Any REAL difference in guage of wire??

Discussion in 'Home Theater Projects' started by DanielMO, Dec 24, 2004.

  1. DanielMO

    DanielMO Auditioning

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    Hi
    I am new to the forum and starting to build my own home theatre system. I have been searching the forum and reading the previous threads on this topic. I am still unsure about if a real difference can be heard by using 12, 14, or 16 guage wire. Can anyone explain to me the differences in these guages of wire? I also understand that I should buy wire from Home Depot as it is the same as wire sold at BestBuy for less money. Any information you can provide or links to direct me to explain will be appreciated.

    Thank you
    Daniel
     
  2. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    Hi Daniel. Welcome to HTF! [​IMG]

    For short runs, 16 ga is fine.

    The problem comes in with the longer runs of wire. The low-frequency sounds stay the same, but the higher-frequency sounds get reduced a bit.

    In truth - it takes some fairly high-end stereo equipment to notice the difference. Something like electrostatic panel speakers, a $3000 amplifier and a high-end CD transport with a CD that you are familar with.

    But there IS a roll-off of the higher frequencies. A thicker cable reduces the effect a bit.

    One speaker site (not a cable site) recommended:

    1-10 ft: 16 ga
    10-20 ft: 14 ga
    20+ ft: 12 ga

    Many of us buy a spool of 12 ga wire and use it everywhere.

    The stuff from Home Depot is good, wires from places like www.partsexpress.com (Sound King) is cheaper, but well respected.

    Hope this helps.
     
  3. allan espinoza

    allan espinoza Stunt Coordinator

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    whoa, I am using 16ga wire for each speaker and for my surround speakers i am running at a max of about 25ft. could i be loosing performance there?
     
  4. Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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    Wayne
    Like other things relating to cables, there are differing opinions on speaker wire. However, I think it’s safe to say that if anything makes a difference with speaker wire, it’s the size (gauge). I’ve seen that most people claiming speaker wire makes a difference say so after switching out small-gauge for large-gauge wire.

    For instance, I could tell an immediate difference years ago with my modest system when I went from cheapie 20ga. stuff to 14ga. It was probably a 20-25 ft. run.

    Several years later a buddy of mine asked if I thought he would hear a difference if he ditched the cheap 20ga. stuff that came with his 80’s Yamaha rack system in favor of some 14ga. wire. The speakers big but pretty cheesy, and it was only about a 8-ft. run, and he didn’t strike me as a guy with especially fine-tuned hearing. So I told him “I doubt it.” He did the switch anyway, and to my surprise he came back with “It definitely sounds better.”

    The reason wire gauge can make a difference probably has to do with its resistance and how that relates to a particular speaker. Anyone who has seen an impedance curve chart for a speaker knows that the speaker’s impedance changes with frequency. If a speaker’s impedance drops particularly low at certain frequencies, then it makes sense that resistance added by small-gauge speaker cable could easily affect the way the speaker sounds at those frequencies. And it makes sense, in that situation, that changing from small- to large-gauge speaker wire would make an audible difference (hopefully better).

    In my case, the speakers were 4-ohm rated, with 2-ohm drivers. So it isn’t a stretch to see how reducing the resistance of the speaker wire (i.e., switching to larger-gauge wire) would make an audible difference. I could tell the difference at both the bottom and top end – the bass was tighter, the highs were smoother and cleaner.

    It logically follows that speakers with higher-ohm drivers may not respond as dramatically to a change to larger gauge wire as speakers with lower-ohm drivers. It also follows that speakers with an overall higher and more linear impedance curve across the frequency spectrum will probably not respond the same as speakers whose impedance at places dips to very low figures. This is probably why you get varied responses from people as to whether or not heavy-gauge wire made their speakers sound better. Obviously it depends on the particular speakers involved.

    Bottom line – I recommend using 12ga. wire, when budget allows and application permits. Will it make an audible difference? Maybe, maybe not. But do you really want to go through the time and expense of buying speaker wire in various lengths and gauges and conducting listening experiments? Just go with the 12ga. and be done with it.

