During wiring, you have to pay attention to how you do it. Otherwise, you might end up with a sound quality that eliminates the joy of listening to your favorite conversations, music, and movies because you messed up with the polarity. You might also end up with speakers that operate on a level below their potential.
One of the questions that most sound experts get asked a lot is how you identify speaker wire terminals. How do you know which one is positive and which one is negative?
In this article, we would like to help you answer that. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Here’s your answer. Is the striped wire positive or negative?
When you look at the internet, you will find various answers to this question. Knowing what answer to trust can be confusing because of conflicting responses from different experts. We are going to simplify it for you in this section.
According to the international wiring standards, the stripe on the speaker wire indicates that the cable is positive. This is the standard, especially if both wires are black. The unmarked wire is the negative.
On the other hand, the striped cable can be negative if the original installer used it to connect the negative terminal of the amplifier to the speaker’s negative terminal. In this case, it doesn’t matter; hence, you can use the stripes as a guide during wiring.
How to know which wire is positive and which is negative in speakers
There are different ways to identify the positive and the negative wire during wiring. Here are some of the methods you can use:
1. Using Color Codes
Speaker wires come in a variety of colors and styles. The colors are not for aesthetic purposes only; instead, they help the user differentiate the positive from the negative wire. If the insulation is transparent, like in high-end cables, the wire with the silver conductor is the positive terminal while the copper wire is the negative.
Also, red insulation on the wire represents positive polarity while the black one indicates negative polarity.
2. Listening to the sound quality of each speakers
When you connect a stereo system, you expect each speaker to be audible. But if one is not, the problem could arise due to reversed polarity.
Put some music on, go close to each speaker, and listen with intent for a few seconds to check the audibility of each loudspeaker. The speaker whose sound appears to be dimmer even at loud volumes, or has frequent interruptions when playing audio, should have an inverse polarity. Hence, you may have to redo the wiring.
3. Confirm with the user manual
Reading the manual when you buy a speaker is crucial. It helps you understand the product more, the warranty, and what you should do to ensure that your device is working as intended.
Most user manuals include information on the polarity of that particular speaker. Reading the details should help you differentiate the polarity of each wire and help you identify which wire goes where.
4. Writings or markings on the wire
Manufacturers use various markings on speaker wire to help you differentiate their polarity when wiring. Other than the striped marking or dashes on the wires, you can also check the connection points on the speakers to know where each wire goes to.
You can also check the wire’s texture to differentiate them. One of the wires may have bumps or ridges on the covering, while the other may have a smooth texture.
5. Use a 9-volt battery test
Using a 9-volt battery test is a safe method of identifying the polarity of each wire. You will need two matching clips to attach to each battery terminal and the two wire ends. Once connected, the speaker cone should move.
If it moves outwards, then the polarity is correct. Inward movement of the cone means that you have reversed polarity.
6. Test with a multimeter
Multimeters measure voltage, current, resistance, and continuity. You can also use this tool to help you identify the polarity of your speakers.
Unplug the wires on one side and attach them to the negative and positive probe of the multimeter. The speaker cone should move outward if the wires are in the correct polarity position.
You can also use an inverter or a car battery if you don’t have a multimeter.
7. Use a polarity testing app
Polarity testing apps are apps you download on your Android or IOS phone. There are various options to choose from; hence, read the reviews before selecting the best one.
Once you download them, you will need to connect the phone to the relevant audio output and move it close to the speaker. The phone will use impulses to identify the polarity present.
Relevant FAQ you may have.
Does speaker polarity really matter?
Usually, when using one speaker, this won’t matter as much whether you have correct or inverted polarity in the connection. The audio might even sound almost similar in both instances. However, for multi-speaker systems such as car stereos or home theater systems, consistent polarity is essential.
The physics behind this is that waves with similar polarity will work together to produce a better sound quality. On the other hand, mixed polarity signals – when they meet, they will cancel each other. Hence, you might have audio problems such as inaudible bass on your speakers.
What happens if you mix up positive and negative speaker wires?
Generally, sound waves travel in a series of positive and negative pressure changes to reach your ear. When you connect the positive amplifier terminal to the negative terminal of the speaker, for instance, you reverse how this sound travels; otherwise known as reversed or inverted polarity.
Besides audible bass, it also leads to disorganized imaging, making equalization a problem. The treble also becomes thin and sound waves can cancel each other, especially if the speakers are close to each other like headphones.
It’s also good to note that reversed polarity may never even damage the speakers.