Speakon connectors are rated for 30 A RMS continuous current, higher than 1/4-inch TS phone connectors, two-pole twist lock, and XLR connectors for loudspeakers. Compared to standard phone plugs, Speakon connectors also have the following advantages:
- No possible confusion with low-current microphone or instrument cables.
- They lock into their sockets with a twisting motion, making them significantly less prone to disconnection than standard phone plugs.
- They are shielded from human touch, preventing electrical shock from a high-powered amplifier.
- The contacts do not short out during connection or disconnection. This can be a benefit when working with sound equipment that is in operation.
- The chassis receptacles are airtight, so do not provide an air leak path from speaker enclosures.
A Speakon connector is designed with a locking system that may be designed for soldered or screw-type connections. Line connectors (female) mate with (male) panel connectors and typically a cable will have identical connectors at both ends. If it is needed to join cables, a coupler can be used (which essentially consists of two panel connectors mounted on the ends of a plastic tube). Recently the manufacturer has introduced a new series called STX which includes also male line connectors and female panel connectors (in the four-pole and eight-pole version only).
Speakon connectors are designed to be unambiguous in their use in speaker cables. With jack and XLR connections, it is possible to use low-current shielded microphone or instrument cables in a high-current speaker application. Speakon cables are intended solely for use in high current audio applications.
Speakon connectors arrange their contacts in two consecutive rings, with the inner contacts named +1, +2, etc. and the outer contacts named −1, -2, etc. The phase convention is that positive voltage on the + contact causes air to be pushed away from the speaker.
Speakon connectors are made in two, four and eight-pole configurations. The two-pole line connector will mate with the four-pole panel connector, connecting to +1 and −1; 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, as 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 the need for a 'combiner'.
Also available are 2-pole "combo" receptacles that can also accept 4-pole cables and 1/4″ phone plugs.