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Choosing the Right Speaker Wire and AV Interconnects

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16-4.JPGThe first step is knowing what type of wire to install for home theater A/V components you currently have and may need for future upgrades. A professionally pre-wired home theater should always be ready for upgrades. Having said that, it is virtually impossible to future proof your pre-wired room. However, you can make future upgrades much easier with proper planning. For example, running a conduit of PVC piping from your A/V rack to your display/projector can make it possible to run new wiring after your drywall goes up. There are two types of pre-wire installations: new construction and retro fit custom installation (homes that are already built). Regardless of the installation type, the wire used and installation methods are similar. All wire that is to be installed in the wall should be rated for in wall installation and comply with the National Electrical Code (NEC). Speaker wire approved for in wall installation will typically be stamped with the designation UL approved CL2 or CL3.

Speaker Cables

In wall speaker wire is available in many gauges, and comes in both shielded and un-shielded varieties. For high performance home theater installations and longer runs we typically recommend heavier gauge 12AWG two conductor for each speaker in the system. One alternative to this is to use 14AWG - 4 conductor cables, which create an aggregate 11AWG - 2 conductor cable. There are a few advantages to 14/4 cable, including superior flexibility as well as the security of having a backup pair of conductors in the unlikely event that one pair should fail or you later desire to add another set of speakers (i.e. an Atmos Elevation speaker which would sit on top of your surround speakers). Speaking of Atmos, if you would like to take advantage of the new format, we would also recommend pre-wiring for in-ceiling speakers; note that Atmos can support up to 10 overhead channels in home, though 2-4 overhead channels is a more typical figure supported by today's A/V receivers.

Generally, I like to run shielded in-wall speaker wire; however, if you are meticulous in your installation shielded wire may not be necessary. Multi-room or zoned pre-wire installations don’t really need large conductor wire because they are normally used with volume controls (VC’s) at lower listening levels. The use of 14 AWG is fine for these types of installations up to about 50ft. Most often, purchasing in-wall speaker wire in bulk is the most cost effective. When you measure distances for speaker wire runs add about 30%-50% to your distance total or purchase a 250ft of 500ft spool. The additional wire is needed: I will explain why later in the article.

Check out: Speaker Cable Gauge (AWG) Recommendations for more information on this topic.

Interconnects

Interconnects can be broken down into two flavors: balanced and unbalanced. Unbalanced connections are far and away more common than balanced connectors in the home market, though balanced connectors offer a locking connection and tend to suffer less from grounding issues. The best style of unbalanced cable is RG6 quad shield coax. This wire can be used for subwoofer interconnects, component video cables, digital interconnects, analog interconnects, and satellite/cable distribution. Meanwhile, balanced cables can be used for AES/EBU digital connections and analog audio connections (including compatible subwoofers). Presuming your source devices and A/V receiver or Pre/Pro are located on the same rack, you'll primarily need to plan for pre-wiring subwoofer connections.

For pre-wiring subwoofers, we would recommend running multiple connections, i.e. at least one run to each each side wall and rear wall. Even if you're not planning on running three or six subwoofers (we do recommend multiple subs to smooth in-room response), the issue here is that it's difficult to predict where your subwoofer(s) will sound best. From that standpoint, it's best to have several options to play with so you can find out what works best for your room.

 balanced vs unbalanced

Balanced connection (left) vs unbalanced (right).

HDMI Cables

High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is currently the cable of choice for transmitting high definition audio and video in high end home theater installations. HDMI connections are seen on Blu-ray players, HDTV’s, cable boxes, gaming consoles, and projectors. Depending on the length of your run, some care needs to be taken with the cable you purchase. While few (if any) cables should have difficulties with the usual 3-4' run between a Blu-ray player and your A/V receiver, longer runs to a projector can be a little more problematic. For runs up to 50 feet, we would suggest purchasing standard category 2 certified cables, which are tested at 340MHz and can pass a 1080p60 or 2160p30 signal. Beyond 50 feet, you'll probably need an active HDMI cable solution ala Monoprice's Redmere HDMI cables. For runs to a projector, we would also recommend running conduit with a second HDMI cable for redundancy, as well as an ethernet cable for triggering your electric screen (if applicable). As always, if it goes in the wall or in the ceiling it must meet NEC standards.

 HDMI.jpg                 hdmicable.jpg

 

 

Impact Acoustics Sonicwave       Blue Jeans Cable Series-2


Ethernet Cable

Category 5 (CAT-5) is often used in structured wiring, phone, computer multi-room control systems, and home automation systems. CAT-5 can also be used in home theater applications for remote control and as a trigger cable for operation of electric screens and other accessories. Cat-5 wire is generally generic and can be purchased in either shielded or unshielded 250ft and 500ft spools.

A Final Word about Wire Selection

There is much hype and marketing BS in the wire world. The simple fact is that the audio/ video wire market is big business with many boutique manufacturers competing for your hard earned cash. When you see that fancy package with slick marketing slogans you are essentially paying more for some thing that will end up in the recycle bin. Shielding, termination, flexibility, and construction are the most important traits to look for in a cable. Below you see two examples of analog interconnects. Can you tell me which one you think sounds better?

impact.JPG                 13791.jpg

Impact Acoustics 6ft Sonicwave $43.99pr               Ultralink 2meter Ultra Mk II $200pr

It must be the one with the fancy braided cover and the slick logo with directional indicators, right? If you can hear a sonic difference between these two cables with moderately priced equipment, then make room in your closet for that superman outfit! Cables should not sound like anything; their job is to transmit signal from one source to another without coloring the sound. Try not to get caught up in hype! Then you can spend your home theater dollars on something of greater importance.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

BMXTRIX posts on September 11, 2014 10:14
CONDUIT IS YOUR FRIEND!

