Do Cables Really Matter? Why You Should Buy the Best Quality Cable You Can Afford

Do Cables Really Matter? Why You Should Buy the Best Quality Cable You Can Afford

March 06, 2018 8 Comments

Cables are the lifeblood of any rig. Quarter inch cables connect your instrument to your amp, and link all your effects pedals together. XLR cables get your vocals heard, and speaker cables connect your amps to speakers. Without cables, your rig will still be great to look at, but it just won’t make any sound! However, many musicians spend thousands of dollars assembling their dream rig or buying the perfect microphone, only to skimp on the cables. In this piece, we will talk about why it’s important to spend a little extra for quality cables.

Just like in any other industry, musicians need to devote the proper time and attention to making sure that their tools of the trade are working correctly, so that performances and rehearsals go off without a hitch. For musicians, there’s a lot to keep track of, from strings to instrument setup, intonation, taking care of your voice, and so on. Buying quality cables is worth it in that it gives you one less thing to worry about, and added peace of mind during performances.

Here are some useful features on high-end cables that may seem trivial at first, but make all the difference:

  1. Durability: Cables take a lot of abuse. They are often stuffed into gig bags and cases, sometimes not being wrapped properly. They are stepped on frequently on stages and have amplifiers rolled over them. As such, it is essential that the cable have adequate protection. Professional cables tend to have a tougher, thicker jacket to ensure long life and protection from the rigors of the road and rock and roll mishaps.
  2. Flexibility: Ever not wrapped a cable properly after a rehearsal or gig? The next time you take it out, chances are it is all tangled, twisted, or coiled up. Well designed cables are flexible and easy to roll, so that you spend less time straightening out cables that were difficult to roll up properly in the first place.
  3. Shielding: If cables are not adequately shielded, meaning their internal wires are not protected from noise created by other electronics nearby (amplifiers, fluorescent lighting, and monitors all count!), the results can be show stopping. Quality cables have proper shielding to prevent extraneous noise and keep your signal quiet.
  4. Quality of connectors: Consider all the plugging and unplugging you do with your cables. If the connectors are poorly made, there is higher chance of those connectors becoming deformed, cracked, or damaged just due to simple wear and tear. Better cables have high quality connectors that are often anodized for increased durability. If the connectors go, the whole cable is most likely a loss too, which is especially unfortunate if it’s a longer, more expensive cable.

Carvin Audio XLR cables with anodized barrel connectors

Carvin Audio XLR cables are equipped with black anodized barrel connectors, as well as quality shielding and a durable rubberized jacket.

 

While it may be true that cables serve the same purpose and offer a negligible difference in sound quality to most ears, the better design and durability of higher end cables, more so than any perceived or expected difference in sound quality, is always worth the extra coin. You wouldn’t want your amp to fail at an important label showcase right? The same goes for cables.



8 Responses

David Mullane
David Mullane

June 20, 2018

Thanks a lot for sharing this informative piece of content here on quality cables. I found it useful and will surely recommend it to others as well.

http://techpart.ie/

Ron
Ron

April 06, 2018

I started playing electric guitar in 1966, using the cheap cables with molded plugs that were the standard fare. They were microphonic, and picked up noises that didn’t play nice with the signal. I didn’t learn about capacitance, signal flow, wire types, and good connectors until I used a better Belden cable with good Switchcraft plugs in the eartly 70s.
Once I knew that better cables meant better signal and better sound, I kept my eyes and ears open for any improvement coming down the road.

As I got into recording in the 70s, I started making my own cables using Mogami and Canare OFC (oxygen free copper) with Neutrik connectors. These sounded best to my ears and greatly improved my recordings.
Over the next few years I spent around $5k on outfitting my studio, and guitar & bass gig rigs with Canare GS6 and Mogami Star-Quad.

Then I heard the Monster SP1000 series. I did double blind tests with three other recording engineers and myself. In every instance, and on every test of every instrument and mic, the SP1000 was unanimously chosen. So I retired, sold or gave away most of the Canare and Mogami stash I had acquired and eventually bought 27 Monster SP1000s. My recordings got noticeably better, and all my tube amps just came alive. Btw, the other less expensive Monsters do not qualify as better sounding to my ears. They do compare to many mid-quality cables.

Then, on the recommendation of a very successful producer I know, I tried an Asterope.
I don’t know how they do it, but once again, to my educated ears, there was a significant improvement in every application. So, now I’ve been rewiring my studio with Asteropes, and it’s giving my recordings that extra quality that easily surpasses the SP1000s. And my live bass rig sounds just incredible! I’m also using the Asterope head-to-cab cables, which sounds like I removed a blanket from covering the speakers.

When making any decisions about audio equipment, I generally use just my ears. The quality of the sound is my principal concern. So I’m one of those who believe that it’s not what you pay, it’s the result you get that matters.

I also want to say that I don’t believe you can get a “vintage” guitar tone using a high quality cable. Vintage guitar tones were not created with good cables, and the better/best cables can sound “too clean”.
I still have a few noisy coil cords from the 60s and 70s when I want that vintage sound.

Look at pictures of Jimi Hendrix onstage and you can see a full-length coil cord from his guitar, between each pedal, and to the amps.

