You want to set up a home recording studio, so you might be planning on the different types of equipment you’ll need to create polished, professional sounds.
But have you stopped to think about the audio cables you’ll need?
What is an audio cable?
Audio cables transfer digital or analog signals from an audio source to a speaker or amp, as PC Mag reports. It’s easy to forget about the wiring of your recording studio, but without these cables, in place, you’ll never be able to get things going.
Here’s a rundown of the most important audio cables types and why you need them. We’ll also look at how to use them.
The Two Main Types Of Audio Cables: Analog vs Digital
To get started, you have to know the difference between analog and digital audio cables.
Here’s a quick summary of both of them.
- Analog cables work by sending information through electricity.
- Digital cables, on the other hand, send info through binary code, or a string of 0s and 1s.
Now, let’s take a more in-depth look at the different types of audio and digital cables, starting with analog ones.
There are two types of analog cables that you need to know about:
Balanced Vs. Unbalanced Cables
Basically, balanced cables cancel out interferences in your music recording.
They manage this by having an extra wire inside them. How they’re made is that they have two-conductor wires and one ground wire.
Unbalanced cables, on the other hand, can pick up much more interference than balanced cables. Inside them, they have just one conductor wire and one ground wire.
Based on the above, you might wonder when you’d need these cables, but both types are important.
If you don’t choose the right cable, then you might battle to maintain a signal or you could have a lot of interference in your recordings.
We can make it easy for you to know which ones to use when with this simple rule: if you have balanced mixers and gear, you should use balanced cables.
If you don’t, always keep your cables as short as you can. An unbalanced cable should be less than two meters long to prevent noisy interference on your music recordings.
This is because longer cables will have more of their surface area exposed to lots of other electrical signals that might be present in your home studio.
This means they will pick up those signals. Ever heard musicians talk about the 60-Hertz Hum? It’s basically this.
There are other things you can do with unbalanced cables to prevent hums and interference.
- Use unbalanced cables that contain the right shielding – if a cable is too cheap, it won’t have the right shielding on it so it should be avoided.
- Make sure you set up your home studio in such a way that you don’t have to place your unbalanced cables anywhere near your electrical devices. They should have good space away from them so that they won’t pick up on the device signals.
Four Common Audio Cables To Know About
Generally, cables will be required in your home studio to move electrical signals from one device to another, without creating any noise interference.
There are many different types of cables. The four common types that you’ll often find in a studio are the following:
These cables are useful when you want to connect electrical instruments, such as bass and guitar, to an amplifier.
These cables tend to have low-voltage signals. You’ll likely find that they have a ¼-inch phone plug connector.
These cables work to connect different elements. They can be used to connect different musical equipment, for instance, but they’re short in length.
These cables will have connectors such as XLR, TRS, or RCA – we’ll look at these later in the article.
These cables can have an XLR male connector and XLR female connector, or a USB connector – there are many different options!
As their name suggests, a microphone cable will connect a microphone to your sound system. But, they can also be used as patch cables.
These wires create electrical connections between audio amplifiers and loudspeakers.
They’re built in such a way that they contain two or more electrical conductors. Each one of these conductors is covered by plastic.
Speaker cables have three elements: inductance, resistance, and capacitance.
Resistance is the most important quality out of these because if a wire is low-resistance, it means that more of the power coming from the source and hitting the speaker’s coil will be allowed.
This creates a more powerful sound.
Now that we’ve looked at some common cable types, it’s important to focus on the connectors. These are what you’ll find at the end of the cables.
These are balanced, meaning that they have two connector wires and one ground wire inside them. XLR cables are ones that snap into place and can’t be pulled out by mistake.
They are long and don’t create any noise interference, so they’re good for recording music.
In your home studio, an XLR cable will be used to connect the following pieces of equipment: your microphone, powered speakers, instruments that are equipped with XLR, and PA systems.
In fact, they’re most popular when it comes to microphone cables, so you’ve probably seen these in professional recording studios.
These are connectors that are also balanced. You can identify them by their two rubber stripes.
These cable connectors have a ring design on their shaft that enables two wires and ground to be connected.
They’re used for balanced cables because they’re balanced and can be used as a single connector for incoming and outgoing signals.
Now, things get a little more interesting with TRS cables because you can use them as balanced or unbalanced.
That might sound strange, but it basically means that they have more than one use. When a TRS cable is a mono cable between balanced devices, then it’s balanced.
Here, you’ll use two of them (one on the left and one on the right) so that one of its conductor wires will be to achieve a strong signal and the other one will reduce noise interference, as Landr reports.
Convenient and versatile, right?
Using a single TRS cable in stereo, meaning that you use the left and right in the same cable, means that both of the conductor wires are used for the signal.
When there’s no noise reduction made possible, then the cable is unbalanced. You’ll find this happen when it comes to headphone cables, for instance.
These are unbalanced cables and can be identified by the one rubber stripe they have on their connectors.
Due to the fact that they’re unbalanced, you should try to keep them as short as possible to decrease interference.
You can benefit from having TS cables in your recording studio when it comes to any equipment that has mono outputs.
These include guitars and mono effects pedals, for instance. In fact, TS cables are often called guitar cables.
