Audio cables transmit electrical signals from one component to another without disrupting the sound. They look simple, but once you start shopping for them you realise that they vary significantly in price, quality, and purpose. Quality audio cables provide better sound, therefore making a musician's performance just as he or she wants.
Types of Audio Cables by Function
Audio cables are divided into four basic categories: instrument cables, patch cables, speaker cables, and microphone cables. It is important that you determine which type you need. Instrument cables, as the name indicates, connect an electronic instrument such as a guitar, bass, or keyboard to its amplifier. It has shielding that serves as a ground and a positive wire. Patch cables are commonly used in recording setups, and are quite similar to instrument cables, but they can be balanced and have different types of connectors as well. Microphone cables are shielded and balanced cables most commonly used as long patched cables linking a powered speaker with your mixing board. Finally, speaker cables are two wired cables that are unshielded and are of a much greater gauge than other cables. These audio cables need bigger wires in order to carry much higher voltage signals.
All audio cables with the exception of speaker wires are shielded so as to prevent interference with the sound. When you hear radio chatter from your amplifier, it is caused by bad shielding. A quality shielding blocks interference and may even be used as a ground. The most common type of shielding is a braided shield. This kind of shielding is flexible, durable and effective. Onstage equipment gets bent, stepped on, and pulled and that is where braided shield is useful. Less used types of shields are serve shields and foil shields. Serve shields are even more flexible than braided shields but they provide lower strength. Foil shields are usually pretty cheap, however they do provide solid quality. The only problem is that these shields are fragile and are likely to be damaged on onstage shows.
Types of Audio Cable Connectors
There are six types of cable connectors most commonly used when it comes to live sound applications. For a balanced connection, TRS and XLR are the most popular, and for the unbalanced connection TS, RCA, banana plugs, and Speakon are normally used. TS connectors are the most common connectors used on unbalanced cables, instrument cables, and speaker cables. TRS connectors connect balanced cables, stereo, and can even serve as a jack for in and out signal flow. Banana plugs are popular because the wires are not soldered, while Speakon connectors can lock, unlike banana plugs or phone jacks.