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HomeTips & GuidesSpeaker Wire vs. Electrical Wire: A Comparison Between Two Car Cable Harnesses

Speaker Wire vs. Electrical Wire: A Comparison Between Two Car Cable Harnesses

Let’s compare speaker wire vs. electrical wire below because they are the most typical cables in vehicle wiring

You might be asking whether it’s possible to interchange the two if new to car wiring. We’ll clarify your doubts below, but first, let’s define the two terms.

Table of Contents

What Is a Speaker Wire?

A speaker wire is a conductor for transmitting low-voltage signals from audio amplifiers or other audio sources to speakers. 

The term also refers to wires in the speaker’s internal wiring, which send signals to the magnet coil for conversion to mechanical movements.

High-quality transparent speaker wires

High-quality transparent speaker wires

These wires can drive different loads, usually 4-8 ohms, but this factor can vary depending on the wire gauge and length. 

But more on that later.

Speaker cables come in different types, including the following.

  • Electrolytic Tough Pitch (ETP) copper, with about 0.03% oxygen
  • High-grade Oxygen Free Copper (OFC), with about 0.001% oxygen
  • Super high-grade OFC, containing about 0.0005% copper
  • Silver speaker cables
  • Gold wires
  • Aluminum wires
A roll of 8mm electrolytic tough-pitch copper

A roll of 8mm electrolytic tough-pitch copper

When shopping or researching these wires, you’ll come across terms like skin effect, directionality, proximity effect, capacitance, and oxygen content (for copper wires). 

Although they affect performance, the most critical factors to check include the following.

What To Look For in Speaker Wires

Compare these five factors.

Conductor Material

Conductivity is vital when considering audio speaker wires because it determines the sound quality. 

Gold is the best conductor for audio signals, but it is expensive. Silver comes in at second place performance-wise. 

Although costlier than copper, the material is more common in electrical conductors.

Here is a brief comparison of speaker wire conductor materials.

Conductor MaterialProsCons
AluminumLightweight and offers low resistanceExpands, contracts, corrodes, and overheats easily
CopperAffordable, low-resistance materialOxidizes easily
SilverLower electrical resistance than copperCostly and chemically reactive
GoldLowest resistance material and does not oxidizeExpensive

The primary advantage of copper is its balance between cost and performance. So manufacturers try to use techniques like ETP to make the copper in speaker wires oxygen-free to reduce oxidation.

Wire Length

The longer the wire, the more the capacitance and resistance along the line. 

So if the distance is longer, such as to reach rear door speakers, use thicker speaker wires to minimize resistance.

Car audio speaker tweaking before installation

Car audio speaker tweaking before installation

And use the exact length to reach the speakers. Long cables have high capacitance, which can oscillate the audio signals and damage the speakers or receivers.

Connector

Audio wires are only as good as the terminals connecting them to the amplifier and speakers. 

So use solid connectors, such as banana, spade, or pin, to ensure firm connections on both ends that don’t distort the sound signal. 

Stripped wire joints can corrode or short circuit, so avoid them.

An acoustic speaker with wire connectors

An acoustic speaker with wire connectors

American Wire Gauge

A wire’s gauge size defines its thickness, which affects its electrical current-carrying capacity. 

The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire and the more electric current it can handle.

Speaker wires usually range from 10-16 AWG and can handle varying electric current levels, as shown below.

  • 10 AWG →30 amps
  • 12 AWG →20 amps
  • 14 AWG →15 amps
  • 16 AWG →13 amps

The ideal wire thickness also depends on the distance between the speaker and the load. 

Here’s a guide to help you pick the most suitable wire diameter.

Distance Covered Per Load
Gauge Size4-Ohm6-Ohm8-Ohm
10 AWG100 ft. (30.5 meters)150 ft. (45.7 meters)200 ft. (61 meters)
12 AWG60 ft. (18.3 meters)90 ft. (27.4 meters)120 ft. (36.6 meters)
14 AWG40 ft. (12.2 meters)60 ft. (18.3 meters)80 ft. (24.4 meters)
16 AWG24 ft. (7.3 meters)36 ft. (11 meters)48 ft. (14.6 meters)

Shielding

Audio signals can get distorted if they encounter electromagnetic interference from nearby power sources. 

So consider using shielded (braided or foiled) cables if they pass through areas with noisy electrical sources. Also, use high-quality and neat terminal solder or crimp connections.

What Is an Electrical Wire?

Electrical wires are general-purpose cables that transmit electric current from one point to another. 

And you can find them in residential, car, industrial, or commercial wiring.

One of the most significant characteristics of electrical wires is they can handle high voltage current. 

So they are ideal for connecting high-current draw devices, such as starter motors and headlights.

