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Cables in the studio

Practical matters concerning cables in live sound and the recording studio.


So you are wiring up a studio and need some cable. What types of cable do you need? I would urge you to investigate all the possibilities before deciding for yourself what to use. But once you have found cables that suit your purposes, stick to them. Being consistent can save a lot of time and energy, but whatever you do, avoid unbranded cables. There is little saving to be made, and the operation of your entire studio depends on these bits of copper and plastic.

For mic cable (remembering that this is the accepted term for cables that follow the use-then-coil-and-store routine) you should invest in 100m of lapped screen twin at around 60p to £1 per metre. Or if you are prepared to forgo a discount for quantity, you could get ten 10m lengths in different colours which is a great help in finding your way around a bird’s nest of cables on the studio floor. For studio use, braided screen or quad cable is unnecessarily expensive, but if you intend making recordings anywhere that lighting dimmers are active, then the better quality cable will keep you just that little bit further away from the horrendous interference they often produce. The two installation cables are Medium Single Round (what a name!) - that is the cheap cable I described above - that is available from a company called Electromail, and FST which is available from most studio suppliers.

Funnily enough, the one kind of cable I have little use for is multicore cable. This type of cable consists of several - perhaps as many as thirty-two - individual two conductor plus screen cables, surrounded by one outer jacket. Much of the professional sound industry thrives on multicore cable, so why isn’t it suitable for a home studio? Most types of multicore are intended for use with multipin connectors. It isn’t possible to fix the individual inner cables to phono, jack or XLR connectors as they are not, by themselves, mechanically robust enough to be exposed to the outside world. They need to remain snug in their outer insulation, or inside the hard shell of a multipin connector. The most likely place you will find a multipin connector in your studio is on the back of a digital multitrack recorder, but you will find it a lot easier just to use the jacks or phono connectors the manufacturers also provide. Some multicore cables have inner cables which can be split up and attached to individual connectors. But multicore cables are stiff and heavy and they could impose an excessive strain on a feeble phono. Also, when you work out the cost, you don’t save much by going for multicore. It’s much better to gather together individual cables into a loom.

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By David Mellor Tuesday February 1, 2000