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. Owen commented

    Thanks heaps for the in phase / out of phase sample… for weeks i’ve been trying to sort out why a pair of speakers sounds ‘weird’. Turns out that the internal wiring of at least the bass/mid driver was incorrect from the factory. Having sorted that out i’m not sure how to determine if the whole crossover is wired backwards or just the mid / bass driver – it’s not so obvious if the treble is out of phase. any tips?

    • commented

      Hi, Glad to hear that the little phase test has helped you. The only thing that I can think of to test just the tweetters is to download a WAV file of a pure sine wave ABOVE the cutoff frequency of your crossover (somewhere between 3kHz and 6kHz ish) and see if you could audibly detect any phasing discrepancies on the tweeters.

  2. evan commented

    I don’t know if this article is still around but I just got a stereo, nothing too fancy quite powerful…now its brand new I have everything hooked up when I first turn it on it makes a loud almost crackle and bass pop then plays weird : S now the speaker wire is not color coded if I look closely inside one side is copper one is silver I’m assuming copper is red/ silver is black I know I’m new at this, but it set me back a lot and it sounds like crap.

    • commented

      If it’s brand new and sounds that bad, I’d recommend taking it back to where you bought it from. Swapping a few wires to sort out phasing problems would have no effect on the sort of problems you’re describing.

  3. Gaden commented

    Thanks for the website.

    The audio files were very useful for me when I was trying to position my bookshelf speakers.

    And calibrate the balance on my preamp.

    Simple, easy to use but works so well.

  4. Azlan commented

    Hi Richard,

    Is this test applicable for a home theater setup with 5 speakers? How do I check the surround speaker wirings and what effect mode should I put on my AVR? Setting it to output stereo sound can only test my 2 front speakers.

    Thanks for your help

    • commented

      Hi, This test is only really applicable for a stereo set-up and not a full surround sound system. You are correct that setting your system to stereo will enable you to test your two front stereo speakers, but to do a similar test on your rear surround speakers would require a more sophisticated test unfortunately. Whatever test you do perform however, I would turn off ALL effects on your AVR so that you are just testing the pure source file without any contamination from additional effects that could cause odd phasing problems. I hope this goes some way to answering your question.

  5. Christian commented

    Hi Richard,
    I think I have a phasing issue since I have connected four new speakers in my car.I have a 4 channels amp connected to my OEM radio. I have two issues:

    First, my two rear speakers sounds like crap (they are of lesser quality than the front components but ….), but I put the fader in the rear, the left & right sound identical (both crap…). Is it likely a phasing issue ?

    Second issue: I “think” that my left front speaker produce more bass than the right. So I’ll try to switch polarity. Question: to check the phasing, is it OK to switch polarity directly on the amp ? It would be easier than opening the doors to access the wiring on the speakers…

    Thanks !

    • commented

      Yes, switching polarity on one channel of the amp output to your speakers should have the desired effect if it is a phasing issue.

  6. Christian commented

    Just tested the mp3, and phasing seems ok… So I’ll test other rear speakers…

    But I CAN hear a difference between left and right channels in the front. As my front speakers are components, is it possible that the tweeters and/or the woofers aren’t in phase with each others ? How could I test it ?

    • commented

      Hi Christian, It is certainly possible for the tweeters and bass units to be out of phase with each other. To test tweeters in isolation you could try downloading a WAV file of a sine wave ABOVE the cutoff frequency of your crossover (around 3kHz and 6kHz) and see if you can audibly detect any phasing discrepancies on the tweeters.

      • Christian commented

        Hi Richard. So much bass now in my system !!! I’m not sure I understand what to check for if I play a sine wave… Do I have to check if both tweeters are in phase with each other, doing a right/left comparison ??? Please tell me more

        • commented

          Nice to hear that you’ve got lots of bass :-) If you play a 6kHz sine wave with the tweeters in phase, it should sound like it’s coming from the dead centre of the 2 speakers. If the tweeters are out of phase with each other the sound should sound disjointed like it’s coming from both speakers separately instead of coherently from the centre. Hope this makes sense.

