a lot, such as speaker wires, headphone cables, or appliance cables.
Solid wire core is made of a single thick strand of copper that is insulated with non-conductive material. It is usually cheaper, more durable, and more compact than stranded wire core. It also has better electrical performance and less resistance to corrosion. However, solid wire core is not very flexible and can break easily if bent or twisted too much. It is also only available in small gauges. Solid wire core is best for situations where the wire does not need to move a lot, such as home electrical high voltage wiring or breadboards.
For home theater applications, we suggest using wire that has a stranded core due to its flexibility, as most speaker connection types are designed for stranded wire. You could get away with solid core wire in situations where you are using a smaller gauge wire, as the wire becomes flexible enough to bend.
Wire Core Material
The core material is another crucial aspect to consider when selecting speaker wire. It not only affects the price, but can also be confusing for newcomers due to the abundance of misleading information.
This is the most popular and widely used type of speaker wire. Copper is an excellent conductor of electricity, which means it has low resistance and high efficiency. Copper is also relatively cheap and easy to find. However, copper can oxidize over time, which can affect its conductivity and sound quality. To prevent this, copper wires are usually coated with tin or other metals. Copper is the most common option for wiring speakers and will work well for any system.
Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC)
This is a type of copper speaker wire that has been refined to remove any oxygen or impurities from the metal. While OFC wires have higher conductivity and lower resistance than regular copper wires, I argue that it will not make an audible difference or change sound quality for 99% of systems.
Tinned Copper (TC)
This is a type of copper speaker wire that has been coated with tin to prevent oxidation and corrosion. TC wires have similar conductivity and resistance as regular copper wires, but they last longer and are more resistant to environmental factors such as moisture and humidity. This would be a good option if your wires will be exposed to the elements, such as an outdoor speaker system.
Silver-Plated Copper (SPC)
Silver-plated copper wires are favored in the realm of ‘audiophile’ speaker wire products due to silver’s superior electrical conductivity compared to copper. While pure silver cables do exist, the majority of cables available are silver-plated copper. Once again, I would say that while the addition of silver to speaker wires may enhance their technical specifications, it will not result in any noticeable improvement in sound quality.
Copper-Clad Aluminum (CCA)
As copper prices rose, Copper-Clad Aluminum (CCA) wire became more popular due to its lower cost. CCA wire is typically made up of an aluminum core coated with a thin layer of copper, and it works well in most applications. However, it has a different electrical resistance compared to pure copper, so you may need to use a thicker CCA cable for the same distance.
For most speaker applications the right sized copper cable will work flawlessly for your speakers, and there is usually very little need to pay for the more exotic materials.
Speaker wire insulation is another property worth mentioning as it could have an effect on how durable your cable is and how susceptible it is to electrical interference.
Speaker wire insulation is the protective layer that surrounds the metal conductors inside the wire. It prevents the wire from short-circuiting, overheating, or getting damaged by external factors.
Some of the most common insulation materials are PVC (polyvinyl chloride), PE (polyethylene), Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene), and rubber. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of durability, flexibility, cost, and performance. For example, PVC is cheap and widely available, but it can degrade over time and affect the sound quality. Teflon is expensive and durable, but it can be stiff and hard to work with. PE and rubber are somewhere in between, offering a good balance of features.
The critical consideration regarding speaker wire insulation is to ensure that it is sufficiently thick to protect the cable from damage and shield it from other electrical signals. All the material mentioned above will work for most applications. As the length of the speaker cable run increases, it becomes even more crucial to have adequate insulation, as the cable will experience more electrical inference and power loss.
In the case of typical speaker runs in a home theater, we recommend using wire that has insulation on each conductor and additional insulation around the bundle. This type of construction will ensure that your cables will be well protected from damage and electrical interference.
What Size Wire (Gauge) Do You Need
Now let’s look at how to properly size speaker wire, as it remains one of the most common questions surrounding the topic.
The first concept to consider is the resistance of the wire. Resistance is a measure of how much a wire opposes the flow of electric current, and it is measured in ohms. The higher the resistance, the more power is lost as heat, and the less power reaches your speakers. Resistance depends on two main factors: the length and the gauge of the wire. The longer the wire, the more resistance it has. Therefore, you want to keep your speaker wire as short as possible, without compromising on placement or aesthetics.
The gauge of the wire is how thick it is. The thicker the wire, the less resistance it has. Therefore, you want to use a thicker wire for longer distances, and a thinner wire for shorter distances. Wire gauge is measured in American Wire Gauge (AWG), which is a standard system that assigns a number to each wire size. The higher the number, the thinner the wire. For example, a 16 AWG wire is thinner than a 12 AWG wire.
