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How to Choose the Right Gauge Speaker Wire
So you’re looking to break into the thrilling world of home theater sound and entertainment. Congratulations! With a few tutorials, a little advice, the right equipment, and some practice- you’ll be able to assemble a sound system that will make the most of your living space, impress your friends, and change your favorite shows and music into a truly worthwhile experience. Possibly the most important thing you’re going to need to master is matching your speakers with speaker wires of the correct gauge and length. Fortunately, this is probably a lot easier than you have been led to believe.
Choosing the Right Speaker Wire Gauge for Your Speakers
The most important thing to understand when matching speakers to wires is the concept of electrical impedance. This is a measure of how much a speaker or wire will resist electrical current. You could think of it as being analogous to the width of a hose, the wider the hose, the more water you can move through it. Likewise, the less electrical impedance, the more power you can move through a wire or speaker. Get the wrong match, and your speakers will either sound like tinny toys speakers- or you could blow them out. All speakers come marked with an impedance rating. This is measured in ohms. Large speakers will have a lower impedance rating compared to the headphones you might be used to. Most will range between 6 and 8 on the electrical impedance scale. Any additional electrical impedance introduced by using the wrong kind of wiring will reduce the quality of their performance.
The good news is that knowing what kind of speaker wire to buy is not very difficult once you get beyond all of the unnecessary and confusing frills that manufacturers often use to make their speaker wire look superior to other brands. The most important things to be aware of when choosing your speaker wire are length, width, and the ohm rating of the speaker. Remember our garden hose analogy; the wider and shorter your wire- the less electrical impedance it will have. Low impedance means higher capacity- just like a wider and larger hose would have a lower impedance to the movement of water. To put it simply, lower impedance means a greater ability to move electricity. The highest quality speakers will have a very low electrical impedance between 3 and 4 ohms. This means that they will require speaker wires that are quite short and thick. This also means the lower the impedance, the more difficult it will be to route your wires around your home. The thickest speaker wires may require you to perform some small renovations like putting holes or slots in your walls to accommodate them. But it’s pretty unusual that an ordinary household would use such enormous speaker cables.
Working Within a Standard Range of Tolerances
For the average home living room, the properties of good quality speakers, wire, and other equipment will fit in pretty well. The typical room size, roughly around 20x16 feet, with the average mid-range full entertainment system on one end of the room powered by 60 foot 16 gauge wires would be more than sufficient for well a good quality sound experience. Spending hundreds of dollars on overpriced cables is not necessary. Just make sure you match your speakers to the right wires and you should be fine.
Common Speaker Wire Gauge to Speaker Wattage Pairings
Keep in mind that the wattage level of the speaker is an indication of how much power it is able to safely accept from the amp- so you should never exceed the upper limit of a speaker's Watt range.
18 gauge speaker wire
16 gauge speaker wire
14 gauge speaker wire
12 gauge speaker wire
The Gauge Size Paradox
It’s a simple thing to remember, but it also leads to a lot of mistakes when it comes to choosing the right gauge of wire. The larger the gauge number, the smaller the wire. Think of it as being like the grit on sandpaper; the larger the number, the smaller the grains of sand will be. To be clear, a 14 gauge wire is fatter than a 16 gauge wire.
Some Rules of Thumb
A standard high medium-high range speaker setup, for example, would be an 8-ohm speaker paired to a speaker wire that is 16 gauge (thickness) and fifty feet in length. High-quality speakers use 2 conductor speaker wire and, occasionally, 4 conductor speaker wire. 4 conductor wire is for use in the highest quality systems available on the consumer audio market. More often than not, a 2 conductor speaker wire will be more than sufficient. If you have a very powerful, large high-end system, contact the manufacturer or check the manual to determine which number of conductors your speaker wire should have. For best performance, it’s a good idea to buy speaker wire that is slightly higher gauge than you need to make sure that your speakers will play their best at a wide range of frequencies. It’s also a good idea to keep your speaker wires at fifty feet or less, regardless of the gauge. This is because few systems would be able to handle the high resistance levels longer wires produce, and you would be likely to lose the higher range of the sound spectrum. This would have a significant impact on the quality of the sound. Make sure your wires are well insulated to guard against interference and use banana or bear connectors to ensure you have a good solid connection instead of just tying the wires to your speakers. Armed with this information, there should be nothing to get in your way when it comes to setting up a thrilling home theater audio system. Keep in mind that the manufacturer of your sound equipment should be able to answer any further questions you might have- particularly if you’re working with some unusual brands or gear.