When it comes down to the microphone cable in our system, most of us would agree that their priority is relegated against the other items in the system. The mixer, monitors and the quality of microphone are painstakingly chosen within our budget, and rightly so of course. Is the choice of mic cable trivial then?
Everyone, or almost everyone, is generally vague in response to the question. The dominant attitude is that a cable is just a cable. The truth of it appears to be that the majority of musicians surprisingly don’t know there arse from there elbow when it comes to this.
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
Our intro is getting a bit heavy here, but price up the amount of cable you have. Is the cost trivial? Add up the price of the gear you have for the stage or studio. Is it trivial that all of that gear is potentially being compromised by the wire connecting it all together? It is at least worth having a look.
Budget vs. Premium Cables
A Google search for microphone cable will get results that will set you back anywhere from a couple of Euro to the lofty regions of €100. The cable price will reflect genuine improvement in various physical and technical aspects of the cable. All of these factors will reflect the reliability and the performance of the cable.
Which cable do I chose?
The answer is of course subjective, but here are some generally accepted guidelines:
- Don’t go cheap. The cheapest cables are generally manufactured with little regard. If they work at all you have been lucky, but they will not work for long. There are other reasons, but this is enough reason not to buy them.
- Don’t go for high cost cables. This is generally true for most musicians. Extremely high cost cable is absolutely superior, but for most of us, the benefits in performance are not justified by the price. If you have tons of cash, go for it.
The general rule of thumb we would advise is that a decent 6m microphone cable, suitable for most studios, should cost in the region of €20 – €25. The connectors should be Neutrik (there are a few others, Switchcraft etc) and the cable itself should be from a recognised brand or manufacturer.
Note: There are many cables on the market selling in this price range but are built using inferior brands. They look good, but that’s where any comparison ends.
Let us have a closer look at exactly why some microphone cables are superior, and why they cost what they cost. This requires a look at the cable structure.
Inside A Microphone Cable
The standard manufacture of two core balanced microphone cable has 5 parts:
- Two Conductors (+/-)
- Outer Jacket
- The 2 signal cores are generally copper and conduct the signal. They are independent due to their individual insulation .
- The insulated wires are twisted and covered with filler, which keeps the cable in shape and helps with handling and impact noise.
- The cores and filler are wrapped in the shielding which is essential for keeping external interference at bay.
- The outer jacket covers and protects the assembly and is important for handling qualities.
The Qualities of Premium Cables
At Cable For Musicians Ireland we build our premium custom cables using Sommer & Klotz balanced microphone cable and Neutrik connectors.
Our Sommer Cable range is our recommended cable choice when advising customers. We stock four grades of balanced cable with increasing degrees of performance.
The main manufacturing differences which determine our estimation of these cables are the following:
- Strand Count & Outer Jacket
- Impact Absorption
1. Strand Count & Outer Jacket
Examining the conducting core of Sommer mic cable (and all premium mic cables), you will see that each core is made up of fine lintz strands. The higher strand count is a factor in the handling (flexibility/coiling) of the cable, and plays a role in the durability and robustness of the cable. Premium cables have a high strand count and inferior cables have a low count. What exactly does this mean in real life?
Many musicians are in the habit of storing their cables tied up in knots, this is poor practice, but is a reality. With a premium high strand count cable the chances of this practice damaging/breaking the core are lower than it happening with an inferior cable. They are less likely to suffer core damage from normal stage rough and tumble.
Most musicians have experienced sticky plastic cables that are extremely annoying and messy. The outer jacket PVC quality determines this and it is obvious when the jacket is low quality. Sommer Cable is premium in all cases.
Premium cables with a high strand count handle much better than budget cables, keeping their shape on the stage or in the studio, and are subsequently less inclined to get messy. They are also much easier to coil uncoil and store.
Sommer SC-Stage 22 Highflex – PVC Jacket 6.4mm, Core Strands 28 x 0.10mm
Sommer SC-Club Series MKII – PVC Jacket 6.5mm, Core Strands 19 x 0.15mm
Sommer SC-Source MKII – PVC Jacket 6.5mm, Core Strands 128 x 0.05mm
Sommer SC-Primus – PVC Jacket 6.4mm, Core Strands 28 x 0.15mm
The design, materials and the wire density of the shielding give are good indicators of the level of cable quality . There are 2 main types of design used for shielding, spiral and braid. In isolation, braided shield is more effective but there are design considerations and additions that determine the overall shielding factor (100% being the most effective). Shielding is critical as it acts as a barrier to external interference, which can introduce noise and erode signal integrity. Important in busy electrical environments especially. Note shielding factors of 85% are the norm.
- braided shielding – Strands of braided copper create a lattice tunnel along the length of the cable, usually copper. Higher conductivity makes it more effective at removing unwanted interference, rarely found in budget cable. In higher grade braided cable the copper is oxygen free (OFC) and can be tin plated.
- serve shielding – Copper strands create a spiral tunnel along the cable. Less effective than braid, however the density of the stranding is usualy high in premium cables and low in budget cables.
Shielding in premium microphone cables usually incorporates aluminium fleece and foils to increase shield factor.
Shielding and shield factor on our Sommer Cable:
Sommer SC-Stage 22 Highflex – Copper Spiral 0.1mm Density, Shield 99%
Sommer SC-Club Series MKII – Copper Braided 0.15mm Density, Shield 95%
Sommer SC-Source MKII – Copper Spiral Tin Plated 0.1mm Density + Aluminium Fleece, Shielding 100%
Sommer SC-Primus -Copper Spiral Tin Plated 0.1mm Density + Metalic Fleece, Shielding 100%
4. Impact Absorption
During normal use on stage cables experience movement due to the activity of musicians and engineers. This movement can introduce unwanted signal.
Premium cables use fleece and cotton filler and this absorbs the unwanted interference. Budget cables are cheap for two reasons. They use less material and there is less time given to their manufacture. The absence of filler in a microphone cable is a sure sign that it budget cable.
There are several brands of connector that are generally accepted as professional and reliable in the music business. Neutrik are arguably top of this bracket of connectors. They rarely fail and most professional gear either uses Neutrik sockets, or is engineered intrinsically to Neutrik standards. The connectors are extremely robust and are constructed of materials that can stand the high temperatures reached during the soldering process. Neutrik on a cable is also a good indicator that the cable being used is a quality cable. We could go on all day about Neutrik, but a google search will proove the point to anyone.
Our Best Budget Mic Cable
Cable For musicians Ireland offer two budget ranges using Choseal and a generic XLR connector. Choseal is a decent compromise for Neutrik but our advice is always to choose the Neutrik cable. We don’t use inferior cable, even our generic XLR microphone cables use Sommer SC-Stage 22. The generic XLR cables we offer are of a similar standard to most cables on offer that do not use Neutrik. We offer this as there is a market for it, but do not recommend generic connectors for professionals, or anyone that depends on them critically.
Our recommended microphone cable in the our budget range is the Stage 22 on Neutrik. Relatively speaking this is vastly superior to the normal budget cable, and is on a par with many cables being sold as mid-range
Our Best Mid-Range Mic Cable
The Sommer Stage 22 and the Sommer Club MKII on Neutrik are very good mid-range microphone cables. We would recommend the Stage 22 for gigging and the Club for home recording, but there isn’t much between them in either environment