Beginner’s Guide to Snake Cables for Home Recording (Tutorial)

07/02/2020
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Over time, home studios have a way of collecting too many cables.

It happens so slowly, you don’t even realize it…

Until one day you look around to find…

Your floor is covered in black lines, and back of your rack looks like a spider web.

The standard solution at this point, is of course, a snake cable

But as you may already have figured out…

Finding the right snake cable for your studio is impossible…

Until you’ve developed a solid understanding of how they’re built, and what problems they’re designed to solve.

And so, for today’s post, I’ve created a basic introduction entitled:

The Beginner’s Guide to Snake Cables for Home Recording.

First up…

 

The Basics

Pro Co Stagemaster 16x4By definition, a snake cable (aka multi-core cable) is a group of several audio cables contained within a single common outer casing.

The main benefit in using them is…

In larger setups with many channels, it’s far easier managing just one BIG cable, compared to dozens of small ones.

In pro studios and live rigs, which sometimes have hundreds of inputs, it’s common to see single snakes with up to 48 channels.

For home studios though, 8 and 16 channel snakes are most common.

Up next…

The 3 Types of Snake Connectors

On either end of a snake, you’ll find 1 of 3 connections:

  1. a Fanout/Breakout – which splits the snake into single connectors of either XLR/m, XLR/f, TRS or TS.
  2. a Junction Box – which is a box with multiple inputs for individual connections.
  3. a Dsub Connector – which combines every channel into a single connector.

Here’s what each one looks like:

snake cable connectors

Now here’s what they’re used for:

1. Breakouts

While breakout cables have limitless applications, in a home studio, their most common use is to consolidate the multiple ins/outs from your mic preamp.

From there, the snake can then either lead out to your live room floor, or to a different hardware item in your rack, such as the audio interface.

2. Junction Boxes

xlr wall plateIf the snake’s purpose is to relocate the inputs of your preamp to a better location (such as the live-room)…

Then a junction box is the connection you’ll find on the opposite end.

In pro studios with multiple rooms…

Junction boxes can often be seen as a built-in wall outlet, such as the one in the picture.

3. Dsubs

With Pro Tools HD, and various other high-end hardware with multiple channels…

Dsub connectors are used in place of the XLR/TRS connectors, because they allow you to connect far more ins/outs to a single device.

If you’ve never used them before, they’ve probably had you puzzled up ’til now.

So up next, I’ll show you exactly how they work:

Dsubs Explained

db25 cableThe term “Dsub” (D-subminature) is a category of connectors known by their familiar “D” shape.

While many Dsub versions exist…

In pro audio, the DB-25 is the most common.  So for this article, that’s what we’ll focus on.

While sometimes used with digital TDIFsignals (Tascam Digital Interconnect Format)…

The most common studio use for DB-25’s nowadays is to consolidate 8 balanced analog signals into a single connection.

Here’s how it works:

As their name suggests, DB-25 connectors have 25 pins total.  Since balanced analog signals use 3 wires each:

  1. Hot (+)
  2. Cold (-)
  3. Ground

…this allows for a total of 8 audio channels (3 x 8 = 24) with the 25th pin unused.

This diagram explains the wiring:

DB25 Wiring

Get it now?  Awesome.  ????

Moving on…

Two Snake Alternatives

adat cat5eWhile not technically snake cables…

There are two commonly used digitalcables…

That essentially accomplish the same goal of combining several channels into one.

They are:

  1. ADAT
  2. Ethernet (Cat5e)

ADAT cables send 8 channels of digital audio at 48kHz (or 4 channels at 96kHz)…

And are commonly used to send digital audio from a multi-channel mic preamp, to the input of your audio interface.

Cat5e cables (w/ RJ45 connectors) can connect even more channels than ADAT…

And in addition, they can also:

  • extend for very long distances
  • provide power to the receiving device

This combination of features makes them popular with advanced headphone distribution systems for sending multiple audio channels to the personal mixers of each musician.

Up next…

3 Snakes to Get You Started

hosa little broNow that you understand all the basics…

The only thing left to do is find the perfect snake to match your current setup.

While most live-snakes are far too large for home use…

Here are 3 smaller ones that I would recommend to any small project studio:

  • Hosa Little Bro 8 channel – (Amazon/B&H)
  • Seismic Audio 12 channel – (Amazon)
  • Seismic Audio 16 channel – (Amazon)

If one day you need something more sophisticated, here’s what I’d recommend next…

Custom Snake Manufacturers

whirlwind and pro coAs your studio grows and evolves over time…

The types of snakes you can add to your setup are virtually unlimited.

If and when the time comes when you need a snake designed for a specialized purpose…

Here are two great manufacturers I recommend, that offer a huge selection of snakes for multiple industries, and can even do custom builds to your own specifications: