Speaker Wires Guide - Gauge, Length, and Type.
Figuring out the best speaker wires can be a daunting task, especially for first time installers. You need to consider the proper gauge that will deliver the best sound quality, how long of cabling you need, which type of cable you need, and what type of connectors are required by your speakers. It is a lot of information to go through, but everything can be broken down into simple terms so you’ll know exactly which options are best for your circumstances.
Choosing The Right Speaker Wire Gauge
Before we can discuss what gauge wire is appropriate for your speakers, you first need to understand what wire gauge even is. Wire gauge refers to the thickness of the cable based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG) metric. The lower this number is, the thicker the wire is. Typical speaker wires come in 12AWG, 14AWG, 16AWG, or 18AWG options. 12AWG is the thickest wire and 18AWG is the thinnest.
So, what does the thickness of the cabling matter for speakers? To put it simply, the thicker the wire is, the easier electricity can flow through that wire. This means that a thicker wire will generally give a clearer signal to the speaker. However, thicker speaker wire is also more expensive, so if you don’t have an audiophile’s ear it may not be necessary.
For an average listener, you may be able to get by with thinner wire depending on the impedance of your speakers. 8-ohm and 16-ohm speakers will work perfectly fine with 16AWG wire. To get peak performance out of 4-ohm and 6-ohm speakers you’ll need more expensive 12AWG wire. The length of the cable will also impact the gauge of wire you need to get an optimal performance out of your speaker.
Speaker Cable Length
The easiest way to measure the distance of your cable run is to simply take a string from the source to your speakers. This will give you very close to an exact distance and it works whether your speakers are indoors or outdoors. You can use this distance to determine the wire gauge necessary to get peak performance out of your speakers.
The rule of thumb for speaker wire length is: Buy at least a little bit more than your estimate.
With 4-ohm speakers you can run up to 24 feet on 16AWG wire and for runs up to 100 feet, 10 or 12AWG wire is recommended. For 6-ohm speakers 16AWG wire is recommended for runs up to 36 feet and 10 or 12AWG wire for runs up to 150 feet. If you are using 8-ohm speakers, 16 AWG wire is recommended for runs up to 48 feet and 10 or 12AWG wire for runs up to 200 feet. If you are unsure which size cabling is appropriate for your run, it is always safe to use a thicker wire to ensure your speakers are operating at peak performance.
The rule of thumb for speaker wire is: The longer the run is from your audio amplifier to the speakers the lower the gauge is.
Speaker Wire Gauge Chart
Once you measured the length of the wire, you should check the nominal impedance of your speakers. The table below shows gauge wire size and the maximum length that it can handle based on the impedance of the speakers.
|Speaker Wire Gauge||4 Ohms Speakers||6 Ohms Speakers||8 Ohms Speakers|
|18 AWG Speaker Wire||16 feet||24 feet||32 feet|
|16 AWG Speaker Wire||24 feet||36 feet||48 feet|
|14 AWG Speaker Wire||40 feet||60 feet||80 feet|
|12 AWG Speaker Wire||60 feet||90 feet||120 feet|
|10 AWG Speaker Wire||100 feet||150 feet||200 feet|
Note1: This chart is for stranded copper wire only. We recommend using a gauge larger wire for CCA, especially for the longer runs.
Note2: Avoid Speaker Cable runs more than 50 feet. Best Performance can be achieved by moving the amplifiers closer to the speakers.
For example, 18 gauge wire connected to an 8 Ohms speaker should not exceed more than 32 feet in length from amp/receiver to speaker.
If you have a wire that exceeds its recommended length, the audio signal and quality will degrade.
Speaker Wire Gauge vs Recommended use
|Speaker Wire Gauge||Recommended Use|
|18 Gauge Speaker Wire||Car and Homer Speakers, Low Voltage Lighting, and lamp cords in 10 amps|
|16 Gauge Speaker Wire||Longer Speaker runs, Moderate power Subwoofers (under 225) with the short length, light-duty extension cords supporting 13 amps|
|14 Gauge Speaker Wire||Long Speaker Runs, High Power Subwoofers (2 or 4 ohms) with the short length, light fixtures, lamps, lighting circuits with 15 amps|
|12 Gauge Speaker Wire||Long Speaker Runs High Power Subwoofers (2 or 4 ohms) with the short length Subwoofers, 110-volt Air Conditioners, Kitchen Appliances with 20 amps|
|10 Gauge Speaker Wire||Very Long Speaker Runs High Power Subwoofers (2 or 4 ohms) with the short length Subwoofers|
Note For short speaker wire runs, a 18-gauge or 16-gauge wire is sufficient,depends on the impedance of the speakers. However, for longer speaker wire runs (to another room, for example), it is better to use a thicker, lower-gauge wire.
Speaker Cable Types
There are multiple types of cables that will depend on where your speakers are located and the type of speakers you have. Outdoor speakers will require direct burial cabling to help with an easy installation. For indoor speakers, you will need to ensure you are purchasing wires with a proper UL rating if they are run in ceilings or walls. There are also different types of connectors and a number of conductors that will be appropriate for different situations.
Indoor Vs Outdoor Cabling
|Indoor Speaker Wire||Direct Burial Speaker Wire||Transparent Speaker Wire|
If you are using outdoor speakers, you will need to be sure your cables are rated for outdoor use. This means they will be considered direct burial cables that allow for easy installation. You can bury the cables directly underground without any additional protection. The shielding protects the cables from pressure, heat, and moisture to ensure your speakers are always functioning properly.
Indoor speakers will require the proper UL rating depending on how your cables are run within your house. If the cables are run in the ceilings or walls of your house to conceal the cables, you will need to ensure they are rated CL2 or CL3. This is to ensure your home stays safe when the cabling is placed near potentially flammable materials within your ceiling or walls.
Speaker Cable Connectors and Conductors
The most common connector types for speakers are binding posts and spring clips. Binding posts have screw caps over the connector to screw the connector into your speakers. Spring clips have a clip with a hole behind it that you push into the speaker then push down a clip to secure them in place. This provides a more secure connection than binding posts, but it will depend on which type of connector your speakers require.
Some cabling comes without any connectors. If you do buy cabling without connectors, we strongly suggest purchasing banana connectors as well to make installation easier and cleaner.
There is also the issue of the number of conductors you need for your individual set up. Cables come in 2-conductor or 4-conductor setups. 2-conductors are most simple since they just attach to your source and your speakers. 4-conductor cables are most commonly used for having an external volume control or multiple speakers set up in different parts of a room.
Summing It All Up
To simplify everything we just discussed, for wire gauge it is always safe to go with a thicker cable than thinner but may be more expensive. The thinnest wire you can get for your cable will depend on the impedance of your speaker and the distance the cabling has to run. It is easy to determine how long your speaker run is by simply using a string from your source to the location of your speakers.
When it comes to cabling types, if you have outdoor speakers direct-burial cabling is always recommended. For indoor speakers, make sure you are using cabling that has the proper UL rating for your situation. You will also need to ensure your cabling has the proper connectors that match your speakers, either binding post or spring clip. Most people will be perfectly fine with 2-conductor cabling. 4-conductor cables are typically used if you have an external volume control system or multiple speakers in different parts of the room.
Ensuring you have proper cabling will make your speakers sound better and is generally a simple task for regular listeners.