Got a rockin’ stereo system, or thinking of putting one together? If you’re getting one for your home or your car, you’re going to need a great subwoofer that slaps like you’ve angered it.
But, there’s something important to remember when setting up your system that’s so commonly overlooked – the connection. So, before you get tangled up in a mess of cables, let’s look at some of the basics.
More specifically, I’ll take an in-depth look at the question, “Can you use regular speaker wire for a subwoofer?” Well, life is complicated. So, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the answer to this question is a firm and resounding… maybe – it depends.
- Using Regular Speaker Cable for a Subwoofer
- Different Types of Cables for Different Subwoofers
- Can You Use Regular Speaker Wire For A Subwoofer – What Are Subwoofer Cables?
- Have Some Other Subwoofer Questions?
- Can You Use Regular Speaker Wire For A Subwoofer? – Final Thoughts
Using Regular Speaker Cable for a Subwoofer
Now, the short answer to this question is… Yes, you can use regular speaker wire for a subwoofer. People do it all the time. But, just because lots of people are running regular speaker wire to their subs, it doesn’t mean they should.
“And just what’s wrong with regular speaker wire?” you might ask. Well, it depends just what you mean by “regular.” See, not all speaker wire is born equal.
In this article, I’m going to suppose that “regular” speaker cable means the cheapo stuff. Now it’s OK to run regular speaker cable from your amp to your subwoofer, so long as you can put up with interference.
What is signal interference?
I thought you’d ask that, which is why I’ve written this answer. Look, I don’t have a physics degree, but I hope I can put this in clear enough terms.
Here’s how a stereo system works…
Sound is encoded into electromagnetic signals that are sent from your amp down cables to your speakers. The speakers translate those signals into motion, and that then creates sound.
So, when the electromagnetic signal is headed down your speaker wires, other signals could also theoretically get into the wire and end up coming out of your speakers, too.
That’s called interference, and it’s a foul on the play…
No doubt you’ve experienced this through the radio when similar frequencies from two different stations leak into each other, and you hear both at once.
Who wants to hear weird radio signals leaking through into their favorite tunes? Well, it’s even worse when you get signal interference in your stereo – it’s supposed to be a closed system, right?
Shielded Speaker Wire
It’s not very common for speaker wire to pick up radio frequencies, but it can happen, especially if you’re close to a broadcasting source or other EM source. So, it can be a good idea to use shielded speaker wire to connect a subwoofer to a stereo.
Shielded speaker wire is just as it sounds. It has a built-in physical shield of thin metal foil that blocks incoming signals from getting into your lines. Think of this like the lead vest they make you wear when you have x-rays taken.
This foil can reflect the incoming EM signal, and there’s usually also a “drain” wire inside that helps to redirect incoming signals. These features work together so that you don’t get radio frequency interference coming into your speakers.
You can pick up shielded speaker cables pretty easily…
This speaker cable from Custom Cable Connection is shielded with aluminum foil and also includes a braided drain wire for enhanced shielding. If you have a situation where you need to wire up a subwoofer and you know you have a powerful EM source nearby, this might be a good option for you.
Are there any downsides to shielded speaker cables?
Funny, you should ask. Indeed, there are, and it’s also important to make a decision based on having all the right information. As I said earlier, normal situations don’t warrant the use of shielded speaker cables.
This is because the voltage of the signals in your speaker cables is normally enough to exclude interfering radio frequency signals. That’s why most manufacturers don’t shield their speaker cables. Still, if you’re experiencing interference, a shielded cable is probably the best solution for you.
At the same time…
The shield will increase the capacitance of the cable because the shield will make more of the signal reflected back to the source. So, what does that increase in capacitance do?
It can have the effect of lowering the high-frequency response of your speakers. Well, OK, but we’re talking about subwoofers. So, the high-frequency response is not going to be much of an issue, is it?
In short, shielded cables could help block out interference and probably won’t cause any problems with your subwoofer.
Different Types of Cables for Different Subwoofers
Now that we have that out of the way, there is a whole other issue to talk about. That is the issue of what kind of cable you need based on the type of subwoofer you have. That’s because, regardless of size or wattage, there are two general types of subwoofer out there – passive and active.
Wiring for Passive Subwoofers
What I’ve been talking about so far is the choice between “regular” unshielded speaker cable and shielded speaker cable for subwoofers. Well, this is the choice you have if you’re looking at wiring up a passive subwoofer.
A passive speaker of any kind is a speaker that receives both a signal and its power from the speaker cable. This is in contrast to an active speaker that is self-powered (more on those later).
In general, it’s more common to find home stereo systems using active subs and car stereo systems using passive subs. This is simply because there are more places to plug in a speaker in your house than in your car. Still, both types can be found in both places.
So, can you use regular speaker wire for a subwoofer?
With a passive subwoofer, yes, you can use regular speaker wire. You can also use the shielded speaker wire we just looked at. It’s up to you. But, one very important thing is to ensure that you use the right gauge of wire.
You mustn’t impede the signals coming from your amplifier to your speakers. So, you need to use a big enough gauge to prevent this from happening.
What are the gauges to look for?
Subwoofers normally need 12, 14, or 16-gauge wire to perform well. The smallest gauge is best when using less power over a short distance. But, if you’re wiring your speakers over a long distance and/or want to run loads of power through, you will need to go with a larger gauge.
