Custom Audio Cable Making DIY Guide
What You Need
Making your own cables is fun, easy, and gives you the knowledge you need to both make and repair your own cables! In this custom cable DIY guide we will let you know what is required to get started, and walk you through step-by-step making your first cable! In order to make your own custom audio cable, you will need these parts and tools.
Cable or wire, whatever you choose to call it, the cabling is obviously the foundation for your cable and choosing a great cable can make all the difference in the quality of your sound. The cable is what actually transmits the audio signal from point A to point B, so you want to make sure your cable is up to the task. Performance Audio sells professional quality wire for making microphone cables, instrument cables, speaker cables and much more. We also sell trusted professional wire brands like Mogami, Canare, RapcoHorizon, Whirlwind, and West Penn.
Before you start you should have an idea of what you would like to connect with your new custom cable. There are a lot of audio connectors and you want to make sure to build what you need and try to avoid extra adapters. Make sure you get good quality connectors, they are what make the physical connection between your gear and the cables itself. In fact with something as simple as your cables there really isn't a place you can skimp on the quality of parts, everything right down to the type of solder can make a big difference in your sound. Performance Audio carries many premium brands of audio connectors like Neutrik & Rean, Switchcraft, and Canare.
While braided sleeving can add to the durability of your cables, it is primarily used for its great looks and beautiful finish. Techflex braided cable sleeving is available in a multitude of color options and is a great way to make your cables stand out in a crowd. No more trying to figure out which cables in that pile of tangled black are yours. Your cables will look epic!
Handy for adding to strain relief and for cleaning up your connections, heat shrink is a great item to have on hand. Clear heat shrink is great for fixing printed labels to your cable. Colored heat shrink is great for identifying channels. While you can get away with something like a lighter in some cases, it's best practice to use a heat gun to make it shrink nice and even so keep that in mind. Performance Audio carries Sumitomo Sumitube Heat Shrink which has served us well for years and years.
Building cables can require some tools not found in every toolbox, here's a list of some great ideas that you will want to keep handy for basic cable building.
- Cable Strippers - you could use a knife, but these make your work so much easier
- Pliers - for making adjustments and so you don't burn your fingers
- Cable Snippers - for cutting your cable to length, many cable strippers also have integrated snippers
- Soldering Iron - make sure you use a pro soldering iron with adjustable temperature
- Quality Solder - don't skimp here, trust us
- Table Vise - you always need an extra set of hands
- Cable Tester - to test your work!
- Heat Gun - to install heat shrink, you can also carefully use a lighter
- Heat Knife - for cutting braided sleeving professionally so it won't fray, you can also melt the ends with a lighter
Easy Starter Kit
We've put together a great starter kit that comes with everything you need to get started soldering today! This kit includes a complete soldering iron station with digital temperature control and safety features. Also included is a complete vise kit with solder spool dispenser and soldering iron rest integrated in. And a 1 lb. spool of high quality Kester 44 solder that will last you a long time! Everything works great together and we use it here, reliable and simple! Check the kit out by clicking here.
Making cables without good lighting is not fun. Get a good work light to give your eyes a break. Gooseneck lights are a great choice because you can always move them into a helpful position.
Anatomy of a Cable
To keep it simple a standard audio cable will consist of three parts. Connector A, the Cable, and Connector B. It is pretty simple to see how these parts flow in the picture above. Connector A connects to the cable which connects to Connector B. It is important to understand this as you begin your actual build.
Stripping the Wires.
Let's get started. In order build your cable you will need to expose and then strip the individual wires (conductors) inside. Most audio cables will have some shielding which you will be using located just inside the outer jacket and then 2-4 internal individual wires which we call conductors. Don't get too excited about stripping the wires, usually about 1" of outer jacket and 1/4" on the smaller bare wires is more than plenty. And be careful not to sever the shielding as that is normally used when making audio cables. You don't want the exposed wires to touch each other and you don't want the conductors to be sticking out the back of your connector when you're all done. This is another reason it's a good idea to have a vise or something similar as you are working with that hot soldering iron.
Installing the Sleeving and/or Heat Shrink.
If you are adding either heat shrink or braided sleeving to your cables, this is a step you don't want to skip and come back to. Now is the time to apply your Techflex sleeving and/or get your pre-shrunk heat shrink in place. Both of these are either difficult or impossible to add later depending on the connectors you are installing. So save yourself a headache and get this done now.
Installing the Connector Boots.
Don't forget! Install these onto your cable now! You will have to de-solder your work and slip these on if you don't do it now!
Soldering the Connectors.
Get your soldering iron warmed up, because it is time to solder! We use the Weller soldering irons which have proven to be reliable and consistent in their results. You can purchase the Weller WE 1010 soldering iron kit on our website.
Place Connector A in the Vise or Helping Hands, this is where those tools pay for themselves. It's not fun to solder without a good way to keep your work steady and in easy reach. We use the PanaVise 301 stand with the 312 accessory tray here in our cable shop, and they are invaluable. Don't get burned or frustrated, get equipped!
First, fill the solder cups on the connector at this time, this will make your soldering life easier so put a decent dollop of solder in each cup. It's also helpful to "tin" your wires which is a fancy way of saying to pre-solder the exposed ends of the wires. This will keep the individual strands from fraying or spreading out and it will give your wire a head start in attaching to the solder cups you've just prepared.
It should go without saying but use a high quality solder! We recommend the Kester 44, but whatever you use make sure it's a good quality, you don't want your hard work to fall apart because of bad solder. Also make sure your solder has resin to help make tinning your wires fast and easy.
At this point you're ready to attach the wire, so, working with one conductor wire at a time, place the wire on top of the solder cup and touch the soldering iron to the top of the wire. This will kind of "automagically" heat everything up and your wire will pop down into the pre-filled solder cups on the connector. Remove the iron and just about instantly your connection is made and strong. Repeat for each of the 2-3 leads in most audio connections.
And that's it! You can now assembly the connector housing, including the boots you didn't forget to install first this time… and you're good to go! Simply repeat these steps on the other end of your cable with Connector B.
Test Your Work.
Before you install your cable and set your heatshrink in place, now is a good time to test things out. You can use a cable tester or a multi-meter to make sure continuity is good from Connector A to Connector B. Once that is verified you are ready to finish up!
Shrinking the Heat Shrink.
Normally saved for last because it's hard to hit undo on shrinking this stuff. Once you have assembled and tested your cable go ahead and use your heat gun to shrink things into place. Most heat guns heat up very quickly. Begin waving the heat back and forth on the heat shrink without lingering in any one spot too long. You are done once your heat shrink is snug against the cable.
And You're Done!
Congratulations! You have built your cable and hopefully it sounds great. Contact us any time for advice with your next audio project!
Check out these great tools and supplies and get to building your own premium cables!