Welcome to Day 10 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

I worked for a few years as a salesman for Sweetwater Sound. (Check out my insider’s review here.) I was always fascinated by customers who would buy a really nice $1,500 microphone, then they would run it through a $6 cable.

I would constantly remind people that cables are the weakest link in your studio. Your system is only as good as its weakest link.

A whole rack of ridiculously expensive studio equipment isn’t nearly as effective with cheap cables.

I’m not here to sell you cables. Don’t worry. But I do want you to think about cabling, and make sure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot by using sub-par cabling.

Think about it.

Virtually everything in your studio connects to something else via a cable. Your entire mix (that mix you’ve been working on for hours) is traveling to your speakers on two little cables. Doesn’t make sense to ensure that these cables aren’t harming the signal at all?

That’s what you get with cheap cables.

The Cons

Here are the cons of using cheap cables:

  • Noise – Cheaper cables usually aren’t shielded very well, which makes them more prone to allowing noise into the audio signal.
  • Broken Connectors – The cheaper cables I’ve used tend to have weak connectors that break over time. For example, the cable starts to break away from the XLR connector on a mic cable.
  • Replacement Cost – While you may save a few bucks buying cheap cables, chances are you’ll have to replace those cables in a year or two. Then again in another year or two…then again….and again. Those costs can add up.
  • Cable Failure – Obviously, ALL cables are capable of failing, but if you’ve got cheaper cables, they’ll be more likely to fail…and more likely to fail in the middle of an important session.
  • Degraded Audio Quality – Some cheaper cables can actually take away a lot of the high and low end of your audio signals. Sometimes, simply switching cables causes everything to sound so much warmer and brighter.

The Pros

And here are some pros for getting good cables:

  • Low Noise – Better cables reduce the amount of noise that gets added to the recorded signal.
  • Stable Connectors – Good cables will usually have metal connectors rather than molded plastic, which tend to last a LOT longer.
  • Lifetime Warranty – Good cables (like ProCo and Monster) include a lifetime warranty. If the cable fails tomorrow or 10 years from now, they’ll replace it. You only have to buy the cable once. Once you stock your studio with a good batch of cables, you’ll never have to buy them again. That’s awesome.
  • Thicker Wire – Good cables are usually a good bit thicker than their cheaper counterparts. This keeps them from bending, kinking, and helps them last longer, especially if you’re constantly wrapping/unwrapping them.

Day 10 Challenge

Your challenge today is to take a look at your cables. Are you cutting corners? Let us know by leaving a comment. If you are, let us know what you’re going to do about it.

  • I have learned this the hard way by buying cheap cables in bulk. It’s not even cheaper because you’ll need an increased maintenance to keep the culprits working.

    The final price came out more expensive after replenishing most cracking (corroding!) cables, instead of when I would buy the quality variant. The plugs are often the first to fail by cracking and automagically loosing connections. Even the cheapo digital fiber-optic cables have a clear difference in quality by rigidness and wear at the plastic. Not the first time I had to pry out the remainder of the digital plastic piece still sticking in the audioport.

    My best advice is to stay away from Bandridge and DAP budget cables. Cordial has never caused any problems and the DAP high-end cables are considerably better in quality. Contact spray has been a blessing for those analog cables not replaced (yet) to keep them clean.

    I’ve yet still have to see and hear the major difference in quality between monster cables and the high-end line of DAP or any other cheaper brand. I’ve sticked with only two of those expensive cables where their brand is truely fixed in the price 😉

    • GREAT points. The cheapest option is almost never a good option. 🙂

  • Mike

    In the time since the comment by Bfunk1978 was posted, Moniprice has started selling 1/4″ and XLR cables. I haven’t tried the XLRs yet, but the 1/4″ ones are very solid. Thick, well shielded, not noisy at all. Not everything at Monoprice is great, but these seem to be worth a look for the price.

  • Bfunk1978

    How do I know if I’m cutting corners? My XLR cables are all LiveWire cables I got at Guitar Center, and they all cost something around $1/foot (they’re all 15 feet and they cost me around $15). My monitor cables from my interface are Hosa TRS cables. My instrument cables are LiveWire also. I’ve had all this stuff a little over a year, and to me it all still sounds fine.

    I’m not a big fan of $100 cables like those that Monster is famous for. My home electronics are all fitted with cables I got from Monoprice, but Monoprice doesn’t sell XLR cables or TRS/instrument cables.

