How To Connect A Subwoofer To A Receiver Without A Subwoofer Output

How to connect subwoofer to receiver without subwoofer output featured image

So your receiver doesn’t have a subwoofer output. You’re probably wondering what the heck you can do about it, and you might be worried if you’ll have to spend a lot of money for either a new receiver, subwoofer, or both!

I’ve got great news – there are several simple ways to connect a subwoofer to a receiver without a subwoofer output.

Read on and I’ll show you several options along with easy and clear diagrams to help. There’s no need to throw away your old receiver or break the bank!

Contents

Home stereo subwoofers explained

Passive vs active home subwoofers diagram

Comparison of non-powered (passive) vs powered (active) home stereo subwoofer enclosures.

Home stereo subwoofers are available in two different types: powered (“active”) and non-powered (“passive”).

  • Powered subwoofers use a low-signal signal which is boosted greatly using the built-in speaker amplifier, power supply, and crossover. These types are one of the most common and in many cases use an RCA type input jack to connect to the receiver for sound.
  • Passive (non-powered) subwoofers are simply a subwoofer speaker inside the bass enclosure which is directly wired to the speaker terminals or a passive bass crossover inside. These types are less common.

How a subwoofer produces bass

The subwoofer works by resting inside of an enclosure designed for it and to produce deep bass when playing music limited to low-end bass sounds.

In order to produce clean-sounding bass without vocals or other sounds a subwoofer can’t properly produce, a low-pass crossover is used to allow only bass frequencies to pass & be produced. The problem comes when you try to connect a subwoofer to a signal without a crossover – it sounds terrible!

The subwoofer output jack on a receiver is normally limited to passing bass only, either from stereo music production or from the “.1” subwoofer channel (dedicated subwoofer music content) of a surround sound system.

For example, when you hear references to “5.1” or “2.1” speaker systems or surround sound audio for movies, the first number represents the number of main speakers. The “.1” is used to represent a sound channel limited to only bass for optional subwoofer use.

Powered subwoofer inputs & controls you may (or may not) have

Powered subwoofer example with inputs and controls labeled

Example of a powered subwoofer with 2 types of signal inputs (speaker level and RCA jacks) along with sound controls. Note: Not all subwoofers have speaker level inputs, which makes it a problem connecting them to a receiver without a subwoofer output.

Powered subwoofers usually have several inputs and controls, but it always depends on the brand and model. Here’s an example of what you’ll usually find:

  • Power input (AC outlet power)
  • On/off switch
  • RCA input jack or a pair of jacks
  • Subwoofer crossover adjustment
  • Subwoofer level adjustment know (the amplifier’s boost level)

The subwoofer input jack usually connects to a single mono (monaural, meaning both stereo channels are combined into one) output jack on the receiver.

Receiver subwoofer output jack example

Example of the mono RCA subwoofer output jack found on many home receivers. These connect with a single male to male RCA cable to a powered subwoofer.

Some models also include speaker level inputs, meaning they can be used with any modern or old home stereo receiver without a subwoofer output.

While that’s nice, if yours doesn’t have that feature, ordinarily you’d need to buy a different subwoofer and waste money.

In fact, some of the information you’ll find right now on the internet says that you have to buy another subwoofer if you don’t have a receiver with an output jack. That’s simply not true.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my article there are several ways to work around this problem.

Diagram & examples: Connecting a subwoofer to a receiver without a subwoofer output

Diagram showing how to connect a subwoofer to receiver with no subwoofer output

1. Connecting a receiver to a subwoofer with RCA input jacks

Example of a powered subwoofer RCA jacks & RCA Y adapter cable

Left: Example of a powered subwoofer with 2, instead of the typical 1, RCA input jacks. Right: An RCA Y adapter that can be used with a line level converter to connect to a subwoofer with a single RCA input jack.

For subwoofers with only 1 or more RCA input jacks (no speaker level inputs), a simple way to connect them to a receiver with no subwoofer output is by using a line level converter.

What is a line level converter, and how do they help?

Line level converters are small devices that accept speaker wire connections and scale down the speaker level signal to a low level signal (RCA jack) type output that the subwoofer can accept. They’re extremely handy in the car stereo world because they make it possible to connect a stereo without RCA outputs to any amplifier.

They’re not commonly used for home stereos but still really useful there, too.

Image showing examples of line level RCA converters

Examples of 2 line level converters – both a 2 channel and 4 channel of each. 

How much do line level converters cost?

Line level converters range in price (for a good one) of about $15-$25 each. They’re connected to the speaker leads of a radio, receiver, or amplifier. RCA cables are then connected to the jacks provided. The internal electronics not only scale down the speaker output voltage from a receiver but also help prevent noise from the audio path, too.

If you’re using a subwoofer with a single RCA subwoofer input jack, you may want to pick up a “Y” RCA adapter to combine both receiver channels on the output side into one.

Subwoofers with 2 (stereo) RCA jack inputs, however, will need a standard male-male RCA cable.

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3. Subwoofers with speaker level inputs

Example of subwoofer speaker level inputs

If you own a subwoofer with speaker level inputs you’re in luck! You can connect these directly to your receiver’s speaker outputs, either by themselves (on unused speaker terminals) or at the same time with speakers connected to the receiver.

These subwoofers with this feature contain internal electronics that scale down the speaker signal from the receiver before it reaches the internal amp that powers the sub.

Additionally, there’s a low-pass crossover built in as well to produce great-sounding bass and no unpleasant parts of the music – just pure, low-end bass.

Connect these directly to the receiver just like you would another pair of speakers. 

Note: Subwoofers with speaker level inputs and outputs provide a way to easily connect both at the same time. The outputs are internally connected to the input connectors, making it easier to add speakers and the subwoofer to a receiver simultaneously.

3. Connecting a receiver to a passive (non-powered) subwoofer

Example of a passive subwoofer low pass crossover

Example of a passive subwoofer low-pass crossover. Passive crossovers, unlike electronic crossovers, work using capacitors and inductor coils instead of electronic components.

If you’re wanting to use a non-powered (passive) type of subwoofer, there’s still hope, although it can be a bit harder to find the right parts and set up vs using a powered subwoofer.

To use a non-powered subwoofer, as shown in my diagram above, you’ll use a low-pass subwoofer speaker crossover which is connected between the receiver and the subwoofer enclosure. These filter out higher frequency sounds before they reach the sub to help provide clear & nice-sounding bass only.

How to choose subwoofer crossovers and where to find them

Speaker crossovers such as this are sold both in a single (one speaker) or dual (2-speaker) model, depending on the brand & supplier. They also have to be matched correctly to the impedance (Ohms rating) of the sub.

For example, subwoofer crossovers designed for 8 ohm speakers must be used only with those. Otherwise, the sound filtering is radically different and won’t sound as expected since the speaker load will react differently with the design.

Normally you’d choose one with a low-pass frequency of close to 100Hz or in that range. Speaker crossovers are sold where speaker parts & related components are sold as well as marketplaces like Amazon or Parts Express.

Stereo vs surround sound receiver subwoofer output differences

Stereo vs surround sound receiver differences diagram

Unlike older or standard stereo receivers, surround sound receivers have a unique output that comes from the surround sound movie or music source. However, in regular stereo listening mode, they act the same as regular receivers.

One thing to bear in mind is that when connecting a subwoofer to a receiver without a subwoofer output, you can’t get a separate “.1” bass channel as you can with surround sound receivers.

On the other hand, it may not even be an issue. In fact, the surround sound receiver “LFE” (low-frequency) output is considered optional – hence the “.1” name. There is a drawback, though: for some movies, especially action or other types, the bass channel can be very enjoyable.

Using a receiver without that output means you can’t get the same effect, but that’s only for surround sound mode. The good news is that in stereo mode, both new and old receivers have very similar subwoofer behavior when connected as you’ve seen here.

Just something to be aware of if you’ve ever considered upgrading later.

More helpful speaker info & diagrams

I’ve got lots more information to help you get your sound system going:

Got questions or comments?

Feel free to leave a question or comment below if I can offer help. (Please be specific with information when referring to speakers, receivers, amplifiers, or other parts so I can help you the best I can)

You can also reach me directly at my Contact page. Thanks!

How To Connect Speaker Wire – A Detailed Guide For Everyone

How to connect speaker wire featured image

Welcome! In my very detailed speaker wire guide I’ll show you how to connect speaker wire with great results. You don’t have to be a tech person to do it – it’s easy to do it yourself (and save money too) once you know how.

I’d love to share what I’ve learned from years of audio installation experience to help you get your system up and going!

In this guide I’ll show you:

  • How to connect speaker wire to car or home speakers and car/home amplifiers & stereos
  • Extending speaker wire (splicing and connecting to other wire)
  • Using banana plugs for speaker wire
  • Clear and detailed speaker wire diagrams
Contents

Which speaker wire is positive? Which is negative?

Which speaker wire is positive diagram with examples

The most common kinds of positive wire markings are shown here as examples. 99% of the time, figuring out which wire is positive is really easy once you know what to look for.

