Instrument Cable vs. Speaker Cable: Can You Tell the Difference?

Instrument Cable vs. Speaker Cable: Can You Tell the Difference?

Posted by DTC Thrasio


Musical instrument manufacturers always try to manage their wires and cables due to the limited performance spaces. The stage should not be crowded with wires while the musicians are performing. There are unique musical instruments used to manage these challenges perfectly. You can choose a suitable instrument cable vs. speaker cable that matches your needs.

Custom instrument and speaker cables are used to improve stage equipment labeling. Therefore, you can use various cables with custom design and color codes to ensure you don't use the wrong application of wires. In this article, we'll discuss the differences between speaker and instrument cables to help you avoid making any technical mistakes. Let's get started!

What Are Speaker Cables?

coiled up speaker cable

A speaker cable is similar to a standard ¼ inch line level cable. Some cables have the same connectors making the cables also identical. However, it is not advisable to try and use them interchangeably. It can cause the melting of the cable due to the passing of excess electric current, and it will affect the quality of sound in the amplifier. Some speaker cables come with thick jackets made of special fabric or other exotic materials to ensure protection and longevity. They are highly durable more than standard cables, and they also look fantastic.

What Are Instrument Cables?

coiled up guitar cable

Instruments cables may look similar to speaker cables, but they have shields around them. The shielding is essential to an instrument's cable due to an amplifier in a high impedance environment. The shielding will reduce all interfaces that may over form other electronics and radio signals nearby. It is easy to note the shielding on these cables since they are always a braided wire mesh or foil around one or both wires.

What's the Difference Between an Instrument Cable and Speaker Cable?

The major difference between these cables is that the instrument cables have a shield while the speaker cables don't. They use the same types of connectors but are designed for different purposes. If you look closely at their design, you will understand how they are made apart from the apparent shielding. The instrument cable has a signal wire and shield, whereas the speaker cable contains two identical individual wires, one connected to the sleeve and one connected to the tip. The difference here is attributed to the nature of instrument cables to transmit relatively low-level audio signals transferred between devices.  On the other hand, a speaker cable carries the signal directly from an amplifier. The signal here is stronger enough to power a speaker.

There is also a difference in the construction of the two cables.

  • 1/4-inch Instrument Cable: the cable is designed to transmit a weak signal, such as an electric guitar signal. These cables can pick sounds and radio waves coming from the environment. The newly picked sounds and waves act as noise, and eventually, the amplified sounds are full of unrecognized noise. Therefore, an instrument cable has a shield to cancel and minimize noise.
  • 1/4-inch Speaker Cable: when connected to the amplifier, the cables get powerful signals that can move to the speaker without picking noise in the surrounding. A speaker cable can handle the powerful signals. The wires inside are identical, but sizes and gauges may vary according to t the amount of current required for a particular speaker. The powerful signals don't need any shielding from noise or waves surrounding, making speaker cables the best choice.

Why You Need To Avoid Mixing and Matching Instrument and Speaker Cables

You can understand the idea of avoiding mixing and matching the two cables by looking at their capabilities. In some cases, it is even risky for your instrument to interchange these two cables.

Using a Speaker Cable as an Instrument Cable

Using a speaker cable to connect a guitar to an amplifier will produce unnecessary noise and with no quality. There is no shield to protect the noise and radio waves that comes from the surrounding. Depending on the intensity of this noise, you may not even be able to hear any sounds but a lot of mixed noise. The only possible way is to check before and ensure you have the correct cable during setup.

Using an Instrument Cable as a Speaker Cable

Using an instrument cable to connect an amplifier to a speaker will cause serious damage to you and your equipment. The cable is designed to transmit a shallow current, but the amplifier current is massive. Hence, instrument cables will lead to poor system performance and eventual damage to the equipment.

At GLS Audio, we offer the best instruments and guitar cables for optimal sounds quality. Shop our wide range of cables today!