An electric wire bundle

An electric wire bundle

And the wire conductors are usually either copper or aluminum because they are thick, and these metals are cheaper than silver.

Electrical Wire Characteristics

Electrical wires exhibit the following characteristics.

Efficient Power Transmission

These regular wires are thicker than the speaker type because they handle heavier electric current loads. 

This design minimizes power losses during transmission.

Durability

Electric wires have durable insulations that withstand harsh environmental conditions, such as chemicals, moisture, and extreme temperatures. 

So they are more durable than their audio counterparts. Plus, they are thicker, making them tougher to cut.

Electric wires in a vehicle

Compliance and Safety

Since they have multiple insulation options, manufacturers can make electrical wires to comply with various safety regulations.

Versatility and Flexibility

Electrical wires come in several types, sizes, and configurations to fit into various installation requirements. 

These requirements include routing through vehicle frames and engine bays, building walls and ceilings, etc.

Speaker Wire vs. Electrical Wire

These two wires have the following differences.

Gauge

Speaker wires are thinner than electrical wires because the sound signals they transmit are low-voltage pulses. 

Typically, the speaker wire thickness ranges from 12-16 gauge, but thicker speaker wires can go up to 10 AWG.

A standard wire gauge chart

A standard wire gauge chart

On the other hand, electrical wires for vehicles usually start at 4 AWG. But large trucks can have 00 gauge wires to supply power from the batteries to the starter motor.

And these wires go up to about 10 AWG for other car wiring applications.

Insulation and Color

Speaker wires usually have PVC or Teflon insulations to prevent short-circuiting and ensure reliable signal transmission. 

But electrical wires have more insulation options because they have broader application scope. 

For instance, the insulation material required for vehicle wires differs from the household wiring insulation.

And on color, both have color codes to ensure accurate connections when wiring. 

But some speaker wires have transparent insulation to make it easy to monitor the status of the conductor inside.

Number of Conductors

Speaker cables usually come as twins or twisted wires to power and ground the speaker coil.

 If they don’t have a color-coding, the transparent wires must have marks to identify the audio signal polarity.

A transparent twin-speaker wire

A transparent twin-speaker wire

Can I Use a Speaker Wire as an Electrical Wire?

Yes, you can, but not for all applications. The metal conductor in both wires can transmit electricity, so the critical difference between the two is the conductivity property.

So if you are knowledgeable about conductivity in different metals, shielding, capacitance, and resistance, you can replace an electrical wire with a speaker wire.

Engine control unit wires

Engine control unit wires

For instance, car speakers and tail lights use 16-18 gauge wires. 

So you can replace the tail light wire with a speaker wire, provided they are the same length and the material inside is the same or better.

Potential Risks of Swapping an Electrical Wire With a Speaker Wire

Although it is possible to swap the two in some cases, we don’t recommend it due to these potential risks.

Overheating

If you replace a thick electrical wire with a high gauge size speaker wire, the conductor will overheat due to the increased resistance along the line. 

This heat can melt the insulation, exposing the stranded wire to shorting and oxidation.

Fire Hazards

Conductor wire overheating can lead to fires due to electric sparks or arcs when current finds a shorter path to the ground. 

This condition can ignite flammable materials nearby, causing a fire in the car.

Electric wires

Electric wires

Electrical Failures

Increased resistance leads to voltage drops, loose connections, power interruptions, and other electrical faults. 

These conditions can damage the end device. And if the oxidation or burning persists, the wire will get cut, causing a discontinuity.

Importance of Using the Correct Wire Size

Sticking to the correct wire type and size brings the following benefits.

Compliance

Running the correct wire size ensures electrical code and regulation compliance to safeguard the asset and the owner.

Safety

Using the appropriate wires prevents electrical faults associated with overheating, making the wiring system safer.

Red and black electric wires

Red and black electric wires

Durability

Wires that can withstand the electrical current load last longer because they won’t overheat or burn. So you won’t have to replace them as often.

Reliability

The electrical connections will not experience downtimes or interruptions if the wires experience zero overheating or fire hazard events. 

Wrap Up

It is possible to interchange electrical wires with speaker wires but only under unique circumstances. 

So if non-conversant with the electrical properties of the two, look for an exact match when replacing the wire. 

All in all, we recommend doing replacements using the respective cables to avoid any electrical faults. 

Hi I am Christa, sales manager of Cloom.

I have extensive expertise and experience in wiring harnesses and I believe I can help you.

And we have a very professional technical team who can clearly understand the customer’s needs and give professional suggestions and solutions after receiving the drawings.

If you also have wiring harness needs, please send me the drawing so that we can give you our quote and start our business.

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