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Weekend Warrior Project! Create a Custom Cable


I’ve got an entire box full of audio cables in my closet but not one wire in this tangled mess meets my needs? Am I really going to have to buy another adapter? If you’ve ever asked yourself a question like this then you need to watch the video above. With ten minutes and $15 in parts you can easily make a high quality cable worth $40 that will last a lifetime.  While you may be thinking right now “…but Mike, I’m no electrical or wiring guru”, don’t worry. I thought the same thing, but in reality, almost anyone can make a cable that is ten times better than your average RCA. 

The Challenge:

I recently switched my primary controller from a piece of gear that included a built in soundcard, to one that did not.  The problem was the outputs on the soundcard are 1/4 inch and the inputs on my external mixer are RCA. I decided it was time to put my foot down.

  • *No more adaptors!
  • *No more cheep 1/4″ to RCA cables!
  • *No $40 monster cables!

So, while I had absolutely zero experience with wiring and soldering, I decided to give it a go and make my very own custom cable.

The Solution:

The internet can be a magnificent resource. I was able to find video tips on soldering, diagrams on making the connections, and websites where I could order the parts I needed inexpensively. The only problem was that the information was scattered. Check out the above video for an overview of just how easy it can be to create your own custom cables using tools you already have, and materials that allow you to make four cables for less than the price of one.

The Mike Charles PSA:

Even if you don’t own a soldering iron or a pair of wire strippers, odds are someone you know does. Ask your buddies or neighbors if you can borrow theirs. In most of the videos I watched, the instructor was using a fancy expensive soldering iron, which left me feeling as if I may not have the right tool for the job. Don’t worry, I’m here to tell you that a 30+ year old, less than optimal iron will solder well enough to meet the task.

In audio engineering school I learned how easy it is to make a high quality cable and why the best components are really much better and last longer. There are three main benefits from a good cable.

  • Quality connectors fit well.
  • They last forever.
  • Good shielding cuts out the noise.
  • Good wires coil and store much better.
  • They look and feel great!

you can buy 30ft of mogami cable (you want the twisted pairs with shielding) and neutrik connectors (the best in the world) for under $20 from the internet. The resulting cables will last forever and literally work much, much better. If you have the time, I can’t recommend enough building your own cables.

– Ean Golden

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  • Anonymous

    I can’t agree more, as long as you have a solid electrical connection, few other things matter.

    a $30 solder iron is just as good as a $3000 JBC rework station for a one-off job.

    Where these the more expensive connectors, soldering irons and tools make a difference is when you need repeatability and very high reliability in a process; which is only valid if you are doing serial or mass production or making a one off Class III product.

    In most other cases, as long as you know what you are doing (e.g. Not setting the house on fire) basic supplies would do just fine.

    http://customcable.ca

  • Anonymous

    I’ll just add that the part where you squeeze the metal around the cable (where it exits the connector) really should have the cable sheath still on it for maximum strength, in my opinion. That makes it a bit tricker to do the soldering (shorter ends inside the connector) but it can be done and when you clamp the metal around the cable, you get nice resistance to pulling on the cable. As for the soldering itself – the cable and the surfaces need to be as clean as possible so handling them with bare skin/fingers a lot probably isn’t ideal (humans are kind of greasy…) Ideally, you want the surfaces to be as free of fat, dirt and other substances as possible.

    Also, when you solder, not only the solder should get hot – both of the metals you’re joining should heat up nicely to create a durable and clean joint. When soldering through a hole like that, you should probably get the solder to “flow” a little along the exposed metal on the cable (which it will do if the metals are heated enough) so that there is solder through the hole along the cable, not just in a “lump” on the cable end.

    And finally, electrical tape is ok, but the glue will dissolve and get old eventually and it will all get sticky and nasty; a much better alternative is to get some shrink tubing (or heat shrink sheathing) when you’re buying the other components and adding that instead of the tape – it will create a solid permanent wrap around the cable and connector that is miles better than electrical tape. 

    Nitpickery, yes, but if you want a durable cable, worth doing it right.

  • Drypulse

    can’t find the cable and connectors at around $20 for the life of me…

  • thaddeus gan

    Hi guys, I have been soldering custom cables and doing soldering connector panels commercially in concert halls, offices and etc.

    I do have enough experience and can say that I can even solder vga panels w/o breaking a sweat.

    Here are a few tips, for balanced cables find one which has dense enough braids to sufficiently cover the inner 2 leads. Aluminum wrap arounds are fine too just like your typical belden installation cables. To check if the leads/ wire strands are using good and pure copper. Try using a magnet to “try” to attract the cables. If they are attracted to the magnet, it means that the leads are probably composite alloy which uses iron. So they aren’t good. Conductivity is not as ideal as pure copper and also these composites are of cheaper and inferior grade and does not last that long.

    For 1/4″ or 3.5mm TRS or TS, make sure that either the tip, ring or sleeve does not rotate freely. If they do, its time to replace these connectors.

    For balanced cables, do make sure that you shrink wrap them to prevent short circuits in the future and to prevent corrosion.

    Always strip the wire with the recommended length. It makes your life much easier and makes your connectors neater.

  • Kevin C

    One of the best and most practical tutorials I’ve seen in a while. Thanks for taking the time to empower your fellow DJ’s.

  • Molewyk

    I need to build some 1/4″ TS to RCA cables, would Mogami 2964 be good cable for this?

    I’ve never build my own audio cables before but I have had some experience splicing and soldering various cables before.

  • Molewyk

    I need to build some 1/4″ TS to RCA cables, would Mogami 2964 be good cable for this?

    I’ve never build my own audio cables before but I have had some experience splicing and soldering various cables before.

  • mainzg01

    is it possible to make your own USB/ midi cable?

