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Multi-Pair Cables on Larger Audio Jobs

On large audio jobs, there’s no getting around the need for dozens of audio cables—mic inputs, line inputs and outputs, feeds for monitor loudspeakers or headphones and communications.

Storing, transporting, and then running individual cables, except maybe for a few specialty feeds, is usually not practical for these situations. One option is to use multiple pair cables.

Cables can be wired with multi-pin connectors on each end. You’ll then need connector breakout boxes designed to mate with the specific cables to complete the picture.

Keeping the cables separate from the connector boxes allows more flexibility in storage and possibly more efficient use of storage spaces. You can also easier mix and match cable lengths and connector types on the boxes to suit particular situations.

Of course you can have multiple pair cables wired directly to a breakout box, or fanned out to individual cable connectors, like XLRs. These are useful for shorter runs and quick setups, but could be awkward to store, depending on your storage space. And then there’s the potential for the breakout boxes to get banged up more.

You can make your own, or buy pre-wired and tested units from a variety of manufacturers in a variety of cable lengths and connector types. Mobile production trucks commonly include multi-pin connectors on their audio connector panels, so check their wiring schemes if you’ll need to interface with them.

If using shielded pairs, make sure that each twisted pair has its own shield, and that it is wired to its own designated connector pin, and not to the connector box or to the outside of a connector. Don’t buss the shields together.

Since many of these applications occur outdoors, choose cables with jackets designed to work in the conditions you’ll face. In cold weather, for example, you typically want a cable with some flexibility to get around corners or up and over supports. Cover the connectors when running cables to protect the contact from dirt and moisture.