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10 Different Types of Speaker Cables

Braided flexible speaker cable with electronics plug, copy space. braid

10 Different Types of Speaker Cables

Key Points

  • There are different types of speaker cables, including bare wire, RCA, TS, TRS, TRRS, XLR, speakON, USB/FireWire, and HDMI, which offer different types of communication between devices.
  • Speaker cables typically consist of stranded copper wire, but optical cables use fiber optic tubes instead of metal wiring.
  • Wire gauge indicates the thickness of the speaker cable, with higher gauge wires needed for longer runs.
  • Balanced speaker cables are used in professional settings for high-quality sound, while unbalanced cables are more common for shorter distances and compatibility with certain devices.

Working with audio equipment can get confusing, partially because of the different types of speaker cables. You are undoubtedly familiar with the 3.5mm cable, known as an auxiliary cable. Of course, there is also a range of specialty connectors such as speakON and XLR. The one you need mainly depends on the size and type of speakers you intend to use.

However, more importantly, these cables offer different types of communication between devices. For instance, some deliver digital signals, while others provide analog. Additionally, some provide higher-quality balanced audio. If all this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. We will go over the ten most common speaker cables you are likely to encounter.

What Is the Difference Between Types of Speaker Cables?

Generally, speaker cables are pretty simple. Most use the same type of stranded copper wire, with just a different connector. The wire inside a speaker cable consists of very small strands that are twisted together. One of the biggest differences is found in optical cables (also called TOSLINK or ADAT), as these rely on fiber optic tubes rather than conventional metal wiring.

Typically, speaker cables have pairs of wires that send low-voltage electrical signals from an amplifier to a speaker. However, some also include more than one signal wire or even a microphone wire. Finally, how wires are bundled inside a speaker cable can also vary. Some cables use separately insulated conductors, while others, such as XLR, have a non-insulated wire bundled in the cable.

Wire Gauge

Speaker cable wire varies in thickness, and we can determine the size based on its listed gauge. Wire gauge indicates how thick the metal is, which corresponds to how much power can flow through it. For instance, a 14-gauge speaker wire is 0.0641 inches (1.628mm). This measurement system is the same one used for electrical wiring.

Regarding speakers, the wiring gauge should coincide with the listed ohm rating. This is slightly different than electrical, which bases gauge sizing on ampacity. One similarity is that you have to compensate with higher gauge wiring in long runs. For example, a 16 gauge wire is rated for up to 24 feet at four ohms, but anything from 25 feet to 40 feet requires 14 gauge to maintain four ohms.

Cable Ends

Although wire gauge is critical, it is usually not the first thing people look for. Instead, they start with the cable type, which is often categorized by the connectors. All of the different types of speaker cables listed below are differentiated by the types of connectors they use. Once you’ve identified the cable end, you can then choose the proper wire gauge.

Different Types of Speaker Cables

NumberCable NameOverview
1Bare WireThe simplest cable that is used to connect speakers directly to an amplifier or stereo.
2TOSLINKOptical connection that uses fiber optic technology to transmit audio signals with light.
3RCAA single center pin connector with a ring around it. Used for many years to connect speakers, amplifiers, and surround sound systems.
4TSComes in 3.5mm and 1/4 inch options to handle mono audio and musical instruments.
5TRSA variant of TS that includes an extra conductor which makes it capable of stereo audio.
6TRRSAnother TS-type connector used for 3.5mm auxiliary cables and headphones with a microphone.
7XLRA locking cable with at least three pins for large speakers, microphones, and lighting.
8speakONA proprietary connection that is similar to XLR, but with a twist-lock. Considered the best cable for high-end applications.
9USB/FireWireCarries a range of different signals, including power and communications, but also supports audio.
10HDMIIncludes both audio and video signals in a single cable and is used by many modern devices.

1. Bare Wire

The simplest speaker cable is bare wire without an end. There are several variations, but the wires typically come in spooled pairs. You can get the wire in large quantities, making it by far the cheapest speaker cable. Best of all, the wire comes in many different gauges, so you can pick the right one for a job. To use bare wire, all you have to do is cut it to length and strip a little bit of insulation off of the tip.

