Choosing the Right Speaker Wire for a Home Audio System

How do you choose your speaker wires? It is by brand name? Or is it by price? Or is it the packaging that catches your eye? Believe it or not, this is something the manufacturers actually take into account and design to get your attention. The question is whether it is a good strategy for you.

Speaker WireWell, while the brand name popularity may give you peace of mind that the product is made well, it may or may not be the perfect fit for your project. Price tag is important, especially when you are on a tight budget, but when the price is dramatically lower than it should be – the product may not deliver the promised performance. When the price tag is high, it doesn’t automatically mean the product is perfect (though we’d like to believe it is so, after all, why pay top dollars) either. Same goes for eye catching packaging.

So how should you go about choosing the right speaker wire for your home audio system or other applications? The simple answer is by the cable’s features. But what should you look for and where does one start? Not to worry, we’re getting there.

There is a list of question you can ask yourself in order to help making an educated decision when selecting the appropriate speaker wire for your application.

Speaker Wire Length

How long will the speaker wire be? The length of the cable will determine the gauge (thickness) required.  The American Wire Gauge (AWG) is a wire thickness system ranging 0-40. In this system, the higher the number = the thinner the wire. Speaker wires usually come in a 12-18 gauge range, though not always.

An audio signal encounters more resistance and power loss the further it travels.  Since thicker, lower gauge wires have the minimum resistance, it is typically best suited for carrying signals a long distance. In most cases a 12 or 14 AWG speaker wire will yield desirable results. That being said, a 12 AWG is not always necessary in order to accomplish your signal goals. In order to find the appropriate AWG for your needs, first establish the cable run length then use this table.AWG Table

Wire Run’s Obstacles

Consider whether or not the speaker wire is running through a wall or other obstacles. If the wire doesn’t go through a wall, any wire type will do. If the wire does run inside walls, there is a bit more to check for.

In wall wires are required to be UL rated and CL2 or CL3 for safety reasons. These labels assure that the wire has been tested for flammability, current-based heat generation and vulnerability to damage. The UL label ensures that the wire is safe for consumer use in an in-wall installation.

Desired Sound Quality

For high quality sound, look at the conductor and shielding characteristics while choosing the speaker wire. For good sound results, the conductor should be made of high purity copper. The shielding is what blocks interference from adjacent power cords and fluorescent lighting. For in wall installations a shielded speaker cable is recommended in order protect from interference from nearby electrical lines.

While you can select larger gauge (thinner cable) for shorter runs, for high quality sound systems it is recommended to use smaller gauge. Regardless of the cable run, the thicker gauge with its thicker conductor allows for a wider, clearer path for audio signals to travel smoothly.

Now you are ready to select the best fit speaker cable for your home audio system. Just remember to ask yourself what is the cable’s length? Does it do through a wall? What sound quality is desired? And what system quality are you connecting?

Good luck with the installation!