How to Check if your Speakers are Wired Correctly

A simple speaker phase testAny system is only as good as the weakest link in the chain and audio systems are certainly no exception to the rule. Assuming that your music system is producing reasonably pleasant sounds, you may never stop to give it a second thought, but with a few simple tests you can check to make sure that your speakers are wired correctly and that you’re getting the best out of your system.

Attaching speakers to your Hi-Fi system usually only requires a few cables. You wouldn’t think that getting these cables mixed up would present much of a problem would you, providing your music plays back OK and no smoke comes out of the system?

Well, under most circumstances you’d be right, with a simple channel mix up being the most likely probable outcome, but if you have a real knack for getting things back to front, then you could have your speakers wired out-of-phase, which while it won’t do any damage, certainly won’t help you to get the best out of your system.

These potential problems are easy to spot with a few simple tests and luckily the corresponding remedies are equally simple.

Left and Right Tests

In the grand scale of things, getting your left and right speakers mixed up is not a major problem. If your left and right speakers are mixed up, your music will still come out in wonderful stereo (providing of course that you’re listening to a stereo track) it’s just that what should be coming out of the left-hand speaker is actually coming out of the right-hand speaker and vice versa.


Record producers and mix engineers spend weeks mixing and producing an album and as part of the process they will decide where in the mix to place certain instruments. So if you have a favourite track that has an instrument panned (music speak for stereo positioning of sounds) to one side, wouldn’t you prefer to listen to it as the artist intended rather than topsy turvey?

You would? Good.

Then try the following two fairly self explanatory tests on your music system. Listening to the left speaker test, you should hear Winnie’s voice coming out of the left hand speaker (or headphone) only and vice versa for the right speaker test.

Left Speaker Test:

Play

Or, download: left.mp3 [0’ 04”, 68kB]

Right Speaker Test:

Play

Or, download: right.mp3 [0’ 04”, 80kB]

audio connectorsIf things don’t go according to plan, then you have either got your speakers wires mixed up (or headphones on the wrong way round), or the audio cabling (shown right) from your playback device to the amplifier crossed over.

Normally audio signal cables (as opposed to speaker cables)  are colour coded with the red plug going to the red socket and white to white at each end of the cable.

You will need to check the wiring of your system, rewiring where necessary and then repeat the two tests to make sure that both channels are working and in the correct order.

The following diagram shows how to wire your speakers to your amplifier: speaker connections

Balance Test

Now that you’re happy that you have your left and rights sorted out, the next thing to check is your speaker balance.

When you listen to the following test, place your head as centrally as you can between your two speakers; you should hear Winnie coming from the dead centre of your speakers. In this case you are hearing equal amounts of Winnie from both speakers.

Centre Balance Test:

Play

Or, download: centre.mp3 [0’ 04”, 67kB]

If Winnie sounds to be coming either to the left or right of the centre position, you may need to check to see if your amplifier or system has a balance control. If it does, ensure that the balance control is in the centre position.

If after checking the balance control, things still sounds one sided, you may have a more fundamental problem with your system that requires investigation or professional attention. This could be as simple as a dirty connection or a dodgy interconnecting cable, or if things are worse it could be a more ingrained electronic or speaker problem.

Alternatively, if you can’t pin point the sound as definitely coming from the centre, you may have a phasing problem…

Speaker Phase Test

A phasing problem with speakers is very simple to fix, but can significantly degrade your system’s sonic performance.

Trying to describe how out of phase speakers sound is a little difficult unless you’ve experienced it first hand. You’re likely to hear significantly less bass and instead of producing a strong centre image, the sound appears to stay within the speakers, making things sound rather disconnected.

Listen to the following and you should be able to hear the difference for yourself:

Speaker Phase Test:

Play

Or, download: out-of-phase.mp3 [0’ 07”, 128kB]

If the above test sounds perfectly fine, but the previous centre channel test sounded really odd, then your speakers are out of phase.

Fixing the Problem

Thankfully, while the effect can be quite strange, the fix is really simple.

speaker terminals Pick a speaker, but not both, this must only be done on one speaker. Now swap the two wires on the back of the speaker around. Usually the speaker will have two connections; one black (the negative or connector) and one red (positive or + connector).

That should  be it, job done. Now listen to the centre/balance test and phase test again to confirm that you have everything working hunky dory.

Sit Back and Relax

Now that you have your speakers wired up correctly with your lefts and rights where they should be and no strange out of phase effects, you can lie back, put your feet up and listen to my latest podcast in knowledge of a job well done.

You had no problems; excellent, so there’s no reason not to listen to my latest podcast either!  :-)

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Comments

  1. Sukant commented

    There is no E-mailing option in the manufacturer Site (Nvidia) and yesterday i went to the shop keeper and he says if the graphic card is working then there is no problem in the hardware(chip) and he told to me that i also do not no why the error occurs to you but if any problem occurs in future in the time of the warranty then i will make it repair or replace.. but i am not satisfied with his answer he is the shop keeper at-lest he should have complete knowledge about what he is selling to us well buddy still i am confused so what you think?

