Choosing the right Speaker Wire

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Home Theater Wiring

Choosing the right speaker wire can depend on power/length, budget, and priority.

Spending less than $1 per foot on 12 gauge wire is what most people do since it's cheap, and gets the job done well. The wire may not last forever but it does perform very similar to higher costing speaker wire. Companies that do sell wire exceeding the cost of the norm, often simply advertise that theirs sounds better.

Monster states their speaker wire contains a:

"large copper conductor area for better power transfer and improved dynamics. Special Monster Cable winding configuration for improved clarity and a more natural reproduction of the music. Wide dynamic range, improved low frequency signal performance, and improved clarity"

Some companies such as bettercables include quotes such as:

"These cables did an excellent job adding to the overall enjoyment of my system..."

(Anthony DiMarco, Goodsound.com - Premium Speaker Cable review)

Companies can say anything about their wire yet the big question still remains: how much better and what's the cost?

I must say after testing several brands of speaker wire, including the cheapest (home depot) wire I could find, those "differences" are very small if any. A simple test is to connect the left channel with one wire, and the right channel with another brand wire. Then play a song equal left to right and shift the balance from L/R and listen carefully. Another suggestion is don't buy expensive wire if you don't have expensive equiptment.

I'll consider 12 gauge size since it can handle more than enough power a speaker can handle. I find that 12 gauge speaker wire can fit in 3 categories,

Found at Home depot for 35-45 cents per foot Or 36 cents per foot for sound king 12ga at partsexpress.

This wire is sufficient for most home applications, is cost efficient, and great sounding. Quite possibly the most popular since those who buy the more expensive wires often begin with these. A great start for newcomers since an almost lifetime supply of 100feet can be purchased for $30-40.

Where better cables premium II fits in with 4 solid copper conductors. This wire provides better build quality and design. The wire will also tend to last longer than standard wire before it oxidizes and turns green. The sonic differences should also be there, though it still has yet to be proven that people on average can tell the differences between wires.

The wire audiophiles and serious listeners use. Some people will sware the differences are there while many post that there's no difference. Because everybody has their own ears I leave it to them to be the judge.

Since I can't justify spending this much per foot on speaker wire I will have to recommend some standard silver speaker wire which can sell for $30 and up. Some companies such as bettercables boast their silver speaker wire to perform equivalent with wires costing over $100. My assumptions tell me wire costing this much should have a marginal sound improvement, and be able to extend lengths while maintaining signal clarity. I have heard people say that if they could buy their wires again, they wouldn't spend the $600+ on wire but rather go for the $10 range. It may have less distortion and better sound, but at a cost that some people just arn't willing to pay. (cables such as Monster M and Sigma series can fit this category)

If you want the best cables, then here's the category though I wouldn't be shocked if your ears don't hear much of a difference from the $10 range.

As for in wall recommendations, your choices may not be as broad but the option of standard 12 gauge wire is still there. As long as it's rated for in-wall with UL requirements it'll perform just like its 12 gauge (floor resting) counterpart.

Understanding AWG and specifications

This chart relates the area of the copper part (not insulation) to it's gauge:
mm2 - AWG Size

0.5 mm2 = 20 gauge wire
0.8 = 18
1.0 = 16
2.0 = 14
3.0 = 12
5.0 = 10
8.0 = 8
13.0 = 6
19.0 = 4
32.0 = 2
52.0 = 0

What's the minimum gauge I should use?

That will depend on the length of the wire, and amperage it is expected to carry.

For 3-5' of 12 gauge wire, were talking a possiblity of 600 (12V) watts or 100 amps.

If you went with 14 or 16 gauge, with the same length then it cutts those numbers in half.

If you go with 10 or 8 gauge wire (which may not fit components unless an adapter is used), were talking up to 1200 watts or 200 amps. Going with a larger gauge wire may be safe, but going with the right wire for the power that runs through it is more cost efficient. Keep in mind, listening to a speaker powered by just 100 watts can be very loud.

So what do I recommend to most people? Standard $1 or less per foot speaker wire. However, if someone spends over $5000 on equiptment, then the $10 per foot wire can be a wiser investment.

by Chris Tsutsui

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