With home theater systems becoming more affordable, many people are going from traditional two-speaker stereo systems to 5-channel or 7-channel audio systems. While some wireless surround-sound systems exist, there's nothing like quality speaker cables to ensure a good, clean, unhampered sound. With great sound comes a trade-off, however, because all these speakers need to be wired together. Luckily, there are more ways than ever to hide the cables, whether they are traditional or flatwire. They can be hidden with channeling, run behind the walls, routed under carpets, or even simply painted to match the walls.
The most common way to hide standard speaker cables is to route them along the baseboard using cord channeling. Cord channeling is made of durable PVC and comes in 5-foot (1.5 meter) lengths. Channeling is available in two types: "flat" channeling and "round" or tunnel channeling. Both types feature heavy-duty adhesive backing. Once the cord has been run through the channeling, it can be carefully pressed along the baseboard to stick permanently.
Cord channeling not only hides speaker cabling but also protects it. It comes in white or beige and is available at most home improvement centers. The material is inexpensive and can be cut to length, and optional snap-on elbows and connectors will finish corners and cover seams where channel sections meet. Once installed, cord channeling can even add to the look of the baseboard, in some cases.
Those who are just building a house or remodeling might prefer to run the speaker cables through the walls, ceiling, and/or floor space. This requires more work than cord channeling, and more expense. Special UL-rated cables and code-approved channeling must be used, and building codes vary from city to city, so check local laws. Note that speaker wire should not run parallel with, or be "piggy-backed" to, high-voltage wiring, as this can interfere with the audio signal. A potential disadvantage of running wires inside a structure is having to know exactly where the speakers will be located in order to expose the wire through the wall or baseboard at the appropriate locations.
If hiding speaker cables within the structure is not appealing and cord channeling doesn't quite fit the bill, you might consider flatwire cables. Flatwire is ribbon-like: extremely thin but very wide. The technology spreads the gauge onto a wide surface area in order to make up for lost diameter. You can safely run flatwire under carpets, having it emerge at the site of the speaker. Special connectors allow standard wire to make the final connection to the speaker itself.
Optionally, flatwire can be run along walls and painted, spackled, or wallpapered over. Some comes with spray adhesive, while other brands have an adhesive backing, making it easy to install this cabling wherever needed. The thickness of flatwire varies between brands, and while any will be thin enough to lay under a carpet, you may want to be more discriminating if you plan to stick it along a wall or under wallpaper.
Some people are skeptical of the acoustic properties of flatwire. Various audiotech magazines have published reviews on specific brands, finding that some tend to sound brighter and more spatial, and others richer and warmer. If you are setting up a high-end surround sound system and would like to use flatwire, you may benefit from consulting online audiotech publications to investigate specific brands of interest. Note that flatwire is more expensive than traditional speaker cables.