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Home theater black/red speaker wires mixed up. Make a diff.?

by Davidf26 / April 24, 2008 12:53 PM PDT

I was setting up my home theater system and one of the red stickers from the red/black speaker cable came off. I see that they have +/- (positive and negative) signs where you connect them at one end of the a/v reciever and the other end at the subwoofer... Are the wires supposed to be connected specifically or will just connecting either side of the cable to one another work the same way?

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by givemeaname / April 24, 2008 1:34 PM PDT

- to - & + to + The colors don't matter but polarity does. If they get mixed up you can have one speaker pushing when it is supposed to be pulling or vise versa & in some situations the speakers can cancel out each other.

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by Davidf26 / April 24, 2008 1:50 PM PDT
In reply to: ....

im sorry you kinda lost me with polarity and speakers pushing/pulling? as far as im concerned, they both only push out sound (newbie language i guess lol) but anyways these are thin cables, about 20ft. and all black, split in 2 (with a small red sticker on one side at the end to distinguish between +/- << this is what fell off on a couple of the wires and im not sure on which side of the wire it was on)... do you mean i have to follow down each wire from one end to the other to see that theyre connected both to a positive or both to a negative?

btw the speakers are working i just wanted to find an answer to this because these +/- signs must have a reason??

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by Davidf26 / April 24, 2008 1:56 PM PDT
In reply to: ...

i think i deleted the end of ^^^ post by mistake and couldnt find a edit post option on here...

i meant to say..

im sorry you kinda lost me with polarity and speakers pushing/pulling? as far as im concerned, they both only push out sound (newbie language i guess lol) but anyways these are thin cables, about 20ft. and all black, split in 2 (with a small red sticker on one side at the end to distinguish between +/- << this is what fell off on a couple of the wires and im not sure on which side of the wire it was on)... do you mean i have to follow down each wire from one end to the other to see that theyre connected both to a positive or both to a negative?

btw the speakers are working i just wanted to find an answer to this because these positive and negative signs must have a reason i assume?

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what he meant to say
by tedtks / April 25, 2008 10:05 AM PDT
In reply to: ..

was YES it matters. a] the life of the speaker could be shortened
b] the sound will be off a bit especially at certain frequencies.
If the wires are not labeled - tagged - or colored - or have, like
a white line on one - then you have to run your hand along the
wire and follow one side so you can put your own label on.
if u r useing cabled wire then u will have to use a multi-meter set
on ohms to see which is which.
you would probably notice it the most on the woofer if the wires
are backwards. the woof might be more of a meow. LOL

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He is right - it makes a difference
by jthornburg / April 25, 2008 10:16 AM PDT
In reply to: ....

Givemeaname is exactly right.

Sound generated from a speaker is in the form of a wave - pushing and pulling the speaker coil. If you flip the + and the - , one speaker will be pushing while the other is pulling. If you have a pure tone in both speakers they will cancel each other out. Since you don't likely only have a simple pure pitch or tone but a lot of different sounds coming out of the speakers, they will partially cancel each other out. This can make the overall sound "odd" or at least much less "full" sounding. This is easy to show on a scope, and I can easily show this in person. The term is called being "out of phase." If an audio "professional" does not know this, run the other way! If you don't know this, well, now you do!

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by jostenmeat / April 25, 2008 10:47 AM PDT

I believe he is actually a she.


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by ahtoi / April 24, 2008 5:10 PM PDT

because the speakers are spaced so far apart it will unlikely to make a difference. Just my opinion.

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This has been my experience as well.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / April 25, 2008 1:01 AM PDT
In reply to: In

I've tried it many times. The only person who could tell also was telling me he could hear the splice I had in my speaker cable. I let him replace that line and he proudly announced "See how much better it sounds?"

Sadly I could neither see nor hear any difference.

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by bevillan / April 25, 2008 12:00 AM PDT

It will make a difference. In my speakers' manual it says if you don't hook up + to + and - to - you will have less clarity/dynamic response from your speakers.

