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-   -   making XLR cables tips (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/all-things-audio/42833-making-xlr-cables-tips.html)

Glenn Chan April 14th, 2005 11:17 PM

Sean- thanks for the tips. I may have to solder some stuff in the future and I'm sure they'll come in handy.

(questions for anyone)

About the tinning part:

After a second or so to get the wire hot, rest the end of the solder on the wire/soldering iron joint (where they are touching). You will need to practice this move or grow a third hand.
I've seen someone else do it with just two hands. They have a clamp thing (kinda like the robot arm on the space shuttle... multiple joints and stuff, acts like a third arm) which holds the wire in place. One hand holds the soldering gun under the wire, the other holds the solder over the wire. Heat goes up and melts the solder onto the wire.

Would this be a better way of doing things?

2- Do you find that manufactured cables are more reliable than soldered cables?

I've found that at Ryerson (where they make their own cable), there are some shoddy XLR cables with intermittent connections. If you solder your cable well, are they just as good or better than manufactured cable?

3- Economics of making XLR cable:
I haven't had to buy XLR cable, but it seems that for common types of cable like XLR you really don't save that much money making your own. The connectors are typically sold at a high mark-up, which makes XLR expensive to make.

$12.75 for 60' XLR cable + shipping
Connectors (male and female) - $3.04+shipping
To break even, you have to find wiring for 16cents/ft. That does not include labour.

For custom lengths and uncommon adapters, soldering is definitely worth it though. If you're in the states, you can probably find uncommon adapters at a low price from cablewholesale.com
If I were in the States, I would probably buy from them if I had better things to do with my time. Being a Canadian, I didn't know where else to get a S-Video-->2XRCA adapter cable so I made one myself and screwed up the first one I ever did.

A. J. deLange April 15th, 2005 01:26 PM

There is a convenient gripping device for the solder located under your nose just above the chin. I expect OSHA wouldn't agree that this is a good way to do it but for a couple of connectors it shouldn't shorten your lifespan too much.

The last time I soldered XLR's I was working as a temp technician (summer job sort of thing) for a company that wired sound systems into stadiums (the Princeton University Field House in this case) for sharholders' meetings (Exxon - or was it Esso back then?). The engineer in charge had us take every cable with XLR's, cut the connectors off and install new ones. He said he'd been through it enough times to know that this was a cost effective move. Over 40 years in engineering I've always remembered that lesson and it has often saved the day. Always look to the connectors if there is a signal path problem. Happened to me day before yesterday (but it was an SMA, not an XLR).

Jeremy Davidson April 15th, 2005 01:47 PM

A.J., I'm guessing those weren't brand new cables? I agree that I have seen some pretty beat-up XLR cables in some of the venues I've worked with. I've heard it said that cables are the most likely part of a sound system to fail, and I believe it 100%.

Glenn, on that "third arm clamp thing" did it use alligator-clips? I ask simply because I know you have to be extra careful with those as they can sometimes pierce the wire insulation (especially once it starts to soften from the heat).

Will, I'd say that most any pencil-type soldering iron in the 25-30 watt range should do OK. I had a Weller 25 watt for years (and it got a lot of use!) that worked great. I now have a 15/30 watt RadioShack iron that's doing well. There are much more expensive variable-temperature units out there, but so far the basic models have worked fine for me.

As for economics, my order of about 40 connectors (an even mix of male and female XLR and 1/4" TRS) from Full Compass cost about $100. I already had plenty of cable on hand (made some custom snakes for a theatre production).

Glenn Chan April 15th, 2005 06:14 PM


Glenn, on that "third arm clamp thing" did it use alligator-clips? I ask simply because I know you have to be extra careful with those as they can sometimes pierce the wire insulation (especially once it starts to soften from the heat).
I believe so. I suppose you could put something over the alligator clips? Or not clamp it that close.

Ari Shomair April 15th, 2005 07:44 PM

Glenn, where is a good place to buy high quality/well priced XLR's in Canada?

Glenn Chan April 15th, 2005 07:54 PM

Ari, I'm not really sure. I'd love to know too though.

Ari Shomair April 15th, 2005 09:42 PM

I know www.digikey.com has a warehouse out west, and they seem to stock some pretty high quality parts if your interested in going the building your own route.

Glenn Chan April 16th, 2005 11:25 AM

Active Surplus and Supremetronics and Above All in Toronto have decent prices for connectors and cables.

Listing of electronics stores in various countries:

XLR connectors (don't know what brand) are about $4.50ish at Supremetronics and Active Surplus. I didn't see any XLR cable being sold there last time I checked.

Above All is a good place to go for cables and stuff, and they are moderately priced.

If you want cheap CAT5 cable, check out NCIX:
No PST outside British Columbia.
Cat5 is twisted pair (4 twisted pairs, 8 wires) unshielded cabling that isn't designed to be bent that much. It's suitable for budget studio wiring for line-level signals (don't use it for microphone signals).

7-10 cents/ft, CDN depending if you buy the 1000ft reel or the 50ft cable with RJ45 connectors and whether or not you have a premier account with premier pricing.
RJ45 50ft cable is $3.58 + GST + shipping with Premier pricing (7.16cents / ft... kind of).

