If you’re like most car audio enthusiasts, then you’re always looking for ways to improve the sound quality in your vehicle. One of the simplest and most effective ways to do this is by beefing up your speaker system.
Before you go out and buy a set of new speakers, you need to ensure that the speaker wires can also handle the added power. But how do you know how many watts your speaker wire can transfer and which gauge is right for your system? Let’s find out.
The 18 AWG speaker wires can handle up to 50 W RMS, 16 AWG wires can hold up to 100 W RMS, 14 AWG wires can take up to 150 W RMS, and 12 AWG speaker wires can run up to 200 W RMS. All values are in the vehicle conditions, meaning the short connection distance.
Tip: When searching for the quality speaker wire for your car audio system, always look for the OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) wires. OFC wires are known for their larger than CCA wires’ electrical conductivity.
My favourite speaker wires are from Knukonceptz (link to Amazon), and I like them primarily because of their chemical composition and excellent flexibility during installations through tight spots.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at wattage and gauge ratings for speaker wire and help you choose the correct setup for your vehicle.
What Determines the Good Speaker Wire?
The main factors that affect wattage speakers can transfer are:
#1. diameter (gauge)
#3. length of the speaker wire
The diameter of the speaker wire is crucial because it determines how much current can flow through the wire. The thicker the wire, the more current it can handle.
The material of the speaker wire also plays a role in its wattage rating.
Copper is a great conductor of electricity, which makes it ideal for speaker wire. However, copper can be expensive, so some manufacturers use aluminium or other metals.
The length of the speaker wire also affects its wattage rating. The longer the wire, the more resistance it has and the less current it can handle.
What Are the Differences Between Different Types of Speaker Wires?
Although there are many different-looking speaker wires from various manufacturers, there are two main groups that they can be divided into:
#1. stranded speaker wire
#2. solid core speaker wire
The main difference between these two types of speaker wires is their flexibility. Stranded speaker wire is made up of multiple small strands of wire that are twisted together.
This makes the wire more flexible, which can be helpful when running through tight spaces in your vehicle. Because of this flexibility, stranded wires are used in most car audio systems.
Stranded wires also have more resistance than solid wires of a similar size.
Solid core speaker wire is made up of a single piece of wire. This makes the wire less flexible, and it also makes it harder to work with.
Also, solid core wires have slightly less “skin effect”. The skin effect causes high frequencies to pass better than low frequencies, which can cause a very slight boost in high-frequency response.
More important for quality and the voltage loss that affects the signal strength is the material the speaker wire is made of. In car sound systems, you will find two speaker types:
#1. OFC (oxygen-free copper)
#2. CCA (copper clad aluminium)
OFC speaker wire is made of 100% oxygen-free pure copper, while CCA speaker wire is made of an aluminium core coated with a thin layer of copper.
CCA speaker wire is cheaper to manufacture than OFC speaker wire, but it’s not as good of a conductor. That means that it will cause more voltage loss than OFC speaker wire, which can degrade the sound quality of your system.
So, if you’re looking for the best sound quality, you should use OFC speaker wire. However, if you’re on a budget, then CCA speaker wire will still give you good sound quality.
Copper has a low resistance, which means it doesn’t cause any significant loss in the signal sent to your speakers. However, copper can be expensive, so some manufacturers use aluminum or other metals.
For more information, check out the CCA wires guide.
Which Type of Speaker Wire Is Best for Car Audio?
You should use OFC speaker wire if you’re looking for the best sound quality. However, if you’re on a budget, choosing a cheaper CCA speaker wire will still give you satisfactory sound quality.
When choosing a speaker wire for your car audio system, be sure to choose a wire with an AWG higher than the minimum needed for the power output of your amplifier.
That way, you can be sure that your system will be safe and sound, so if you have an amplifier and speakers with the RMS wattage close to the wires’ limits, choose the lower AWG number, for example 16 instead of 18 and so on.
How Do the Size and Gauge of a Speaker Wire Affect Its Performance?
For example, the 16-gauge speaker wires are thicker than 18-gauge speaker wires, so they can carry more current and are less likely to overheat than thinner wires.
However, thicker wires are also more difficult to work with and can be more expensive. So, you’ll need to balance your needs when choosing the right speaker wire for your system.
In general, most car audio systems will use 16-gauge or 18-gauge speaker wire, but if you doubt which one will be sufficient, go for the thicker one.
