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  • XLR Cable question

    Yeah, I know it's not a 'key's question but it is sorta related.
    I got (or will be when it arrives) a DI box. Up to now I have not had to bother with XLR cables. When I look at prices they are all over the place. So the question is, is there really any difference between say a Monster cable (expensive) and some cheaper brand?
    Isn't wire just wire?
    The further away I am, the better I sound....

  • #2
    Yes, there can be differences in the quality of the cable. But unless you're talking about cables carrying high wattages (like speaker cables, where high capacitance can really mess with you), the differences are not really going to be audible. The differences are going to be in durability. In a nutshell, if you're plugging and unplugging a cable over time, a cheap cable is very likely going to crap out a lot sooner than a quality cable. Would you rather buy 4 cheap cables over the course of a year (which will probably cost you more than 1 quality cable), and deal with more cable failures on stage, or just buy 1 quality cable that lasts a year? For a gigging musician like me, who tears down and sets up his gear numerous times a week, the price of quality is worth it. I haven't bought a new cord in 10 years.

    On the other hand, if this is for a stationary setup, like a studio where you're going to plug the cable in, and never touch it again, then durability isn't a concern. (It's physical "wear and tear" that destroys a cable). And like I said unless the cable is carrying high power like a speaker cable, you aren't going to hear the difference between a cheap versus expensive cable. But for gigging, you're better off going for durability. It's cheaper in the long run, and less hassle.

    P.S. Line level signals, like what you need the cable for, are not high power. So durability is really your only concern whether you choose cheap or quality.

    Yes, a wire is just a wire. But note that an audio cable has lots of wires internally that, together, carry your one audio signal. Let me just put this in as simple laymen's terms as possible. Audio signals are AC -- alternating current. Audio doesn't travel inside a wire, unlike DC. Audio travels on the outside of the wire. Think of the wire as a road, and the audio as a car on the road. An audio cord will have numerous wires in it so your audio has a nice wide road to travel on. After some wear and tear on the cord, some of those wires may break. The road gets smaller. And the audio gets softer. If all those wires break, then there's no road for the audio to travel. And the cord is dead. Cheap cords typically have less, and thinner wires in them, because after all, copper isn't free, So all the roads tend to break more quickly in the cheap cords, especially where the wires attach to the connector. And I should mention that not all XLR (or 1/4" or whatever) connectors are created equal. For example, connectors made by Belkin are noted for quality. Cheaper connectors may use cheaper, softer metal where all the wires attach. That's one area that especially gets a lot of wear and tear, and on cheap cords, all the wires break off easily there. No wires connected = no audio = dead cord.

    And you know what? There are lots of audio signals flying around in the air from radio towers and other wireless entities. What stops them from landing on your audio cords' wire road and traveling along into your mixer so that you get some Lady Gaga song mixed in your audio? I'll tell you. The wire road is wrapped in rubber. Then there's a second, outer wire road (ie, numerous wires) wrapped around that rubber, ie, There are two roads inside that one cord. This second road is called the "shield". Lady Gaga's audio hits this outer road first (while your audio is traveling down the inner road) and is happy to use that second road (instead of the first). Your audio's road goes to that XLR pin that your mixer expects, and your mixer says "Welcome! I'm gonna amplify you, and invite you into my reverb chamber, and show you a good time". But Lady Gaga's road ends up connected to a different pin on the connector. And your mixer says "Welcome Lady Gaga, how do you like my ground?" which is the electronic equivalent of a bottomless pit where audio disappears forever. Your mixer gives her a push into the pit and cackles "HAHAHAH, die Lady Gaga die!". Or something like that.

    Anyway, your audio cord has two thick roads in it attached to a sturdy connector, or in the case of a cheap cable, two skimpy dirt paths attached to an easily broken connector.

    So in summation, a good audio cord is noted for its amount and durability of wires (including shielding) and connectors.

    So what doesn't make for a quality audio cord? Gold-plated anything. That's marketing B.S. You're not going to hear any difference between gold-plated and copper. You're just going to be suckered into paying way too much for something miniscule dipped in gold. Oxygen-free copper? Bah. Don't fall for the bogus PR crap.

    And don't buy Monster cables. That's one company that does charge more than they should. Plus they have this evil rep of trying to scare away their smaller (and better) competitors via threatening frivolous lawsuits. They even sue people who say bad things about them.

    Now that I've bored you to tears, here's the Cliff's Notes:

    For line level (and other low power) signals, you can buy the cheaper stuff if it's used in a stationary installation. For repeated plugging/unplugging, better quality is worth it.
    For high power use like speaker cords, get the better quality.
    Better quality means more/thicker wires (and shielding), and sturdier connectors. Not bogus marketing fluff like gold-plating.
    Monster cables... no. If you see any lawyers, you didn't hear this from me.

    If you're still awake, we need to talk about caring for your cables. You know how guys "wrap up" cords really quickly by winding them around their palm and elbow (in a big oval), and then pull them off their arm? Don't do that! That strains the wires, especially at the connectors. It's unnecessary wear and tear. Instead, hold the end of the cord in one hand, and with the other hand, start making loops (with a gentle twist of the wire with each loop) like you're coiling up a rope lasso (or a whip for you S+M lovers), Your cord should look like this when coiled up:

    " rel="nofollow">http://www.google.com/imgres?q=coiled+cable&hl=en&client=firefox&hs=O6F& sa=X&complete=0&biw=1920&bih=914&tbm=isch&prmd=ivn s&tbnid=sF6EE90GU1u7EM:&imgrefurl=http://www.bikebone.com/page/BBSC/PROD/53-5027&docid=ks6LUAbVRjFYeM&w=298&h=360&ei=PUM_TpiVG eG_0AGcj62XCQ&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=859&vpy=183&dur=6 480&hovh=247&hovw=204&tx=120&ty=106&page=1&tbnh=16 2&tbnw=138&start=0&ndsp=36&ved=1t:429,r:4,s

    And see how there's a little band wrapped around it to keep it from unraveling? That's to keep it from getting tangled up with other cords. You know how guys pull their cords from their gig bag, and all the cords are tangled into one big mess that looks like something a 6 foot cat coughed up? So, the guy starts yanking and pulling the cords to untangle them? Strain! You don't need to use a felt band. Just use a long piece of masking tape. When you unwrap the cord, stick the masking tape on the edge of your mixer to reuse at the end of the gig. It also makes a lovely conversation piece. People will invariably ask you what those strips of masking tape hanging off your mixer are for. Tell them it's to ward away evil spirits (ie, drummers, guitarists, and lead singers).