The good news is that using regular speaker wire for a passive subwoofer can be very cheap. You can get 100 feet of this Basics 16-gauge wire for just $15. A shielded cable is going to cost you a lot more than that.
Wiring for Active Subwoofers
Active subwoofers, on the other hand, generally require something else entirely. This is because they are self-powered and do not depend on power coming down the speaker cables to make them work. They just need the signal.
The other thing is that active subwoofers have built-in amplifiers. This contrasts with passive subs, which have to connect to an external amp. If you’re wiring up an active subwoofer, you normally need to be looking at something completely different – a phono cable.
What’s a phono cable?
Sure, we’ve probably all seen “PHONO” written above and below jacks on stereos before. This is a single cable that can supply all of the signal your sub needs. It’s called “phono” because it is only sound coming out and no power as you would find on “SPEAKER OUT” ports.
These days, a phono cable normally comes in the form of an RCA cable. Those are the red and white for audio and yellow for video cables you’re used to seeing with audio-visual equipment. If you’re running a single subwoofer, you don’t need to worry about splitting left and right channels.
Furthermore, the subwoofer signal is normally not split that way. So, you just need a single RCA phono cable to hook up to your subwoofer.
Are all phono cables the same?
Heck no! For starters, there are differences in quality between cheap and expensive cables. This comes down to the quality of the materials used to make the things, like 24 karat gold plating on the connectors and oxygen-free copper in the wire.
High-quality materials like these help to reduce static and cable noise, and also provide the clearest signals down the line. Of course, the durability of the (usually) plastic coating on the outside of the cable can also affect the overall quality, or at least the longevity of your wires.
Something else to consider…
Some phono cables are shielded, and others aren’t. Once again, shielded phono wires can help to block out any outside interference from radio frequency EM radiation. And, normal shielded phono cables can be found for pretty cheap. You can pick up a 49-foot spool of the wire for under 15 bucks.
But, there’s something out there that’s even better than a regular or even a shielded phono cable. If you have an active subwoofer that you want to wire up to your stereo system, you should look into getting a subwoofer cable.
Can You Use Regular Speaker Wire For A Subwoofer – What Are Subwoofer Cables?
Now that we’ve arrived at this point let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. A subwoofer is, by definition, a larger driver that handles the lowest frequencies that get played through your stereo system. And an active subwoofer has a built-in amplifier and low-frequency cut-off (also known as a low-pass filter).
So, wouldn’t it make sense to use a cable specifically designed to handle only low frequencies since that’s all you will want to run to your sub?
There is good news…
Such cables exist, and they’re called either subwoofer cables or, in some circles, the horrible name S/PDIF. Sorry if that’s your grandmother’s name. This comes from the full name Sony/Philips Digital Interface because those two companies developed this interface.
These are cables specifically designed to wire up active subwoofers to stereo heads or amps. They have the same RCA connectors that regular phono cables have.
So how are they different?
S/PDIF cables are coaxial, which means they contain more than one conductor running their length. This is typically an inner copper core and an outer braided shielding conductor that can be made of copper or other metals. OK, they’re shielded – what else?
With the high-quality copper core and shielding in place, subwoofer cables can transmit signals much more clearly and accurately. Low-frequency signals are delivered to your subwoofer more efficiently, so you can get a purer, more bass-heavy sound through your sub.
Which, I’ll remind you, is the whole point of a subwoofer in the first place!
Do subwoofer cables have any limitations?
Well, of course. Otherwise, they’d be too good to be true. The first limitation is price. Because of the high-quality cores used, these cables cost more than other phono cables and quite a bit more than regular speaker wire.
The second issue is a bit more complicated. Using a thick core of high-quality, shielded copper means that your cable will be great at transporting a signal. As a result, subwoofer cables can have too low impedance (aka resistance).
That means that they can let too much power go to your speaker from your amp, and that can cause it to strain or even blow. So, you have to ensure your speakers can handle a lot of power from your amp.
One last thing…
Subwoofer cables are great over short distances. You can really hear a difference over a short run between these and regular speaker wires for a subwoofer. But, over longer distances, the quality degrades, and the difference is going to be negligible.
About 15 feet is usually plenty to hook up a subwoofer, and at this distance, you’re still going to get a much better quality of sound. A cable like the 15-foot Mediabridge Ultra Subwoofer Cable is a good choice for long-term durability and great sound.
Have Some Other Subwoofer Questions?
Well, then take a look at our detailed articles on the Difference Between an Active and Passive Subwoofer, Woofer Vs SubWoofer, How to Connect a Subwoofer to an Amplifier, and 2 10s or 2 12s? Best Subwoofer Size for more useful information.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Subwoofers for Music, the Best In Wall Subwoofers, the Best 12-Inch Subwoofers, the Best 15-inch Subwoofers, the Best Car Subwoofers, the Best Under Seat Subwoofers, and the Best Subwoofers for Single Cab Truck you can buy in 2022.
Can You Use Regular Speaker Wire For A Subwoofer? – Final Thoughts
So, to clarify, you can use regular speaker wire for a subwoofer. It works as long as you have a decent gauge, and it won’t break the bank. If you want to be sure you won’t encounter interference, you can also get it shielded for a few more bucks. But that’s just for a passive subwoofer.
If you’re hooking up an active subwoofer, chances are very high that you’re going to need RCA connectors on a phono cable instead. And, if you want to get the best efficiency and sound quality out of your sub, go on and invest in a good subwoofer cable. You won’t be disappointed.
Until next time, happy listening.