The good news is that once you know what to look for, 99% of the time it’s very easy to tell which speaker wire is positive and which is negative.

How do I check if a speaker wire is positive or negative?

Here’s a list of the most common ways to tell which is the positive wire:

  1. A printed line or series of dashes/lines is on the positive wire
  2. One wire’s insulation is red or a different color than the negative wire (most often red is used)
  3. One wire has a copper color and one has a silver finish
  4. The positive wire may have small positive (“+”) symbols and/or wire gauge info printed on it
  5. An imprint or molded stripe is made in the positive wire’s insulation

Of the 5 kinds, imprints can occasionally be a little bit harder to notice so sometimes you need to look very closely under good lighting. Also, positive wires that use a “+” print can be a little hard to read sometimes, too.

How to connect speaker wire together (extending speaker wire)

Let’s start off by covering one of the most important topics: how to connect speaker wire together to extend for more length.

Below you’ll find a simple diagram showing you how to splice & extend speaker wire using two of the best ways available.

How to splice & extend speaker wire diagram

How to connect speaker wire together diagram

You’ll only need a few tools to do it. Between the two ways, using solder is extremely reliable but takes more hassle time. Crimp connectors, however, give great results in only minutes and this is what I use for most of my professional car & home audio jobs.

1. How to connect speaker wire together with crimp connectors

How to splice and extend speaker wire with crimp connectors section image

Using crimp connectors is one of my favorite ways to connect speaker wire (or power wire, too) as a professional installer. It’s fairly fast and gives professional results with very little hassle or work.

I recommend this way of connecting wire to nearly everyone.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • When done properly, it’s very reliable and the wire won’t come apart
  • Easy to do – only takes a few minutes
  • Not affected by temperature changes & time both at home, on a boat, or for car audio
  • Crimp tools & connectors are widely available and are affordable

There are only a few steps needed: cutting the wire (if needed), stripping the wire, and attaching & crimping the connectors.

A. How to cut speaker wire

Image showing examples of how to cut wire

Examples of some of the best ways to cut speaker wire using tools or a pair of utility scissors. Cutting wire is easy with the correct tools. Many tools like wire strippers or crimpers also have a cutting feature built-in.

Cutting speaker wire (or power wire) normally isn’t hard but you definitely need the right tool. The reason why is that common tools like regular scissors can’t cut wire properly and can even become damaged.

There are some great tools that are very affordable that will cut wire very well and make extending speaker wire much easier:

  • Cutting pliers
  • Automatic wire strippers with a cutter section
  • Needle nose pliers with cutting section
  • Crimper/stripper tool with cutting feature
  • Utility scissors – works ok for smaller gauges, not larger

Of the 5 listed here, I recommend and use wire cutting pliers as they’re capable of cutting a wide range of wire sizes. For typical speaker wire like 18 gauge, the wire cutting feature on many other tools works fine.

Ultimately, though, it’s a lot more convenient to have an “all-in-one” tool like a crimp tool if you’re only doing light work occasionally.

Speaker wire cutting tips

To cut wire, just insert the wire and slightly close the tool until the wire is securely held in place & can’t move. Then squeeze very firmly. The wire should “snap” lightly and will be cut.

While you can get by with utility scissors (don’t use standard scissors used for paper or fabrics!) you’ll have to insert the wire right at the inside of the blades and cut very carefully.

Scissors aren’t a good choice and the wire can even get jammed inside.

B. How to strip speaker wire

How to strip wire example

To strip speaker wire you can use a number of tools. I recommend standard wire a standard low-priced wire stripper/crimper (shown above) or similar.

Stripping speaker wire can be a little bit tricky, but it’s a skill you’ll pick up quickly after a few tries. The main trick is to pinch only the wire’s insulation and not the wire strands themselves.

If you catch the wire inside by squeezing a stripper too hard you’ll likely break off of the wire strands.

To strip wire:

  1. Insert the wire in the stripper and close it carefully on the insulation. Use enough force to hold the wire in place and slightly pinch the insulation, but not enough to put force on the wire inside.
  2. Hold the tool & pressure in place firmly so it cannot move.
  3. Pull the wire. The insulation could break off and the exposed wire should remain.
What to know before stripping speaker wire the first time

Certain types of wire (especially smaller gauges like 20AWG, 24AWG, etc can be harder to strip without breaking. For your first few times, practice on some surplus wire that won’t hurt your speaker wire length needs.

Once the wire is stripped you’re ready to connect it & splice using crimp connectors.

Image showing ruler next to 1/2 inch stripped wire

I recommend stripping enough wire to leave about 3/8″ to 1/2″ wire exposed.  For soldering, you’ll need a minimum of 1/2″ to be able to twist the wire together.

For crimp connectors, 3/8″ or more should be fine.

C. How to use crimp connectors with speaker wire

How to use crimp connectors with wire instruction steps image

Once you’ve prepared your speaker wire by stripping it, it’s time to use a crimp connector on each wire and a tool to crimp them for a reliable connection.

Using crimp connectors with speaker wire isn’t very hard – I promise! You’ll get the hang of it after a few tries.

How to crimp speaker wire properly:

  1. Strip the wire leaving 3/8″ to 1/2″ bare wire exposed.
  2. Tightly twist the wire so it can be pushed into the connector properly.
  3. Insert the wire into one end firmly, pushing it into the metal contact inside. Be sure to insert it fully.
  4. Place the connector into the crimp tool in the appropriate position in the tool, near the end of the connector.
  5. Crimp very hard with the tool to make press the connector down hard, holding the wire inside permanently.
  6. Repeat the same for the other side & speaker wire.
Tip: For best results, once you’re done pull gently on the wire while holding the connector. The wire shouldn’t come out. If it does, you’ve crimped it poorly and will need to do it over again.

What should it look like when you correctly connect speaker wire together?

Closeup example of properly crimped speaker wire

Crimp connectors, also sometimes called butt connectors, are sold in standard colors for the wire gauge sizes they can be used with. Although red is listed as fitting 18 AWG wire, I’ve been using blue butt connectors with 18 AWG speaker wire for years without problems.

Wire crimp connector examples with wire gauges labeled

Examples of “butt” (crimp) connectors are shown here. They’re sold based on the wire gauge they can be used with.

I recommend trying that as since the internal opening is a bit bigger you can be sure they’ll fit with various types of speaker wire. That’s because speaker wire manufacturers sometimes have different internal wire conductor sizes.

2. Connecting speaker wire together by soldering

Image showing steps for how to solder speaker wire

This is hands-down the most reliable way to extend & splice speaker as when done properly soldered wire is extremely strong and is permanent.

How to solder speaker wire

To begin, follow the wire cutting & stripping steps from the first section (using crimp connectors).

Follow these steps:

  1. Cut & strip the speaker wire (at least 1/2″ length of bare wire is needed).
  2. Hold up both ends to form an “X” shape with the wire facing opposite directions.
  3. Hold both ends and tightly twist each end around the other until they’re completely wrapped over each other.
  4. After the soldering iron is hot, apply heat to the wire with the tip. Once heated (after a few seconds usually), apply solder enough so that it has flowed fully through the wire.
  5. Rotate the wire to the other side and apply the solder until all of the wire is fully saturated with solder.
  6. Allow the wire to cool for a few moments.
  7. Tear 2 short pieces of electrical tape. Starting at the insulation and at an angle, tightly wrap the tape until it is fully covered.

It’s important to fully cover the wire once you’re done. That’s to prevent the wire from touching each other and causing a short circuit that can permanently damage the output components in an amplifier or stereo.

How long does soldering speaker wire properly take?

All in all, you’ll need about 10-15 minutes to do this work with a soldering iron vs about 1-3 minutes with crimp connectors.

Example of soldering iron and accessories needed to solder wire

Parts cost for soldering speaker wire

A soldering iron can be bought for about $7-$10. You’ll also need some electrical wire and solder, too. For best results, I recommend at least a 25W soldering iron to get the wire hot enough for the solder to flow well.

I would say you can expect to spend about $10 total if you shop carefully if you don’t already own a soldering iron.

How to connect speaker wire to a receiver or home amplifier

Image showing examples of home stereo receiver speaker terminals

In most cases, a home stereo receiver or amplifier allows connecting speaker wire using the binding posts and/or banana plug jacks.

How to connect speaker wire to receivers or amplifier with binding posts

How to connect speaker wire to receiver or home amp with binding posts diagram

You can easily connect speaker wire to most amplifiers or receivers pretty easily. Here’s how:

  1. Loosen the binding post twist tops enough to expose the wire hole.
  2. Strip the speaker wire to about 3/8″ to 1/2″ length bare wire. Twist the wire tightly by hand to keep the wire strands together.
  3. Insert the wires one at a time up to (but not including) the insulation. Twist the tops down and onto the wire firmly to hold it in place.

