OMG, Where do we start!

Yep, it’s definitely time to get indoors. Not sure what the weather is like where you live, but it’s cold and raining here! So here we are, time to actually hook up your music system. For some of you, it may simply be putting your music dock or shelf system in a more accessible area. Other set-ups may be a little more complex. First we check the amp, then the turntable or CD player, you know the drill.

Turntable is easy, just bring it in to us and we’ll get you working, then when you get it home, plug the appropriate jacks into the plug on the back panel of the Amplifier. Black plug goes to left side – Red to Right! And remember to attach the ground wire if your turntable has one.

Probably the biggest issue is to insure that your loudspeakers are hooked up correctly. As you know, speakers product sound by Pushing information. They Push to produce sound, then return to neutral – kind of a push-pull system. Whether you are using a 2 channel system or a multi-channel system, it is vital to make sure that all speakers push in unison. Should one speaker pull, while the other pushes, your system is “out of phase”. This causes major sound issues;

  1. No or very poor bass
  2. wandering vocalist
  3. imaging issues.

What this post will cover is how to make sure your system is “in phase”.

On the back panel of your amplifier/receiver you should see row(s) of Black and Red speaker inputs. Depending on the age of your system, these connectors could be simply “spring loaded” push pins, may be large pins that you unscrew, or may be pins that accept plugs – usually banana plugs. On the back of the loudspeaker you will see the same set of plugs. The goal is simply to match the red plug on the speaker with the red plug on your power unit.

 At the left, you will see a fairly typical end of speaker wire. The wire is rather like lamp cord, and has 2 stands one for red, one for black.  This wire more often than not has writing on the plastic of one of the group of strands. This writing may simply tell you the gauge or thickness of the wire. This writing can sometimes be used to identify one stand from another. If you are using a lower quality cable like lamp cord, there is usually no writing but there is either a prominent ridge or a string tracer on one strand to make identification easy. If you are using a higher quality wire, usually it will be thicker, have more strands and the writing identifier is usually very prominent. As the thickness of the wire increases, the gauge decreases – as an example, a 10ga. wire is thicker than a 24ga.

A little note about speaker wire. Look at speaker wire as you would a water pipe. Both pipes (water pipes and Wire) conduct energy , generally the larger the pipe, the more energy can flow. In each case, the flow of energy is controlled by a “faucet”.  In the case of water, the control is indeed a faucet while with energy running to your speaker, the flow is controlled by impedance or “resistance” which is regulated by the crossover of your speaker. Not so long ago, it was determined that different frequencies travel through different parts of the speaker wire. For this reason, better performance cable focus on many more strands and a higher quality of copper which has fewer impurities which allows for a smoother flow of the musical signal.

On the better quality of wire, the writing does more than identify the red (+) or black (-) input. It can also dictate the flow of the electrical signal. In using this wire, read the wire from Left to Right and attach as Left from amplifier, Right to speaker terminal. Why this is important, the thought is that simply winding the wire on to a huge coil can create low level polarity issues. True or not, it’s a good story and I work with it!

Back to the hook-up. It is best to make sure that as you trim the ends of the wire, you bare only the amount of wire needed to insert properly in the speaker terminal.  Too much wire bared can result in wires being crossed and quite frankly looks messy. ( Please… do not use solder at the bared wire end of you speaker. Most of the solder that is commonly worked with contains a significant amount of lead. Lead has about the same ability to conduct electrical signals a Krazy Glue – ZIPPO). The ridge/writing on the wire is actually called a tracer. If you attached the tracer side to the positive or red input on the speaker, simply do the same at the amplifier end . This will insure “correct phase”. As you peruse the stores (please don’t go to building centres or even big box stores*) In most cases you will pay too much for poor quality wire. Particularly if the wire is to be buried in a wall, floor or ceiling, you want the best quality of wire possible for your money.* Why not Big Box Stores?  Usually the wire that they most commonly sell is in a blister pack with one wire being copper, the other aluminum. It is imperative that your amplifier sees the same resistance and flow between the + and – wire. Copper and aluminum have different characteristics.

Please, make sure that the L & R speakers are actually hooked up as such. Specially in a multichannel system with differently sized speakers, the result is not pleasant! You don”t want the information from the surround coming from your centre or front speakers. On a two channel system or a multi-room with wall mount speakers one easy way to check phasing is to put speakers face to face about one inch apart. In this situation, with the speakers close together, disconnect one speaker. If the bass increases you know there is an issue with cancellation so simply reverse your previous connection.

Finally, if you purchase cable from a hi-fi store, you can purchase speaker wire equipped with custom ends. Usually these ends are either a spade which looks like a small fork or a banana plus which is an expandable pin that simply plugs into the terminals. It is a good idea to make sure you equipment allows for these configurations.