November 24, 2021
Let’s face it: audio requires a lot of spaghetti. It’s tempting to just throw it all together and jam, but that can lead to a lot of headaches like broken connectors, tripping on cables, inefficient workflows, stress, and noise. So, here is a rundown of some basic cable organization etiquette that should help keep your space tidy and functional.
First things first. Make sure audio cables are separated from cables that could introduce noise and interference. Most importantly, audio cables shouldn’t run parallel to power cables, lest they introduce 60 cycle hum. Balanced audio cables should be somewhat shielded from this kind of noise, but that’s not always perfect. If you have network (ethernet) cables in the mix, power cables can introduce interference there too, which can cause data and bandwidth loss. So, before you start, plan for some cable separation. If that’s not possible, at least cross power cables at right angles.
Before you choose cable lengths, measure the distance between gear. While you obviously don’t want cables that are too short, cables that are way too long is where most ungainly spaghetti comes from. That said, remember to factor in strain relief and a little slack if the gear needs to move.
Whenever possible, run cables in straight lines rather than letting them coil or bunch. Bundling cables together makes this easier and you can make homespun snakes with Velcro cable ties or even twist ties if you’re on a budget. Those bundled runs can be dust traps if they sit on the floor, though, so whenever you can, get them off the floor. Also remember that permanent ties like zip ties will need to be cut when you make a change. Finally, don’t squeeze cables too tight when you cinch a bundle up.
Hiding and controlling cable runs is as much art as science. You can use wire trays, ducting, even run cables under false floors. Just remember that you’ll still need to access these cables, so design hides with access points, doors, and/or cable pulls to make things easier.
One universal truth in studios: you will have to pull cables. Once you’re wired up, it can be near impossible to trace a cable, so label cable ends, middles, and the gear they connect to – including power cables. Make sure your labelling system makes sense to you – don’t just label them all with numbers. Color coding helps too, as does keeping an inventory list you can refer to in case you forget what “A7B” means.
Cables need repair and changes need to be made. So don’t burying your cables where you can’t get at them. Nuff said.
If you routinely take gear into the field or bring in temporary gear for testing or sessions, it’s worth the extra cost to double up on wiring. For field gear, pack extra audio, MIDI, USB, and power cables in the travel case and leave studio cables in place. For rack spaces that swap out gear regularly, simply wire in audio and power and plug in as needed.
There’s nothing cooler than a sleek, clean studio. At least until you build up a healthy bunch of lyric edits, charts, bottle caps, and sleeping musicians. It’s not rocket science managing cables, it just takes a little care and effort. The result will definitely be worth it.
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