Getting new speakers for your home theater, A/V system or computer is a great upgrade. It is always a treat to enjoy good sound quality, regardless of what you are listening to (music, movie, etc.). To connect them, you now need to buy speaker wires, which are necessarily included. Another item that is not included is a speaker wire size guide or specific requirements for them. So you are left to figure out which AWG (gauge) is needed and what the difference between 18AWG, 16AWG, 14AWG and 12AWG is.
You were just trying to upgrade the sound quality for your enjoyment, so what’s with all the complications?
Well, let’s untangle the confusion.
About Speaker Wire
For start, let’s explore how speaker wires work. We know that they carry sound from a source (such as a TV) to the speakers. What we don’t see, is how the sound travels through the wire. Wait, that is inaccurate since sound does not travel through a wire. Confusing, right? If sound doesn’t travel through a wire, what does? Electrical signals travel through the wire. The device at the end of the wire (such as a speaker) converts the electrical signals to sound waves.
When electrical signals travel through a speaker wire, its ability to conduct electricity is crucial. There are two elements to consider: The wire’s length and the ease of the electrical signal to travel from one end to the other and the wire’s resistance.
A narrow wire allows less electrical signals through than a wider wire. A lot like a thin straw allow less fluid through than a thick one. So a narrower wire creates more resistance for the signal. Different than the straw, that would let more / less fluid through, a narrow wire delivers a lower quality of sound. At the same time, using the thickest cable available is not always the best solution.
American Wire Gauge (AWG) is a standardized system established in 1857 used to measure the diameter of wires. Not just speaker wires. Specifically for speaker wire, the most common gauges available are 12, 14, 16 and 18. Thicker wires have a smaller number. In other words, 12 gauge / 12AWG is much thicker than 18 gauge.
Before you grab the 12 gauge spool, you should know that the thicker the wire, the more costly it is too. That is due to the amount of copper in the wire. A good rule of thumb is to purchase a 12 or 14 gauge wire for a 4 or 6 ohm low impedance speakers. For a 8 or 16 ohm speakers, the less expensive 16 or 18 gauge will do the trick.
To choose between 12 and 14 gauge, consider the length of cable you need. For long runs over 100 feet, use 14 gauge. For even longer runs over 200 feet, use a 12 gauge wire.
Get it done
Now that you know a bit more about speaker wires and how to choose the right one to get the best sound out of the speakers you have, it is time to connect your system and enjoy great sound.