You’ve bought yourself a killer set of speakers only to find that they don’t come with cables as accessories. It might be confusing to know that a lot goes into picking the right speaker cable, such as if the speaker wire can be too thick and what thickness is right for your setup. Can a speaker wire be too thick?
Speaker wires can’t be too thick because thicker wire means lower resistance, more signal flow, and better sound quality. Although not every setup needs a thick wire and the wire thickness depends on the speaker’s impedance and the distance between the sources, you can’t have too much of it.
This article will discuss how to determine the right wire thickness for your speaker and what factors determine it. We also talk about other factors that affect choosing the right speaker cable.
What Factors Determine Wire Thickness?
A speaker cable is a significant component of any speaker setup because it connects the speaker and other amplifier sources.
Among its three essential critical features, resistance, capacitance, and inductance, resistance is the most important feature.
Impedance and Resistance
The speaker’s impedance refers to the speaker’s ability to apply resistance to electrical current. It’s like water flowing through a garden hose, and when you put a nozzle on one end of the hose, you’ll add resistance to water flow and amplify it. In this example, the speaker is like a nozzle.
The most common impedance ratings for speakers are 4, 8, and 16 ohms.
Choosing a cable that can’t handle the speaker’s impedance will lead to distorted sound and even damage the equipment. The less resistant the wire is, the more power goes to the speaker coil, leading to a better and stronger sound.
If resistance is more than 5% of the speaker’s impedance, it negatively affects the speaker’s performance. Wire length and thickness determine the cable’s resistance.
Shorter wire lengths mean lower resistance, so you should position your speakers at a minimal distance from each other to ensure the lowest resistance.
Also read: Do Speaker Wires Have to Be the Same Length?
The cable thickness, or the wire’s cross-sectional area, is the inner cable’s diameter rather than that of the covering insulation. Speaker wire’s thickness can range between 10-18 gauge, known as the American Wire Gauge (AWG) rating.
Lower gauge numbers mean thicker wire, so a wire with a 10-gauge rating is the thickest. In other words, an 18-gauge wire is thinner than a 10-gauge one, which means a 10-gauge cable has the lowest resistance, making it the ideal cable type for speakers.
When you want to choose the right size for your speaker wire, you need to consider your speaker’s impedance and the distance between the speaker and the amplifier. The longer the cable, the thicker wire you need because length negatively affects the resistance.
For example, if your speakers are low impedance (4 or 6 ohms) and need long wire runs, thick wire (10 or 12 gauge) is better.
On the other hand, for shorter wire runs (shorter than 50 feet or 15.24 meters) and higher impedance speakers (8 ohms), a 16-gauge wire will do.
Related article: Speaker Wire vs. Electric Wire: Is There a Difference?
Is Thicker Cable Better?
Given the above measurements and tips, is it possible to choose too thick of a wire? In terms of technical considerations, a wire can’t be too thick. Conversely, thicker wires are preferable to thinner wires because they help boost damping and reduce power loss. The lower the resistance, the more efficient the flow of current.
However, it doesn’t mean you must have a thick wire in your setup. While thick wires are more durable, they’re more expensive. Plus, they’re not that easy to handle because they don’t bend easily and are relatively heavier.
You need to consider the whole setup and your speaker’s efficiency. If possible, try different gauges and see how they affect the sound quality. Generally, sound quality is a personal preference, with each individual having different opinions. What’s too much for one person may be good enough or not enough for others.
But generally, you can’t go wrong with a thick wire.
Other Factors To Consider
A lot of features go into picking the right cable for your speakers. Thickness isn’t the only thing that affects your cable, and eventually, the speaker’s sound quality.
Material of the Wire
The wire’s material plays a significant role in its durability and efficiency. The most common material used in making wires is copper, but you may also see aluminum, nickel, and zinc. While they’re less conductive, they’re usually cheaper than copper. Some manufacturers use alloys mixed with copper to cut down on costs.
These types of wire are also less conductive than pure copper, although the alloy percentage is low.
Besides reduced conductivity, which leads to cheaper sound quality, alloys make the wires less durable. You may experience more cable breaks, especially around tight corners, so it’s better to go for a pure copper wire, although it may be more expensive.
The wires made of copper alloys typically have more impedance than copper, so you need to go for thicker cables to avoid sound quality reduction.
Other materials in wires are silver and gold. While silver is less resistive and not prone to oxidation, it’s more expensive, which you might reserve for a very special setup. Gold never oxidizes, so it’s perfect for open terminations. But because it’s more resistive than copper and silver, it’s not suitable for speaker cables.
Single Wire vs. Bi-Wire
Speaker cables differ in terms of the number of wire sets included in them. As the name suggests, a single-wire cable has one wire connection, while a bi-wire cable has two sets of connections.
There’s controversy among audiophiles as to which connection type creates a better-quality sound. Some people believe bi-wiring can create a more detailed output, while others argue that single-wired cables create a more coherent sound.
Whatever the verdict, bi-wired cables are more expensive than a single wire with the same quality.
Although copper is a base mineral element, it’s not pure when it’s mined from the ground. The ore must be refined to get the impurities out, and during the refinement stage, molecules of oxygen get into the final result.
The lower the quality of the copper wire, the higher the number of microscopic oxygen pockets. These pockets can cause oxidation over time, reducing the copper’s conductivity and durability.
So, always look for oxygen-free copper wires if you want your cable to last.
Types of Termination
You can use different terminations at the end of speaker cables to end the connections, with the most common ones being spade and banana plugs, like these ones (link to Amazon).
These terminations are particularly useful when you want to move or change your system’s components regularly. They ensure a safe and reliable connection because they minimize the risk of wires touching each other.
They’re easy to set up because they quickly and easily connect to the speakers’ terminals. But if you want to have a permanent setup, regular wire bindings will do.
Can Speaker Cables Be Too Long?
Although the speaker wire can’t be too thick, you can have too long of a cable. Ideally, a speaker wire shouldn’t be longer than 50 feet (15.24 meters), and anything longer than that can affect the sound quality.
Although you can compensate for the length by going for thicker wires, you should avoid it as much as you can.
The thickness of your speaker cable depends on the speaker’s impedance and the length of the wire. Lower impedance speakers need thicker wires.
If your wire is very thick, you have less resistance and higher sound quality. Your speaker wire can’t be too thick and if you don’t know which gauge to choose, go with the lowest.
Other features such as material, the number of connections, the type of terminal, and whether it’s oxygen-free are also important in picking the right cable for speakers.