Does your sound system buzz, hiss or make some other kind of unwanted noise? The problem is most likely rooted in bad cables.

Regardless of how good your mixer, amps or speakers are, you will never get a good sound if you don’t have the right cables.

You don’t need the most expensive cables to achieve the quality of sound you desire. But, you do need to see cables as something worth investing in.

Below, you will find the cables I recommend. I have used these in my church for years and I am very happy with the results.

Balanced vs Unbalanced Cables

Unbalanced cables have two wires: one that carries the signal and a common ground. They are also shielded to help protect from unwanted hum and other noise. Instrument cables are typically unbalanced as well as many patch cables. They are used to connect high-impedienace signals (guitar, keyboard, guitar pedals, etc) to an amp, mic preamp or direct box. Unbalanced cables should not be longer that 25 feet.

Balanced cables have a third wire that also carries the signal, but in reverse. This causes any unwanted noise to be eliminated, making them ideal for longer cable runs. Balanced cables generally have either a XLR or TRS connector.

While in a few cases balanced and unbalanced cables are interchangeable, it is the output source you are connecting that will determine which type is needed. For example, microphones usually require a balanced cable as do direct boxes.

Direct Box: Converting Balanced to Unbalanced

Recommended Direct Box: Radial Pro DI Passive Direct Box

In short, a direct box converts an unbalanced signal (i.e. from a keyboard) to a balanced signal so it can then be sent over a long cable run back to your mixer. Considering your keyboard player is probably more than 25 feet from you mixer, a direct box is your solution to getting the signal back go the mixer without unwanted hum or noise.

Common Connectors

TS ConnectorTS (aka 1/4”)
TS connectors come in 1/4” and 1/8”. They are used for unbalanced operation with instrument, patch and speaker cables. The easiest way to tell them apart is they only have one ring (usually black) on the shaft of the connector.

TRS ConnectorTRS
TRS connectors come in 1/4” and 1/8”. They are used for balanced or stereo operation with microphone or patch cables. They have two rings on the shaft of the connector, making it easy to differentiate from a TS connector.

XLR ConnectorXLR
XLR connectors are used for balanced operation with microphone cables. They are most widely used with microphones, but you will also find them on balanced patch cables and DMX lighting cables.

Speakon ConnectorSpeakon
Speakon connectors are used to connect amps to speakers with speaker cable. They are becoming increasingly popular because they lock into place and therefore cannot become accidentally disconnected.

Banana Plug ConnectorBanana Plugs
Banana plugs are used to connect amps to speakers with speaker cable. You will most often find them on the end that connects to the amp, which enables you to easily set up bridge mono operation.

Instrument Cables

Recommended Instrument Cable: GLS Audio Instrument Cable

Instrument cables connect a guitar, bass, keyboard or other electronic instrument to an amp, preamp or direct box. They carry low-voltage signals and generally have 1/4” connectors. They are considered unbalanced cables, which means they are susceptible to noise and should be kept as short as possible (certainly under 25 feet).

An instrument cable should never be used as speaker cable. If used as a speaker cable, the quality of sound will suffer and the cable may get hot enough to melt the jacket.

Microphone Cables

Recommended Microphone Cable: GLS Audio Microphone Cable

Microphone cables are generally understood correctly, mainly because of their unique XLR connector. They are shielded and balanced which effectively keeps unwanted noise at a minimum (especially for long cable runs). They are used to connect microphones, direct boxes and other low-impedance signals to the mixer.

Patch Cables

Recommended Patch Cable: GLS Audio Patch Cables

Patch cables are used to connect various audio components together. They are generally short in length and may be balanced or unbalanced, depending on their application. For example, when connecting a series of guitar pedals, you will use unbalanced patch cable considering the signal coming from the guitar is also unbalanced.

Patch cables come in all shapes and sizes. You can get almost any kind of connector, including XLR, 1/4”, TRS and RCA. When choosing a patch cable, you must first determine if the audio source is balanced or unbalanced. Then, it is just a matter of getting the right length and connectors. Keep in mind, the only balanced connectors are TRS and XLR. The others indicate an unbalanced cable.

Speaker Cables

Recommended Speaker Cable: GLS Audio 12AWG Speaker Cables

A speaker cable is an unbalanced cable that has a much heavier gauge (more wire) than most other audio cables. The reason they need heavier wire is because they carry a much higher voltage than microphone or instrument cables.

Many confuse a speaker cable with an instrument cable, especially when they have a 1/4” connector on both sides. However, they are not the same. An instrument cable is not capable of handling the high voltage that is pushed from the amp to the speaker. It may seem like it is working, especially at low volumes, but your amp is having to work extremely hard to push the signal through such a small conductor. Eventually, the instrument cable will heat up, melt the jacket and cause a short circuit – potentially ruining both the speaker and the amp.

Proper Speaker Cable Gauge

When buying speaker cables, the gauge of the cable becomes an important factor to consider. Keep in mind, the lower the number the more ‘thick’ the cable is. So, a 12-gauge cable is thicker (has more wires) than a 14-gauge cable.

A cable that is too ‘light’ (gauge is too high) will result in amplifier power being wasted. It will also cause a loss of low-frequency performance. On the other hand, the only downside to having a ‘heaver’ cable than you need is excessive cost.

Following is a chart to help you determine what speaker gauge you need. I have found that 12-gauge is most often the appropriate choice for church sound systems.

Speaker Impedance 8 Ohm Load 6 Ohm Load 4 Ohm Load
Wire Gauge Distance (ft) Distance (ft) Distance (ft)
18 AWG 10 8 5
16 AWG 20 15 10
14 AWG 35 30 20
12 AWG 60 45 30
10 AWG 100 75 50

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About the Author

Kade Young

Kade Young brought Collaborate Worship into existence with a dream of helping worship leaders around the world fulfill their calling with excellence. He has been leading worship since 2005, is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training College, and currently the worship leader at NoLimits Church in Owasso, Oklahoma.