When you buy stranded electric wires and compare them to speaker wires, you may not notice any difference. This is because electric wires have a range of functions, which cause them to share similar features with speaker wires.
Speaker wires and electric wires may appear similar, but they’re also different. Speaker wires are stranded, while electric wires are available in stranded and solid forms. Some electric wires are designed for high voltage current, whereas speaker wires mainly handle low voltage current.
This article will shed some light on speaker wires, electric wires, their similarities, differences, and functions.
Can Speaker Wire Be Used as Electric Wire?
Since the speaker and electric wires are both used for electrical connections, you can use them interchangeably. However, other factors make it possible for you to use a speaker wire as an electric wire.
Speaker wire can be used as electric wire when wiring low current systems, like home security sensors, doorbells, landscape lighting, and thermostats. Speaker wires carry low voltage electric current, are graded the same way as electric wires, and are made of copper, a good conductor of heat.
The following are some of the properties that make speaker wires an ideal replacement for electric wires.
Electric wires and speaker wires are graded the same way using the American Wire Gauge (AWG) number. Thicker wires have a lower AWG number, while thinner wires have a higher gauge number. So, you will find a 4 AWG wire is thicker than an 18 AWG wire.
The AWG refers to the diameter of the conductor and not necessarily the diameter of the entire wire. When you look at the stranded wires (conductors) in speaker wires, you will notice that those with a lower gauge are visibly thicker than those with a higher gauge.
The resistance of the speaker wires and electric wires is related to the gauge. Thicker wires allow larger electric current flow, so there’s less resistance. Thinner wires have greater resistance, and this limits the electric current moving through the conductors.
Imagine you are watering your garden with a hose that has a narrow opening. Even if the water pressure is high, the water will face resistance. However, more water will flow out if the hose has a wider mouth because it will face less resistance.
So, if the speaker wire has the right thickness to allow an easy flow of electric current, you can use it in place of an electric wire.
This 100 feet (30.48m) Amazon Basics 14 Gauge Speaker Wire on Amazon.com is easy to use because you can easily identify wire polarity thanks to the plastic, transparent insulation.
The 16 gauge wires are great for connections more than 50 feet (15.24 m) away.
Length of the Wire
When using the speaker wire in place of the electric wire, the length of wire needed matters. If you need a long wire, then you need it to be thicker.
The electric current will move more easily through the conductors, and the appliance will heat or light as expected. However, if the speaker wire is too thin, the current flow will face resistance, and it may fail to work.
The following table shows the ideal length and gauge of the wire for great sound output.
|Gauge||4 Ohm||6 Ohm||8 Ohm|
|16AWG||7.3 m (23.95 ft)||11 m (36.08 ft)||14.6 m (47.90 ft)|
|14AWG||12.2 m (40.02 ft)||18.3 m (60.03 ft)||24.4 m (80.05 ft)|
|12AWG||18.3 m (60.03 ft)||27.4 m (89.89 ft)||36.6 m (120.07 ft)|
|10AWG||30.5 m (100.06 ft)||45.7 m (149.93 ft)||61 m (200.13 ft)|
This video further illustrates the importance of speaker wire length to sound.
The electric wires in most American homes carry a voltage of 120V or 240V. Since speaker wires aren’t plugged into the wall socket, they carry a relatively low voltage. They use the current from the amplifier.
The voltage that the speaker wire carries will depend on the amplifier output.
A 100-watt amplifier that powers an 8-ohm speaker will not produce more than 30 volts. This voltage may not power most of your appliances, but it can be used on appliances requiring low voltage.
Since speaker wires are stranded, they bend easily and are great when wiring tight corners.
Speaker wires, like electric wires, have positive and negative wires to form a complete circuit. This facilitates the continuous movement of electric current from the amplifier to the speakers.
Some speaker wires are insulated with a translucent material, so the wires are visible. Some of the wires are made of different colors, so you can easily identify positive and negative wires. Red is often used for positive, while black is negative.
Speaker wire polarity is another reason a speaker wire can replace an electric wire.
Importance of Conductivity in Speaker Wires
When debating speaker wire vs electric wire, one of the things you need to consider is conductivity. The stranded wire will influence how well the speaker wire will perform when used as an electric wire.
Speaker wires are made from different conductor materials. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.
– Low resistance
|– Oxidizes easily|
|Silver||– Lower resistance than copper||– Expensive|
– Chemically reactive
|Gold||– Has the lowest resistance.|
– Does not oxidize
|Aluminum||– Lightweight |
– Low resistance
|– Corrodes easily|
– Prone to overheating
– Expands and contracts easily
Gold and silver have the best resistance. However, the higher the resistance, the more expensive the material.
So, even though resistance level is important for conductors in electric and speaker wires, the cost is also a factor. Copper is commonly used because it is affordable and its resistance is acceptable.
Can You Use Electric Wires As Speaker Wires?
Like the speaker wire, you can use electric wires to link your amplifier to the speakers. However, before using electric wires, there are several things you need to consider.
Electric wires can be used as speaker wires, but there are limitations. Stranded electric wires are a better choice for speaker wires because they’re flexible and have a better sound effect. Electric wires with solid conductors are not only stiff, but they can also damage connectors.
When you choose to use either speaker wires as electric wires, or vice versa, you’ll find that the speaker wires are easier to use in place of electric wires because they don’t carry the same risks or specificity.
Why You Shouldn’t Interchange Speaker and Electric Wires
Speaker wire affects the quality of sound you get from your speakers. The sound quality in your home theatre may not be noticeable when you use an electric wire in place of speaker wires, but it may not be the case when connecting large sound equipment.
