How to Identify Positive and Negative Speaker Wires

by Julien Gandelin

Wiring plays a key role when it comes to your audio system or home theater unit. They have an array of wires that require connectors to get the surround sound functioning as it should.

Regardless of whether you want a setup that sounds amazing for your media room or something that exudes professionalism, identifying negative and positive speaker wires is of utmost importance.

To do so, you’ll need to grasp some things about systems and speaker selectors. Therefore, this guide will teach you everything you need to know to identify negative and wires. You’ll also learn whether these wires crossing will damage your sound system.

Identifying Negative Terminal and Positive Terminal

When attempting to pinpoint the speaker wires, you’ll need to keep an eye out for two colours. While copper wire represents the negative wire, the silver wire counterpart is positive. Making sure you identify negative and positive wires aids in making the setup process a breeze. Since most speaker wires appear translucent, you can see through them and determine the polarity of the wires.

Nonetheless, observing the wire isn’t always enough to identify if it’s positive or negative. For that reason, it’s essential to have other ways to identify each speaker wire. We’ll discuss these methods, but it’s worth keeping in mind that they are best suited for non-transparent wires.

1. Stripes

Although you should keep your eyes peeled for the wire colour to know if it’s negative or positive, other visual hints can help you figure out the speaker wire polarity, for instance, the stripes. Typically, a wire lacks stripes but is peppered with bumps or ridges. The other wire might be smoother. The differences between the two wires will help you differentiate one type of wire from another.

If you can figure this out without needing a 9-volt battery or multimeter, you might save time. If you frequently use a speaker wire, there are various brands and styles of speakers, such as bookshelf speakers and tower speakers, that will allow you to differentiate the negative from the positive. You’ll notice an array of similarities among styles and brands, and you’ll figure it out eventually.

2. The Nine-Volt Battery Test

A 9v battery is something you should have handy when doing work with speaker wires. To conduct the test, all you need is a non-voltage battery and a matching clip. You can take the wire you believe to be negative and attach it to one end of the speaker, then take the battery clip’s red wire and attach it to the other speaker. If this is the ideal polarity of both speaker options, then you’ll notice a scratching sound. If you’ve made an error and instead connect the positive wire, you won’t hear a sound. This simple test lets you distinguish between the negative and positive speaker wires.

3. Multimeter Test for Polarity

For starters, a multimeter is a useful tool that comes in handy in measuring electrical values. Therefore, it’s popular among electricians. The values range from amps and resistance to a voltage that this tool lets you test. Furthermore, a multimeter is useful in determining the polarity of a speaker wire (negative or positive). To use a multimeter for measuring the polarity, begin by unplugging the setup.

There’s a high likelihood that there’s an error with the wiring and starting from the beginning is a wise move. Once everything is plugged in, attach the wires to a nine-voltage battery terminal. A multimeter has various displays or indicators that you must learn to read. For this test, set your multimeter to DC (Direct Current).

You can do so manually using a switch or knob or digitally on a screen. Once you set it to DC, that’s your cue to connect the speaker wires to the multimeter. You see it all come together at which point you’ll know if the wire is negative or positive.

Provided that the connection between the wires is great as is the multimeter, and batter, you’ll have no issue getting the polarity. Remember to label the wires as immediately you can differentiate the positive one from its negative counterpart. By doing so, you’ll cut down on time when you need to make adjustments to the speakers or move them.

How to Tell If Speaker Wires are Properly Installed

white speaker

Source: Unsplash

When your speakers function as they should, you can easily tell whether they are installed the right way. Nevertheless, when they are functioning intermittently or have feedback, you might be a tad curious as to whether the speaker wires are the source of the problem. That’s a possibility and something you’ll want to know about when you’re handling speakers. Here are a few ways to tell if things are functioning as they should.

Colour Coding

Colour coding is a great way to differentiate the negative wire from the positive one if the wires are installed properly. If you bought a speaker system, then you might notice that the colour coding is already there.

The red wire is typically positive, and the black wire is negative. Nevertheless, this isn’t always the case. You should consider that it could be the reverse. If you purchase a sound system that comes with a user manual, you can easily identify the colours.

Listening

If you believe you’re not great at pinpointing the quality of sound, then it’s time to practice using your ears. Typically, it should take a few seconds to notice whether or not a speaker is functioning. You might pick up on interference or interruptions on the line if the wires aren’t properly installed.

The sound quality is also seemingly dimmer and, at times, an overall low volume even when it’s at maximum. Listening to your speaker gives you a clear picture of your speakers and the things you need to do to fix them.

What Happens When You Cross Negative And Positive Speaker Wires?

With speaker wires at times being hard to pinpoint, there’s always the likelihood that you might cross the negative and positive ones. If that happens, it’s not as dangerous as crossing electric wires. You won’t be in danger, and the accidental wire reversal won’t damage your speakers or amplifiers.

The biggest thing to worry about with wires is a short circuit. However, this becomes the least of your concerns. Instead, you’ll figure out that the speakers aren’t working as well. At times, a problem might crop up with the power or speaker response when you mix up the wires.

Conclusion

With a deeper understanding of how to identify negative and positive polarity, the overall process should be straightforward. However, particular systems might have different color codes, making it more difficult. The best thing you can do is take note of the wire placement and coloring. If you’re unable to find the negative and positive ones from doing this, you might need to conduct more involving testing techniques.

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