Making Cat5 Cables

I’ve done posts on making your own XLRs, 1/4” cables and Speakons. I’ve even shown you how to make your own BNC cables. But it occurred to me the other day that I’ve never done a post on making Cat5 cables. Honestly, I don’t like making Cat5 ends up. They’re very finicky and I find myself re-making them more often than I’d like. Part of it is the design of the connector itself, and part is just finding good parts. But even that is challenging. I was talking with a friend the other day who swears by the Cat5 ends at Home Depot. I’ve had nothing but problems with them. I bought some from TecNec a while back, and they came with a cool loading bar. I thought this would make it easier to terminate. And it did. Except almost none of them worked. 

But, as more and more of our jobs become networking, we need to know how to make a Cat5 cable. And for the purposes of this article, when I say Cat5, I mean Cat5e, Cat6 and probably Cat7. The process is the same, the components are different. So let’s get started.

Cut the Jacket Carefully

Sorry for the bad focus; the iPhone had a tough time with these...

Sorry for the bad focus; the iPhone had a tough time with these...

The jacket on category cable protects the four twisted pairs inside. When you cut it, be careful not cut too deep. The solid copper wire is fragile and if you score it, the conductor can easily break while you’re manipulating it. I like to run my blade over the jacket, then bend it at a 90° angle. This usually breaks the jacket and you can pull it off cleanly. 

Organize the Wires

Once the jacket is cut, splay the pairs out in the right order. This will be helpful as you untwist them and get them lined up in the right sequence. Once the pairs are ordered, untwist them and begin the straightening process. I like to take each wire and pull it through my fingers a few times to get it straightened out. As I do this, I start lining them up in order. 

Know Your Standards

Most of the time, we want to wire Cat5 cables using the USOC 568B standard. That means the wires will go in this order when you view the connector from the bottom (where the actual contacts are):

  • White/Orange
  • Orange
  • White/Green
  • Blue
  • White/Blue
  • Green
  • White/Brown
  • Brown

568A is similar, except it swaps the Orange and Green pairs. Most equipment will work fine with either, but when I ask manufacturers for recommendations, they usually suggest 568B. So that’s what I do unless the documentation specifically states otherwise. When you have the wires lined up right, it should look like this.

Cut To Length

Again, focus. Ugh...

Again, focus. Ugh...

Over the years, I’ve learned to strip the jacket a bit long, straighten the wire out and get it lined up, then cut it shorter to fit in the plug. It’s easier and it makes sure the wires are all the same length. You may have to experiment a little get a feel for how short to make your final cut. There’s probably a standard somewhere, but I eyeball it and it’s usually about 1/2” or so.

Insert the Wire Into the Plug

This is the hardest part of the job. There are little groves in the plug that the wire is supposed to slide into, but if you haven’t done a good job straightening the wire out, one wire may jump into the wrong groove and get out of order. So make sure you take your time, get the wires relaxed and going in the right direction. If you can’t take your fingers off them and have them stay in the right order, you’re going to have problems getting them in the plug. 

Make sure you push them all the way to the front. There are only two little IDC (Insulation Displacement Contacts) teeth on each connection, and you don’t want to miss them. Many a cable fails to work because one wire didn’t get in all the way. 

Crimp It Down

cat5-7.JPG

Once you’re all set, put the plug in the crimping tool and give it a good squeeze. I like the ratcheted crimpers because I know I’ve made a full press. But I’ve also used non-ratcheted ones for years and they work fine. Take the connector out and you should be all set. When you’re all done, visually inspect the end to make sure the wires stayed in the right order. It should look just like this one. After you do the other end, it’s best to test the cable with a two-part tester (assuming the ends are far away). You can find the testers almost anywhere at varying price points. 

 In case you’re wondering, this is a shielded connector, and we use those for video over Cat5. 

So that’s it. They’re not hard to make, just a bit of a pain. Personally, I’d rather make BNC cables all day long than a handful of Cat5 connectors, but that’s just me. The world is going Cat5, so we better know how to use it. 

