Audio Cables 101: How to Choose the Right Wire Gauge and Type

Audio Cables 101: How to Choose the Right Wire Gauge and Type
  • Opening Intro -

    Mogami Cable - If you've ever bought sound equipment, you'll realize that most speakers don't actually come with cables that you can use to connect to your computer and other audio sources.

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Many overlook this little detail, and a problem often arises from the fact that there’s no “universal” wire that will serve the purpose of delivering high-quality audio from your source to your speakers.

Not to worry—we’ll help you understand how these wire gauges work so you can conveniently choose the perfect high-quality, low-loss speaker cables for your audio equipment. Read on below to first understand why it’s crucial that you choose your wire gauge wisely.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Wire Gauge

When describing how wire gauges work, the common analogy is a water hose. In this analogy, electric audio signals traveling along the wire gauge is represented by the water flow.

There are two things to consider: First is the length of the wire, which obviously affects the water flow. The longer the wire, the weaker the water pressure or the flow of electricity is as the pressure declines and resistance increases over long distances.

Second is how difficult it is for the water to travel from one end to the other, which is directly affected by how narrow or wide your hose is. Therefore, the narrowness of wires also create greater resistance for audio signals, which means a significant amount of the electrical sound energy will be absorbed by the cables and the sound quality will be diminished.

Now you may think you can just keep buying thicker (or wider) and shorter wires for any type of audio equipment, but it doesn’t work that way. The right wire gauge and type for you still depends on both your gear and your specific needs.

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Things to Consider When Choosing a Wire Gauge

Here are the factors you’ll need to consider when shopping for Mogami speaker cables for your audio equipment.

  • Wire Type

    Before considering wire quality, you’ll need to figure out the kind of wire you need, and this depends on your use for the speakers. You can buy speakers without connectors, but it’s always better to use banana plugs that can give you stable, high-quality connection and help your wires behind your speaker look tidy. They’re also beneficial when you plan to run your wires behind the wall using wall plates that generally have a jack for the banana plug.

    For speaker wires inside walls or ceilings, you’ll need UL-rated in-wall speaker wires labeled CL2 or CL3. As for underground wire installations for an outdoor speaker, go for a wire that is specifically rated for direct burial. To be sure, look for a comprehensive in-wall wiring guide or ask an expert who can recommend the right type of wire for your specific installation.

  • Impedance

    To categorize speaker quality based on how much current will flow through it at a certain voltage, speakers have impedance ratings: 4, 6, 8, or 16 ohms. Low-impedance speakers like 4- and 6- ohm put out more power, so they require thicker and more expensive speaker wires (12 AWG and 14 AWG). More standard and regular 8- and 16-ohm speakers do well with less expensive and thinner wires (16 AWG or even 18AWG).

    Now let’s discuss that AWG wire description and how they relate to each other.

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  • Thickness

    The diameter of speaker wires (or any wire that carries electrical signals) is described using American Wire Gauge or AWG numbers. Wires are usually referred to as just “gauge” instead of AWG, so your 14AWG is the same as a 14-gauge wire.

    You’ll typically see 12-gauge, 14-gauge, 16-gauge, and and 18-gauge wires in stores. The smaller number is thicker than the bigger numbers, so 12-gauge is definitely a lot thicker than the 18-gauge.

    The rule to remember is that thicker wires (12 or 14 gauge) are recommended low-impedance speakers at 4- or 6-ohm, while thinner wires (16 or 18 gauge) are for 8- or 16-ohm speakers.

  • Price

    Thicker wires (with the smaller gauge numbers) are more expensive than thinner wires because of its increased copper content for conducting audio signals. This is usually what keeps customers from going for thicker wires, but choosing a wire that is too thin for your specific speaker (especially low-impedance ones) will greatly diminish your sound quality and won’t allow you to get the best out of your expensive speakers.

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  • Length

    Your desired wire length (or distance between your speaker and your audio source) is also an important factor when choosing the right type and kind of wire. Keep in mind that analogy about water pressure decreasing over longer distances as the resistance increases, more so when passing through thinner hoses.

    In the same sense, audio signal diminishes the longer your wire is, so you’ll definitely need a thicker wire (14 gauge) that will help maintain and keep the power flowing, especially to more powerful low-impedance speakers (4- or 6-ohms) that are more than 50 or even 100 feet away.

    For more than 200 feet, opt for the 12-gauge wire. But for shorter wire runs matched with standard 8- or 16-ohm speakers less than 50 feet away, a 16-gauge will do the trick.

    Finally, when figuring out how much wire you need, measure the distance between your receiver/amplifier and speaker, but add a few extra feet to provide some slack for cable organization and a margin of error.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for information on wiring, wire gauge, and your other questions regarding audio cables.

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