How to Know which cables you will need

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How To Tell What Cables You Need

When you are a beginner in the world of professional audio, there are many things to take into consideration; speakers, amplifiers, microphones and many other things. One thing that people don’t think about is the right cable. Many times the right cables can be an after thought, leaving you with nothing to listen to all of your amazing equipment you just bought! Below is a walkthrough of all of the different connections that you may come across as well as their application.

 

Balanced and Unbalanced Cables Defined

Balanced electrical signals travel along 3 wires: a positive, a negative, and a ground. The positive and negative carry the same signal, just in opposite polarity to one another. Noises that may be picked up in the cable will usually be common to each leg. As long as the destination is balanced, the receiving device will flip the signal, bringing them back into polarity. This eliminates the noise by causing it to be out of phase. This is commonly referred to as Common Mode Rejection and is the primary reason balanced cables are best for long cable runs. TRS and XLR cables are made to send balanced audio from one balanced device to another balanced device. Unbalanced cables are much simpler than balanced. However, they can easily fall victim to noise issues. Unbalanced lines should be used in shorter lengths, ideally 25 foot and under. This will go a long way in reducing any noise that could be carried with the signal into your gear. Instruments, like guitars, and their users vow they can tell a difference in the tone the longer the cable gets.

Cable Connectors

There are six primary cable connector types in the world of Pro Audio. XLR and TRS are balanced connections; Speakon, TS, RCA and Banana Plugs for unbalanced connections. Here is a brief overview of each:

 

XLR 

The XLR connector is a style of electrical connector, primarily found on professional audio, video, and stage lighting equipment. The connectors are circular in design and have between 3 and 7 pins. They are most commonly associated with balanced audio interconnection, including AES3 digital audio, but are also used for lighting control, low-voltage power supplies, and other applications. XLR connectors are available from a number of manufacturers and are covered by an international standard for dimensions, IEC 61076-2-103.[1] They are superficially similar to the older and smaller DIN connector range, but are not physically compatible with them.

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TRS

In electronics, a phone connector is a common family of connector typically used for analog signals, primarily audio. It is cylindrical in shape, typically with two, three or four contacts. Three-contact versions are known as TRS connectors, where T stands for “tip”, R stands for “ring” and S stands for “sleeve”. Similarly, two- and four-contact versions are called TS and TRRS connectors respectively.

The phone connector was invented for use in telephone switchboards in the 19th century and is still widely used. In its original configuration, the outside diameter of the “sleeve” conductor is 14 inch (exactly 6.35 mm). The “mini” connector has a diameter of 3.5 mm (approx. 18 inch) and the “sub-mini” connector has a diameter of 2.5 mm (approx. 332 inch).

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TS

In electronics, a phone connector is a common family of connector typically used for analog signals, primarily audio. It is cylindrical in shape, typically with two, three or four contacts. Three-contact versions are known as TRS connectors, where T stands for “tip”, R stands for “ring” and S stands for “sleeve”. Similarly, two- and four-contact versions are called TS and TRRS connectors respectively.

The phone connector was invented for use in telephone switchboards in the 19th century and is still widely used. In its original configuration, the outside diameter of the “sleeve” conductor is 14 inch (exactly 6.35 mm). The “mini” connector has a diameter of 3.5 mm (approx. 18 inch) and the “sub-mini” connector has a diameter of 2.5 mm (approx. 332 inch).

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TWIST LOCK CONNECTOR

A twist lock connector is designed with a locking system that may be designed for soldered or screw-type connections. Line connectors (female) mate with (male) panel connectors and typically a cable will have identical connectors at both ends. If it is needed to join cables, a coupler can be used (which essentially consists of two panel connectors mounted on the ends of a plastic tube). Recently the manufacturer has introduced a new series called STX which includes also male line connectors and female panel connectors (in the four-pole and eight-pole version only).

Speakon connectors are designed to be unambiguous in their use in speaker cables. With jack and XLR connections, it is possible to use low-current shielded microphone or instrument cables in a high-current speaker application. Twist lock connector cables are intended solely for use in high current audio applications.

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BANANA PLUGS

A banana connector (commonly banana plug for the male, banana socket or banana jack for the female) is a single-wire (one conductor) electrical connector used for joining wires to equipment. The term 4 mm connector is also used, especially in Europe, although not all banana connectors will mate with 4 mm parts. The plug is typically a four-leafed spring tip that fits snugly into the jack. The plugs are frequently used to terminate patch cords forelectronic test equipment. They are also often used as the plugs on the cables connecting the amplifier to the loudspeakers in hi-fi sound systems.

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RCA

An RCA connector, sometimes called a phono connector or cinch connector, is a type of electrical connector commonly used to carry audio and video signals. The connectors are also sometimes casually referred to asA/V jacks. The name “RCA” derives from the Radio Corporation of America, which introduced the design by the early 1940s for internal connection of the pickup to the chassis in home radio-phonograph consoles. It was originally a low-cost, simple design, intended only for mating and disconnection when servicing the console. Refinement came with later designs, although they remained compatible.

RCA connectors began to replace the older quarter-inch phone connectors for many other applications in the consumer audio world when component high-fidelity systems started becoming popular in the 1950s. However, quarter-inch phone connectors are still common in professional audio, and miniature phone connectors (3.5 mm) are predominant in personal stereo systems.

The connection’s plug is called an RCA plug or phono plug, for “phonograph.” The name “phono plug” is sometimes confused with a “phone plug” which may refer to a quarter-inch “phone plug” – Tip/Sleeve (TS) or Tip/Ring/Sleeve (TRS) connector – or to a connector used for a telephone.

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One thought on “How to Know which cables you will need

  1. Would like it if you included how to tell the difference between balanced and unbalanced 1/4″ cables. Also the difference between mono and stereo connectors as well as instrument cables vs. speaker cables. Just my 2 cents.

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