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How to determine negative vs. positive lead in speaker wires

Updated February 21, 2017

Speaker cable terminates at the end in leads, two separate wires to be connected to positive and negative terminals on the back of a speaker and its corresponding connection to a receiver or amplifier. Although some speaker cables are sold with colour-coded insulation to distinguish positive and negative, the wires themselves are identical.

Use speaker wire with two different coloured strands. Common colour combinations include yellow and black, and silver and copper.

Determine which of the two leads will be used for positive connections, then consistently connect this wire to all positive terminals on speakers and receiver equipment. For example, if you buy speaker wire with black and yellow strands, you might designate yellow as the wire lead for the positive connections.

Speaker wire that comes with identical insulation over the two strands should be stripped about 1/2 inch from the ends so you can identify the wire colour. Often, speaker wire that appears to be a uniform colour on the insulation actually contains two wire strands of different colours, typically silver and copper. In this case, choose a wire colour for the positive and negative connections.

Label one of the leads with a piece of cellophane tape to designate it as either positive or negative if the insulation and wires underneath are identical in colour.

Connect the lead labelled positive to the positive (red) terminal on the back of your receiver and the back of your speaker. Be sure you keep the line flat by running your fingers along the length of the speaker wire so it does not twist as you reach the other end for connecting it to the equipment. This could cause accidental wire crossing.

Stay consistent with all connections to prevent crossed wires that reduce speaker performance, ruin the stereo sound and may cause a short or blown equipment.

Warning

Disconnect your amp or receiver from the power before connecting speakers. Accidentally touching the two speaker leads together can short out the amplifier powering that particular channel.

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About the Author

James Clark began his career in 1985. He has written about electronics, appliance repair and outdoor topics for a variety of publications and websites. He has more than four years of experience in appliance and electrical repairs. Clark holds a bachelor's degree in political science.