Electrical Wire Vs Speaker Wire: Are They Similar Or Different? - Vita Audio

Electrical Wire Vs Speaker Wire: Are They Similar Or Different?

Electrical wire and speaker wire, while marked as different, are actually very similar in some respects. 

There are some nominal differences, but overall they are performing widely the same function in certain circumstances. 

Electrical wire runs an electrical current from electrical connections such as a power source in the wall. This current transmits to a plugged in device. It is also all the wires in a building used to generate electricity. 

Electrical Wire Vs Speaker Wire Are They Similar Or Different

Speaker wires connect a speaker to an amp. The current runs through the speaker wire to provide a connection between the two. 

They are both solid wires and come in varying degrees of wire gauge, wire interior and exterior material, and electric strength.

We are going to give you a run down of both types of wires, noting the similar qualities in both speaker wire and electrical wire.  

Electrical Wire

—Electrical wire can be made from two different source materials. These are aluminum and copper. 

—Electrical wire is either solid wire or a stranded wire. A solid wire is one thicker piece of wire. A stranded wire is multiple thinner wires banded together.

They both have the same end result. However, solid wire is the heavier of the two and is always thicker than stranded wire. Solid wire tends to be used underground or for big electrical currents and projects. 

—Electrical wire has a protective coating, known as insulation. This is a neutral material, often plastic, which protects you the user from electric shocks.

Aside from this, it also protects the internal cables from becoming damaged by the exterior environmental conditions. For example, avoiding water damage is a big deal for outside electronics, as water can break a circuit easily. 

Electric Wire Varieties: An Overview

1. Underground Feeder Cable

An underground feeder cable is made up of three separate wires. One hot wire, one neutral wire, and one earth wire. The earth wire is the only one of the three that is not insulated inside the feeder cable.

Though, the cable itself is insulated by a waterproof plastic coating. 

—Runs underground

—Doesn’t require a conduit (tubes or channels for it to run through).

—Nonmetallic

—Connects buildings electricity sources together

2. Coaxial Cable

Coaxial cables are used for communication purposes. They are the television wires, the phone wires, the computer wires. 

—Connects a satellite dish

—Connects an aerial

—Low Voltage wires

—Round shape

—One encased wire, one bare wire

3. Data Cable

Data cables are in a similar category to coaxial cables. These types of cables are used for data connections.

—Internet Connections

—Phone Lines

—Eight wires all different colors

—Insulated

—Low Voltage

4. Low Voltage Cable

Low voltage cables carry less current. They are used to power smaller devices.

—Ethernet Cables and Fiber Optic Cables

—Fire alarm wiring

—Speaker Wires

—Telephone Lines

—CCTV, and other surveillance

—Typically below 50 V

—One hot wire and one neutral wire

—Both wires are shielded

5. THHN

THHN stands for thermoplastic high heat-resistant nylon wire. 

—Connects external power sources to buildings 

—Stranded wire or Solid wire

—Nylon wire or Copper wire

—High Voltage

6. THWN

In the same category of wire as THHN, we also have THWN. This stands for Thermoplastic Heat-resistant Water-Resistant Nylon-coated Wire.

It is like for like with THHN. The only difference is that THWN is waterproof, unlike THHN which is prone to leaks and damage from damp environments. 

7. Non-Metallic Wire

This type of wiring is used in interior electrics, i.e., under floorboards and in walls. They are made up of three different cables – earth, hot insulated, and neutral insulated. The earth wire is bare. 

—Run all through the house and connect to sockets, light fixtures, built-in appliances

—Low gauge (thicker wire)

—Insulated

—Color coded

—Powerful 

That about sums up electric wire and all their function. Let’s take a look at speaker wires. 

Speaker Wire

Speaker Wire

Speaker wire can be thicker wire or thinner wire, depending on the size of the speakers. 

It is typically a stranded, low voltage cable that fits a specific purpose i.e., connecting the speakers to a sound source such as an amp or a subwoofer. 

Speaker wire has two channels – left and right, that hook up to the corresponding outputs. 

Typical speaker wire material includes; copper, aluminum, and silver wire. 

You may find that the most common material used in speaker wires is copper. 

AWG

Wire grading refers to the measurement of the thickness of the wire. The scale goes from 000-40 AWG. 

AWG = American Wire Gauge. It is the name of the gauge measurement system. 

The smaller side of the scale is used to describe thicker wire. 

The higher side of the scale, anything past 18, is used to describe thinner wire. 

When it comes to speaker wires, we tend to find the figure falls between 12 and 18. 12, is the thicker wire, and 18 is the thinner wire. 

Resistance

When we talk about resistance, we are referring to speaker wire in relation to the speaker impedance and ohms. 

Ohms are the measurement of electrical resistance. 

This figure tells you how much power is needed to fire things up. Is it hard or is it easy, does it need a lot or a little? You can answer all of these questions by looking at the ohms. 

The average speaker rings in from 6-8 ohms. 

What this means for the speaker wire is that it should never be higher than 5% of the total circuit measurement.  So if you have a speaker rating at 8 ohms, anything less than a 16 AWG may give bad results, poor audio, and a frazzled sound. 

Length Of The Wire

The length of the speaker wire is also relevant. 

The wire length needs to be in keeping with the measurements of the AWG, the ohms, and the amp voltage. 

If your wire is too short there won’t be enough resistance and likewise, if your wire is too long you won’t get enough power. 

Remember, a pair of speakers require equally measured out wires on each side, left and right. If you don’t get this you will definitely affect the audio quality in the speaker with the shorter wire. This is because that speaker will receive less resistance. 

Can Speaker Wire Be Used As Electric Wire? 

Given all of their differences and the way that electric wires tend to fluctuate in design and power, speaker wires are not really a decent replacement or stand-in wire. 

However, an electric wire, if it fits the part, should do just fine in place of a speaker wire to power a speaker up to an amp or other external audio device. 

There are lots of differences between the pair that are worth noting. 

Speaker wires have a standard design. They do not tend to come any thicker than 18 gauge, and therefore you would not be able to use them for stronger electrical currents. The kind that electrical wires can cope with, with little problem or effort. 

Speaker wires are stranded wires. Stranded wires are flexible, easier to conduit, insulated, and can be moved around easily without causing damage.

Some electrical wires are not stranded, but solid. Solid wires are heavier than stranded wires. They are thicker than stranded wires. They are more often than not used for outdoor electrics. 

If you were to use a speaker wire in place of an electric wire, you would have to conform to the following things:

—A system that had a low electrical current. (sprinklers, doorbells, thermostats)

—A thick gauge

It would be much easier to use an electric wire in the place of a speaker wire. This is because they are much more versatile in their design and function, unlike speaker wires which have a smaller pool to pick from. 

Final Thoughts

Anything electrical requires the proper due care and attention. 

Electrical wires, speaker wires, they are still both live wires that need exploring properly before interchanging. 

Using the wrong type of wire can have catastrophic consequences. 

You can break the appliance, short the circuit, even start an electrical fire. These are all things that we want to avoid as much as possible. 

Using the right type of wire is easy and a completely accessible achievement thanks to the endless knowledge out there at your fingertips.

Jacob Stable
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