GETTING WIRED: HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPEAKER WIRE FOR YOUR AUDIO PROJECTS
SOUNDS like a job for CableOrganizer! 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 cable-related things, the bigger the name brand (or the price tag) isn't necessarily the best way to make your decision. What you should look for are the actual wire speakers, including specifications and characteristics. Not sure what you need? Read on to find out what to look for in the perfect speaker wire.
Here are some questions you should be asking yourself when you're figuring out what's best for you:
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 system, as the numbers climb higher, the wires become thinner. Speaker wire typically falls within the 12 to 18-gauge range.
The more an audio signal travels down a wire, the more resistance — and power loss — it encounters. Thicker, lower-gauge wire offers the least resistance and has the best capacity for carrying audio signals long distances. A 12 or 14-gauge speaker cable should give you great results; but don’t go on that assumption alone, and don't just randomly choose “12-gauge.”
The best way to find the right wire gauge for your speakers is to know the exact length of the cable runs and then compare that to this handy chart below:
WILL THE WIRE NEED TO GO THROUGH A WALL?
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, because fire safety considerations also come into play. 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). 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. Most can all agree that the last thing anybody wants to deal with is a fire happening inside their walls.
On the other hand, if your audio setup doesn't require in-wall wire runs, any type of speaker wire will work, if you're satisfied with its quality.
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 made with 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 for 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 and 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 $100 for 1,000 feet and others that'll cost you almost 50 grand for around 20 feet, so you need to plan and budget accordingly.