What Are the Different Types of Amplifier Cables?

Erik J.J. Goserud

There are a wide array of amplifier cables to fit different consoles and amplification devices. Most PA setups require a mix and match of various amplifier cables to make the system run. The most common types are quarter-inch (half-centimeter), patch, XLR, and speakon cables.

Vocal microphones typically require an XLR cable.
Vocal microphones typically require an XLR cable.

Quarter-inch (half-centimeter) cables are the most common form, and musicians and sound engineers use them for guitars, instruments, and amplifiers. Often the cheapest cable to purchase, they are available both in retail stores and online. They are male to male on the plug-in jacks. Quarter-inch (half-centimeter) cables come in a plethora of lengths with various coatings and noise isolation resistance. The main types for these cords are rubber, bendable plastic, or a rope-like coating to protect the inner wires.

XLR cables are used to connect power amplifiers to mixing boards.
XLR cables are used to connect power amplifiers to mixing boards.

RCA patch cables are designed to give a smooth signal flow to the amplifiers. They also work to reduce radiated noise and unwanted frequencies. RCA patch cables have two 1/8-inch (quarter-centimeter) plugs on each end. They are a more modern and effective cable compared to the older amplifier cables with open-ended wires that clamped into the stereo or amplifier. RCA patch cables are not to be confused with traditional patch cables, which have phone-jack prongs.

These are also the same family of cables that one would run from an iPod into a home stereo system. One end has a 1/8-inch (quarter-centimeter) jack for the iPod, while the other end has a two-pronged plug-in — one red and one white. These often have nickel-plated endings and run from three feet (one meter) to 25 feet (eight meters) or more in length.

While XLR cables are the standard plug-in for microphones, they also play an important role in wiring a PA rig. XLR cables are commonly used to connect the power amplifiers to the mixing board. These shorter XLR cables have one male and one female-pronged side and are used to run power to the many microphones on stage.

Speakon cables have large plastic ends and lock in securely to speakers and amplifiers. They are the preferred amplifier cable to connect speakers and monitors with amplifiers. Speakon cables are thicker than others. Some less-popular amplifier cables include banana cables, which have two-pronged endings used to run an amplifier to the speakers. Car audio amplifier kits may use custom amplifier cables different from those mentioned above and may be included along with the original purchase.

Most guitar amplifiers use cables with a 1/4-inch input jack.
Most guitar amplifiers use cables with a 1/4-inch input jack.

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