Audio Cables: The Ultimate Guide

Audio Cables: The Ultimate Guide

Audio cables can seem like an unfamiliar, scary world when you jump into the industry. However, they aren’t as complicated as you think. 

Using the right audio cables can prevent unwanted audio interference, help the cords last longer, increase audio quality and save you money. 

If you are interested in producing top-notch audio, this guide will be for you. 

We will provide you with the ultimate guide to audio cables. This article will cover the different types of audio cables, including analog and digital, and dive deep into each.

We will also give you some solid tips on storing the cables to avoid a messy studio. 

Keep reading to find out what kind of audio cables will be good for you. 

Types of Audio Cables

Types of Audio Cables

In this section, we will give you a basic overview of the different types of audio cables. We will be diving more in-depth into the different kinds below. 

The first major category of cables is analog and digital cables. The main difference between the two is how they transmit information.

Analog cables transmit information through a stream of electricity. On the other hand, digital cables will transmit information through binary code (a series of 1’s and 0’s). 

There are two types of analog cables. They are balanced and unbalanced. Both of these cables have a layer of wired protection over the signal wire to prevent interference. 

Balanced cables have three wires, while unbalanced only have two. The extra wire in the balanced cable helps it to cancel out noise effectively. 

There are many more digital cables compared to analog. Here is a list of the main kinds of digital cables. 

  • Interface Cables
  • Optical Cables
  • MIDI Cables
  • AES/EBU Cables
  • BNC Cables
  • Cat5e Cables

Even though there are tons of cords to choose from, digital cables are an attractive choice since you don’t need to be an expert to use them. Unlike analog cords, they are relatively easy to figure out and won’t be confusing to set up at first. 

Finally, there are different gauges of each kind of audio cable. Audio experts recommend using higher gauges (thicker cords) if you need a long wire.

If you only need a connection that is under fifty feet, using a smaller gauge will work. Smaller gauges are cheaper and are easy to handle. 

Higher gauges will be 10, 12, or 14. Smaller gauges will be 8, 16, 18, or 24 gauge. 

What Are You Using The Cable For? 

What Are You Using The Cable For?

Something to keep in mind about the different types of audio cables is what you are using the cables for. The cables you use for a live concert will be different than if you are just practicing in your home. 

The durability, size, and quality will differ depending on what you will be using the cable for. 

If you are using the cables to record music, investing in more high-quality cables will be a good idea. Higher quality cables will produce the most accurate sound and last longer in the studio than cheaper products.

However, if you are playing live music sessions, the thicker the cable, the better. Smaller cables such as 18 or 24 gauge will bend more easily and may even snap.

There will be a lot of activity up on stage, so experts recommend using a 10-14 gauge cord. Larger cords will also prevent electrical interference. 

One last thing to note is that the most noticeable difference between expensive and cheap cords will be the cord’s durability, not necessarily the sound difference. While there may be a small difference in sound, many won’t be able to notice. 

Analog vs Digital Signal 

Now that we have covered the basics let’s look at the different signals that analog and digital cords produce. 

The job of signals is to carry data from one network to another through electrical currents. 

Analog signals are bound to a range and vary in time. However, there will be an infinite amount of values that can occur within the continuous range.

The signal uses electricity as a medium to move information from one end of the cable to the other. If you plot them on a graph, analog signals are continuous and smooth; they do not produce distinct shapes or lines. 

Furthermore, there are three different audio signal levels: the mic level, line level, and instrument level. 

The mic level signal is what comes through the microphones. These signals are boosted to a line-level signal and are sent through microphone cables. 

Instrument level signals come from electrical instruments such as an electric bass. These signals are boosted to a line-level signal after they are sent through a guitar cable. 

Finally, the line level signal is used with most audio equipment since it is the standard signal strength.

Digital signals are different from analog since there will be a finite and discrete number of values within their range. Digital signals can only take on one value at a time from the finite set of values.

When you plot digital signals on a graph, they will look like sharp and distinct lines. The signal can only be one value out of two values (either zero or one, according to binary code). 

Analog Cables

Analog Cables

When choosing analog audio cables, you will need to know whether you will be using balanced or unbalanced cords. When you buy one or the other, all of the rest of your products will need to be compatible with the cords. 

For instance, you should not use a balanced connector with an unbalanced cord. Even though you can technically use the two together, the system will not be producing optimal audio quality. The unbalanced cord won’t be able to utilize the balanced connector’s strengths. 

You should also make sure to buy shielded cables. These cables have an extra layer of copper that protects the wire. This layer will prevent interference.

Balanced Cables

Overall, if you have the budget, balanced analog audio cables will be the best choice. Balanced cords will prevent any outside noise and interference from entering the audio. 

