Audio cables and power conditioners are often considered mere accessories rather than critical components of a recording studio. As a result, some studio owners prefer to invest in tools they believe will have a more notable impact on their sound. However, even the best mics, preamps, interfaces and monitors may yield lackluster results when the cabling and power conditioning in a studio are substandard.
Let’s talk first about cabling. Cables have more impact on the sound than many realize and the better your playback system is, the more clearly you can hear differences between cables. The quality of the copper used (not simply the gauge) and how it is wound will have an impact on the electromagnetic field and as a consequence, the sound. The capacitance of a cable can alter an audio signal passing through it in the same manner as a capacitor in the signal path of an audio component. The shielding of a cable is also very important. A quality layer of shielding will block most or all external electromagnetic fields and extraneous RF flying around. An improperly designed or constructed shield means that your cable becomes a really awesome antenna for radio stations, phone calls, etc. Also, consider that the cabling in your studio is the longest part of the signal path.
Now let’s take a moment on power. Have you ever heard the term “dirty power”? It’s a very real thing. Since my dad is a master electrician, I know a little about dirty power. How many times have you heard clicks and pops in audio systems because other appliances were being switched off and on? There are also less obvious distortions feeding back onto the line from phone chargers, computers, “smart” meters and so on. What you end up with is a backdrop of garbage that only gets amplified by your gear. Yes, every mic and piece of audio gear has self noise but it’s usually quite minimal, especially relative to electrical line noise in some areas.
Does all of this stuff matter? Yes! I could point you to some of my clients who were having real issues with noise and disappointing sound quality with pretty decent gear. When they took my suggestions – upgrading cabling and power conditioning – the results were more dramatic in every case than swapping out a mic or piece of gear like a preamp or interface. Indeed, sometimes it’s the best and cheapest upgrade in sound quality.
If you need help sifting through all the marketing hype about audio cables and power conditioners, please be in touch. I can also make other suggestions that will help you maximize results with whatever tools you are working with in your home or project studio.