What are banana plugs, spades, binding posts & spring clips? Learn how to connect speaker wire to your system & identify the different types of connections.
If you are wondering how to connect speaker wire to your stereo or home theater system, then you’ve come to the right place.
It’s not the most exciting part of setting up your equipment – but without speaker wire, you won’t hear anything!
Before you begin it may seem like a tricky business. But, once you give it some thought, it is quite straightforward.
First, you need to understand the different connection types that you might have on your gear.
Then, you can think about the best way to connect the wire.
Table of Contents
- How Do I Connect My Speakers with Speaker Wire?
- What Happens if I Reverse Speaker Wire?
- What Are the Different Types of Speaker Wire Connections?
- Speaker Wire Termination Types
- Connecting Speakers with Bare Wire
- Terminating Speaker Wire with Banana Plugs
- Using Spade Connectors with Speaker Wire
- Terminating Speaker Wire with Pin Connectors
- Connecting the Wires to Your Amplifier and Speakers
How Do I Connect My Speakers with Speaker Wire?
Speaker wire is made of two separate cables that need to be connected to the positive and negative connectors on the amplifier and speaker.
It doesn’t matter which way round you connect the wires – even if the wire is marked with a plus and minus.
Just make sure that the same piece of wire is connecting the positive and negative terminals on the amplifier and speaker.
Below you can see the binding posts on the rear of an AV receiver.
There are two posts for each speaker. They are clearly labeled as positive and negative. The convention is to color the positive side red and the negative side black. But they may not always be color-coded.
One wire, like the one pictured above, will connect to the positive and negative post for a single speaker output. The other end of the wire will connect to the speaker.
Remember, the positive connection on the amplifier must be connected to the positive connection on the speaker. The same with the negative connections.
What Happens if I Reverse Speaker Wire?
First, it depends on what you mean by reverse. There are a couple of ways you might do this.
1. Connect Stereo Speakers to the Wrong Channels
If you connect the left speaker to the terminals marked right on the amplifier – and the right speaker to the terminals marked left on the amplifier.
What would happen?
Nothing. Except, the sound engineer who mixed the album would be annoyed.
Because the drum kit would be the ‘wrong way round’. Anything which was designed to be heard on the left would appear on the right – and vice versa.
Nobody would care apart from the artist who spent 6 months getting everything just right.
2. Connect the Negative to the Positive Terminals
If, for a single speaker channel, you connect the amplifier’s negative terminal to the positive connection on the speaker – and the amplifier’s positive terminal to the negative connection on the speaker. What would happen?
For a single speaker, nothing would happen. It would work just fine.
If you had two speakers, and they were both wired the same – again, it would be fine.
If there were two speakers, and they were wired differently, then this is what is known as wiring the speakers out of phase.
The diaphragm in one speaker would move out, while in the other speaker it would be moving inwards.
It’s hard to explain what this sounds like. But it just sounds odd. It will appear thin and lacking in body.
What is happening is that some of the lower frequencies will cancel each other out as the sound waves move away from the speaker.
So, you won’t break anything, but it just won’t sound right. You’ll probably notice it if you’ve done it. But, it’s always good to double-check your wiring.
Some AV receivers will try and detect any speakers that are wired out of phase when you run the automatic room setup. Although, they don’t always get it right.
If you are interested, this is an excellent video demonstrating why you need to connect your speakers in phase:
What Are the Different Types of Speaker Wire Connections?
The first thing you want to do is look at the connections on your speakers and amplifier. This will determine how you can connect the speaker wire.
There are two main types of connections that you will encounter.
Just be aware that you may have one type on the amplifier and a different one on the speaker.
1. Binding Posts
Binding posts are found on all kinds of amplifiers and speakers – from budget models to high-end equipment. They are the most common type that you will come across.
There are often two ways of connecting the speaker wire to these:
- Unscrew the red or black cap – insert the bare speaker wire into the hole in the post (or insert a spade connector around the post) – tighten the cap again
- Insert the wire into the opening at the end of each post. For this, you will need to attach banana plugs (see below). Some receivers will have a plastic cap over the end which will need to be removed first (as in the picture).