I've never tried using CAT5 cable in a studio. As long as the cable never gets moved they should work for a long time? (Get a patch bay.)

2- I'm checking out digikey, although I don't know how their prices compare because you have to calculate shipping, tax, and brokerage fees/customs.

Ari Shomair April 18th, 2005 11:39 PM

There were no customs charges when I ordered from Digikey - they have a Canadian warehouse they ship out of. They are pricey, but stock some very high quality components.

Jerry Mohn June 6th, 2005 09:57 PM

What I learned making Canare Star quad XLR cables
I finished the lot a couple weeks back but I thought I would share with you all what I learned to do and not to do.

I used a Lowel clamp set up out of my light kit. The arm was flexible but sturdy enough to hold connector or xlr cable without moving too much. I put a wood clothes pin inside the lowel clip so it would treat the cable/connector with more care. This also avoids a chance of a metal clip heating up enough to melt plastic. I found peace of mind that the wood clothes pins protected the connectors while soldering, I ruined a connector when I dripped solder onto a pin by accident.

I had to hit the Canare web site for help in dealing with the shielding, it is very interlaced, so it requires you take a sharp but blunt point to the cable and work the braid out one by one. this was tedious and took some time. The Star quad also took time, you have to strip and twist 2 sets of cables plus the braid. I tinned the leads after twisting, special attention is needed for the ground, which is the braided strand. I would give genereous tinning to the ground braid, then I would clip it 1/8 of an inch below the blue and white leads. If you do not tin it enough it will not clip off clean.

I connected the tinned ground first because the strands were tinned straight and it was the least flexible. It was easier to get a pair of specialty needlenose pliers, bent so it could be worked at an angle; to grip the blue stand and white strands after the ground was finished.

It is important to not only tin the wire leads but to also tin the connectors.

Clean your iron, use a wet sponge. Tin your tip before every use. Dont cut the outside insulation too low, only go as low as the ground wire is needed to be un-braided. Only strip the blue/white wires to the length of the connector, about a 1/4 inch. I ran into no issues of burning the plastic insulation but I made sure I was quick, no sitting the iron on the wire, you can easily see when the wire gets hot enough for tinning.

DONT FORGET TO PUT THE TWIST LOCK ENDS ON BEFORE YOU PUT THE CONNECTOR ON. I do this at least one in 5, don't ask me how, it just happens. It is best to do before stripping or after tinning. The rubber sleeve can crush raw wire.

I used a $.99 stripper I found at "Biglots". I just put it on the smallest setting and it worked great. I used a razor blade to cut the outside shielding, worked great.

The iron is an important tool, don't use one less than 40w. Let it heat up before using, tin it clean it tin it clean it.

I also bought a cable box tester, it has LEDs to help ID proper connections. It was worth every penney, it can save lots of time on a shoot.

On a final note some are asking why bother with all this?

My reason is simple, I am in control. I know what I am dealing with because I created it myself. I am ready to troubleshoot any audio problem because I am in control from mic to camera. I can take care of any audio problem and I remain cool. I have back up cables ready to go, I know that cables fail under normal use, expect them to fail, deal with it and be cool.

50% savings, peace of mind it was worth it. It is also a humbling experience. If you think you are one hot shooter, try soldering a couple of xlr's without screwing them up.

I once walked into a news burea with a spare day to get aquainted. I found XLR's with duct tape holding them to the connectors. it took more time to cut the tape than to solder it. Crazy, but it is often the case that these simple components of a system are overlooked. The network flew an engineer in to help but I had already resoldered the cables I needed.

Sean McHenry June 8th, 2005 08:24 PM

Another great tip. One of the guys I used to work with took a short section of 2"x4" and drilled shallow holes in it into which he glued various connectors facing tip up. Why? Well, if you need to solder a Male XLR for example, you run your cable through the clamp, the insulator sleve and then - snap the connection part to the Female in the board. This will hold the connector so you don't have to.

Glue one of every connector into a correctly sized hole in the 2"x4" and it will help. Now you can hold the solder and wire, like chopsticks, in one hand and the soldering iron in the other, or use a "third hand" type of holder to hold the wire to the connector while you feed the solder onto it with one hand and use the iron in the second hand.

Just an idea.


Leigh Wanstead March 6th, 2006 01:41 AM

May I ask what is good quality xlr cable? What brand? What model number? Any url link?



Glenn Davidson March 6th, 2006 01:50 AM

Radio Shack and Markertek sell a "Dual Helping Hand" which is two alligator clips on a heavy base that works great for holding the work. Also, I use a small fan to blow that toxic smoke away from my face.

Leigh Wanstead March 6th, 2006 02:15 AM


Originally Posted by Glenn Davidson
Radio Shack and Markertek sell a "Dual Helping Hand" which is two alligator clips on a heavy base that works great for holding the work.

website? url link?

How much is the price?



Glenn Davidson March 6th, 2006 02:20 AM

www.markertek.com sells Canare Cable. It is a great choice for making your own cables.

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