Typically, when you think of cables, you probably think of pre-cut cables with connectors already attached, ready to be plugged in straight out of the box. For speaker cables, this most often means a stereo RCA cable to connect a speaker to an amplifier or receiver. But this is not the only way to buy cables! When it comes to full hi-fi audio systems, a popular alternative is DIY speaker cable. This means purchasing bare wire by the metre or by the roll and customising it yourself.
There are many reasons to opt for DIY cabling in your home entertainment system. Pre-terminated cables are only available in certain common lengths, which may not be the right length for your speaker system. This often means hiding extra cable, which can easily become a big mess of tangled wires. DIY cabling allows you to cut your cables to the exact length you need for your system, which is important for cable organisation and tidiness. For large or complex speaker systems, DIY cables can also be a cost-effective way to get high quality audio interconnects. If you care about audio quality and want to get the most out of your hi-fi speakers, it's usually worth it to invest in more expensive cables, because they will last longer and offer a more reliable connection. However, this adds up quickly when you need to connect five, seven, or even more speakers. Buying speaker cable by the metre provides one of the highest quality connections you can get at a lower price if you buy enough of it. If you only need to connect one or two speakers, DIY cabling might not be necessary. If you're going to opt for DIY cable, connect as many devices as you can, preferable the entire system, to get the most for your money.
Ready to try your hand at DIY cabling? You're in luck -- it's really not as complicated as it seems. Here's a brief guide to purchasing and installing speaker cable:
You will first need to calculate the total length of cable you need. Measure out the exact length you will need for each connection; it's a good idea to give yourself an extra couple inches. In fact, it can be easy to measure incorrectly if you're using a sturdy tape measure; use a string, a flexible tape measure, or an existing cable to make sure you have an accurate idea of the lengths you need.
You'll also need to choose the gauge or AWG of the cable -- this simply means the cable's thickness. A lower gauge means a thicker cable, so a 16 AWG is thinner than a 12 AWG. Generally, cables with lower gauges can run longer distances without overheating and melting the insulation. If you need relatively long cables, such as over 20 metres, opt for a lower AWG. If you're having trouble deciding which gauge you need, consult an audio professional like the ones here at Selby.
Once you have your wire and you're ready to cut, always start with the longest pieces. This minimizes waste if you end up needing more cable. For example, if you are a few inches short for a 1-metre cable, it's easy and cheap to buy a short pre-terminated cable; if you are a few inches short for a 10-metre cable, you have a bigger problem on your hands. Another way to minimize waste is to give yourself extra inches during the measuring process, not the cutting. Try to cut all the cables exactly how you measured them, and it should be smooth sailing.
Once your cable lengths are all cut, it's time to strip the wire. Speaker cable comes in stereo; meaning there are two wires connected to each other. Take the last couple inches of the cable and separate the two cables. You may be able to pull them apart, or you may need to use a box cutter to separate them -- if this is the case, be careful not to cut through the insulation.
Take your separated cables and use a wire stripper to strip off the insulation on the end of each wire, about 3/4 of an inch from the ends. Then twist the bare wire ends with your fingers to create a consolidated and sturdy end. Always work with each wire individually.
Cable terminations or connectors are optional, but often preferred for proper cable management. They can also make your connections more reliable and long-lasting, as they hold the wire in place and prevent it from bending excessively. The most common termination for speaker cable is banana plugs. Most banana plugs are simple to install, but you can read our full guide to banana plugs here.