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

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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

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