Rolls of speaker wire can come with more than two conductors, which is perfect for running multiple channels in a single cable. Residential and commercial applications alike use this wire type when the speakers are not going to move. For instance, surround sound speakers commonly use bare wire since they are permanently mounted to the wall.

Bare Wire
Monoprice 102821 Access Series 14 Gauge AWG CL2 Rated 2 Conductor Speaker Wire
$164.49
  • 99.95% pure, oxygen-free copper connectors
  • 250 continuous feet
  • Safe to use inside the walls of residential buildings
  • Each conductor has its own color-coded PVC jacket within the outer white CL2-rated PVC jacket
  • Lifetime warranty
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 01:03 pm GMT

Speaking of walls, bare speaker wire also comes in shielded varieties, which are perfect for running in a wall or attic. Another common use for bare wire is auto speakers and subwoofers. The good thing about bare wire is that you can add different ends, such as banana plugs, for easier connectivity. You can also purchase other ends, like XLR or RCA, and create a custom-length speaker cable.

Easy Connectivity
Amazon Basics Speaker Connector Banana Plug to Banana Plug
$34.36
  • 12 packs of 2 plugs
  • 0.5 x 0.5 x 1.3 inches
  • 24k gold plating
  • Female connection on base
  • Accepts 12 to 18 AWG speaker wire
  • Self-crimping teeth
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 01:07 pm GMT

Better known as optical audio, TOSLINK was developed by Toshiba as a means of digital audio connectivity. It is dramatically different than all of the other connection types on this list because it uses fiber optic technology to deliver a signal rather than low-voltage electricity. However, it does share a similarity with RCA in that it can use the Sony/Philips Digital Interface.

TOSLINK is often used to carry stereo audio, but it can also transmit more channels for surround sound if the signal is compressed. Home stereo and surround sound equipment use TOSLINK to connect TVs, CD players, and other outputs to a receiver. Some devices utilize Mini-TOSLINK, a compact version requiring a small adapter.

It is primarily found on smaller audio devices that do not have space for a full-size TOSLINK port. A similar cable is ADAT, which uses the same connector but transmits a different data format. Professionals use ADAT because it can handle eight audio channels, but it is overkill for most residential applications.

3. RCA

RCA cables were the most common audio and video connector for many years. While TVs and video equipment switched to newer cables like HDMI, capable of high-definition, RCA is still popular in the audio world. Besides carrying audio signals between devices like DVD players and TVs, they can also carry audio directly to a speaker.

Inside a single RCA cable is a pair of wires, but RCA cables themselves are often bonded in pairs for stereo audio. This configuration is used in many home audio systems as well as for amplifiers in automotive audio systems. RCA cables deliver unbalanced analog audio when connected to speakers, but they can also carry a digital signal when used with certain equipment.

There are a few instances where a single RCA cable is used, including for mono audio transmission. Similarly, many surround sound systems use RCA cables to connect the receiver to a subwoofer. Additionally, a single RCA cable can carry multi-channel audio via S/PDIF protocol. Using RCA for S/PDIF is very rare today as TOSLINK optical connections have largely replaced it.

Used
PASOW 3 RCA Cable Audio Video Composite Male to Male DVD Cable
$6.49
  • Deliver sharp and clear video
  • Connectors made from high-quality nickel
  • Economical solution
  • Transmit analog audio and video signals
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 12:28 pm GMT

4. TS

TS speaker cables are easily the most popular and well-known speaker connectors. It, as well as the TRS and TRRS variations, offer the easiest way to transmit an audio signal. TS stands for tip/sleeve, which simply means that the connector has a conductor on the tip and another along the shaft. The tip and sleeve connect to two different wires inside the cable.

Easiest Way to Transmit Audio
Yuchenfeng 1/4 TS Plug to Bare Speaker Wire
$16.99
  • 16.5 feet
  • 6.5mm male mono adapter
  • Copper wires wrapped in PVC
  • Gold-plated TS plug
  • Easy to DIY for other projects
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 01:38 pm GMT

TS connectors come in two popular variations: a conventional 3.5mm auxiliary connector and a larger 1/4 inch one. Although the connection sizes are different, they are both considered TS cables. You can even connect 3.5mm and 1/4-inch varieties with a simple adapter. While TS cables can transmit long distances, the beveled tip does not create the most solid connection.

