What are the Different Types of Speaker Wire?

Ron Marr

People are often quite particular about the sound emanating from their audio speakers or home theater systems. This insistence upon a bigger and better sound is not without justification. High quality audio and video components are not inexpensive, and most buyers hope to re-create the ambiance found in a concert hall or theater.

A speaker.
A speaker.

Thus, selective buyers also pay careful attention to the speaker wire that will attach components to speakers. There are a number of different types of speaker wire, and virtually all will have their advocates and detractors. As is true with all products, some wire is better than others. However, the effect of speaker wire upon sound is a never-ending source of debate amongst audio and videophiles.

Speaker wire can be found in gold.
Speaker wire can be found in gold.

Most speaker wire is made of copper, although there are versions available in silver and gold. For a small, portable, or inexpensive stereo system, stranded wire is often the first choice. It is bendable, flexible, easily replaced, and convenient. Another low price choice is flat speaker wire, which can be run around doors and baseboards. Flat speaker wire is often paintable, allowing it to blend in with walls and surroundings.

Speaker wires that will be run through walls should have an Underwriters Laboratory (UL) designation of either CL2 or CL3. This rating really has nothing to do with the ability to transfer sound. Rather, the classification refers to the heat generated by the current that will run through the wire, and is intended as a guideline for fire prevention.

If music is being piped to a patio or pool, underground wire is a possible choice. This type of wire is known as burial-rated wire. It generally includes a thicker casing, and more insulation, to prevent possible water damage.

Speaker wire is labeled by its gauge, as set forth in American Wire Gauge (AWG) standards. The lower the number, the thicker the wire. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to connect speakers to components with wires of between 12 and 18 AWG. If one is wiring a home theater system, then a thicker wire is usually recommended.

However, there are more than a few schools of thought that believe that the wire used to connect components to speakers has very little impact on sound quality. Component and wire manufacturers are known for providing a plethora of claims promoting one wire over another, but there is really no hard evidence to prove such claims are valid. People may think they hear a difference in sound if they choose a specific wire, but such may be a mere perception created by well-designed advertising.

What does affect sound quality is the distance between the component and the speakers. The longer the run of speaker wire, the more the signal will degrade. If more than 50 feet (15.24 meters) exists between a speaker and a component, then a thicker wire is the optimum choice.

Flat speaker wire can be run under or behind baseboards.
Flat speaker wire can be run under or behind baseboards.

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