Does speaker wire affect sound quality? No Myths, Just Facts

Audio accessories like cables and speaker wire are some of the most overpriced and hyped things you can buy.

Should you spend a lot of money on a “magical” speaker wire or audio cable? Does it make a difference in the sound quality of your home or car audio system?

I’ll tell you this and more in clear & simple terms. Read on!

Quick answers: Does speaker wire affect sound quality?

Speaker wire & sound quality fast facts
  • Under normal circumstances, the answer is NO: speaker wire does not affect sound quality. However, in some cases, (explained in further below) sound quality or volume can be affected somewhat.
  • There’s no scientific test data to back up the (misleading) idea that “special” or “audiophile” speaker wires or expensive cable make a noticeable difference versus affordable, good quality speaker wire of the correct gauge. 99.9% of the time it’s unsubstantiated claims and the difference really does not matter!
  • Using non-standard wire or cables instead of speaker wire can result in sound changes, although very minor. Excessively long or other high-resistance wire can affect the sound by causing a drop in speaker volume and some other details.
  • For best results, do not coil long lengths of speaker wire as this can create inductance that reduces some sound frequencies as a crossover does.
  • The wire between speaker crossovers and the speakers should be kept fairly short. Excessively long wire to the crossover & at the speakers can cause the crossover’s behavior to change & alter the sound response of the speaker.

Audiophile & hyped-up wire & cables

One of the largest problems I’ve seen over the years is the amount of hype & exaggeration used to sell overpriced cables of all types: speaker wire, audio cable (like RCA cables), video cables, and even computer & data cables.

It’s not limited to home loudspeaker or video use, either – there’s been plenty of it in the car stereo world as well.

Fancy audio cables & wire are based on nonsense

Often claims are made by companies & audiophiles that their highly-priced cables offer better sound because of some type of esoteric, fancy technical advantage. The problem is that there’s no scientific test data to back it up. Most of the time it’s just marketing for higher profits.

In fact, when it comes to electronics, audio accessories like RCA patch cable, headphone cables, and speaker cable are one of the most profitable categories for retailers!

The science of speaker wire and sound quality

Clip art image of man listening to music with capacitive and inductive reactance formulas

Here’s a list of reasons why you won’t notice any difference in sound quality due to speaker wire. There are a few exceptions that aren’t typical which I’ll explain later.

Speaker wire sound quality facts:

  • While it’s true that many electrical components & conductors do have capacitance and inductance that can affect the sound, the speaker wire has very little. Far less than what is needed to have a real impact on sound quality & the frequency response of a speaker system.
  • Things like speaker performance, voice coil inductance, speaker crossovers, and more have a much more significant impact on sound quality – hundreds of times larger, in fact.
  • Speaker wires are made up of a bundle of thin conductors that touch each other which keeps capacitance and inductance to a level so small it’s negligible for audio. Other types of cable (like individually insulated conductors) can have an impact on sound – but they’re not speaker wire.
  • The electrical conductor phenomenon known as the skin effect doesn’t apply to the audio frequency range. It’s not a concern until dealing with much higher frequencies (megahertz and higher ranges). Audio frequencies span about 20Hz to 20kHz in range.
  • While it’s true that blind listening tests have been done to try and “prove” that special audio wires or cables sound better to people, they’re never able to prove it. In fact, the tests are almost always badly flawed and have no hard scientific audio test data to back them up. To make matters worse, the placebo effect has an impact on the test along with people have different levels of hearing.
  • The gauge you need depends on the power delivered from your amp or stereo and the length.
  • Thicker speaker wire has lower resistance, capacitance, and inductance when compared to thin wire as they have a larger cross sectional area (more conductance/less resistance).

Speaker wire electrical resistance, capacitance, and inductance explained

Schematic diagram showing electrical model of speaker wire: resistance, capacitance, and inductance

A diagram showing a model of how you can think of speaker wire or other conductors. The wire has a very small amount of resistance, inductance, and capacitance in it.

You can think of speaker wire, like other electrical wire, as being made up of a resistor, an inductor, and a capacitor, as nearly all conductors have at least a tiny bit of each. Resistors oppose the flow of electrical current and cause some voltage to be lost.

Capacitors and inductors are sort of like resistors but their “resistance” (called impedance in this case) changes with frequency. Because of it, they’re bad to have in wires that carry an alternating current (AC) electrical signal like music, but extremely useful in things like speaker crossovers.

