What are the best speaker wires and what speaker wire gauge do you really need?
Best Speaker Wires
AWG Speaker wire. This is one of those topics that get audiophiles hot under the collar. The raft of scientific tests, home frequency analysis and all manner of evidence is presented to convince all parties that speaker wire gauge matters and the audio results prove it out.
Is it worth the fuss? It’s no surprise those starting out in home theatre and HiFi find themselves asking “What speaker wire gauge do I use?”.
If you’ve read my posts on amp switches, flat speaker wire, banana plugs and bi-wiring you’ll know I don’t hold extreme views on these things. I certainly think it matters but I’m not in the high price = better sound camp. I generally believe that Hi-Res audio, extremely expensive cables and the finest pure gold banana plugs extracted from the very heart of Solomons mines are far less important than good source files, good amplification and an especially a good pair of speakers.
Take Amazon Music streaming music and push it through a garbage HiFi amp into a pair of B&W or Q Acoustic speakers and I wager it’ll still sound pretty flipping good to the average listener.
I did extensive testing of high headphones and this often resulted in the same output. The quality of the final delivery was always what made the most difference – that is, it wasn’t the source but the headphones that mattered.
I won’t deny that the length of cable has an impact but again, it’s how much the typical ear can discern of that different that matters most.
With that in mind let’s look at each popular speaker wire gauge available below and pick a few examples from each to see what speaker wire gauges you have available to use. I’m going to try to include some outsiders as sometimes the difference between a popular cable and not best-selling cable is brand perception and reviews.
So we’ll stay open-minded.
First, let’s look at some basics.
What does AWG mean?
At it’s most basic AWG stands for American Wire Gauge, It is also known by the name – Brown & Sharpe wire gauge but I’m guessing AWG was easier to remember.
AWG is a standardised measurement of any round, solid wire. In our conversation here, we’re focused on AWG speaker wire. So moving forward if you see the term AWG it can be interchanged with ‘speaker wire gauge’, as that is what we’ll be referring too.
What is Oxygen-Free speaker wire?
Oxygen-free speaker wire, or OFC, refers to the copper wire that makes up the speaker cable. The copper has been put through a special refining process called electrolytic refining. This means it has extremely low levels of oxygen in the copper which is in turn meant to result in much higher conductivity, or the ability to transfer audio at its maximum ability.
The closest analogy I can think of is drinking soda through a straw compared to drinking water through a straw. You get more water in the straw and into your mouth as there is nothing else in the straw interfering with the liquid mass – with soda pop you have all those bubbles getting in the way. So too with the oxygen-free copper – it means all the wire is there with no interference to transfer the audio to its destination i.e. your HiFi speakers.
What is Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA)?
Copper clad aluminium wiring or CCA is where aluminum wiring is coated with a thin layer of copper. This type of wire in uses like ethernet has a mixed response but for audio, it is much more popular. While it may have slightly less physical bend flexibility it’s transference is still high and effective – you have to adjust the gauge of the speaker wire as it has higher resistance. This means you need to buy a smaller AWG number to get the same resistance as OFC wire e.g. if you’re after 12AWG OFC you should go for a 10-11 AWG CCA.
It is much cheaper to manufacture so you get a lot more for your money and there are some brands making decent CCA speaker wires.
What speaker wire gauge do I need? How do I choose?
Interestingly the lower the AWG number the thicker the speaker wire. So it’s important to understand that first. The second important thing to consider is that that means in terms of resistance.
In general terms, a 12 gauge wire is good for situations where you might be needing to go longer distances or if you are using a lower impedance i.e 4 or 6 Ohms (just saying that makes me miss my old 4 Ohm Messa Boogie guitar amp combo). To be honest, not many home audio folks are running wire that far to need a 12 gauge but for personally it’s my go to speaker wire gauge. It just feels better to work with and more conductive.
If you’re going to be running the wire for less than about 50-60 feet to 8 Ohm speakers (most common for HiFi and audio speakers have a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms) then you will be fine to use a 14 or 16 AWG wire no problem. It makes it a bit cheaper and also looks less chunky i.e easier to manage and maintain a cleaner audio cabinet.
What is a CL2 or CL3 rated speaker wire?
If you plan to run the speaker wire through your walls you’ll need to have UL approved AWG wire that is approved for that use. This is certified specifically for running the cable inside walls and is rated as a CL-2 or CL-2 (Class 2 or Class 3) rating. Class 3 is going to be unnecessary for most uses but always consult a local electrician or building specialist or similar to confirm.
CL-2 is typically sufficient for audio speaker wires to typical HiFi speakers.
UL approval is a function fo the Underwriters Laboratory. Their job is to look at the amount of heat that is produced from the current running through the wire. A CL-3 wire can handle a lot more voltage – more than a typical 8 Ohm speaker will need.
The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) looks at the heat generated from current flowing through a wire under load. It’s pretty important not to risk a fire. This is why this is am important thing to note when planning your in-wall wiring. Always consult a professional as required.
What is strand count?
