Speaker wires are the cables that carry the boosted electrical audio signal from an amplifier to a speaker. The current travels through the wire and moves the magnets in the speaker, and the movement creates the vibrations that we interpret as sound. Speaker wire is inexpensive and easy to set up with basic knowledge, but do speaker wires have to be the same length?
Speaker wires do not have to be the same length. When hooking up speakers, you can use two different lengths of cable when needed. Electrical signals travel at the speed of light, so even a difference of ten feet wouldn’t create a discernible difference in sound quality.
While a difference in speaker wire length doesn’t affect sound quality, other factors do, including improper connections. Read on to learn more about the relationship between audio quality and speaker wire length, splicing, connections, and types of speaker wire.
Speaker Wire Length and Gauge
Each speaker requires one pair of speaker cables. Some speakers need two pairs of wires, but these are more common in advanced sound systems. Subwoofers, on the other hand, use analog interconnect cables. These are shorter, thinner, and carry less electrical current. Speaker wires carry more electrical current over longer distances.
The length of the speaker wire doesn’t typically affect sound quality, except in unusual situations where a cable is excessively long—usually over 100 feet. However, even these sound differences are hard to detect. With that said, it’s best to keep speaker cables as short as possible without sacrificing easy access to equipment.
Longer lengths create more resistance, which we’ll discuss more later in this post. For now, let’s discuss how the length and gauge of a speaker cable impact sound quality.
Does Length of Audio Cable Affect Quality?
While exceptionally long speaker wire can create a minor effect on sound quality, differences in speaker wire don’t usually impact sound. Electrical currents travel through speaker wires at the speed of light, so each speaker doesn’t need identical speaker wire lengths. Different lengths won’t create a discernible sound difference.
Keeping speaker lengths exactly the same doesn’t improve amplitude, prevent time delays, or improve sound quality.
Speaker Wire Gauge & Sound Quality
A speaker wire’s thickness, however, can have some effect on sound quality. Gauge is the thickness of the speaker wire, and the lower the gauge, the thicker the wire. For example, a 14-gauge wire is wider than a 16-gauge wire.
If a wire gauge is too thin, it reduces the flow of the electrical signal or creates resistance. A wire that’s too thin isn’t usually an issue for speaker wire, as most typically come in standard 16 and 14-gauge. Longer speaker wire—think 40+ feet (12+ meters)—creates more resistance. In these instances, a 12-gauge cable is better.
How Does Resistance Affect Performance?
As mentioned in the previous section, resistance can be affected by wire length—the shorter the wire, the less resistance. Longer speaker wire has more resistance and could potentially cause a small volume and power drop, although this is more common in exceptionally long cables. To check the resistance per foot, use the American Wire Gauge standard.
Lower resistance means more electrical signals can pass through—the wider the wire, the less resistance. Wider wires allow electrical signals to travel faster, similar to how wider water pipes allow for more water flow per minute.
Impedance is the resistance to the flow of alternating currents, measured in ohms. The relationship between impedance and resistance is important to consider when dealing with sound quality. If the resistance is more than 5% of the speaker’s impedance, sound quality is affected.
Additionally, an amplifier connected to a speaker with the wrong impedance can damage the equipment. Speakers typically operate at 4, 6, or 8-ohms. The impedance listed on amplifiers is the optimum speaker impedance for which it’s designed. If you attach a lower impedance speaker to an amp that’s not intended for it, the amplifier can overheat.
Does Splicing Speaker Wire Reduce Quality?
Standard speaker wire is made of copper. The wires are bundled together, and the positive and negative cables are separated by insulation. A thin piece in the center of the wires allows for easy separation, which makes stripping, splicing, and connecting a breeze.
Spliced wire doesn’t typically affect sound quality as long as the connection is tight. The speaker wires are essentially an electrical path for the current and audio signals to flow through; nothing more. However, poor connections between the spliced wires can cause resistance that reduces power and causes voltage drops.
When splicing wires, the connection should be strong enough so that it’s not easily pulled apart and tight enough to have no voltage loss. Soldering creates the most secure connection. Crimp connectors are second best and are easier to do than soldering. Twisting wires and then securing them with wire tape is the least secure option and is not recommended.
All-in-all, correctly spliced and soldered or crimped wires do not change or degrade the sound quality.
Speaker Wire Terminations
Connecting speaker wire to the speakers and amplifier requires a tight, secure connection. The ends of the speaker wire can create a more solid connection with terminations. Of course, the wire can just be twisted around a binding post, but this isn’t ideal.
Banana plugs are the most popular terminations, as they plug directly into the speaker terminals and minimize shorting. There are no stray filaments, so what remains is a reliable connection.
Spade plugs are another option, but they don’t allow for quick moving of the speakers. If you intend to keep your speakers in one space for a long time, spade plugs are fine. If you move your equipment around often, banana plugs are your best bet.
Do Different Speaker Wires Affect Sound Quality?
Special audio wires aren’t necessary and don’t create better sound quality. Many speaker wire manufacturers have attempted to prove that sound quality is better with their particular brand, but these studies haven’t been successful. Still, many audio enthusiasts argue that the quality of the speaker cable is just as important as the equipment it’s connected to. It simply comes down to personal preference and nothing more.
Speaker Wire Material & Sound Quality
The material of speaker wire, however, could affect sound quality. Copper is the most commonly used speaker wire material, thanks to its affordability and low resistance. Oxidation is a risk with copper. If not adequately covered and insulated, oxidized copper can create a barrier between the speaker and amplifier.
Silver creates less resistance than copper. A thinner gauge creates lower resistance than other metals. However, the downside is that silver is significantly more expensive than copper, so it’s more practical to choose a low-gauge copper wire than a high-gauge silver wire.
Gold wire isn’t susceptible to oxidation like copper, but it creates more resistance. Therefore, gold is not commonly used as a speaker wire.
From the length of the speaker wire to the type of metal used, these cables have minimal effect on audio quality.
A speaker wire’s purpose is to get the electrical and audio signals from the amplifier to the speakers—and that’s where its purpose ends. They don’t create higher-quality sound or louder volumes. Different lengths of speaker wire will not cause time delays unless there’s an improper connection that causes a voltage drop.
Knowing the factors that go into a stereo system and what affects sound quality will help you set up a quality sound system.