Adapt a Mini Stereo Plug to a Mono Output
QMseller 3.5mm to 1/4 Mono Adapter, 3.5mm Stereo Female to 6.35mm TS Male Plug Audio Adaptor
$5.79
  • 4 pack
  • 3.5 mm TRS to 1/4 in TS
  • 6.35mm (1/8 inch) TS to 3.5mm (1/4 inch)
  • Gold-plated connectors
  • 360-degree treads for easy gripping
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 03:22 pm GMT

Looking closer at functionality, TS cables transmit unbalanced audio with a mono signal. Therefore, it cannot send stereo audio since it only has two conductors. Because of this limitation, TS cables are often used for connecting a single speaker or a musical instrument, like an electric guitar.

5. TRS

TRS cables are nearly identical to TS cables, and it is easy to get them mixed up if you don’t know what to look for. Like TS cables, TRS come in different sizes, but 3.5mm is much more common. The “R” in TRS stands for ring, which you can see when looking at the connector.

A substantial difference is that it sends either balanced or unbalanced audio. The extra ring supports a third wire in the cable, which is often used for stereo sound. This is what you will find on most auxiliary cables as well as headphone connectors. However, a TRS cable can also transmit balanced mono audio.

Stereo Auxiliary Cables
6.6ft/2M TRS Auxiliary Cables 90 Degree Right 3.5mm
$6.99 ($0.53 / Foot)
  • 2 pack aux cables
  • 3.5mm stereo cables with right-angle connectors
  • Male to male
  • Nylon-braided cord
  • 24K gold-plated oxygen-free copper wires
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 01:57 pm GMT

6. TRRS

You probably notice a pattern by now, and TRRS is exactly what you think. A TRRS cable has a tip, sleeve, and two ring connectors for a total of four wires. It is primarily found in 3.5mm connections, such as headphones. The sound is often unbalanced where the extra ring is used for a microphone.

Keep in mind that you can use the TRRS, TRS, and TS interchangeably, but you may not be able to take advantage of all the features. For instance, if you connect a TRRS cable to an output that supports mono audio, you will not get stereo sound. Also, some people report that the audio quality is diminished when using TRRS cables and headphones in a TRS port.

For Audio Transmission and Mics
Devinal 3.5mm TRRS Cable
$9.99 ($0.76 / Foot)
  • 6.6 feet (2 meter) 2 pack
  • 1/8 inch 4 pole nylon-braided aux cord
  • Oxygen-free copper wires
  • Male-to-male
  • PVC cover and gold-plated connectors
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 02:07 pm GMT

7. XLR

Next up is XLR, which begins a shift toward commercial and professional types of speaker cables. All the cables covered so far are found in various professional and personal audio applications. However, XLR is used primarily in commercial environments. The cables deliver balanced audio through a minimum of three pins. The connectors themselves are large and round, with multiple pins protected inside.

Male and female ends firmly snap together, providing one of the most secure connections. They are also great for spanning long distances. The most common use for XLR cables is connecting microphones and other audio inputs to a mixing board or outputting the signal to speakers. While XLR cables typically have three connectors, they can include up to 10. Additionally, XLR cables can be used for lighting.

Great for Professional Sound Applications
Amazon Basics XLR Microphone Cable for Speaker or PA System
$9.11
  • 6-foot black cable
  • Copper conductors and a PVC jacket
  • male to female microphone cable
  • Zinc alloy 3-pin connectors
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 02:17 pm GMT

8. speakON

Next on our list are speakON cables. These cables share some similarities to XLR as they are used to connect amplifiers to speakers. The twist connectors lock into place for a solid connection. While speakON is a proprietary product, you can get compatible speaker cables with twist connectors through third parties. However, these off-brand cables often have only two conductors, whereas official speakOn cables can have up to eight.

One way that speakON differs from XLR is that it transmits an unbalanced signal. They can also handle a lot more power than XLR or 1/4-inch connectors. Therefore, speakON is a popular choice for large PA systems and loudspeakers. While speakON cables don’t offer the flexibility of XLR, you can use them in different configurations to transmit both high and low-frequency signals.

