Can You Use Coaxial as a Speaker Cable?

A coaxial cable shouldn’t be used as a speaker cable since it isn’t strong enough to drive an amp signal. Using a coaxial cable to connect an amp to speakers results in weak volume and unwanted distortion. In some cases, you can even risk damaging your amp and speakers.

The cable you use to connect a guitar to an amp and the cable you use to connect an amp to a set of speakers are both TS cables. For that reason, it’s easy to assume they will work unilaterally. However, that’s not the case. While coaxial cables and speaker cables look the same, they’re built differently.

Paying attention to which TS cable you use where is important not only for sound quality but also for avoiding gear damage. To ensure you’re keeping your guitar, amp, and speakers safe, it’s essential to understand the similarities—and most crucially, the differences—between coaxial (instrument) cables and two-core (speaker) cables.

What’s the difference between a coaxial cable and a speaker cable?

Coaxial cables feature a signal wire and a shield, while speaker cables are two-core cables that feature two identical signal wires.

Coaxial cables are built for carrying weak signals while preventing electromagnetic interference, whereas speaker cables are built for carrying strong, unshielded signals.

On the outside, the coaxial and two-core cables used to play guitar are identical. They’re both TS cables, meaning they have quarter-inch connectors at the end. But on the inside, they’re fundamentally different because one contains a shield and the other doesn’t. What does this mean exactly?

Coaxial instrument cables vs. two-core speaker cables

Shielded copper wires, such as the ones used in coaxial cables, are designed to keep electromagnetic interference away. TS coaxial cables, also known as instrument cables, are specifically made for connecting guitars to amps because they have a shield that helps to keep the guitar signal free from undesired interferences.

On the other hand, two-core speaker cables are designed to drive a powerful signal that doesn’t need to be shielded. TS two-core cables are specifically made for connecting guitar amps to speakers because they have enough power to adequately drive the amp signal. Two-core cables are much stronger than coaxial cables because they contain two unshielded copper wires instead of one copper wire enclosed by a shield.

What happens when you connect a coaxial cable to a set of speakers?

When you connect a coaxial cable to a set of speakers, the speakers will not play at full power.

You will notice a significant reduction in volume (if any volume at all) and you’ll probably be forced to deal with unwanted distortion. You may even end up damaging your speakers.

What happens when you connect a speaker cable to an instrument?

When you connect a guitar to an amp using a speaker cable, the signal will pick up a lot of unwanted electromagnetic interference.

Instead of just the clean guitar sound, the amp will capture pretty many undesirable noises, buzzes, and clicks. This occurs because, while the guitar signal will pass through, so will pretty much every electromagnetic signal around, from radio waves to microwaves.

In sum:

Coaxial Instrument CablesTwo-core Speaker Cables
Used to connect instruments to ampsUsed to connect amps to speakers
Designed to drive weak signalsDesigned to drive strong signals
Contains one shielded copper wireContains two unshielded copper wires
Keeps electromagnetic interferences awayPicks up electromagnetic interferences

Using a coaxial cable to connect a set of speakers

Coaxial cables were not designed to be connected to a set of speakers, but that doesn’t mean you cannot turn a coaxial cable into a workable speaker cable. To do so, you’ll need to do some handiwork and manually cut the cable open.

The goal is to get rid of the protective layer that acts as an electromagnetic shield, hence improving the cable’s capacity to drive a powerful signal.

How to connect a coaxial cable to a set of speakers

  1. Remove the coax connectors.
  2. Measure how much cable your speakers need.
  3. Get rid of the coaxial cable’s shield.
  4. Connect the cable to the speakers.

Removing the coax connectors

The coax connectors are the tip of the cable. Usually made of metal, the tip of the cable is used to attach the cable to the appropriate connection. You don’t need specific equipment to remove the coax connectors, but you should do it carefully not to damage the cable. A sharp knife and a steady hand should do the trick but use it carefully, of course.

Measuring how much cable the speakers need

Once you remove the coax connectors, you should be able to see the coaxial cable’s wire. To connect it to a set of speakers, they must first be exposed. You don’t want less exposed cable than what you require, so be sure to take a look at the connection of your speakers to know how much cable is needed. To be on the safe side, add an extra foot of cable.

Getting rid of the coaxial cable’s shield

This is the tricky part. You want to keep the underneath copper cable intact, but you don’t want any shield to get in the way. Keep in mind, most coaxial cables feature two layers of shielded material: an insulation coating and a translucent insulator coating that’s inside the copper cable.

Getting rid of the insulation coating is relatively simple; you only need to take it off until the copper cable is exposed. The underlying translucent insulator is not as accessible, since it’s located just outside the conductor wire. This means that you’ll have to unbraid a section of the copper wire to get to it. Be careful when doing so: if you damage the underlying conductor wire, there’s a chance the coaxial cable will be utterly useless.

Connecting the cable to the speakers

Once you get rid of all the unwanted shields, you just have to connect the shield-free coaxial cable to a set of speakers. To do so, you just need to find the positive connector of the speaker, which is signaled with the color red.

Can a coaxial cable be used as a speaker cable?

It’s technically possible to use a coaxial cable as a speaker cable, but highly inadvisable. You don’t want to use a coaxial cable as a speaker cable because you’ll not make the most of the power of your speakers and you’ll risk damaging your equipment. 

There are ways to convert a coaxial cable into a working speaker cable. To do so, you’ll need to manually open the cable, remove its protective layer (i.e., its electromagnetic shield), and place it on the positive connector of your speaker (the red one).

Can coaxial carry audio?

Coaxial cables can carry audio, and they’re used for multiple audio-related purposes.

They can only carry audio to a certain extent. Since they’re made of a single shielded copper wire, they’re not strong enough to—for instance—carry the audio from a guitar amp to a set of speakers.

Are coaxial and RCA the same?

All RCA cables are coaxial, but not all coaxial cables are RCA. Coaxial is a type of cable (consisting of a single shielded wire), while RCA is a standard cable.

They’re not the same because, whereas coaxial is a category of cables, RCA is a specific cable, just like MIDI-to-USB or TRS cables.

How do I connect a speaker wire to a coaxial cable?

To connect a speaker wire to a coaxial cable, you’ll first need to manually remove the protective shield from the inside of the coaxial cable. This way, it will be able to adequately drive a speaker signal. Then, you need to attach the coaxial wire to the positive (red) connector of the speaker.

What cable can you use for speakers?

Any copper wire can be used for a set of speakers, but you need to be careful about what you’re connecting to the speakers.

If you want to connect a guitar amp to a set of speakers, you’ll need a two-core cable to safely do so. For casual music-listening purposes, most copper-based cables will do.

Summary

It takes a bit of ingenious handiwork to turn a coaxial cable into a workable speaker cable, but it’s probably better to invest in a proper two-core cable to power your speakers. It’s way easier, and it allows for greater versatility, especially if you’re an audiophile or musician.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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