I’ve finally tracked down an intermittent signal failure to an aging faulty cable. I hate intermittent faults, they can be infuriating. Now I’m thinking about cables… Some of mine are getting quite old now and I’m going to buy some replacements next time I’m in town. I admit to overlooking them… they are boring but necessary and I give them next to no thought. How long can I expect a cable to last, if I’m not touring and essentially they are used ‘passively’? Any cable-buying tips and tricks? Do you get what you pay for?
These are one breed of item in the entire gear world that doesn’t do the price/quality correlation quite like other stuff.
Funny story. I applied for a job at sweet water hoping to work there for 3 weeks, buy $100k in gear (with my insurance money after my studio burned down) on an employee discount, get a bunch of vendor free-bees then quit. I was told in the interview process that cables are the biggest retailer markup in the entire sales catalog. Plugins are vaporware, so you’d think that would be bigger…right? Nope. The margin of commission is bigger for a cable. So if you’re in sales, you want to sell 10 cables. Not 10 plugins.
I also found out how gear retailers take horrible advantage of customer ignorance on cables. Monster sells digital light pipe cables for $60. Dave Hill at CraneSong is one of the worlds leading engineers on DA conversion circuity. I asked him what he uses at the design labs in Wisconsin to test the $7000-$10000 converter systems he sells around the world. He said cheap little $2 cables.
Long story short, here’s what I would do Emma. Borrow the fanciest and most expensive cable you can find. Buy one from Guitar Center then return it. A/B it with a Proco, Whirlwind, Hosa, or MonoPrice cable, or that ‘overkill’ cable Brandon sent you with a copy of Killer Home Recording. Then decide if you can hear a difference at all. I’m pretty sure I have about 1000 cables sitting around. (haha I’ll post a picture sometime for our collective amusement). Most either work properly or they don’t. It’s a pass-fail for me.
Unless your house burns down (like my studio did), that cable should last longer than you or I.
I like the whirlwind EC2 cable. Its my all time favorite. For no other reason than the matte finish feels pleasant when touch it. I bought box loads off a nightclub that went out of business. Best $80 I ever spent.
Thanks Jonathan, just the sort of chat I was after.
Or unless you are sloppy in your studio, like I was, and accidentally put a table leg onto a cable and gently squashed/pinched it over time… that’s the only thing I’m figuring caused the problem… Mind you it was bought in the olden days haha…
I never got one of those cables from Brandon, but I did score a couple of microphones so am certainly not complaining
Now I can’t really try out cables, I live in the middle of nowhere so need to go and buy them…
This is my usual go-to gear shop: https://www.rockshop.co.nz/
and I have to confess to having no ideas on buying cables… guess I’ll have to do some reading… blerk
If your cables are permanently installed there should be no problem, but any cable that is continually used actively will break at some point, usually before its time through smeone standing on it or through walking away with your guitar still plugged in.
Not sure about the $2 cable, in my experience you will get a thin cable with weak, ineffective shielding for that kind of money. The kind that when you walk around the sound of your cable moving is louder than your guitar.
So don’t be a skinflint, get decent qualiy cables, and make sure you wind them properly after use!
Ha! Coiling smoiling… my husband is an ex-electrician and despairs of my coiling techniques… I am utterly totally hopeless at it. My coiling of cables is utterly atrocious… I am the world’s worst untangler In fact, he had coiled (very tidily) the failed cable - but it appears that it did not like being squashed for some years…
You can get a good quality cable for cheap. 10 to 20 dollars Canadian, depending on the length and brand. Don’t get suckered into buying those expensive Monster cables or similarly hyped cables.
A decent cable should last you 20 years or very likely much more, as long as you take care of it and don’t physically damage it.
My lad got a new monitor yesterday and the guy in the store spent fifteen minutes trying to ease an extra £20 (around $50 US) for a Gold plated one.
My understanding is that performance is n ot different, and while I know that is a PC cable, I respectfully suggest expensive cables are a high margin rip-off.
Had a recent thread on this very subject, if you’re interested…
Sorry…I could have been clearer in what I meant:
A lot of converters use Spdif, Lightpipe, or AES…so when Dave told me they use cheap ones there at CraneSong, I took him at his word that a more expensive light pipe was a total waste. Here’s an excerpt from Reddit…it sounds pretty credible, but I’m not expert on this myself, so please feel free to disagree.
