A Full Guide to Speaker Wires: 16 AWG vs. 14 AWG, Length, and Gauge
Regarding speaker cables, there are many debates about whether it is worth investing in more expensive gear or sticking with the cheaper cables. Read this guide to learn how to select speaker cables based on structure, gauge, impedance, resistance, and length.
What Is A Speaker Cable?
A speaker cable is an electrical cable with two or more copper or silver sheathed conductors that transfer the information between the amplifier and the loudspeaker. A speaker wire participates in determining the quality of the final sound.
How Did The Speaker Wire Emerge On The Market?
Speaker wires did not exist on the market for most of the 20th century, though speaker systems were very much the thing. The wires that were used in speakers at that time were standard copper stranded wires. Some common cables for speaker systems were standard lamp cords and zip cords that were twisted in pairs for convenience and sometimes soldered.
The Structure Of Speaker Cables
There are several options for the speaker cables' conductors, with the standard copper wire being the most obvious choice. Here is the breakdown of these choices:
- Copper wire is the obvious and the most common choice for speaker cabling. It is an excellent electricity conductor with low resistance that comes at a reasonable price. In most cases, the home speaker wire will not need other types of conductors. Speaker cords with a copper conductor are stranded, but it is possible to use solid copper cables as well.
- Copper-clad aluminum wire is cheaper than copper wire with a combination of copper and aluminum inside.
- Silver wire is a lower capacitance wire that is very expensive and is loved by some music enthusiasts. The difference in audio quality provided by this type of cable is not worth the difference in pricing in most cases.
Speaker Cables And Resistance
The way the loudspeakers perform depends first and foremost on the resistance of the speaker cables. If the connectors and amplifiers of the stereo system are of high quality, the resistance will be small, leaving the final quality of sound to be determined based on the impedance and resistance of the speaker wire.
The resistance of the speaker cable begins to affect the quality of the cable when it is more than 5 percent of the speaker impedance. The resistance depends on the thickness and gauge of the wire. The shorter the wire is, the less resistance it will have. The thicker the wire is, the less resistance it will have.
16 AWG vs. 18 AWG Speaker Wire: Question Of Wire Resistance
For a speaker wire to work properly, it has to be thick enough, meaning it has to have the correct gauge for the job. If we take an 8 Ohm standard speaker system, its resistance is approximately 7 Ohm. Very thick wires in gauges like 10 AWG and 12 AWG cannot sustain such resistance.
Thinner wires like 20 AWG and 22 AWG cannot run with this for a long distance. A 20 AWG can only run with a 6 ohm load for 15 feet max and with an 8-ohm load for 18 feet max. A 22 AWG wire will give you even less variety. It can only run with a 6 ohm load for 9 feet max and with an 8-ohm load for 12 feet max. This leaves two sizes of wire most commonly used in the speaker systems left - 16 AWG and 18 AWG. Based on the predicted resistance that stems from the length and the gauge of the cable, here are the recommended gauges of speaker wires to choose from:
- Use 16 AWG speaker wire with a 6-ohm load for a distance of 37 feet max.
- Use 16 AWG speaker wire with a 8-ohm load for a distance of 50 feet max.
- Use 18 AWG speaker wire with a 6-ohm load for a distance of 23 feet max.
- Use 18 AWG speaker wire with a 8-ohm load for a distance of 30 feet max.
The differences in the sound quality between 16 AWG and 18 AWG will likely go unnoticed by most users save for a small percentage of audiophiles. When it goes to particular types of applications, here is the breakdown of how the different types of gauges are used:
- 18 AWG speaker cables are great for most home speakers with average power.
- 16 AWG speaker cables are perfect for home speakers that run for longer.
- 14 AWG speaker cables can be used for very long runs that are 100 ft or longer.
Judging from everything analyzed above, it can be concluded that it is not necessary to invest in very expensive speaker cables. It is essential to have an acceptable cable quality, appropriate length, gauge, and impedance. Here are some high-quality speaker cables sold by Nassau National Cable: