There is a big difference between the two, and it’s important to use the right type of cable for the job, or your sound will suffer.
Let’s take a look at the key differences between speaker cables and instrument cables
Speaker cables are low-impedance cables designed to carry a high-powered signal from an amplifier to a speaker.
The more you crank up your amp, the more current flows through the cable, so a thicker gauge wire is needed to prevent the signal from being degraded.
Instrument cables, on the other hand, are high-impedance cables that are designed to carry a weak signal from an instrument (like a guitar) to an amplifier. Because instrument signals are much weaker than speaker signals, they don’t need to be carried by as thick of a wire.
Instrument cables also need to be shielded to prevent interference from other electronic devices and power sources. Speaker cables generally don’t need shielding.
How to tell the difference?
Visually, the best way to tell the difference between speaker cables and instrument cables is by thickness, weight, and flexibility.
Speaker cables are usually thicker, heavier, and less flexible than instrument cables.
Another sure way to tell the difference is by looking at the inner wires.
Speaker cables have two wires, which are not shielded. You will see two insulated wires of equal size. Both of those wires are soldered to the connector.
The instrument cable has one wire, which is shielded. The single insulated wire is connected to the tip of the jack, and the shield is connected to the sleeve.
Is it OK to use a guitar cable as a speaker cable?
At low signal levels, you probably won’t notice a difference. But at high volumes, things can get dangerous!
In more extreme cases, using a guitar cable as a speaker cable could result in a heat build-up, which could cause the insulation to melt and potentially start a fire.
This is because the instrument cable simply isn’t designed to handle the voltage and current that a speaker cable needs to carry.
What about using a speaker cable as an instrument cable?
There’s no danger here, but you’re likely to notice a difference in tone.
The unshielded wires in a speaker cable are more susceptible to interference, which can result in a “muddier” sound. You may experience buzzes and hums that you wouldn’t hear with an instrument cable, especially near power sources or fluorescent lights.
So, while it’s technically safe to use a speaker cable as an instrument cable, it’s not going to give you the best sound quality.
There you have it! The next time you’re setting up your sound system, make sure you’ve got the right cable for the job.