Getting Wired: How to Choose the Right Speaker Wire for Your Home Audio System

SOUNDS like a job for CableOrganizer!

BY: Shane Weaver

speakers that want wires

With so many different brands and grades of speaker wire on the market, it can be tough to narrow down your choices. As with many things cable-related, the bigger the name brand (or the price tag) isn't necessarily the best way to make your decision – rather, you want to look at specifications and characteristics. You know, GASP!...the actual features. Fancy that. Not sure what to look for? Just read on: is here to show you how to find the perfect speaker wire for you. Here are some questions you should be asking when you're figuring out what's best for you:

two wires slithering their way to a finish line

How much distance does the speaker wire need to cover?

The length of your speaker-wire run directly corresponds to the gauge (or thickness) of wire you'll need to use. All speaker wire is based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG), a wire-sizing system that assigns numbers (which range from 0 to 40) to standardized wire thicknesses. In the AWG (which I like to pronounce as "AUGHHH!") system, the higher the number, the thinner the wire. Speaker wire typically falls within the 12 to 18-gauge range.

The farther an audio signal travels down a wire, the more resistance – and power loss – it encounters. Because thicker, lower-gauge wire offers the least resistance, it has the best capacity for carrying audio signals long distances – generally speaking, a 12 or 14-gauge speaker cable should give you great results. But don’t go on assumption alone, and don't just choose “12-gauge” because it sounds like the shotgun – the best way to find the right wire gauge for your speakers is to know the exact length of the cable runs, then compare them to this handy chart below:

Distance Between Amplifier/Receiver and Speaker Wire Gauge Needed (AWG)
Up to 79 feet (24 meters or less) 16
80 - 200 feet (24-61 meters) 14
Over 200 feet (longer than 61 meters) 12
smiling man with mallet putting hole in wall

Will the wire need to go through a wall?

Because fire safety considerations come into play, choosing the right wire for in-wall installation takes a little more consideration than just closing your eyes and pointing at any old speaker wire. If you're going to be running speaker wire in-wall, you'll need to select a type that is UL-rated and labeled either CL2 or CL3 (Class 2 or Class 3, respectively). These designations ensure that the wire has been tested extensively for current-based heat generation, flammability, and susceptibility to damage, and that Underwriters Laboratories has given it their stamp of approval for safe consumer use and in-wall installation. I think we can all agree that the last thing anybody wants to deal with is a fire happening inside your walls. We recommend Monster XP® CI Compact Speaker Cable.

On the other hand, if your audio setup doesn't require in-wall wire runs, any type of speaker wire will work, provided that you're satisfied with its quality. One great all-around speaker wire to try is Monster XP® Speaker Wire by Monster Cable®.

connected speaker booming notes

What level of sound quality are you aiming for?

If you're choosing speaker cable based on the sound quality you want to achieve, you'll need to take both conductor characteristics and shielding into consideration. When it comes to conductor material, look for speaker wire that's based on high-purity copper, which is recognized as one of Earth's finest conductive metals.
Next, think about gauge. If you have a high end, audiophile-quality system that's geared toward finely nuanced sound reproduction, opt for a thicker gauge speaker wire, even if cable runs between the amp/receiver and speakers are on the short side. Remember, a thicker conductor (12 or 14-gauge) provides a wider, clearer path for audio signals to travel along, and allows every little detail to come through.
Shielding – a tightly woven metal braid that surrounds a cable's conductor – can also improve overall sound quality by blocking interference from nearby power cords and fluorescent lighting. Shielded speaker cable is an especially smart choice for in-wall installations, which often run in close proximity to electrical wiring.
For a smaller scale, everyday audio system, high-grade speaker cable isn't a necessity. In cases like this, basic 16-gauge copper speaker wire does the job just fine, and will help to keep your budget under control. There are speaker cables out there that'll cost you a little over a hundred dollars for 1000 feet, and others that'll cost you almost fifty grand for around twenty feet. So, you know, plan accordingly.

circuit breaker panel with trippy background


So, how many speakers can you plug in before you blow a fuse? Check out the next article for more info about Circuit Breakers.


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