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Yes, polarity does matter
by mjd420nova / April 25, 2008 9:42 AM PDT

Being sure you connect it properly at the source and at the speakers is important, especialy with the newer 5.1 and 7.1 systems. The sources are just like batteries and do have a polarity. Connecting them at the speakers with the red and black polarity connected properly will make sure that you preserve the surround sound quality and effectiveness. You could try changing this to see the effect it has on your system, tey it on the rear speakers of the system after you have selected a dramtic passage from a movie of your choice. I like to use a very dramtic part of the movie "Days of Thunder". It occurs during the meeting inside the glass walled office off of the mechanics shop area in the garage. Just as the meeting is breaking up, one of the people gets up and opens the door to the shop area. A rush of sounds enters the office and someone drops a wrench on the concrete. This sound is so striking that it will catch you looking at the area where the sound appears to come from and you may turn your head, only to realize that there is no speaker at that location. Now reverse the polarity on one of the surrouns speakers and replay the scene. You maynot even get any effect or the sound may now appear to come from another location.

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for most people, they won't know and can't tell
by jostenmeat / April 25, 2008 10:16 AM PDT

the best chances of hearing something out of phase might be with a stereo pair being out of phase, with vocals. And even then...

this issue has arisen when people combine multiple amps. Some companies sometimes invert phase, and some do not. Even worse, they may do both within the same brand.

Only a handful of folks really care, or could even tell the difference.

Definitely nothing like huge dynamic differences, or having a rush of sound vs not, etc.

But for the OP, might as well try to get them to be in phase, doesn't hurt. Most, if not all, speaker wire have at least markings on them every certain increment of distance (if not just different colors to begin with). Some have silver + copper colored wires as well.

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Color coding
by sdtrott / April 25, 2008 11:54 AM PDT

Color coding has long been standardized in electronic applications. Red means positive (+) and black is negative (-). Additionally, some audio wiring consists of three conductor wires (Red, White and Black). In that case, Red is for the right channel and white is for the left channel, while the black wire is often the common ground for both the left and right channels, so if you cross the black wire with the red or white wire, you end up with a short.

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The Bottom Line
by sunwatcher / April 25, 2008 12:42 PM PDT

The bottom line is that yes, polarity will make a difference. The effect of having your speakers wired incorrectly is more dramatic in certain conditions than in others, depending on speaker location, listener location, and room size and shape, to name a few.

Having speakers wired incorrectly can sometimes make vocals in music sound "drowned out" or make low frequencies sound muted.

Sometimes the difference is not apparently noticeable, but having the speakers wired correctly is one step in having a properly tuned sound system. Happy

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Bottom Line
by windrunner2001 / April 25, 2008 2:03 PM PDT
In reply to: The Bottom Line

There are a couple of good answers here. For maximum stereo imaging speakers must be in phase. That is to say positve to positive and negative to negative. Red and black connects are intended to show the difference although it would not make a difference if both black terminal connectors were connected to the positive and vice versa as long as the lines coming from the amplifier go into the matching terminals on the speakers. If you have a home theatre system do yourself a favor by taking the time to assure the system is wired properly. As you are apparently not an audiophile but probably just a music afficionado it won't really matter that much, but if you are able to do so without tearing out a wall do so at least for any vistors you may wish to entertain. If the speakers are too far apart, which is the case with most people who have sound systems in their home it won't make a bit of difference. I have seen people with a pair of five thousand dollar speaker systems 15 feet apart that don't, and wouldn't know the difference in sound quality even if they were properly spaced. Depending on size, speakers should be spaced 6 to 10 feet apart slightly canted in toward the listening area.

