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The Truth About 3-pin XL To XL Cabling.

xl cables cable wire stagescape stagesource m20d l2 l3 dmx aes

(This is "Old Ron's" experience of what works in our "real world", ...as distinct from what may be said by salesmen, academics and engineers, ...not to mention the various "myths" that occasionally propagate from some who are genuinely only trying to help, but whose information lacks a broader overview.)
First off, always buy (or make up) the very best cables that you can possibly afford.

Why ?

Because I defy ANYBODY to place a financial value on the total loss of that "once in a lifetime" performance, solely due to a few bucks saved when we "wired up" for our gig, be it recorded or "live" at a venue.

Then consider the huge emotional and financial investment you've made to get this far.

Then the future costs of replacing the cheaper stuff that doesn't last.

(Rocket surgery it ain't.)

From this moment on, that means you will be investing in top quality cable (the actual "wire" itself) from reputable makers, such as Belden, Canare, Hosa, Monster, Neumann, Planet Waves, Remote Audio, Sommer and Whirlwind, to name but some, ...but you'll only need to open your wallet ONCE.

It also means top quality connectors, which rules out every single one of those cheap "copies" (the notable exception being Herr Neutrik's Chinese-made "Ningbo" version of his own connectors) ...and anything that lacks a robust shell made of metal.

ALWAYS disassemble those connectors first, to ensure that there's no "short" or "connecting piece" between pin 1 (the "shield" or "ground") and ANY other metal part.

If there is, either DO NOT buy that connector, or make sure that "offending shorting piece" can be easily removed without compromise to the connector's structure.

As I said in the "preamble", FORGET what some texts, "experts" and well-meaning "friends" may have said, ...in "OUR" three-pin XLM to XLF World, there are definitely NO circumstances in which any of our three pins can be connected to anything other than their own individual terminals.

Even though connectors "shorted" in that manner may well work at first, believe me when I say that they WILL only "set us up" for disaster later.

Now to the "fun" stuff...

"AES", "DMX" & "Line 6 Link"

I've regularly deployed all of those, pretty much since they were invented.

(Aah, what fun we had back then, me, young Tommy Edison and that crazy devil Mick Faraday...)

Here's the thing, if we're using those high quality microphone cables (the ones that follow the above guidelines that Old Ron insists on) most (but NOT ALL) of us will have no problems whatsoever when operating DMX or Line 6 Link gear that's "daisy chained" using those same cables, meaning that all of the limited stock we're carrying is interchangeable.

* (AES is another story altogether. More than a metre or two of incorrect cabling for that is one sure way to trigger its failure.) :(

That's because the total "In/Thru" or "In/Out" length of many Line 6 Link or DMX "daisy chains" is sufficiently short for enough of our digital control signals to "survive" the "squeeze" of their incorrectly cabled journey to the extent that they can still be relied upon to operate our sound and lighting gear.

"Most", but not "all" of us ?

They would be the regularly gigging musicians, DJs and the like whose entire rig is contained within the relatively small performance spaces granted to us by community halls, barns, bars, pubs, clubs and fairground platforms.

The rest ?

I reckon that anyone who's even considering specifying other than application-specific cabling for permanent installation probably lacks the brain power to have read this far, so I won't bother to even address them.

However, for the "road warriors" (or "road worriers") among us, any single length of more than 30 feet or 10 meters should instantly set alarm bells ringing.

So, ...what do we do ?

First, we MUST bear in mind that
  • Reliable operation via long runs of inappropriate cabling during rehearsal is NO guarantee, as the more marginal the control signal that has "dribbled through", the more likely it is to NOT survive whatever RF interference that "walks in" ahead of our performance (See "Murphy's Law".) ...and...
  • Using application-specific cabling demands disciplined housekeeping to ensure that the "right" cable is invariably used for each of those applications. (See "Murphy's Law".)
For me, all of that has resulted in differently coloured strips of "Brother" labelling tape (all the way around the XL connectors at both ends) providing a clear visual difference between the "Mic", "DMX" and "AES" cables in my kits, as (call me "prejudiced", but) I believe that visual neatness (particularly under lights) generally demands that the cabling itself should be either be black or as dark as possible.

(Buying or making up cables with differently coloured connectors or boots is obviously an option for most, ...but I wasn't "starting from scratch" as my long-standing policy of "investing in nothing but the best" has meant that some of my original mic cables are still working perfectly, even though they pre-date that new-fangled iron horse that they tell me has been seen on the Union Pacific Railroad.)

Kits ?

I find it invaluable that my road bags or road cases for a given type of gear also contain their most commonly used lengths of appropriate cabling, along with whatever adapters or mounting hardware may similarly be required.

Such pre-organisation saves me a lot of "thinking" before and after each gig ...actual "thinking" not being one of my strong points.

(See "Murphy's Law".)
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