So, for this type of connection, you can use bare wire – or connect spades or banana plugs to the end of the speaker wire.
Speakers that have binding posts might not have an opening at the end to insert a banana plug. Some do, but it’s more common on amplifiers.
A binding post on a speaker will often look like this:
So, with his connection, you can either insert bare wire into the hole – and then tighten the screw.
Or, use a spade connection and place it around the post before tightening it up.
2. Spring Clips
Spring clips are more common on budget amplifiers and speakers – and all-in-one systems. Although they can be found in all types of equipment.
All you need to do is push the bottom part of the clip and push the speaker wire into the hole above.
You can use bare wire or pin connectors with this type of connection.
Speaker Wire Termination Types
Now that you know what type of connections you have for your speaker wire; you can make the final choice on how to terminate the ends.
By the way, take a look at my speaker wire 101 if you want to figure out which is the best gauge speaker wire for your system.
Attaching a connector to the end of a length of speaker wire is known as terminating the wire.
However, the first option doesn’t require any connector at all.
Connecting Speakers with Bare Wire
All connection types will accept bare speaker wire. This is the easiest method as you don’t need any extra accessories.
All you need to do is:
- Pull the positive and negative wires apart – by about 1 or 2-inches – so that you have some separation to work with. You might need a sharp knife to split the central insulation – or it will just pull apart if you apply enough pressure. Just make sure you don’t cut into the insulation and expose bare wire further down the cable. You just want exposed wire at the end.
- Remove about ½ inch of insulation from each wire. This can be done with a sharp knife or a dedicated wire stripper.
- Twist the exposed wire together so that there are no loose strands of copper
- Insert the copper wire into the speaker/amplifier connectors – again, making sure there are no loose strands of copper sticking out
- Gently pull the wire to make sure it is firmly held by the connector
If using bare wire is the easiest way for you to achieve your goal, then go with it. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this. However, attaching connectors can have advantages.
Terminating Speaker Wire with Banana Plugs
Banana plugs are my favorite way of connecting speaker wires. You will need to buy these as a separate accessory to your wire.
You will need four banana plugs per wire – two for each end of the cable.
Of course, that is assuming that you will be using banana plugs for both the amplifier and speaker. You might not want to – or be able to.
Banana plugs may attach to the cable in different ways.
Many come with screw-in connections that just need to be secured to the cable with a small screwdriver. This is one of the easiest methods.
Some are self-crimping which just means that they will clamp the cable when you tighten the cap of the plug.
Others may need soldering. So only choose this type if you are prepared to break out a soldering iron.
The general procedure for connecting screw clamp banana plugs to speaker wire is:
- Strip about ½-inch of insulation from the end of each wire and twist it tight to remove loose strands
- Unscrew the cap from each banana plug and thread it onto the wire
- Push the bare wire into the hole in the plug and tighten the screw to secure it
- Screw the cap back on
Each plug can then be inserted into the end of each binding post.
I often forget to thread the cap onto the cable before securing the plug to the wire. Which means I have to undo it all again!
I know you’re not as foolish as I am.
You may find some banana plugs that connect to the wire in a slightly different way to this. But the general idea is the same.
You won’t appreciate how much easier banana plugs are to work with until you are crawling around the back of an amplifier trying to attach the bare wire to a binding post.
Some people like to solder the wire to the plug to create a more robust connection – even if it is a screw-in model. You can if you wish, but you don’t have to.
Banana plugs that come with screw-in connections work perfectly well without soldering as long as you are careful when you join them together.
However, there is a chance that they might loosen over time, so you might need to check the connection if you reconnect them regularly.
Many banana plugs will have a female connection on the bottom end – like the ones pictured above. This allows you to plug another banana plug into it.
This is useful if you need to connect multiple speakers to the same terminal. You won’t often need to do this, but sometimes it can be helpful.
For example, if you need to feed a high-level subwoofer input from the front left and right speaker terminals.
