By looking at the variations in all of the wires available, many people are wondering whether it is possible to use a home speaker wire in a car?
As a general rule, a home speaker wire can be used in car audio because its size is based on distance, power, and impedance. Home speaker wires have the same design principles as car wires; therefore, as long as the wire is appropriately matched to the car speaker system, it can be used in the car.
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The size of the wires is standardized by the American Wire Gauge (AWG) system. The wire’s physical size is indicated by a number known as “the gauge.” The smaller the gauge number, the heavier and larger the wire. Thicker wire is used for longer distances because it can carry more load without distortion, overheating, and other factors.
In this article, learn about electricity, the definition of speaker wire, and the best wire choice for audio. You will also find out why wire distance, power, and impedance justify the same speaker wire used in either car or home.
Consequently, read on to find out how these considerations are dependent on the specifications of the audio speakers.
What Is a Speaker Wire?
Electricity travels on a circuit and is carried by a wire. The amount of electricity or current that can flow through the circuit is determined by the wire’s size as standardized and defined by the AWG. It has been in existence since 1857 and is used worldwide.
Moreover, the British Standard Wire Gauge (SWG), although it is known internationally, it is not widely utilized.
Copper electrical wire is made at different performance levels. Common electrical grade wire conducts electricity in a jacket, or sheath, either insulated or not. It’s used in the home but is not sufficient for audio systems.
A step-up in quality is purity copper electrical wire, used for speaker systems. As implied, the wire is made with purer copper that contains fewer supplementary metals and is processed differently.
Less oxygen is produced by the process, which is preferred since too much oxygen distorts electrical signals. Therefore, oxygen-free copper (OFC) wire is used in speakers because the audio signal is less distorted.
The cable is the combination of more than one electrical wire inside a sheath that is color-coded. But electrical companies are not required to use color-coding. When buying cable, it’s best to check with the manufacturer to ensure they are following standards.
An example is an aftermarket speaker wire chart created by Volunteer Audio that complies with the Electronic Industry (EIA) as indicated in this chart, Standard Wiring Used in Stereo Installations.
Distance, Power, and Impedance
A combination of distance, power, and impedance creates the basis for choosing the correct speaker wire for home or car and is defined here.
- Although it may seem counterintuitive, the longer the distance, the smaller gauge wire is required for home or audio speaker systems since the wire’s size dictates how much current will pass through.
A smaller AWG indicates a physically larger wire.
- Power handling is measured by the maximum speaker volume and is described in watts. The peak, or power in bursts, and Root Mean Square (RMS), or power in continuous play, indicate how powerful the speakers are and can be compared to other speaker brands by wattage.
- Impedance is measured in ohms and is the resistance of flow through the wire, causing heat to be generated. Match equipment impedance, many times 2 or 4 ohms, to the cable wiring to reduce or eliminate reflections and maximize power.
In this 4-minute video by Amplified Parts, a speaker’s impedance is found by measuring the direct current resistance:
Altogether, a smaller gauge number means thicker cable and lower resistance. Too much resistance can cause an electrical fire; therefore, it’s important to match the correct impedance with the power and distance the current will be carried.
What Wire Should You Use?
Specifically, 18 gauge wire works well for the average home or car audio user who plays the speakers at a medium volume and does not have a subwoofer. However, a smaller gauge is best for a longer wire distance, higher volume, or when you want to hook up a subwoofer.
A lower gauge does not offer better sound, and running a larger wire than needed will not affect subwoofer sound; therefore, it is a waste of money.
|18 AWG||< 25 feet||50 Watts||No|
|14 Awg||> 100 feet||225 Watts||Yes (2 or 4 Ohm)|
For the everyday audio enthusiast, there is no difference in sound due to wiring. All that is needed is an adequate gauge, appropriate length, and good clean connections. If you are wondering what gauge you should use, there are plenty of resources.
However, in most cases, 18, 16, and 14 gauge OFC will work perfectly well for the car and 14, 12, or 10 gauge for the home. It will depend on the particulars of your system. An OFC cable wire can be exposed to heat or moisture and works well in conditions found in the car or home.
Car Audio Fabrication shows you how to calculate the wire gauge size for a car amplifier install. While you may not be adding an amp, the calculation is valid in this 7-minute video:
Also of interest is this 8-minute video, also by Car Audio Fabrication, which demonstrates how to wire the entire car audio system. Mark is using in his installation a 14 gauge KnuKonceptz wire for the audio and a 12 gauge wire for the subwoofer.
Solid vs. Stranded
Solid wire is less malleable and can break if exposed to continuous vibrations. But stranded consists of bundling many thin copper wire strands, making it bendable and easier to run through tight and curved spots. Be sure and measure how much wire is needed carefully, and it is always better when the wire is a foot too long than too short for an inch. Stranded wire comes in rolls or pre-cut by the foot.
Differences Between Home and Car Wire
As indicated, the quality of audio cables is similar, and if speaker specifications are met, you can use them either in the car or the home. The debate is that audiophile cable makers state that one brand, usually the more expensive, is better quality, but is it really?
Ultimately that is a matter of an individual’s perception, according to audiophile Tom Nousine, in a double-blind test in controlled circumstances. Nousine claims there is no difference, but high-end audio cable manufacturers disagree. The article Lies, Damn Lies, and Cables by Francis Vale explains both points of view.
Additionally, copper conductivity for home or car speaker wire is the same, although auto-wire tends to be manufactured with more insulation material due to weather conditions. Another difference is the likelihood is strong that a smaller gauge wire is required in the home due to longer distances, whereas a car frequently will connect at a short distance.
The small gauge is a thicker wire, which lowers the resistance, and a voltage drop is less likely to happen, but it’s slightly more expensive.
A car or home stereo can use the same copper wire type, as long as the power, distance, and impedance are correctly taken into account when determining the gauge. Another consideration is solid or stranded wire. However, stranded is flexible and best in most car audio installations.
A difference in a home versus car speaker wire is copper wire is insulated before sheathing for inclement weather conditions.
However, as long as the correct gauge is determined to correspond with your home or car speaker system, using the same wire will not make a difference in sound quality and can be used interchangeably.