How to connect speaker wire to receivers or amplifier with banana plugs

How to connect speaker wire to receiver or home amp with banana plugs diagram

Even though they require a bit more work than just using bare wire, banana plugs offer extra convenience once they’re in place. You can quickly disconnect or reconnect you speakers any time since they simply plug into the jacks.

Note that banana plugs come in 2 main types: those with a side-mounted set screw and those with a top “tension screw” and either a top-located hole and/or side hole.

Side hole types are basically a binding post style.

Here are the steps for connecting to a receiver with banana plugs:

  1. Loosen the set screw or tension screw as provided but don’t remove it fully. If you’re inserting wire through the center hole you can remove it if you like.
  2. Strip the speaker wire using a wire stripper tool or similar for the best results. Leave roughly 1/2″ of bare wire.
  3. [Side hole type] Fold the wire under the insulation. [Center hole type] Twist the wire tightly and thread the wire through the screw’s center hole.
  4. [Side hole type] Insert the wire into the opening carefully, making sure it fits under the screw. [Center hole type] Shape the wire into a half-circle, with the wire tilting horizontally away from the insulation.
  5. Tighten the tension screw carefully. [Center hole type] Push the wire into the bottom of the plug.
  6. [Center hole type] Tighten the tension screw down onto the wire.
  7. Holding the wire and the plug, pull gently to be sure the connection is good and the wire won’t slip out.
  8. Push the banana plugs into the jacks firmly. (Note: It’s not unusual for banana plugs to stick out of the jack slightly – they’re not always flush with the top of the jack when inserted).

How to connect speaker wire to banana plugs

Image showing examples of banana plug speaker wire connector types

Shown: Examples of some of the most common banana plug speaker wire connectors you’ll find for sale today. Most fall into one of 2 basic categories: those that use a set screw or those that have a binding post style. I’ll explain the differences as we go.

When shopping (and especially depending on where you shop) you’ll find several different styles of banana plug connectors that work for speaker wire. However, nearly all work basically the same and fall under one of 2 categories:

  1. Set screw type: these have a set screw that is loosened to allow inserting the speaker wire and then tightened to hold it in place inside a metal barrel.
  2. Binding post style: These are very similar to a binding post type wire terminal. A large threaded screw is used to hold the wire in place and often wire is routed underneath the large screw through a central hole and/or a side hole.

The most important thing to know is how to use them with smaller wire as some of the most common wire gauges (like 18AWG wire) don’t fit correctly inside them if not done right. The wire could come out if not connected properly.

Despite some of these banana plugs being more expensive than others, nearly all work very well so there’s no reason to pay too much. You can find a good deal from online retailers, while local stores can be a bit expensive.

1. How to use speaker wire with set screw banana plugs

Image with instructions for how to connect speaker wire to banana plugs with set screws

Adding banana plugs to speaker wire isn’t hard, but there’s a thing or two that can cause problems if you’re not aware of them ahead of time. Specifically, the internal wire barrel (connector) is too big for most commonly used speaker wire gauges.

Note: banana plugs usually have very small screws so you’ll need to be sure you have a miniature screwdriver to use with them.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  1. Loosen the set screw, but don’t remove it fully. Just enough that the screw is mostly out of the way of the internal wire opening. For connectors with metal shells, you’ll need to remove them first in many cases. (Note: some connectors may have 2 screws)
  2. Strip the speaker wire using a wire stripper tool or similar for the best results. Leave roughly 1/2″ of bare wire.
  3. (Important) Twist the wire tightly then fold it under itself or under the insulation. This will help the wire to better fit inside for a good firm hold with the set screw.
  4. Insert the wire into the connector carefully, making sure it fits under the screw. Tighten the screw or screws firmly but do not over-tighten. For plugs with a metal shell, re-install it over the plug.
  5. Holding the wire and the plug, pull gently to be sure the connection is good and the wire won’t slip out.

That’s it, you’re done! Despite not fitting inside the plugs perfectly,  you can use 18AWG and other sizes of speaker wire reliably and without pulling your hair out in frustration!

2. How to use speaker wire with binding post type banana plugs

Image with instructions for how to connect speaker wire to banana plugs with binding post style

Binding post style banana plugs aren’t hard to use, but you’ll need to carefully use the wire in a way that it’s held in place under the “tension screw” (large central threaded screw). Otherwise it’s possible for the wire to slip out when pulled.

Some banana plugs (like the one shown above) may have a side hole in addition to a center hole through the main screw. You can use either one, but I prefer not to use the side hole unless I have very large gauge speaker wire.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  1. Loosen the set screw or set screw as provided. For side opening use, don’t remove it fully. If you’re inserting wire through the center hole you can remove it if you like.
  2. Strip the speaker wire using a wire stripper tool or similar for the best results. Leave roughly 1/2″ of bare wire.
  3. [Side hole type] Fold the wire under the insulation. [Center hole type] Twist the wire tightly and thread the wire through the screw’s center hole.
  4. [Side hole type] Insert the wire into the opening carefully, making sure it fits under the screw. [Center hole type] Shape the wire into a half-circle, with the wire tilting horizontally away from the insulation.
  5. Tighten the tension screw carefully. [Center hole type] Push the wire into the bottom of the plug.
  6. [Center hole type] Tighten the tension screw down onto the wire.
  7. Holding the wire and the plug, pull gently to be sure the connection is good and the wire won’t slip out.

You’re done! Binding posts banana plugs should only take a handful of seconds to add to the speaker wire.

How to connect speaker wire to spring clip terminals

Image showing how to connect speaker wire to spring clip terminals

Spring clip terminals are one of the simplest and most common types of speaker wire terminals and they’re found nearly everywhere: speaker boxes, amplifiers, stereos, and more. 

To  them, use the following steps:

  1. Strip the wire and leave about 1/2″ of bare wire on each end. Twist the wire tightly.
  2. With a finger or thumb, push each spring clip one at a time and insert the wire into the hole (insert enough to fit well into the opening).
  3. Release the spring clip to hold the wire in place. Repeat for each wire needed.
  4. When done, pull gently on each wire to make sure they’re in place and held properly.

How to connect speaker wire to car or home speakers

There’s normally no difference in how you connect speaker wire to home and car speakers. In fact, they’re exactly the same aside from being 4 or 8 ohms for their impedance (resistance) ratings.

As you can see from the instructional steps image below, there are 2 ways to get great results and only a few steps for each: using quick disconnect crimp terminals & a crimp tool or using a soldering iron and solder.

Solder vs crimp terminals for connecting speaker wire

While soldering gives a high quality and permanent connection, it takes more time & effort. It’s also more hassle to use a soldering iron as it needs a power source & extension cord – especially if you’re working in your car.

I recommend using quick-disconnect terminals as they can give an excellent & reliable connection while still being easy to use and removable later. One thing you should know is that speaker wire connection tabs on car or home speakers aren’t standardized in their sizes. It’s extremely important to check before you get started.

One speaker brand & model may use two .187″ or .250″ tabs for example while others may use both a .250″ and a .110″.

For car speakers, the tabs are most often a .250″ or .187″ slide tabs and one .110″.

Tip: The larger tab is used for the positive wire in cases where they’re different sizes.

Image showing common speaker wire quick disconnect terminal sizes

Shown here are the most common speaker & speaker wire quick disconnect crimp terminal sizes. Of the 4 shown, .110″ & .250″ are some of the most common for car and home speakers.

Instructions for connecting speaker wire to car and home speakers

Image showing how to connect speaker wire to car and home speakers instructions

How to connect speaker wire to car or home speakers using crimp terminals (quick disconnects):

  1. Strip the speaker wire (about 3/8″ to 1/2″ is fine) and twist the ends tightly to keep the strands in place.
  2. Get the correct sized quick disconnect crimp terminals needed. If unsure what size, measure the speaker wire tabs with a ruler. You’ll also need a crimp tool as well.
  3. Insert the wire into each terminal and crimp firmly until the crimp connector locks onto the wire and holds it firmly. You can crimp 2 times if you like.
  4. Hold the speaker and carefully slide the crimp terminals onto each tab. Be sure not to use too much force as the tabs can get bent if they’re pushed too hard. (If the connectors are too tight, try carefully prying them open a bit with a miniature flathead screwdriver or other thin, flat tool)
  5. When done, make sure the terminals are nice and tight to be sure they can’t come off over time due to vibration.

How to connect speaker wire to car or home speakers by soldering:

  1. Strip the speaker wire (about 3/8″ to 1/2″ is fine) and twist the ends tightly to keep the strands in place.
  2. Shape the wire ends into a curved hook style.
  3. Insert the wire into the small holes in the speaker wire tabs.
  4. Apply heat with a hot soldering iron to both the wire and the speaker wire tab. After a few moments, begin applying solder until it flows and covers the hole, wire, and tab near the speaker wire.
  5. Allow to cool briefly and repeat for the other wire.

Never use a “twist and tape” approach to connecting speaker wire. That’s a poor connection that causes oxidation, power loss, and can even come off over time.

