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Going Bananas About Connectors

In my last post, I talked about a tool that simplifies the process of stripping wire. Once the wire's prepped for connection, the question becomes, "Now what?" There are many different connection options, each with advantages and disadvantages.

Of course you can just connect bare wire into the speaker or receiver. That option seems easy enough because there are no extra steps between stripping the wire and connecting the equipment. There are, however, some drawbacks to using bare wire.

Bare wire Depending on the type of connection, bare wire can fray. If frayed strands of two different wires touch each other, you may get some undesired pyrotechnics. The other main concern with bare wire is oxidization, which can degrade signal transfer. Over time air affects the copper in exposed speaker wire (think of the difference between a shiny, new penny and one that's been through a few cash registers).

If you're looking for the best way to connect your speakers without having to worry about them fraying or losing performance, you'll want some type of connector.

Pin Connector Pin connectors are a popular choice. They cost a bit less than some other options, and slide into the hole in the side of binding post connectors found on many speakers, receivers, and amps.  Pin connectors protect the wire from oxidizing and fraying.

They do have a drawback, however. Pin connectors can sometimes be brittle and when they're stressed - such as when you're moving your receiver to access its back panel - they can sometimes snap. I've known people who have had that happen and had the broken connector touch across other connectors, causing the aforementioned undesired pyrotechnics.

Spade lugSpade lugs protect the wire and also help prevent the fireworks. They slide in the bottom of the binding posts. You then tighten the posts down on the lugs to secure the connection. The binding posts need to be "5-way," however, to have the spacing necessary to accommodate spade lugs.

Enter the banana plug. These fit directly into the hole in the binding post, so you don't have to screw and unscrew all of those posts while trying to hold your wire or your connector in place. They're not brittle, and the plug's diameter is designed to fit into the binding post's socket with just Banana plugsthe right amount of tension to give you a solid connection but to still allow you to easily remove the wire if you need to.

The self-crimping flavor of banana plug is very convenient and easy to use. You unscrew the connector, and feed the stripped wire up through the bottom. Next, you splay the wire out over the raised cylinder you just pushed the wire through. Lastly, you tighten the top half back down on the bottom half. Voila! You just made an air-tight connection that is reliable and efficient.

Self-crimping banana plugs do have a higher price tag than other types of connectors. But if you want to change out the speakers, the wire, the receiver - or move - you don't need to buy new connectors. They're as easy to remove as to attach, and they're reusable with no degradation. So in the long run, self-crimping banana plugs are not only easier to use, but can cost less as well.

So that's why I use self-crimping banana plugs for my wire connections, and I leave the pyrotechnics to the experts - until Independence Day, anyway.