Image showing speaker crossover examples and resistor, capacitor, and inductors

You might be thinking, “If speaker wire has some inductance and capacitance, wouldn’t that hurt the sound?

The answer, in this case, is no.

That’s because unlike speaker crossovers where we use large values of capacitors and inductors to filter out or block certain sound ranges to speakers, speaker wire has an incredibly tiny amount. Certainly not enough to have any real effect in most cases.

For example, we could use a capacitor in line with a tweeter to block distorting & damaging bass from reaching it. That’s possible because the impedance (or resistance to current flow) decreases with the frequency, meaning that lower frequencies get reduced a lot and effectively filtered out.

Even basic speaker wire is good!

In the case of speaker wire, if the capacitance were a high value it would be possible for higher frequencies that reach the speaker to be greatly reduced & cause a poor sound quality.

Likewise, if the inductance were high enough to matter it could affect sound quality too. As I mentioned before, however, speaker wire has very low values of each. Ordinary lamp power wire (extremely similar to 18AWG or 16AWG wire) has only about 10-20pFarad capacitance per foot, give less than 1% loss in the audible range for a 50 foot length.

(For comparison, a picoFarad is .000 000 000 001, or a billionth of a Farad unit of capacitance. Capacitors used in audio speaker systems are around a few hundredths of a Farad.)

What is in speaker wire?

What is in speaker wire diagram

Speaker wire is made up of fine strands of wire, usually copper or copper-clad aluminum (CCA), that are bundled together and electrically separated from each other inside flexible insulation. Other kinds exist too, like those that are also bundled with a thin shield or other special features.

The insulation usually has a thin section in the middle which can be torn easily for separating the wires when stripping it, connecting it, and so on. Most of the time one wire is marked with a positive indicator of some kind.

Speaker wire vs electrical wire

Both electrical hookup wiring (similar to lamp cord) and those sold for speakers often use small strands of conductors and flexible insulation. In fact, in many cases, you can use either. However, you can find audio wire that’s even more flexible and has its polarity marked with red or black as well as printing. Some also have even finer copper conductors to make installation easier around tight spaces or curved areas such as cars and trucks.

Does splicing affect sound quality?

Schematic diagram showing electrical model of speaker wire and connector resistance

This diagram, like the speaker wire electrical model, shows how you can think of a speaker wire connector. Both wire conductors and connections do have some resistance, although a tiny amount that’s negligible when used correctly. Sound quality isn’t a problem unless there’s an unusually bad connection.

Adding a connector to speaker wiring by splicing, either by soldering, crimp connectors, or other ways doesn’t normally affect sound quality. It can’t – it’s just another path for the flow of power & and the audio signal to flow through.

However, it is possible for an unusually poor connection to have a bad enough resistance that the speaker could have noticeably less volume & power loss. That’s because when a very bad connection causes a high amount of resistance to the flow of current, it also causes a large voltage drop across it, too.

That means less power is available to the speaker than normally would be at the same volume setting. It’s a waste of power.

To avoid this:

  • Always use a high-quality connection for speaker wire splices like when extending existing wire. Soldering is the best of all, but good quality crimp connectors are excellent too.
  • Wire connection strips (wire terminal barrier strips) with clean nickel or other plated metal contacts are suitable as well for speaker systems.
  • Gold plating is not important and you won’t hear the difference.

Image showing examples of good wire connections with crimped connectors and soldered wire

Good quality crimp connectors (left) and soldering (right) are great choices for speaker wire.

The most important thing is to make a tight & clean connection with great wire-to-wire contact.

In some cases like marine & boat use, connectors can corrode & galvanize, causing other issues that do limit sound quality. That’s much less common, however. (In that case, using an anti-corrosion liquid or spray can keep the wire from getting to that point)

TIP: When stripping insulation to expose bare wire you can prevent oxidation over time by “tinning” it (tinning speaker wire means using a soldering iron to flow solder through the exposed conductors and coat them.)

Image showing examples of banana plug speaker wire connector types

A good option that’s both affordable, simple to use, and makes a great connection is a banana plug pair if your stereo system can use them.

Does the length of speaker wire affect the sound?

It’s definitely possible to lose sound quality a little bit by using a wire or cable length that’s excessively long or not large enough.