The gauge determines how much power can be delivered to your speakers without losing too much heat or distortion. The ideal gauge depends on two things: the length of the wire and the impedance of your speakers. However, as a general rule of thumb, you can use this table to find out what gauge you need for different lengths:
Values taken from an article by Roger Russel
Note that these are minimum recommendations, and you can always use a thicker wire than what is suggested. However, using a thinner wire than what is recommended can result in poor sound quality and potential damage to your equipment.
An overlooked step when it comes to buying speaker wire is understanding how the wire is going to be run before you buy it. This not only affects the type of wire, but also how much wire you will need.
Running Wires Inside the Walls
This is the most professional and discreet way to run speaker wires, but also the most difficult and expensive. You’ll need to cut holes in the drywall, drill through studs, fish the wires through the walls, and patch up the holes afterwards. You’ll also need to use special in-wall rated speaker wires that meet fire safety codes. This method is best done by a professional installer or an experienced DIYer with the right tools and skills.
Advanced Tip: If you are doing a new construction, install conduit with at least 3/4″ diameter inside the wall for the ability to remove and replace wires down the line. This is really helpful for any video cables, as they may fail or need to be upgraded over time.
Running Wires Outside the Walls
This is the easiest and cheapest way to run speaker wires, but also the most visible and messy. You’ll need to run the wires along the baseboards, around door frames, or over the ceiling, using staples, nails, or adhesive clips to secure them. You’ll also need to hide the excess wire behind furniture or curtains, or coil it up neatly. This method is best for temporary setups or if you don’t mind seeing some wires in your room. This method is often used when people are renting homes or do not have the ability/want to cut holes into the walls.
Using Wire Moulding
This is a compromise between running wires inside and outside the walls. Wire moulding is a plastic or metal channel that covers and conceals the speaker wires along the wall. It comes in different colors and shapes, and can be painted to match your wall color. You’ll need to cut the moulding to fit your wall length, attach it to the wall with screws or adhesive tape, and run the wires through it.
Speaker Wire Termination
Each end of the speaker wire will have to be terminated either into a speaker or into your AV Receiver. To help with planning this, check out our article, “How To Wire Up Your Speakers!.”
How Much Wire Do You Need?
Once you have thought out which installation method you are going to use, you will need to calculate how much wire you need. This means deciding where you want to place your speakers and your amplifier or receiver, and how you want to route the cables between them. You should also consider any obstacles or furniture that might get in the way of your cable run, and how you can avoid them or hide them.
The next step is to measure the distance of your planned speaker run. You can use a tape measure or any other measuring device. If your run has a lot of twists and turns, you can use a string to map out the route then lay the string out to measure. You should measure the distance from the back of your amplifier or receiver to the back of each speaker, following the path that you want the cable to take. Make sure you account for any turns you need the cable to make and changes in height.
Once you have measured the distance for each speaker, you should add them up to get the total length of speaker wire you need. However, this is not the final number. You should also add 20% to the total length to account for making it look neater and for connections. This means that you should leave some slack in the cable to avoid stretching it too tight, and to allow for some extra length at the ends for stripping and connecting.
The last step is to round up to the nearest standard length. Usually wire is sold in standard lengths and you want to purchase the closest one that exceeds your totaled number.
To wrap it up, choosing the perfect speaker wire doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By understanding the wire’s construction, core type, core material, insulation type, wire gauge, and installation methods, you’ll be well-equipped to make the right decision.
If you have any questions about how to wire up your home theater, feel free to leave a comment or book some time with us. See more about it here, or by clicking below.
This is my personal recommendation for home theater speaker wire as it is easy to use and readily accessible as it comes in different spool sizes. It is rated for in-wall use as well as it is flexible enough to be run inside wire moulding. There are many gauges available for any application, and it is high quality.
I have used a lot of different speaker wires over my time in home theatre, some of it exotic, some even THX-branded, others braided to be directional, the whole nine yards. I can tell you one secret: there is zero difference in well-made cables, as long as the gauge is correct for the length and speaker load. If you hear a difference with the cable, throw it out because it’s doing something it should not. That’s one of the main issues I have with some exotic HiFi cables: they can introduce resistance and act as “tone controls”. This BS is just one of the things you must unlearn if you come from HiFi, pure and simple. So I actually decided to use something called “Ugly speaker cable” in my region. The closest I could find in the US region is Amazon Basic’s Speaker Wire. Honestly, don’t spend the money on exotic cables, just well-made ones.
Amazons Top Selling Speaker Wires
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