Connecting the speaker to stereo receiver or an amplifier using the speaker’s main wire looks like a simple process — and for the most part it is. But you should be aware of some important points to ensure the best results. For example, reversing the polarity of the wiring is a simple but common mistake that can significantly degrade the sound quality.

Speaker Terminals

Most all stereo receivers, amplifiers, and standard loudspeakers (i.e., those capable of receiving signals via speaker wire connections) have rear-panel connectors for connecting speaker wires. These terminals can be spring clamp or clamp type.

These terminals are also almost always color-coded for easy identification: the positive (+) terminal is usually red, and the negative (-) terminal is usually black. Please note that some speakers support two-wire communication which means that the red and black connectors are paired for four connections.

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How to Connect Speaker Wires to Your Receiver or Amplifier

Speaker wire

The main speaker wire is not type of RCA or Optical/TOSLINK — has only two parts to work with at each end: positive (+) and negative (-). Simple, but there is a 50-50 chance of getting it wrong if you’re not careful. Obviously, this is best avoided because swapping positive and negative signals can seriously affect system performance. Before re-powering and checking the speakers, it is worth checking if these wires are connected correctly.

While connectors on the back of stereo equipment tend to be easily identified, the same cannot be said for speaker wires. There is often confusion here because the labeling is not always obvious.

If your speaker wire doesn’t have a two-tone color scheme, look for one stripe or dotted lines (these usually indicate the positive end) along one of the sides. If your wire has a light-colored insulation, this stripe or stroke may be dark. If the insulation is dark in color, the stripe or dash will most likely be white.

If the speaker wire is transparent or translucent, check if it has markings. You should see (+) or (-) symbols (and sometimes text) to indicate polarity. If these markings are difficult to read or identify, use tape to mark the ends after you know which one is for faster identification later. If you’re ever unsure and need to double check (especially if you have a mess of wires), you can quickly check speaker wire connections using a regular AA or AAA battery.

Connector types

Illustration of different types of speaker wire connectors.

Speaker wires are most commonly found bare, which means you would use a wire stripper to expose the strands at the ends. Good twist bare wire bundles, so they stay together as a neat single twisted wire, whether your equipment uses spring clips or clips.

You can also find speaker wire with their own connectors, which can make wiring easier, as well as quickly identify polarity if they are color-coded. In addition, you can install your own connectors, if you don’t like fiddling with bare wires. They can be purchased separately to upgrade your speaker cables.

Pin connectors are only used with spring terminals. These pins are strong and easy to insert.

Banana plug and spade connectors are only used with mounting posts. The banana plug fits right into the connector hole, while the spade connector stays locked in place as you tighten the post.

Connecting Receivers or Amplifiers

Wires must be properly connected how to the receiver or amplifier, and to the speakers. The positive speaker terminal (red) on the receiver or amplifier must be connected to the positive terminal on the speakers, and the same applies to the negative terminals on all equipment. Technically, the color or marking of the wires does not matter if all the terminals match. However, it’s usually best to follow the indicators to avoid possible confusion later on.

When done correctly, the speakers are said to be «in phase», which means that both speakers perform the same way. If one of these connections happens to be reversed (i.e., positive to negative rather than positive to positive), then the speakers are said to be «out of phase». This situation can cause serious sound quality problems. This may not damage any components, but you will most likely hear a difference in the output. Examples:

Of course, other issues can create similar audio problems, but incorrect speaker phase is one of the most common mistakes when setting up a stereo system. This can be easily overlooked, especially if you’re dealing with a cluster of audio and video cables.

So, take your time to make sure all columns are in phase: positive to positive (red to red) and negative to negative (black to black).

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