How to Install Banana Plugs, Spade, or Pin Connectors to Speaker Wire

What to Know

  • Determine whether the speaker wires use banana plugs, spade connectors, or pin connectors.
  • Use wire/cable strippers to prep the speaker wires for the connectors.
  • Install a new connector using the self-crimping, open screw, or screw locking method, as appropriate.

This article explains how to choose and install different types of speaker wire connectors: banana plugs, spade connectors, and pin connectors. It's an easy and inexpensive upgrade to your home stereo system.

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Choosing the Right Speaker Wire Connector

A pair of metal spade connectors, one connected to a speaker wire

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There are three types of wire connectors that you can use with your speaker cables: banana plugs, spade connectors, and pin connectors. Each is easy to install, requiring only a few simple tools. In order to choose the right kind, you first have to take a look at the terminals available on your equipment.

  • Banana plugs are designed to work with binding posts, inserting straight into the holes on the ends (note: not all binding posts have this). There are also dual banana plugs, which are used for bi-wiring/-amping speakers.
  • Spade connectors (typically u-shaped) also work with binding posts, maintaining contact with the base of the terminal (as would bare speaker wire) once the binding post screw has been tightened down.
  • Pin connectors work with spring-loaded terminals (also known as spring clips), but can also work with binding posts that have a hole in the side of the inside connector (you have to unscrew the top back far enough to see it).

It’s quite possible that you can have different types of connections on the backs of stereo equipment. Sometimes you might have more than one type on each (e.g. receivers and amplifiers). So, for example, if your speaker has spring clips, then you’ll want a pair of pin connectors. And if your receiver/amplifier has binding posts, then you would pick either a pair of banana plugs or spade connectors.

Before purchasing any type of connector, know the gauges of your speaker wires. While most connectors are designed to work with the most common wire sizes — 12 to 18 AWG (American Wire Gauge) — some can be meant for larger or smaller wires. So crosscheck sizes first to ensure the best compatibility.

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Prepping Speaker Wires for Connectors

A hand holding a wire stripper tool, removing the outer jacket from one individual wire

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You’ll need a pair of wire/cable strippers to prep the speaker wires for the connectors. While it is possible to substitute a pair of scissors or a small knife, actual strippers are highly recommended for safety reasons. Make sure you start and finish each end of speaker wire (i.e. installing the connectors) before moving on to the next. Here are the steps for prepping:

  1. Cut the end of the speaker wire so that you don’t have any exposed copper wire sticking out.
  2. Carefully separate the individual wires (positive and negative terminals) from each other by about two inches. This should provide ample room to work with.
  3. Choose one individual wire and set the cutting edge of the wire stripper about half an inch up from the end. If your wire stripper is designed/labeled with different cutting sizes, pick the one that matches the cable gauge.
  4. Clampdown on the wire stripper to cut through the jacket/insulation and then rotate the tool around the wire to ensure a clean cut.
  5. Peel the cut part of the jacket off — easier with the wire stripper, but be careful not to accidentally cut the copper underneath — to expose the bare wire.
  6. Using thumb and forefinger, put a slight, gentle twist on the copper wire so that the individual strands all stay as one.
  7. Repeat the process with the other individual wire.

Now that your speaker cable is forked with exposed ends, you’re ready to attach connectors. Be sure to identify and match the correct polarities (positive and negative) of the wires and connectors so that your audio equipment will be properly in-phase.

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Installing a Connector

A pair of pin speaker wire connectors, one disassembled into its separate parts

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There are a few different techniques for installing speaker wire connectors, depending on each manufacturer’s particular design. Although they come as banana plugs, spade, or pin connectors, the method of installation generally falls into one of the following categories:

  • A basic speaker wire connector will unscrew for a few turns and then stop (some can completely separate). With this type, feed the bare speaker wire into the bottom end as far as it will go. Once you can’t push the wire in anymore, screw the top of the connector back down. As you screw it down, the bare speaker wire gets twisted snugly into the plug for a solid connection. The wire should stay in place when you lightly tug on it.
  • "Self-crimping" speaker wire connectors completely separate into two (sometimes three) parts. With this type, feed the bare speaker wire into the bottom half of the connector to the point where the copper strands are poking out of the top. Now you’ll fan and bend the strands back over the tip, being careful as to not cover any parts of the screw threads. Once that’s done, the top half of the connector screws onto the bottom part, which clamps the copper wires in place.
  • "Open screw" speaker wire connectors have a gap through the connector itself. In addition to being able to feed the wire through the bottom (like the previously-mentioned kinds), these types also let you insert the wire through the hole in the side. Simply unscrew the parts of the connector until you see that there is enough space to feed the bare copper wire into the side gap. Stick the speaker wire in and then tighten the connector to lock it in place (you can see the parts sandwiching together). These types (when the wire is connected through the side) are useful for those interested in daisy-chaining speaker connections.
  • You can also find speaker wire connectors that are open screw only. These tend to be spring-loaded, where compressing the connector between thumb and forefinger opens up the gap to insert speaker wire. Once you let go, the connector clamps shut and hold the wire securely in place.
  • Some speaker wire connectors, sometimes known as "screw locking," will require a small flathead screwdriver for installation. These types of connectors come in two parts — we can refer to them as "inner" and "outer." Take the inner part of the connector and loosen the two embedded screws with the screwdriver. Now feed the speaker wire into the end until it can’t go any further. Tighten the embedded screws with the screwdriver to secure the wire. Attach the outer part of the connector over the inner part, and screw (by hand) the two parts together.
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Why Use Speaker Wire Connectors?

Two pairs of metal banana plug speaker wire connectors

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While the terminals on speakers and home audio equipment are almost always color-coded to indicate polarity — the positive terminal (+) is red and the negative terminal (-) is black — the same can’t be said for speaker wires. Not all speaker wire is made with two-tone insulation and/or obvious markings (e.g. text, dashed lines, or stripes typically indicate the positive end) for easy identification. If you’re ever unsure, you can always quickly test the speaker wires. But by using colored connectors, you’ll never have to scrutinize, worry, or second guess ever again. Speaker wire connectors can spare many a headache, especially for those with multi-channel home stereo systems.

Speaker wire connectors also make it so much easier to plug and unplug speakers from receivers and amplifiers. With bare wire, the strands have to be as one (usually by twisting them together) before inserting it into a spring clip or binding post. This can be difficult when it’s harder to see and/or spaces between posts are confined; if you miss and mush/fray the wire, you’ll have to re-straighten it and start again. But since speaker wire connectors house and protect the bare wires, the experience of plugging/unplugging audio is greatly simplified, not unlike using RCA jacks.

On top of streamlining audio cables, speaker wire connectors help maintain a solid connection. As long as the tips have been installed correctly, a high-quality signal will be maintained with your stereo speakers for the best possible sound. And if all that wasn’t enough reason to consider using speaker wire connectors, they also help to lend your equipment a cleaner, organized and more sophisticated appearance. Sure, the backsides of speakers, receivers, and amplifiers may not be the most provocative. However, the people to impress (including yourself) would be the enthusiasts who do care to take a peek at what you have going on.

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