The speaker wire you use can have a distinctive impact on the sound quality coming from your system; even the greatest speakers will never sound very good, when used in conjunction with poor-quality wire. Most new speakers that you buy don't normally include speaker wire, and choosing from the options that are available for sale is pretty overwhelming and confusing. You will need to know about selecting the right gauge, length, and type of speaker wire for your system, plus techniques and options to help you make dependable connections to your gear.

Which Gauge to Use?

The thickness of a wire's conductive copper bundle is identified by its American Wire Gauge (AWG, or usually just "gauge") number. The lower the gauge, the thicker the wire — and the better its capacity will be to pass along the amplified audio signal. Most speaker wire that you will find available on the market today ranges in thickness from 12-gauge to 16-gauge.

Considerations

When choosing wire gauge, it’s important to consider the quality of your components and speakers, the ultimate effects of sound quality you're trying to achieve, while paying attention to any budgetary restrictions you may be working with. Also, remember that the distance between your receiver or amp and your speakers is critical, as lengthy and/or extended runs of wire can cause significant power losses and therefore will require thicker cable.

When Thicker Gauge is Needed

It’s a good idea to consider thicker speaker cable if you're connecting an audiophile-quality music system or a surround sound home theater setup. Thicker wire can help your system deliver the finer details of sound and music, while properly rendering the explosive effects of 5.1-channel surround sound. Another reason you would need thicker wire would be when you can't avoid long wire runs to your speakers. As an example, let’s say you have a wired multi-room system, where you'll likely use in-wall speaker wire from room to room. Thicker wire reduces the overall resistance, lightening the load on your receiver or amp. This can mean not only a difference in sound quality, but also in the long-term performance of your entire system.

When Thin is OK

On the other hand, if you're buying a modestly priced system and you’re trying to keep the overall cost down, or if your speakers are located within close proximity to your receiver, the standard 16-gauge wire may be just fine. Aside from being less expensive, thinner wire can be easier to hide if you're routing it along baseboards or door frames.