Speaking of Wire . . .
When you build a home theater, one of the biggest expenses is the labor for installing the speaker wire. The greater the obstacles, the more time and expense involved. However, you can conquer the majority of wiring situations with a little know-how and ingenuity. Here's how:
Going to Great Lengths
The question inevitably arises: Which speaker cable is the best? We've come a long way since the days of the little metal spools of 18- to 20-awg courtesy cable that you found at the corner hobby shop. These days, there are many great brands and products to choose from: XLO, StraightWire, TARA Labs, Kimber Kable, Vampire Wire, Monster Cable, Tributaries, Nordost, Transparent Cable, and many more. You may have your favorites. Depending upon your local retailer, you'll see cable that boasts greater insulation, higher conductivity, higher velocity (to make your music play faster), less oxidation, more windings, higher integrity when bent, and better shielding to reject stray RF interference.
Some enthusiasts have gone to ridiculous lengths in their quest for the perfect conductor: clothes hangers soldered together, 300-ohm FM antenna lead—you know, the guys with way too much time on their hands. Unless you're a died-in-the-wool tweak who loses sleep over that pesky 70-hertz midbass hump in your cable's performance, for the purposes of this article, let's say that any reputable cable in today's market is good enough. The audio police won't arrest you for using the wrong stuff. For those of you who consider those to be fightin' words, get over it.
Schnagging Cable Under Carpet
I just made this term up, but it fits. Let's start with a simple problem: You want to place your rear speakers on stands next to the ends of your sofa, and your electronics are on the other side of the room. Obviously, the best time to run the wire is before you lay the carpet. If you've already laid your carpet (as I'm assuming for the sake of this article), check out this Website: www.lsdinc.com. No, it's got nothing to do with psychotropic chemicals. LSD stands for a company called Labor Saving Devices, a very handy source for finding specialty tools.
There are two ways to run wire under your carpet. First, under the Products pulldown on Labor Saving Devices' Website, you'll find "undercarpet tape"—a spring steel band that you slip between the padding and the carpet. You may even be able to rent one at a local tool-rental shop. If the carpet is wall-to-wall, protect the walls by covering the section you're working on with heavy cardboard or a wood panel. The tool can really geeze up drywall as you maneuver it to slide the band under the carpet, no matter how careful you are. Next, take up as small an area of carpet as you can and hammer down the carpet tacks on the strip; otherwise, you'll puncture the cable. Then slip the band between the carpet and the padding across the area to the other side. If you run into a glitch, don't force it. Retreat and try again. Sometimes the padding will bunch, and you don't want any lumps. You'll see the band's progress as it slides under the carpet. OK so far? Any questions?
Once you see the band poking out on the other side of the carpet, attach the speaker wire to it. Use cable specifically designed for under-carpet application. Flat wire can run anywhere from $0.50 to $1.50 per foot. Keep it flat and slowly pull the band back under the carpet. The cable will come along for the ride. Check the carpet periodically to make sure you can't feel any twists. Pull the cable gently but steadily through to the other side, detach it from the band, and voilà!
Hint: Always run more cable than you think you'll need. Whether you're running it a few extra feet up through speaker stands or you need to position the speakers farther away than you expected, you'll be glad for the extra length. Flat cable is usually four-conductor. Since you can split off the cable for the left and right channels, you'll only need to run one length. Just remember to allow enough length for the longest distance. You might as well run another length for a rear center speaker if your room can accommodate it, even if you don't have the equipment for it yet. Avoid running wire under heavy-traffic areas if you can help it.
Another common under-carpet situation calls for a YFT fiberglass rod, which uses the space between the base molding and the carpet tack strip as a natural channel in which you can lay the wire. You lift up the carpet at a corner, feed the rod along the channel, attach the stripped end of the wire to the rod, and gently pull it back down the channel.
A Sticky Solution
What if you need to install a satellite or bookshelf-type speaker over a surface that you can't drill through, like a window, French door, concrete wall, or fireplace? No problem. Acoustic Research makes a white, flat ribbon tape that adheres to the wall surface. It's called AR MicroFlat model HT392. You can paint or wallpaper over it, or you can leave it camouflaged against a white wall. It's very flat but wide enough to provide plenty of copper for good conductivity. It's a little hard to find, though. AR will refer you to Jenson, and the product is actually made by Recoton. After 12 calls to the three companies, I gave up. Fifty feet of MicroFlat comes in a clear blister pack; it costs about a buck per foot and comes with gold-plated terminals. It's really cool stuff, but you'll have to hunt around for it. Try a local electronics-parts store or A/V specialty shop.