LIVE SOUND 101: CABLES
Cables are a vital part of a good live sound rig. The wrong cables can totally hold back the true sound of all the equipment you spent your hard earned money buying. Even worse, the wires can cause unnecessary noise and feedback, which at high volume can damage your speakers, amplifiers, and can even cause hearing loss. If you did not know, a speaker rarely overheats and melts due to too much watts being put in, , 99% of the time it is some type of distortion that come from either wires, power supply, or equipment. Not all equipment are built equally, there is a reason why certain brands cost more then others, most of the time you really get what you pay for. I can give you an example I had from experience. When I first started deejaying, I began with a Gemini Mixer. Then I later upgraded to a Stanton Mixer, a Vestex 05, and finally I bought the Rane TTM56. At first, I did not notice the difference until I played at a few shows. What I noticed is that the sound is much cleaner and louder. Even when I would redline my mixer, there would be very little distortion compared to other mixers. After this experience, I started to save my money and go for mid-level priced equipment. At low levels you cannot really tell the difference, but at high SPL, like at a club or show, you can tell if they have good equipment by the way things sound. So in short, buy the best possible equipment and wires that you can afford so you can get the highest possible headroom and avoid some unwanted feedback and/or distortion. This type of feedband and distortion usually is caused by a few factors:
1. Multiple Power Supply – usually there is a plug, 110v/220v, in the wall. These plugs cannot handle a full on load of multiple amplifiers correctly. If you can, plug them into multiple sockets that run on different circuit breakers. It won’t do you any good if you run different sockets on the same breaker. If you only have one source, like most underground bass music parties, you must have this next item…. 2. Power Conditioner and Voltmeter with lights and front plugs. For all audio applications, this is a necessary tool to have because it will save you from cooking your amplifiers by keeping the voltage stable and controlling any spikes in the electricity. I also like having the voltmeter so that I know how much volts is running. I also recommend buying one with a light in the front because usually it is dark in most places. This light has come in handy in more ways then you can imagine. And the final piece of advice for this is to get one with a front plug. This is especially good when you need to plug in something and not having to go into the back of your rack. When its dark, and you accidently pull out some cables because you are trying to plug something else in will kill your party. Especially know when deejays and artist use so many different types of mixing devices, you want to be able to plug and unplug equipment with confidence and knowing that you won’t pull something wrong. I have seen it happen and it is not a pretty sight. 3. Wire Connections – Always get gold plated, period! It will cost a little more, but that will be the last plug you will ever need. Gold does not rust or erode and the sound is true. The best metal for conducting audio. If you settle for the zinc/silver stuff, they are good too, but you will eventually replace them because they will go out on you from natural erosion. If you never move the wire, you can get away with non-gold plated wires, but if you want the best sound quality, save your money and get gold plated. What I did was go online and find a place that makes custom wiring. Sometimes they have extras from someone else who ordered them so you can get a really good deal on them. Also, use XLR cables if possible. XLR cables run a hotter signal, so your signal to noise ratio will be much higher, your sound will be cleaner, and less noise. Another way is if you feel comfortable making your own wires, you can get the best possible wires and connectors at a much better price then what they sell online. I made my own Neutrik (Speakon) speaker wires with 12ga wires. I bought a roll of 12ga speaker wires, 250ft, and made my own. This way, I can even custom the different lengths I need. For example, I needed 4 – 50ft cables, 2 – for the Left and Right Tops, and 2 – for the left and right subwoofers. If you are counting, that is 200ft already. Then I made 10 more wires, each are only 5ft long. These wires are to go from speaker to speaker so they do not need to be that long. And for speaker wire, use Speakon (Neutrik). There are two reasons for this, the first one is that it is much safer to use because you cannot pull it out once it is locked unless you twist and turn it. And second, you can run either a 2 pole or 4 pole speaker cable. This will save you money if you have the right amplifier because you can run 1 4 pole wire with both the subwoofer output and mids/tops output out of the same wire. Here is a diagram of what I am talking about. If you noticed, there are two sets of positive and negative wires. Newer amplifiers have the ability to run both your subs and tops off the same line. This will definitely save you money if you are running speakers at various distances in the venue you are doing sound in. Speaker cables can get expensive and most individuals who do sound as a hobby will probably choose to get mid to low range quality speaker cables because they are just too expensive. Which goes to my last bit of advice for wires. 4. Wire Gage – the size of wires are measured in gages, preferably the larger the gage, the better. I like to use the analogy of freeways since I live in Los Angeles, home of the 2 busiest freeways in the world, 101 and 405. Lets just say that wire gage is like the lanes on the freeway and cars are like amount of watts. The larger the freeway, the more cars can go through smoothly. The reason why I say smoothly because all wires, regardless of the gage, will conduct electricity up to a certain threshold. After that, the wire cannot conduct anymore, or will totally fail. This is not as vital with wires from your crossover to amplifier as it is from you amlifier to your speakers. A good size wire for your components should be 18 to 16 gage, while your speaker cables should be from 14 gage, 25ft or less, or 12 gage, over 25 ft.