For High-Power PA and Loudspeaker Systems
Yoico Pro 100 Feet 12AWG Speakon to Speakon Cable
$49.99
  • 100-foot heavy-duty 12 gauge speaker wire
  • Features a twist lock latching mechanism
  • Able to carry high current up to 30 amps
  • Durable, industrial-grade cord
  • Copper wiring with PVC jacket
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 02:57 pm GMT

9. USB/FireWire

Audio probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of USB. However, it can do much more than charge your phone and transfer data to a computer. USB is capable of transmitting audio signals to powered speakers. There are even interface adapters that can extract the audio signal from a USB cable and output it to more traditional audio connectors.

Many people connect their computers to desktop speakers via USB, as it supplies both power and audio. Similarly, phones can send audio over USB to a speaker. A USB variant is FireWire, which is also a serial bus that Apple developed. However, some audio equipment included FireWire connections to directly hook up a computer.

USB Audio Adapter
SABRENT USB External Stereo Sound Adapter for Windows and Mac
$8.99
  • USB Type-A, stereo output jack, and mono microphone input jack
  • No drivers required
  • Compatible with Windows XP-Windows 11 and Mac OS 8.6 and later
  • Requires no external power
  • USB 2.0, also backward compatible with USB 1.1
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 02:57 pm GMT

10. HDMI

Last but not least is HDMI, which is an emerging way of transmitting audio. It is a versatile connector that is used for connecting almost any device to a TV. Rather than using a myriad of different wire types for audio and video, HDMI packs both into a single cable. There are 19 pins inside an HDMI cable that can also send ethernet and return audio.

HDMI can transmit large amounts of data very fast and in high quality. It can also send up to eight channels and supports various Dolby formats. In addition to carrying audio between devices, you can use it to transmit audio to a speaker. Many modern speaker bars strip the audio signal from an HDMI cable and then send a video signal to the TV.

Also
IVANKY 4K HDMI 2.0
$8.99
  • Supports multiple audio formats, such as uncompressed 5.1, 7.1, DTS-HD, and Dolby
  • Compatible with streaming devices
  • Backward compatible with HDMI 1.4, 1.3, and 1.2
  • Withstands over 15,000 bend lifespans
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 02:32 pm GMT

Balanced vs. Unbalanced Speaker Cables

One of the biggest differences between speaker cable types is whether they are balanced or unbalanced. To get a truly balanced system, you must have both cables and devices that support the technology. Balanced audio is important in recording studios, concerts, and other places where sound quality has to be perfect.

Unbalanced cables are compatible with balanced and unbalanced systems. They are best used for shorter distances, such as plugging instruments into amplifiers. Unbalanced cables are often used because one of the components in your setup is incompatible with balanced signals. For example, electric guitars have only unbalanced outputs, so they require an unbalanced cable.

In an unbalanced configuration, there is a positive signal and a ground, with each running on a different wire. A balanced setup uses a third wire to send an inverted soundwave, referred to as a negative or cold signal. The speaker inverts the negative signal and cancels out any external noise in the transmission, delivering very high-quality sound to the listener.

Wrapping Up

As you’ve seen, there are a lot of different types of speaker cables. Keep in mind that we only covered the most common, as there are large numbers of proprietary and outdated speaker cables. To learn more, check out our extensive guide on popular speaker types. You may also want to look into the different types of video cables.

