This component shown above (a transistor), is just one example of hundreds that occur in most any piece of audio equipment. Note that the legs on this transistor isn't made of super expensive "treated" copper or anything else goofy. The audio that passed through your overly expensive mic cable, also passes through a ton of electronic components just like the one above.
And not only that, but the audio also passes through very thin & plain metal "legs" attached to components. For instance, check out this picture of one of THE most iconic microphone preamps in the world (the Neve 1073):
We all want cleaner and better mixes as engineers. So many times we focus on things like EQ, Compression, Mic Placement, etc...but one of the most overlooked facets of the mixing equation, is good cabling, and the proper installation of it. Here are some quick rules to follow:
Purchase Good Quality Cabling
This is one of the biggest issues I see time and time again. Cables are not all equal. So many issues can be resolved in a sound system if quality cabling was purchased from the very beginning. What happens, is that someone will buy the cheapest cable they can find, and then they will have to replace that cable with another cheap cable over and over. You will save money in the long run if you buy quality cabling the first time. Buy it right, and you'll only buy it once!
A. Brand -
Yes, typically the brand of the cable is an instant indicator as to what you are buying. Some of these great brands include (in no particular order): Whirlwind, ProCo, & Conquest. Avoid super expensive brands, and brands with a ton of hype. You need reliability more than you need gold connectors with nitrogen infused super fairy dust leprechaun awesome sparkled copper. You are just wasting your money to make yourself feel better when you buy those "super-duper" cables because your audio will eventually pass through the cheapest thinnest copper anyway:
B. Build -
You want a cable with a braided shield (not twisted) as shown below:
You also want to open up the cable and have a look inside (if possible) to see if the cabling has been pre-tinned before it was soldered to the connector. What this means, is that whoever assembled the cable, flowed each conductor with solder all the way up to the jack. This keeps the conductors from slowly unraveling, breaking, and shorting out. When you look at the cable, each conductor should have a silver sheen. There should be no bare copper by the plug whatsoever.
Let's take a look at some poorly constructed cables
When running a 1/4" signal cable (like what you'd find running from your console to outboard processors), make sure they are Tip Ring Sleeve (TRS), balanced cables. Always run balanced cables when at all possible for connecting audio devices. A balanced cable will help you keep RF energy & hum out more effectively, than a regular unbalanced TS cable - and at much greater distances as well!
C. The right cable for the right purpose -
Only use a speaker cable for a connecting a speaker or speaker cabinet to an amplifier. Most cables will be labeled as to what they are used for on the outside rubber/plastic jacket. If you are getting a Mexican heavy metal station coming through your instrument amplifier, it may be a good time to see if you are running a speaker cable in place of an instrument cable.
Only use an instrument cable for connecting an instrument to an amplifier. Make sure they are as short as possible to keep capacitance down. The more capacitance in a cable, the duller the tone. It's similar to turning down a tone control, like what you'd find on a guitar or bass, when you run really long instrument cables. The longer the cable, the more dull your tone.
D. Stop using adapters for connections! Build or buy the appropriate cable to make the connection instead!
E. Run Your Cables Right -
Never run a signal cable more than 3 ft. along-side an AC power cable. I've seen churches zip-tie their signal cables with power extension cables long distances, and then wondered why they were getting hum in their system (60 cycles in the states) !
F. Check Your Cables -
As an audio engineer, you really need to keep up with the condition of your cables. Are they in good working condition? Have they been damaged in some way? Even if you don't have much time, there's nothing wrong with doing the gentle "cable wiggle test" on each device and instrument just to make sure there's nothing funky going on before a set.
Now, the best way to handle this, is to have a regularly scheduled maintenance session on your whole system. Every engineer needs to get into the practice of this. Components fail, things move, degrade, and break over time.
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