    • commented

      The Nvidia website has a live chat facility on the support section of their website that you can use to speak to them directly. I’ve found them very helpful in the past. It’s probably worth giving that a go.

  2. paul commented

    Hope this is a current 2012 page… No-one uses full dates or usually no date so it is a virtual world without real time.
    Anyway Thanks for the phasing. I just scored a pair of 1992 Celestion 5000′s. ..23 inch ribbons… They have such sounds from each speaker that it was tooo much and they fooled me…
    Now instead of a recording I have Bill Frisell in my house.

    • commented

      I think I wrote this article three year’s ago, but it’s content doesn’t date and is still valid today. Anyway, I hope it was helpful and you can enjoy your new speakers all the better for being in-phase.

  3. commented

    Speaker wire must be in a good condition,well i can say yes.well this is a good thing that you ask that question,for sure there is a lot of people not care about the speaker wire.thank man.

  4. Paul commented

    Hi Richard,
    I set up a music system for gf’s beauty salon a year ago and all of a sudden the music has died. Its a amplifier, 6 speakers, 3 with volume control.
    There is sound, but you have to have your ear against the speaker to hear it. Would you know what the problem could be?
    Ive changed the lead from the ipod to the amplifier and that has made no difference. I am lost of what to do next.

    Paul.

    • commented

      Hi Paul,

      It’s difficult to tell really, it could any of a host of problems.

      Try your iPod on a different input channel on the amp, or try some WD-40 on all of the amplifier’s switches and controls. You could also try disconnecting all of the speakers and just starting with one simple pair connected. If that works, then you need to start adding your extra bits a piece at a time until you can work out which bit is causing the problem.

      Hope that helps a little.

  5. Liew commented

    Hi,I am using a live mixer Yamaha ls9.but when I pan left I get harming on the sub bass but when I pan right,it sounds perfectly.All the connection seems fine,I hope you can reply back to me. Think you.

    • commented

      Hi Liew, If you remove all of your input connections and just have the power going to the mixer and the L/R outputs, do you still get the same problem?

  6. Ronit commented

    Hey there,
    My speaker stop working altogether after running for a while, and it happens each time I start my computer. They work for a while and then stop working. But Headphones are working fine on my pc so it must be something to do with my speakers. Can you suggest something?

  7. Kirk Mooneyham commented

    Just wanted to say thank you for posting this, the left and right channel files were just what I needed. I put an old Creative Labs CD drive in an external enclosure and hooked it direct to a small tube amp for some simple music listening…but wasn’t sure how to hook up the internal analog cables to the back of the CD drive itself. Turns out, I had them backwards…now I’m good to go.

    • commented

      Hi Kirk, It’s nice to know that the files are proving useful to people and that it helped you to get your system wired correctly. Enjoy your music.

  8. jake commented

    hi there, i have just reset up my hi fi system and the sub is working fine but both the speakers are not working and the wires cant be mixed up because they are fixed together (like tv ariel cables) and I was just wondering if you could tell me how to fix this.

    Thanks in advance

    • commented

      Hi Jake, Very difficult to tell without a little more detail. I’d double check every speaker, power and signal connection first as it can often be as simple as a loose connection.

      What’s the make and model of your speaker system, this may help me understand your system setup a little better?

  9. Akshay commented

    Hello sir,
    this article is really helpful.

    I tried all the tests. But when i try left speaker test audio comes from right speaker of my headphone and viceversa.
    The other two worked correctly.

    Is there any software to swap left/right channels? If not is there anything wrong with my hardware connections so that i can fix it.

    how exactly can i wire computer output jack correctly?

    please help me

    • commented

      Hi, I’m glad you liked the article, thanks.

      Regarding your question, I’m not sure if any software exists to swap the channels (it could be worth checking though), but this may not be your problem. If the channels are swapped in your headphones it could be possible that your headphones are wired incorrectly, could you check with another pair of headphones perhaps?

      If this problem is only manifesting itself on the headphone output then a simple solution would be to just flip your headphones around…

  10. kibrisli commented

    Hey mate can i ran my splits (car speakers) off the head unit or do i need an amp to run them?

    • commented

      If your head unit already has speakers attached it may be possible but you’d have to check what impedance load your unit is capable of driving and then look at the impedance of your speakers. It will also depend on whether you wire the two sets of speakers in parallel or series as this will change the resulting impedance that your amp/head unit will see.

      Not straightforward unfortunately. It’s worth doing some research on the internet into the wiring of speakers in series and parallel and how to calculate the resulting impedance as it’s a bit too complex to explain here.

