Musings

Microphone cables, which is best, but can you hear the difference?

Which is better, a microphone cable that costs €15 for 10m or one that costs five times as much? And if it’s the latter, then the next question is: will you actually hear a difference?

The first question is easy to answer: don’t buy cheap cables. They come with bad plugs, bad wiring, are assembled the wrong way or not good enough, and they may have no or poor shielding from whatever interference you may encounter when capturing audio.

A cable of €50 or more for 10m will have been well made with good materials and proper shielding and grounding. A good rule of thumb is to only buy cables with Neutrik plugs or plugs that have been specially made by Neutrik to the requirements of the cable manufacturer. Also, only buy balanced cables as those will sound good even at lengths of over five metres. Pseudo-balanced cables – no matter which company makes them – are not recommended if you can have a balanced cable for the same price.

Quality of build is one thing, whether you can hear a difference is another matter altogether. Many people believe they can hear the difference between a Mogami cable of €85 and a Planet Waves American Stage cable of €65, or between that Mogami cable and a Vovox cable costing €127.

Objective tests have shown people can’t. Objective in this case means the person who is listening has been blindfolded and the cables are plugged in randomly by an assistant — or the cables are treated in a such a way you can’t visually tell the difference.

Subjective tests show people think they hear a difference. A subjective test is one where the cables are easily told apart by just looking at them. The reason that people think they hear a better sound from a more expensive cable is the association we make between price and quality we can experience.

We associate the qualifier “better” with something that is more valuable – be it money-wise or because we’re been told by people whom we regard as authorities that the thing we’re about to experience is more valuable.

In essence, however, a cable – be it a Mogami, Planet Waves, Chord Cream cable, Neumann or Vovox – doesn’t have a sound by itself. If it would, it would be a cable to steer clear from as you don’t want any sort of coloration added to your recording. That is something you can or will add in post.

Having said all that, cables that I personally like are Planet Waves American Stage Microphone Cable because of their robustness (they are very difficult to break) and the custom-designed Neutrik plug. I also love Mogami Gold Studio cables because they reject interference like no other and are very flexible. The Mogami is a so-called star-quad cable, which carries four wires arranged in a star configuration that is known to be less prone to interference-induced signal quality degradation.

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