This is the number of copper strands that are wound into an oxygen-free copper speaker wire. Marketing hype? Well, AWG is wire thickness so I’m not sure how this can make a difference. It’s either fewer strands that are thicker or more strands that are thinner.
OK here is the list.
12, 14, 16 and 18 Gauge Speaker Wire
12 Gauge Speaker Wire (12 AWG)
Often the most common speaker wire at typical electronics stores at an affordable price despite being more than required for some home systems. Also, one that a lot of home enthusiasts purchase as they’ve been told they need it. Fits the majority of banana plugs and poles on HiFi and Home Theatre amps. Here are some options for you:
1. GearIT Pro Series 12AWG Speaker Wire
Gear IT made our flat speaker wire list also. Solid and consistent manufacturing produces a range of speaker wire that has please many audio fans.
This is useful for home theatre (and car audio if that interests you) and comes in bundles of 50 feet up to 200 feet. Available in black or white finish.
Suggesting a CCA wire straight up might garner some opinions but it’s very affordable and effective so deserves a place in the list. For the sake of keeping the list consistent, I’ve included the 12AWG together despite the resistance being slightly different to OFC wire.GearIT Pro Series 12AWG Speaker Wire
2: InstallGear 12 Gauge Speaker Wire
This is a 99.9% oxygen-free copper cable (as most OFC AVG cables are). Starting with a spool length of 30ft and going up to 500 feet you’ll have enough to cable your house, no problem.
The sleeve is not too thick making it easy to work with but it’s tough enough to handle some wear and abuse. Most home theatre and HiFi are a set and forget wiring situation anyway so its ability to endure a door closing on it is probably unnecessary.
The nice thing about the InstallGear 12 gauge is it’s colour coded cable. It’s a subtle touch but makes it easy to get your polarity right. One cable is slightly more shaded than the next.
Important to all audio lovers is that it’s nice to work with and easy to strip the jacket to terminate the ends – it is so brownie points on that one.InstallGear 12 Gauge Speaker Wire
3: MaxBrite High Performance 12 Gauge Speaker Wire
The MaxBrite 12 gauge speaker wire is UL safety certified CL-2 rated for home and commercial use so it can be run inside walls. Available in 50-200 feet spools you have enough to get it around where you need it.
This is a 99.99% oxygen-free copper cable.
It has an easy to work with red stripe on one wire to assist in getting the polarity right. I usually find a bit of text is sufficient but it does make it easier. If you are not going to maintain a clean wire-free look the red line might bother you?
The rest of the sleeve is clear though and I personally like that too.
Solid price and good quality manufacturing make it a good choice.MaxBrite High Performance 12 Gauge Speaker Wire
14 Gauge Speaker Wire (14 AWG)
Getting slightly thinner than the 12 AWG and still offering increase distance over it’s bigger numbered siblings this is a good choice for 50+ feet distance. We’re going to include a CCA option and CL-2 rated wire at this gauge.
1: Mediabridge 14AWG Speaker Wire
The Mediabridge 14 gauge speaker wire is very affordable, you get a lot of it and it’s got that nice clear sleeve to it.
It comes in 100 feet spools which you can cut to whatever length you require and terminate with some similarly affordable banana plugs. Strand count is 41 and there are polarity markings on the wire every 2 feet so you get them phased correctly.
Definitely an affordable choice for installs less than 100 feet.Mediabridge 14AWG Speaker Wire
2: C&E 14AWG Speaker Wire – CL-2 Rated
Important to have a CL2 rated option in the 14 AWG options. This also comes in 12, 16 and 18 AWG if you’re interested. Also of note, this is an option in a white finish, unlike many others. This suits my living room very well.
Spool length is 50 up to 500 feet. It’s a 99.9% OFC 2-conductor speaker cable.
The CL-2 rating also makes this good for churches, schools, halls etc – not just home use.C&E 14AWG Speaker Wire - CL-2 Rated
3: InstallGear 14 Gauge Speaker Wire Speaker
A CCA cable, the InstallGear 14 AWG comes in 100ft or 500ft spools. I think a 50 feet could be a good idea but by the time you add your floorstanding speakers, centre speaker, surround speakers and maybe some Dolby Atmos speakers you’ll be getting through it quite nicely I expect.
This has even more vibrant coloured sleeves than it’s bigger 12 AWG brother. The 14 AWG has a nice vibrant blue and copper 2 conductor pairing.
While their 12 AWG boasts a 99.9% OFC, this is a CCA cable with a nice soft finish like it’s other siblings. This is really nice in the hand to hold and work with.InstallGear 14 Gauge Speaker Wire Speaker
16 Gauge Speaker Wire (16 AWG)
16 Gauge is where it really starts happening for most home HiFi set ups. There are plenty of choices at this gauge so I might throw in an extra one or two.
1: Mediabridge 16AWG Speaker Wire
Coming in 100 and 200 feet lengths the Mediabridge 16 gauge speaker wire is available in white color. This is oxygen free copper speaker cable with 66 strands
Polarity markings on the wire are every 3 feet and it’s perfect fit for banana plugs, spade tips or bent pin ends.
