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Jerry Mohn April 12th, 2005 07:13 AM

making XLR cables tips
 
Ok I know making XLR's is simple but since I just ordered $200 worth of bulk cable and connectors so I figure it would not hurt to cover my bases.

OK, you cut the cable and get it ready for soldering, I like to do what they call "tinning" the raw wires before I do the final soldering. You take solder and put just enough on for the raw wire to absorb some solder.

You don't want to do a sloppy job and use more solder than needed, you have to find the sweet spot.

I don't know what has changed in the last 15 years since I used to make XLR's by the dozen, but I used to get hosed by the cardboard ring, I always for got to put that on.

As far as making XLRs with 2 leads for each pin, this is new to me. I figure I will tin the two leads together first so I can slip it in the pin easily.

Anyone want to interject their own tips for making XLRs?

USe a solder sucker, good 63/37 solder core. What else am I forgetting?

Marco Leavitt April 12th, 2005 08:03 AM

I'm also very interested in this, and would appreciate even more basic tips, since I haven't held a soldering iron in more than 20 years. Can anyone point me to detailed instructions for every step of the process, as well as a description of what tools and supplies are needed? It seems like I'm forever buying XLR cables, and I still never seem to have the exact length I need. Also, what's a good source for Belden and Canare bulk cable, as well as quality connectors?

Jeremy Davidson April 12th, 2005 09:42 AM

I only buy Switchcraft or Neutrik connectors anymore. There are cheaper off-brands out there, but I've had some of those, and they failed regularly (bad manufacturing tolerances).

Jerry, I don't think much has changed for basic soldering techniques. The Neutrik ends I've got now have twist-lock strain reliefs (and no cardboard ring to lose!) and have performed flawlessly so far.

I'm curious about the two-lead thing. Are you essentially using four-conductor plus ground cable?

Solder sucker: I wouldn't think you'd need this unless you really mess up a joint the first time.

Luis Caffesse April 12th, 2005 10:40 AM

"I only buy Switchcraft or Neutrik connectors anymore. There are cheaper off-brands out there, but I've had some of those, and they failed regularly (bad manufacturing tolerances)."


I'll second that!
Since the first time I used Switchcraft, I've never used another brand. Well worth it, in my opinion.

I haven't used Neutrik connectors, but many of my friends swear by them also, so they can't be bad.

Using quality connectors is definitley the best thing you can do to make a quality cable.


"Solder sucker: I wouldn't think you'd need this unless you really mess up a joint the first time."

I find it to be a really handy tool.
There have been times I've had to go back and resolder
something due to rewiring, and it's helpful.

Also, if you haven't soldered in years....it may come in very handy at first.

Depending on your application, Canare could easily be the best and most durable cable out there...but because of that it is also the biggest pain to work with. Stripping Canare cable can be a challenge sometimes due to the great job they do with their insulation. I find Belden cable to be just as good for my uses, and much easier to work with.

I'm not sure about a good source for the cable and connectors off hand, it's been a while since I needed any.
I want to say that I picked up most of my stuff from Harris Broadcasting, but that was because the station I worked with at the time had an account with them (Geisler in Houston is another good one, but not sure if they sell online, I only dealt with them over the phone).

Jerry Mohn April 12th, 2005 12:57 PM

<<<-- Originally posted by Jeremy Davidson
I'm curious about the two-lead thing. Are you essentially using four-conductor plus ground cable?-->>>

I bought Canare Starquad in 6 different colors X 25"
"Highest signal isolation, unbelievable flexibility and durability. Special no-glare cable jacket. Used by America's leading soundmen and audio engineers. The first choice for hand-held microphones. Flexible, smooth to the touch, extra-strong standard diameter (21 AWG) STAR QUAD cable that fits perfectly in all XLR-type connectors. With 40 separate strands in each conductor, breakage due to flexing is all but eliminated. Available Colors: Black, Blue, Brown, Grey, Green, Purple, Orange, Red, Yellow, White. Sold Per Foot. Quantity Discounts Apply"
http://www.markertek.com/Product.asp?baseItem=L%2D4E6S+BK&cat=CABLESCONN&subcat=BULKCABLE&prodClass=AUDIOBULK&mfg=&search=0&o ff=

and
75' of Mogami Super flexible Lightweight MIC Cable

I ended up going with the Neutrik Male/Female XLR Silver
http://www.markertek.com/Product.asp?baseItem=NC3FX&cat=CABLESCONN&subcat=ACONNECT&prodClass=XLRCON&mfg=&search=0&off=

Jerry Mohn April 12th, 2005 01:05 PM

<<<-- Originally posted by Marco Leavitt : I'm also very interested in this, and would appreciate even more basic tips, since I haven't held a soldering iron in more than 20 years. Can anyone point me to detailed instructions for every step of the process, as well as a description of what tools and supplies are needed? It seems like I'm forever buying XLR cables, and I still never seem to have the exact length I need. Also, what's a good source for Belden and Canare bulk cable, as well as quality connectors? -->>>

http://www.shure.com/booklets/connecting_to_mixers.asp

I used markatek but it is a horse race, markatek gave a discount on bulk order plus they had an inclusive mix of all the brands.