  • Funkmaster

    i am absolutly new in building my own cables, can you tell me which typ of wire i exactly need and where to get them in the internet

    • Tom

      You want to get “instrument” or “microphone” cables. They are always coaxial and shielded and you’ll need only small diameters for line levels. They are available in different grades of quality. Standard PVC for studios and rugged rubber chords for live or outdoors use. If you want to build RCA adapters, you’ll need double coax (2 x coax, parallel). For RTS or TS use balanced or unbalanced (aka “stereo or mono) coax. Where to get them? Depends on where you are, and how much you need. Best choice is a local music store. They will happily help you with your questions. And one tip: don’t be cheap with connectors. You might save some cents but an unreliable or flakey cable is 100% wasted money.

      • Funkmaster

        ah, ok, now i need what to search for, thank you very much !

      • Funkmaster

        ah, ok, now i need what to search for, thank you very much !

  • Josemsantiago

    Great Tutorial!

  • Instinkt

    If you live in the Orange County area in California…

    OC Speaker Repair is the place to go (in-store/online)

    http://www.speakerrepair.com

    Microphone/ 1/4” cables:

    http://www.speakerrepair.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=genem&Category_Code=agb_mic_cables

    Bulk Cable (Great Deal)!

    http://www.speakerrepair.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=bulk-mic-cable

    Plugs & Jacks:

    http://www.speakerrepair.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=AHA_Plugs_Jacks

    1/4” Jacks

    http://www.speakerrepair.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=pandj-quarterinch

    GLS Audio makes long-lasting products and I have yet to have any issues with their products..

    Tips:

    -Canare & Mogami cables are industry standard low-noise audio cables

    -Neutrik & Switchcraft are industry standard connektors (available on Amazon.com)

    Do not buy connektors from retail stores such as Fry’s or RadioShack, they are cheap and of low quality.

    Instinkt

    http://www.soundcloud.com/djinstinkt

  • ManDingo

    Does anyone know how to transfer Itunes library to an external drive. I want the library with all the playlists listed. I have the music transferred, I JUST NEED THE PLAYLIST  WITH THE TITLES!!! thanks in advance.

  • JayMan574

    Just remember when you are building XLR cables to make pin 3 hot! Pin 2 is the old standard!  Trusst me!

  • way fun!

  • Santos+10

    anyone want to post links for the cable & connectors 🙂

  • Tom

    “Fancy expensive soldering irons” are either dirt cheap or rip-off. (There are soldering stations with adjusable temperature etc. – but you absolutely do not need them for simple audio tasks!) In fact I’ve never seen a service engineer use an iron that was more worth than 25 € – and I’ve seen a lot. A good tip are gas fueled soldering irons. (~20 €/25$) – no cable. Very handy if you have to work withing boothes or behind racks. And a “third hand” (about €5.-) is a very good investion, too. 

  • R3 Bonaire

    you have just unprofessional connected the AK1 balanced output by using a TS plug instead of TRS plug. In some equipment you Can’t do this, once i wrote a mod like this and there was one controller that would fry the output if done so. RCA signal is unbalanced. You should have used a TRS plug on your AK1 and use Tip and Ring and sleeve stays unconnected. now you have the right TRS to RCA connection.
    A tip from my side, all electronics soldering should be done with resincore solder. Never use any flux or S39. This will corode the copper wire. S39 is for plumbers. For the best signal to noise ratio use a Balanced shielded mic cable. These are designed to transfer audio signals, can be purchased by the feet at Radio Shack or guitar center.

    • Tom

      You might have a look at Aphex’ web site. In the manual for their famous C-Type or model 204, that you can download there, you’ll find wiring schemas for all sorts of balanced (TRS/XLR) to unbalanced (TS/RCA) connections. 

    • Dj Villanus

      The previous response is confusing. 1. Connecting a RCA (unbalanced) cable to a balanced connector via tip and ring when the balanced connection is the receiver (unbalance connector to balanced) will not make a grounded connection between the two devices and allow noise to creep in. Always seek manufacturer documentation for guidance. 2. Flux is in resincore solder and S39 is designed to work with copper. For the application of audio wiring, all stated materials from this post will work appropriately. 

      • Michael

        Rosin-core is what you are after.
        S39 will work, but is not intended for this application as it is very aggressive.

        • R3 Bonaire

          thanks michael Rosin-core is what i meant. I am dutch and Flux is the acideous liquid that plumbers use. S39 is NOT meant for small electronics or circuit boards, also a plumbers aid.

  • koc

    djtt back on top with this article nice one

  • MrSteve81

    Looks like I can say goodbye to Maplins!

  • Pavel Pachouli

    great post! Even if i don’t need this now, this kind of information is the main reason why i visit djtechtools..

  • Chris da mentalist

    I’ve been building my own since I was about 9. Ok so back then my tools were cellotape and scissors but that gave me experience to hack stuff up and make the cables I needed like to hook my tv to my boogie box. that led me on to become an av installations engineer (at one point).I ‘m now 34 and have the right tools and regularly make custom cables for my kit so they are the right length /grade of cable) and right size connectors to fit snug cases.

  • Noelflava

    I agree. The only thing better than building your own cables is having someone build them for you. : ) I get my cables made at King audio shop in Bali. They make cables to order, and do not charge for the service. 
    Pretty sweet! 

  • Been making my own cables for 10 years, it’s definitely the best. You can get the 90 degree connectors if you need, build in any adapters, and saves tons of money!

  • My uncle ran part of the Neutrik UK division – I used to sit on the floor at his house and make connectors – thousands of them. So now I ask myself, why didn’t I bag any? (maybe it’s because I was nine) and why was he involved in child labor?

  • Wow….looks like I may be building my own cables very soon!! Cool post guys.