Much like outdoor speakers have to be specifically designed to be weatherproof, so too does the speaker wire that connects them. That is to say that you can’t just use regular speaker wire to safely connect outdoor speakers – you need special speaker wire that also, among other things, is specifically designed to be weatherproof.
This article will explain what differentiates outdoor rated speaker wire as well as what you need to look for when choosing the correct wire to connect your outdoor speakers. We’ll also recommend specific products that we like.
Who Needs Outdoor Speaker Wire?
If have or plan on getting passive outdoor speakers of any kind that will sit outdoors, you will need special outdoor speaker cable to connect them to an amp or receiver that powers them. This is opposed to active/powered outdoor speakers, which instead plug into a standard wall outlet like any other appliance, though sometimes you will still need outdoor speaker wire to connect the “child” powered outdoor speaker to the “parent” outdoor speaker that singularly plugs into the wall socket.
How is Outdoor Speaker Wire Different from Regular Speaker Wire?
Speaker wire for outdoor use is typically thicker (i.e. lower gauge) because wire runs to outdoor speakers tend to be significantly longer. Power wanes over longer runs, and thicker wire has less resistance to help ensure the necessary amount of power still gets to an outdoor speaker. Outdoor speaker wire also has significantly thicker insulation that is designed to fully protect the wire itself from moisture, dirt, and sunlight. It might also have yet more additional protection if it needs to be run through a hole in the wall or fully underground.
Important Attributes of Outdoor Speaker Wire
Here are the important factors you need to consider for picking the correct outdoor speaker wire:
Specifically Rated/Specified for Outdoor Use
Good outdoor speaker wire will prominently and specifically state on the package or product description that it is “outdoor” rated. This might seem fairly obvious but it’s still important to look for.
CL2/CL3 Certified – For Through Wall Runs
If you run speaker wire through a drilled hole in the wall, which often needs to be done with outdoor sound systems, the wire insulation needs to sufficiently mitigate the risk of starting a fire within the wall. CL2/CL3 is the certification designated by the National Electric Code (NEC) that is the legal standard for in-wall rated wire. CL2 certified wire can handle a maximum of 150 volts and CL3 certified wire can handle a maximum of 300 volts. Most amplifiers or receivers in a residential setup will never drive anywhere remotely close to 150 volts to a speaker, so CL2 certified speaker wire is generally fine for through-wall runs, but you should check with your local municipality for explicit requirements.
Underground Speaker Wire is Direct Burial Rated
If you’re running wire to ground/floor speakers, a “rock” speaker for example, the wire needs to be additionally rated for direct burial, which means it’s sufficiently protected from direct contact dirt, moisture, etc. But even then, an unwitting gardener with a shovel or maybe a digging dog could accidentally sever the wire. Therefore, when running outdoor speaker wire underground, it is strongly recommended (and in fact perhaps legally required in some cases) that you run it through electrical grade PVC conduit. It is also prudent to flag a run of underground wire to let anyone know that it’s there and where it is. This might seem like a fair bit of work, but, just remember that once you do it right, you’re set for several years or more. So don’t cut corners!
Thick Enough, i.e. Low Enough Gauge
Wire thickness is expressed via gauge rating, where somewhat counterintuitively a lower gauge number means thicker wire. If a wire run is particularly long, lower gauge and thus lower resistance wire is needed to compensate for the fact that power wanes over longer distances. Sources vary a lot on the minimum gauge needed for various lengths of speaker wire, and what’s needed will depend on a variety of factors specific to your system and location, but its generally agreed that 12 gauge wire is thick enough for any length of run, even 200 feet or more which is something that 99% of people won’t ever reach.
You need to make sure each wire is long enough for each planned run. A good way to do this is to run string along the projected wire path, mark the string, then measure the actual speaker wire against that. Also, it’s good to add at least an additional 10-20% of length to your speaker wire cut so that you have room to reposition speakers if you decide to, and have some slack to cut and restrip the end terminals if you need to.
The Best Outdoor Speaker Wire – OSD Audio 12 Gauge 2 Conductor Indoor/Outdoor Speaker Wire
Outdoor Speakers Depot (OSD) is a great company that specializes in outdoor sound systems and makes a variety of great products, including actual outdoor speakers that are on our best-of list. They are a brand we trust and their 12/2 wire has everything you could possibly need with outdoor speaker wire – 12 gauge is thick enough for just about any kind of residential set up, and the insulation is CL3 and direct burial certified.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need 4 conductor outdoor speaker wire?
Most likely not, 4 conductor wire allows for bi-wiring, but most outdoor speakers only have two connection terminals and cannot be bi-wired. Bi-wiring is honestly a pretty useless myth for that matter.
What is the best gauge for outdoor speaker wire?
12 gauge is thick enough to accommodate for just about any residential outdoor speaker system. 10 gauge speaker wire is almost certainly overkill.
How far can you run outdoor speaker wire?
12 gauge rated wire can safely run 200 feet, which will accommodate for just about any possible residential outdoor sound system setup.
How do you tell if speaker wire is rated for outdoor use?
The product should explicitly state that it is rated for outdoor use and is CL2/CL3 certified, and further explicitly state it is rated for direct burial if you need that.
What’s the difference between CL2 and CL3 certified outdoor speaker wire?
The only difference is that CL3 certified wire can safely handle 300 volts while CL2 can only safely handle 150 volts, but a speaker amplifier won’t ever put out anywhere close to 150 volts anyhow.