Banana plugs pins are a standard 4mm in diameter which is just right to fit into the end of a binding post.
Using Spade Connectors with Speaker Wire
Spades are an alternative way to terminate your speaker wire.
As with banana plugs, if you are using spades at both ends, you will need four spade connectors for each wire.
The spade connector can either be angled or straight. It shouldn’t matter too much which one you buy. But, in some circumstances, one may be easier to fit than the other.
They usually connect to the speaker wire by crimping, soldering or by a screw connection like with banana plugs.
Crimping is where you use a tool to bend the connector’s end so that it clasps tightly to the wire. It can be a good solution if you don’t want to get involved in soldering the wire.
It’s always best to use a proper crimping tool to make the join. Although it’s tempting just to grab a pair of pliers, you won’t get the same tight connection.
Done properly, a spade-crimped connection shouldn’t need soldering.
Once you have the spades attached to the wire, you need to unscrew each binding post and push them into place. They will be very secure once you tighten the cap again.
This is preferable to using bare wire as you can be sure of a tight and reliable connection.
Spade connectors can be ideal when you are attaching a wire to speakers that are installed very close to a wall. In that case, you may not have enough room to use banana plugs.
So, if you don’t want to use bare wire, spade connectors will connect at a 45 or 90-degree angle allowing the wire to drop straight down.
Terminating Speaker Wire with Pin Connectors
Pin connectors are like a smaller version of a banana plug. In fact, in some cases, you might see them referred to as banana plugs.
They come with pins that are generally about 2mm in diameter. The pin is either straight or you can get them with angled pins.
Like spades and banana plugs, you need to strip some insulation from the wire and attach the pins to the bare wire.
Crimping or soldering is often used to connect these to the wire. However, like the pin connectors in the picture above, they may also have a screw-in connection.
Just undo the screw a little, insert the bare wire, and then tighten the screw again. Make sure you have a firm connection by gently pulling the speaker wire.
This type of speaker wire termination is generally used for spring clip connections. Simply push down the clip and insert the pin into the hole.
You could also use them with binding posts by inserting them through the central hole in the post – and then tightening the cap. But it’s not the usual way of using this type of connector.
Using pin connectors is a cleaner method than using bare wire and increases the chances of a solid connection.
Connecting the Wires to Your Amplifier and Speakers
Once you have your speaker cable terminations ready, you just need to connect the wires to your amplifier and speakers.
A stereo amplifier and speakers will connect like this:
Just make sure that you connect the amplifier output marked speaker left to the left speaker – and the output marked speaker right to the right speaker.
Also, the same end of the wire must connect to the positive terminal at the amplifier and speaker. The same with the negative terminals.
Speaker wire is usually marked in some way so that you know which is the same wire at each end.
A multichannel AV receiver is a little more complicated as it has more speaker terminals. However, the concept for home theater wiring is the same as with a stereo amplifier.
You just need to make sure that you connect each output terminal to the correct speaker.
- Front left output terminal to the front left speaker
- Front right output terminal to the front right speaker
- Center speaker output terminal to the center speaker
- Surround left output terminal to the surround left speaker
- Surround right output terminal to the surround right speaker
If you have a 7.1 speaker layout or are using Dolby Atmos speakers, you will have even more speakers to connect.
But, it’s the same procedure. Just take your time and make sure you get it right the first time.
When you run the auto room configuration on your AV receiver, it will send a test signal to each speaker. So, you will soon find out if you connected the correct speakers to the rear of the amplifier.
If not, no problem, just unplug it at the amplifier and try again.
Were you confused by the thought of connecting speaker wire to your amplifier and speakers?
If so, I hope you’ve found the answers to your questions.
It’s not too complicated when you get into the details. But it can seem confusing until you understand the different choices that you have.
The connections that you have on your amplifier and speakers are the first thing to consider.
Once you know this, you can make the best choice for terminating the speaker wire.
You can take the easy route and just use bare wire – or choose to attach banana plugs, spades or pins.
There isn’t a wrong way. Just go with what seems to make sense for your system.
About Home Cinema Guide
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has been a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.