I’m sure we can all agree, that mic cables aren’t nearly as important as, say…
The microphones themselves, or studio monitors, right?
Of course not.
But are they still important?
Ask any audio professional that question, and you probably WON’T get a straight answer.
Because on one hand they say:
A cable is a cable. It doesn’t really matter.
But add up the price of their cables, and they’ll most likely cost more than your entire studio.
Ask them why they bought those cables instead of cheaper ones…
And many can’t tell you, because they don’t really know.
The truth is…microphone cables are a topic that most musicians, both beginnerand advanced, know surprisingly little about.
And newbies get frustrated when they discover how hard it is to simply:
So in today’s post, that’s exactly what we’ll cover.
Let’s begin. First up…
Before learning the finer details of mic cables, it helps a lot to start with a basic knowledge of studio cables in general.
So if you aren’t familiar with common terms like:
Do a quick online search for mic cables, and you find a ton of options ranging from $5 to $100 or more.
So newbies naturally wonder:
How much does a decent cable REALLY cost?
While everyone has a slightly different answer to this question, standard advicestates:
For most studios, I recommend cables between $25-$50, because at that price, you get an excellent combination of quality, and affordability. Chances are though, you’ve heard that advice before…
But what you probably haven’t heard is:
So let’s cover that now, starting with a review of their basic structure…
While all cables have their own unique design…
The standard design consists of 5 main parts:
Here’s how they fit together:
Now that you know the parts, let’s see how they vary in quality…
Read the product description of any high-end mic cable, you’ll probably notice that there’s very little information about WHY that cable is better than others.
And that’s mostly because the full explanation is long, boring…and hard-to-understand. So instead, here’s the simple version:
The 6 KEY factors that contribute to the cost and performance of high-end mic cables are:
Now let’s learn more about each one…
When you take apart a mic cable, you’ll see that each copper conductor is actually made of many fine strands, rather than just a single wire.
By adding higher strand counts, manufacturers can increase both the flexibilityand durability of their cables. Which is especially useful with cables that see heavy abuse, such as those for hand-held mics.
Of course…the cost of these cables is higher as well.
When you look at the twisting of the two copper conductors, you’ll notice that expensive cables often have more twists than cheaper ones.
Cable manufacturers refer to this as the lay, which is simply a measurement of the distance between each twist. The more twists…the shorter the lay.
By shortening the lay on high-end cables, it improves BOTH noise cancellationand flexibility. But it also means using more wire, with more manufacturing time, ultimately leading to higher costs.
Another thing you’ll notice when dissecting mic cables is that the shielding will vary, depending on the cost of the cable. The 3 most common types of shielding are:
With high-end cables, braided shields are typically used, and are the most expensive. Serve shields are the standard with mid-range cables. And foil shieldsare most common with budget cables.
When a cable hits the stage or gets stepped on, it momentarily compresses, causing a distinct slapping sound, known as the triboelectric effect…which is big concern with cables that see lots of handling.
To solve this problem, high-end stage cables use special material for the insulation, filler, and outer jacket to improve impact absorption.
Studio cables on the other hand, which see far less abuse, can work just fine with less-expensive casing.
To maximize electrical conductivity, manufacturers may coat their connectors with a number of different metals…silver and gold being the most preferred.
Some people say silver is better, because it has a higher conductivity than gold (when clean). However, silver also tarnishes faster than gold, and must be cleaned often to maintain performance…
Which is why most people prefer gold, despite the fact that it’s more expensive.
The relatively-new technology known as “star-quad” or “quad” cabling is getting more and more attention these days, as engineers begin to see its advantages.
Using 4 smaller conductors (2+/2-) compared to the standard 2-conductor design…
Quad cabling minimizes the “loop area”, and cuts electromagnetic interference by an impressive 20db as a result. This makes quad cables especially useful in environments with heavy interference from surrounding equipment.
Also, due to technical factors such as lower “phase shift” and reduced “intermodulation distortion“, quad-cabling also offers a better overall sound quality as well.
And while average musicians may not hear the difference, many top audio professionals can confirm that the difference is there.
Now that you know the difference between cheap and expensive cables…let’s take a look at the best options in each price range.
If the ultimate goal is to get the maximum number of cables for the minimumprice…
Then these are the top budget cables I recommend (length options displayed in links):
However, while these cables will get the job done…I highly suggest choosing from this next group if possible:
As I said earlier, most home studios are best-off using mid-range cables between $25-$50.
At this price, here are some top options:
And finally, if you really want the best of the best, check these out…
Even though they’re completely unnecessary for the average home studio…
There’s no doubt that premium cables have real benefits that some people will gladly pay for.
So for those people, here’s what I recommend:
When first starting-out, almost everyone buys pre-cut mic cables.
But at some point, when your pile of unused cables grows large enough…it feels like a waste of money to buy more.
And it is.
Because simply by taking the time to learn how to cut and solder your old cables, they can be re-purposed over-and-over-again to meet the ever-changing needs of your studio.
Once you’ve learned this skill, you can:
While it might seem difficult at first…
With as little as a few hours practice, you can save yourself hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars over the next few years.