Speaker Wire Guidelines

by | Jul 14, 2017

Amazon Speaker Wire

[Note, This article orignally appeared on May 15, 2014 and was edited on July 14, 2017]

Perhaps the most overlooked component of home theater setup is the speaker wire. The easiest, most convenient thing to do is to take the wire that is included with your receiver or speakers and use it to get your signal from your A/V receiver to your speakers. This wire will certainly work, but will it work well? The answer is probably not. Upgrading to better quality speaker wire is easy and involves little more than running to the nearest home improvement center or placing an order online.

Anyone who has taken a look at the huge offering of speaker wire available at home improvement or electronics stores can be forgiven for throwing their hands up in frustration and walking away. You can buy wire ranging from 20 gauge (20AWG) to 8 gauge (8AWG). Each size offered is also available with various insulation ratings, all for different applications. For the purposes of this article, we are going to limit ourselves to non–plenum rated wire. Non–plenum rated means that the wire is not suitable for running inside walls or behind baseboards.

Wire Gauge

American wire gauge (AWG) is a system of numerical designations of wire diameter where the thicker and less restrictive the wire is, the lower the gauge number that is used to represent it. This means that 12AWG wire is thicker and less restrictive than 18AWG. Thicker wire is usually better because it offers less resistance to electrical signals moving through it. This resistance is measured in ohms.

The bottom line for home theater enthusiasts is that thicker speaker wire will carry more of a signal for a longer distance than a thinner wire. This means that a thicker gauge wire will generally produce cleaner sound out of your speakers than a thinner gauge wire. Going by this alone, you could be excused for thinking “Fine, I’ll just buy the thickest speaker wire offered and not worry about it.” Then you look at the cost. 12AWG wire is approximately twice as much as 18AWG. The question now becomes what gauge wire do you need?

16AWG Amazon Basics wire (left) compared to 20 AWG low quality wire (right)

16AWG Amazon Basics
wire (left) compared to
20 AWG low quality wire (right)

What Wire Should You Buy?

There are rather complex formulas for determining the optimum speaker wire gauge for a given distance. These formulas take into account losses from your receiver, speaker wire connectors, speaker wire resistance and speaker impedance. Also, optimum is just that. In our book, optimum means that the speaker wire loss is so negligible as to be meaningless to the quality of sound reproduced by the speakers. The other end of the quality spectrum is something you want to avoid. Using speaker wire that is too small not only can compromise your sound quality it can also damage your speakers or A/V receiver.

There are two things you need to know in order to determine the speaker wire size needed. First you need to know the maximum distance that you are running your speaker wire. Measure from the back of your A/V receiver, around the perimeter of your room, to the speaker that is farthest away. Make sure to allow for the extra wire that may be needed to exit the back of your cabinet and to go around furniture legs or other obstacles in the path of the wire. If you are using speaker stands, or if your surround speakers are located on furniture, make sure to also add length for the height of the speakers. Finally, add extra length (about one or two wraps around a hand) at each end of the run – Always leave yourself extra so you can slightly move things or easily plug and unplug the wire.

Surround speaker from Yamaha YHT–497 Home Theater in a box

Surround speaker from Yamaha YHT–497 Home Theater in a box

Next you need to know your speakers impedance. To find your speakers impedance, simply take a look at the back of your speaker. Most speakers should have impedance printed right on the back of the housing. You can also try a Google search on your speaker specifications. The Internet can be a very useful tool!

Use your speaker impedance to determine which column to use on the chart below. Move down that column until you get to a distance that is longer than the maximum distance you measured earlier and follow that row over to the left. That is the recommended speaker wire gauge that you should use.

Please note, the recommendations in the chart should be taken as guidelines only. The chart takes into account only distance and speaker impedance. As noted above, there are other variables involved that can change the equations.

Speaker
Impedance
8 Ohm
Load
6 Ohm
Load
4 Ohm
Load
Wire
Gauge
Distance
(ft)
Distance
(ft)
Distance
(ft)
20 AWG 20 15 10
18 AWG 32 24 16
16 AWG 48 36 24
14 AWG 80 60 40
12 AWG 120 90 60
10 AWG 200 150 100
Speaker
Impedance
8 Ohm
Load
6 Ohm
Load
4 Ohm
Load
Wire
Gauge
Distance
(ft)
Distance
(ft)
Distance
(ft)
20 AWG 20 15 10
18 AWG 32 24 16
16 AWG 48 36 24
14 AWG 80 60 40
12 AWG 120 90 60
10 AWG 200 150 100

As a budget conscious consumer, this should give you a great starting point for determining the speaker wire to use with your system. We all agree that our sound quality is the primary consideration, but let’s face it, aren’t we all looking to save a buck?

Watch the Video on Speaker Wire Gauges:


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About Brian Hill
Brian Hill is a home theater enthusiast who has an extensive background in sales. His interests include music & movies, F1 & NASCAR auto racing, hot rods (he has a '56 Nomad) and hockey — Go Sharks!
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1 Comment

  1. Scott Hochhauser

    I used 14 ga wire and the clips for the speakers and reciever. Barely allow the wires to fit in the opening. Will there be any problems?

    Reply

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