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by Fi0S-Dave / April 25, 2008 2:32 PM PDT
In reply to: Bottom Line

There are also other parameters to consider when placing speakers.
Some speakers have passive reflectors. This is usually mounted on the BACK of the speaker, and must be placed the proper distance from a wall (the manual should explain this.) Other speakers have downward facing woofers so the clearance to the floor matters.
Furnishings can also make a big difference in sound quality.
Bare walls are bad news, as are bare floors. some drapery and carpeting will deaden echoes and make the sound "warmer."
To get back to the ORIGINAL question(!), if your speaker wiring is just red/black, make sure that the proper pair goes to the left speaker and that you connect red-tored and black-to-black on both speakers. Same for other speakers, as well, such as sub-woofers, etc.

Dave M.

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by jasondtx / May 19, 2008 2:14 AM PDT
In reply to: Bottom Line

Yes it makes a difference. If one speaker is out of phase with another you won't have proper imaging plus the sound can appear weak. If you have decent speakers you will notice a difference. It won't damage your speakers but it won't sound very good. When I recorded a cd awhile back the engineer recorded a mandolin track that was out of phase which he did not catch on his system. When we took it out to skywalker ranch and listened on their b&W speakers we noticed the track sound coming from behind the listener instead of in front like it was supposed to. So yes it matters!

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A Quick Old Air Test
by Earl H / April 25, 2008 2:21 PM PDT
In reply to: The Bottom Line

Years ago when we did not have the opportunity to follow wires due to them being hidden in walls, floors etc. we would hold a candle or flame approximately 6 to 12 inches from the centre of the woofer and watch as it would either blow it out or not. An out of phase speaker will actually not move the air out from the speaker as powerful as a speaker in phase. The in phase speaker cone is actually designed to push the sound forward and if the polarity is reversed it will radically alter the attack and decay times of the speaker. It definetely helps using a mono signal of equal power to both speakers to compare. You will notice the in phase speaker has more thrust forward.

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It matters and here's what to listen for!
by ajn465 / April 25, 2008 11:23 PM PDT

If your speakers are set up in any sort of symmetrical way you can easily hear the effect of speaker phasing. Sit directly between the speakers and play something that is not in stereo (mono). If it seems to come from directly between the speakers, they are in phase. If the sound seems to lurch around as you move your head a bit (possibly even seems to eminate from outside the area enclosed by your speakers) they are most likely out of phase. Simply reverse the wires on ONE speaker and listen again.
This can also be accomplished using a top 40 song in stereo. The lead vocal is mixed to the center 99.9% of the time on modern recordings (don't use early stereo recordings eg. Beatles as this was not always the case). If the vocal sounds sharply centered, everything's fine. If it sounds "floaty" or hard to localize, try reversing ONE speaker's leads. Listen again, focusing on WHERE the sound seems to be coming from.

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Red, White, Black Audio Wires
by DaveRichard / April 26, 2008 12:18 AM PDT

The wires would not be color coded if it made no difference as to how they were connected.

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Yeah--it does
by TheDurk / April 26, 2008 2:07 AM PDT

The difference is not dramatic, but it is there. I had an H.H. Scott tube amp back in the 1970's that actually had a polarity reversing switch on the front panel. (This is much harder to do in solid-state due to common grounds). I had Larger Advent speakers and I would demonstrate bass power by blowing out candles with a certain Ten Years After album that had a low-frequency oscillator tone in one of the songs. Switch the polarity reverser, and the flame survived. You could also hear the bass attenuation, but not dramatically. But certainly enough that you would want it hooked up correctly.

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Speakers whiring

If the speakers are connected properly, a mono sound will be heard from dead center. If one, but not both, is connected with it's polarity inverted, then that same mono sound will be heard as two distinct sounds, or you'll be unable to locate from where it comes. It will definately won't come from the center.
If, with the balance set to neutral or center, the sound seems to come shifted to one side, flip the whires on the oposite speaker.

The key is that both speakers need to be connected with the same polarity. Just what this polarity is is, usualy, not realy importent as the signal is similar to an alternative current: you have a neutral whire and a live/signal whire.