It’s possible for a poor connection to become free and then short-circuit to the other speaker wire, causing permanent damage to the amplifier or stereo.

How to connect a subwoofer with speaker wire

Subwoofer speaker wire terminal examples

Subwoofers usually have one of two types of speaker wire terminals: spring-loaded binding posts or quick disconnect (slide connector) tabs.

Of the two, the spring-loaded terminals are super easy to use, while the quick-disconnect tabs can be a bit trickier. Additionally, the tabs don’t always come in the same sizes for both.

For subwoofers, the tabs are most often two .250″ slide tabs or one .250″ and one .187″ or one .110″ like are used with smaller speakers.

Image showing common speaker wire quick disconnect terminal sizes

Shown here are the most common speaker & speaker wire quick disconnect crimp terminal sizes. Of the 4 shown, .110″ & .250″ are some of the most common for small speakers. .250″ is very common for subwoofers.

How to connect speaker wire to subwoofers (how-to image)

Image showing how to connect speaker wire to subwoofers step by step

There are only a few steps you’ll need to do for connecting speaker wire to subwoofers.

Steps for connecting speaker wire to binding post terminals on subwoofers:

  1. Strip the speaker wire to about 3/8″ to 1/2″ length bare wire. Twist the wire tightly by hand to keep the wire strands together.
  2. Push one of the terminals to open the hole. Insert the bare wire up to the insulation.
  3. Release the terminal and the wire will be held in place.
  4. Repeat for the 2nd or additional terminals.

Steps for connecting speaker wire to quick-disconnect terminals on subwoofers:

  1. Get the correct sized quick disconnect crimp terminals needed. If unsure what size, measure the subwoofer wire tabs with a ruler. You’ll also need a crimp tool as well.
  2. Strip the speaker wire (about 3/8″ to 1/2″ is fine) and twist the ends tightly to keep the strands in place
  3. Insert the wire into each terminal and crimp firmly until the crimp connector locks onto the wire and holds it firmly. You can crimp 2 times if you like.
  4. Hold the subwoofer and carefully slide the crimp terminals onto each tab. Be sure not to use too much force as the tabs can get bent if you’re forcing them. (If the connectors are too tight, try carefully prying them with a miniature flathead screwdriver or other thin, flat tool)

You’re done! When done properly, crimp terminals should not be able to move and the wire should be nice and tight, with no looseness to come apart over time.

Note: While you can use solder & a soldering iron to attach the speaker wire to the wire tabs, generally I recommend you use crimp terminals instead as it makes it much easier should you need to remove or replace subwoofers later.

Additional reading + if you have questions

I’ve got some other great information related to speakers, wiring, and more!

Have questions, ideas, or feedback? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly.

I look forward to your suggestions for how I can make my article more helpful to everyone.

How To Wire A Dual Voice Coil Speaker + Subwoofer Wiring Diagrams

How to wire a dual voice coil speaker featured image

Dual voice speakers (which are usually subwoofers) can be confusing, that’s for sure. To make matters worse, if you don’t know how to properly choose or wire a dual voice coil speaker you can get less sound & power than you expect!

To help you figure it all out, I’ve put together this friendly how-to guide with detailed diagrams, answers to several common questions, and more. You can download & print the subwoofer wiring diagrams if you like.

Want to know how to wire your dual voice coil subwoofer or match the right kind to your amplifier? Read on to find out more.

Contents

What is a dual voice coil speaker?

What is a dual voice coil speaker exploded view diagram labeled

Dual voice coil speakers are extremely similar to single voice coil models except for having a 2nd voice coil winding, wire, and wire terminals. They both use a small gauge wire tightly wound on a speaker “bobbin” (tube) that rests inside a magnet attached to the cone. They produce sound when a musical signal is supplied.

Dual voice coil (DVC) speakers, which are most often subwoofers, are almost the same as standard single voice coil speakers. The difference lies in their design & how they’re used.

What is the difference in dual voice coil and single voice coil subwoofers?

Standard speakers or subwoofers have the following parts:

  • A metal basket in which the speaker parts are housed and a magnet is attached to
  • Large permanent magnet
  • Speaker cone surround
  • Speaker cone surround & dust cap
  • Voice coil bobbin (tube where the coil is made)
  • A “spider” which is a stiff but flexible material that suspends the voice coil assembly
  • Voice coil: tightly wound small gauge wire of a large length (this is suspended inside a gap in the magnet)
  • Voice coil wire leads & connection terminals

Single voice coil subwoofers have only one speaker voice coil winding while dual voice coil models have a 2nd voice coil of the same Ohm rating (impedance) added in the bobbin.

A 2nd pair of wire leads and speaker wire terminals are added, too.

Do dual voice coil speakers have performance differences?

There aren’t any direct performance differences between a single and dual voice coil model of the same design. However, there are definitely some really nice advantages I’ll explain later.

In most cases, dual voice coil subwoofers are slightly more expensive than the same model with single voice coil design – but not by very much. Power handling ratings are usually very similar (always double-check to be sure) but might be a bit different.

If you’re into speaker box design, it’s helpful to know that dual voice coil speakers often have slightly different Thiele/Small parameters. Thiele/Small parameters are just the highly detailed technical characteristics of a speaker that help know how it behaves in certain speaker boxes or audio crossover designs.

Single vs dual voice coil subs: which is better?

Single vs dual voice coil subwoofer comparison article section image

There isn’t a “best” choice when it comes to single or dual voice coil speakers & subwoofers.

When it comes to choosing one or the other, the answer is “it depends.” Whether or not you should use single or DVC subwoofers depends on a combination of things:

  • The minimum speaker load (Ohms) rating of your amplifier
  • Whether your amp is stereo only or bridgeable
  • How many speakers/subwoofers you’ll be using

Most, but not all, higher power car amplifiers are bridgeable while home stereo amplifiers in many cases aren’t. As a reminder, never assume your amplifier is bridgeable – always check!

Dual voice coil subwoofer advantages

Diagram showing examples of dual voice coil subwoofer advantages

It’s true that standard (single voice coil) subwoofers are fine for many systems. But without question, a lot of people are limited by using them, while dual voice coil subwoofers offer some great flexibility & advantages.

1. Maximum amp power output

These days, most car amplifiers have certain power ratings (in Watts) at a specific speaker load Ohm rating. For example, a mono amplifier might have the following power ratings:

  • 350W RMS at 4 ohms speaker load
  • 600W RMS at 2 ohms
  • 1,000W RMS at 1 ohm

Let’s say you’d like to use a single (mono) bass setup and only one subwoofer. Ordinarily, you’d be limited to getting a maximum of 600W from the amp since you’ll usually only find 2 ohms or higher subwoofers available.

While you could add a 2nd 2 ohm subwoofer and wire both in parallel, that would mean having to get a bigger box, spend more money, use more installation space, and so on.

A 2 ohm DVC subwoofer could be used and wired in parallel to allow the amp to put out its full power. Otherwise, you’ll never reach the power capacity you paid for with your amplifier.

That’s especially true today since modern class D amplifiers have ratings like this and some are 1 ohm capable.

2. Amplifier channels and special setups

As I mentioned earlier, not all amplifiers can be bridged. That’s a big problem if you’ve got a single 4 channel amplifier, for example. How can you add a subwoofer and supply it with enough power without having to buy a second amp?

With a dual voice coil subwoofer, you could use one channel for each of the voice coils to drive the subwoofer with enough power. Likewise, for truly powerful systems, it’s possible to one amp per each voice coil for single or multi-subwoofer systems.

3. Multiple subwoofers/amp impedance matching

When you’re wiring several subwoofers to the same amplifier channel or mono bridging two channels, the Ohms load you amp sees depends on the series or parallel wiring combination of the subwoofers.

Dual voice coils subs offer several more options as they let you choose more total Ohm load combinations that can better match your amp’s minimum rating.

4. Ability to use them for home for car stereo systems

Ordinarily, it’s not possible to use 8 ohm subwoofers efficiently for car audio since they can’t produce the same power as a 4 ohm speaker of the same kind. Car subwoofers with 2 or 4 ohm ratings can’t be used with home stereo amplifiers because they’re below the minimum amp spec.

They’ll cause a home amp to overheat, shutdown, and even become damaged permanently.

Dual voice coil speakers have a unique benefit here as you could use a dual 4 ohm subwoofer for both car or home use:

  • Wired in series for 8 ohms for home stereo use
  • Using a single 4 ohm or parallelled to 2 ohms for car stereo amp use

It’s especially nice if you’re able to get a great price on speakers as you’ll be able to use them when otherwise you couldn’t.

How to choose & match a dual voice coil subwoofer to your amp

Choosing the right dual voice coil subwoofer

To get the right dual voice coil subwoofers, you’ll need to note a few things:

  • The minimum speaker load (Ohms rating) of your amplifier at the power level you’re interested in
  • How many subwoofers you’d like to use

The rest is relatively easy! Just use my wiring connection diagrams below and you’ll find the right subwoofer(s) configuration you should use.