One reminder is that after you pay all that money for cable and connectors make sure you are using a good solder, it should be 63/37. Some solder is for other purposes and has acid in it that eats connectors.

Tools:
your choice, you could go with just a soldering iron and a simple wire cutter

or add

a solder sucker

wire stripper

cable holder, could be a weighted pair of lock tweezers

Jeremy Davidson April 12th, 2005 01:31 PM

StarQuad: interesting. I've seen a similar technique for some Audio Technica choir mics, but I guess I never thought about using dual conductors for everyday mic cables. 'Haven't had to repair any of my manufactured cables yet.

Jerry, you mentioned 63/37 solder (that's the lead/tin ratio, right?). I believe mine is rosin core 60/40 -- is this a significant difference? It's just off-the-shelf stuff from RadioShack that I'm using with a 30watt pencil-type soldering iron.

I bought my XLR's from Full Compass. I think connectors and other smaller items are only in their printed catalog though.
http://www.fullcompass.com

This could be handy as well.
http://www.kingdomsound.com/xtrahand.html
I've used one -- it's great for holding XLRs or TRS connectors while soldering.

Jimmy McKenzie April 12th, 2005 03:17 PM

Is the price difference so severe that buying pre made cables is now horribly cost-preventative?

I suppose you could build your own 10 guage stingers also...

Just curious with regard to the economics involved...

Luis Caffesse April 12th, 2005 03:19 PM

The price difference is actually pretty high when it comes to quality cables. In my case I made some cables for use in my studio, as well as in the field, for very specific purposes (and at very specific lengths).

So, to customize your stuff...yeah, I think it's cheaper to make your own.

Jerry Mohn April 12th, 2005 04:37 PM

<<<-- Originally posted by Jimmy McKenzie : Is the price difference so severe that buying pre made cables is now horribly cost-preventative?

I suppose you could build your own 10 guage stingers also...

Just curious with regard to the economics involved... -->>>

Average half price savings not including my time, I have lots of time

Jerry Mohn April 12th, 2005 04:45 PM

<<<-- Originally posted by Jeremy Davidson :
Jerry, you mentioned 63/37 solder (that's the lead/tin ratio, right?). I believe mine is rosin core 60/40 -- is this a significant difference? It's just off-the-shelf stuff from RadioShack that I'm using with a 30watt pencil-type soldering iron.
-->>>

I don't think 3% matters much, I was advised to get Kester 63/37 Solder from an engineer. Sounded good to me. I know solder matters when it comes to the plating on connectors, silver solder has low corrosive properties but it is not advised for audio.

Sean McHenry April 13th, 2005 10:48 PM

Soldering - wow, another lost art.

Keep this tip in mind. You need to heat the wire to a temperature hot enough to get the solder to melt and then wick up the strands of the wire.

I have seen many otherwise fine potential Engineering types try to dab solder on connections or god forbid, drip solder onto a connection.

Solder has a melting point that is low. Wire does not. On the other hand, if you heat the wire too long or to a temp that's too high, you end up melting the insulation near the solder point.

Good soldering stations and irons use Stainless Steel tips so they don't burn up, like the soft cheap tips on Rat Shack and other irons. Weller and similar manufacturers make great irons with variable temp settings.

Here's how I do it. Cut the wire to length. Strip just enough insulation to expose enough wire to make contact. The insulation will shrink back just a bit when you apply heat to the wire anyway probably. Hold the CLEAN tip of the hot iron directly on the wire itself close to the tip of the wire. 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.

If the wire isn't too thick and you have the right solder (more on that in a moment) you should "feel" the solder melt and give. You want to see the solder creep up the wire to get a nice silvery coating on all the strands of the wire. Remove the heat and let cool.

You should now have a well tinned wire.

To make a good connection, tin both the wire and the surface you are soldering it to, like the blades of a 1/4" TRS or XLR, etc. Hold the wire onto the contact point where you want the wire soldered. Apply heat for a second. Now rest the solder on that joint and watch it flow. If you tin everything first, you will always have a solid, good electrical connection.

You can help this heat transfer if you have a bit of solder already melted on the soldering iron tip so it can flow around the wire heating it faster and more evenly.