      Hope this helps a bit.

  11. dragonix commented

    Hi there. I just wanted to tell you that this has been very useful for me. My wires are not color coded and it works fantastic especially the phase and center channel tests. I use it also to determine toe in angles.

  12. Baby commented

    Hi, my speakers are working but only one speaker works if its on radio mode but i find out both speKers are working if i use my IPOD…why only one works when its on radio mode?

  13. kariah commented

    Hi Richard – Really hope you can help! I’ve just been given a stereo system with woofer speakers and usually know how to wire a basic red/black system. However, these speakers have just GREY wires coming out but the actual stereo has red/black flappy- receiving port thingeys….so does it not matter how I stuff the wire in seeing as they’re all grey?!! Thank you in advance if you can help. From Bimbo :p x

    • commented

      Hi, I’d just try “stuffing” the wires in as if you were wiring up speakers with coloured wires then listen to my phase test files from the article. If it sounds odd, just swap the wires on one of the speakers only (doesn’t matter which one). Providing you stick the wires from the left speaker in the left channel and vice versa getting your wires within each speaker crossed should only lead to a phase issue and nothing more catastrophic. Hope this helps.

  14. Ken Sternberg commented

    Thank you for such a clear and informative article. I have a pair of bookshelf speakers that are bi-wired. A test revealed they were out of phase so I reversed the lower frequency pair of connections on one speaker. The sound is much improved, but should I alos reverse the other pair of wires for the high frequencies? Or doesn’t it matter?

    • commented

      Hi Ken, Glad to hear that you found the article helpful and that you have improved your system’s response. In answer to your question, then for a bi-wired speaker you should also swap the wires on the tweeter of the speaker that you swapped the woofer on, otherwise the tweeter will be out of phase with the woofer on that cabinet (assuming the manufacturer had the internal phasing wired correctly in the first place).

  15. Avtar commented

    Firstly thank you so much Richard for your article Amateurs like me can learn.
    I have a Klipsch Reference series 5.1 system connected to Denon AVR 3808 CI Amp.
    System was installed by one of my friends however recently i shifted and i myself connected my system. Now the problem i face is that the Front Left speaker out put is less as compared to the Front Right. I did run your speaker tests mentioned above however same result. Also thanks to your blog i discovered when i do the center speaker test sound is pumped out from the Front right speaker and not form the center speaker. Checked the balance and its fine. Now m really clueless here and would need your expertise to help me solve the problem.

    Thanks …… Avtar

    • commented

      Hi Avtar, Thanks for the comment and I’m pleased to hear that you liked the article.

      In answer to your question, if the system was functioning correctly before, the only real suggestion I’ve got is to disconnect everything and then go through and carefully/methodically reconnect everything (hopefully with the manual in front of you) double checking the quality of every connection as you go.

      Sorry I can’t be more specific, but it’s very difficult to diagnose something like this at a distance.

      • Avtar commented

        Richard really appreciate your reply in such a short time. Shall do as you suggested and shall keep you posted about the situation. Fingers crossed.

        Regards….. Avtar

  16. Avtar commented

    Richard Buddy i got it sorted apparently i need to know and learn my amp better one of the settings was messed up however now alls fine ….. thxxx for your time though buddy tc and please keep up the good work

  17. Mee commented

    Thanks for this lovely article. I have just fixed a new car stereo and I have a a bit of problem with my connections. I have got 6 speakers in my car 2 dash, 2 front door and 2 back door. I played the test files and I have got the front dash left speakers sounding when I play the right test file. I have also got my fader acting as my balance control and the balance control acting as my fader control. I definitely know I have mixed up the wires any suggestion on how to fix this?

    • commented

      Hi, Glad you liked the article. Unfortunately it’s not an easy one to describe how to fix without looking at the wiring diagram for the device. My advice would be to disconnect all of the speakers from the head unit and try wiring it again from scratch paying careful attention to the unit’s wiring instructions if it has any. It may be worth trying to sketch out and plan the wiring on a piece of paper first so that you’ve got a good idea of what you’re trying to achieve. Hope this helps a little.

  18. Scott Maitland commented

    I’ve recently bought a TV unit and speaker cable was not included in the purchase.

    The TV unit came in four parts:

    Top (Where the power goes to and has a red and black port either side of the TV unit. 4 ports in total.

    Base where no speaker ports are located.

    2x Sides where speakers are located with 2x red and 2x black on each side of TV unit….. 8 ports altogether.

    When wiring the speakers do I put say two red cables in the 2x red port and then into the one red at the top of TV unit?? then like wise for the black….

    Hope this makes sense….

    Regards Scott.

    • commented

      Hi Scott, Without seeing the unit it’s difficult to say, but what you’re suggesting certainly sounds logical. Does the manual offer any advice?