You’ll need to check the owner’s manual (or labeled printed) for the amplifier to get the minimum speaker load you can use along with the maximum power rating Ohm load. Then pick the right number of dual voice coil subwoofers that can be wired to match that required by the amp.

If you’re unsure of anything feel free to ask me by commenting below or sending a message.

4 Ohm dual voice coil sub wiring diagram

4 Ohm dual voice coil subwoofer wiring diagram

Click here to download the .PDF version you can view or print

2 Ohm dual voice coil sub wiring diagram

2 Ohm dual voice coil subwoofer wiring diagram

Click here to download the .PDF version you can view or print

8 Ohm dual voice coil sub wiring diagram

8 Ohm dual voice coil subwoofer wiring diagram

Click here to download the .PDF version you can view or print

Additional reading + if you have questions

I’ve got some great (and very detailed) guides to help you with your audio needs:

Got questions or need help?

If you’re still a bit confused on how to wire a dual voice coil speaker or subwoofer, just leave me a comment below with the details. You can also message me directly here. 

I’ll be happy to help!

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

Does speaker wire affect sound quality featured image

Audio accessories like cables and especially speaker wire are one of the most commonly overpriced and hyped things you can buy. But what’s the truth? Does speaker wire affect sound quality?

Should you spend a lot of money on “special” speaker wire? What do you need to know for the best sound for your car or home speaker systems?

I’ll tell you this and more in clear & simple to understand terms – along with all the facts you need. Read on!

Contents

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 provide better sound than a regular good quality speaker wire of the correct size.
  • 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.
  • 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 interconnects (like RCA cables), video cables, and even computer & data cables.

It’s not limited to home stereo & video either – there has been plenty of it in the car stereo world, too.

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 technical advantage over standard wire or cables. The problem is that there’s no scientific test data to back it up. Most of the time it’s just for making a larger profit.

In fact, when it comes to electronics, audio accessories like cable and wire 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 with sound quality due to speaker wire. There are a few exceptions that aren’t typical which I’ll explain later.

It’s important to explain one thing, though: for the sake of this article we’re referring to normal cases where the correct size & good quality wire of a reasonable length are used.

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 the sound quality of a system – 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 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.

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 – much like other electrical conductors, 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) 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. 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 electrical 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.

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 the wire and the connector 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 wire by splicing, either by soldering, crimp connectors, or other ways doesn’t normally affect sound quality. It can’t – it’s just another electrical path for the electrical current & 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. 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 very important and won’t make a large difference in practical use.

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

Good quality crimp connectors (left) and solder (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)

Does the length of speaker wire affect the sound?

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

That’s because:

  • Very long lengths of speaker wire (say 50+ ft in length, especially 100ft or more) have more resistance and will cause a small volume & power drop especially at maximum amplifier power levels.
  • 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.

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 impedance (Ohms rating) of your speakers. 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 SizeRecommended 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 18AWG->16AWG->14AWG wire for keeping losses down.

Does using small speaker wire affect sound quality?

Using a smaller speaker wire than you need won’t exactly affect sound quality, but instead 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.

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 wire go up one gauge in size.

For example, to replace 18 gauge copper 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 of wire) lead to bad sound quality:

  • 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 connector or solder
  • 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 connector or solder to eliminate this.

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 cable you’ve got lying around, some times of cables are 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 speaker wire articles

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

Feel free to leave any comments or questions below – I’d love to hear from you!

How To Extend Speaker Wire: Step By Step Instructions For Splicing It & More

How to extend speaker wire guide featured image

Ever tried hooking up speakers only to find your wire was just a little bit too short? What a frustrating feeling!

In this detailed how-to guide, I’ll show you how to extend speaker wire for longer length with great results. It’s not very hard once you know how to connect & splice wire correctly.

There’s a basic diagram included right at the top. However, for best results be sure to check out my detailed steps & photos below (and to find out which way is best for you).

Contents

Quick diagram: how to splice & extend speaker wire

How to splice speaker wire diagram

First things first: here’s a simple diagram covering the basics for stripping & connecting speaker wire by one of the 2 most reliable ways.

You’ll only need a few tools to do it. Between the two ways, using solder is extremely reliable but more hassle & takes more time. Crimp connectors, however, give great results in only minutes and this approach is what I use most of the time for my home or car installation jobs.

While my diagram may be helpful, I’d like to help you understand the pros and cons of each so I can help save you time, hassle, and maybe even a bit of money, too.

Read on to learn more about these plus other options you have.

How to splice wire with crimp connectors

How to splice and extend speaker wire with crimp connectors section image

Using crimp connectors is one of my favorite ways to splice & extend speaker or power wire as a professional installer. It’s fairly fast and gives professional results with very little hassle or work.

This is my top recommended way to extend speaker wire for nearly anyone.

Here are a few reasons why I recommend it:

  • When done properly, it’s very reliable and the wire won’t come apart
  • Easy to do – only takes a few minutes
  • Not affected by temperature changes & time
  • Crimp tools & connectors are widely available and are affordable

There are only a few steps involved: cutting the wire (if needed), stripping the wire, and preparing the wire & crimping the connectors.

1. How to cut speaker wire

Image showing examples of how to cut wire

Examples of some of the best ways to cut speaker wire using tools or a pair of utility scissors. Cutting wire is easy with the correct tools. Many tools like wire strippers or crimpers also have a cutting feature built-in.

Cutting speaker wire (or power wire) normally isn’t hard but you definitely need the right tool. The reason why is that common tools like regular scissors can’t cut wire properly and can even become damaged.

There are some great tools that are very affordable that will cut wire very well and make extending speaker wire much easier:

  • Cutting pliers
  • Automatic wire strippers with a cutter section
  • Needle nose pliers with cutting section
  • Crimper/stripper tool with cutting feature
  • Utility scissors – works ok for smaller gauges, not larger

Of the 5 listed here, I recommend and use wire cutting pliers as they’re capable of cutting a wide range of wire sizes. For typical speaker wire like 18 gauge, the wire cutting feature on many other tools works fine.

Ultimately, though, it’s a lot more convenient to have an “all-in-one” tool like a crimp tool if you’re only doing light work occasionally.

Wire cutting tips

To cut wire, just insert the wire and slightly close the tool until the wire is securely held in place & can’t move. Then squeeze very firmly. The wire should “snap” lightly and will be cut.

While you can get by with utility scissors (don’t use standard scissors used for paper or fabrics!) you’ll have to insert the wire right at the inside of the blades and cut very carefully.

Scissors aren’t a good choice and the wire can even get jammed inside.

2. How to strip speaker wire

How to strip wire example

To strip speaker wire you can use a number of tools. I recommend standard wire a standard low-priced wire stripper/crimper (shown above) or similar.

Stripping speaker wire can be a little bit tricky, but it’s a skill you’ll pick up quickly after a few tries. The main trick is to pinch only the wire’s insulation and not the wire strands themselves.

If you catch the wire inside by squeezing a stripper too hard you’ll likely break off of the wire strands.

To strip wire:

  1. Insert the wire in the stripper and close it carefully on the insulation. Use enough force to hold the wire in place and slightly pinch the insulation, but not enough to put force on the wire inside.
  2. Hold the tool & pressure in place firmly so it cannot move.
  3. Pull the wire. The insulation could break off and the exposed wire should remain.
What to know before stripping speaker wire the first time

Certain types of wire (especially smaller gauges like 20AWG, 24AWG, etc can be harder to strip without breaking. For your first few times, practice on some surplus wire that won’t hurt your speaker wire length needs.

Once the wire is stripped you’re ready to connect it & splice using crimp connectors.

Image showing ruler next to 1/2 inch stripped wire

I recommend stripping enough wire to leave about 3/8″ to 1/2″ wire exposed.  For soldering, you’ll need a minimum of 1/2″ to be able to twist the wire together.

For crimp connectors, 3/8″ or more should be fine.

3. How to use crimp connectors with speaker wire

How to use crimp connectors with wire instruction steps image

Once you’ve prepared your speaker wire by stripping it, it’s time to use a crimp connector on each wire and a tool to crimp them for a reliable connection.

Using crimp connectors with speaker wire isn’t very hard – I promise! You’ll get the hang of it after a few tries.

How to crimp speaker wire properly:

  1. Strip the wire leaving 3/8″ to 1/2″ bare wire exposed.
  2. Tightly twist the wire so it can be pushed into the connector properly.
  3. Insert the wire into one end firmly, pushing it into the metal contact inside. Be sure to insert it fully.
  4. Place the connector into the crimp tool in the appropriate position in the tool, near the end of the connector.
  5. Crimp very hard with the tool to make press the connector down hard, holding the wire inside permanently.
  6. Repeat the same for the other side & speaker wire.

Tip: For best results, once you’re done pull gently on the wire while holding the connector. The wire shouldn’t come out. If it does, you’ve crimped it poorly and will need to do it over again.

What should it look like when you correctly extend speaker wire?

