For the recording enthusiast who has endeavored to outfit space in his/her home for the purpose of recording music (see Homemade Speaker Stands for any Home Studio and Creating a Home Recording Studio in our Home Studio Series), step two is amassing the recording gear for the task at hand. And yes, home recording equipment and accessories are much more affordable than ever, but you’re still going to spend a chunk of money before you’re ready to hang a shingle and call your buddies over to record at your home project studio.
Cables are a necessary component in any home studio situation, but may be one of those things you overlook when considering how to spend your money. Make sure you budget for cables. There is a wide range of options – a 20′ instrument cable can range in price from $9 to $180.
An instrument cable is built to convey a weak, unamplified signal. Your guitar or bass is putting out a small DC current with a small voltage – that’s why it needs amplification. An instrument cable is low power/high impedance cable with one small diameter (usually 24 gauge) positive wire – typically copper, though sometimes silver or aluminum – that carries this weak signal.
The instrument cable is insulated and shielded, or it would pick up noise from any number of external sources that would cause humming or buzzing, and could even pick up radio frequencies. In addition to the internal shielding, there is the outer casing and the 1/4″ jacks that complete the guitar cable. The quality if the material of all of these components, as well as the quality of the assembly, goes into the cost of your cable.
A speaker cable is built to convey a strong signal from an amplifier to a speaker and has two wire conductors, with a relatively large diameter, to allow greater signal flow. Generally speaking, the larger the diameter of the wire, the better the flow of the signal to the speakers. The wires are insulated, encased in a filler, and wrapped in an outer jacket. These are used exclusively with passive monitors, going out of your power amp into the speakers.
A microphone cable is also built to carry a relatively weak signal from the microphone, and consists of one pair (and sometimes two pairs) of twisted wire. Those cables are insulated, encased in a filler, are shielded (like the instrument cables to prevent external interference), and wrapped in an outer casing.
Picky performers may already have found a high-end instrument cable that provides the tonality they want, but having functional instrument cables on hand is a necessity. Buying for quality of sound and longevity are recommended. Depending on the brand and number of cables, you’re looking at spending anywhere from $30 to $150 on instrument cables.
If you’re using passive studio monitors, investing in good speaker cables is worthwhile, as is buying the right length. Likely, you’ll not need anything longer than 10 feet, so don’t go buying 25′ cables to plug in your near field monitors. Again, depending on length and quality, you can spend anywhere from $30 to $100 for a pair.
Microphone cables are more difficult to predict – depending on your space and requirements. If you’re recording drums, you could need as many as 10 microphones running at once, and if you’re miking a rhythm section and guide vocals at the same time, you could have a need for 15 mic cables at a time. Length comes into play here as well, depending on whether you need to make it into an adjacent room or not.
As such, mic cables can easily add up to hundreds of dollars. While being able to afford high-end cables for every mic in your arsenal would be ideal, that’s probably not practical. Purchasing high-performance cables for acoustic guitar and vocal mics is worthwhile, and you can get away with something less than top-shelf for electric guitar, bass, and drum mics and not adversely affect your final recording.