Studio Diary #10: Cables – Build Or Buy?

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

With so many extra cables needed for the studio revamp, I’ve had some choices to make.

  • When do I just use standard-length, off-the-shelf cables?
  • When do I get cables made up to a specific length?
  • When do I make my own cables?

Here’s what I’ve decided, and my thinking behind each choice. It’s too soon for me to say whether or not I’ve made good choices 🙂

Off-The-Shelf Cables

I’ve decided to use off-the-shelf cables whenever I have a longer cable run:

  • Instrument to the pedal board
  • Stereo run from the pedal board to the patchbay
  • Stereo run from the patchbay to the pedalboard and back again for pedals in the FX loop
  • Cables out to the amp inputs and the amps FX loops
  • XLR cables from mics and my acoustic amp into the patchbay

All of these are longer cables to make things as flexible as possible. They don’t need to be secured and tidy; they need to reach to wherever I need to run them, and they need to have a bit of spare play in them in case I move amps or mics around in the room.

I’m going with off-the-shelf cables because they offer the best quality / price ratio. They’re going to be very reliable, while also being cheaper-per-metre than any made-to-length cables.

Made-To-Measure Cables

I’ve decided to use made-to-measure cables (made for me by my local store!) for the XLR cable runs inside the rack. They’re going to go between various items in the rack and the XLR patchbay.

This is a home setup, and that means I’ve battling the noise that inevitably comes from a dirty domestic electricity supply and everything else that’s plugged into the same ring main. Rightly or wrongly, I understand that having a rats-nest of cables inside the rack will only make the noise problems worse. That’d make the whole thing unusable.

The cables need to be corralled and routed away from the power cables.

Off-the-shelf cables are much cheaper, but they’re either too short for my setup, or they’re too long and would end up cluttering up the back with extra cable loops that I just don’t need.

It seemed like a false economy to go with off-the-shelf cables here. I have spent more than I needed to, because I got extra cables made. If any of the cables fail for any reason, I’ve got spares to hand. And if I get add any extra gear – or simply decide to change how I’ve got my existing gear cabled up – I’ve already got the cables I need to get up and running.

Self-Made Cables

I’m going with self-made TRS cables for everything else.

  • Patch cables for the pedals
  • All the inputs and outputs between the patchbay and the various bits of gear in the studio rack

I’ve already got a lot of the old Planet Waves / D’Addario solderless cable kits that I can reuse from the old monster pedal board I used to have.

It looks like they’re gradually discontinuing this stuff; I had to resort to eBay to find more cable for the connectors, and at the time of writing this, I’m not sure if the spare connectors I’m after are going to come back in stock or not.

There’s a few reasons why I’ve gone with this rather than the made-to-measure route:

  • It is a bit cheaper, because I can reuse the Planet Waves / D’addario connectors I already have.
  • Most of these cables are going to be odd lengths, and that’s really hard to measure accurately enough to place an order.
  • Made-to-measure TRS cables often come with the larger Neutrik connectors, which are too fat to fit into the available space behind the patchbay.

These will be the majority of the cables at the back of the rack. I need them to be as neat and tidy as possible, both to keep the noise down and to avoid creating a complete rats-nest.

Making my own cables seems to be the best way to achieve this.

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