This is a CL-2 rated speaker wire for in wall use and also ETL listed, meaning it’s tested and certified for North American use.Mediabridge 16AWG Speaker Wire
2: InstallGear 16 Gauge Speaker Cable
It still seems like a good idea to have a CCA cable in the 16 gauge range also which is where InstallGear makes the list, yet again. Their distinct cable colouring changes here to include a red and copper pairing to ensure you don’t get your HiFi speakers out of phase.
This only comes in a 100 ft length and comes with the same nice soft touch outer sleeve on it, which as mentioned before is nice to worth with.
This is an affordable choice as it is a copper clad aluminum speaker wire and it’s unlikely you’ll notice any sound quality issues.
Easy to strip and compatible with any banana plugs or spade tips etc you might want to fit on.InstallGear 16 Gauge Speaker Cable
3: AmazonBasics 16-Gauge Stereo Speaker Wire Cable
The price of this is almost a mic drop and walk out of the room event. A 100 ft spool will set you back less than a round of Grande Lattes.
For the audiophiles in the room this is not an OFC cable. For the non-audiophiles in the room, I expect you won’t notice the lack of oxygen free copper on this speaker cabling.
It’s available in a 50 ft spool and a 14AWG also.AmazonBasics 16-Gauge Stereo Speaker Wire Cable
4: InstallGear 16 Gauge Speaker Wire OFC 100-feet
Seems unfair to put InstallGear in the list twice but this is their OFC Oxygen Free Copper 16AWG version of their speaker wire. It’s new to market.
The color coding for polarity is the same as the equivalent CCA cable listed above.
Like all the speaker cables on this list it is also suitable for car audio use but not CL-2 rated for in wall home use.
The soft touch external sleeve is not too fat and easy to manoeuvre around your home theatre or HiFi cabinet or stand.InstallGear 16 Gauge Speaker Wire OFC 100-feet
5: Next 16 Gauge Speaker Wire – 16 AWG UL Listed In-Wall (CL2/CL3)
Offering something a little more commercial is the Next 16AWG speaker cable with CL2 and CL3 rating for anyone needing very compliant speaker wire for a build.
The 2 conductor wires come in individual sleeves housed in an external jacket which also includes a ripcord for faster stripping for installation.
If your in the building trade and need a 500 ft pull box OFC 16 gauge wire this makes a good choice.
A great feature of the external sleeve is pre-printed room and termination point labels. The means things like Entry / Kitchen / BDR1 / BDR2 are already printed on the external sleeve so you just need to mark the wire and you’ll know where it needs to be run to, or where its been run from.
Also available in a 10AWG, 12AWG and 14AWG option.Next 16 Gauge Speaker Wire - 16 AWG UL Listed In Wall (CL2/CL3)
18 Gauge Speaker Wire (18 AWG)
Ending with the thinest speaker cable for this article we stop at the 18 gauge speaker wire which is about as small as I’d want to go short of connecting a couple of small computer speakers or a short connection to a HiFi amp or similar. Great for in-dash car use.
1: Pyramid Power 18 Gauge Speaker Wire – 100ft
This 100 ft spool of 18 gauge speaker wire from Pyramid Power is not an OFC cable which won’t bother most of you.
Plastic sleeve/jacket and a red line which will help with your polarity and ensure in-phase speakers.
A good clean choice for car audio or home theatre speaker use.Pyramid Power 18 Gauge Speaker Wire - 100ft
2: GearIT Pro Series 18 Gauge Speaker Wire
At 18 gauge the cost of speaker wire is going to get more affordable. So it is with the GearIT cable which, as a CCA cable is also cheaper than an OFC equivalent.
A CCA cable on a 100 ft spool it is also available in a 50ft and 200ft length. There are three colors – white, black and clear but not all lengths are available for all cables.
The fine strands of an 18AWG CCA mean it’s super easy to work with and easier to hide with the diameter coming in at about 0.04″.
Lifetime guarantee makes you know they back their products.GearIT Pro Series 18 Gauge Speaker Wire
3: Pyle 18-Gauge Speaker Wire – 50 ft Spool
Pyle audio are older than I am. They’ve been in the audio game. This is a 18 gauge zip wire on a 50 foot spool and it comes in under $10 which is very attractive.
Simple red line polarity marker and a high quality copper with spool makes it a super affordable choice for your home audio or in-car sound needs.Pyle 18-Gauge Speaker Wire - 50 ft Spool
If one speaker cable a lot like the other? At this price point and level, yes. The decisions you will make will be:
- CCA or OFC Cable
- What gauge (AWG) to go with – 12 Gauge tends to be my choice by default
- What price you’re willing to pay
- What length of speaker cable you need – 50ft/100ft/200ft/500ft/+
- What color you might need – this won’t apply to everyone
Ultimately, the above selection will all give the typical home theatre enthusiast or car audio lover a great sound. Don’t hurt yourself overthinking it.
At the very least, you could put some trust in the reviews on each product.
Enjoy your sound!
This post was last updated on 2021-04-23 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.