We're wiring our kitchen for a stereo speaker system. There was only enough 18 gauge speaker wire for one speaker, so the electricians used 18/2 barostat wire for the other. The speaker cable seems to have a thicker wrapping than the barostat cable, but both are 18 gauge and have 2 conductors. Is it ok to use this? Experiments show that a coat hanger sounds as good as fancy speaker cable, so maybe this doesn't matter at all.

If they are the same, what makes barostat wire different than speaker wire? Coloring of the jacket? Thickness of the wrapping? Marketing?

  • If you are wiring the kitchen, then for what exactly do you need the electricians? – mike Oct 3 '13 at 0:00
  • The kitchen is a total gut job, and the electricians ran the speaker wire for us while they were doing the heavier duty work. – Joe Shaw Oct 3 '13 at 0:15
  • Just confused about exactly who is wiring the speakers. – mike Oct 3 '13 at 0:44
up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is a discussion of stranded vs. solid wire for speaker cable here. The consensus (or at least the weight of opinions) seems to be that there is a theoretical difference, but no practical difference.

Speaker wire is also called lamp cord. It is basically parallel stranded wire in either 16 or 18 gauge. The lower number indicates the thicker wire. 16 gauge is thicker than 18. The difference in gauge has to do with how much voltage drop (and in music, signal loss) there is over long distances.

Numerous comparisons seem to indicate that basic speaker wires (and wire sold as lamp cord at even a lower price) are indistinguishable from exotic wires.

If it is a long run, 16 gauge is preferred. If the run is very short, you probably can use 18 gauge with no apparent difference in sound. But the cost difference is fairly small, so 16 gauge is preferred.

There is no shielding on speaker wire, so the covering is of little import. Solid wire is much harder to handle (less flexibility), so stranded is preferred for audio applications.

While the barostat wire is solid and the speaker wire is stranded, it is highly unlikely you can get a measurable difference in signal between the two types. If it's already installed, and the run is not too long (20 feet or less) you probably can live with it. If the run is much longer, you might want to swap both wires out for a heavier gauge (16).

  • I can think of a practical difference in braided versus solid wire: a much better connection when fitting the wire into banana plugs. I think I'll re-run the wire with 16 gauge stranded... I originally went with 18 because the speakers I got have comically small spring clips, but I think I can make 16 work. The run is about 30 feet for the farther speaker. Thanks for the great description. – Joe Shaw Oct 3 '13 at 13:07
  • Clearly audio manufacturers have designed most speaker connectors for stranded wire and solid poses challenges in most applications. – bib Oct 3 '13 at 13:29

Coat hanger is about 10 gauge wire, so it has a lot more surface area than does 18 gauge solid copper. Signal travels on the outside of the wire so braided at a given gauge will give you a better signal. 18 gauge is pretty marginal as is, so I'd not be at all surprised if your ears could tell which speaker was wired w which type of wire. Obviously you're not looking for 'studio quality' sound reproduction in a noisy place like a kitchen, but I'd choose 16 gauge stranded so as to have just a little bit of overkill, without much added cost.

Incidentally, 16 gauge extension cords are cheap, and make dandy speaker wire.

  • The gauge has more to do with power rating than fidelity. – HerrBag Oct 3 '13 at 11:45
  • That's true, if the gauge is low enough. However, for analog signals, resistance and inductance matter, and those vary w cable length, frequency and gauge:ampbooks.com/home/amplifier-calculators/wire-inductance Towards the thin end, there are noticeable effects on sound quality, even w fairly crummy speakers. – Wayfaring Stranger Oct 3 '13 at 14:14

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