Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Getting Connected

This post is a response to reader requests. Justin Geogehgan thought it would be fun to do a post about which connectors I like to use when, and Duke Dejong really wants to start a debate about this (though he says he doesn’t), so I thought I’d kick it off.

All of this came out of a Twitter thread asking about different cable/connector assemblies and whether to buy or build your own. Personally, I prefer to build my own. In fact, I did a whole series about how to build your own cables a few years ago if you’re interested. I like to build cables because I get exactly what I want, both in terms of cable and connectors, plus I can make them to the exact length needed, and even do custom configurations.

For example, we just built some cables for our percussion mic’ing set up. We have two shorter (10’ or so) cables with right angle XLRs on the mic end and regular XLRs on the snake end for the congas, and a slightly longer 15’ cable with a right angle XLR on the mic end for the overhead mic. I could have ordered those from someone, but it was just as easy to make them.

Dave Stagl pointed out that when you factor in labor, it’s probably cheaper to just buy them, and he’s probably right. However, if I’m in production mode and really cranking out a bunch of cables, I can build a lot of them in an hour. While I really prefer to make my own, I’m not dogmatic about this. If you buy cables, I won’t think less of you. If you want to build them, here is my list of favorite connectors.

XLRs

Neutrik NC3-FX

I’ve long been a fan of the Neutrik NC3 series. They are well made, and last seemingly forever. I’m sure I’ve soldered hundreds of them over the years. The only thing I don’t like about them is the four-piece design. Wrangling those four pieces is not a big deal if you’re doing a few ends, but when you need to re-end a snake or build a custom harness, it’s a lot of extra parts to handle. So I’ve recently made a switch.

Switchcraft AAA3MZ

My current go-to XLR is the new Switchcraft AAA series. They are just two pieces and go together really quickly. Many of us have a bad taste in our mouths regarding Switchcraft XLR connectors, recalling the old silver ones with rubber strain reliefs. Those fail on a incredibly regular basis, and I take them off when they do. However, having used the AAAs for the last 3 years without a failure, I feel pretty good about continuing to use them. 

Neutrik NC3FRX-B

When it comes to right-angle XLRs however, I go back to Neutrik. We’ve actually switched a lot of our stage cables to RA plugs. The entire drum kit is now RA, as is the aforementioned percussion set up. I find this keeps the cabling a lot neater, and makes it easier to keep the tom mics close without the cable getting caught up in the cymbals.

1/4”

Switchcraft 280

For the standard phone plugs, I’ve long used the Switchcraft 280 (TS) and 297 (TRS). Sometimes I’ll use Neutrik, but honestly, I hate the solder cups on the Neutriks. The 297 and 280 are a bit of a pain to terminate, but once you get used to it, you can fly through them. Both of those plugs are nickel; and I’ve not had many problems with them. 

Neutrik NP3RX-B

When it comes to RA plugs, I do have to go back to Neutrik. Switchcraft makes them, but I don’t like them. In fact, I’m getting ready to make some guitar cables for my daughter; two for the guitar to tuner connection that will have an RA plug on the guitar end, a straight connector on the tuner end and be about 10’ long. I’ll make two more 2.5’ cables with straight plugs on both ends to connect the tuner to DI. Those are all going to be Neutriks (for visual consistency; black with gold plated ends). 

The material cost for those cables (with shipping) was about $57. Could we have gotten a better deal at guitar center? Maybe, but I know these will be made well and won’t fail for a long time, if ever. And I get exactly what I want. 

RCA

Switchcraft 3502AAU

Sometimes we still have to use RCA plugs (grrr…). When I do, I reach for the Switchraft 3502. Just be careful to not apply too much heat to the center terminal when soldering or you’ll melt the insulation. Don’t ask me how I know this. 

1/8”

I hate doing 1/8” plugs and jacks. Honestly, I’ve yet to find an 1/8” jack that works reliably (we’ve tried 3 of them), and while I’ll use Switchcraft plugs when I need to, I hate terminating them. That’s one class of cable I think it’s worth it to pay someone else to make. 

BNC

Kings 2065

While not used that often in audio (except for MADI), I do make a lot of BNC cables. For the last 15 years I’ve used Kings 2065 series exclusively and have yet to have one fail. As long as you follow the directions and crimp them with a proper crimper (and not a pair of slip joint pliers…), you’ll be fine. Also, make sure you get the right part for the cable you’re using. Kings makes about a dozen different varieties for different cables, use the cross-reference charts to make sure you use the right one. 

Wow, I didn’t think I would be writing 1000 words on connectors but there you go. What do you use when making cables? Or do you prefer to buy them pre-made? 

16 Comments

  1. gotmoore@hotmail.com

    I guess I've inhaled enough 60/40 to be excited about connectors. Proper soldering of any connector is half the battle. Using the correct temperature, tip size, solder gauge and, tecnique. Did I mention strip length!!
    There is nothing better than assembling 6 pallets of boxed product into a fully functionng system (with no pre-made cables).
    FYI, if you are looking to solder a large number of XLRs (or other connector types) you can sometimes save a few bucks by asking for a contractors pack. This usually sells in bulk lots of 50 or 100. The connectorsrs are not indivudally wrapped (neutrik) but, compiled into a single box. Happy soldering!

