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DIY Balanced Audio Cable-O-Rama
July 18, 2007 10:36 AM   Subscribe

What's the best balanced audio wiring stuff, and where do I get it all?

I'm wiring up some speakers. I want to build custom audio cables (and eventually in-wall conduit and fancy faceplates) that will run under a drop ceiling to the speakers. The total run is ~25'. I'll be running balanced audio cable from a line-level converter to the balanced ins of my speakers, so I need balanced wiring. I'm not afraid of a soldering iron or of spending money, as long as I get what I pay for. I don't need any new devices, mixers, or converters, just the cable.

I'd like to eventually use Neutrik combo connectors on the wall plates, but for now is there an advantage to 1/4" TRS over XLR connectors? I've heard that certain brands of cable and connector work better together than others. Is there any truth to this, and if so, what brands/combinations do you recommend? What about shielded cable? Grounding the XLR sheath? Can I run audio cable alongside ethernet cable in one conduit?

Finally, if anyone has any horror/success stories about this sort of thing (including where you got good prices!), please share!
posted by Skorgu to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
So, just to clarify, I assume these are powered speakers? I.e., they have amplifiers in them? (You can have balanced wiring that's line-level, used to feed powered speakers that have their own amps, or you can have balanced wiring at the much higher-current speaker level.)

I have seen both powered and unpowered speakers fed by XLR and 1/4" TRS jacks, although I think they're both a bad idea in the case of unpowered ones. (If you unplug a TRS jack when energized, it can create a momentary short as it slides out, which amplifiers don't like -- hence this isn't used much anymore. XLR connectors are deprecated for speaker applications because it's too easy to plug line or mic-level equipment into them and blow things up, although you still see 2-pin XLR used sometimes on stage monitors.)

Basically, if you have unpowered speakers, I'd use the twist-lock Neutrik connectors. (Although, I would 'defang' them first so that you can get them back open without breaking them -- they are cleverly designed to be single-use-only, which sucks.) If you have unpowered speakers and are really dealing only with line-level balanced audio, I'd use XLRs.

You can certainly do balanced line-level audio on 1/4" TRS connectors, but it's somewhat less common than XLR, and it's used for a lot of other things (inserts, mostly) that are wired differently. Plus, a long run of balanced audio cable terminated in XLRs will always be useful.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:51 AM on July 18, 2007


XLR.

You want the parallel pins. That way you can't screw anything up when plugging and unplugging.
posted by flaterik at 11:01 AM on July 18, 2007


Thanks! Yes, they're powered speakers, line-level only. I didn't mention that the line-level converter outputs to dual TRS, so I'd need to make at least two TRS/XLR converters and a long XLR run.
posted by Skorgu at 11:04 AM on July 18, 2007


XLRs lock into the jack, are easily fixed, and are quite durable. These are qualities you need when you're dragging cable around from place to place, but for in-wall installation it's overkill -- once those wires are in place (assuming you strain-relief properly with some slack near each connection) those wires aren't going to move. At the same time, you want to minimize the number of connections overall, to reduce the risk of failure from corrosion, bad solder joints, and fatigue through heating and cooling -- so use of adapters is a bad idea. Finally, you're running balanced audio, so you don't have to worry about picking up hums and such in the line.

For all of these reasons, I say stick with TRS 1/4", and make sure you turn off the amp before you plug/unplug 'em.
posted by davejay at 11:16 AM on July 18, 2007


I'd go XLR too for this application, but its not going to make much difference. I agree with davejay in theory, but in practice, everything seems to break, and XLR is both more durable and easily fixable. Also, you don't need adapters: just solder a trs to one end and a xlr to the other. XLR has other advantages too, like ease of temporary daisy chaining. I'm pretty skeptical of all this cable nonsense, but the internet people all rep Mogami. Mogami is super expensive in the realm of normal person cable, but not nearly into voodoo territory yet. You can order custom Mogami cables from RedCo, which people say good things about. They'll even do your TRS at one end, XLR at the other, and they use quality Neutrik connectors and stuff.
posted by jeb at 11:29 AM on July 18, 2007


I don't have experience with these but you should definitely check out monoprice.com and see if they have anything that fits your needs. I have been thoroughly impressed with the quality of cables and wiring I have ordered form them, and it is very cheap.
posted by imjosh at 11:35 AM on July 18, 2007


I second monoprice.com and would like to add bluejeanscable.com for excellent, no-snake-oil speaker wire and A/V cables.
posted by ijoyner at 11:59 AM on July 18, 2007


Thanks, this is all fantastic. That RedCo page is great, but I wonder about all the different varieties of cable that are available. They list Belden, Canare, Gotham, Mogami and Redco for example. Is there any big difference between the various makes/types, and if I wanted to get the raw cabling in bulk, where would I go?
posted by Skorgu at 12:03 PM on July 18, 2007


I will learn to preview.
posted by Skorgu at 12:10 PM on July 18, 2007


Personally I've always just gone with Belden 1800F cable with Switchcraft connectors (some guys like the Neutrik ones better, but IMO they're plasticky; I like the Switchcrafts better). There are a lot of expensive 'audiophile' cables out there, but I think there are better ways to spend your money.

Unless it's repeatbly detectable in double-blind A/B tests, it's a placebo effect.

Just my $0.02.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:14 PM on July 18, 2007


I have KRK V8's and 1/4" TRS works just fine.
posted by rhizome at 1:47 PM on July 18, 2007


Another good source of supplies is Markertek.
posted by exogenous at 1:51 PM on July 18, 2007


Is there any big difference between the various makes/types

Not significantly for shortish line level runs. Given the choice, I'd pick Mogami but there's not much in it. XLR is better than TRS for corrosion and contact area but TRS will work fine.

If you're powering the speakers from a different outlet than the rest of your system you may want to leave the ground unconnected at the speaker end to prevent ground loop issues.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:25 PM on July 18, 2007


Skorgu, I don't vouch for any of this, but if you go to prosoundweb.com and tapeop and post your question about the cables, this is the answer you will get:

"CABLES ARE POWERFUL LIKE ET THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL'S FINGER" People:
1) Mogami
2) Canare
3) Everything else that isn't Hosa
4) Hosa

"CABLES ARE METAL IN A LINE" People:
1) It doesn't matter, but Hosa stuff is so shoddily constructed it is more likely to bust.

Note, I am not including the "CABLES CONDUCT THE ETHER OF JESUS FROM NETHERRANGE INTO THE QUASMODIC SPECTRUM" People because they are insane (Stereophile subscribers: this is you).

RedCo also sells bulk cable IIRC.

(Here's one crazy thought though: for the people who say 'if its not detectable in A/B/X tests...', you don't actually listen to your stereo under these conditions. Placebo effect or not, if there was some $20 upgrade I could make to my system that made me think it sounded better, I would do it. Unfortunately, these cables would just make me feel like an idiot. I just don't think the "placebo effect" argument is a valid one. It's still an effect, and its cheap.)
posted by jeb at 6:24 PM on July 18, 2007


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