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We’ve all been there, we’ve got home from the store with some lovely new speakers and realized that we’d forgotten to buy speaker wire.
But can we use the coaxial cable that we have hanging around the home as a speaker cable, instead?
Yes. In a word. But we should warn you that it’s not entirely straightforward to do so and you might not want to once you understand the process.
A coaxial cable or coax cable is used to transfer both video signals and audio data from a device to a receiver.
Inside the coaxial cable, you find an inner conductor layer that is covered by shielding material. This is separated from the outer conductor by a layer of dielectric material.
Coaxial cable is most commonly used in computers, telephony, cable TV, the Internet, and other kinds of receivers.
That means it’s not primarily designed to serve as speaker wire though it can do so and this is how you go about it.
Adapting a coax cable to your system is not as simple as you might think.
Firstly, you need to ensure you have a pair of RCA connectors laying around because you will be using them to connect the coaxial cables to your hi-fi equipment.
So, first things first to make your coaxial digital audio connection work – you need to remove the connectors (which transmit both video and audio signals).
Take a craft knife or other sharp utility blade and simply snip them off the ends of the wire – if the coaxial cable is covered in a hardened wire coating, this may need to be removed before you can remove the connectors.
You will find that when you buy a coaxial audio cable that it can come in a wide variety of lengths – from about 6 feet to more than 50.
In most cases, we find that if you buy coax audio cable that you tend to buy much more than you need and that means cutting that digital coax cable down to size.
This is easy. Take a piece of string. Run it from the speaker to the audio equipment in the exact path you want the cable to take, do this two or three times (to be sure of your length) and then cut the string to length and use it to measure out your cable (make the cable just a foot or two longer than the string).
This is the moment when you can turn your core wire in the coax cables into useless scraps of metal.
So, you need to be very careful about how you approach it.
We’d use a ring tool specially designed for coax stripping if you want the best results – we’d also urge you to pay particular attention to the length of the blade, it needs to extend into the insulation but it must not cut the cable below.
You can get a wire stripping tool here.
Open the jaws of the tool, pop the cable in and then start to rotate it. This strips the jacket quickly from standard coaxial cables and without damaging them.
Please make sure you buy a tool for coaxial cable though, as any other may damage the cable.
Now, it’s time to strip back the shielding to the copper wire underneath. This is what you need to connect speakers to your system and all your hope for speaker cable involves ensuring that the copper wire is in a single piece.
We should note that if the coaxial cables are RG6 rated – you also need to remove the metal shield on the cable (though technically this is good enough for digital audio systems, we’ve found that you’re better off with the copper below).
OK, now it’s finally time to strip the see-through plastic layer from your copper wire and add the RCA connectors and turn your coaxial cables into RCA cables.
You then connect this to the appropriate cable boxes on your equipment. This should deliver reasonable uncompressed PCM stereo audio.
We need to warn you that it is entirely possible to destroy your sound system with coaxial cables.
This kind of cable creates impedance and this, in turn, can damage or even completely ruin your amplifier.
You must make sure that you examine the KHz rating on the amp and ensure that your cables conform to this rating to minimize the risk of problems – and we would strongly encourage you to use something else for your speakers rather than coaxial cables. We’d only use them in an emergency when we had to have sound for an occasion or event.
You can use coaxial digital audio cable to wire up your speakers, but you would be better off not doing so.
If you really do need to do it, you can use our guide above to try and ensure that your digital audio signals don’t ruin your audio gear.