What to Think About When Purchasing an Audio Cable

When purchasing an audio cable, there are a few things you need to take into account. The most important factor is the type of audio signal you will be transmitting. There are microphone audio cables, instrument audio cables, and other types of audio cables designed for different applications. Each type of audio signal requires its own specific cable in order to ensure optimal sound quality. In this article, we will discuss the different types of audio signals and what to look for when purchasing an audio cable from Tone Vault Audio & Media.

Audio Cable wrapped around guitar

Balanced or Unbalanced Cables?

A single electrical signal is made up of three wires: a ground, a positive leg, and a negative leg. Both legs carry the same information but in opposite polarities. Any noise picked up along the route will generally be common to both legs. The receiving device will "flip" one signal and return the two signals to polarity if the destination is balanced. This causes the common noise to be out of phase with itself, eliminating it. Balanced wires are generally preferable for lengthy cable runs since they have a noise cancellation feature called "Common Mode Rejection." Balanced audio is sent from one balanced device to another using XLR and TRS cables.

Unbalanced cables are generally less complicated, but they're far more vulnerable to noise issues. Unbalanced lines should be kept as short as possible (ideally under 25 feet) to minimize any signal noise that might be carried into the connected equipment.

Audio Cable connector

Know Your Connectors

There are a variety of connectable cables in the audio arena, including TRS and XLR for balanced connections and others for unbalanced connections.

TRS (Tip, Ring, Sleeve)
These connections, which resemble a conventional 1/4″ or 1/8″ plug with an extra “ring” on the shaft, are known as TRS cables. TRS cables have two conductors and a ground (shield). These connectors are used to connect balanced equipment, as well as transmit both left and right mono audio signals to stereo headphones. TRS adapters are also available on the stems of Y cables. These are used on mixer insert jacks that utilize a single wire to transmit the signal and a separate wire to receive it.

XLR connectors are three-pin connectors, with positive, negative, and ground connections. They're typically used to send microphone or balanced line-level information. XLR cables connect microphones to mixers and various outputs to powered speakers in audio.

TS (Tip, Sleeve)
A TS connector is a type of 1/4" or 1/8" connector that is designed for 2-conductor, unbalanced usage. An insulator ring separates the tip and sleeve. The tip is generally regarded as the “hot” or signal-carrying portion of the cable, while the sleeve is where the ground or shield wire connects. Guitar and line-level instrument cables are perhaps most identified with TS connections.

Audio Cable cord with guitar

Cable Shielding

Cable shielding is an important consideration when purchasing an audio cable. It's designed to protect the signal from any outside interference and noise. Most shielded cables have a metal braid or foil around the insulation of the wires. This braiding helps to deflect any EMI (electromagnetic interference) and RFI (radio frequency interference). When selecting a cable, you'll want to choose one that has a good amount of shielding. The amount of shielding required will depend on the type of application you're using the cable for. For example, a microphone cable used in a live setting will need more shielding than one used in a studio setting.

Braided Shield

This is a cable shield that has copper strands around the center conductor. The number of strands and the rate at which they are applied can be changed to create different levels of coverage. The braided cable shield protects the center conductor from interference, even if it is flexed or bent around corners.

Spiral-Wrapped Shield

A spiral-wrapped shield is applied by wrapping a flat layer of copper strands around the center in a single direction. This shield is very flexible, providing very little restriction to the flexibility of the cable. Although its tensile strength is much less than that of a braid, the superior flexibility often makes it more desirable in real-world instrument applications.

Tone Vault has the experience to know why quality, performance, and longevity of cables are important as well as the demands needed for a great, “go-to” top-of-the-line product for all your professional project needs as well as live music applications. If you need help finding the perfect audio cable for your application, don't hesitate to reach out to us!