“Gear

Today's post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

Cool New(ish) DiGiCo Features

I totally forgot I wanted to write a post about this. These aren’t necessarily the newest features of the DiGiCo SD series of consoles, but they are some pretty cool ones that I wanted to point out. The first one makes doing things like virtual soundcheck and personal mixing a lot easier. The second makes it easier to conserve faders on the surface during a big event. Both make a great console platform even better.

The Copy Audio Matrix

When it came to virtual soundcheck recording, one of the challenges we had with previous versions of the software was what to do with local inputs. The way we normally set things up was to copy MADI 1 to MADI 2. That essentially takes the inputs from MADI 1 and writes them directly out to MADI 2 without any processing. When we play back, we simply press “Listen to Copied Audio” and the inputs from the rack are replaced with the recorded copies. It worked great. Except for local inputs. 

Local inputs are on their own MADI bus. And you can’t copy two busses to the same destination. So we had to get creative and use Insert A out to write directly to MADI 2 so we could record those channels. But playback was a problem as we didn’t have gain tracking, and we had to re-patch the inputs. 

Enter the Copy Audio Matrix. With the Matrix, it’s now possible to copy any input to any other MADI bus. Take a look.

Copy 1.jpg

It looks unassuming enough, but when you start opening up the matrix, it gets interesting. For example, below you can see that for the most part, the copy is set up 1:1. That is MADI 1 (the Rack) is being copied to MADI 2. But look at Rack Input 16. There is no red square there. 

Copy 2.jpg

That simply means that channel is not copied over to MADI 2. In that case, we were doing some M+S mic’ing of the guitar cab, and I didn’t want the second mic in the IEMs. But I did want to record it. So I copied it to MADI 2:62. 

I set Reaper up to record both tracks, and when we played back, the console did all the work of re-assigning the inputs to the right channels. And how about those local inputs. We wanted to record all the tracks coming from ProPresenter. Those come in on local AES inputs on the back of the surface. Copy Audio to the rescue. 

I didn’t really care about the click, so I didn’t bother to copy it. But the rest of the channels would get recorded to Reaper and would be available for Virtual Soundcheck. Another note on this. If you’re familiar with DiGiCo, you’ll know they use a 56-channel MADI mode. Generally, you can’t use anything above 56 for anything. But in this same version of the software, they created a virtual 64-channel MADI device that you can “assign” to a MADI bus. In this case, I configured MADI 2 as a 64-channel device, which allows me to use all 64 channels in the RME MADIFace interface we use to record. So I can capture all 56 channels from the stage rack plus another 8 channels of local inputs. Cool.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Another challenge to mixing large events is managing all the faders. The SD8 has 36 faders on the surface (plus master), which is quite a few. But on a big event, they go quickly. Now, I can use VCAs to group channels together for a reduced fader count, and I do that sometimes. But when you want to condense a group of channels down to a single fader, but still have rapid access to all the channels in that group, you need a Multi. 

A Multi is just that, a group of multiple channels on one fader. You can select up to 11 channels (any or all of which can be mono or stereo) for a Multi. Why 11? I have no idea. Maybe they wanted to do 10, but decided it should go to 11. Anyway, those 11 channels get “Folded” into a single fader. When you move the fader, all the channels move relative to the level of the fader. So if you have 1 channel set at −10 and another set at unity, if you move the Multi fader up by 5 dB, your first channel is now at −5 and the second one is at +5. It’s like a VCA in that way, only the faders move.

But if you want to get in and change the levels, just press the Unfold button and the channels spill out on the surface. You now have complete access to all the channels. In this way, a Multi behaves sort of like a POP group in Midas land. Here is an example of a Multi folded, and unfolded.

Multi 2.jpg

I like to use them for things like Video because I’m often using different channels for different songs. Its easy to adjust the levels, set up a baseline, snapshot those levels then mix them all one fader. 

