What Does a Speaker Switch Do?

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What does a speaker switch do? It may sound strange to people that are not really into audio equipment and we must say, this is not one of the most common and most popular topics on the Internet. We bet some of you thought that we are going to talk about the on/off switch but we are going to disappoint you. No, we are not going to talk about the power switch. It’s a different kind of switch, similar to this one but with many other functions apart from turning the speakers on and off.

Its real name is actually not a speaker switch but a speaker selector or, as some call it, speaker selector switch. We are pretty much sure that this still sounds strange to all of you who aren’t familiar with audio equipment. So, let’s see what is this device does and why do we need it.

What Is Speaker Switch and How It Works?

Speaker selector switch is a passive device used with already amplified speakers. This switch splits the power/signal coming from your receiver/amplifier and distributes it to two or more speaker sets. This device is actually used when you have a big house or apartment and when you want to distribute the sound coming from your player to speakers located in different rooms.

Speaker Selector Switch

Speaker selector is connected to the source of music (player, TV, radio, etc.) and to all of the speaker sets you have in your house. It is placed between them and it allows you to play the music in any part of your house. The maximum number of speaker-sets that can be controlled with one speaker switch is usually 8. Even the priciest speaker switches can’t handle more than 8 sets.

Speaker selector switches are relatively easy to connect because you only have to connect the correct input ports on the selector to the correct output terminals on your receiver/amplifier by using the correct cables. On the front side of the selector, you will find the control buttons that you can use to control the on/off state and the volume of the speaker sets. On the rear panel, there are input ports and there should be two ports for each of the speaker sets. Depending on the type of the selector, you may see one or several control buttons on the front because some of these devices use only one button to control all the sets while the others have separate controls for every set.

The speaker switch is placed after the receiver/amplifier in order to receive the incoming signal, split it and distribute it to different speaker sets located in different rooms. If you find the process of installation messy or complicated, you can use the pre-printed or blank labels that usually come with the device itself and stick it next to every cable or control button. This helps you remember which button/cable is in charge of which speaker set.

By splitting the signal/power, these selectors reduce the overall power of your entire audio system, which can cause certain problems that we will discuss later. However, some of the pricier and high-end selectors have their own small booster amps that add some power to each of the speaker sets.

Also, one of the purposes of these devices is to protect your audio system and especially your receiver/amplifier from overheating and breaking down. We will elaborate on this topic later.

What Kinds of Speaker Switches Are There?

If you dig a little deeper, you will probably find different classifications of speaker switches but, in our opinion, there are only two main types and the greatest difference between them are the control buttons.

Traditional switches have only one control button on the front side. This button is used to start all the speaker sets in all the rooms and it is also used to control the volume of every one of them. This also means that when you lower the volume on the selector, the volume will be lowered in all the rooms, which can often be impractical.

Non-traditional switches have multiple control buttons and the number of control buttons corresponds with the number of supported speakers (speaker sets). This is more practical because you can activate the speakers only in the rooms you want and lower or increase the volume separately depending on your current needs.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there is no help for those who have traditional selectors. You can always install separate volume control devices in every room where your speaker sets are located and you will be able to control them individually.

Also, many modern speaker switches come with remote controls, which means you won’t even have to stand up from your comfy chair in order to control your devices.

Things to Consider During Installation

As we have said, installing speaker selector can be confusing and tricky, so we have prepared a list of things you have to think about before you even start the installation process in order to avoid some mistakes and issues.

Matching the power output of your receiver/amp

A great number of speaker switches don’t really like high-powered amps nor they know how to cope with them. Most of the switches are rated up to 60, 100 or 120 WPC (Watts per channel), which is relatively low. Our advice is to check the receiver/amplifier output rating into 8-Ohm load because this is the load that most of the speaker switches use. Also, be careful with tube amps. They usually must have their load connected all the time, so you better consult the user manual in this case.

Taking care of the amp’s impedance load

The amplifier impedance load is the amount of impedance load that your receiver/amplifier can actually handle. Increasing the number of speaker sets increases the impedance load and too many speakers could increase the load beyond the amplifier capacity. You should always consult the user manual that comes with all the devices and determine the maximum load. The load is calculated in Ohms and it is calculated by dividing the speaker impedance by the number of speaker sets. For example, two pairs of 16-Ohm speakers will lead to the impedance drop to only 8 Ohms. This means that the increase in the number of speakers leads to a decrease in the overall load value. As most receivers/amplifiers can’t really cope with the load lower than 4 Ohms, you should make sure that you have calculated the total load, and in order to do this, you must be sure about the impedance of every individual speaker.

In case the load drops below 4 Ohms, you should activate the “protection” button that most speaker selectors have. This button protects the receiver/amplifier from breaking down and enables its safe operation.

Correct wiring

Unless you want to connect the selector to your in-wall speakers, you shouldn’t have major problems with wiring, but you should still take care of some things.

It is very important that you check your selector’s manual and see if there is anything about the cable gauge (wire thickness). The most common cables are those with 12, 14 or 16 gauge, 12 being the thickest type that only a few selector models support. That leaves us with 14 and 16-gauge cables that should be used without any bananas or spades. Most of the selectors have their own spring-loaded push design or screws that should be used for connecting the selector, which means you have to use the bare wires.

How to Choose the Right Speaker Switch?

Buying the right speaker switch isn’t different from purchasing any other electronic device. In fact, the same rules that apply to other purchases can be applied to this one.  The most important thing is that the device suits your needs and taste. However, it’s not enough to point at some device and say that you want it. There are several things to consider.

Choose the Right Speaker Switch

Define how many speaker pairs you need

Before you buy your new speaker selector, you should determine the exact number of speakers you want to have in your house. Once you determine that, you will know exactly which type of selector you need. For example, if you want to have speakers in 4 rooms, you will have to buy a selector with 4 pairs of ports in order to cover the selected area.

Traditional VS Non-traditional switches

This is important if you want separate controls for speakers in each room. There are two ways to do that – install the necessary controls in every room or buy a non-traditional selector that has separate controls for every pair of speakers.

Make sure that the selector is not overpowered or underpowered

As we have previously mentioned, it is very important to make sure that the selector can handle the output power of your receiver/amplifier. Generally, you should use these with amps with less than 100W power.

Make sure that your speaker switch selector has circuitry protection

We have already discussed why this kind of protection is needed and you could see that it is usually needed on 6 or 4-speaker pair models, while it is not really necessary to have this kind of protection in the 2-pair models due to reasonably high impedance.

Make sure you have the right wires

The information about the cable gauge can be found in the user manual, or at least, it should be there. However, it is not extremely important to know this data before you start the wiring but it will definitely prevent you from having additional and unnecessary costs and save you some nerves and time.

Choose the right placement

The right placement won’t improve the sound or anything like that but it is important to consider this before completing the purchase. You have to plan the wiring in order to make the installation as clean as possible.

Advantages and Disadvantages

In the end, let’s just list the most important advantages and disadvantages of speaker selectors.

These devices are generally very affordable and don’t require any additional amplifier equipment. They are also very useful because they enable you to cover your whole house with music.

However, don’t forget that speaker selectors are mainly one-source devices so you won’t be able to play different music in different rooms. Also, they don’t offer a lot of power. In fact, the amount of power is reduced by every additional speaker pair connected to the system.