AN AUDIO CABLE ASSEMBLY system has so many cables and connectors; it’s easy to become confused. What plugs into what? This article will help you sort out the various types of audio cables and connectors.

Cables are assemblies of wires. They carry electric signals from one audio component to another. Connector’s link together to form a temporary path for the signal to flow from one component to another.  

CABLE CONSTRUCTION Audio cables are usually made of one or two insulated conductors (wires) surrounded by a wire-mesh shield which reduces hum.


A cable carries one of these four signal levels or voltages: · Mic level is a weak signal. A microphone puts out a Mic-level signal. It’s typically about 2 mill volts or .002 volt. · Instrument level is a fairly weak signal. An electric guitar or synth puts out an instrument-level signal. It’s about 50 mill volts, or .050 volt. · Line level is a moderately strong signal. An electronic device puts out a line level signal. Some electronic devices are a mixer, recorder, effects device, and a Mic preamp Geek speak: In unbalanced equipment, line level is 0.316 volt (also called – 10 d BV). In balanced equipment, line level is 1.23 volts (also called +4 d Bu). · Speaker level is a strong signal. A power amplifier produces a speaker-level signal. It’s about 1 to 1000 watts, or about 3 to 90 volts.


Some connectors are part of cables; they are called Audio cable Assembly. Other connectors are built into equipment chassis; they are called chassis connectors. Audio Cable Assembly mate with (plug into) chassis connectors.

The 1/4-inch phone plug (Fig. A) is used to connect unbalanced line-level or instrument-level signals. This plug is part of a cable used with guitar amps, mixers, electric keyboards, electric guitars, and some power amplifiers. A guitar cord has a phone plug on each end. The tip of the plug is soldered to the cable’s center conductor; the sleeve or long cylinder is soldered to the cable shield.


(Figure A) Phone Plug In


Cables are classified according to their function. In any Audio Cable Assembly system you’ll see several types of cables. Here are the most common in


  • Mic cable:This is usually a female XLR to a male XLR. Between the connectors is a

2-conductor shielded cable. This type of cable is used to connect microphones to a mixer or Mic preamp. It’s also used to connect professional balanced equipment together to pass line-level signals.

  • Snake:This is a metal box with multiple female XLRs, wired to a thick multi conductor cable, wired to several male XLRs. A snake carries several Mic signals from the stage to the mixer.
  • Guitar cord:This is a phone plug to phone plug cable. In between the plugs is a 1-conductor shielded cable. It’s used with an electric guitar, acoustic guitar pickup, electric bass, or electronic keyboard.
  • Speaker cable: This cable connects a power amplifier to loudspeakers. A typical assembly is banana plug to banana plug with a 2-wire lamp cord between them (Fig. 17). Or, each end of the cable might have a Speak on connector, phone plug or bare wires.
  • Unbalanced patch cord (mono patch cord): This is a phone-to-phone cable with a 1-conductor shielded cable (Fig. 18).That’s the same as a guitar cord. It’s used to connect unbalanced equipment together. For example, patch cords can connect a mixer to external devices such as an effects unit, recorder, equalizer, power amplifier, etc

Balanced patch cord (stereo patch cord): stereo phone to stereo phone (Fig. 20). Also called TRS to TRS. There’s a 2-conductor shielded cable between the plugs. It can be used to connect balanced equipment together.


Figure 1 (Balanced patch cord)

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