If you’ve been working with speakers and instruments long enough in either your studio or the stage, you might have encountered the debacle regarding speaker cables and guitar cables.
You might know that they have different purposes and that you should properly note which one you’re using and know their differences.
There are some key differences between the two that once you learn will help you understand how both of them work.
Our speaker cable vs. guitar cable guide will also help you understand why it is a bad idea to mix and match these cables and their corresponding devices.
Before we jump onto the defining features of the two cables, it is worth looking at an important topic that doesn’t get covered often. While there is a lot of details regarding impedance, in easy terms, it is simply the effective resistance of a circuit.
Impedance matching is simply making sure your amplifier or speakers works within its proper impedance range.
As you might know, the lower the resistance in the circuit, the more the current flows, and in turn, a higher power is delivered to the speaker or amplifier. The volume of a speaker is altered by changing its resistance, which either increases or decreases the current flow.
Amplifiers are used to drive speakers, but if their impedances don’t match up, the current flowing through might be too much, causing them to overheat. Impedance matching is important to ensure that the proper amount of power is delivered and to prevent overheating or device failure.
Unless you stare at them closely enough or know where to look, you might feel that both the cables look the same. Both wires consist of copper cores with a rubber coating. They have connectors made usually out of nickel. However, speaker cables tend to be larger while guitar cables make use of smaller wires.
Guitar Cable Characteristics
Guitar cables are also known as instrument cables and, as you might guess, are primarily used for instruments. These cables consist of a primary current-carrying wire called the signal wire. There is also another wire or conductor that is wrapped around the signal wire like a braid.
This secondary wire provides both a ground connection as well as shielding. And this shielding aspect is important as due to the small size of the wire, guitar cables tend to carry small currents. These are very susceptible to interference, and the braided wire protects the signal wire from outside sources.
The principle behind guitar cables is to make low power and high impedance cable. As it’s been said before, the small size of the wire provides a high resistance path for the current. This signal is then sent to the amplifier where it is boosted.
Speaker Cable Characteristics
Speaker cables have two wire conductors, and neither of them is wrapped around like the shield conductor in a guitar cable. So speaker cables have no shielding, unlike guitar cables. Although speaker cables tend to carry larger signals which aren’t as susceptible to interference.
The conducting wires of a speaker cable tend to be much larger in diameter. So speaker cables tend to be heavier and bigger than guitar cables. Since the wires are bigger, there is more space for the current to flow and so the resistance in the conducting wires is less.
Hence speaker wires deliver higher power, which is often needed to drive the speakers.
While guitar cables focus on higher impedance and lower power, speaker cables focus on the opposite. This is necessary to ensure the signal flows from the amplifier to the speakers properly.
Advantages of a Guitar Cable
The primary advantage comes from the shielding of the guitar cable. It reduces the effects of interference. The other advantage of a guitar cable is that it is small and lightweight.
Thus guitar cables are flexible, and you can move them about during the stage if you need to. They are also easier to carry.
Advantages of a Speaker Cable
Speaker cables are much sturdier but difficult to move. They are also easier to connect and fit into speakers. All these are helpful qualities for setting up a sound system or speaker on the stage and make for very reliable electrical connections.
Importance of Using the Right Cable
You’ve seen the two types of cables, and now you might wonder what the problem is if the cables become mismatched. There are several problems the most prominent being the disturbance in sound quality. Let us look at the cases.
1. Using a Guitar Cable for a Speaker
If you end up mismatching and using a guitar cable as a speaker cable, you’ll usually have an impedance mismatch. Speakers usually operate at higher signal levels, so there will be a large current flowing through the instrument cable.
As it has been mentioned before, guitar cables have higher resistance. When a large current flows through it, a lot of heat is produced. This can cause the cable to melt and cause a failure in the system. Even at lower current ratings, you will usually suffer from a decrease in speaker output and stray noise.
2. Using a Speaker Cable for a Guitar
If you end up using a speaker cable for your guitar, you’ll notice a lot of distortion. Generally, low signals are sent using a guitar that a speaker cable can easily carry. If you recall, speaker cables have no shielding. Weaker signals are very susceptible to interference, and this is why shielding is important in a guitar cable.
Due to the susceptibility, the signal will be corrupted, and when it reaches the amplifier, the noise will be boosted instead of the actual signal. This makes it nearly impossible to have good sound output.
Speaker vs Guitar Cables: A Head to Head Comparison
Here, we’ll compare both types of cables by their respective features.
1. Resistance to Interference
As it has been stated before, guitar cables always tend to have shielding. This prevents the low signals they usually transmit from being interfered with by external sources. Since low signals can easily be distorted, this shielding prevents the hum and buzz you might hear at times.
Speaker cables don’t have shielding, and in some places, if there are many external sources of noise, the signal they are carrying can be heavily distorted. If the surrounding area is mostly noise-free, speaker cables won’t be too heavily affected by interference. Otherwise, you need to keep the cables isolated.
2. Durability and Weight
Guitar cables are comparatively smaller and lightweight. While this makes them much easier to carry around, this does make them susceptible to damage, which can hamper their ability and cause distortion.
Speaker cables are heavier and sturdier. While they aren’t susceptible to damage as much as guitar cables, they are a bit harder to carry around and move them. Since most speakers will be stationary, this isn’t much of an issue other than setting it up.
If you’ve read this article then hopefully you’ve gained some knowledge about the difference between Speaker vs Instrument Cable. As you can see, mixing them up can yield bad results and can even cause your machine to be damaged. It is best to avoid doing that and carefully check the labels and internal construction.