  7. Christian commented

    OR, would it be possible that my issue is caused by some inversion of polarity BEFORE the signal reach the amp? I had to put two Hi-Lo converters between the radio and the amp, so I had some occasions to inverse polarity before reaching the amp…
    Even if the signal feeding the amp is “inversed”, is inversing the speakers wires on the output stage of the amp would correct it ?

    • commented

      Inverting a signal before the amp would indeed have the same effect as inverting the speaker wires on one channel, so inverting the speaker wires on one channel could also rectify your problem as you guessed.

    • commented

      Hi Christian, I’m pleased to hear that you’re making some progress at last and thanks for the link to the alternative tests. The low frequency rumble test is particularly good for testing the bass drive unit alone without too much interference from the tweeter. Your battery test is a good way also, but I wouldn’t do it too often as you could risk damaging your drive units with excessive travel.

  8. JKBoX commented

    Thanks, now I know it is wired up correctly. Great that I could download the file, as my system is not where my computer is. Now I just connected my Ipod and heard that it is allright. Turned out that a couple of albums in VBR sounded really strange on my Ipod…with constant bitrate it is ok.

  9. Cary W. commented

    Richard,
    I am completely bamboozled. When I play your phase test the “out of phase” always sounds louder and more centered, even after I change polarity on one of the speakers. Even if I turn the balance control to just one speaker, the second voice sounds louder and fuller. I’m also hearing a lot of left ch. in the right ch. and vice versa.

    I have my iMac running through my home amplifier/speaker system. This happens whether I am running a wired output or via Wi-Fi using Airport Express.

    • commented

      Hi Cary, Thanks for your comment. If you’re getting bleed through between the channels it sounds like more of a software problem with the computer. Do you get the same bleed across the channels if you listen with headphones directly on your computer?

  10. Cary W. commented

    Looks like you’re right. For some reason the app “Hear” from Prosoft Engineering was causing the problem, particularly the crosstalk between the left and right channels. Can’t figure why that should happen — can’t find any other complaints about it — but I’m glad to get my sound right.

    Thanks.

  11. Chris K. commented

    Great article. I love the out-of-phase.mp3. Super useful!

    This article and most articles like this focus on whether the right and left channel are in or out of phase. If they are out of phase, the advice is always to switch the + and – wires to one of the speakers. No one ever seems to worry about which speaker should have its wires switched to correct the phasing problem. However, if you switch the wrong one, your speakers could be in phase, but have reversed polarity.

    So, my question: Assuming you do have your left and right speakers in phase, does it matter if you have polarity reversed (i.e., reversed + and – on both speakers)? In other words, besides phasing issues, does reversed polarity affect sound quality at all?

    Thanks!

    • commented

      Hi Chris, Thanks for your comments, glad you found the article informative. In answer to your question reversed polarity as you put it will have absolutely NO effect on the sound quality at all.

  12. James K. commented

    Hi Richard,

    I’m not overly audio savvy, so I may use odd terminology if I’m unsure of the correct word to use. My problem is with a headset using 3.5mm audio jacks.

    I’m nearly certain my headset is out of phase, it had the symptoms of being out of phase, but unfortunately the only cure on this site was for large speaker set ups. I don’t have a problem with speakers, it’s my Turtle Beach headset that is out of phase.

    There are only two (three counting the mic jack) connectors/jacks in the headset, the two 3.5mm jacks in the back of the PC for speakers and mic, then a plug just after the audio control. Image here: http://www.gamelikeapro.com/images/products/secondary/turtle%20beach%20ear%20force%20z2-2.jpg . What I want to know is how to fix the out of phase issue with my headset. It may be a bit difficult but I’m sure someone as audio savvy as yourself will be able to fix it.

    Thanks in advance,

    James.

    • James K. commented

      Forgot to add:

      It’s only been out of phase for about a week or so, I don’t believe I’ve treated it any differently to how I’ve treated them for the last 8-9 weeks (yeah, the Z2 isn’t very durable, this is the second headset I’ve been through). The only thing I can think of is that I listened to some songs with heavy bass fairly loud through them.