That’s because:

  • A much greater speaker wire length (say 50+ feet [15.2m], especially 100ft [30m] or more) has more resistance and can cause a small volume & power drop, especially at maximum amplifier power levels. It can also affect a parameter called the damping factor, although it’s not normally an issue.
  • Very long lengths of wire will have more capacitance that can slightly affect the frequency response at the speaker. It depends on the particular wire.
  • It depends on the power because more power means higher amps pass through the conductors. A lower speaker impedance like 4 ohms or 2 ohms will draw more current than a higher impedance like 8 ohms for the same power.

Unfortunately, even if you’re technically inclined, almost no speaker wire makers offer any technical specs to help you figure out what you can expect for very long lengths. We can, however, use the American Wire Gauge (AWG) standard to know the resistance per foot for most stranded wire.

How long can you run speaker wire without impacting quality?

The length depends on a few things & the AWG size (wire gauge) you’re using. There are a few things that make a big difference:

  • The speaker’s impedance. This is usually 6-8 Ohms for home stereo speakers and 4 or sometimes 2 for car audio.
  • Amplifier power level you’ll use.

Here’s a basic wire size & length chart to help.

Simplified speaker wire size & length table

Wire Size Recommended For
18 Ga. Car and home speakers up to 25 ft with average power levels (50W RMS and below)
16 Ga. Longer speaker runs for car & home stereo speakers; Moderate power subwoofers (under 225W)
14 Ga. Long (100ft+) speaker runs or higher power applications such as high-power 2 or 4 ohm subwoofers.

This does make a few assumptions, though: most people almost never use their amplifier & speakers at maximum power & volume, so you’re generally fine with the recommendations listed here.

Also, most people do not run extra pairs of speakers in parallel on the same wire which would require wire 2 gauges bigger due to twice the power (and electrical current) being supplied on the same wire.

To keep the sound quality good & power loss to a minimum, for longer lengths go up at least two gauges in wire size for 50 feet or above. Example: when using 18AWG wire normally, go up to a thicker wire (Ex.: 18AWG->16AWG->14AWG) for less resistance and to avoid wasted power.

When running it a relatively short distance with low to average power (for example to a rear speaker pair in your home or car) don’t stress out over it.

Does using small speaker wire affect sound quality?

Using a thin wire won’t exactly affect sound quality – meaning you won’t hear a noticeable difference – but it can cause you to waste power and lose speaker volume. Typically, most people need about 18AWG wire for speaker systems up to 50W for 4 ohm speakers & about 100W for 8 ohm speakers in relatively short distances (25ft or less).

One thing to bear in mind is that you can’t use copper clad aluminum (CCA) wire for the same power levels as you can copper wire as you’ll see below.

Copper-clad aluminum vs copper speaker wire quality differences

Copper clad aluminum vs copper speaker wire illustrated diagram

Copper clad aluminum (CCA) wire has, in the last few years, become more and more common as the price of copper wiring has gone up. It’s one of those “little things” you might not know when buying that companies aren’t telling you.

Unlike pure copper wire, copper-clad aluminum uses an aluminum wire core with a thin copper plating . From the outside, it misleadingly looks the same because of the plating.

Aluminum offers a lighter weight and lower cost than copper, so it’s at first glance it may seem like a great way to replace more expensive copper wiring. However, there’s an important difference that wire makers often won’t tell you!

How good is copper-covered aluminum speaker wire?

The good news is that CCA wire has the same sound quality as copper wire, meaning it’s fine for great sound. The problem is that aluminum isn’t as good of an electrical conductor as copper.

Aluminum has only 61% of the conductivity of copper (in other words, it has 39% more resistance) meaning it will take larger aluminum wires to get the same wire quality.

What to know before buying CCA speaker wire

In most cases like average listening & typical power levels, it’s not really a problem in day-to-day use. However, if you’re going to drive speakers at higher power levels or want the absolute best for your money, you’ll need to be sure to look for packaging that clearly states 100% pure copper.

Otherwise, copper-clad aluminum will work just as well if you follow this rule: when buying CCA speaker wire, to get the same quality as true copper cable go up one gauge in size.

For example, to replace 18 gauge copper speaker wire use a 16 gauge CCA wire.

