How to Connect Speakers With Speaker Wire

Stereo speaker wires connected to binding posts
Basic wires are the most common way of connecting speakers to receivers or amplifiers.

Using basic wire (not the RCA or Optical/TOSLINK kind) to connect speakers to a stereo receiver or amplifier is fairly simple because there are only two parts to deal with on each end—positive (+) and negative (-), which can also be referred to as plus and minus. Although straightforward, one still has a 50 percent chance of getting these connections wrong, which is something that should be carefully avoided.

Having the signals swapped can seriously affect system performance, so it's worth the time to double check that these wires are correctly connected before powering up and testing the speakers out.

Most all stereo receivers, amplifiers, and standard speakers (i.e. ones that are able to receive signals through speaker wire connections) feature terminals on the back for connecting speaker wires. The terminals are either the spring clip or binding post type, almost always color-coded for easy identification. The positive terminal (+) is typically red, while the negative terminal (-) is typically black. Note that some speakers are bi-wire capable, which means they the red and black terminals come in pairs for a total of four connections.

While the terminals on the back of stereo equipment tend to be clear and straightforward, the same can't be said for speaker wires. This is often where confusion can occur because the labeling isn't always obvious.

If a speaker wire doesn't have a two-tone color scheme, look for a single stripe or dashed lines (these usually indicate the positive end) along one of the sides. If your wire has a light-colored insulation, this stripe/dash may be dark. If the insulation is a dark color, the stripe/dash is more likely to be white.

If the speaker wire is clear or translucent, check for printed markings. You should see either (+) or (-) symbols (and sometimes text) to indicate polarity. It can be helpful to use tape to label the ends after you know which is which.

If you're ever unsure and need to double-check (especially if you have a jumble of wires in a clump), you can quickly test the speaker wire connection by using a basic AA or AAA battery.

Types of Connectors

Speaker wires are most commonly found as bare, meaning that you would use a wire stripper to expose the strands at the ends. It's good to twist the bare wire strands tightly so that they stay together as a clump, no matter if your equipment uses spring clips or binding posts. You can also find speaker wires with different connectors, which can facilitate connections as well as help quickly identify polarity if they're color-coded.

You can install your own connectors. Pin connectors are used only with spring clip terminals—these tips are firm and easy to insert. Banana plug and spade connectors are used only with binding posts. The former plugs straight into the holes on the ends, while the latter stays secured in place once you tighten the post down.

If you don't like to fumble around with bare wires, you can always purchase these connectors separately and upgrade the tips of your speaker cables.

Connecting Receivers or Amplifiers

Wires must be connected correctly on both the receiver/amplifier and speakers. For example, the positive speaker terminal (red) on the receiver/amplifier must be connected to the positive terminal on the speakers, and the same applies for the negative terminals on all the equipment. Technically, the color/labeling of the wires doesn't matter so long as all the terminals match up. However, it's usually best to follow the indicators in order to avoid potential confusion later on.

When done properly, speakers are said to be "in-phase," which means both speakers are operating the same way. If one of these connections ends up reversed (i.e. positive to negative instead of positive to positive), then the speakers are considered "out of phase,"  which can cause serious sound quality problems. It may not damage any components, but you will most likely hear the difference in output. Examples are:

    Of course, other issues can create similar sound problems, but incorrect speaker phase is one of the most common mistakes made when setting up a stereo system. This can be easy to overlook in haste, especially if you're dealing with a cluster of audio and video cables together. So take your time to make sure that all speakers are in-phase: positive-to-positive (red-to-red) and negative-to-negative (black-to-black).​

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