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quality metals
hdmi cables
human ears
copper wire
sound speakers
noticeable loss
noticeable difference
Speaker Cables: An Introduction
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Speaker Cables: An Introduction

You can have the most amazing, high-quality, super-premium stereo system. You can spare no expense with a vinyl preamp and surround sound speakers. But if the actual audio can’t make it from Point A to Point B intact, you won’t be getting the most out of your technology. Everything in between – from the wire thickness to the speaker terminal – must be able to do your sound system justice.

How do Speaker Cables Work?

Unlike HDMI Cables (which are digital, and thus preserve 100% of the signal without any loss), audio speaker are analogue, and can actually vary quite a great deal in sound quality.

The goal of a good speaker cable is to transport that current from your stereo/amplifier to your speakers without any noticeable loss in quality. Some loss in sound quality is inevitable, so the trick is to simply minimise that loss to the extent that it’s unnoticeable to human ears.

Sound is carried via electrical current through two lengths of copper wire: one handling the positive polarity, the other the negative. Insulation sits in between, safely separating them.

Does “Oxygen Free Copper (OFC)” Really Make a Difference?

Higher-quality metals (such as copper and silver) are often misleadingly branded as providing better sound quality. They do not. They do, however, provide better longevity, preventing the long-term corrosion that can lead to a drop in sound.

One great comparison is to think of OFC speaker cables as you would food preservatives. They don’t improve the actual taste, but they do ensure that taste can be enjoyed a lot longer. It’s definitely worth factoring into your decision, but don’t be fooled into thinking it offers any noticeable difference in sound quality.

Understanding Speaker Cable Gauge

Gauge is a number used to indicate the thickness of a cable.

The short version:

The smaller the number, the thicker the copper. The thicker the copper, the more it can handle. The longer the wire, the greater the risk of deterioration, and the more important the gauge becomes.

The even shorter version:

Smaller numbers = better.

Which gauge do I need?

  • For 30-50 feet wires: 16 gauge will hold up.
  • For 50-100 feet wires: 12 gauge.
  • For 100 feet or more: 10 gauge.

12-14 gauge is generally a safe bet for the majority of “casual” stereo owners.

Serious audiophiles, on the other hand, will want 10-12 gauge, no matter what the distance.

Types of Audio Wiring

Speaker wiring can either be purchased at a custom length to your exact specification, or at as pre-existing, set length speaker cables with connectors at either end, ready to plug and play. If it’s the former, make sure you ask for a little extra wire than needed, just so you have room for error.

If installing speaker wiring within your wall, make sure you’re using dedicated in-wall speaker cables that is clearly advertised and certified as such. These speaker wires are designed very carefully to meet legal standards of fire resistance, maximum temperature, voltage and other essential considerations.

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