Rick Erdman
Rick Erdman

March 10, 2018

I have had the frustrating experience of cable failure at times over the years and learned my lesson. Investing (and it IS an investment) in quality cables is not as expensive as many people believe.

I now use tour grade cables which have excellent quality connectors, shielding, wires and heavy duty but still flexible outer shells. I am always careful to wrap all of them properly and keep them neat and untangled with hook and loop cable ties.

Better cables don’t have to cost $40 – $50 each. They can be had for as little as $17. In the grand scheme of things, around 20 bucks apiece is pretty cheap when you consider that they will outlast cheap cables by a factor of at least 5 times.

PW Lefter
PW Lefter

March 08, 2018

Cables are the most important piece of the performance system. Poor cables affect fidelity, power distribution, phasing aliasing, and most of all safety. One thing not mentioned that is becoming more important is digital transmissions. A bad Ethernet cable will stop the whole link between a digital snake and the board. Cleaning and protecting the ends of fiber optic cables are paramount to a building a reliable network. Learning to wrap and store cables is both a good practice and saves time and money. I’m still using XLR cables I bought 40 years ago. Respect your cables and you’ll be amazed how quick your setup and how effortless running sound for your gig will be.

Johny M
Johny M

March 08, 2018

Personally, I find some cables, Monster for instance, are to efficient. I take into consideration of the sound I’m trying to emulate. The old players in jazz, Jimi Hendrix, Uli J Roth, as example for rock, used what was available at their time. It seems to me, by using just plain old chords, still shielded naturally, as opposed to the super efficient newer “NASA approved” (lol) chords of today, I can get much closer to the “vintage” sound of my “idols”. But music as an art, is about what works for the artist. I just wanted to sound smart for a minute…..

Antonio Alcada
Antonio Alcada

March 06, 2018

I only use Neutrick brand jacks. It is better than anything i.ve seen! Because it is a monoblock unit , no parts come loose As far has cable i use Belden, sometimes Cordial, Sommer

Glenn
Glenn

March 06, 2018

Cables, or patch cords are the most overlooked piece of gear, That’s what I’ve come to notice anyhow. Guitar players are notorious for having poor to below average cables. They will spend thousands of dollars on a “boutique”, “custom shop”, or vintage guitar and invest $10 on their cables. It’s hard to believe, but I can’t count the times I’ve seen players use a cheap guitar cable to connect their amp to the speaker cabinet(s)!!! For my lightweight SS head I use a speakon style of connector to the speaker, This is a great thing you’ve pointed out and I hope many will learn from it. ….And don’t get me started on experienced players who still don’t know how to wrap a cable! A good cable will last a long time if wrapped correctly. Cables have “memory”, so to speak. Anyone can find several videos on youtube on how to wrap cables. Thanks to the good people at Carvin Amps & Audio we can get top quality at reasonable prices…. so there’s no excuse for using inferior gear and accessories.

Nick
Nick

March 06, 2018

As a electronic engineer, I can speak with some authority on this. Your title doesn’t match your article. Your article misses one of the most important qualities of a cable, and that is conductor quality. Very, cheap cables have thin conductors, if your cables are long this will degrade the signal.
But why should you buy the most expensive cable you can? To make yourself feel better, if spending money on expensive gear is your thing.

Durability, you can buy cables at modest prices that have 20 year guarantee. I have had some such cable for 18 years without issue, if I had they would have replaced them with new cables, but they aren’t giving 20 year guarantees on cables that are going to fail. Spend enough, but after a point your just paying for snake oil.

Flexibility doesn’t increase linearly with price, buy ones that are flexible enough, I’ve never encountered a cable that is too stiff or tangles after I’ve wound it. Learn to wind a cable for storage if you’re getting tangled cables. Being easier to untangle after you’ve wound you cable incorrectly isn’t a selling point and isn’t just down to flexibility, and these properties have little to do with price, just avoid the cheapest stuff.

Shielding, OK this is important, but good shielding is trivially easy to do and all but the poorest cables will be adequate. Once something is shielded correctly adding more shielding does nothing, You don’t need to spend a lot to get a well shielded cable

connectors. Yep you wan’t good ones, and ones that can be serviced. buy cables with a long guarantee, the’ll be god enough.

If you have to own the most expensive gear, go for it, but once you reach a certain point you’re not really adding anything. If you’re a touring musician for the likes of Alice cooper, who’s going to have 50 foot or more of cable with stage sets and props dragged around the stage your cable is laying on during the show, then maybe a really fat and flexible cable with a large cross section conductor, something a bit more than your normal cable is required. If you’re playing small clubs/bars just buy a decent cable it will do the job just as well.

“negligible difference in sound quality to most ears”, or spectrum analysers. The very cheapest cable will if they are long enough, copper wire is one of the first things they save money on. But once you’re in the realm of good cables only cork sniffers will tell the difference, but they’ll need to see what cable they’re hearing. Don’t believe me? put a signal generator at one end and a spectrum analyser at the other, put a chirp signal in one end and measure the frequency response at the other with a good quality cable, then swap it for a silly priced one ad do the same test. Any difference yo see will be a long way outside the audible spectrum. Put a cheap thin cable with moulded connectors, you’ll see some differences.

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