      I haven’t had any troubles with this specific headset before. In my pair before this one, the left speaker shut off completely and the only temporary remedy was to hold the wire to the volume control in a specific way then tape it like that, obviously this didn’t fix it so I went and picked up another headset. Now that headsets gone out of phase, which is a fairly large piss-off.

      I’ve tried removing and putting the jacks back in to the back of the pc, I’ve disconnected the “in-line quick jacks” blasted them with air then re-connected and the headset is still out of phase.

      Failing to find a cure: Can someone suggest a decent gaming headset that’s fairly cheap (AUD$80-$180) but still high quality and durable? It doesn’t need to be a gaming headset, it could be a decent headset with a table mic, as long as it sticks within that price range and has good quality.

      • commented

        Hi James, An out of phase sound is usually as a result of incorrect wiring. If your headphones were OK and are now not, the problem may point more to a software irregularity. Could you try another pair of headphones from say an MP3 player with your PC to see if the problem persists. If it does (and it was OK before) then it definitely points to a software problem.

        • James K. commented

          Thanks Richard,

          After a bit of wire jiggling (very techincal, I know) I worked out my headset seems to be out of phase when the wires are placed in a certain way. I believe they’ve been wired incorrectly. Thanks for your help.

          James.

  13. commented

    To reset Default Volume (Sound) in Windows Xp Go to your Start Menu,then select Run and then type mmsys.cpl and/or control mmsys.cpl and/or control mmsys.cpl,,1 (to open Sounds and Audio Devices Properties, like from the Control Panel does.) After that click on Speaker settings and select Speaker Volume. Ther you can change however you want them and the click on Restore Defaults.

  14. Inki Lee commented

    Tooky’s DVM method cannot prove in case the wiring inside the speaker is swapped. Am I wrong?

  15. Richard T from SoCal commented

    Great article! My experiences with speaker phasing has been exactly as you stated. Most people haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, and then when you show them, they can’t hear the difference.
    Interestingly, Mazda Miata OEM Headrest Speakers were factory wired out-of-phase! Additionally, Honda Element OEM front left/right and rear left/right speakers left the factory, you guessed it, wired out-of-phase!
    I’m guessing Japanese don’t understand phasing either.

  16. Charlie stockham commented

    I’m wiring some speakers into my car, I’m starting completly fresh, 3 speakers, one left, one right and one center speaker. I know how to wire the two sides but can I wire both left and right speaker outputs into the one center speaker to get both left and right sound through it?
    Cheers

    • commented

      Hi Charlie, The simple answer to your question is NO, absolutely not, you can’t wire a central speaker like that, you run a serious risk of permanently damaging your amplifier.

      If you don’t have an amplifier to support a central speaker (which is unlikely) then you would need to buy a new amplifier system to cater for the central channel.

  17. Andrew commented

    Hello Richard, thanks for this article, very helpful and informative.

    I’ve a query you may be able to help with…

    My newly purchased LOGITECH X-530 5.1 PC speakers have connections via the front right speaker to subwoofer, and thence to other speakers…

    Given the room layout, I need the pc (and thus the front right speaker) to be located at rear right. Is it just a case of swapping the green and black plugs to back of PC, to effectively swap front and rear, or is this naively simplistic… ?

    I’ve recently lined out a garden shed for use as a ‘home office’, and have installed speaker cable to four corners, terminating in what will be rear right corner, and impossible now to change the layout.

    I’d be grateful for any advice…

    Thanks and best regards
    Andrew

    • commented

      Hi Andrew, Sounds like you’re going to have a pretty impressive garden shed. In answer to your question, swapping the green (FL & FR) plug with the black plug (RL & RR) should indeed do the trick for your particular circumstances. Richard

  18. Mark P commented

    Hi Richard,

    Another quick car audio question. Do you know of any test for speaker response. I have a thought that the drivers side front channel of my radio loses any response that would be considered work for the tweeters. It’s not the speaker as I replaced it and seem to have the same (if intermittent) problem. Certain songs where you know a certain guitar riff or vocal is always on the left seems week or not present. I know this scenario seems odd I think I’m experiencing it…….Thanks, Mark

    Note, these are not component speakers, there’s just two wires to the speaker and they are Pioneer 6X8 three ways.