A fiber optic cable works because of the lower refractive index of the cladding relative to the core. By shooting the incoming light at a high angle to the the normal you can achieve total internal reflection along the length of the cable.
First off, usually only certain wavelengths of visible or near-IR light are used in most fiber optic applications and optical filtering is often used to exclude extraneous wavelengths. Even if not the detector end responds to a limited bandwidth of wavelengths so things like power lines and radio waves won’t make a difference.
Other sources of visible light, such as the sun or room lights shouldn’t make much of a difference to the signal in the optical fiber in theory, but the detector and emitter ends are usually not absolutely perfectly shielded so extra light in the room is not a good thing. The cables aren’t perfect, either, so some light is lost or could be introduced along the length of the cable. Even with a digital signal some amount of constant background (sunlight, room lights, etc are essentially constant intensity at the timescales of digital transmissions) can be tolerated as you’re looking for a change in signal, not the magnitude of that signal.
I have used optical fibers in research and while it is possible to use unshielded bare cables, there is usually some coating such as teflon similar to electrical wire or even metal cladding on the fiber for mechanical strength if unnecessary for signal transmission.
I absolutely agree with you that $2 is not enough to buy a decent instrument or XLR cable. Sheesh! That would be scary! lol
It can’t be the gold plating that causes the price difference. Here’s a gold plated 6-footer for $2.62!!
I think the idea is the gold plating is technically a worse conductor, but it won’t tarnish or rust like copper or silver…am I right?
I think the cheaper ones use plastic fiber, and the more expensive use glass fiber. Whether there is a quality of signal difference is probably debatable. I believe one or the other is more prone to defects if bent due to cracking or fracturing of the fiberoptic strands. So it pays to treat those cables with care and not bend/crimp/smash them. The rest is the quality of insulation and connectors. I have found that having connectors that you like and are easy to use is one thing that is beneficial, and the better built ones are not supposed to break or malfunction as easily.
If the test equipment in Dave’s lab can’t detect it, I don’t see how there’s much to debate.
I thought these things either worked or they didn’t. There isn’t a sort-of-works like a half dead XLR cable…right?
It does sound like a strong testimonial.
Yeah, if you damage the fiberoptics it’s probably a roach whip at that point. I haven’t ever crapped one out so I don’t know what the performance consequences are, but yes probably dead dude. I handle them very delicately.
I don’t know but the gold plated one was £20 and the normal one was £10. (What made matters worse - coincidentally - was we didn’t need either as a standard HDMI cable came with the monitor. - Gotr my money refudned next day).
I think there’s a distinct advantage to staying digital until the very end of the chain. Moving 16 channels through 2 short cheap light pipe cables has been amazing.
ProTools HD i/o digital -> Behringer P16 monitoring hub
And routing with little 75ohm spdif RCA cables from Monoprice has freed up bins of expensive Mogami cables. Most of those RCA cables land at the TC patchbay then get re-routed if necessary.
OH!!! I can also move 64 channels over a single 75ohm Coax with Madi, and 128 channels over cat 5 using Dante protocol! Frickin amazing. So right now, I’m moving 384 channels in and out of the console with 6 coax cables.
Totally the way to go but you have to learn to set up a Word Clock. You legitimately need one at that point.
…I converted all my patch bays to digital ones too. So no more of those pesky annoying TT connectors, and I haven’t touched a soldering iron in months.
@Emma, I’m sorry to have never asked this, but what’s it for? Guitar? Keyboard? Interface -> Monitors?
Conductivity by metal type (lowest resistance per unit length)
Gold connector’s biggest advantage is resistance to corrosion.
Most connectors are plated copper because copper is one of the worst metals when it comes to corrosion.
Sorry I missed this comment… it’s for my monitors…
I’ve had an intermittent signal fault for ages, which coincided with a number of gear issues e.g. faulty interface volume knob and a poor connection blah blah. A number of individual things causing a similar issue.
I loathe technical stuff but as it’s only me to sort stuff I’ve become a lot more ‘can-do’ over the years haha… The faulty lead would be about 20 years old by the way.
It’s not the blasted cable… it’s the monitor…
spare me days…
and other expostulations…
i HATE intermittent faults… just swapped cables over and around and all was sweet until suddenly the cracking is back again. I shall find a JBL repair person… blark!!
Aw man. Hoping for a quick easy fix? Fingers crossed!!