Closeup example of properly crimped speaker wire

Crimp connectors, also sometimes called butt connectors, are sold in standard colors for the range of wire gauge sizes they can be used with. Although red is listed as fitting 18 AWG wire, I’ve been using blue butt connectors with 18 AWG speaker wire for years without problems.

Wire crimp connector examples with wire gauges labeled

Examples of “butt” (crimp) connectors are shown here. They’re sold based on the wire gauge they can be used with.

I recommend trying that as since the internal opening is a bit bigger you can be sure they’ll fit with various types of speaker wire near that size. That’s because speaker wire manufacturers sometimes have different internal wire conductor sizes.

Splicing speaker wire by soldering

Image showing steps for how to solder speaker wire

This is hands-down the most reliable way to extend & splice speaker as when done properly soldered wire is extremely strong.

How to solder speaker wire

To begin, follow the wire cutting & stripping steps from the first section (using crimp connectors).

Follow these steps:

  1. Cut & strip the speaker wire (at least 1/2″ length of bare wire is needed).
  2. Hold up both ends to form an “X” shape with the wire facing opposite directions.
  3. Hold both ends and tightly twist each end around the other until they’re completely wrapped over each other.
  4. After the soldering iron is hot, apply heat to the wire with the tip. Once heated (after a few seconds usually), apply solder enough it has flowed fully through the wire.
  5. Rotate the wire to the other side and apply the solder until all of the wire is fully saturated with solder.
  6. Allow the wire to cool for a few moments.
  7. Tear 2 short pieces of electrical tape. Starting at the insulation and at an angle, tightly wrap the tape until it is fully covered.

It’s important to fully cover the wire once you’re done. That’s to prevent the wire from touching each other and cause a short circuit that can permanently damage the output components in an amplifier or stereo.

How long does soldering speaker wire properly take?

All in all, you’ll need about 10-15 minutes to do this work with a soldering iron vs about 1-3 minutes with crimp connectors.

Example of soldering iron and accessories needed to solder wire

Budgeting for soldering speaker wire

A soldering iron can be bought for about $7-$10. You’ll also need some electrical wire and solder, too. For best results, I recommend at least a 25W soldering iron to get the wire hot enough for the solder to flow well.

Using twist connectors (wire nuts)

Example showing how to use wire nuts twist connectors

Wire nuts, also called wire twist connectors, are typically used for wiring installation in homes & buildings. They’re another option although personally I don’t recommend them as they’re a bit less reliable than crimp connectors or solder.

Wire nuts work by using a threaded metal insert to screw down onto the wire, holding it together as it goes.

They’re pretty fast, but unfortunately, on occasion, I’ve seen them come lose from wire so I don’t generally recommend them. Instead, I’d highly recommend crimp connectors.

Why you shouldn’t do it the “just twist and tape” way

Example of speaker wire extended by twisting and wrapping with tape

You may be tempted to use the “just twist and tape” method, but I strongly encourage not to do so.

Why? Because it’s very unreliable and can be a mess to fix later. If the wire comes apart, as often happens, you can potentially damage your stereo or amplifier due to a short circuit.

It’s not worth the risk!

Simply twisting the speaker wire and then wrapping with tape isn’t enough. In my experience as an installer, over time the 2 speaker wires will begin to separate since they’re not held together. To make matters worse, over time heat can affect electrical tape and it can begin to come off of the wire.

It also leaves behind an adhesive residue if it has been subjected to a lot of heat as often happens in car audio installations.

Which speaker wire is positive? Which is negative?

Which speaker wire is positive diagram with examples

The most common kinds of positive wire markings are shown here as examples. 99% of the time, figuring out which wire is positive is really easy once you know what to look for.

The good news is that once you know what to look for, 99% of the time it’s very easy to tell which speaker wire is positive and which is negative.

How do I check if a speaker wire is positive or negative?

Here’s a list of the most common ways to tell which is the positive wire:

  1. A printed line or series of dashes/lines is on the positive wire
  2. One wire’s insulation is red or a different color than the negative wire (most often red is used)
  3. One wire has a copper color and one has a silver finish
  4. The positive wire may have small positive (“+”) symbols and/or wire gauge info printed on it
  5. An imprint or molded stripe is made in the positive wire’s insulation

Of the 5 kinds, imprints can occasionally be a little bit harder to notice so sometimes you need to look very closely under good lighting. Also, positive wires that use a “+” print can be a little hard to read sometimes, too.

Which is positive: copper or silver?

Closeup example of positive & silver speaker wire

These are less common, but of speaker & power wires that have a copper and a silver color, you can pick one of the two to be positive. However, as a rule the copper wire is treated as the positive.

The “silver” wire isn’t really silver – it’s copper wire that’s been lightly coated (“tinned”) in most cases.

Once you know which is the positive wire then the other is the negative wire.

Music uses alternating current (AC) signals and doesn’t flow in only one direction. We use one wire as the positive one when connecting speakers to be consistent when connecting them so as to wire them all the same way for the best results.

Additional reading

Interested in learning more? You can find out here what size of speaker wire you should use.

Also check out my helpful article with great speaker wiring diagrams and info about using stereos the right way.

I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment or question below. You can also reach me directly via my contact page.

What Size Speaker Wire Is Right? The Right Gauge, Type, And More

What speaker size guide featured image

Wondering what size speaker wire you need? You’re not alone – there’s a lot of confusion when it comes to hooking up speakers & getting the right type and gauge of wire.

In this guide, I’ll show you the right gauge and type of speaker wire you’ll need. I’ll also cover a lot more, too:

  • What speaker wire “gauge” means
  • How to check which speaker wire is positive or negative
  • How to connect speaker wire to terminals or splice it
  • Copper clad aluminum (CCA) vs pure copper wire

Read on to learn more!

Contents

Infographic – Speaker wire fast facts

Infographic for speaker wire size fast facts guide

Quick answer: What size speaker wire do I need? 

Speaker wire size quick guide
  • For most cases using home or car speakers (not subwoofers) 18 gauge (18AWG) is fine.  18AWG wire is good for about 50W for 4 ohm (car) speakers and 100W for 8 ohm (home stereo) speakers.
  • For higher power systems or longer lengths, 16 gauge is a great choice.
  • For longer lengths (50-100ft)/(15-30.5m) you’ll need to go up 2 gauges (14 ga.) to avoid losing power. Very long lengths of speaker wire lose a bit of power over the long distance due to resistance. Using larger wire can help reduce or avoid this. (See my detailed chart later for more info)

First and foremost, it’s important to know that you shouldn’t spend money on bigger speaker wire than you need.

It’s a waste of your hard-earned money to get wire that’s bigger (and costs more) than what you need. It won’t improve the sound or anything like that, despite what salespeople may tell you.

The size of speaker wire you need is based on 3 things you can easily check:

  1. Your stereo or amplifier’s power output (usually listed as watts “RMS”)
  2. The Ohm rating (“impedance”) of your speakers
  3. Length needed

However, if you’d like a simplified answer here’s a chart to fit the needs of most people.

Simplified speaker wire size chart

Wire SizeRecommended 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.

In most cases for everyday listening at medium or low power levels (50W RMS or under), 18 gauge (18AWG) wire is what you need.

It’s a good compromise between price and handling as it’s usually priced well and easy to find.

Choosing speaker wire for long distances

The table above works well for most cases. But what if you need say 50ft or even 100ft of length? In that case, you’ll want to double the size by choosing a wire gauge 2 sizes up.

Wire gauge (the amount of copper in them) doubles by moving to not the next gauge, but instead the one after that.

Example:

18AWG wire will lose about 4 watts at maximum power if it’s 50ft long. To avoid this, we’ll pick a wire gauge 2 sizes up: 18 -> 16 -> 14 gauge.

Speaker wire power & size chart

If you’d like save money by using a smaller gauge wire here’s a handy chart I’ve made based on the maximum power you can use with wire for different lengths. With it, you can pick the right wire based on your type of speaker, how much power you’ll use, and one of several close lengths you may need.

Wire GaugeLength/Power for 8 Ohm SpeakersLength/Power for 4 Ohm SpeakersLength/Power for 2 Ohm Speakers
20AWG 3ft: 263W, 16ft: 49W, 25ft, 32W 50ft: 16W 3ft: 131W, 16ft: 25W, 25ft: 16W, 50ft: 8W 3ft: 66W, 16ft: 12W, 25ft: 8W, 50ft: 4W
18AWG 3ft: 418W, 16ft: 78W, 25ft: 50W, 50ft: 25W 3ft: 209W, 16ft: 39W, 25ft: 25W, 50ft: 13W 3ft: 104W, 16ft: 20W, 25ft: 13W, 50ft: 6W
16AWG 3ft: 664W, 16ft: 125W, 25ft: 80W, 50ft: 40W 3ft: 332W, 16ft: 62W, 25ft: 40W, 50ft: 20W 3ft: 166W, 16ft: 31W, 25ft: 20W, 50ft: 10W
14AWG 3ft: 1056W, 16ft: 198W, 25ft: 127W, 50ft: 63W 3ft: 528W, 16ft: 99W, 25ft: 63W, 50ft: 32W 3ft: 264W, 16ft: 50W, 25ft: 32W, 50ft: 16W
12AWG 3ft: 1679W, 16ft: 315W, 25ft: 202W, 50ft: 101W 3ft: 840W, 16ft: 157W, 25ft: 101W, 50ft: 50W 3ft: 420W, 16ft: 79W, 25ft: 50W, 50ft: 25W

For example, a 2 Ohm car subwoofer with up to 250W of power from an amp but only needing 3ft of length can use 14AWG wire. (Instead of a larger, more expensive wire)

What gauge is speaker wire?