Cases where speaker sound response, volume, or quality can be affected

Straight vs coiled speaker wire comparison

For best results, do not coil up excess lengths of speaker wire. Keep the free wire straight & curved instead. Coiled wire can act as an inductor and potentially affect the sound in some cases. (An inductor is a coil of wire that builds magnetic fields)

There are some cases where using wire the wrong way (or using the wrong kind type) leads to bad performance:

  • Using non-standard wire or cable as speaker wire
  • Winding long lengths of wire into a loop, creating a coil (creating an inductor basically)
  • Breaks or cuts in speaker wire that cause problems with power flow
  • Poor connections like twisting wire together instead of using a proper connection
  • Heavily oxidized wire
  • Loosely connected speaker box posts or terminals

To avoid nicking the wire inside, avoid using a razor or utility knife to strip wires. Use a stripper or other tool instead.

Exposed copper wire can oxidize badly over time and cause a very poor connection, especially after being exposed to moisture and especially other air outdoors. Be sure to check and cut & re-strip if necessary or use a nice clean connection or solder to eliminate this. Note that covering it with electrical tape isn’t enough.

Speaker wire terminals in speaker boxes can become loose and get hot once the connection is bad enough, causing a lot of power to be lost and give poor sound. It’s a great idea to check and tighten or replace terminals if you’re having sound quality issues.

Examples of poor choices of cables to be used as speaker wire

Even though you may be tempted to save money by reusing some extra wire or that instrument cable you’ve got lying around, cables are often bad choices for speaker wire. Coaxial cable, for example, can have higher capacitance and cause sound quality problems.

Microphone and network cables usually have much smaller conductors that can’t carry the power you need for speakers, as well as being more susceptible to break if they’re solid conductors.

More great speaker wire articles

I’ve got more helpful articles related to speaker wire, too:

Your comments are welcome!

  1. I recently visited a home with 2-channel systems in two different rooms. There were VERY intricate speaker wires. The owner told me the cables were . . . . $20k each! OMG, I can’t imagine it makes a discernible difference.

    I own entry-level audiophile equipment. I purchased thick speaker cables (~$200 for two 6-ft cables). I had a feeling at the time it wasn’t worth it. One of the speaker’s tweeter quit working. I took the tweeter out. The wire going to it had dislodged (how, I don’t know!) I resoldered it. But I was flabbergasted that the wire from the crossover wasn’t much thicker than a strand of hair. OK, I might be exaggerating a little but that single strand wire was THIN!! So, if a tweeter can have such a thin wire, why would ANYONE need speaker wires over and above something like affordable Monster cables? I’m baffled. (Don’t get me started on audiophiles claiming that speaker wire requires a break-in period. What, do electrons have to “learn” how to move down a wire?)

    • Hi Doug. Yeah, $20K is INSANE money. Unfortunately what you said about the speaker wiring inside speaker boxes is true at times. Sometimes manufacturers are really cheap with parts & wiring.

      100% agree about the “breaking in” thing with wire. So strange.

  2. Marty,

    Thanks for a great article. What makes it great is the fact that it is not based on opinion, but facts. The formulas for power, resistance and impedence are fixed – and known.

    The audiophile world has its share of overkill mongers for sure – which greatly embellish on magnifying small gains or losses in order to justify large profits in equipment or accessory sales.

    Thank you for leveling the field with a fine layer of common sense applied with basic technical expertise.

    • Hi Mark. Yeah, you’re totally right. Thanks for your feedback!

      Don’t get me wrong, I by no means want to cast negative opinions on anyone who has found something they feel makes them happy and allows them to enjoy their music more. However, some of the stuff out there is OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive and just plain nonsense.

      Thanks for dropping by and for taking the time to leave a comment. :)

  3. Good article, but i don’t think it is this black and white, wire design matters. Here is link from Audio Engineering society’s library on research paper (keepers of standards), FR. E.. Davis, “Effects of Cable, Loudspeaker, and Amplifier Interactions,” J. Audio Eng. Soc., vol. 39, no. 6, pp. 461-468, (1991 June.). doi: full article here:–loudspeaker-and-amplifier-interactions

    Here’s another one from recent times:–Kunchur.pdf

    • Hi there. I don’t know your real name but thanks for the comment and the links. That’s some pretty good info (although the first document I think requires paid access [?]).

