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The Importance of Proper Gauge Power and Ground Wire


AWG is the American Wire Gauge system that standardizes wire diameters predominantly in the United States and Canada. This standard is determined by the total cross-sectional area of the conductor portion of the wire, not including the outer jacket (casing). The American Wire Gauge abbreviation (AWG) is often referred to as gauge, for example, 2AWG is the same as 2 gauge wire. History lesson aside, these terms are interchanged frequently and will be in this article. Read our full article titled “Wire Gauge Sizes and the American Wire Gauge (AWG)“.

So, why all the talk about wire gauge and the American standard? Other countries have different ways of rating their wire gauge. For example, 2 gauge wire using the AWG standard is not the same as 2 gauge wire from another country. This is where we run into trouble. You may think you have 2 gauge wire but in fact it could be much less, and given your power demands, will cause things to heat-up. Keep reading.

The objective of any wire is to transfer current a set distance with the least amount of resistance. Amplifier power wire is no different so it’s crucial that the correct gauge be used when powering your system. The rule of thumb: “The Bigger the Better”. This of course depends on the application but works for amplifiers most of the time. Always refer to the owner’s manual for what gauge wire to use and make sure to purchase “True to Gauge” wire. What happens when you’re using a wire size that is too small for your application? A few things:

1) The wire could melt because of the large amount of current flowing through it in comparison to the cables current handling capabilities. The smaller the wire diameter, the higher the resistance to the flow of energy becomes. When you have high resistance you create heat, much like a toaster, which will begin to toast things.

2) Your amplifier will not receive the proper voltage that it needs to operate at its peak efficiency. This means the performance and sound quality of your system will be hampered. Voltage is a term for how much work can be done by electrical current, so the lower the voltage the less work is being done which means less amplifier power. What is the point of a great sound system when it produces bad sound?

3) Damage to the amplifier could potentially occur when there is not enough current flowing to its circuits, especially during musical peaks. The amplifier will ask for a sudden boost in current which the wire size could not deliver. Think of it like jumping on a trampoline and suddenly hitting a tree branch, never a good thing. Also, If there is a lack of power and the grounds are not isolated well enough, the 12V ground could leak current into the the signal ground and blow the preamp stage.

Using the proper gauge power AND ground wire kit is going to protect you, your passengers, your vehicle and other vehicles or pedestrians on the road. Don’t risk running smaller cable then what your sound system demands. At some point your wire could light up like a firecracker and melt everything around it, such as carpeting, plastic and insulation. Once the burning cable touches the chassis it could arc and blow all of the other electronics in your vehicle. The more power you have the larger your wire needs to be. Read our article titled “What Gauge Wire Do I Need to Install My Amplifier?” for the best size wire for your amplifier. As you add additional wire to a battery it needs to be fused at the battery to protect the wire, not the equipment at the other end which should have its own fuses.  Proper gauge wire is not to protect your equipment; it’s to protect your wire which protects you.

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Staff writers at Sonic Electronix are experts in their field. In addition to a complete in-house training program, these experts typically have many years of hands-on experience in their specialty. Some come from car audio installer backgrounds, while others come with extensive retail experience.
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