Hosting outdoor or indoor events means you need speakers that allow you to project audio to a large audience with minimum effort. But how far can you run your speaker wires? Will your wires be able to carry sound to a long distance without substantial quality loss? This article explains the challenges of running long speaker wires.
The maximum length you can run a speaker wire is dependent on the gauge of the wire and the impedance (resistance in ohms Ω) of the speaker. The size of the speaker does not matter.
The maximum length of your speaker wire should be determined by a rule that states that the total resistance of the wire should be less than 5% of the impedance (resistance) of the speaker. For example, if your speaker is rated at 8 ohms, then you can run an 18 gauge wire up to 32 feet, a 16 gauge wire up to 48 feet, a 14 gauge up to 80 feet, and a 12 gauge wire up to 120 feet.
Below is a table that shows the maximum length you can run a speaker wire depending on the impedance of the speaker and the gauge of the wire:
|2 ohm load
|4 ohm load
|6 ohm load
|8 ohm load
|3 feet max
|6 feet max
|9 feet max
12 feet max
|5 feet max
|10 feet max
|15 feet max
|20 feet max
8 feet max
|16 feet max
24 feet max
|32 feet max
|12 feet max
|24 feet max
|36 feet max
48 feet max
|20 feet max
|40 feet max
|30 feet max
|50 feet max
(**) 50 feet is the maximum recommended length for a normal line cord or Romex solid copper wire.
You will note that the greater the gauge of the wire and the greater the impedance of the speaker, the longer you can run your speaker wires.
Please however note that as a general rule of thumb, is that you can run speaker wires up to 50 feet if you have a mixer or power amp in your system. Anything above 50 feet is considered too long and will affect the overall quality of the sound produced by a system due to signal loss. However, if you are using equipment with instrument-level output, such as guitars and keyboards, keep the speaker cable less than 20ft.
Let’s dive into this further because you need to also consider the impedance of the speakers and gauge of the wire to determine how far you can reliably run it.
How Far Can You Run Outdoor Speaker Wires
There are many types of speaker wires. However, when considering how far we can run speaker wires, we typically speaker about regular speaker wires of 12 – 14 gauge. However, you need to consider the specific gauge measurement of your speaker wires to determine how long you can run them.
This is because the gauge of the speaker wires helps to determine if you can achieve maximum performance out of your speakers given a certain distance or length of speaker wire.
As such, when you are thinking of the length of wire to use with your outdoor speaker for peak performance, a major consideration is the impedance of your speaker and the gauge of the wire to purchase. This simply refers to the thickness of your speaker wire about the load the speaker places on the amp.
In more detail, your sound travels within the wire as a form of electrical charge. Therefore, the thicker the wire, the better the quality of sound it produces. The standard wire gauge you can get is; 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 AWG.
“AWG” refers to the American Wire Gauge, which is a metric with which the wire thickness is judged – the lower the number the thicker the size of the wire i.e. 12 AWG will be thicker than 16 AWG.
Impedance plays an important part as well because the greater the impedance, the more resistance the speakers will have to electrical current. This means that higher impedance speakers will have a harder time playing weak signals than lower impedance speakers with all else equal.
Below is a table that shows what length of speaker wire you can use depending on the impedance of the speakers and the gauge of the wire.
Speaker Wire Distance vs Gauge and Impedance
|Speaker Wire Gauge
|4 Ohms Speakers
|6 Ohms Speakers
|8 Ohms Speakers
|12 AWG Speaker Wire
|14 AWG Speaker Wire
|16 AWG Speaker Wire
|18 AWG Speaker Wire
How Far Can You Run Indoor Speaker Wires
The first point to note here is the use of rating i.e. UL, CL2, and CL3 ratings. These ratings are indications that these speaker wires are for use indoors.
The question you might want to ask is; what differentiates these speaker wires?
Just as the outdoor speakers, your indoor speaker wires are also judged by their wire gauge relation to the speaker’s impedance, which means that the distance for running the indoor wires is also a factor of how thick the wire is.
However, what makes these wires suitable for use indoors is the certification that the indoor heat or its nearness to flammable household equipment will not put you in danger of use. Remember also that you will likely be running your speaker wires under carpets or within walls so they must be thick enough to withstand pressure and strain.
Can Speaker Wire Be Too Long
A direct answer is yes. Your speaker wire can be too long depending on the resistance of the speaker and the wire gauge of your speaker.
For example, using an 18 AWG wire with a speaker having an 8-ohm speaker impedance on a distance up to 50ft may get too long.
The effect of this wire gauge will cause a bad sound output or even distorted sound production. Another effect could put too much pressure on the wire which could cause overheating.
Speaker Wire Gauge Vs Distance
As it has been earlier stated, how long a speaker wire will run depends in its entirety on how thick the wire is. The American Wire Gauge size of speaker you will most commonly get are:
These wires have a thickness that ranges in descending order i.e. the lower the AWG number is, the thicker it is.
