What Size Speaker Wire Is Right? Find The Right Gauge and Type
If choosing the right speakers isn’t stressful enough already, most people have to buy speaker wires separately which is even more of a challenge. Most of the time, your product of choice won’t include any wires in the package, which is why it’s important to learn about speaker wires and the options you can choose from.
Buying the wrong speaker wires completely ruins your experience, as not all wires fit all speakers, and not all wires make the speakers sound good.
How Do I Find The Perfect Speaker Wire?
If you are looking for the best speaker wires that are compatible with the speakers you have, you need to take into account the gauge, the type, as well as some minor details that can impact the quality of the sound. Let’s glance over each category and share some advice.
The gauge of each wire is essentially its thickness, and you can choose between several options - 12, 14, 16 and 18 gauge. As the gauge number lowers, the wire becomes thicker, meaning the 12 gauge wire is the chunkiest on this list. Thicker wires do better with flow resistance and the sound is usually better.
If you have a low-impedance speaker, meaning the impedance lies between 4 and 6 Ohms, you should definitely look into thick wires. Same goes for long wire runs, which are usually more than 50 feet.
If your speakers have an impedance of 8 Ohms, and the run is relatively short, you can sacrifice a bit of the quality and go for a 16 gauge wire. We rarely recommend 18 gauge wiring to anyone, unless you have small, portable speakers.
In case you’re still unsure what type of wire you need, we recommend you head into your local shop and show them your speaker specs online. The dealer should know what you need.
We always recommend you do a practical test of how much wiring you need. Get some cheap rope or string, and start unrolling it from the receiver (or your amplifier) to the speaker itself. You should add an extra 20% to this number, just to make sure the transport and the setup go flawlessly. For example, if you have measured that you need 10 feet of wiring, you should add another 2 feet for safety and practicality.
Wire length can also be a great indicator of what type of gauge you need, since certain wire thickness protects the sound and provides a better result. If you have 4 Ohm speakers, you can go for a 12 or 14 gauge, but if you want to use at least 50 feet of wiring, you should choose the 16 gauge or the 18 gauge.
There are two wire types - wires with connectors and wires without connectors. If you’re a handy person or someone with previous experience when it comes to wiring, you could easily buy wiring without connectors and connect them yourself. However, if you’re not that familiar with the process, we suggest you either get wires with connectors, or make sure that you buy banana connectors for your connectorless wires.
Stranded Or Solid?
When you decide what gauge and length you want, the local shop assistant might ask whether you want a solid or a stranded wire. We recommend stranded wires, as they are more practical, less prone to damage, and they do better to reduce vibrations. They are a bit more expensive, naturally, but they’re an investment that will save you money in the long run.
Oxygen-Free or Not?
Oxygen-Free copper has become popular over the last decade, as it provides a phenomenal, crisp sound. This material is of very high conductivity and the level of oxygen is below 0.00%, meaning there is no loss in the sound transmission. These cables are premium, which means they have a higher price tag, and they’re recommended for people who are installing in-wall speakers in the same room where the amplifier is.
Wire Core Material
You can usually choose between three different materials - copper, copper-clad aluminum (known as CCA) and silver. Copper is the classic option, and it has been around for the longest time. It’s the go-to choice for many audio lovers.
The copper-clad aluminum is a cheaper version of the copper core, and it’s a response to the production cost raise that manufacturers often encounter. If you choose thicker wiring, it should do the same thing as the copper core.
The last option on the list is silver, and it’s a popular choice amongst those who want “all the best products”. However, the wires aren’t made from silver, they’re made from copper and plated with silver, which means that you won’t be able to hear a difference if you have a low resistance cable. We suggest you skip this premium option unless you have money that’s burning a hole in your pocket.
What If I Have Speakers Inside My Walls?
Many people choose to set their speakers in their walls or in their ceiling, which means that you cannot follow the above given advice. In that case, you’ll have to get UL-rated speaker wires that have special labels, such as the CL2 or the CL3 label.
In case you want to use a single cable on a longer distance, you’ll have to get a 4-conductor cable that’s usually used for stereo-input speakers. However, for any complicated projects, make sure to consult with a local audio equipment shop, as you want to ensure the best sound quality you can get.
Picking the right wiring for your speakers might seem intimidating at first, but the topic is not complicated at all. You need to figure out the length you need, then find the right gauge and figure out whether you need connectors or not. In the end, you can choose to go for some extra options such as oxygen-free copper or silver-plated wiring.
If in doubt, definitely take your speaker specifications to the audio shop and consult the specialist at the shop. Good luck!
About the author:
I grew up to be a self-proclaimed stuck-up audiophile, and I – partially – blame Pinnacle Speakers for it.
The whole point of me starting this website was to keep the tradition going. Although the means have changed, the mission remains the same: Bringing „sterling sound“ as they once put it into home theaters and sound systems worldwide!