Beginners Guide – Cables

Cables! These connect the world together – literally! Your setup, be it home studio or Stadium PA with huge line arrays, is only as good as your cabling. You can have the best equipment in the world, but if your cables connecting them together are broken or damaged, then the resulting sound quality will be affected.

This should be a relatively short blog post, as I only have a few headings to cover in this section. I will only be looking at Audio Cables, however some for them uses include video and lighting.

Balanced (Stereo)

The diagram below depicts a balanced cable, made up of 2 cores & 1 shield. These cables are good at eliminating outside interference, as the signal is sent both down the hot + cold cores out of phase with each other, enabling elimination of external noise to be possible.

This is a great article to help you understand how interference can be eliminated using balanced cables.

balanced vs unbalanced

Unbalanced (Mono)

As shown above, Unbalanced cables have 1 core & 1 shield. These cannot eliminate external noise that can be introduced to the cables, meaning the longer the cables, the more chance of unwanted noise. The best way to combat this issue it to run as short a cable as possible, and use a DI Box to convert the unbalanced signal into balanced.


Generally the more shielding a cable has, the better protected it is from outside interference. Many cables use the Earth in a braided pattern, while others use a wrap around method. This is an attempt to stop interference from entering the core. Depending on the make and model of cable used, depends on the thickness and quality of copper used. The thicker the signal and shield are, the better the quality of sound is.

Speaker Cables do not require shielding, as the signal they carry is too large for any interference.

Male / Female

In order to connect the cables together, a variety of connectors exist. The ends are called male and female based on whether they have pins or sockets. I’ll let you figure out why! Lets look at a few of the basics that are most common.

Signal Cables


XLR’s have 3 pins for Audio, 2 pins give the signal from the source, while the third Earths (grounds to the sound desk) / Sends Power back the other way (if needed) to power DI’s & Condenser Mics.


Jack (TS/TRS)

Most commonly used for guitarists and keys players, the humble jack is simple to use and holds a small form factor for what you get!


The mono version is most common, features a Tip and Sleeve, Tip being the signal, and Sleeve being the Earth/Ground. They are also called TS cables. Note the Jack Sockets on the interface below.

TRS18i8 back

Stereo adds in a Ring between the Tip and Ring, this is the second channel of signal, normally Tip = Left, Ring = Right! TRS is another name for these.



The smaller and widely used MiniJack is identical in form factor (though obviously smaller!)  You can get both Mono (TS) and Stereo (TRS) cables. The cable above is useful for playback from a phone, laptop, etc.. Allowing you to use the headphone out and send the Left (White) and Right (Red) to a DI.


If you use a headset with your phone that has a mic on it, there is also a second ring for this, making TRRS.

 Phono (RCA)

Phono Cables are used in DJ setups, Vinyl Record Players, and other HiFi Systems, however there is some crossover into the Pro + Church Audio systems. These connectors are mono, and are made up of a shield surrounding a tip that carries the signal.rca

Speaker Cables

These are used to take the output signal from an amplifier to the speaker.

Speaker Cables are usually thicker than XLR’s as they carry a larger load of energy, at a lower impedance than instrument cables. Normally they are either 2 core, or 4 core. This is for +1, -1, & +2, -2.


nl2nl4nl4 1nl8

Above we have a selection of Speakon Connectors, Top Left is NL2 – the 2 core version, just allowing a positive and negative to be connected.


 EP5 has an extra pin, which can be used by the amp to monitor the speakers performance. Its really down to the Speaker Manufacturer as to what connectors they use on their boxes. Some manufacturers when purchasing directly, give you the choice between Speakon and EP5.



Generally made up of 2, 4 or 8 separate mic / jack cables in one multi, they become especially useful for Radio Racks, Playback and other sources with multiple outputs. This allows one cable to be run rather than multiple, saving both time and a tangled mess!

loom 1loom 2IMG_6721


StageBox & Multicore- Normally you will find a black box or cable drum sitting on the stage used to plug the XLR’s into, make sure that the numbers on the Desk end of the multi correspond to the stage end. Its usual for them to be numbered 1-16+, with the returns labelled 1-4+ or A, B, C, D, etc.

multi 1multi 2

Digital Cables

By Digital Cables, I mean ones that carry a digital signal like Dante or MADI. Many Digital desks, rather than lugging around a hefty copper multicore operate with a Digital Protocol, allowing only one or two Network cables to be run out.

MADI Router


Alesis Digital Audio Tape – as it was once known, now just referred to as ADAT, is a Fibre Optic Cable, allowing fast streams of data to go through. It supports 8 channels of Audio and is often included on Audio Interfaces allowing an extra 8ch of input or output to be utilised. It cannot pass data both ways, i.e. 4 inputs and 4 outputs, but only one way.


It uses the Toslink Connector, shown above. This is sometimes used in SPDIF, which is a stereo input / output only.


Used mainly as an extra Output, as stated in ADAT, it only uses a Stereo. It sometimes uses the Toslink Connector, but mostly uses RCA connectors, sending stereo over one plug.

Here we can see the ADAT Input on Toslink next to the USB in, and the SPDIF Input and Output on RCA’s next to the power. These are great tools for manufacturers as they take up little room, but offer an extra 10 inputs and 2 outputs!

18i8 back


BNC Connectors have been used widely in Video for years, as they are a great way of having a locking connector in installs. Featuring a Signal and Sleeve only.


Ethernet / RJ45

CAT5, CAT5e, CAT6, CAT6a and CAT7


Possibly the most common cable in the world! Its used everywhere for everything, from the Home Broadband router to the PC, to massive server racks in every office block around the world. It is usually made up of 8 cables (4 pairs) as seen above.

These are used for digital Multicores, allowing one cable to send multiple inputs / outputs. Below is a picture of a standard way to run digital multicores between FOH and Monitors. The blue arrows represent Ethernet cables, while the green are BNC running the MADI protocol.


Expansion Cards

Available Cards for Digital Desk range depending on Manufacturer and Desk, but here are a selection that Digico have available for the S21. These allow many ways of sending signal from the stage to the mixer without using the cumbersome copper multi.

S21 CardsS21 Rear

Good job for reaching the end! I hope you found this post useful. Please check the other posts for more great advice.

Contact me here to get more specialised help.

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Published by danbamberaudio

Freelance MultiSkilled - Project Manager / Sound Engineer / AV Tech based in Manchester UK.

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