The speaker wires used for concerts and cinemas must have the right specifications for great sound quality. You may need to stick to speaker wires for such connections to ensure the sound quality is not compromised.
It’s also important to note that some electric wires have unique specifications. For example, electric cables for interior wiring must meet certain standards because they’re a fire hazard.
These electrical wires have a specific ampere circuit, and the types of wires used are different from those in speaker wires, including hot insulated, neutral insulated, and earth wires.
In general, high voltage electric wires, such as those used for electric cookers and water heaters, should not be interchanged with speaker wires.
Challenges of Using Speaker Wires Instead of Electric Wires
- Speaker wires are designed to carry low voltage current. While it may be okay to power appliances, like LED bulbs, which use very little current, they may be unsuitable for appliances that require more power to operate.
- Some speaker wires have aluminum strands. Aluminum tends to heat up when exposed to high currents. So, if you intend to use a speaker wire for electric connections, it’s best to confirm if the conductor is made of pure copper or aluminum covered with copper.
- Speaker wires may be unsuitable for in-wall wiring. When electricians are choosing electric wires to use, insulation is an important consideration. In-wall wiring should meet set building standards to prevent excess heat from causing a fire and destroying appliances.
- Electric wires have insulation ratings to withstand voltage stresses. The insulation rating of electric wires may be different from speaker wires, especially for high voltage areas. The voltage rating on electric wires considers voltage stresses the wire is likely to experience over its lifetime. Avoid using speaker wires for high voltage wiring if the insulation rating is not ideal.
Can Speaker Wires Cause a Shock?
Speaker wires are usually not handled with the same care as electric wires. This is probably because electric wires do not carry the same safety risks that electric wires do.
The current that moves between the speaker wires to the amplifier is too low to cause a shock. Speaker wires are also well insulated with PVC and other materials. So unless you tamper with the protective cover, you may never come into contact with the copper wires within the speaker wires.
Although speaker wires don’t carry the same risks as electric wires, you should still handle them carefully.
Does Insulation Matter in Speaker Wires?
All speaker wires are insulated. However, some have a single layer of insulation, while others are double insulated.
Insulation does matter in speaker wires as it prevents corrosion from moisture and oxygen exposure. Some conductors oxidize easily, especially those made of copper and aluminum. In-wall speaker wires are double insulated to prevent frequency interference, especially when parallel to electric wires.
When speaker wires are used as electric wires, oxidation is an even bigger issue. The rust causes resistance, which will lead to overheating, and potential fire hazards. Before using speaker wires in place of electric wires, you need to ensure they’re well insulated.
The Dos and Don’ts When Using Speaker and Electric Wires
- Don’t underestimate the length of wire needed. You’d rather have a longer wire than having one that is too short.
- Don’t pre-cut the wires before knowing if it’s necessary. Connecting cut wires will affect the quality of sound and interfere with the current flow.
- Determine the required length of wire before choosing the gauge.
- Do avoid running in-wall connections close to electric lines. If it’s unavoidable, have a 16-inch (40.64 cm) distance between the lines. If the lines are too close, the speakers will pick up some noise which will interfere with sound quality.
- Do use only wall-rated speaker cables for in-wall connections.
- Don’t overlook insulation voltage rating for speaker wires. Most insulated wires have a rating that helps you determine how to use them, where, and the current carrying capacity.
Types of Home Electrical Wires
Before deciding if a speaker wire is a suitable replacement for the electrical wire, it’s best to look at the type of wires used in the home.
Low-voltage wires are the only wires that can easily be interchanged with speaker wires. They’re commonly used in circuits for thermostat wires, lamps, and other areas where a current of 50 volts and below is required.
These are high-voltage electric wires that carry most of the current that powers your home. They come in different sizes, and each gauge has an amperage rating. Besides the gauge and rating, NM Cables can easily be identified using their jacket colors.
|Gauge||Amp Circuits||Colour Code|
Note that speaker wires shouldn’t be used in place of NM Cables because of the current carried. These wires are heavily insulated to withstand current fluctuations without overheating; If speaker wires were to be used instead, it would likely short circuit and cause costly property and appliance damage.
THHN and THWN Wires
- T: Thermoplastic
- H: Heat Resistant
- HH: Highly Heat Resistant
- W: Wet locations
- N: Nylon coated
These are color-coded circuit wires. Given the type of exposure and heat-carrying capacity of some of these wires, you can’t replace them with speaker wires. These wires have unique functional and protective features which make them suitable for certain spaces.
For example, THWN wires are well insulated to keep them from getting wet. A speaker wire will not be a good replacement for such a wire because it’s not insulated enough.
Choosing Between Regular Wires and High-End Speaker Wires
Since you can opt to use either regular or speaker wires, you may wonder why you should go looking for a speaker wire, yet you have some regular wire lying around somewhere.
Speaker wires have been touted to produce high-quality sound. However, these wires are often marketed together with sophisticated sound systems.
When you understand how electrical wires work, you will appreciate using them as speaker wires is a possibility. However, there are instances when they will compromise the sound quality. An example is in concerts where high-end speaker wires are preferred.
Why High-End Speaker Cables Are Considered Superior
High-end speaker wires tend to have conductors made of superior material, such as silver. The cables are also oxygen-free and are double insulated against interference from electrical signals.
This GearIT Pro Series Speaker Wire (available on Amazon.com) has 105 strands of pure copper, has color-coded jackets, and is 99.9% oxygen-free. It’s great for in-wall speaker connections and outdoor speakers.
Speaker wires aren’t as specific as electric wires. This makes it easier for you to use speaker wires in place of electric wires. However, you need to ensure the wire you use does not compromise performance.