1. Technology

Does Cable Quality Matter?

Yes... and no.


I'm sure you've had it happen to you at your favorite electronics retailer. You're buying something simple, and somewhere between the extended warranty speech and the handing over of the mile-long receipt (note to electronics retailers... what's up, seriously?), the subject is brought up: "Your standard cables are fine, but, if you REALLY want it to sound good..." And you're thinking, seriously? $250 for a patch cable?

As a recording engineer, you'll get the same story when you're looking into microphone and speaker cable. Does it really matter? Well... yes, it does. When you're recording, you should always be mindful of ways to make your source shine better in your finished product, and cables are often overlooked.

What's in a cable?

True, there's not a huge fundamental difference in how cable works from the cheap to the expensive. There isn't some magic formula; it's more about the materials that go into the cables, and the level of craftsmanship.

One of the things to look for is good shielding. Most cables use a foil shield, which works very well, but is also prone to internal cracking, which will allow interference. The quality of the metal in the cable makes a huge difference, too. Higher quality means better transmission.

Where To Upgrade

In your home studio, you'll likely have two very important connections. Your microphones to your recording device, and your recording device to your monitors. Those are two very crucial connections, and if possible, you should use the best quality cable you can afford.

Microphones output a very low signal by nature. Using a really high quality cable on your mic connection will allow the best of a bad situation: your low-output mic will give you better definition, more robust frequency extremes (better lows and more highs), and most importantly, remain even truer to the source. This is especially evident when recording acoustic guitars and vocals. If you can only afford a few good cables, keep them around for these purposes, and keep the cheap, generic ones for use on extras like drums and electric guitar amps.

Your monitoring system, as long as it's reasonably accurate, will also benefit greatly from higher quality cables. The same theory holds true in reverse -- monitoring at high quality will allow you to mix the best possible.

But what about digital cable?

Believe it or not? Yes! I've found that better quality digital (S/PDIF coax or optical and ADAT optical) sound slightly tighter and are less prone to digital hiccups and errors with better quality cable. I found this out the hard way -- I was, in a moment of desperation, using one half of an old RCA cable between my satellite system and my surround processor. Imagine my surprise when replacing the makeshift cable with a high-quality one! Better low end, much less jitter, and far fewer digital artifacts.
Related Video
High-Speed Internet - Cable Versus DSL

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.