I’m hoping to buy some bulk cable to make my own microphone and guitar leads. If I go to an electronics supplier, what should I be looking for in terms of suitable cable specifications?
SOS Forum post
SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: In short, the three most important considerations for any audio cable are the robustness and flexibility of the outer sheath, the quality and coverage of the screen, and the capacitance of the signal cores to ground (and each other).
You can learn a lot by comparing different cable specifications from reputable suppliers like Canford Audio, who offer top‑quality products for different applications. In general, though, the lower the value of ‘capacitance per metre’ the better (60pf/m or less is good), and the greater the percentage of screen coverage the better. Foil screens are good for installation cables, and, for road use, closely lapped spiral braids are usually more robust. The outer sheath diameter really depends on what you want to use the cable for: how much abuse it needs to stand and how nice is it to coil (or, if you’re working in polar regions, can it be coiled without cracking?!)
I have become a fan of Van Damme cables, which seem well designed and constructed and are available at sensible prices. And for connectors, I almost always use Neutriks, although Cannon and Switchcraft are both reliable too. Neutrik also have the less expensive Rean brand, which are OK for permanent installations, but avoid the cheapest no‑brand alternatives at all costs; they won’t be a saving in the long term!
If RF interference is likely to be an issue, it’s worth considering using star‑quad cable...
If RF interference is likely to be an issue it’s worth considering using star‑quad cable and Neutrik’s EMC XLRs, but if not I wouldn’t bother with either, as the benefit is negligible in most cases and the extra costs are relatively high. Of course, you can use balanced (twin cores plus screen) cable for unbalanced applications, which might save on buying two different types of bulk cable. The best results for unbalanced operation are usually obtained by wiring the ‘cold’ core to the screen connections.