Everyone in audio is affected by the cables they choose. We worry about having the best instrument cables and xlr’s to get the best sound from our instruments and microphones. One thing that slips the minds of many people is buying quality speaker cables. Some people think that if the cable end fits in the jack, it will just work. That really is not the case. You have to think about the amount of signal that will be sent through the cable. That could mean that if you have too heavy of a cable, the signal will diminish to the point where you cannot hear clearly. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could have too small of a cable for the amount of the signal. This could result in shorting out the speaker or even ruining the cable itself. Points like this are why you want to make sure you know the right cable to use.
So while it is not the only factor to worry about, when you order cables you want to make sure you have the right connections. There are quite a few connections that you will most likely see and it is fairly easy to identify them all.
The one almost everyone will notice right off the bat is the ¼”. It is the same size as a regular instrument cable end, however it is a larger cable to handle a different level of signal.
An extremely common speaker cable end is Speakon. It has a twisting and locking end so it does not detach from anything without someone undoing the connection. Characterized by black and blue ends, it is a great cable for any power amp to passive speaker.
This next end is one I have not seen a lot of, but have used a few times. It is characterized by its bulging center which acts like a spring to hold tight to the connection. They can be either 2 pronged ends or single pronged ends.
Banana Speaker Cable (dual prong)
Banana Speaker Cable (single prong)
The spade speaker cable end is normally for low signal cables but is still used nonetheless. I have used it for small subwoofers as well as speakers. It is characterized by a U shape that slides into the connection then is generally clamped down onto by a screw.
Spade Speaker Cable Ends
Then there is always the ever classic stripped wire inside a clamp. Surprisingly it is more common than you would think it is. It is very common for home sound systems to utilize these or even small speakers for lobbies.
Stripped Speaker Cable and Connection Point
Remember it is important to confirm what ends your preamp and speaker require before buying.
The next key point to pay attention to when selecting cables is the gauge. Gauge just means the width of the cable. The larger the width, the more metal there is, allowing it to carry higher voltages for more powerful speakers. You want to make sure you use the correct gauge also for the correct distance. It is as I mentioned earlier, where you do not want to use too large of a gauge over too short of a distance with too little signal because it will diminish and not come out clear.
I found another article that was extremely informative and explains some of the science behind what I am talking about a little better than I can. I also found in the article an amazing chart that will help you choose the gauge you need for the signal load you are sending. It also takes into account distances that it needs to run which is extremely important. The article I mentioned can be found here.
Cable Gauge Chart
So on a final note, I just wanted to give a couple points and things to remember. Most cables that you find for speakers are primarily copper, and honestly, copper works perfectly for it and you will have no issues. Remember also not to fold the cables hard (or at all if you can avoid it) or bend them too hard to help avoid any breaks or weakened signal connection points. If you are looking for spools of wire to make your own cable, Pro-Co is a great one that I know is used a lot. However, almost any copper wiring should work as long as it is the correct gauge.