Amplifier wire gauge chart
How to determine the best size wire for your amp's power and ground
In the 1950's, I'd take the family television's vacuum tubes down to Willow Grove Radio and TV Repair, check them with the giant tester machine, buy new replacement tubes, and reassemble the repaired television, so my mom and dad could enjoy their precious, respectively, Dean Martin and Red Skelton shows. In the 1960's, I studied radio and electronics at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. After college, in the early 70's, I joined a rock 'n roll band as the soundman, learning how to operate the electronics that make music sound good. Then, I worked in a music store in Austin manufacturing, installing, repairing, and operating sound systems and components for recording studios, nightclubs, and touring bands. I moved back to Charlottesville permanently in 1984 and opened a little demo recording studio. I also attempted to put to practical use the creative writing degree I had picked up along the way. In 2006, I finally came to my senses and got this job at Crutchfield where they actually pay me to ramble on, rant, and explain the things I love about music, electronics, and getting good sound.
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T-Spec wires and hardware ensure full current flow for your amplifier
In order to operate correctly, an amplifier needs its power and ground wiring to be large enough to accommodate its demand for electrical current. What wire gauge (thickness) to use for power cabling depends on how much current your system will try to consume, and on how long the wiring run will be.
Understanding the needs of your system can help you know when to choose 4-gauge wire instead of 8-gauge wire. Do a little bit of math and then consult our wire size chart below. Of course, if you're looking for a new car amplifier, we list the recommended amp wiring kit with each amp.
The formula for current draw
To determine the approximate current draw (in amperes) of your amplifier, you must first calculate the total power of the system (multiply the number of channels by the number of RMS watts per channel). If you have multiple amps, add up the total power figures to arrive at a grand total. Next, double your grand total power figure. Then, divide by 13.8.
Total RMS Wattage times 2 (Inverse of Amp Efficiency) divided by 13.8 Volts equals Current Draw in Amperes (explanation below)
The resulting figure is your system's approximate maximum current draw. Compare this number to the numbers in the "Amperes" column in the chart below. Now figure out the cable length you'll need – that's the distance from your battery to the amplifier's mounting location. Cross-reference these two figures in the chart to determine which gauge of cable you need.
Please note that the smaller the gauge number, the larger the wire. 1/0 ("one-aught") is the common name for a 0-gauge wire; 2/0 ("two-aught") for a 00-gauge wire.
A more detailed explanation
Here is an explanation about the formula we use, in case you want more details. Calculating the amplifier's total power is straightforward, but the other two parts can be confusing.
No amplifier is 100% efficient
First of all, why do we double the total power figure? That's because the typical analog amplifier is about 50% efficient. That means about half of the power it generates is turned into audio output while the other half of the power is lost as heat.
So if your amplifier is putting out 400 watts, it's actually drawing about 800 watts of power from its source, and the amp's wiring needs to be big enough to handle that draw. (Class D amplifiers are much more efficient in comparison, but it's still safest to go with the larger wire size.)
Automotive voltage is neither 12 volts nor 14.4 volts
And the 13.8? Yes, vehicles have a 12-volt electrical system, but we're assuming that the vehicle is running — which means its alternator will bump up the system voltage to about 13.8 volts. This is a better real-world representation of the vehicle's electrical supply. Dividing by 12 results in a larger number, which could point to a larger wire gauge, but it's often in the same color range in the chart. Manufacturers use 14.4 volts, when they spec their gear, to exaggerate their power ratings.
Resistance increases with wire length
The reason different cable lengths bear different ratings is because the electrical resistance, inherent in all wire, builds up as the cable gets longer, until it forces the voltage to drop below a useable level. At that point, up-sizing the power cable will restore the voltage to its intended level.
Wire size matters for current flow
Finally, according to our tech support guys, the primary performance limitation in most amplifier installations is in the current delivery — either a weak ground or insufficient wire gauge. Installing too small of a wire gauge results in poor performance, potentially shorter service life of connected components (your amplifier and speakers), and a potential safety hazard.
On the other hand, installing too large a wire gauge doesn't really have any downside, and there is the potential for better performance. Obviously, there's no need to buy 2-gauge wiring when 10-gauge will do. That kind of overkill would be a waste of money. But if the chart could lean either way between two sizes, going with the larger wire size would be the smart choice.
Speaker wiring matters too. The signal and power coming out of your amplifier must not be impeded on their way to your speakers and subs. When you replace or run new speaker wiring, we recommend using 18-, 16-, or 14-gauge wires for speakers and 16-, 14-, or 12-gauge wires for subwoofers.
Get the wiring you need
Now that you have some idea of how much amp wiring you need, shop our selection of amplifier wiring and accessories. We have amp wiring kits, distribution blocks, and everything else you need. And if you have any questions about putting together a shopping list, contact our advisors via phone, email, or chat — the info is at the top of this page. If you want to learn more about amplifier installation, read our amplifier installation guide.