The way balanced cords work is by using two signal wires. The two signals carry a copy of the signal, but the wire reverses the polarities of the signals.

Reversing the signals cancel each other out; this ends up with silence. When the signal reaches the gear that receives the signal, it inverts it back to its original form, bringing the sound back. 

Unbalanced Cables

Unbalanced audio cables have two wires. There is one signal wire and one ground wire, and two conductors. It is the ground wire’s job to carry the audio signal through the wire.

The ground wire also shields the audio transmission from outside noises. However, this system is rather weak in preventing interference. 

The reason why people go with unbalanced cords is because of the lower price and smaller sizes available. 

Unbalanced cords use less wire to transmit the electrical signals, which means they can be smaller and take up less space. To prevent interference with an unbalanced cord, you will need to keep it at a short length. 

Overall, analog cables may be more difficult to use, but they have higher audio potential.

Since analog signals have an infinite set of values, the bandwidth will not be limited. Analog audio cables will be able to record audio at high resolutions without sparing quality. 

Digital Cables 

Digital Cables

There are many different kinds of digital cables. Let’s take a look at the main types. 

  • Interface Cables. Interface audio cables connect the audio interface to your computer. Every in-house studio will have one of these. The cables come in three forms: USB, firewire, or thunderbolt. If you do not need a highly advanced interface cable, USB cords will do the trick.
  • Optical Cables. Optical audio cables can carry multiple signals through one cable. It accepts two kinds of signals: ADAT and S/PDIF. 
  • MIDI Cables. These kinds of cables can transfer electronic data between instruments and digital devices. Musicians that incorporate a lot of electronic instruments use MIDI cables. 
  • AES/EBU Cables. In-home studios do not usually need these cables; only high-end producers use AES/EBU cords. These cables transmit S/PDIF signals from digital optical cables. 
  • BNC Cables. These cords help to align the many signals of different devices and instruments in the studio. With these cords, all of the instruments will be able to sync properly. If you do not use BNC cables, you may notice some odd sounds and clicks. 
  • Cat5E Cables. These cords can send several channels of audio through a single cord. They will also simultaneously send a power source through the cord. People love these cords since they are low latency and can work well at long lengths. 

There are a few reasons why people prefer digital cables to analog cables. Digital cables can send multiple audio channels through one single cord, which can make your audio setup more efficient and simple. 

Another reason why people prefer digital cables is that they are easy to use. You won’t have to be an audio expert to use the digital cables properly. This is why many beginners to the industry prefer digital. 

Lastly, digital cables are not interchangeable as analog cables are. Having interchangable cables can lead to some problems. If you are not familiar with the uses of different cords, you may plug something in the wrong place. You will not run into this problem with digital cords. 

Even though there are many pros to using digital audio cables, there is one major downside. Digital cords will have limited bandwidth. You will only be able to record audio at a certain resolution, and you may lose sound quality since digital has value limits.

Organizing Audio Cables

Organizing Audio Cables

Now that you know what cables you are using let’s see how you can store them. Nobody likes a mess of tangled cables. 

Use a Cable Management Rack

Cable management racks are all relatively the same size and are normally made of aluminum. 

These racks are great if you have a desk with lots of cables near it. You can easily install the cable management rack underneath the desk to keep it out of sight.

It will hold a large number of cables and will keep them off the floor. You can grab a number of these racks for a music studio to clean up the mess. 

Purchase a Cable Winder

This product will only work well for small studios or bedroom studios. They only wind one cord. However, many hobbyist musicians only use one, two, or three cords in a day.

If so, cable winders can make jam sessions much convenient. 

Once you initially wind up the cord in the product, you can extend the cord to any length you want and lock it in place. After the jam session, the cable winder will wind up the cord for you, hassle-free. 

Use a Cable Box

Cable boxes are another easy under-the-desk option for annoying cables. All you have to do is install the box to the bottom of your desk and feed the cables through.

Most cable boxes look very neat and tidy and will hide your surge protector well and remove unwanted cable messes underneath the desk.  

Conclusion 

Audio cables often seem like the most complicated part of the studio. Hopefully, with this guide, you understand the audio system a little bit more. 

If you want to run a higher-quality and more professional studio, we recommend using analog audio cables. Analog cables transmit audio signals with electricity from one end of the cord to the other. 

The main pro of these kinds of cables is that there is no limited bandwidth. You will be able to record high-resolution audio without sacrificing quality. 

On the other hand, if you want to run a more relaxed at-home studio, we recommend using digital cables. Digital audio cables are much easier to use than analog.

You won’t need to know a lot about the technology to set up a good audio system. 

It is worth noting that digital cables use binary code to transmit signals, which means they have limited bandwidth.

While you will probably not notice it, there may be a small loss of audio quality when you record digitally. 

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