Pro Audio Speaker Cables - Explained

Posted: 14 April 2011

Synopsis: Whether you are constructing an elaborate sound system that will produce enough sound to fill a full 1,000 seat club, or wiring a couple speakers to amplify an acoustic guitarist in a small coffee house...

For starters, let's outline how sound systems are usually configured, in the simplest terms: Instruments are routed into the mixing console, where their signals are mixed to the desired levels. From there, they travel to amplifiers that boost the audio signal, which is then sent to the speakers via the speaker cables.

Usually, the cables carrying the signals will be 2 core, meaning they are designed to carry one audio signal. Also seen in speaker set-ups are 4 core cables, which are capable of carrying two individual audio signals. These are used in more complex, high-end sound systems that require the use 2 amps to power 2 different parts of the 1 speaker, referred to as bi-amping.

4 Core Speaker Cable
2 Core Speaker Cable

The next decision arises when it comes time to choose the thickness of wire to be used in your sound system. The diameter of the wire is measured in square millimeters (i.e. 1.5mm2), or gauge (American Wire Gauge (AWG) and Standard Wire Gauge (SWG) are common measures of gauge)—the lower the gauge, the thicker the diameter of the wire.

Determining how thick your wire needs to be depends on two main factors: the length of your speaker cables and how much power they need to carry. Most common is the use of 1.5mm2 cable, which will be functional carrying up to 600 watts at 15 metres or less. If you are running your cables longer than 15 metres, or are carrying a power load of more than 600 watts, you should use a thicker wire (lower gauge) to prevent potential power loss from your amp and slight sound degradation. Usually, this is when 2.5mm2 wire should be used. 4 core cables are typically made of 13 AWG wire.

The final step in deciding on the types of wires will be determining which connectors you will need for your speaker connections. Today, the most common connectors on new speaker systems are Speakon connectors, which are both a type of connector and a trademark of the Neutrik company. Speakon connectors can carry higher currents than most other connectors, and also provide more secure connections. Other popular connections are XLR connectors. Depending on your requirements, you may require cables that include a different type of connector on each end. Older sound systems use connectors use banana plugs or even bare wire connections. These types of connections are not common these days, mainly due to risk of electric shock as directly touching the bare wire or metal on the banana plug will include you in the circuit.

Though speaker systems can range from extremely simple set-ups to complex systems meant to provide sound for stadium or arena concerts, the type of speaker wire used will go a long way in determining what the quality of the final sound product will be. Knowing what types of speaker cables are available, and determining which would best fit the needs of your particular sound system will prove the best weapon in designing the best system for your space. And a fine grasp of the underlying principals of speaker wires and how they work will have you on your way to creating your perfect system.

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