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Speaker wire guide

How to choose the right gauge, length, and type

Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

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Back of speaker with speaker wire

In a Nutshell

Most speakers don't come with speaker wire. It’s up to you to select the right gauge (thickness) and type of wire for your system.

You can buy speaker wire with connectors or without.

For in-wall or ceiling speakers, you'll need UL-rated speaker wire labeled CL2 or CL3. Read our in-wall wiring guide for more information.

To run wire underground to a set of outdoor speakers,  buy wire rated for direct burial.

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What gauge do you need?

Wire thickness is identified by its American Wire Gauge (AWG) number. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire. Thicker wire presents less resistance to current flow.

Difference in wire diameter from 18 gauge through 12 gauge wire

Relative thickness of wire gauges, drawn to scale (not actual size).

Thick wire (12 or 14 gauge) is recommended for long wire runs, high power applications, and low-impedance speakers (4 or 6 ohms).

For relatively short runs (less than 50 feet) to 8 ohm speakers, 16 gauge wire will usually do just fine. It’s cost-effective and easy to work with.

Ask your advisor to recommend the proper gauge for your installation.

How much wire do you need?

To figure out how much speaker wire you need, run a string from your receiver or amplifier location to each of the speaker locations. Measure the string, and then add a few extra feet (to provide some slack for easier connection to your gear). Then add a few more feet, just to give yourself a margin of error.

What type of wire do you need?

You can buy speaker wire with connectors or without. If you buy wire that doesn’t come with connectors, we strongly urge you to buy banana connectors for at least one end of each wire. Attaching bare wire ends to a home theater receiver is a real pain.  

You'll need CL rated wire for in-wall use.

If you're going to run speaker wire inside your walls or ceiling, you'll need UL-rated speaker wire labeled CL2 or CL3. If you want to install your outdoor speaker wire underground, you'll need wire rated for direct burial. Take a look at our comprehensive in-wall wiring guide for more information.

In-wall wire is available with two conductors or four. With a 4-conductor cable, you pull a single cable over the long distance from your amplifier or receiver to an in-wall volume control in another room. You can then run 2-conductor cables from the volume control to each of the stereo speakers in that location. Four-conductor wire is also good for connecting stereo-input speakers.

Ask a Crutchfield A/V designer to recommend the right kind wire for your installation.

Use 4-conductor cable for wiring volume controls, or for stereo input speakers.

Pull 4-conductor wire to an in-wall volume control (left) or a stereo-input speaker (right).

Building a high-end system?

Look at our wide selection of Audioquest speaker cables. Not convinced that higher-priced cables like the Audioquest models are worth a try? Read the (mostly 5-star) customer reviews. People rave about the quality of the construction and the sonic improvements they hear.

Connection tips

Identify the positive and negative leads of your speaker wires, and make sure you connect them accordingly to your speakers and your amp or receiver. If you get one of the connections crossed, your music won’t sound right.

If you decide to hook up your wire without connectors, use a wire stripper to take about 3/8-inch of insulation off the ends of each lead, exposing the bare wire strands. Twist each lead's bare wire strands tightly, so no stray strands are sticking out. Loose strands could make contact with the cable's other lead and cause a short circuit, potentially damaging your components.

Types of speaker wire connectors

From left to right: bare wire, pin connectors, spade connectors, single banana connectors, dual banana connector.

Speaker wire terminals

Speakers have one of two different types of speaker wire terminals — spring clips and binding posts (see illustration below). Spring clips are very easy to work with. Simply press down on the clip, insert the speaker wire, and release. The spring-loaded mechanism holds the wire in place. Spring clip terminals can accept bare wire and pin connectors, but not spade connectors, banana plugs, or dual-banana plugs.

Spring clip connectors

Spring clip terminals accept bare wire or pin connectors.

Binding posts provide a very solid connection for your speaker wire. Unscrew the collar to reveal the hole used to connect bare wire and pin connectors. Banana and dual banana plugs connect directly into the hole in the center of a binding post. A spade connector slides around the collar and is secured once you screw the collar back down. See our complete selection of connectors

Binding post connectors

Last updated August 12, 2016
  • Rodell from Home

    Posted on 5/30/2015 4:16:00 AM

    What type of speaker wire is a better conductor copper or silver for good signal

  • Larry j from Virginia

    Posted on 6/22/2015 8:17:54 AM

    I've been told that wire length between matching speakers ,such as L and R on the same channel should be the same length , it's a given for diameter but length? 'Don't KNOW.

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/1/2015 10:28:19 AM

    Larry - the longer the wire, the greater its internal resistance. So if you have wires of different length, less power will reach the speaker through the longer wire. It can create an audible difference.

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/1/2015 10:30:41 AM

    Rodell- silver is the better conductor.

  • sheela from Noida

    Posted on 8/11/2015 5:53:37 AM

    beautifully described....

  • ????????? from ?????

    Posted on 8/27/2015 8:40:14 AM

    nice & easy explanation. good job.

  • Bearto from Houston

    Posted on 10/15/2015 9:17:37 PM

    How much feet of wire do i need for a 99 toyota solara? I'm going with knukonceptz 8 gauge. Thanks in advance for the answer

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/16/2015 10:45:48 AM

    Bearto, you'll have to be more specific. What are you installing and where? Keep in mind that if you're just installing new speakers, you can use the existing factory speaker wire that has already been run. So, you may not need any additional wire at all. If you have any questions, give us a call.

  • Rene Sola from New York

    Posted on 11/29/2015 1:02:34 AM

    Just purchased the Onkyo TX 8050 from you guys. I have a question regarding speaker wires? I have the PolkAudio M20. They are going to be placed side by side. What gauge and length should I use? Your advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks.


    Posted on 4/12/2016 9:21:52 AM


  • Scott from Chicago

    Posted on 7/14/2016 10:03:04 AM

    I expected better from you Crutchfield. Suggesting that a more expensive product is better simply because of the reviews is just false. For example, the Stereo Review Magazine test that found no sonic benefit between expensive speaker cable and "zip cord" of the same gauge. Or the research by Robert Russell (the former Director of Acoustic Research at McIntosh Laboratory, Inc. and the originator of McIntosh Loudspeakers) that concluded through testing that there is no sound quality difference provided it is of sufficient gauge. I liken your reasoning to what I call Dyso*n syndrome. People who buy Dys*n vacuums rave about them despite their comparatively average independent testing results. If you spend too much on something, you feel compelled to defend/rave about it thus the high reviews on the overprices speaker wire you're peddling.

  • emtor from Kapaatown

    Posted on 9/17/2016 2:18:02 AM

    Why would you need speaker cable of a lower gauge than the power cable on your amp?

  • ad

    Posted on 10/20/2016 7:29:00 AM

    These answer are wrong 18awg is perfect more than enough. 20awg is also ok do not go below 20awg you should be fine for high power audio. Try to get attached wire with red and black indicator than separate wire like electricity cables.

  • Chris

    Posted on 10/24/2016 1:44:39 PM

    If you ever open a speaker from Klipsch to Paradigm they have basic copper wire inside of them. How would one benefit from running a more expensive speaker cable from the AVR/amp to the speaker, when it ultimately goes to a basic (cheap) wire inside?

  • Chris

    Posted on 10/24/2016 1:45:50 PM

    If you ever open a speaker from Klipsch to Paradigm they have basic copper wire inside of them. How would one benefit from running a more expensive speaker cable from the AVR/amp to the speaker, when it ultimately goes to a basic (cheap) wire inside?

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