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Studio Cords and Cables 101

Male guitarist surrounded by audio cords and cables

If you want to work in a recording studio, an audio engineer needs to know the tools that they work with–which includes cords and cables. It is incredibly important that an engineer understands which cords, cables, and gear works together. With this knowledge, not only will audio engineers understand how their gear works, but they can also troubleshoot issues that arise.

The Two Types of Cables and Cords

First of all, there are two types of cords and cables an audio engineer finds in a recording studio. The type describes the way that signals are carried, and includes both analog and digital signals.

An analog signal carries the effects of the vibrations made by vocalization and instruments into the microphones through electricity and currents. In contrast, a digital signal consists of a binary code, or machine language.

From then, the computer manipulates the signal through a digital audio workstation. In addition to the different signals, there are also different cords and cables that help transfer this information.

Analog Studio Cords and Cables

First and foremost, there are two types of cables that can carry analog signals: balanced and unbalanced cables. This type of cable carries three levels of audio signals. These signals include:

  1. Mic level – this balanced signal comes from the microphones.
  2. Instrument level – this unbalanced signal comes from instruments such as the electric and bass guitars.
  3. Line level – balanced signal which is the standard for all pro audio equipment.

Before entering the signal chain, the mic and instrument level boosts to match the line level. These analog cables are meant to be used with proper gain staging, which is managing audio levels at every step in a signal flow to reduce the introduction of distortion and noise.

What are Balanced Cables?

A balanced cable contains three wires inside – one grounding wire, one for a positive signal and one for a negative signal. Unbalanced cables only have a positive and negative signal wire. The third wire in an analog cable is what makes it possible to cancel noise from the signal going through it.  

Cable Connectors

Furthermore, an audio engineer considers the cable’s connectors. There are three connector types that are used in balanced signals. For example, these include:

  • XLR male connectors for hardware inputs
  • XLR female connectors for hardware outputs and microphones
  • TRS which can connect to inputs and outputs

Similarly, all of these cables have three contact points. In contrast, an unbalanced connector uses TS connectors, which has two contact points.

Digital Studio Cords and Cables

Again, digital cables and cords handle the digital signals in the studio. There are five types of cables, which includes:

MIDI Cables

A digital keyboard uses Musical Instrument Device Interface (MIDI) cables. As a result, the cable carries information regarding velocity and pitch. A MIDI cable does not carry audio.

Firewire/USB/Thunderbolt

Most importantly, this high bandwidth cable transmits a large amount of data over multiple channels. This cable connects the digital mixer to the computer in order. As a result, the cable carries the converted digital signal.

BNC

This cable sends a digital signal between all the pieces of digital studio gear. Without this synchronization, the signal will experience clicks and pops.

Optical

These cables carry several channels of audio and also work with older technology. A digital multi-track recorder utilizes this type of cable.

Ethernet

These are highly common cables that are used in the studio as well as for many other computer connections. A single Ethernet cable carries up to 40 channels of audio. Ethernet cable also routes audio over a distance. For example, this includes from headphone systems in the recording booth to a mixing console.

Want to Learn More?

Being a successful audio producer or engineer means having a solid knowledge of the tools within a studio environment. Figuring out the cords and cables that are used for studio work can be an extensive task but ultimately a stimulating one. If working in the music industry as a producer or engineer interests you, take a moment to check out IPR IPR’s Audio Production Program and the training that they provide.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.