What Are the Consequences of Using a Speaker Wire That Is Too Small?
Too thin speaker wires cannot transfer sufficient current for the system without overheating. This will cause sound quality degradation, and in the worst-case scenario, the cables will melt and can cause a fire.
Although for most speakers, wire gauge will not make much of a difference, for those powerful ones with 100W RMS or more, you have to use stronger than factory speaker wires.
Serial speaker wires may not melt right away with a 100 or 200 watts load, but when overheated, their resistance will increase, reducing the quality and the volume of the music.
What are the benefits of using high-quality speaker wire?
If you’re looking to get the most out of your car audio system, it’s essential to use high-quality speaker wire.
Good speaker wire will ensure that your speakers are getting the full power from your amplifier and that the sound quality is as good as it can be.
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing speaker wire.
First, you’ll need to decide on the gauge or thickness of the wire. As you already know, the thicker the wire, the more power it can handle. For most car audio applications with amplifiers, 16-gauge wire is sufficient.
If you do not have an amplifier but only a radio, then I would not even touch the factory wiring.
You’ll also need to decide on the speaker wire’s material, which is actually the most important point. Copper is the best material for speaker wire because it is an excellent conductor of electricity.
Some companies also make speaker wire with silver coatings, providing even better sound quality.
However, silver is more expensive than copper and is not necessary for most car audio systems, the same as gold which is too soft and requires extra care.
What Are the Consequences of Using Low-Quality Speaker Wire?
Speaker wire is one of the most important components of a car audio system, yet it is often overlooked.
Cheap speaker wire can cause all sorts of problems, from introducing noise and distortion into your music to damaging speakers.
So what are the consequences of using low-quality speaker wire? Let’s take a look.
Cheap speaker wire is often made from sub-standard materials. This means it doesn’t conduct electricity as well as it should and does not allow the speakers to achieve their full potential.
In addition, cheap speaker wire is more likely to break or fray, which can lead to a short circuit and potentially damage your speakers.
Finally, cheap speaker wire is not as durable as more expensive options, meaning it will need to be replaced more often. This can end up costing you more in the long run.
Best Practices for Maintaining Speaker Wires.
When it comes to car audio, the quality of your speaker wire can make a big difference in sound quality.
The Speaker wire is responsible for transferring the electrical signal from your head unit or amplifier to your speakers.
If the wire is too small or of poor quality, it can result in an electrical bottleneck that limits the amount of power that reaches your speakers.
This can result in distorted sound or even complete loss of audio.
However, choosing the correct wires is one thing, but taking good care of them when installed or during installation is a different story.
So, to ensure optimal sound quality from your system, here are a few tips on how to take care of your speaker wires:
#1. Keep Them Clean.
Over time, dirt and dust can accumulate on your speaker wire, eventually leading to the signal’s degradation.
To keep them clean, wipe them down with a soft cloth.
#2. Avoid Kinks and Knots.
When running your speaker wire, try to avoid kinking or knotting the wire, as this can also degrade the quality of the signal and cause damage.
If you must run the wire through a tight space, use a zip tie or other similar device to secure it so that it doesn’t move around and become kinked.
#3. Keep Them Away From Power Sources.
If your speaker wire is running close to a power source, such as an alternator or battery, it can pick up interference that will degrade the quality of the signal.
To avoid this, try to run the wire away from these sources or use shielding to protect the wire from interference.
By following these simple tips, you can help ensure that your speaker wire lasts for years and provides optimal sound quality.
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Replace the Speaker Wire?
It’s probably time to replace the speaker wire in your car if you notice a sound quality drop.
However, when installing new powerful speakers, replacing the speaker wires is a must to get the best sound quality out of your investment.
Speaker wire is an important but often overlooked component of a car audio system.
Cheap speaker wire can introduce noise and distortion into your music, damage your speakers, and cost you more in the long run.
Typical speaker wire in car audio applications is between 18 and 16 gauge.
The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire. Thicker speaker wires can carry more current (amps) than thinner wires.
For example, a 16-gauge speaker wire can carry up to 6 amps (100 Watt), while a 14-gauge speaker wire can carry up to 10 amps (150 Watt).
To get the best sound quality from your system, choose a high-quality speaker wire and take good care of it.
If you notice a drop in sound quality, it’s probably time to replace them.