Image showing a comparison of common speaker wire gauge sizes

Speaker wire doesn’t have just one size (gauge). Most speaker wire follows the American Wire Gauge (AWG) standard that uses a chart of different gauges. It assigns a number to each standard size & electrical conductor rating. Likewise, each size is rated for a certain amount of electrical current capacity.

Speaker wire comes in a wide range of standard sizes based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG) standard. The American Wire Gauge standard, also less commonly known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge, is a standardized wire gauge system used since 1857 for the diameters of round electrically conducting wire.

Diagram showing example scale sizes of AWG wire gauges 18 to 12

AWG wire charts use a numbering system where a smaller number is larger wire with more copper conductors. Likewise, a larger number is used for smaller wire with fewer conductors. I realize it seems kind of odd, but once you start using it you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

Why wire gauge matters

The AWG is very important because it means you can be sure what size of speaker wire you’re getting just like any other power wire you’d buy. Speaker wire is treated the same (since it is the same, basically!) as regular power hook up wire which also follows the AWG standard.

Most speaker wire sold today is made up of 2 wires attached as a pair with one marked as the positive wire (I’ll cover this later here). Gauges available usually range from about 20 or 22 gauge to 10 gauge, with 18 gauge being the most popular.

Stranded vs solid wire

Comparison of solid vs stranded wire

Solid wire (left) is a terrible choice for speakers & audio systems. It’s very hard to bend & curve, it can break when exposed to constant vibration, and it’s also harder to make connections with. Stranded wire (right) is tremendously easier to deal with. Stranded wire is made up of a large number of tiny copper wire strands, making it very flexible and also easier to strip, crimp to connectors, and work with by hand.

All speaker wire solid is stranded wire – meaning it’s made up of a bundle of 16-60 or more tiny copper stands. It’s very flexible and also easy to deal with for stripping the wire & adding connectors or twisting it by hand. Solid wire, however, has only one conductor.

Since it’s commonly used for home & industrial electrical wiring, you might be tempted to use leftover solid wire for your speakers. Solid wire is a terrible choice for nearly all audio systems and especially car audio installations. But why?

Use stranded, not solid wire for speakers

Solid wire is fine for homes or buildings since it’s never moved once installed. However, it’s very hard to bend into place and is also subject to damage over time when exposed to constant vibration like in a car or truck. Over time, the wire can develop weak spots which break!

I strongly recommend you don’t bother with solid wire as it’s not worth the risk or hassle. Many kinds of solid wire (like for home outlet wiring) have insulation that’s super hard to strip, too.

How much wire do you need?

Speaker wire length estimation diagram

It’s always best to measure to make sure – but since many people use speaker wire for almost the same things there are some common lengths that work. In the diagram above you can see some common lengths for speaker wire that should be in the “ballpark.”

Buying & using speaker wire is definitely one of those cases where the old advice “better to have too much than not enough” applies! You don’t want to run out of wire because of not planning well.

To figure out how much speaker wire you need, my suggestions is to use one of the following:

  • A tape measure
  • A long length of strength to run

Be sure to try to take curves & bends into account but don’t worry about getting it exactly right. Measure the distance and then add a few feet (2 or so is good) to account for little differences.

A tape measure works well and so does string or rope you can place along the path where the wire will go.

Mark the length, then measure it. I like to add at least  1 foot of length for each wire section for home stereo use and 2 feet each for car stereo installations to play it safe.

Figuring out how much wire to buy

When it comes to buying speaker wire, one thing to know is that it adds up fast! Here are two examples to show what I mean:

Speaker wire length example #1

Home stereo example: 

  • Front speaker lengths measured: 2 x 6ft
  • Rear speakers measured: 16 & 22 ft

Total wire needed: 6 + 6 + 16 + 22 = 50ft (15.2m)

Speaker wire length example #2

Car stereo example: Running wire from the dashboard head unit to front door speakers and to rear deck speakers.

  • Front speaker lengths measured: 2 x 8ft
  • Rear speakers measured: 16 & 20 ft

Total wire needed: 8 + 8 + 16 + 20 = 52ft (15.9m)

Speaker wire is normally sold in rolls such as 25ft, 50ft, and 100ft, although some retailers offer it by the foot as well.

Precut lengths are also available sometimes, too. Those are usually around 6, 12, or 18 ft. However, more often than not you’ll save money by buying a good quality by the roll. Just be sure you don’t buy poor-quality wire or overpriced wire (more about that later).

Just remember this rule: never take chances with speaker wire length – don’t guess. Buy at least a little bit more than your estimate.

Which speaker wire is positive? Which is negative?

How do I check if a speaker wire is positive or negative?

Which speaker wire is positive diagram with examples

The most common kinds of positive wire markings are shown here as examples. 99% of the time, figuring out which wire is positive is really easy once you know what to look for.

The good news is that once you know what to look for, 99% of the time it’s very easy to tell which speaker wire is positive and which is negative.

Here’s a list of the most common positive speaker indicators:

  1. A printed line or series of lines is on the positive wire
  2. One wire’s insulation is red or a different color than the negative wire (most often red is used)
  3. One wire has a copper color and one has a silver finish
  4. The positive wire may have small “+” symbols and/or wire gauge info printed on it
  5. An imprint or molded stripe is made in the positive wire’s insulation

Of the 5 kinds, imprints can occasionally be a little bit harder to notice so sometimes you need to look very closely under good lighting. Also, positive wires that use a “+” print can be a little hard to read sometimes, too.

Which is positive: copper or silver?

Closeup example of positive & silver speaker wire

These are less common, but of speaker & power wires that have a copper and a silver color, you can pick one of the two to be positive. However, as a rule the copper wire is treated as the positive.

The “silver” wire is actually copper wire that’s been lightly coated (“tinned”) in most cases.

Once you know which is the positive wire then the other is the negative wire. Music uses alternating current (AC) signals and doesn’t flow in only one direction. We use one wire as the positive one when connecting speakers to be consistent when connecting them.

That’s to avoid having some speakers wired “out of phase”, which just means speakers playing with the opposite motion as the others which results in poor sound. It’s important to be sure to connect your speakers all the same way for the best results.

How to cut and strip speaker wire

Wire stripper tool examples

Examples of the most common wire stripping & cutting tools. A wire stripper can cut & strip most wire while a crimp tool can strip and also crimp connectors for wire. Wire cutting pliers are very handy for cutting small to large wire. Automatic wire strippers make stripping wire super easy.

There are a number of affordable tools for cutting or stripping speaker wire. All of the tools pictured above can cut and strip wire. If you’re using crimp connectors, a crimping tool is best. 

For the easiest possible remove of wire insulation, automatic wire strippers, available from about $15, are wonderful and make the work super easy to do.

Expect to spend about $7-10 for the basic hand tool you need. 

Note: You can use wire cutting pliers for both cutting and stripping speaker wire. Just pinch the wire insulation tightly and pull it to the side, and it will pop off.

How to splice & extend speaker wire

How to splice speaker wire diagram

Splicing speaker wire isn’t very hard and there are a few ways to go about it. However, I do not recommend just twisting wire together. It’s unreliable and will come apart over time. 

You can also potentially damage your stereo or amplifier if the wire becomes exposed and creates a short circuit.

Instead, here are 2 ways you can splice speaker wire with professional results:

  1. By soldering and insulating
  2. Using crimp connectors

Soldering is a bit harder to do, but the benefit is it’s the most reliable way to connect wires. You’ll need a soldering iron (at least 15W, although I recommend a 25W or higher one), solder, electrical tape, and a tool to strip the wire.

Image showing example crimp tool and crimp connectors

A crimp tool (left) is often affordable and easy to find. Some include crimp connectors. Blue crimp, or “butt” connectors (right) work well for splicing the ends of speaker wire.

Crimp connectors are reliable and easier to use, too. It’s a simple as stripping the speaker wire, twisting the wire strands tightly, then inserting them into the connector and then crimping it tightly on each end.

A crimp tool can be found for under $10 if you shop carefully.

Copper-clad aluminum vs copper speaker wire

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, 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.

Everyday use & what to know

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 be sure to look for packaging that specifies wire is 100% pure copper.

When buying CCA speaker wire, to get the same quality as true copper wire move up one gauge in size. For example, to replace 18 gauge copper wire use a 16 gauge CCA wire.

