Cables come in all shapes and sizes, featuring a wide variety of specs meant for specific situations. Luckily, you don't have to memorize every single one of them if you just want to rock. Below are the four most common type of cables musicians will come across along with a few common variations.
Just as the name suggests, the instrument cables are used for connecting instruments like keyboards, guitars, bass guitars to another device such as an amplifier, equalizer, recording console or even effects pedals. Instrument cables consist of a quarter inch phone plug connectors and carry relatively low voltage signals. Depending on their setup, some players prefer instrument cables with a right-angle connector as opposed to the common straight input jack. A quick word of advice when it comes to instrument cables; the longer they are, the more susceptible they'll be to picking up interference. A 10 foot cable is ideal as it should give you plenty of length without any noticeable interference.
While your typical 1/4" input speaker cable might look identical to an instrument cable, they are actually quite different and are not meant to be used interchangeably. Not only are they unbalanced, but they are also comprised of a much heavier gauge conductor compared to those found in patch, mic or instrument cables. This is because they carry a much higher voltage. Aside from the typical 1/4", speaker cables can also be found featuring other inputs such as the banana clip (also known as MDP connectors), binding posts (usually found on stereo amps) and Speakon connectors.
The most common type of mic cable features an XLR male input on one end and an XLR female connector on the other side. They are also shielded and unbalanced. Aside from the common XLR input, there are also mic cables that feature TRS or even USB, the latter of which is used for connecting a mic to a computer, DAW or other digital recording device. Microphone cables are also used for more than just connecting mics as they are often used to connect a mixing board to powered speakers.
Patch cables are any cable that is meant to connect two pieces of gear that are close to each other. 1/4" patch cables, for example, are used to connect effects pedals to each other in a signal chain. There are a few other type of patch cables, such as those with RCA and XLR connections. These cables may come with an either balanced or unbalanced conductor depending on their intended use.
While there are many other types of cables out there in the music gear universe, these are by far the four most common varieties. If you want to dig deeper into the differences between these various cables, make sure to hit the story links above! And if you have any questions regarding the purchase of a cable or any other type of gear, don't hesitate to chat with one of our PAL pros by using the Contact Us dialogue box below!