  2. gotmoore@hotmail.com

    I guess I've inhaled enough 60/40 to be excited about connectors. Proper soldering of any connector is half the battle. Using the correct temperature, tip size, solder gauge and, tecnique. Did I mention strip length!!
    There is nothing better than assembling 6 pallets of boxed product into a fully functionng system (with no pre-made cables).
    FYI, if you are looking to solder a large number of XLRs (or other connector types) you can sometimes save a few bucks by asking for a contractors pack. This usually sells in bulk lots of 50 or 100. The connectorsrs are not indivudally wrapped (neutrik) but, compiled into a single box. Happy soldering!

  3. jliechty200@gmail.com

    I once soldered 56 XLR jacks on a patch panel at the church where I now volunteer. Then, to "save money," I made 28 patch cables. Admittedly, buying 3 foot XLR patch cables with gold plated plugs would have cost a lot more than the raw materials for 28 cables did. On the other hand, I learned to value my time a bit more highly.

    Even though I don't make patch cords in bulk any more (maybe if they were paying me…), I still prefer to make cables myself when I need a small quantity or a particular connector setup (e.g. Neutrik EMC). I've liked the Neutrik NC-XX series since I first tried them, though you've convinced me to forgive Switchcraft for their annoying reverse-threaded screws and rubber strain reliefs, and try a few Switchcraft AAA3MBAUZ to see how they work. Could be fun…

  4. jliechty200@gmail.com

    I once soldered 56 XLR jacks on a patch panel at the church where I now volunteer. Then, to "save money," I made 28 patch cables. Admittedly, buying 3 foot XLR patch cables with gold plated plugs would have cost a lot more than the raw materials for 28 cables did. On the other hand, I learned to value my time a bit more highly.

    Even though I don't make patch cords in bulk any more (maybe if they were paying me…), I still prefer to make cables myself when I need a small quantity or a particular connector setup (e.g. Neutrik EMC). I've liked the Neutrik NC-XX series since I first tried them, though you've convinced me to forgive Switchcraft for their annoying reverse-threaded screws and rubber strain reliefs, and try a few Switchcraft AAA3MBAUZ to see how they work. Could be fun…

  5. louist@broadwayunited.org

    Do you have a good supplier for the connectors and cable? Also, what cable do you like for XLR?

  6. louist@broadwayunited.org

    Do you have a good supplier for the connectors and cable? Also, what cable do you like for XLR?

  7. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Louis,
    I buy almost all my connectors and cable from http://www.markertek.com. I will buy some cable (mainly snake, video, install and Tactical Cat5) from Gepco because they're local, but I much prefer Mogami 2792 for mic cable.
    mike

  8. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Louis,
    I buy almost all my connectors and cable from http://www.markertek.com. I will buy some cable (mainly snake, video, install and Tactical Cat5) from Gepco because they're local, but I much prefer Mogami 2792 for mic cable.
    mike

  9. goodideaguys1@gmail.com

    Here's a kit that will also help you "Get Connected". It's called the Musician's Survival kit and it's got a great arsenal of connectors for quick connection tasks and emergencies.

    http://www.goodbuyguys.com/catalog/product_info.php/cPath/126_140/products_id/301

  10. goodideaguys1@gmail.com

    Here's a kit that will also help you "Get Connected". It's called the Musician's Survival kit and it's got a great arsenal of connectors for quick connection tasks and emergencies.

    http://www.goodbuyguys.com/catalog/product_info.php/cPath/126_140/products_id/301

  11. justing.lakeland@gmail.com

    I have a real difficult time wiring up the Switchcraft phone plugs, especially like the 297 TRS one. Anyone have any good photos to help? I've had to bail a few times and switch to the Neutrik version because it has more space to work with. But I don't like how bulky the Neutrik connector is.

  12. justing.lakeland@gmail.com

    I have a real difficult time wiring up the Switchcraft phone plugs, especially like the 297 TRS one. Anyone have any good photos to help? I've had to bail a few times and switch to the Neutrik version because it has more space to work with. But I don't like how bulky the Neutrik connector is.

  13. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Justin,
    I posted some pictures as part of the series on soldering a few years ago. This one tackles 280s.

    http://www.churchtecharts.org/home/2008/10/17/soldering-on.html

    The 297s are similar, only with the side lug. Next time I make some up, I'll take some pics for you. A big key learning point for me was to cut the individual leads to different lengths. The tip is the longest, with the ring usually as long as the insulation on the tip lead. The ground is somewhere around the same length as the ring lead. That keeps all your individual wires running straight, and taking us less space.

    mike

  14. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Justin,
    I posted some pictures as part of the series on soldering a few years ago. This one tackles 280s.

    http://www.churchtecharts.org/home/2008/10/17/soldering-on.html

    The 297s are similar, only with the side lug. Next time I make some up, I'll take some pics for you. A big key learning point for me was to cut the individual leads to different lengths. The tip is the longest, with the ring usually as long as the insulation on the tip lead. The ground is somewhere around the same length as the ring lead. That keeps all your individual wires running straight, and taking us less space.

    mike

  15. justing.lakeland@gmail.com

    The TRS Switchcraft is definitely my weak spot, I think I can do the TS fine. I'll take another look at it, maybe it's the type of cable I'm working with too because it's not very bendy.

  16. justing.lakeland@gmail.com

    The TRS Switchcraft is definitely my weak spot, I think I can do the TS fine. I'll take another look at it, maybe it's the type of cable I'm working with too because it's not very bendy.

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