But this thickness is a packet that helps the sound wave travel farther and with better quality. However, to determine the distance this gauge can run you will need to understand the effect of the speaker impedance.
Using the 8-ohm speaker as an example, the maximum distance a 10 AWG speaker wire (which is the thickest) can get to is 200ft/speaker so, if you are trying to reach a farther distance, you might need to connect to more speakers.
Minimum Speaker Cable Length
To answer this directly, there is none. Although there is a maximum length a speaker wire can run, there is no minimum distance it can run.
You are free to decide how short the cable distance is as long as it is within the threshold of the gauge-impedance ratio. However, the other consideration is in using Bluetooth or other wireless connections that do not require any form of speaker wire to connect the speakers.
How Far Can You Run 14 Gauge Speaker Wire
A 14 gauge speaker wire is an average-sized wire thickness but how far it will go depends on the speaker it is used with.
This is because the impedance of the speaker determines the pressure it places on the amplifier, a condition that eventually determines how far the sound will travel.
There are three common types of speaker impedance you will come across, this includes the 4-ohms impedance speaker; the 6-ohms impedance speaker; and the 8-ohms impedance speaker.
Therefore, determining the distance a 14 gauge speaker will run using the three common speaker impedances, the result will be;
● 40ft for a 4-ohm speaker impedance
● 60ft for a 6-ohm speaker impedance
● 80ft for an 8-ohm speaker impedance
How Far Can You Run 16 Gauge Speaker Wire
Just as stated with the 14 gauge speaker wire, similarly, the distance a 16 gauge speaker wire will run depends on the impedance of the speaker you connected it to.
This means that to decide properly how far you will run the 16 gauge wire, you must first ask about the impedance of the speaker. Therefore, using the three common speaker impedance i.e. 4, 6, and 8 ohms, the maximum distance will be;
● 24ft for the 4-ohms
● 36ft for the 6-ohms
● 48ft for the 8-ohms
Can Speaker Wire Be Too Thick
The simple answer is no! Your speaker wire can never be too thick. The thicker the wire, the better it is for your use because this helps you reduce resistance which also helps to produce better sound quality.
Speaker Wire Length Chart
Using the most common type of speaker impedance that has been used as a reference in this article i.e. 8-ohms, a chart showing the maximum length for the speaker wire distance is shown below:
● For 18 gauge, the maximum length is 32ft
● For 16 gauge, the maximum length is 48ft
● For 14 gauge, the maximum length is 80ft
● For 12 gauge, the maximum length is 120ft
● For 10 gauge, the maximum length is 200ft
How To Determine What Length of Speaker Wire You Will Need?
The simplest way to determine the length of speaker wire you will need is to use a simple trick.
Simply take a regular cable, string, cord, or rope and run it from your source to your speakers. This will give you a very close estimate of an exact measurement of the distance. Of course, it will also work whether your speakers are indoors or outdoors.
You can use this distance to determine the wire gauge necessary to get the best performance out of your speakers with minimal signal loss along the wire.
However, always ensure that you get a length of wire that is a little more than you measure just to avoid any issues with miscalculations. This way, you won’t have to splice and connect different speaker wires and you won’t have to solder different speaker wires together.
Why Are Speaker Cables Unbalanced?
You may be wondering why speaker cables are unbalanced because unbalanced cables are at risk of picking up noise and causing signal quality issues.
An unbalanced cable is simply a cable that is built in such a way that it does not protect against interference or noise. Balanced cables however do provide this protection.
As such, why aren’t speaker cables balanced to prevent interference/noise and signal loss?
Well, unbalanced cables are fine for devices and instruments that use instrument-level output like guitars, basses, and keyboards. However, as the signal travels further, up to 25 feet and beyond, it will pick up a considerable amount of noise and become very weak.
The advantage of speaker cables however is that they are often used with systems that provide considerable gain or amplification. This means that the signal will be amplified by devices like power amplifiers and mixers in your system. As such, the signal can be much larger than the signal that comes through an instrument cable.
In many cases, when the signal is amplified enough, the amount of noise in a 20’ unbalanced cable (without amplification) is roughly the same as a 50’ cable with amplification.
In other words, the signal in the 50-foot cable will be much larger than the one in the 20-foot cable, but it will also contain the same amount of noise.
In the 50-foot cable with amplification, by the time the signal passes through the amplifier and gets to the speaker cable, the signal-to-noise ratio will be much better than when it was at the instrument level. In this case, we would not need to worry about signal loss over long cable runs.
The maximum length of a speaker wire is determined by the impedance of the speaker and the gauge of the wire. The greater the gauge of the wire and the greater the impedance of the speaker, the longer you can run your speaker wires.
We hope this article can guide you to make the best option when next you are selecting a cable length for your indoor and outdoor speaker.