Audio Cables Explained
Author: Brad Date Posted:2 July 2019
Picking a cable can be hard. There are a hundred different types of cables that do a thousand different types of things. If you pick the wrong type of cable you can find yourself getting weird buzzing noises, only have sound coming out of one side of your headphones or just general poor sound quality.
So let's dig into the different types of cables we stock and what they do:
XLR – Also known as mic cables, these are used to connect your microphone to your mixing desk, or connect your mixing desk to your powered speakers, or connecting a DI box. XLR is what they call a balanced cable. A balanced cable is designed to send signal over a longer distance without degrading the quality of signal.
Instrument – Some people call them guitar cables, TS cables or quarter inch (1/4") cables. These are used to connect your guitar, bass, keyboards, electric drums, sample pads to your mixing desk, amplifier, DI box or recording interface. There are different lengths of instrument cables ranging from 10m leads to smaller 25cm leads perfect for patching guitar pedal boards or equipment in the studio.
Speaker – These come with two types of connections, speakon or 1/4". Speaker cables are used to send a high level signal from your mixing desk to your speaker or your power amplifier to your speakers.
DMX – These leads are very similar to XLR leads. They come in a 3 pin version and a 5 pin version. They are designed to send signal at 110 ohms. But I can hear you saying, “Whoa Brad, I don’t want all this technical mumbo jumbo, just tell me when I’m going to use a DMX cable!”. Short answer, for lighting. You can link your DMX controllable lights to make them all work together.
TRS – Stands for Tip, Ring, Sleave. These have a couple different connection types varying from 1/4” to 3.5mm. The internals of the TRS cable are the same as a mic cable. A positive and negative wire with a ground wire. TRS is a balanced cable and also a stereo cable. TRS cables are complicated, so, I’ll just give you a couple of examples on what people use them for. Headphones use TRS to get both left and right signal. Electronic drum kits also use TRS, most drum pads output 2 signals so TRS is perfect to facilitate this.
Lets dig a bit deeper
Now we’ve talked about what they do, lets talk about the technical stuff…
What are these cables made from and how do they work?
The inside of our Titan AV XLR cables are made up of a positive and negative wire surrounded by thread to ensure the wires inside don’t break if the cable is pulled harshly, this is perfect for installers that are running cables through the ceiling or tight spaces. All of this is then wrapped by a braided copper to shield against electromagnetic interference and then all of that is all held together by a conductive PVC to help reinforce all that shielding.
As I said earlier, XLR is what they call a balanced cable. Inside an XLR cable there is a positive and negative wire, what happens is the signal sent through the cable is sent through both wires but at a different polarity, essentially cancelling each other out until it gets to the other end of the cable. It means that XLR is perfect to send mic level or line level signal over a long distance without getting outside noise and interference through the cable.
These cables are designed to take a low level and high impedance signal. What is it made of? Starting with a Single solid core oxygen-free copper 24 gauge wire, its then wrapped in its first dual layer conductive PVC shield, then surrounded by a braided copper ground wire and finally topped off with 2 layers of conductive PVC shield. So many layers, everybody loves parfait.
Opposite to instrument cable, speaker cable is designed for high level signal. Speaker wire comes in different gauges, so which gauge do you chose? The lower number your gauge, i.e. 12AWG the thicker the wire is. The higher your number is… 16AWG… the thinner your wire is. 12 gauge cable is perfect for sending more power and sending it long distances. Our Titan AV leads are made from oxygen free cooper for which is more conductive than lower grade copper.
Like I said earlier, DMX cables are similar to mic cables, however, DMX cables are designed for digital data signals. With 110 ohms of resistance compared to a mic cables 45 ohm, this offers better shielding characteristics and produces less interference. DMX comes in 3 pin or 5 pin. A lot of 5 pin connectors don’t actually connect the full 5 pins to the cable, our Titan AV 5 pin cables are all connected giving you the full 4 conductors with 1 common ground.
These are a balanced or stereo cable. Made up of 3 connections, the tip, the ring, separated by the black band (which is how we can visibly tell it’s a TRS cable) and at the bottom is the sleeve. The cable is made up of a positive, negative and ground wire. TRS can only be taken advantage of if the output and input has TRS connectors, if not then this cable will just function as a standard TS (Instrument) cable. Our TRS cables contain PE insulation which provides a low capacitance dielectric for more sheilding. Also covered in conductive PVC helping to reinforce the sheilding further.
Wrapping up (thats a cable pun...)
Lets face it, most of the time you’re going to be using XLR cables or instrument cables. But its good to know what kind of cables are out there because there will always be that one time you have a weird connection, or a certain type of cable isn’t sending the signal through properly. It might be a simple cable swap from TS to TRS.
If you'd like to ask us any more questions on cables feel free to get in contact online or come visit our showroom in Banyo!