Speaker Cables

What Happens if You Switch the Red and Black Speaker Wires?

For the uninitiated, home theater can be a scary place. There are tons of boxes and wires. For most people, setting up a new TV and getting it into the right picture mode is about as much as they can handle. Hand them a set of speakers, an AV receiver, and a stack of cables and they tap right out. No thank you, sir. I’m fine with the sound from the TV. They can almost understand what the people on the TV are saying and isn’t that good enough? Plus, all those wires! What if they hook up something wrong? What happens if you switch the red and black speaker wires, couldn’t they break something? It’s all too much.

S90HD wireless surround connections
Speaker wires AND a power cord? What am I, a scientist?!?

Speaker Wire and Phase

There are usually (not always, but usually) black and red speaker wires and connections. Before we go on it is important to say that the electricity doesn’t care what color wire it goes through. The colors are simply there to make sure you connect the red connector on the receiver to the red connector on the speaker. The wire color is simply the PVC jacket that covers the copper wire within.

The real question you have is what happens if you connect the red connector on the receiver to the black connector on the speaker (and vice versa). Will you hurt your speaker? In a word – no. In fact, the speaker really doesn’t care. All you’ve done is reverse the phase of that speaker.

The electrical current tells the speaker when and how far to push the drivers out and in. This affects what frequencies are reproduced and the volume. If you switch the red and black speaker wires, all that happens is that the drivers push out instead of pulling in (and vice versa). When the rest of the speakers in your system are creating the same sound, their drivers will be going in a completely different direction (exactly opposite). This can in no way damage your speaker or receiver. It will, however, sound very strange.

Running wires in the wall
Switch one of those red and black wires. I dare you!

How To Know If You’ve Switched Your Red and Black Speaker Wires

Wiring one speaker out of phase, which is what happens if you switch the red and black wires, sounds very odd. If you’ve done it on your front speakers, you’ll lose the center image. Yes, your center channel (if you are running a surround sound system) will still work, but the music and any sounds that are played out of your front left and right speakers will sound wrong. Like the sounds are all coming from one side of the room. If you’ve done it with your surround speakers, it may be harder to detect but the effect will be the same.

Fortunately, most room setup and correction programs will detect if your speakers are wired out of the phase. It should let you know that it has happened and you can switch your red and black speaker wires. It’ll even let you know what speaker is the problem.

One thing to note is that it isn’t necessarily your fault if your receiver says your speakers are wired out of phase. If you’ve bought pre-terminated wires, you may find that they were terminated incorrectly. Rarely we have come across speakers that have had the wiring inside the speaker flipped. It can happen. If your system sounds weird, and your receiver is telling you that your speaker is wired out of phase, then flip the wires either at the receiver or the speaker (not both). It should solve your problem.

The Takeaway

I’ve been in this business for a long time, and the last time I moved I switched the red and black wires on one of my speakers when I set up my system. It happens. No one here is going to judge you. The key takeaway is that you really can’t hurt anything by swapping the wires. Heck, use the black wire to connect the red terminals and the red wire to connect the black terminals. The electricity won’t care and it’ll drive your audiophile friends crazy!

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