Do cables have a sound of their own?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Thursday October 17, 2019
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Does your choice of cables affect the sound quality of your recording? Well of course, anything makes a difference. But does the degree of difference make a difference to your end product?

This is a question that just keeps on coming back again and again. Does your choice of cables affect the sound quality of your recording?

Well first, let's just make sure we are talking about professional grade cables with decent connectors, not frayed or damaged etc. That would be a good starting point.

But apart from that do they make a difference?

Well of course, anything makes a difference. But does the degree of difference make a difference to your end product, if you get what I mean?

The answer is a resounding no. Of all the factors that affect your recording, from performer, acoustics, microphone selection, mic positioning, recording medium, processing and monitoring, everything makes at least a hundred times as much difference as the cables. So if you think you have a problem that needs solving, then changing the cables wouldn't be the first place to start.

However there are some instances where cables do indeed make a significant difference. One is in live recording, particularly when there are lighting dimmer racks nearby. Some cables are more resistant to interference than others.

If you are suffering from interference, then you need a quality braided-screen cable, for which you will expect to pay a little extra. For the ultimate in interference protection, providing you are using balanced inputs which for mics you almost certainly are, is 'quad' cable. Inside a quad cable are four conductors (plus screen) rather than the usual two.

These are connected in parallel in pairs. The twisting of the conductors binds them very tightly together and any interference that does get in affects both pairs equally. Then as part of the balancing process the interference is canceled out.

The other area where cables make a difference is in loudspeaker connections. If you use good thick mains cable, and keep the length of the cable as short as possible, then you are doing all you need to do. Granted, if you change the cables for another type then you might hear a difference. But it would be a very small difference compared the differences between different models of professional grade monitors. So once again it is a difference that doesn't make a difference.

However, it is always wise to make sure the lengths of the cables are identical. Otherwise the overall frequency response of the left and right monitors will be slightly but audibly different. This could affect decisions you make during the mix. It's easy to avoid however, so you might as well just avoid it.

Once you have taken all of this into consideration - forget your cables and get on with your recording!

P.S. The 10-meter version of the cable illustrated will cost you $199.95 at the manufacturer's suggested retail price. I'm doubtful that you will get $199.95's worth of improvement to your recordings but you'll certainly get $199.95's worth of bragging rights when the conversation turns to who has the most expensive mic cable.

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