    • It’s hard to say for sure. I’m hopefully gonna do a shoot-out sometime soon that will help you hear the difference. The LiveWire’s are probably okay. Not sure about the Hosas.

  • JasonC

    Joe et al: Would anyone care to ring-in on the audio quality of Hosa cables? I have been content with a pair of 6′ Hosa TRS 1/4″ for my powered monitors (Event), but this is a short distance. I’m extending this to 15′-20′. The Pro Cos are tempting, but I can get more stuff for my budget* by purchasing Hosa. Any thoughts or experiences?
    JasonC
    * Baby on the way.

    • Matt

      I had used Hosa cables when I very first started out. At the time, I didn’t think anything sounded bad about them but, when I changed all my cables to Pro Co and Monster, I did hear a difference that I thought was worth the extra cost. I don’t want to sound like I’m reviewing wine but, once I got the other cables, my music had more “depth” to it and better “imaging” overall.

      I hope this helps some.
      ~matt

  • Arjun

    Joe,
    You were actually my Sweetwater rep a few years back. I remember speaking to you over the phone. Great customer service!

    Anyway, when I was in audio engineering school, 9 times out of 10, when we were running a session and we had noise issues, or no sound, it was not because of electronics or because someone forgot to hit the phantom power button on the console. It was we had bad cables and we started learning to check them first by either swapping them out, or checking them with a tester, since so many students used and battered them daily.

    Since then, I have had great success with Mogami Silver Series XLR cables. I have a couple of those (although it would be nice to have more) and a couple of “Performance” and “Live Wire” cables that really do not do the job right. I hope to invest in more Mogami cables when funds allow.

  • Has anyone heard of or have used Mogami Cables?

    If so what do you think?

    • Phil Harmon

      I have Mogami’s XLR’s. I also have some Monsters and a no-name XLR that I bought while in school. First, it is amazing the amount of signal & high/low frequency loss with the no-name cable. Totally noticeable to a novice in my opinion. The Mogami’s and Monster’s are a Ford versus Chevy issue in my opinion. However, I will admit that sometimes the Mogami’s sound clearer to me. That may a mental issue due to the price I paid for them or possibly the more sophisticated looking connectors!

  • Edith Ballistics

    I’ve been making my own cables with Canare L-T2TS and Neutrik XLRs and balanced 1/4″s for years (including Canare GS-6 for unbalanced live cables that have been used on hundreds of gigs), and have NEVER had a failed cable. They are excellent, and excellent value. However, since I am getting a great new mic (Mojave MA-200) and preamp (Universal Audio LA-610 Mk II), I am buying a couple of Monster Cable SP1000 mic cables to use in that part of the signal chain. When I have a chance to A/B them, I will submit my thoughts on whether the $120 cables sound remarkably different than the ones I can build for $20

    • Matt

      Edith,
      I’d love to know what you find out when you have the chance to A/B your cables against the Monster cables.
      Best wishes for all you do!
      ~matt

  • Anybody ever use George L’s in their studio? I have some that I bought for my guitar pedalboard and wondered if it’d be good for use in the studio.

    • Phil Harmon

      Have them, use them, love them. George L’s all the way!

  • Frank Adrian

    The only thing I’d add is that cables used to transmit analog signals are a much different game than cables that pass a digital signal. Analog signals can be horribly dulled by distributed inductance and capacitance along the cable – you absolutely have to do as well as you can here.

    Digital signals? Not so much. Even if you do get a bit of signal distortion, a quick pass through the input circuitry of any digital system should clean that right up. So, although you should look for good durability and shielding, unless you’re running digital signals for long distances, you don’t need quite as high quality.

    So, if you have to choose, save your cheap cables for digital signals.

  • Matt

    I’m very thankful that my Sweetwater guy (Chris Lewis) steered me in the right direction from the start. I’m fortunate to have all balanced TRS cables made by Pro Co in my system. I also have a few Monster cables for my bass and for the electric guitar.

  • Everett Meloy

    I am using Monster cables but will look into Pro Co, thanks for the tip.

  • Kyle

    I agree with making your own cables. With a little soldering practice and some know how, you can make excellent quality cables that will last you a life time. I got some Belden 8412 cable and Neutrik NC3FX and NC3MX ends and spent a Saturday making 10, 25 and 50 ft lengths. I think you could drive a truck over that 8412 cable and it would still survive.