      • Mark P commented

        Richard,
        I did ask about and found an mp3 that had some shifting tones and frequencies, in the end the original speaker was OK as was the swapped from the rear channel unit. It’s the volume control on the factory radio. It does not evenly raise the volume left and right until it’s past a certain point. The power getting to the left is weak and distorted until this defect is overcome with more volume, then the sound noticeably kicks in and the volume is OK left and right across the span. Once overcome the left volume acts perfectly normal ad can be adjusted to a normal listening level. It stays this way until the unit is powered off. Strange as it’s a potentiometer type control that spins infinity (no stops) It’s also a great sounding unit once I replaced the Ford factory speakers, it’s a 2008 truck. The volume control is also a push on and off for power, I guess this pushing on and off could eventually effect the volume portion of the control. The volume is also controlled by the speed of the vehicle, who knows how that’s tied in (!) Thanks again for listening and responding…….Mark

        • commented

          You’re welcome Mark. Glad to hear that you’ve got to the bottom of things. If the volume control was a standard potentiometer I would have suggested trying some WD40 on it, but if it’s a rotary encoder type as you reckon then I don’t think that would help as it sounds more like a strange internal fault. Richard.

          • Mark P commented

            OK, not to beat a dead horse but here’s the true solution to this one. After finding that the volume control seemed to be causing the lack of audio at the front left speaker until enough power was induced, it was actually a crimped wire in the door itself. The channel went completely dead, I rechecked the wiring to the speaker and found there was a crimp and only a couple strands of wire were powering the speaker. I’ve been working car audio since the 70′s and have never come across a bad connection that was overcome by power and sounded perfect. Literally turning the volume up would bridge the connection until the next time the unit was powered down. I’m talking factory output here, no big power. Pretty interesting and in the vault for next time but at the rate of encountering this one we may be talking forty years!
            Mark

          • commented

            Wow, that is bizarre, but well done for your persistence it certainly paid off. Thanks for letting us know of your final solution. Regards, Richard.

  19. Karthik commented

    Hi Richard,
    Thanks for the great article (from more than 2 years ago!). I recently bought a JBL center and a pair of monitor audio speakers (using them as front). I connected them to my macbook via a sony STR DE 325 receiver and the sound somehow appears “flat”. I thought that it was the quality of my audio files but the music sounds terrific on my bose headphones. Grateful for any pearls that you might have. Thanks.

    • commented

      Hi, You say the music sounds good on your Bose headphones, but are the headphones plugged into your Macbook or the Sony receiver at this point?

      • Karthik commented

        The bose headphones were plugged into the Macbook! I will try them off the receiver… The speaker wires are connected properly (according to the steps above). Then i tried one monitor audio and 1 cambridge sound works (small square) speaker (for more treble and this combination sounds better than the (bassy) monitor audios together. Still not great but i guess the quality of all the pieces of equipment may be the issue here. Thanks for responding!

        • commented

          I’d be interested to see what your headphones sound like through your receiver as you know they already sound good directly plugged into the computer. It’s a process of elimination.

  20. Bruno commented

    tooky‘s instructions are wrong, a DVM won’t show you the correct phase, you would need an special phase tester which is a condenser microphone that tells you if the tones are + or -

  21. rick commented

    i have a pioneer cs-11 speaker, it has red dot on the neg. side. i was taugh that neg. was black,and black was on the left. any thoughts???.

    • commented

      Hi Rick, Like you I would usually assume black to be negative/ground and red to be positive, but if both speakers are wired with the same convention then you shouldn’t have any phase problems.

  22. bashar commented

    Hi, brilliant article
    is there a way to down load the Centre Balance Test file so i can play it on my AVR

    Tks

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