  1. Monoprice 102821 Access Series 14 Gauge AWG CL2 Rated 2 Conductor Speaker Wire
    $164.49
    • 99.95% pure, oxygen-free copper connectors
    • 250 continuous feet
    • Safe to use inside the walls of residential buildings
    • Each conductor has its own color-coded PVC jacket within the outer white CL2-rated PVC jacket
    • Lifetime warranty
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 01:03 pm GMT
  2. Amazon Basics Speaker Connector Banana Plug to Banana Plug
    $34.36
    • 12 packs of 2 plugs
    • 0.5 x 0.5 x 1.3 inches
    • 24k gold plating
    • Female connection on base
    • Accepts 12 to 18 AWG speaker wire
    • Self-crimping teeth
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 01:07 pm GMT
  3. PASOW 3 RCA Cable Audio Video Composite Male to Male DVD Cable
    $6.49
    • Deliver sharp and clear video
    • Connectors made from high-quality nickel
    • Economical solution
    • Transmit analog audio and video signals
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 12:28 pm GMT
  4. Yuchenfeng 1/4 TS Plug to Bare Speaker Wire
    $16.99
    • 16.5 feet
    • 6.5mm male mono adapter
    • Copper wires wrapped in PVC
    • Gold-plated TS plug
    • Easy to DIY for other projects
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 01:38 pm GMT
  5. QMseller 3.5mm to 1/4 Mono Adapter, 3.5mm Stereo Female to 6.35mm TS Male Plug Audio Adaptor
    $5.79
    • 4 pack
    • 3.5 mm TRS to 1/4 in TS
    • 6.35mm (1/8 inch) TS to 3.5mm (1/4 inch)
    • Gold-plated connectors
    • 360-degree treads for easy gripping
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 03:22 pm GMT
  6. 6.6ft/2M TRS Auxiliary Cables 90 Degree Right 3.5mm
    $6.99 ($0.53 / Foot)
    • 2 pack aux cables
    • 3.5mm stereo cables with right-angle connectors
    • Male to male
    • Nylon-braided cord
    • 24K gold-plated oxygen-free copper wires
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 01:57 pm GMT
  7. Devinal 3.5mm TRRS Cable
    $9.99 ($0.76 / Foot)
    • 6.6 feet (2 meter) 2 pack
    • 1/8 inch 4 pole nylon-braided aux cord
    • Oxygen-free copper wires
    • Male-to-male
    • PVC cover and gold-plated connectors
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 02:07 pm GMT
  8. Amazon Basics XLR Microphone Cable for Speaker or PA System
    $9.11
    • 6-foot black cable
    • Copper conductors and a PVC jacket
    • male to female microphone cable
    • Zinc alloy 3-pin connectors
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 02:17 pm GMT
  9. Yoico Pro 100 Feet 12AWG Speakon to Speakon Cable
    $49.99
    • 100-foot heavy-duty 12 gauge speaker wire
    • Features a twist lock latching mechanism
    • Able to carry high current up to 30 amps
    • Durable, industrial-grade cord
    • Copper wiring with PVC jacket
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 02:57 pm GMT
  10. SABRENT USB External Stereo Sound Adapter for Windows and Mac
    $8.99
    • USB Type-A, stereo output jack, and mono microphone input jack
    • No drivers required
    • Compatible with Windows XP-Windows 11 and Mac OS 8.6 and later
    • Requires no external power
    • USB 2.0, also backward compatible with USB 1.1
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 02:57 pm GMT
  11. IVANKY 4K HDMI 2.0
    $8.99
    • Supports multiple audio formats, such as uncompressed 5.1, 7.1, DTS-HD, and Dolby
    • Compatible with streaming devices
    • Backward compatible with HDMI 1.4, 1.3, and 1.2
    • Withstands over 15,000 bend lifespans
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 02:32 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use adapters to go between various cable types?

Many of the speaker cables mentioned above can use various adapters to go between different cable configurations. One of the most well-known adapters is the 1/4 inch to 3.5mm, which allows for the connection of smaller input and output devices into the larger terminal. There are also similar adapters to go between XLR and SpeakON.

Do speakers require an electrical connection?

Most standalone PA and home theater speakers do not require a separate electrical connection. The only speakers requiring power are those with integrated electronics, such as amplifiers.

Is automotive speaker wire the same as residential?

Both home and automotive wire use similar gauges of copper wire. However, residential wiring for in-wall applications usually has an outer sheathing, while the coating automotive speaker wire is often more durable and rated for higher temperatures.

Can you oversize speaker wire?

Yes, you can use a larger gauge wire than needed. However, you cannot use a smaller wire as it will have too much resistance. Therefore, it is always better to go with a larger speaker wire than needed to future-proof your system.

What are MIDI cables used for?

A MIDI connector is a type of audio cable, but it is not used for speakers. Instead, MIDI cables connect instruments like keyboards to computers and other interface devices.

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