We’ve featured numerous articles over the years looking at both best practices and effective techniques with cabling and interconnect. This time out, however, we decided to do it a bit differently, reaching out to several veteran engineers and techs (many of whom are regular contributors to PSW/LSI) for their hard-earned tips, nuggets, and tidbits regarding cable care, use, storage, and more that they’ve cultivated over the years. Here are their responses.
Wrapping & Storage
Ethan Winer: The “right” way to wind up microphone cables for storage is always good for starting a fist fight. I prefer neatly rolled with no kinks, and for permanent installs I make sure both ends of every cable are clearly labeled.
Andy Coules: At one of the venues where I work, I noticed that the rectangular plastic crates used to store the XLR cables seemed to get thrown around a lot and ended up broken, usually around the bottom corners, so I sought a better solution. I found it at the hardware store in the form of a plasterers’ bucket – a strong and sturdy round bucket, which is perfect for storing and transporting coiled cables.
Chris Huff: Use electrical extension cord reels to store cables by length. This way, it’s easy to strike a stage and reconfigure it using the shortest cables necessary.
Andy Coules: I’ve always disliked the common practice of using electrical tape to secure cables – it’s wasteful, creates mess and results in the affliction of “gigfoot” (i.e., finding various bits of tape stuck to the bottom of your shoes). So I’ve gotten into the habit of always using reusable plastic cable ties. They’re an efficient and cheap way to keep all the cables tidy (a packet of 100 usually costs less than $10).
Mike Sokol: You’ve got to love the jargon in pro audio. For example: “Pigbag, Snake or Fanout.” What does that even mean? Most of us know that snake is a multi-channel cable typically with 6 to 48 channels,
and that a fan-out is the end with individual XLR connectors split out on separate wires, but about
pigbag? It’s a bag to cover the pigtails, those same fan-out XLR plugs (at least that’s my guess as to what the name is derived from).
We used Crown Royal bags back in the day, but now you can purchase an “official” Pigbag from Whirlwind to keep XLR connectors clean and dry even when they’re being dragged through the mud at an outdoor festival.
Jonah Altrove: Cable Wrapping 101 – Cables are made on big reels, so they naturally have a bit of curve to them. If you roll the cable between your thumb and forefingers as you wrap it, you will find it tends to wrap itself. If a cable has been improperly wrapped in the past, it can take a few “training” wraps before it starts to lay nicely. Avoid forcing turns into the cable; it will last longer.
Jonah Altrove: Cable Wrapping 201 – Although it has many detractors, I’m convinced that “over-under” or “the roadie wrap” is the ultimate wrap method. You start like a regular wrap, except every other wrap goes in the other direction and is placed behind the coil in your hand.
This method avoids ever putting a full turn in the cable, and it will unwrap smoothly when given a gentle toss or tug. No spirals!
What I’ve found is that the people who despise the over-under
method don’t do it correctly: if you don’t put the backward wraps behind the coil in your hand,
you’ll create knots every 3 feet
or so when you unwrap the cable. This is annoying, and it’s the
reason why a lot of people don’t
use this method. But once you get used to doing it right, it’s awesome.
Andy Coules: Multi-core and Cat-5/6 cable often come on a drum that can be unwound to provide the required length of cable for the job, and there’s an inexpensive way to apply the same technique to XLR cables. Just visit the garden department of the local hardware store and get a garden hose cable reel. From there, all that’s needed: attach the first cable, reel it in and then connect the next XLR – female to male – to the first cable and reel it in, continuing the process until there’s enough cable for the job. It’s a great way to neatly store and transport a large number of XLR cables quickly and easily.
Chris Huff: Mark cables for length by using colored tape on each plug or use a Sharpie to write the length on the tape (i.e., 10, 15, 25 feet, etc.).
Jonah Altrove: Don’t ever use the cable itself to tie off the finished wrap. This puts stress on the cable near the connectors, which we all know is the most common failure point as it is. Use cable ties or theatrical tie line. They’re cheap!