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By now you know polarity (sometimes called 'phase') IS essential. The left and right speakers must move forward and rearward in sync. If one pushes and the other pulls, you cancel out the signal. The simplest way to check polarity is with a 1.5 volt battery (C or D cell size. Touch one wire to the negative (-) terminal, the other to the positive (+)terminal. Watch the bass speaker cone. It will move forward or backward. You want the cone to move forward, so reverse the wires if necessary. Which ever wire, when touched to the plus (+)terminal of the battery, makes the cone move forward...THAT is the plus (or red) wire, and should be connected as such to your amp. Do this for both L and R speakers.

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by grc24 / April 26, 2008 11:04 AM PDT

It makes a huge differance. If you don't get them hooked up right, you could blow up your entire city block!!!

Kidding, of course.


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Notable difference
by Davidf26 / April 26, 2008 12:18 PM PDT
In reply to: YES!...

Thanks for all the replies. So I took the time out to disconnect all of the speaker wires and follow each one down from one end to the other and made sure the red had red at the other end and the black was black at its other end. I hooked everything up and whoa.. I simply hear the difference, mainly in there being more bass - way more. I thought it was the speakers at first (Bose Acoustimass 5) which I just bought, but I guess not. I love the system now. Thanks for all the help.

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by windrunner2001 / April 26, 2008 12:44 PM PDT
In reply to: Notable difference

Yes, all that dialog for the proper connection of a few wires. Now if I can only get someone to help me find where on Satcube internet tv is HBO located for their monthly Saturday evening fight broadcasts I will be overjoyed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Speakers +/- Out-of -phrase
by jrap330 / April 27, 2008 11:10 PM PDT


Everybody is speaker will be out of phrase it will affect the sound.......BUT, you may or may not notice it. I had my speakers connected wrong was I was young......too lazy to fix and I did not notice a difference when I corrected them after 2 years. But it could affect the bass notes..who knows...most people do not have audiophile ears. Neverless correct it because that is part of a tuned sound system.

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how to test for proper polarity
by ptnted / April 27, 2008 11:59 PM PDT

Is there any way to test for proper polarity with a meter (e.g. voltage, current, ohms)? I'm not sure if my outdoor speakers (far from my receiver) are wired properly and it would be difficult to use a battery at the receiver while observing the woofer.

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color coding
by windrunner2001 / April 28, 2008 1:34 AM PDT

Many speaker wires come color coded. Copper and silver. Run Copper to positive and silver to negative. Rewire your system with fresh wiring.

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testing polarity
by alaskagram / April 28, 2008 4:20 PM PDT

The man with the battery was correct. If the speaker has a grill try shining a light thru to see the woofer.Years ago I worked in a stereo shop with el cheapo's all the way to audiophile.Many times I asked people to listen to a $499.00 system vs $2,500.00(ok 1981)9 out of 10 could hear the difference.2 out of the 9 cared enough to change their purchase.People may not know why, but tend to talk more,leave early or turn off the music if the sound is bad.PS . It takes two sensors, one at the source and one at the speaker,in this case the battery and your eyes.Can't do it with a standard volt meter.

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Testing Speaker Polarity with a Voltmeter or Multimeter
by mhmyers / March 29, 2009 2:21 PM PDT

I put the Multimeter leads on the back of the connected speakers using the smallest AC amp setting. I put the + probe to the + terminal and vice versa. You can disconnect the wires and test them but it is not necessary. If the needle moved to the right, they were connected correctly.

In my (7.1) 8 speaker system, 2 were out of phase- the needle of the voltmeter moved backwards when connected. The sound improvement was quite remarkable after I corrected it.

It is not always practical to use the battery test and the sound test is impossible with todays multi-channel systems. You can't even depend on the colored wire because often the wires are spliced and fished through walls and something could easily have been reversed and not practical to inspect.

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