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Speaker Cables vs Instrument Cables?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by bigblondeafro87, Dec 30, 2006.

  1. Is there a difference between speaker cables and instrument cables? They both have 1/4" jacks, so are they in fact interchangeble? Im asking because I just recently aquired 2 1x12 Acoustic cabinets that I want to experiment with without having to wait till tomorrow to go get speaker cables. Thanks
  2. Ibanezzer


    Aug 12, 2004
    Dayton, Ohio
    I think at real low volume it'd probably wouldn't hurt but to me it seams that the "speaker" labeled cables are heavier, probably built to withstand the higher current that speaker loads carry (i think its like around 50 volts or something like that) compared to the low current of a bass (9/18v for an active bass).
  3. The Winkler

    The Winkler

    Nov 11, 2006
    I'm sure there's more to it than this, but some pedals don't work well with speaker cables, and some won't work at all.
    To be safe, just stick with the appropriate cables.
  4. BbbyBld


    Oct 13, 2005
    Meridian, MS
    Instrument cables are shielded and are not meant to carry significant current.

    I've done what you are talking about in a pinch, but I wouldn't recommend it. If the cable heats up and shorts you could damage your amp.
  5. ok yeah I just tested it and it worked, but Ill still probably go get those cables tomorrow. :D

    While I've got your attention, I may as well ask a couple other questions:p So I've got an Ampeg SVT 350 head and an 8 Ohm Mesa 4x10. Just recently I got two Acoustic 1x12s that run at 16 Ohms. If I hook all these together it will run at 4 Ohms, correct?
  6. wait...do you guys mean that if you have a head and a cab, you shouldn't be using instrument cable to run between the two?
  7. ogrossman


    May 20, 2006
    Minneapolis, MN
    Yes, 16 Ohms + 16 Ohms + 8 Ohms, all in parallel will give you a 4 Ohm load... BUT, you'll be delivering as much power to the 8 Ohm cab as to the two 16's combined.
  8. Embryodead

    Embryodead Banned

    Nov 30, 2005
    Providence, RI
    Yes that's what he said..they have different shielding.

  9. thats why i asked, i understand he said yes, but i wasnt sure if he was talking about PA speakers or just bass cabinets.

    so i guess i need to get some speaker cable...you would think when i bought my rig(my first rig), someone wouldv'e told me that.
  10. Trevorus


    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    Speaker cables have NO shielding. They are a side by side pair of conductors made for handling large current. Instrument cables are made for handling less than 5 volts.

    IF you are running ANY kind of speaker, use speaker cable. If you are hooking up a line or instrument level signal, use instrument cables. That's why they differentiate between the two.
  11. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    Does anyone know if there is a consistent system of standards and labels that we can use to distinguish between "speaker" and "instrument" cables?

    How are they marked? Do they differ in measurable ways? What should we be looking for when selecting cables and connectors for various applications?

    For example, are cables smaller than a specific gauge unsuitable for speaker-to-amp connection, but ok when carrying line-level signals? Should instrument cables always be shielded? What about so-called directional cables?

    I've read here that quarter-inch phone plugs aren't as good for for amp-to-speaker connections as, for example, Speakons, but I haven't seen specific cables and connecting hardware prescribed for typical applications.

    I've read burps and blips of information on this subject here on TalkBass, and at other sources, but I haven't yet found the thread that pulls all of the information together in a single, cogent, document.

    I keep waiting to stumble on a few succinct charts that will enable me to consistently make good purchasing decisions while reducing the research time.

    When such information shows up in any of our discussions, the moderators could help us all greatly by pasting or linking them in a single *Sticky* thread.
  12. Trevorus


    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    Just unscrew an end. A speaker cable will have 2 regular wires, usually insulated individually. The instrument cable will have a single center conductor and an uninsulated shield. You just have to look at them. Also, you can look at the cable itself, it's usually also labeled.
  13. enim


    Jun 29, 2006
    Chicago, Illinois
    FWIW, its not voltage that can destroy a cable, but amperage.

    You can still run high voltages (like, extremly high voltages) through a piece of 22 gauge wire, at almost no amps, and not burn it.

    Conversly, one volt at 400 amps will blow through everything except the biggest cable.

    Unless I'm completly wrong of course.....
  14. Trevorus


    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    No, you're right for the most part, except that some voltage extremes can jump insulators. But we're not dealing with that kind of stuff here.
  15. Get separate cables for your speakers and instrument. The instrument and pedal cables should be shielded cables to minimize noise. The speaker cables should be as heavy unshielded as you can. I think 16 ga. or 14 ga. should fit the bill nicely. Trying to run your amps speaker cabinet with an instrument cable would be like trying to run a marathon breathing from a straw. Let that puppy breathe!!!
  16. so if ive been running mine through instrument cables...if i go buy speaker cables, will it sound different? be louder? or just protect the life of my amp?
  17. billfitzmaurice

    billfitzmaurice Commercial User

    Sep 15, 2004
    New Hampshire
    Owner, Bill Fitzmaurice Loudspeaker Design
    You probably won't notice any difference, your ears aren't that sensitive. The main thing you'll accomplish is to remove the threat of a cable failure that could very easily lead to a blown amp.
    Excess current will overheat the wire, leading to eventual failure. Excess voltage will pass through the wire insulation, leading to failure. You must be sure the cable you use is rated for both the voltage and current load you're going to use it with. Instrument cables won't have any problem with voltage but could easily overheat from excess current, leading to melted insulation, a short circuit and a dead amp, in that order.

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