    Beyond that, what you pay depends on the quality of the wire. For instance, if you think oxygen-free is desirable, expect to pay more for it. Finely-stranded wire (which is more flexible) will cost more than coarsely-stranded wire.

    The quality of the jacket matters, too. It’s a little pricey, but I like Radio Shack’s 12ga. Mega Cable. The jacket is supple and it lays nice and flat on the floor, and the red stripe is a nice touch (unless they’ve changed that feature). I’ve found that with the Sound King cable, the jacket gets a little stiff over time and retains shape if it’s bent (i.e., doesn’t readily go back to laying flat), and the (++++) indicator fades away with time and handling, making polarity ID more difficult.

    Regards,
    Wayne A. Pflughaupt
     
  5. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    Yes... and no.

    If you were to play 2-channel music through the long run of thin wire to your rear speakers, you MIGHT notice a slight tone-shift because of the long run of wire.

    But in a HT system, the front 3 speakers take the bulk of the sound duties. The rear speakers tend to support the front, but contain time-delayed copies of many of the sounds from the fronts. I doubt you are missing anything in the rears for movies.

    My advice: for a new install -use 12 ga wire everywhere. If you already have 16/14 ga run in walls, it's not worth the effort to swap it out.

    But if you are doing a DVD audio/SACD system with 5 speakers, and your rear speakers are music-caliber (somthing more than about $800 per speaker), .. you might consider upgrading to 12 ga wire.

    Does this make sense?
     
  6. allan espinoza

    allan espinoza Stunt Coordinator

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    yes it does thank you.
     
  7. Grant B

    Grant B Producer

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    Thanks Wayne
    Your post made my brain click in. I have audio running to each room; the farest is the kitchen which might be > 120 ft total in wire from the amp in the living room to the in wall speakers.
    Sound is iffy using an old sony amp and I have been trying to make it better.
    It dawned on me that my MacIntosh amp has terminals for 2, 4 or 8 ohms. By using the 2 ohm I should compensate for the resistance in the wires. I will give that a shot.
    Thanks
    Grant
     
  8. Robert_Dufresne

    Robert_Dufresne Stunt Coordinator

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    Daniel

    Do like Bob said, buy a spool of 12ga wire. If you are starting in HT you will soon realise that for most of us nothing is permanent. More than once you will say the words " yes honey, I promise this is the last time I change something " Having a spool of cable handy will in time prove to be a good investment.
     
  9. Robert_Dufresne

    Robert_Dufresne Stunt Coordinator

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    Grant

    If you are going to run cables in your walls, make sure that they are certified for inwall use. It is not a question of sound quality but has to do with the building code.
     
  10. MikeGee

    MikeGee Second Unit

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    ah good post! This helped me figure out my wiring question. I am using 18gauge wire right now but i don't have my receiver yet.. I'm going to get either 12 or 14 gauge wire to run all my Athena Audition setup.
     
  11. Grant B

    Grant B Producer

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    Robert
    I know, I ran the wire many years ago but thanks; it is important and glossed over many times.
    The amp did the trick at 2 ohms; sounds great!
     
  12. KennyD

    KennyD Extra

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    I'm sure most of you have noticed how rediculously expensive speaker wire is (especially 12 gauge). Being a car audio guy, and more recently getting into home audio stuff, I decided to ask a local car audio shop if he could sell me a large 250 ft spool of speaker wire. He called up his supplier, and he told me he could sell me a 250 ft spool for $43. What was even greater was that he said he could sell me a 500 ft spool for only $56. Obviously, I went with the 500 ft spool, since I can use it for both home and car audio.

    Also, IMO, the brand of the speaker wire doesn't matter. I asked for the absolute cheapest. Just as long as you choose the gauge that would work the best in your situation, you'll be fine. I, like most others, recommend 12 gauge for everything. This will leave room for upgrading later, and you won't waste the short runs of wire that are left over from several smaller spools of different gauges of wire. I may be wrong, but all of the speaker wire that I've seen is also oxygen free. The main difference between any brand is the strand count, and even that makes an extremely small difference.

    Hope this helps.
     

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