These are connectors that have two prongs on them. They connect audio wires to various things, such as speakers.
The benefit of banana plugs is that their wires are secured by locking screws. If you need to unscrew them, this can be done easily.
They contain one conductor wire and they’re used to join wires to equipment. They’re also used to end patch cords for electronic test equipment.
FYI, A banana connector is known as a banana plug for the male and a banana socket or jack for the female.
These are generally used in pairs so that you can create a stereo effect.
They’re used on stereo equipment, such as in PA systems so that you can connect devices to a mixing board.
They will have wires that are color-coded so that you can use the left or right channels. You’ll find that the red is used for right and the white is your left channel.
Now, RCA cables are also unbalanced cables. Interestingly, RCA cables are the most commonly found cables in professional studios when it comes to people who are DJs.
This is because they’re the most common way to hook up your turntables and CDJs to your mixers.
Types Of Digital Cables
There are many types of digital cables and they’re growing in popularity when it comes to recording studios.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones as well as their uses so you can decide if you’ll need them or not.
These are extremely useful in the recording studio because they basically send info from one gear to another.
It’s important to connect your MIDI cables correctly so that they do the job you want them to do.
That means when considering how to plug your MIDI cable – “Is it in the IN or OUT jack,” you might wonder – you should think about what you want the device to do.
Do you want it to send information?
In that case, you should plug the cable in the OUT jack. If you want it to receive info, plug the cable in the IN jack.
These are extremely common and really easy to help you hook up your computer to music equipment. You can also use USB cables to send and receive MIDI information.
There are two common types of USB cables: USB A-Type (this is flat) and the USB B-Type (which is square).
They’re so user-friendly that often what you’ll find is that you’ll purchase new gear for your recording studio and it will have its own USB.
Fibre Optic Cables
These are a type of digital cable that can produce and send binary using light pulses. You might’ve heard them called lightpipe cables in music circles.
These cables can handle multiple audio channels, but they use old technology. If you have some old tech, optical cables can work nicely with them, such as TOSlink and ADAT.
Can You Convert Unbalanced Cables?
Sometimes what could happen is that when you have to do a performance you might find that the connectors you need are balanced but what’s provided is unbalanced.
So, what can you do?
You can convert unbalanced cables to balanced ones with the use of a DI box.
DI stands for Direct Injection and a DI box can help to convert signals and sync up audio levels.
It can be used in both live performances or in recording situations, which is a bonus if you’re recording with people and find that your gear doesn’t match their connections or vice versa.
Now, with a DI box, you can simply plug your unbalanced devices, such as a synthesizer, into a balanced input on PA systems and mixers.
This means that the connection will work just like a balanced one, helping you to reduce noise and interference while still completing your tasks.
How To Buy Quality Cables
Obviously you want your cables to last a long time and to make your music sound better.
That’s why it’s important to buy high-quality cables. Note, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to choose expensive types.
The expensive cables you’ll find are usually not what most people who record music need.
However, there are some important things to look out for so that you get the best value. These include:
- Noise-free transmission as this will make you experience less interference in your sound recording.
- Epoxy potted or hot glue connectors. These substances fill the cables so that the wire ends won’t move. Now, these connectors are especially important to look for if you’re going to be pulling on cables or you’ll regularly need to plug and unplug them.
- Length. Remember what we said earlier about not having cables that are too long as these can cause interference? Well, make sure you purchase cables that are as short as possible, obviously taking your studio layout into consideration.
What About Copper Or Oxygen-Free Cables?
You might’ve heard about how some people say copper wires are best or that oxygen-free cables are essential in a music studio.
You might be wondering if these really matter and how much of a difference they really make.
There are some myths that make the rounds, and these include the ideas that wires have to be made of special oxygen-free copper because it’s apparently better for sound quality when compared to regular copper.
Is this true? And what is oxygen-free copper, anyway?
It’s basically copper that has undergone a refining process in an electrically-charged mixture of sulfuric acid and copper sulfate.
It’s said that this wiring makes sounds clearer and it’s more durable than other copper.
Experts such as Nelson Pass, who designs home audio amplifiers and has a B.S. in physics say that there’s not much difference between plain old copper and oxygen-free copper, as reported by Enjoy the Music.
So, instead of worrying about copper, find quality cable companies that make durable cables. An example is Mogami.
They do offer costly cables but they’ve got their eye on producing well-made cables, and they’re known as the most respected cable for keyboards, pedals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and bass guitar.
Another company to look out for is Planet Waves. This company makes use of advanced manufacturing techniques, The Hub reports.
How can you wrap your cables correctly?
The “over-under wrapping” technique prevents stress on cables.
To do it, twist the cable in one direction as you create a loop, then twist it in the opposite direction so create another loop. Keep going until it’s neatly wrapped up.
Do you need to “burn-in” your cables?
“Burn in” refers to how a cable’s performance improves after it’s used for a while, preventing a brittle sound.
You can “burn-in” cables and prevent those quality issues by connecting them to your audio system and playing music for 100 hours, as Nordost reports
As you can see in this article, there are many different types of audio cables and they have different benefits in your home studio.
By going through the different cables and whether or not they’re balanced can help you to choose the best cables so you can start churning out the high-quality sound.