AVS Special Member
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Silicon Valley, CA
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Joining the negatives for the left and right channels will screw things up, as you have discovered. However, you should be able to use a double pole switch, keeping the left and right channel wiring independent from each other, to switch a pair of speakers on and off. It isn't totally okay, but I doubt it is much different from hooking or unhooking speakers while the stereo is playing, which people do often with seldom an issue.
I think wiring a speaker to both + produces some sound because the source is stereo, so you hear what's different, plus some other noise because you aren't supposed to wire the +s together.
I'd guess that there's some similar distortion occurring in your joined negatives setup, too, but that it's subtle enough that it isn't very noticeable in casual listening. It probably isn't very audible relative to the normal signal that's playing, whereas the 'both +' arrangement above produces an audible signal relative to silence.