  • Good Points Joe. I learned the hard way with one of my headphone extensions. Long story short, don’t buy anything from RadioShack for your studio. 🙂

    I also learned something from another post recently of yours regarding external hard drives. I’m using a USB cable for my hard drive (which isn’t 7200 rpm) and have wondered why I’m getting errors!? So, thanks for that. Glyph HD and a firewire cable is on order. 🙂

  • Matt Needham

    Joe – I was unaware of the lifetime warranties on Pro Co cables. I would much rather spend $20 for a high quality cable cable I may end up replacing 4 times at $8 a pop with lower quality. Thanks for the tip!

  • Preshan

    I checked out my cables and my monitor cables are my best ones. Everything else (mic cables, line cables etc.) are not great. I could use some upgrades. 🙂

    One thing I’d like to mention is if you’re using a USB interface (I’ve got an Mbox), a good USB cable makes a definite difference. I bought a pro USB cable to replace the stock one and immediately noticed less noise and “crackle”.

    • That’s good to know. I’ve never tried that.

    • Phil Harmon

      A quality USB or FireWire cable is a must!

      • Where would one shop for a pro quality USB or FireWire cable?

    • Gabor

      The only thing travelling through through the USB cable is 0s and 1s. The whole point in digital audio is that if the connection is there, it will be the same audio quality.

      • Gabor

        Second thought – if the preamplifiers in the USB interface are powered by USB cable and not external power, than it makes sense!

        • Yeah, I’ve found that USB interfaces can have more noise and hum due to the bus power. A better cable that keeps the power shielded from all the audio connections on the interface can make a difference.

  • I bought one Mogami cable just to try and the quality difference from cheap cable is obvious. I found some quality bulk cable that the price is a little lower than Mogami and ordered it. The brand is Canare. Do a search and you’ll find great reviews on it. The cable seems to roll up easier than Mogami and feels just as rugged. I got 100 ft of cable and 8 pairs of Neutruk connectors for right at a hundred bucks. That works out to around 15 dollars for a ten foot quality quad cable with gold Neutrik connectors. If you can solder and don’t mind an evening of it you can save a ton.

  • Alex

    I know I’ve been guilty in the past of buying cheap cables, but anymore I’ve taken to soldering and have been making my own cables. Sure the first few attempts didn’t yeild the boutique quality that I was going for, but now I think I can make a pretty nice cable for a fraction of the cost…plus I think its fun, but I’m a nerd, so maybe it isn’t.

  • I just took a closer look at my cables 3 days ago after the connector thingy inside the molded XLR end came out.

    I LOL when I read what you wrote.

    I told my wife we need new cables.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for good brands of XLR and 1/4 inch cables?

    • aLf

      I´m also making my own cables since years and use Sommercable in combination with Neutrik – both XLR, guitar-and patchcables.
      You can buy the stuff for a good price by Ebay, doing the soldering at home and then you´re done! It isn´t that difficult.

    • Monster’s are great, but I also love Pro Co. Pro Co is more reasonably priced, and they come with a lifetime warranty.

  • Christopher w

    good cables also feel… lush. unfortunately for me and most other little home studio owners good equipment costs a lot more than the £5 cheap stuff and money is probably the biggest deciding factors in purchase (if only in the short run).

    I didn’t know there was such thing as a lifetime warranty on cables. adapters and electrical plugs, yes, but not cables. something to think about when I need a new cable.

  • I’m making do with some Planet Waves cables – luckily I only ever need to connect one mic or guitar at a time, so my meagre cable collection is sufficient.

    I do plan on buying a spool of balanced cable and a whole bunch of Neutrik connectors and just making a ton of cables at one point! I think it works out cheaper, and I can make the lengths and connection combinations suit whatever needs I have at the time.

  • Bob Sorace

    Guilty as charged, I’ve got some cheapo cables. But I did go out and buy a Monster mic cable about a year ago and wouldn’t you know it, it’s noisier than my cheap cables! I know I got a bad cable and they will replace it, but it is a little ironic.
    It’s funny because that Monster cable lead me to getting my BX5a’, I was convinced it was my logitech 2.1 speakers I was using at the time that was causing the noise. It couldn’t be my new Monster cable, I looked at everything, including my other cables, everything but the Monster cable. So after persuading my wife that I couldn’t move forward without new monitors, I placed the order. Still there, stupid Monster cable!

    At least I got a pair of nice monitors out of it!

    • Jim Anderson

      I also had bad results with my first Monster Cable. The retailer replaced it with no questions, but still, it was a poor introduction to high quality cables.