If you’re not familiar with the audio equipment world, you may not be familiar with speakON connectors. But, if you are in the market for some new audio gear or just curious about what they are, read on. SpeakON connectors are a type of connector typically used in pro audio applications, and they are most commonly seen in speaker cabinets and amplifier racks.
So, what are they speakON Connectors, and what do they do?
A speakON connector, a trademarked name manufactured by Neutrik, is the industry standard for connecting amplifiers to loudspeakers in professional audio systems. The generic name is called a “speaker twist pair.”
Since their introduction in 1987, most experts in the audio industry say that the development of the speakON connector was a game-changer in the audio world.
It provided a better connection for high-functioning equipment that didn’t exist in the market. Since they came on the market, speakON connectors are now the industry standard and can be found on most pro audio speakers and amplifiers.
Are SpeakON Cables Directional?
Some cables are non-directional, meaning the outcome is the same no matter which end is plugged into which component. Contrast this with directional cables, which must be plugged into the correct component to work.
SpeakON cables are not directional. Either end of the cable can be plugged into the amplifier, with the other end plugged into the speaker.
There are audio enthusiasts that will tell you the sound will change depending on which direction it is connected because of how the wire was made (drawn).
While that may make a difference in home audio setups, it will not make much of a difference in high-current applications where you are using a speakON connector.
This video has some interesting information on audio cable directionality.
Are SpeakON Cables Balanced or Unbalanced?
A balanced connection has two signal wires and a ground. The audio signal is sent down both wires but with reverse polarity. The receiver has a differential amp that takes both signals and cancels out any noise that may be picked up along the way.
A balanced cable seems like the way to go. So, are speakON cables balanced or unbalanced?
SpeakON cables are unbalanced. SpeakON cables, like most speaker cables, don’t need to be balanced because the signal has already been amplified and the noise picked up over the cable run is negligible.
Why are speaker cables unbalanced? There is a lot more signal loss than balanced cables.
Anything with an instrument-level output has a very low voltage output. Around 5 mV or less.
At instrument level, by the time the signal travels to the end of a long (25′ or more) unbalanced cable, it can pick up a lot of noise.
However, the signal has been amplified by all the gain stages in the mixer and power amplifier when using speaker wire. Power amps make the signal much more powerful than the original signal, which goes through an instrument cable.
The signal from the instrument cable is amplified and is much larger on the output side of the power amp.
The signal-to-noise ratio is much improved by the time it reaches a speaker cable compared to when it was at instrument level. We don’t have to worry about signal loss or noise when connecting the speakers over long cable runs.
Are Speakon Connectors Waterproof?
Since speakON connectors are used to carry electrical current, it’s critical that the current not come in contact with water. Water and electricity don’t mix, so waterproof equipment is a necessary element to a safe environment.
SpeakON connectors are waterproof and weatherproof with a rating of IP-54, meaning they can be used in the rain. SpeakOn connectors use built-in sealing gaskets to achieve their weatherproof design.
The manufacturers of the speakON brand specifically designed the connector to be waterproof since they knew the connectors would be utilized outdoors. SpeakON connectors are most heavily used in audio equipment used for various events such as concerts, fundraisers, auctions, and more. As many of these events are held outside, it’s critical that the equipment be protected from the elements.
I suggest reviewing the IP ratings if you plan to use these connectors in severe weather. Check out this Wiki article on the topic.
Also, remember that Amps are typically not waterproof, so make sure you’re not using those in the rain.
Are There Different Types of SpeakON Cable Connectors?
When it comes to cable connectors, they must accommodate many different use cases. Therefore, most cable brands have different types.
There are three different types of speakON connectors: NL2, NL4, and NL8. The number indicates how many speaker wires are in the cable or connector. There is a speaker wire pair for each speaker that can be driven. These are called two, four, and eight-pole configurations.
The NL2 can accommodate one speaker, the NL4 can accommodate two speakers, and the NL8 can accommodate four speakers.
The two-pole line connector will mate with the four-pole panel connector, but the reverse combination will not work.
The eight-pole connector is physically larger to accommodate the extra poles.
The four-pole connector is the most common, at least from the availability of ready-made leads. It allows for things like bi-amping (two of the four connections for the higher-frequency signal, with the other two for the lower-frequency signal) without two separate cables.
Similarly, the eight-pole connector could be used for tri-amping (two poles each for low, mid, and high frequencies with two unused) or quad-amping (two poles each for high, mid, low, and sub).
Another use for the four-pole cable is to carry two channels of amplified signal from an amplifier to a pair of loudspeakers using a ‘combiner’ Y-lead connected to the two output channels and a ‘splitter’ Y-lead to feed the loudspeakers.
The ‘combiner’ and ‘splitter’ Y-leads are the same: two two-pole connectors on one end, connected to the ±1 and ±2 pins, respectively, of a four-pole line connector at the other end. Some amplifiers and mixer-amplifiers are configured to do this without needing a ‘combiner.’Wiki
How Many Wires Does a SpeakON Cable Connector Have?
SpeakON is the name of the cable connector and not the name of the cable.
SpeakON cable connectors have two wire conductors inside for each speaker wire pair: a signal wire and a ground wire. The signal wire is responsible for transporting the sound. At most, SpeakON Cable Connectors can connect to 8 wires.
SpeakON NL2 connectors will connect to two wires, while NL8 connectors will connect to eight wires.
If you are curious about how SpeakON cables are wired (or at least how they should be wired), I recommend checking out their product guide, which can be found here. That guide will also teach you how to wire the connector if you want to do it yourself.
SpeakON VS Quarter-Inch
SpeakON connections are intended to be unmistakable in their use as speaker wires.
Users may inadvertently connect low-current shielded microphone or instrument cables to high-current speaker connections with 1/4″ speaker jacks and XLR connections.
SpeakON cables are designed specifically for high-power audio applications.
SpeakON connections offer a robust connection with their twist and lock function. Simply twist the connection in the outlet, and it will be impossible for it to come out unintentionally.
Their contact points are internal to the connector. This helps with safety as you won’t unintentionally come in contact with them.
On the other hand, standard quarter-inch cables are not only prone to disconnection, but their contacts are also unprotected and may result in shorts or electrical shock.
The connections might also accumulate dirt, oxidize, or be corroded over time. The end result is that the audio quality of your setup deteriorates, or you have a cable failure.
SpeakON connectors self-clean each time you use them, ensuring they have a long life and a reliable connection.
SpeakON cables are a staple in the audio equipment world. They’re used to connect loudspeakers to amplifiers.
SpeakON cables are directional cables, so they must be plugged into the correct input to function correctly. They’re unbalanced, and there are three different types: the NL2, NL4, and NL8. Finally, while they aren’t 100% waterproof, they’re highly weather-resistant with an IP-54 rating.
SpeakON cables have a good reputation for being reliable and affordable and are used in sound systems worldwide.