A look at cabling in home studios
Compared to the variety and complexity of recording hardware, there's nothing very exciting or glamorous about cable. Usually regarded as a tedious, but necessary evil without which the interesting stuff won't work, it tends to be consigned to the bottom of the shopping list as an afterthought. Worse still, unsuitable 'bits of wire' are used as a temporary measure by the enthusiast eager to get his newly-acquired gear into action, only to be forgotten about until they break down in the middle of an important session.
But bearing in mind the old maxim that any studio system is only as good as the weakest part, and that every studiophile's ambition is to retain as much strong, pure signal as possible, then it must make sense to choose your cable as carefully as your outboard gear. It will probably outlast the hardware anyway.
Cables for studio use are divided into two groups - signal and power. Signal cables carry all the information to and from the process hardware, and the power cables take mains and other voltages to the hardware itself. With the exception of speaker cable, signal wire is usually distinguished by the inclusion of a screen (or shield for our American readers) which eliminates airborne interference such as radio waves. Power cables are not generally screened, although many professional studios use screened power cables to avoid any possibility of mains-borne interference. So if your home set-up is likely to be affected by thermostats clicking on and off, lifts, timers, or thyristor-controlled lighting, it might be as well for you to consider screened power cable.
Screening itself can be achieved in a number of ways. The table sets out some of the options available and lists the advantages and disadvantages. The more stars the better:
It can be seen by studying the table that different applications will require different types of screening. Microphones, for example, will need a flexible cable that is resistant to break-up of the screen with repeated twisting and coiling, so the conductive plastic method would be a good choice. But if you already have a quantity of spiral wrapped cable which you don't want to waste, this could be well employed in a static situation (such as effects connections) where movement will not be involved.
The laminated foil variety is of particular benefit with multicore applications where it offers considerable advantages in saving weight and space.
Obviously it is possible to use a separate cable for each individual connection in your studio, but in practice this makes for a very messy studio (or control area) and involves a great deal of time in cabling-up. The multicore system, referred to above, is the modern convenient answer, and many varieties are available for audio use. Not only does this save on cost and make for neater wiring, it also makes fault-tracing a much simpler task due to the colour-coding of the many wires in the core. Anyone who has spent a couple of hours in a cramped corner under a table trying to sort out the echo return from a spaghetti of different cables - all black - will appreciate this feature!
Many multicore designs are miniaturised and really require a specific multiway connector for their best performance, but an equally large number can have their core wires terminated by the more common types of connector such as the XLR (or Cannon) or the ubiquitous jack plug. But do remember two things before buying your multicore: firstly, get more cores than you need - you are bound to add to your system in the future and won't want to start cabling all over again. Secondly, make sure to buy sufficient lengths - multicore is a little heavier and less flexible than individual cables, so you will need to route it's run properly rather than 'drape it' over other equipment.
Finally, ensure the cable you buy has a tough outer jacket where necessary (particularly for mobile studios), and that the core wire is sufficiently conductive. You won't want to lose half your precious signal along a skimpy cable.
If your studio is already up and running, you will be unlikely to break it down totally for re-cabling - even if funds do allow this. So the best plan is to replace the cabling as you replace the hardware, until you have a whole new cabling system.
For help and advice on a wide range of audio cables contact Connectronics. (Contact Details).
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