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All Wrapped Up: A Treasure Trove Of Advice About Cable & Interconnect

Veteran engineers and techs offer hard-earned tips, nuggets, and tidbits regarding cable care, use, storage, and more that they've cultivated over the years.
Here's a example of what can happen when best cabling practices aren't followed. Thanks to Carl Stewart for the image!

Safety & Troubleshooting

Erik Matlock: When troubleshooting a line and determining that the cable is the issue, I highly recommend cutting one end off. Drastic? Maybe. But as long as that cable looks OK, there’s risk of it being used again. This way it won’t get used again until it’s repaired. Make a spot for damaged cables and drop it there. When there’s time, sit down, get comfortable, and go through the pile. Once it tests good, it can go back into inventory.

Craig Leerman: Make sure electrical power is off before connecting or disconnecting power and/or feeder cables. And speaking of feeders, always connect ground wires first, then neutral wires, and finally, hot legs. Disconnect in reverse order (hot legs, neutral, ground).

Stage Wiring & Tidy Work

Leave some slack for monitors. By the way, this is a portion of the stage monitor setup for George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at the 2016 Umbria Jazz festival, with Reference Laboratory providing the sound reinforcement. (Credit: Reference Laboratory)

Mike Sokol: This is my favorite one since it’s gotten me several free
beers over the years. Instead of wrapping a loudspeaker cable
about the stand in a circular motion, simply let the cable drape and pull
the center of it around the stand.
The result is super-simple to
unwrap during strike, saving at
least a few seconds at each stand, which adds up to being finished at least a few minutes earlier for the load-out. And that means you can enjoy a post-gig beer a little earlier,
and hence, I have named it the “beer-wrap.”

Ales Stefancic: I have a pet peeve about winding the microphone cable around the stand several times to “make it look neat.” If there’s a mic on a stand, connect the XLR cable to the mic and let it fall freely to the ground on the side of the mic boom adjustment knob, coiling the remaining cable neatly beside the mic stand legs. Then take the cable and go behind the boom, bringing it around on the underside of the boom and securing it on the mic boom adjustment knob. The cable is neatly tucked away, embracing the boom stand, and when the artist decides to take the mic off the stand, they can do so quickly and gracefully.

One of these can come in very handy.

Karrie Keyes: Label everything – stage boxes, mic cables, microphones – on
each end. Detailed
and accurate input
lists should be available for all departments.

Andy Coules: If you’re not aware of the Gaff Gun, you should be. It’s a most excellent way to tape down cables quickly while saving strain on your knees and back.

Craig Leerman: With stage monitors, make sure that there’s enough cable slack to move the wedges after they’re positioned because changes are the norm. We route the monitor cables around the perimeter of the stage so the cables aren’t running across the performance area, minimizing trip hazards.

Craig Leerman: Unless all stage inputs plug directly into the console or a single stage box, we make a patch list of all inputs. It contains the input name, sub snake channel, main snake or stage box channel, and FOH and monitor console channels. On multi-act gigs, a patch list can be the difference between chaotic and organized set changeovers.

Chris Huff: Be sure to always carry/have available at least one spare cable in a couple of types (instrument, XLR, etc.) and lengths.

The Rapco Horizon AC-Audio Composite includes an XLR connector/cable as well as an IEC-to-Edison connector/cable.

Craig Leerman: Powered loudspeakers eliminate some cabling needs, but they
still need both AC power and signal connections to operate. However, several manufacturers have developed alternatives. For example, Rapco Horizon offers the AC-Audio Composite with an XLR connector/cable for signal and an IEC-to-Edison connector/cable for power in a
single jacket. This means just one cable
run, and particularly with powered
monitors, it can result in a cleaner, less cluttered stage.

Karrie Keyes: Keep cables clean and well repaired. Immediately pull and mark bad cables as found. Repair as soon as possible or get rid of them. And at down times, test cables, stage boxes and snakes with a Whirlwind Q Box or Sound Tools.

Craig Leerman: Have a few different lengths of signal input cables to work with in order to reduce clutter. My company stocks lengths of 6, 15, 30, and 50 feet, and to make it easy to grab the right-sized cable at a show, colored heat shrink indicates the length of each one. We also only mark the male end so there are no colors at the mic end that would draw attention to the cable, especially when on camera. With larger diameter loudspeaker and power cables, there’s enough room to label them with their actual lengths.

And One For The Road…

Mike Sokol: XLR cables only go one way, with microphones having outputs and preamps having inputs. And there are outputs on the console that feed inputs on the loudspeakers or power amplifiers, and so on. But how do we remember which way is which without looking?

Here’s a simple way to think about it: the pins always point in the direction of signal flow. So if the XLR jack or plug is an output, it’s a male connector, and the pins will be pointing outward. And if it’s a female input connector, the pins will point inward.

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