Speaker Wire: Use The Right Wire For The Job

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Speaker Wire: Use The Right Wire For The Job
Most home owners are heavily confused about which speaker wire type they need for their surround sound system and home theater installation.  Most home owners spend so much time focusing on the brand names of their speakers and amplifiers, that they often fail to pick the right speaker wire type to support their system.  The majority of home owners have no clue that the speaker wire type that they install can in fact make or break their entire audio system.
Speaker Wire
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Most commonly what happens is that after the entire sound system is installed, people finally come to the conclusion that their sound system is performing poorly, or that the sound quality is not what they expected after paying big bucks on equipment.  This scenario happens way too often, and is usually a very expensive mistake.  But the truth is that with a little knowledge you can navigate yourself through all the marketing and very easily choose the right speaker wire that you need for a professional grade sound system!

Understand The Characteristics Of Speaker Wire
Most home owners are not aware of what is actually inside a speaker wire.  Cutting open the outer jacket of a speaker wire you will find that a common wire is made up of 2 or 4 copper wire conductors.  These conductors will be in their own individual jackets and color coded (red/black) to assist you in easy identification during installation.  Inside those individual conductors are several small strands of copper that are woven together.

Those copper strands are measured by size or gauge.  The gauge of the wire is measured by how large the wire is in diameter.  The most common gauges of speaker wire are 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18.  Different gauges of speaker wire are used to support different cable run distances.   Long speaker cable runs often experience excessive power loss.  The best way to combat signal loss it to use a thicker gauge wire which would be a bigger pipe.

This is why for longer speaker wire runs many professional installers will use the thicker 12 gauge wire instead of the thinner 16 gauge for speaker wire.  It is vital to the performance of your system that you evaluate the lengths of your wire runs you have and use the right gauge of wire to support them.    

Speaker wire manufacturers also document the number of copper strands they use to make the conductors for their speaker wire.   Most manufactures will use 41, 65, or 105 strands to create each conductor.  The strand count topic has created much confusion in the industry leaving people arguing if the number or strands used in the manufacturing process actually helps or hurts wires performance.   The truth is that the strand count does increase sound quality, but the human ear will never know it.  The increase in performance is only realized if expensive sound testing equipment was set up to take measurements.

The biggest benefit you get from a high strand count is that the speaker wire is more flexible.  The flexible cable means it is much easier to install, especially in racks, AV cabinets, and entertainment cabinets.  The cables flexibility also helps as you install speaker wire in the walls and ceilings.  So yes…..The higher strand count wire is better!

Focus On The Important Characteristics
For most home owners they get caught in the marketing traps of the speaker wire world.  They hear numerous claims about who has the best speaker wire and which characteristics of the wire will give you the best long lasting sound.   The key to choosing the best speaker wire is to focus on the things that really matter.  Most quality cables are made with 99.99% pure oxygen free copper. This is the most common and pure copper type used today to make a high performance speaker cables.

Also, it is important to understand the ratings or certifications of the actual jacket used on the wire. If you are installing speaker wire in the walls you will want to make sure the wire type you choose is "in-wall rated" and supports your local building codes. Look for the speaker wire products that are UL rated, CMR rated, and/or CL3 rated. It is always recommended to follow your local building codes and use the cable products that best support them.   All the vital characteristics of a speaker wire will be in the cables specifications and printed right not the wires outer jacket.

The great news for home owners is that the most expensive speaker wire is the not the best wire!  The best wire is the one that has the right specifications.   Professional AV and home theater installers don’t go to the local retail store and buy speaker wire for their installations.  They buy bulk speaker cable that is manufactured and sold through distribution.  They buy the speaker wire that has the right specifications at the best price.  So when you buy speaker wire evaluate the wires characteristics and buy the product that has the specifications that really count!

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Perez Johnson
About the Author:

Perez Johnson is a professional writer with 10 years of low voltage system installation experience.  He writes to give people the information they need to be successful in their DIY projects.

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