On the solder. NEVER use hardware store solder for electronics. It has acid in it meant to clean bare copper pipes for soldering in plumbing work. You need a lead/tin mix with a Rosin core. The rosin cleans the electrical connections when heated for a good connection without eating your contacts.

Hope all that helps.

A great source of audio connector diagrams is in the back of any Mackie manual. You can download them - hint hint.

Good luck all.

Sean

Peter Wiley April 14th, 2005 04:55 AM

As my father, a Heathkit veteran, says "heat the work not the solder". If you are just pouring hot solder onto cold wire you will not get a good connection. Better to melt the solder onto hot wire, or connector. The trick, as Sean notes, is not melting the insulation. It is possible to get parts of the connector so hot you melt the plastic that holds the pins.

If it really has been 15 years the most annoying thing could be seeing the work well enough to do a good job. My near vision that been going for a couple of years and when I did one of these recently I felt like I needed a set of glasses like surgeons wear for microsurgery. Also nice to have a vice to hold things.

Peter Wiley April 14th, 2005 05:03 AM

This is what I need
 
http://www.misterart.com/store/view/...-OptiVisor.htm

Will Abele April 14th, 2005 03:43 PM

Can someone recommend a good soldering iron for this?

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:
Quote:

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.

EXAMPLE:
cablewholesale.com:
$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

Quote:

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:
http://www.repairfaq.org/ELE/F_Surplus.html

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:
http://www.ncix.com/products/index.p...facture=Others
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.

SM

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?

TIA

Regards
Leigh

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

Quote:

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?

TIA

Regards
Leigh

Glenn Davidson March 6th, 2006 02:20 AM

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

Leigh Wanstead March 6th, 2006 02:41 AM

Hi Glenn,

Thanks

Regards
Leigh

Steve House March 6th, 2006 06:40 AM

Quote:

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. Also, I use a small fan to blow that toxic smoke away from my face.


Toxic smoke???

I love the smell of rosin vapours in the morning! It smells .... electric! <grin>

Sean McHenry March 6th, 2006 08:09 AM

If you are going to be making custom lengths or are going to be doing a whoile studio, it might pay to get a good crimp tool and go with something like VM-2000 cable from Gepco. It is super cheap to make your own, IF you have a crimp tool for the specific cable and connector set.

Cable is in the range of 20 cents per foot in bulk wholesale. Usually that means buying 1000' of cable. Connectors are between $1.00 and $2.50 depending on type and manufacturer. Still, if you consider 2 BNC connectors and 100' of cable, that's only $25 for some good, flexible, high quality cable.

The great thing is, if you need custom lengths, you just make them. Makes for pretty rack installations if you can make custome lengths, and helps cut line losses if you don't have that extra 20' coiled up on the rack room floor.

Sean McHenry

Leigh Wanstead March 6th, 2006 11:36 AM

Hi Sean,

Thanks for the information.

Regards
Leigh

Leigh Wanstead March 6th, 2006 11:54 AM

I am very confused. There are so many choices.
Here is the link.

Click here

Which one to select even for the same brand Canare Cable?

TIA

Regards
Leigh

Quote:

Originally Posted by Glenn Davidson
www.markertek.com sells Canare Cable.


Douglas Spotted Eagle March 6th, 2006 11:56 AM

If this is for mobile or general work, just use their standard 2 conductor. It's tough, easy to solder, and is a very good/solid cable.

Leigh Wanstead March 6th, 2006 11:59 AM

Hi Sean,

I don't do a whole studio. I make stabilizer and I want to record some introduction video of my stabilizer by my dad hold a boom with a Audio-Technica AT4073 shotgun microphone and I do the all talking. I will use some zoom shot and wide angle shot. What cable length do you think I should buy?

TIA

Regards
Leigh

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sean McHenry
If you are going to be making custom lengths or are going to be doing a whoile studio, it might pay to get a good crimp tool and go with something like VM-2000 cable from Gepco. It is super cheap to make your own, IF you have a crimp tool for the specific cable and connector set.

Cable is in the range of 20 cents per foot in bulk wholesale. Usually that means buying 1000' of cable. Connectors are between $1.00 and $2.50 depending on type and manufacturer. Still, if you consider 2 BNC connectors and 100' of cable, that's only $25 for some good, flexible, high quality cable.

The great thing is, if you need custom lengths, you just make them. Makes for pretty rack installations if you can make custome lengths, and helps cut line losses if you don't have that extra 20' coiled up on the rack room floor.

Sean McHenry


Seth Bloombaum March 7th, 2006 12:49 PM

A good "short" length for field use in small spaces is probably about 25' (8.5 meters).

Leigh Wanstead March 7th, 2006 02:11 PM

Hi Seth,

Thanks for the answer. ;-)

Regards
Leigh


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