In the world of audio and speaker systems, no other topic is as controversial and polarising as the one about speaker wires. Some experts say it doesn’t really make a difference and it’s just a marketing trick from the audio companies to make money.
On the other hand, others staunchly argue that top-notch wires really make your audio system shine. And if you are an audiophile who just wants to find the best combination for your speakers, the task seems daunting when you go down the rabbit hole of speaker wires.
Do quality wires really make a difference? If so, how do I choose the wire that’s best for me? These are some of the numerous questions that flood your mind when you are trying to make heads or tails of the whole thing, right? Yeah, I know. It’s frustrating. But don’t worry, in this article I have answered some of the major questions about speaker wires that’ll help you make a decision. Let’s take a look at them:
Does bigger speaker wire really make a difference?
Well, sometimes. If you are a casual listener, then subtle differences in sound caused by different wire sizes won’t really matter to you. If you are a dedicated audiophile, then yes, bigger speaker wires do really make a difference.
But that doesn’t mean picking the thickest wires will solve all your problems. There are several factors involved which have been explained in the next section.
How does thicker speaker wire affect the sound?
To really understand this, let’s start off with a brief introduction to how speaker wires work. Audio signals travel from the source (audio player or TV) to the speakers in the form of electricity.
For good quality sound, the electric signals need to travel from one point to another in a way that offers the least amount of obstructions in their path. And the obstruction faced by the signals is called resistance and it depends on two factors, the thickness and the length of the wire.
For electric signals, it is much easier to travel through a wire that is wide and has a good amount of thickness. Thicker wires offer less resistance to the flow of signals and hence, provide better sound quality.
In case of thin wires, there isn’t much room for the signals to travel through and as such, much of the electric signals get absorbed by the wire and very little reach the speakers. That’s why you get poor quality audio with thinner wires.
But resistance is dependent on the length of the wire as well. As we’ve seen above, a thick wire offers less resistance to the flow of electrical signals. But if that wire is very long, then those signals will be facing the low resistances over a long distance and as such their strength decreases when they reach the speaker.
Thus, you’ll need to reduce the overall resistance faced by the electric signals by selecting wires with thickness appropriate with the length of the wire. But you might be wondering “How do I figure out that balance?”. Don’t worry, that’ll be explained later. But before that, you need to know one more thing.
Is speaker wire sized by the watts of the radio or the speakers?
A speaker wire is not directly sized by the watts of the radio or the speakers because everything boils down to resistance. But to give you a perspective, for a general speaker that produces about 80W of power, a 16-gauge wire will work just fine. At this point, you must be wondering, “What do you mean by 16-gauge wire”?
So, the thickness of a speaker wire is measured in terms of numbers (ex. 16AWG) assigned by the American Wire Gauge. Numbers like 16AWG are often referred to as 16-gauge and while selecting wires, you’ll normally come across 12-gauge, 14-gauge, 16-gauge and 18-gauge wires. The wires with smaller numbers are thicker and offer less resistance than wires with bigger numbers. In a nutshell, a 12-gauge wire offers less resistance than an 18-gauge wire.
Is 18-gauge wire ok for speakers?
18-gauge wires are ok to use if there isn’t much distance between the speaker and the audio source. These wires are generally good for systems that are meant for casual listening where the owner will probably not crank up the volume every now and then.
To really make sure whether 18-gauge wires are ok for your speakers, you need to look at the impedance (another word for resistance) of the speakers. This information can be found on the back of the speakers or in the owner’s manual. Typically, you’ll across audio systems with 4, 6, and 8 ohms impedance.
All of this information leads us to our final question.
How do I size the speaker wire for my system?
So, to properly size the speaker wire for your system, you need to look at the gauge of your wire, the impedance of your speakers and the length of the wire required between your audio source and the speakers.
Taking all of these things in consideration, for 8ohm speakers, 16 or 18-gauge wires are recommended for wiring length of less than 50 feet and 14-gauge wires will be better if the length is more than 50 feet.
For 6ohm speakers, 16-gauge wires are recommended for up to 50 feet of wiring length while 12-14-gauge wires will be better suited for longer length.
In case of 4ohm speakers, 12-gauge wires will be required for 100 feet wiring length and 10-gauge wires for a longer wiring setup.
As we’ve seen, a lot of things are happening in your audio systems to provide you quality sound. For many people though, using 14 gauge wire for your new speakers like this great 14 gauge wire by InstallGear will provide a much better sound than stock audio wires found in most cars.
If you are an enthusiastic audiophile, then you’d want the best wires for your system and you can always buy the thickest wires you can find for that. But thick wires are expensive and if you don’t figure out which wires are right for you, you’ll end up paying more than what was required. So, what will you choose?