Yes, any article, even one 7 years old, should be discussing conduit. The component to DVI to HDMI changeover has definitely shown that conduit is about the most important thing that can be run in a theater. You don't need to run 2-3 HDMI cables, you run 1 HDMI cable, perhaps a couple of pieces of cat-5e/6 cable, and power to a display, and CONDUIT and you are set for the next 20 years.

I would not use PVC pipe, but instead use Carlon Resi-gard (or similar). The flexible duct is available from .5“ to 2” diameters. I generally use 1.25“ conduit to video locations. This gives me enough room to run a new HDMI cable (or two) if needed, or any other cable that I may find necessary. Basement to attic runs for ‘whole house’ distribution I typically do at the 2” size. This gives a pathway for speaker wires, coax, networking, etc.

But, this stuff is the bomb! It's easy(ish) to work with, and can be run through ceilings and walls without much difficulty. Rigid PVC pipe has some real limitations on how it can be run and often must use hard elbows which can be tough to get wiring through.

BMXTRIX posts on September 11, 2014 10:08
Reorx, post: 1050778
Signal degradation or power loss concerns?
There is always signal/power loss when A/V is run through a junction point. It is measurable, and it tend to be ‘consistent’ so that you have expected and repeatable results.

Now, is the amount of loss noticeable? Of course that depends on the original signal, the number of junctions and the quality which the final device is capable of reproducing.

More and more in our digital world, the junction points are not as significant as they used to be, but also can be far more significant. A long run HDMI cable, for example, really needs a point to point connection for best results. A HDMI coupler at the wall with a lower quality cable outside the wall can often destroy a connection. So, it is important for people to be well aware of this fact. I personally tend to run wiring directly through the wall to my speakers if I can make it work aesthetically. In my family room, for example, I cut a slit in my carpet and ran the speaker wire directly into the speaker connection on the bottom of the speaker. No visible wires.

But, this isn't always feasible, or convenient for many, and there is a good chance that if the signal makes it to the final destination point, that it will look and sound just great.

In a GOOD dedicated space, I would almost always run wiring straight to components just to ensure that there is zero added loss into the audio or video pathways.
Reorx posts on September 10, 2014 19:16
After your room’s construction is completed, it’s time to terminate your system’s components. Many installers like to use wall plates with binding posts for a clean look. I don’t like this approach because it adds four more termination points for the speaker wire.

What's wrong with having the additional termination points?
Signal degradation or power loss concerns?
Have you tested it with your tester, and have you heard a difference? or is it just a personal preference?

I have seen it done with all types of cables numerous times, and everything works and sounds just fine.

Thanks.
Sheep posts on September 03, 2014 03:34
smurphy522, post: 1049183
I too could only think “why not run a conduit” (like a 3" PVC) instead of worrying about dedicated flavor of the year wiring at the time of building. I see others have mentioned this as a suggestion. I would revise the article accordingly or suggest writing a part 2. A conduit virtually eliminates you being left to a wire out of date.

I have a dedicated media room. Unfortunately the house was already built an dI had no say in how the room was pre-wired or electrically run. They did provide a dedicated 20amp circuit but the idiots ran it in the ceiling position for the projector. They totally did not understand the concept of a higher powered circuit and where it would be needed. I mean how many projectors would require a 20 amp service? Oh well, 1st world problems I suppose.

If you consider how much you spend on equipment, pulling the drywall and re wiring and insulating (with the best sound isolating stuff you can get your hands on) would be a worthy expense and offer a noticeable upgrade to any theater. We are running in ceiling rear speakers in the setup I'm currently building (I was given 2 RBHs A650s, and we bought 2 more Yamaha angled speakers with the same size drivers and driver material to run as back surround). My parents were just going to run wires to the spot and then cut the hole, but I built a box into the joist and sealed it with acoustic sealant around the edges and insulated it on all the walls with 3 inch Roxull insulation for each speaker. Small things you can do that cost little but will make a huge difference in the end product. After going through all this it's funny how little people pay attention to the room. I'm not talking about the acoustic treatments, but the whole setup, wiring, and construction. If you're going to deem a room to be your HT room, you might as well gut it first and do it properly. I will admit we did drop the ball with the speaker wire, as my parents didn't want to fork out for 12 ga CL2 rated in wall wire.

SheepStar
gene posts on September 02, 2014 15:52
smurphy522, post: 1049183
I too could only think “why not run a conduit” (like a 3" PVC) instead of worrying about dedicated flavor of the year wiring at the time of building. I see others have mentioned this as a suggestion. I would revise the article accordingly or suggest writing a part 2. A conduit virtually eliminates you being left to a wire out of date.

I have a dedicated media room. Unfortunately the house was already built an dI had no say in how the room was pre-wired or electrically run. They did provide a dedicated 20amp circuit but the idiots ran it in the ceiling position for the projector. They totally did not understand the concept of a higher powered circuit and where it would be needed. I mean how many projectors would require a 20 amp service? Oh well, 1st world problems I suppose.

The article is 7 years old. I simply reposted to frame around our video. I will see if we can make the change however as I agree.
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