General Cable Knowledge: Cables in the Recording Studio
The plethora of cable types, is what first strikes the average person who steps foot into a music store or recording studio.
What type is appropriate, and what do you need for recording at home or in the recording studio?
You’ll soon find out, that all cables are not created equal. Some cost a lot and seem more heavy duty, others might be flimsy and break easily.
What’s worth buying and what’s just wasting your money?
Patchbay cables or Patch cables are generally just short cables that are used to patch in the patchbay, or patch TRS balanced or unbalance sources, or patch different gear in different configurations using the patchbay in the recording studio.
For Example If you wanted to patch a preamp or compressor on a certain channel of the mixing board, you will need to patch the signal with a patch cable into the appropriate places (ins and outs) of the patchbay to make it happen.
Summary of the Cable and Manufacturing Market for Home Studios, Pro Recording Studios, and Musicians
Brands that are notoriously “cheap” are Hosa and Pyle, a brand that is notoriously more expensive is Monster or Mogami. Is it worth it to buy the best?
For most purposes, regular cabling is fine and you don’t need a premium cable for recording. However, durability and repairability becomes a major issue when you think about the long term.
The most common end connectors are Neutrik for XLR or TRS 1/4″ however there are many different imitation knock off.
Switchcraft is another common brand for XLR ends, but it seems Seismic Audio is a cheaper brand that is comparable to Neutrik for a reduced cost. Other brands include ProCo RedCo Mono Price or Bittree. Even Ebay or many music stores or online music shops often have a wide selection of cables that might be what you need.
Upper Market and Premium Quality Cables
As always there’s a premium market for gold plated and super heavy duty cables. These have not show to have much measurable difference in audio quality, however the durability and quality you require is up to you. As for the audiophile $150 USB or the 00 Gauge speaker wiring kits, these have been shown to be well beyond a useful improvement of quality. Matching wiring sizes to circuit amperage is a real thing, but for the very small voltages we are talking about, 22 gauge wire or even a little smaller is sufficient. Gold connectors do connect a bit better than traditional nickel, but gain lost is nominal and Gold connectors are more or less a luxury item.
1/4″ TRS Balanced Cable vs 1/4″ TS ‘Guitar Cable’
TRS stands for Tip Ring Sleeve. TS stands for Tip Sleeve
In the studio, we try to use balanced cables like XLR and TRS 1/4″. With 3 conductors, there is a positive, a negative, and a ground or shield. Sometimes, TRS is used for a stereo cable, in the case of a Headphone cable, you have 3 connectors, for LEft Right and Common Ground. If you plug a guitar cable into a 1/4″ TRS plug, you may be missing a side of the stereo mix, or it may not pass signal at all.
Patchbay Cables in the Studio
Patchbay cables are a little bit different too. They are a TRS cable with a self cleaning self shorting military spec design. 1/4″ and TT (short for Tiny Telephone) are the common sizes for patchbay cables. While patch bays can be 1/4″ TRS, TT, XLR, or even RCA or TS depending on setups.
TT cables are even smaller version of the 1/4″ TRS cable you may be familiar with. TT patch cables or Bantam Cables
You will usually find TT or 1/4″ Bantam Patch cables recording studios, as well as telephone, communication, and military installations. Famous for its self-cleaning and a rugged design, they are the choice of recording studio engineers and producers around the world.
Sources of Patch cables include REdCo Bitree Mogami and even eBay. A word of warning: some ADC patch cables may be floating around on there that aren’t that great or well past their service life.
DIY Patch Cable Options
You can make your own patch cables by buying the end and essentially manufacture your own custom cables. They aren’t hard to make and when you consider a cable like that is $20+ new it might be worth it. Switchcraft makes both TT and 1/4″ TRS Military Spec ends that you can solder to whatever length you need.