Additional reading

Wondering how to wire up your home or car speakers and need examples? Check out my speaker wiring diagram article here for more info.

For help installing a car amplifier & speaker, you’ll find some great information in my guide showing you how to wire a 4 channel amp to front and rear speakers here.

Got comments or questions?

I’d love to hear from you, & your questions can help me make this guide better! Feel free to leave a comment or question below.

The Speaker Wiring Diagram And Connection Guide – The Basics You Need To Know

Image of home and car speakers to be connected

We all enjoy music and speakers make that possible – but it’s confusing if you’re not sure how to connect them the right way.

In this post, you’ll find clear and detailed speaker wiring diagrams that to help (and that you can print out if you like, too!).

I’ll go into detail about the right and wrong way to wire speakers and connect them properly to your stereo or amplifier. It’s actually pretty simple once you learn the basics.

Contents

Printable speaker wiring diagram

Click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the Adobe .pdf version you can download and print.

Image of illustrated speaker wiring diagram

Speaker basics and speaker wiring explained

1.  What is speaker impedance? (the “Ohms” rating)

Speakers, much like other electromechanical devices, all have an electrical resistance to the flow of electrical current, much like a standard resistor, a light bulb, or many common items you’re familiar with.

The difference is how they behave when music is present when they’re connected to a musical amplifier of some sort.

The resistance value comes from a long coil of wire inside each speaker called a voice coil. A voice coil is a coil of wire that, when placed inside a magnetic field, makes the speaker move and produce sound when driven by an amplifier.

Example of a speaker voice coil close up

Speakers contain a long wound loop of wire called a voice coil. Loops of wire have a property called inductance which affects a speaker’s resistance value depending on the frequency (sound range) being played.

As they have electrical properties that include inductance and capacitance, their “total resistance” can actually change with the music slightly. Because of this, there’s some extra math needed to figure out the total resistance.

The word used to describe this is called impedance.

Speaker impedance is just a more advanced way of finding the total resistance, and by tradition is measured in units called “Ohms.”

The good news is that you don’t have to worry too much about the details – it doesn’t matter for basic speaker use, and long as you understand the basic rules you’ll be fine!

2. Stereo and amplifier minimum impedance ratings

All amplifiers of any type – where it’s a car stereo amplifier, home stereo receiver, home theater amplifier, and so on, have a minimum Ohms (impedance) rating. It’s important that you pay attention and don’t exceed the minimum speaker impedance rating.

This is because as the impedance is lowered, the electrical current increases and the stereo has to do more work. This increases the amount of stress and heat it has to handle.

If your stereo is labeled by the manufacturer as being “8 ohm speaker compatible” or similar, that means connecting lower impedance speakers can cause excessive heat and possible damage very quickly.

For example, connecting a 4 ohm speaker to an amplifier that is labeled as working with 8 ohm speakers would mean it would have to produce double the electrical current to the speaker!

Image of the rear of a stereo receiver and speaker impedance terminals

Image of the rear of a home stereo receiver/amplifier. The recommended speaker impedance ratings are usually listed above the speaker wire posts. A home stereo, for example, may often list 6-16 ohms as being ok for use.

Also, attempting to wire two 8 ohm speakers in parallel to an 8 ohm stereo would have the same effect. (Two 8 ohm speakers in parallel is equal to 4 ohms total that the amp will see)

I’ve seen many attempts by people who had friends who claimed they could “boost the power” or “get more power” by some claimed trick, but it doesn’t work. They ended up with a burned-out amplifier.

An amplifier can only handle so much heat and stress before it fails, so be sure to observe these rules. Be sure you wire speakers to meet the minimum Ohm rating you need.

Remember: don’t use a speaker impedance below the rating given by the manufacturer. Overheating or permanent damage can result. I’ve seen it happen!

3. What is speaker polarity?

Speakers are different than other devices in that they work using alternating current (AC) instead of direct current (DC). This is good news! It means you can’t harm your speakers in most cases by having the positive (“+”) and negative (“-“) wiring reversed.

Unfortunately, it gets just a little bit more complicated when we use more than 1 speaker.

Speak polarity and why you should match speaker connections

As I mentioned, speakers work by moving a cone back and forth in order to produce sound. If you wire 2 speakers in a stereo with different polarities (for example, one has positive and negative wired as labeled, and the 2nd speaker has the opposite) an interesting thing occurs: they’re out of phase and some sound cancels out.

The result is a strange and poor sounding stereo. In most cases, you’ll notice a lack of bass sound and it won’t sound pleasing to the ear as expected.

Diagram showing speakers in and out of phase

When speakers are wired the opposite of each other sound waves cancel out. When wired the same, sound waves add together for more sound.

Speakers that are wired differently sound poor because much of the sound is canceled out. Basically, it’s simply because sound waves from one speaker are moving in the opposite direction of the other speaker – and if they’re close to the same time and frequency range, often they cancel out.

This is why when 2 woofers are placed in a box and are wired in parallel but with opposite connections to each other, they are “out of phase” and have almost no bass! It’s because they are doing the opposite work rather than working together to produce more sound.

While one is moving up, the other is moving the opposite direction, and so on.

So the most important thing here to remember is to wire speakers consistently the same way as each other.

4. Wiring 2-way and 3-way speakers

2-way speakers, such as home stereo or car audio component speakers, are those which come as a pre-designed speaker set and use a crossover. The job of a crossover (also called a passive crossover, because it use basic capacitors and inductors rather than electronics) is to restrict the music production each speaker tries to produce.

For example, tweeters can’t reproduce bass frequencies (and can in fact be damaged by them) so a 2-way speaker crossover is used to prevent this. Similarly, a woofer can’t produce high pitch sounds well and is prevented from doing so.

Unlike standard separate speakers, 2-way and 3-way speakers that have a crossover can only be used in parallel and not in series.

This is because unlike separate speakers with no crossovers, in this case, many sounds will be filtered out. What this means is that little to no sound would be produced if another 2-way speaker is connected in series.

Image for 2-way speaker diagram examples

Therefore if you have a home stereo or car stereo in which 2-way speakers are used, you’ll have to add more 2-way speakers (if the total impedance can be supported by the amplifier) or add more amplifier channels for more sound.

5. Doubling the number of speakers or amount of power does not double the volume

In some cases, more speakers can be added to increase the amount of volume you can get or to place speakers in more rooms, more locations in your vehicle, and so on. You also may have wondered what would happen if you bought an amplifier with twice the power of your present one.

There’s one important thing to understand, however: having 2 or 3 speakers instead of one does not double or triple the sound. It increases a few decibels (dB) for each speaker added.

Doubling the power does not double the volume either.

This is because of how the human ear works and the physics of sound, along with how speakers work and how much volume they can produce for a given amount of power.

Generally speaking, the human ear will hear a very small amount of volume increase for each doubling of acoustic power: about 3 decibels (dB). For most people, the small amount of volume increase you notice when turning up a volume knob 1 notch is somewhere around 3dB.

Example volume produced by a typical speaker at different power levels:

  • 1W = 89 dB
  • 2W = 92 dB
  • 4W = 95 dB
  • 8W = 98 dB
  • 16W = 101 dB
  • 32W = 104 dB
  • 64W = 107 dB
  • 128W = 110 dB

So as you can see, doubling the amount of power you can drive a speaker at does not mean you’ll double the volume. It increases it a very small amount (as far as your ears are concerned).

You can also see from above that really cranking the volume takes a lot of power!

How to get more volume from speakers

The best ways to get more volume  in most cases are:

  • Use more efficient speakers (speakers that produce a higher dB volume at 1W of power – higher is better)
  • Add more speakers if you have an amplifier that can support it
  • Use higher-power rated speakers and a larger power amplifier if a lot more volume is your goal

Most people need an amplifier that can produce enough volume to fill a room or vehicle and turn up the volume from time to time. I like to use 50W or higher per channel as a good rule of thumb when buying an amplifier.

How to read speaker positive and negative labels (+ and -)

Home stereo and car speakers normally often use a red or plus sign “+” to indicate the polarity for the speaker wiring terminals which you connect your wiring to.

Here are a few things to know there as well:

  • In some cases, a black dot or a red or black stripe is used to mark the positive terminal
  • If a speaker has terminals of 2 different sizes, the larger of the 2 is normally the positive one
  • For speakers with wire already attached, typically the brass or golden-colored wire is the positive one
  • For speakers with wire attached but the same colored wires, most have some small printing on the positive wire – be sure to check closely

Summary

Here I’ve provided you with a speaker diagram showing basic connections, I explained several important things you need to know about speakers and speaker wiring. Hopefully I’ve given you more understanding about how to connect speakers and get the most enjoyment out of your system.

Have questions, comments, or suggestions? Be sure to leave a comment below or send me a message.

Confused about tweeters? Here’s a helpful guide explaining what tweeters are and what they’re used for.

Interested in bridging your car amp?  Find out how to bridge a car amp in this post.