Wiring is a necessary evil in any home theater or car audio environment. In larger systems, the task of running wire may comprise the majority of time taken within the overall installation. It is important to remember to protect the wire and the signals they carry as they pass through firewalls, behind baseboards and in close proximity to power cables. By following these proven protocols, you can be sure the wire will be free from nicks and abrasions while carrying noise-free audio and video.
Mobile Wire Protection
Car audio environments are inherently more hostile to wiring and audio cabling than the home. The constant motion of the vehicle and the resultant panel flexing and sympathetic movement may cause abrading and cutting of unprotected wires. Examine the lengths taken by the vehicle manufacturer with the bundling and looming of stock wires for evidence. You should do likewise with any audio cabling you route through the vehicle. Failure to protect any wire may result in jagged sheet metal rubbing though the outer insulation, causing a short circuit. Depending on whether the wire is for signal or power, this could result in speaker or amplifier damage or even a fire. Rubber or plastic snap grommets protect amplifier power wires as they pass through the firewall from the engine bay to the vehicle’s cabin. Each wire in the system should be covered by flexible split loom, available in different sizes and colors to correctly protect and identify the cables. Always avoid routing wires in areas subjected to foot traffic, through door jambs or by seat tracks. Route RCA signal and amplifier power wires through opposite wire chases located under each door sill. This practice keeps engine noise farther from the delicate audio signal carried by the RCA cables. The added benefit of covering stereo system wiring is security, since properly bundled car audio cabling is often indistinguishable from factory power and accessory wiring.
Behind the Rack
In a home audio system and car audio amplifier racks, you should always take steps to ensure that each wire bundle is secure but not overly tight. If you notice the outer jacket of any cable becoming compressed — when using zip ties for example — loosen the bundle to prevent damage to the shielding and/or conductors inside. Keep the signal cables routed down one side of the rack and power down the other to reduce interference while maintaining a cleaner look. Use wires that are slightly longer than what is absolutely needed to reach from component to component in order to eliminate stress on the cables, and allowing you to route them as needed. Wires should never be bent beyond their radius to prevent breaking and stressing of internal conductors, this rule holds true especially with solid-core wiring and optical cables.
Running wires through walls almost always yields the cleanest appearance. However, you need to use the right wiring to ensure electrical code compliance and fire safety. CL-rated wiring does not emit noxious fumes when exposed to direct flame, nor does it act as a fuse carrying a fire from room to room. Speaker, HDMI and other wiring types all carry this rating, but you have to look for it on the jacket or cable packaging. Remember to keep any speaker or low-voltage wiring at least 18 inches from AC wires to prevent induced hum from entering the system. If wires must cross, ensure the intersection is at a 90-degree angle. If running wires through the wall is abnormally difficult, you can route the wire behind the baseboard using the gap typically found between the floor and the drywall. Pry back the baseboard with a hammer and putty knife, slide the wires underneath, then tack the boards back in place. It’s a good idea to number the baseboards and the sections of the wall to ensure everything is returned where it should be.
Wire Management Accessories
A reusable alternative to plastic zip ties are hook-and-loop strips that will not compress wiring, color-coded for convenience and can be cut to length. These may be used anywhere other than in-wall applications, since these strips are not typically rated for such use. In scenarios where in-wall wiring is impossible or impractical, wire raceways allow the cables to be concealed outside the wall in a paintable plastic enclosure. Routed strategically along other household trim, these raceways virtually disappear and are ideal for lofts and older plaster-and-lathe homes. Single speaker wires that must be routed around door frames or other relatively inconspicuous areas may be tacked to the wall, using specialized plastic anchors and a small brad. Once in place, these too may be painted to match. Whenever possible, use crimp or reusable twist-on connectors to terminate speaker wires. In addition to making speaker connections easier, these connectors prevent oxygen from oxidizing the bare copper, thereby maintaining a better electrical connection over time.