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Tips for home A/V cable management

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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Cables tied near the end with a wrap.

Your home theater system should be a source of joy — both for sound and appearance. If yours looks like an explosion in a spaghetti factory, read on. Organizing all those connector cables not only improves the look of your system but can also help its performance as well.

Most systems have three problem areas:

  1. Scraggly wires hanging down from a wall-mounted TV
  2. A snarled mass of cables connecting components in the back of an A/V cabinet
  3. Loose wires snaking across the room to rear surround speakers

All of these can be remedied simply and inexpensively. If you want a more finished solution, read our in-wall wiring guide.

Loose versus bundled cables under a TV.

Cable management resources

Here are some basic resources and tips for cable management. All are fairly simple to use.

Wire ties for bundling cables

If you have more than one cable running to and/or from the same source, bundling them with ties can help keep them organized and present a neater appearance. Some wire ties are reusable — like the Methra ethereal Velcro® cable wraps. They're a great option for renters.

Here are four tips for using ties effectively:

Illustrations of how to use cable ties.
  1. After routing and connecting cables, bundle at one end. This makes them easier to handle.
  2. Don’t cinch the ties too tight. They can crimp the wires and damage their insulation, resulting in electronic interference.
  3. Snip off any excess from the ties for a clean look. Make sure you cut them as close as possible, as the stub can be very sharp.
  4. Bundle A/V cables and power cables separately. Power cables eminate strong electromagnetic fields that can interfere with the signals running through your A/V cables.

Secure your bundles

Adhesive pads designed to work with wire ties can be attached to walls. These can help keep rear channel speaker wires out of the way by securing them to your wall’s molding.

These adhesives can also hold a cable bundle running from a wall-mounted TV flat against the wall for a neater appearance. You can also use them to fasten wires and wire bundles to the back of your A/V cabinet.

You can also attach your bundles using cable clamps. Be sure to match the shape and the size of the clamp to the cable for best performance. It's best to use screws rather than tacks to secure these clamps. Not only are they more secure, but you can easily remove and reattach them if you reaarange your cableps. Be careful not to nick or pierce the cable by tightning the screw too tightly.

Raceways for cable concealment

You don’t have to run wires inside walls to conceal them. Raceways are plastic or wooden channels that both conceal and protect wires and wire bundles. Raceways attach easily to walls and baseboards. Most are paintable, so you can make them blend into the background and virtually disappear.

Raceways come in different sizes. If you’re concealing a cable bundle, make sure the raceway is big enough to comfortably fit over it.

Wires running behind a raceway.

Label everything

You may think you know your system inside and out after running wires. But two or three years from now when you have to replace or upgrade a cable in a bundle, it might require a good bit of detective work to find the right one. Labeling your wires ensures you can always quickly and easily locate the cables you need to.

Crutchfield’s CableLabels are a great solution. Not only do they come pre-printed with all the most commonly used components in an A/V system, they’re also color-coded, so you’ll know immediately if what you’re looking at is a power cord, an HDMI cable, or a subwoofer cable, without tracing it to its source.

You can also make your own labels. The important thing is to do so — even if your system’s small and relatively simple. As it grows, you’ll be glad your cables were organized from the start.

Simple solutions

Concealing wires from wall-mounted TVs

If you’re somewhat handy, a good solution for concealing wall-mounted TV power cables is the Sanus ELM806 PowerBridge. It consists of two inwall boxes connected by a power cable. One box fits behind the TV, and the other directly underneath it at floor level. Just plug your TV’s power cable into the top box, and a power cord from a wall outlet into the lower box.

Raceways are also a good choice — particularly if you’re renting, or are mounting your TV where you can’t — or don’t want to — run wires inwall. You can paint the raceway the same color as the wall so that it virtually disappears.

Organizing cables in racks

Bundling cables can bring the mass of wires behind a rack or A/V cabinet under control. Wire ties are the best solution here. Remember to bundle power cables and A/V cables separately. That minimizes the electromagnetic interference power cables give off, which can degrade your system’s audio and video performance. You can also use tacks or adhesive pads to secure bundles to the back of your rack or cabinet.

Loose wires running to rear speakers

Single wires running to rear speakers should be secured to prevent them from becoming tripping hazards or getting stepped on. Running them under carpeting isn’t recommended — especially in high traffic areas. If the wires are continually stepped on, over time their insulation can get rubbed away, degrading their signal. It’s best to run rear channel wires along the baseboard. Wire tacks are the easiest way to secure this wire. You also might consider raceways for a more finished appearance.

For more helfpul tips, see our home theater receiver setup guide.

Last updated August 02, 2016
  • Joey from Fort Lauderdale

    Posted on 8/16/2016 10:06:37 AM

    Great article! Thank you

  • Pat from Melbourne

    Posted on 9/12/2016 9:58:08 AM

    Hi there! Ive recently built and am using brushed plates to run cables from middle of wall to bottom. I expected sparky to put a pvc or conduit so I could easily change the cables running up and down if I wanted to - he didn't. Now plaster is up. Is there any way, or have you seen creative ways of putting something behind wall without cutting so I can easily run cables? I know I can fish wires up and down but one of the walls is an external so filled with insulation. Was thinking a flexible equivalent to pvc that I could just run down the hole in the wall and leave it there so it's not a hassle when I change? Or am I out of options?

  • Jonathan Riordan from Linden

    Posted on 9/21/2016 10:31:47 AM

    NEVER use scissors/diagonal cutters to cut zip tie excess. Buy a pair of cheap flush-cut pliers and nip the excess all the way to the locking head. Save yourself and others from nasty cuts and scrapes. Nothing's worse than reaching into a rack

  • Sparky413

    Posted on 11/1/2016 12:39:50 AM

    Re: Pat from Melbourne. Yes you still have options. It's called "Smurf Tube" or trade name FNC (Flexible Non-metallic Tubing). Depending on what you are running through there, it comes in sizes of 1/2" and up. I recommend minimum of 1". You can get many cutout rings as well that will accommodate your current trim plates. The company that makes most of this is called Carlon. hope this helps you and if not, you may email and I will be more than happy to answer your questions.

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