Speaker Wire to an RCA Jack With No Soldering
By Fred Decker
Many entry-level home stereo systems and home theater audio systems use RCA connections for their speaker wires. This practice eliminates the possibility of users reversing the wires when they set up the stereo, which impairs the sound and can lead to unhappy customers. If you want to upgrade the speakers at some point, you'll probably need to make custom speaker wires with RCA connections on them. Usually this process requires soldering, but retailers such as RadioShack offer inexpensive solderless connectors for those who lack the tools or experience with soldering.
Two-Strand Speaker Wire
Remove the first pair of connectors from their packaging and set them on your workspace. The plastic outer shield on the connectors simply snaps together, and you can open them either by flexing the shield and popping it open with your fingers, or inserting the blade of a small, flat screwdriver and gently twisting to pop it open.
Look at the terminals inside the connector. One consists of a small set screw in the middle of the connector, while the other is a longer flange with a slight curve and a pair of tabs at the end. The center terminal is for the positive side of your speaker wire.
Place the wire flat on a cutting board or other work surface, and then separate the two strands of speaker wire by cutting between them carefully with a hobby knife or box cutter. Separate the strands for approximately three-quarters of an inch.
Strip one-quarter inch of the outer insulation from your speaker wire, using a wire-stripping tool. Look closely at your two strands of speaker wire. If one is marked with plus signs, it's the positive side and should go to the center screw. If one is copper-colored and one is silver, use the copper side for the center screw. If one side is marked with a stripe or ridges, it's the negative side and should to to the longer terminal.
Twist the strands of your positive wire to ensure there are no strays. Loosen the set screw using a jewelers screwdriver, and carefully wrap the positive wire around the screw. Tighten the screw gently but firmly, and check to ensure no part of the positive wire touches the longer terminal.
Fold back the stripped end of the other wire, and insert it into the hole in the longer terminal if there is one. Otherwise, ensure it's long enough to reach all the way to the tabs at the end of the terminal. If not, strip it further until it is.
Crimp the tabs to the wire, using a pair of pliers. The crimped tabs will hold the wire in place, making the second connection. Snap the connector's plastic shield back together, completing the RCA plug. Repeat for each additional speaker wire.
- Some versions of the solderless RCA connector have a plastic shield that simply slides off of the connector without coming apart. If you've purchased this type, slide the outer shell over your speaker wire before attaching the connector.
- You might find it easier to make a small U-shaped loop in the end of the positive wire by wrapping it around the tip of a pair of needlenose pliers, then sliding the loop underneath the set screw. A small drop of superglue or clear nail polish will help hold it in place, and insulate the wire from making contact with the second terminal.
- Some versions of the solderless RCA connector have a second set screw for the negative wire. Connect it as you did the first wire.
- These connectors are made for relatively light, fine wires and low-power speaker installations. Use nothing heavier than 20-gauge speaker wire, and 22- or 24-gauge is easier to install. Alternatively, use a lightweight shielded cable. Connect the center wire to the center screw, and crimp the second terminal to the braided shield wire.
- For high-power installations, car audio specialists sell heavy-duty solderless RCA connectors designed for coaxial cable. They normally require the purchase of a specialized crimping tool for the center pin.
- As an alternative to making your own, you might prefer to simply purchase speaker wires with RCA connectors already installed. They're available from electronics retailers such as Radio Shack.
- If your center wire makes contact with the second terminal, the resulting short circuit can damage your audio equipment.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.