      Those are some of the types of documents I was hoping to find when I first wrote this article but didn’t have any luck at the time. I think I can incorporate the main points made in those documents and update the article to reflect the certain cases where – and for WHO – it matters.

      My intent originally was to let the average person know that it’s generally a bad idea to buy into the hype for overhyped, overpriced wiring when it doesn’t result in anything meaningful. I’ll think about how to best incorporate the test data in those papers in a meaningful way, especially for techy or audiophile types like you and I. ;)

      I think it’s always good to be open to looking at things in new ways. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year! :D

  4. You’ll find the same thing being said about hdmi cables, 1080p and 4 k capable written on the high price packet in a nice box, but the truth is they’re all the same, they all do the same thing.
    Difference in quality, sure but these aren’t cables constantly being dragged around or pulled.

    • Hello Jacky. That’s a very interesting project. The number of turns of wire (along with the diameter of the coil) affects the voice coil’s inductance. A higher number of turns means greater inductance generally.

      In the case of a speaker we need to generate enough of a magnetic field to oppose that of the magnet so the cone can move sufficiently. Best regards and good luck with your project!

  5. convincingly argued and after skimming the 50 page counterpoint, I was not swayed since like the other reader pointed out, weak link(s) could be and probably is elsewhere in that setup.

    but i find myself thinking about the paper’s section on RFI and whether shielding and insulation material contribute, since you do get what you pay for in that area…

  6. Good article except for one point. You indicated that gold connections have no benefit. Regarding audio quality it does not matter but that’s not why you would use gold plating. Gold plating reduces the potential for corrosion at the contact over time.

    • Richard. Perhaps I could have worded it better, but yes, gold contacts, aside from MIL-SPEC applications, almost never have much of any real benefit in the real world. The truth is that there’s so little difference in conductance for standard speaker wire connections that are tin or tin-plated vs gold that it’s not worth bothering with.

      In fact, in some cases, it’s actually worse using gold-plated connectors. That’s because what I’ve discovered is that many crimp connectors or other types of speaker wire connectors these days that are gold plated have problems with the gold plating flaking off once they’re under stress, crimped hard, or are tightened down under fasteners.

      For environments where corrosivity is a problem (marine and areas with exposure to corrosive elements like salt water, moisture, and so forth) you’d still have to use an anti-corrosive coating anyway.

      I’ve been using standard tin connectors for quite some time and I don’t recall having any issues with corrosion or oxidation outside of exposed copper. Not to say it can’t happen but it hasn’t been an issue yet.

  7. I have a Sony surround system in the family room and it works good. Recently I purchases a pair of outdoor speakers to install in my gazebo on the back deck. It’s only a couple of feet away from the house. I looked at the wiring to the speaker in the family room and the wiring was thin. !8 ga on my strippers. So I thought If I purchesed a heavier Ga, for the remotes it should work fine and I bought 16 ga copper stranded. Today I hooked the sysyem up and the remote speakers both work but the volumn is very low compared to the base unit in the family room. Can I install a remote column control or is the problem in the wiring wiring.? Remote speakers are less than 50 feet from the base unit.

    • Hi it’s hard to say more without knowing what kind of Sony system you have but it shouldn’t be due to the wiring. It sounds like it’s the speaker outputs you’re using or something else.

      You should have good volume normally if you have decent power to the speakers.

  8. My system is a Sony HT4800DP and this morning I found the set-up manual on the internet, with complete detail on how to set-up speakers so I think I’ve got the answers to my problem. Thanks for your thoughts on the wire gauges. I was thinking I had created the issue.

  9. the OFC copper allegedly reduces phase incoherency by making all of the copper crystals boundrys even so the signal wont bounce around going down the wire. any thoughts on this ?

    • Hello Thomas. At audio frequencies things like that are so negligible they’re not worth considering. I’d need to find the document again, but there’s data on the effectiveness of oxygen-free copper wiring vs standard copper wiring. The end result was that it’s a truly tiny difference.

      I can appreciate a purist approach to wanting the best possible conductor path but honestly, in practical terms, it’s not usually anything to worry about.

      If we were talking about signal frequencies on the order of megahertz or gigahertz perhaps it would be a different story. Most of the time the issues with things like phase, impedance, signal quality, etc., are much, much larger factors at play than anything the wire could introduce.

      (For example, passive speaker crossovers & their phase, the speakers themselves, and other things.)


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