"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

A Beginner's Guide to Cables: Part 1

Toby Roworth

Jan 16, 2012

As anyone who's seen me de-rig will know, I like cables! The way a good cable coils is a feeling matched by nothing else. In this 4-part series I'll look into what makes a good cable good, and how best to build cables for your own collection. In this first instalment, I'll look at the finished cables, and what they're used for.
Mic Leads The most versatile of cables, a mic lead can be used to interconnect almost any 2 bits of PA equipment together. They carry balanced signals, which means they reject nearly all noise. With a good set of converter leads, however, they can also be used to extend most other cables. They are usually terminated with XLRs.
Line Leads Still quite common, line leads are used for unbalanced connections, used for interconnection of rack equipment and connecting instruments into the rig. Due to the unbalanced signals travelling down them, line leads can be susceptible to interference, so require a good shielding layer to work well, especially over long distances. They are usually terminated with jacks.
Speaker Leads Virtually all rigs'll use speaker cables somewhere, but very few use very many. Speaker cables are unbalanced and unshielded, relying on the high signals levels to give a good signal-to-noise ratio. Even thick speaker leads can dissipate the high current travelling through them fairly quickly, so speaker lead runs should be kept as short as possible.
Multicores
In essence, a multicore is a bundle of very thin mic cables, inside a single sheath. They're often run from the front the stage to the mixing position to save laying a long cable for every single channel. Multicores are very expensive and heavy, but can be fitted with multipin connectors to save plugging in every channel individually.
Power Leads
Powered equipment needs to connect to the mains somehow, usually through a power lead. Several different types of power lead exist, based on the end, but one of the more common types is the "kettle lead", fitted with an IEC plug and a standard mains plug, so called because they look like the leads plugged into older kettles.
Converter Leads
True problem solvers, converter leads change from one lead type to another, or change what connector is on the end. A good set of converters can let mic cables be used as nearly any other type of cable.
Other Leads
Numerous other leads exist, normally bought cheaply for use with equipment that doesn't have proper connectors on it. Examples include 3.5mm jack leads and RCA leads, used for connecting consumer audio equipment into a mixer.
In the next instalment, I'll look at the connectors that go on the ends of leads.