Aside from compact all-in-one stereos, few home audio or home theater systems include lengths of premade cables for your speakers. Letting you pick your own speaker wire helps manufacturers keep their costs down, and it also lets you pick the exact type and length of wire you want. You'll also need to think about how your speaker wire will attach to the speakers. Most speakers use either spring terminals or binding posts for their connection, and each type offers multiple options for connecting your wires.
Spring terminals are one of the two connections most widely used on speakers. They're easy to identify. Spring terminals have red and black thumb tabs, little squares you push down to open up the connection. Most are spring-loaded, but some lock into their open and closed positions. These are simple terminals that require no connection other than bare wire. Binding posts are a sturdier type of terminal, used on higher-powered or higher-quality speakers. They consist of a pair of thick posts, with red and black caps threaded over them. When unscrewed, they reveal a drilled hole for speaker wire to pass through.
Connecting to Spring Terminals
The standard method for connecting to spring terminals is to strip the ends of your speaker wire, and insert them into the terminals. However, if you're not careful -- or if you frequently reconnect your speakers -- the wires can fray over time. This might potentially lead to a short circuit, causing your amp to overheat. To minimize this risk, some hobbyists "tin" the stripped ends of the wire with a thin coating of solder, turning them into a solid tip. An alternative is pin tips, which crimp or solder onto the wire and give a thin, rigid connector. They're especially useful for attaching extra-heavy speaker wife to spring terminals.
Connecting to Binding Posts
Binding posts offer several connection options. You can loosen the screw caps and insert bare wire through the hole in the post, then tighten down the cap. You can tin the ends or use pin tips, as with spring terminals. You can also crimp or solder heavy-duty spade connectors on to the wires, slide them over the posts, and tighten the caps. The binding posts themselves are hollow, allowing a third connection method. Solder or crimp special connectors called banana plugs onto your wires, which insert into the binding posts in much the same way headphones insert into a headphone jack. Most of these terminals are gold-plated, for extra electrical conductivity.
Before you crimp terminals onto your speaker wires, or connect them to your stereo, it's important to ensure you've got the right polarity. One side of every speaker wire is marked in some way, either with a line of printing, stripes, or perhaps a different color. Always connect that side of the wire to the black or negative terminal of your speaker and amp. If the wires are reversed, that speaker won't be in phase with its partner, and your sound will be thin and weak.
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