Collection: Why Speaker Cables and Instrument Cables Aren’t Interchangeable

Sometimes, we just want to plug in cables; in the end, they’re all cables, right? All that talk of shielding, impedance, metal types used, and so on can get tedious and confusing, especially for rookies! It’s good that manufacturers usually label these cables correctly because using an instrument cable for a speaker can be dangerous!

You might have, in the past, wondered why a cable well-suited for connecting an amp to a speaker isn’t well-suited for connecting a guitar to a mixer.  

Generally, instrument cables are usually smaller gauge (GA) wires with shielding, while speaker cables are large GA, unshielded wires.

But, What is Shielding in Cables?

Well, shielding is the act of insulating one or more insulated (coated) conductors/wires that share a common unenclosed layer. Coating/shielding aims to prevent the switching or interference of electronic signals between nearby cables. Shielding reduces crosstalk which explains why instrument cables are shielded.

Shielding in instrument cables is mainly to prevent; it also makes cables work with weak signals (high impedance) coming from instruments (the guitar in our earlier example). However, speaker cables handle the amplified (i.e., low impedance) electronic signals that come from the amp.

Why can’t I use instrument cables (unshielded cables) as speaker cables?

Using an unshielded cable (speaker cable) for an instrument will likely cause lots of electrical buzzing. The buzzing probably won’t hurt anything, but using an instrument cable (shielded cable) to connect your amp to your speaker can BLOW UP your amp!

The audio signals coming from instruments are relatively weak compared to the audio signals received by your speaker. You risk damaging a device when you use a cable designed to accommodate the wrong signals. Running a weak current through a cable intended for massive signals won’t hurt anything, although you might hear some noise. However, doing it the other way round will likely hurt your instrument.

Smaller GA VS Larger GA Cables

So, earlier, we talked about instrument cables being smaller gauge (GA) wires with shielding, while speaker cables are larger GA, unshielded cables. 

What exactly are wire gauges, and how do you identify them?

You might have come across wires labeled 12GA, 14GA, or 18GA, in stores. Wire thickness is represented by its American Wire GA (AWG) number, and a higher number indicates thinner wire. I.e., the smaller the number, the thicker it is. 

Need Speaker Cables In Any Gauge?

Check out our product pages for everything from 12 gauge wires to 18 gauge wires in different colors. 

What is American Wire Gauge (AWG), and Why Does It Matter?

Wire thickness is determined by the American Wire Gauge (AWG) number. AWG is the standard used for determining the cross-section of an electrical wire with the aid of a gauge. A lower AWG number indicates a thicker wire, while higher numbers indicate thinner wires. AWG has been the standard used by users for determining current-carrying ratings since 1857.

With AWG, a stranded wire usually takes up more space than the solid wires because you can only measure them by adding up a cross-sectional area of the wire strands. In between these strands are what is referred to as air pockets, thus the reason for the larger space in the stranded configuration.

AWG usually measures electric wires, specifies the diameter of the wire, and determines their electrical resistance. With the help of AWG, you can determine the capacity of different types of nonferrous wires such as copper, aluminum, and copper-clad aluminium. You can also determine the diameters of other wires like solid, round, electricity conducting wires, etc.

Relevance of American Wire Gauge

Wire gauge is pretty significant in different scenarios, including situations where you are driving a speaker or an automobile starter, or even if you are trying to deliver power from a hydro plant to a particular location. However, AWG is not needed if you are trying to interconnect line-level audio that is not properly balanced. AGM is very significant to lots of audio and video applications. Below are some of such applications and how AWG is relevant to them.


  • Speaker Circuit


Wire gauge is a very critical aspect of any cable, including speaker circuits. The frequencies of speakers vary significantly, from very high, nominal, or very low and the level of power to be transferred by the cable depends on the frequency level. The lower the speaker impedance, the higher the energy absorbed by the cable, and the higher the impedance, the higher the power delivered to the speaker. As a result, excessively high resistance in any speaker will lead to the loss of high-frequency signals, which will cause the speaker to sound differently. Knowing the right wire gauge will help prevent poor-sounding speakers due to excessive speaker impedance.


  • Audio Interconnects


Generally, audio interconnects circuits operate with high impedance. AWG is necessary in this case, as it would determine the capacitance of cable. Audio interconnects, unlike speaker circuits require less AWG, which means the AWG of the center conductor has to be reduced for the efficiency of the signal quality.


  • Parallel Digital Video and Analog Video Interconnects


Parallel digital videos also require less resistance, as high resistance could reduce the performance level in some critical aspects, such as capacitance, return loss, crosstalk, or skew. Analog video interconnects, on the other hand, require high frequency, and consequently, an increase in resistance of the center conductor.


  • Uniformity


Lastly, but equally important, is the need for professionals to install a uniformly rated wire in any circuit, whether for power, home stereo speakers, or car stereo. AWG ensures that even if you order online, the AWG rating will match the existing wires in terms of quality and size. This way, you can trust your purchase, and rest assured that it will serve your specific needs.


AWG is related to resistance, and thicker wires have less resistance and can transport higher voltage. Thus, when using small gauge sizes, they should be combined with higher AWG numbers due to their flexibility.

No products found
Use fewer filters or remove all