      To me, from your description, it sounds like the speakers are designed for bi-wiring as you describe, with separate cables going to the tweeter and the bass driver, but both cables being combined back at the TV. Hope this makes sense, but I think you’re on the right track.

  19. Samuel commented

    Hi,

    My setup:

    2x rf-5
    rd-64
    rw12d
    and Yamaha rx-v373

    The amplifier is temporary.

    When I play the center channel speaker test I can also hear the ladies voice in the side speakers. Could you please tell me if this is ok or I need to change some settings.

    Thanks

    • commented

      Hi Samuel, My little test file is purely stereo so you should only hear something in your centre or front left and right speakers not your rear fx side speakers, so if this is happening I would guess it’s an issue with one of the modes on your AV amplifier.

  20. Marla commented

    I also thank you; I couldn’t believe it when I saw the audio files right there in the article, I thought,”how handy!” I recently lost the woofer on my rear right speaker, and now the left is starting to (clip?/be clipped?). All the tests seemed fine . . .it’s kinda crazy since I’ve been playing music at what I like to call “house party” volume for just over a year now. I just switched the impedance setting on the amp, since it was incorrect, but I imagine it had been incorrect this whole time (~a year since I hooked up a second set of speakers). Anyways, I digress . . . cuz I really just wanted to say thanks for posting such a smart and concise, yet complete resource on speaker setup. Cheers . . .

    • commented

      Hi Maria, Thanks for that. I’m glad you found the article helpful and hope you manage to fix your speaker and sort out your clipping problem.

  21. Amien commented

    Hi. I have a set of pioneer 6×9 speakers. I have connecter plugs that connects up at the back of the speaker. Recently one of the connecter pins at the back of the speaker broke off (the thin connecter) I then cut the connecter plug off and I directly soldered the wire onto the plate where the connecter broke off from, since then I haven’t been getting any bass? Hope I am making sense? Thanks

    • commented

      Hi, Sounds to me that during your soldering you may have dislodged a wire on the inside of the speaker to the bass driver, or part of the crossover circuit leaving just the tweeter working. Is it possible to look inside and see if any wires have become disconnected?

      • Amien commented

        Hi, thanks for the reply Richard I never saw any wires come loose whilst I was busy soldering and I checked now again no loose wires. Thank you.

        • commented

          You’re welcome, sorry we couldn’t get to the bottom of your problem. It’s a bit difficult to diagnose things at such a distance. Perhaps a friend locally could assist?

  22. Mark P commented

    I’ve got a question about the station and song info broadcast by FM stations and received by some radios. I just bought a new car and expected the radio to be able to output the station and song info but it doesn’t. It’s a pretty nice car with a long list of options so I assumed it would. I have a 2008 truck I work with that is fairly basic in its appointments (base model) that has a factory radio in it that does display this info so I pretty much thought all radios do now. My owners docs for the new car states that the optional “HD” radio has this capability. Is this true that only HD radios can output the info? The radio in my truck is not anything “premium” by any standard yet it does. Also if it’s an HD radio wouldn’t I have the ability to receive the sub channel stations I’ve read are provided in HD radio?I can’t. Just wondering…….Thanks.

    • commented

      Hi Mark, I’m not sure what you mean by HD, whether you are referring to digital radio like DAB in Europe which would certainly show song information. FM should do, and has done for many years using the RDS protocol (a North American flavour is also available I believe) which I thought was installed in almost every car radio nowadays. Hope this helps a little.

  23. Paul Walmsley commented

    Hi

    The speaker issue i have is this. As i look at the stereo, the left side speaker seems much louder than the right side. Sometimes i have to put my head up close to the right to hear it, and drums and bass can be really quiet. With new recordings 90′s and after most recordings sound fine, but with old recordings particular 60′s, parts of the recording cannot be heard in the right side, or they phase in and out – eg, a vocal on the right disappears, but will re-appear when the sound becomes central. I have changed the speaker wire before now and tried swapping over but nothing seems to work. hope you can help, it’s driving me mad!

    Paul

      • Paul Walmsley commented

        Hi

        cheers for getting back to me. I think i have tried that before, but i guess i will try it again.

        I’m listening to an album right now, and part of the vocal is panned only left, and to hear it i have to put my ear right to the speaker, and it is only very faint.

        I have noticed on old recordings where a lot of instrumentation seems to be heavily panned right and left, parts of the instruments panned left disappear from the overall sound, but when the recording moves more central they re-appear.

        I think i will try swapping over the speakers again.

        cheers

        paul

          • Paul commented

            Hi

            I have swapped the speakers over, the one that was quiet is now ok, and the one that was ok is now quiet. This sounds like a problem with the channel on the amp doesn’t it?

            cheers, Paul

          • commented

            It does indeed I’m afraid.

            Could you try a different input/source as this might help to pinpoint if it’s the power amp section or the pre-amp that’s causing the problem.

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