So those are some cool things DiGiCo is doing with their consoles. There’s a new software update with a few other features, but that will have to wait for another day.

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by Pivitec.Pivitec redefines the Personal Monitor Mixing System by offering components that are Flexible, Precise and Expandable. Ideal for any application from Touring and Live Production to fixed installation in theaters and Houses of Worship.

Four Years Later—DiGiCo SD8 & M-48s

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 1.48.34 PM.jpg

I was just over four years ago that we sent the PM-5D packing. I had been researching options for quite a while and initially decided on an Avid Profile and Avioms. But I decided to buck convention and go with a DiGiCo SD8 and Roland M-48 system. As I often do, I took a lot of flack for it. A lot of people told me I should go with Avid because DiGiCo’s were terribly unstable and crashed all the time. I really liked the DiGiCo interface however, and loved the flexibility of the system. So we went for it. Four years later, do I have any regrets? 

Nope. I’d do it Again

The dire predictions of constant crashes and major issues never materialized. In fact, I have personally mixed several hundred services on the desk and managed to crash it twice. Both times, audio continued to pass, and I finished the service on the remote. After both crashes, I had extensive conversations with DiGiCo. And, later updates have made the console even more stable. In fact, I don’t think it’s crashed once in the last 2-3 years. 

The M-48s have been outstanding as well. Once in a while, one will get a bit weird, and we have to reboot it, but overall, the musicians love the sound and I love the flexibility. It’s pretty rare that any of the musicians would ask for something in their mix that we couldn’t accommodate. I love that kind of power. And because of the extensive library system, it’s easy to access and use every week. 

Favorite Features

There’s a lot to like with the DiGiCo platform. First, it sounds great. And because it’s built on an incredibly powerful FPGA, they can add new features like De-Essers, Side-Chained Compressors and more Dynamic EQ and Multi-Band Comps with a simple software update. Those updates have always been free, by the way. I love that any channel can be made into a stereo channel by pressing a button; and we don’t lose channel count when we do that. The fact that we can create any combination of stereo and mono groups and auxes that we need—up to the 25 bus limit—has been incredibly helpful. I’ve done services with 10 stereo auxes, 10 stereo groups, 2 mono auxes and 3 mono groups and the desk isn’t even breathing hard. 

Then there are all the new features. A recent software update brought us the Copy Audio Matrix. This amazing feature makes it simple to route audio between MADI busses for recording, monitoring or just signal routing. I need to do a full post on that sometime. The Multi-Channel feature is also pretty cool. It allows one to fold a bunch of channels into a single fader that can be unfolded with a simple button press. As channel counts grow, it’s a great way to keep channels close at hand, while maximizing faders on the surface. 

With the M-48s, the ability to give each musician any combination of the 40 channels in 16 stereo groups has to be my favorite feature. It makes it easy for them to operate; they only have 16 levels to deal with. But through software, we can fine tune that mix to give them just what they need. And of course, they have a 3-band EQ, plus reverb available. The engineer’s monitor is a feature I helped develop, and it’s a great way to help a musician that’s struggling with their mix. We can listen in on the mix, tweak it and give it back to them without leaving FOH. 

What’s New?

If I were doing it again today, would I do anything different? Probably not. In the last four years, DiGiCo has continued to innovate, upgrade and develop new features and consoles. Avid came out with the S3. There have been a lot of new players in the personal mixer space, but for what we wanted to do, I don’t think there is anything that would work as well as the M-48s. The Pivitec system would probably be the closest to what we needed, especially since they now have a MADI to AVB bridge. That would take some more investigation. Speaking of which, I really need to demo that system…

Of course, Yamaha has made a big splash with the CL-series. And they are great consoles to be sure. They are arguably easier to teach volunteers how to use, but I think I would feel limited by the fixed architecture. The Dante integration is great, however. Then again, the times, they are a changing. So maybe a CL would be fine today. But if I had my choice, it would be DiGiCo all the way.

“Gear

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.