    • #3
      like everyone else, i get problem with tangling cables. any good way to organize them in a bag?


      • #4
        And your mixer says "Welcome Lady Gaga, how do you like my ground?" which is the electronic equivalent of a bottomless pit where audio disappears forever. Your mixer gives her a push into the pit and cackles "HAHAHAH, die Lady Gaga die!". Or something like that.

        Also, balanced cables and pre-amps (the type that use XLRs and TRSs) employ common mode rejection, which, simply put, rejects common music like the aforementioned Gaga.


        • #5
          Coil them up as shown, and secure with a strip of masking tape or velcro or wire tie. Easy. Once the cord gets accustomed to that loop shape, it will hold that shape, and you can stack them like rolls of tape.


          • #6
            Jeff G makes excellent points

            better cables last longer and maintain the signal longer. Mogami cabling and Neutrik connectors are very good choices. Stay away from Monster- over-priced crap and on the other side Hosa is total crap. If you buy a cheap cable that craps out on you at a critical moment, you lost money on what you bought and what you lose at the gig, plus the creative vibe.
            Orgasms frighten me


            • #7
              Bought some Mogamis (balanced speaker cords). Nice. Neutrik connectors are good quality, but I just hate those SpeakOn locking connectors. You need ape hands to lock/unlock. The newer style are easier, but I still prefer XLR.

              Monster... Hosa... (shudder). I made a voodoo doll out of all the Hosa cables that crapped out on me (purchased because "I need it tonight" and that's all the local music store carries). I stick pins in it whenever someone says "Hosa", as if he were summoning Beelzebub.


              • #8
                for ties: these

                Hi Mom!


                • #9
                  like everyone else, i get problem with tangling cables. any good way to organize them in a bag?

                  Part of my solution is I don't organize them in a bag.

                  Each instrument has its own cables in the case with it (instrument cables, power cable/adapter). It's a lot easier to keep three cables tidy at a time than it is to keep a dozen tidy at once, and this way I never have to guess if that adapter goes with this component or another one. Faster and more reliable setup/teardown if no-one has to think about what goes with what.

                  Martyn Wheeler (playing synthesizers/organ like it's 1973 in England)

                  now: Fredfin Wallaby
                  was: The Gonzo Symphonic


                  • #10
                    So what doesn't make for a quality audio cord? Gold-plated anything. That's marketing B.S.

                    things are gold plated to resist corrosion.


                    • #11
                      things are gold plated to resist corrosion.

                      I've never had any "corrosion" (that mattered) on any of my cords (and I've had them 10+ years). Gold-plating is quite simply pointless when used for audio cords. (It just chips off and eventually ends up on the floor. There's your gold plating. You left it at the last gig). Just because certain types of plating (and maybe not the same inappropriate type used on that overpriced cord) may be used on stationary, active electronics (ie, circuit boards), handling entirely different currents/needs, doesn't mean it has any business being on an audio cable. It's a complete waste of money there.

                      If anyone has a corrosion problem with cords, I'd advise him to stop storing his cords in a bucket of acid... even if the cords are gold-plated.


                      • #12
                        I think the Monster cable bashing is a little over the top. I see it all the time in these forums.

                        95% of the cabling in my rig is Monster brand. No I didn't buy them because of some magical audiophile properties. I spent 5 years struggling with other brands of cable. Humming and buzzing, shoddy connecters that would crap out at a gig, oxidized connecters when my rig used to be in my parent's basement. I switched to Monster almost ten years ago. Now I have 100% reliabililty, dead quiet shielding, Neutrik connecters on the balanced cables, gold plated contacts to resist corrosion, and a hassle free lifetime replacement warranty (if you keep your receipts). They are also available in a ****************-ton of weird custom configurations and lengths. Go to Sweetwater's website and look at all the crazy options available. Perfect for clearing out cable clutter when you can get the exact lengths you need and no extra funky adaptors.

                        I will say that their legal department is filled with some litigious bastards. I don't really respect them on that front, but I think they do make a quality product that is backed up with confidence. Albeit at a premium price.


                        • #13
                          If anyone has a corrosion problem with cords, I'd advise him to stop storing his cords in a bucket of acid... even if the cords are gold-plated.

                          I actually did have this problem many years ago when I lived at home with my parents. I had to keep my rig in the basement and some of my cables would get grainy green **************** on them and it would get into the jacks. Gold plating DOES help alleviate this.


                          • #14
                            I use a variety of cable brands in my rig and lately the characteristic that I've come to appreciate to most is flexibility. I have a few of the cheaper Monster 100 series cables and they are excellent in this regard. A few of my Live Wire cables are way too stiff and constantly kink up.


                            • #15
                              I too own Monster primarily for my keyboards. They are 1000's, tuff as nails and you can really hear some clarity difference and added signal gain when using them. I still use a Radial stereo DI to take care of buzzing issues. I also own Livewire, Proco's top of the line cables and Mogami. My Mogami cables kink the worst, go figure.