Don’t Create Your Own Audio Patch Cables?

I got myself an RCA patch bay for cheap ($20) and needed some short RCA patch cables. I saw they were crazy expensive online so I figured I’d make them myself. The end result isn’t up to my expectations. Here’s how you can do it and why you should probably avoid it…

Materials used

I bought some RCA terminals, the kind that you screw in wires. I wanted to try using heat shrink to go over the terminals that would melt down to the size of the wire, but I didn’t find any locally that were big enough so I got a size big enough just for the wire. I used speaker wire and electrical tape (vinyl).

Tools used

I used a razor, wire cutter, wire stripper, heat gun and a small Phillips screwdriver.

Creating RCA cables

I wanted the length to be as short as possible so I measured and cut a short piece of wire. I stripped off the ends of the wire.

I cut two pieces of the heat shrink stuff (normally I don’t use heat shrink because it isn’t effective) and slipped them onto the wires (do this before connecting the wires if you use heat shrink). Then screwed the wire into the RCA adapters, using the wire with the write strip to screw into the positive terminals on both ends). Smaller gage wires would have been more ideal but this still worked.

I placed a piece of electrical tape between both wires to try to prevent any single strand of the coiled wire from crossing over and touching the other wire. The fact that I’m already taking these precautions means I didn’t have much faith in this method to begin with.

I then slid the heat shrink onto the wires and heated it.

Finally, I wrapped the entire thing in electrical tape. Aesthetically, I was really pleased with the result.

Why it didn’t work out

A little about my background first: I’ve got years of experience creating my own wiring and doing things like this. When I was 12, completely self-taught, I spliced my own monitor, keyboard and mouse cables and ran it under the house so I could remotely control my computer from different ends of the house. Same year, I also spliced the internal audio from my TV to a switch box to add external audio output.

So creating an RCA cable is simple for me. Yet the second cable I created didn’t work. The wire got pushed out because of the heat shrink I guess, had to undo everything.

First two cables got finished, but I wanted to create 6 to 10 more (two cables needed for stereo after all). The third cable kept not working. Retighten the screw, one of the cables would come out on either end. I cut down the strands of wire to make the gage smaller, still would have issues.

The issue lies in the adapters; if I simply cut an existing RCA cable and twist-braided the wires, it’d be zero issues. But this method, using these adapters, prevents twist-braiding (wire splicing) and certainly prevents soldering.

I know I would have had better success with a smaller gage, but I need patch cables that will be reliable; this crap ain’t gonna’ be reliable. It can’t even stay in place for the assembly process. Not to mention it took hours fooling with this.

How valuable is my time, after all? What do I really gain from doing this? If it’s the cool, grungy aesthetics, I can replicate that by simply taping existing wires.

Should you create your own patch cables?

I don’t recommend it. I have no questions about the durability of normal wire splicing. But in this screw in adapter method, the weakest link is in the most important connection; the wire to the adapter. No… Even if you were to find some of those adapters where you’re intended to solder the connections, they still aren’t reliable because all the stress points are placed on the solder connections when the wire is tugged (and wires still get tugged in normal use, even if you’re avoiding pulling from the wire).

Not to mention the last thing you want is for there to be interference or an issue in your audio signal path… you’re always going to question your homemade cable, when it may not actually be it.

Although I did actually record audio interference from my studio and use it in Nice and Soft and Smooth’s Ivory Melt remix. At the very start, I recorded the sound of my headphones unplugging from my speakers. Listen…

Click to play in new window

I ended up getting rid of that audio interference by building up the studio and insuring my patch cables are… nice and soft and smooth you could say.

I went into this thinking creating my own patch cables may be a temporary solution at best and unreliable at worst. Turns out it isn’t reliable. I don’t think it’s worth your time, random internet stranger.

Why RCA and not 1/4″?

The industry standard is 1/4″, especially for patch bays. The question should be; why is 1/4″ the industry standard?

No, think about it. My Behringer speaker’s input is RCA, as is my vintage RCA Dimensia amp (that I use as a VU meter). My Tascam US-322 audio interface’s ouputs are RCA [see my comment below]. RCA connectors are small, found in consumer products dating back from 70’s to present day and don’t have a confusing mono / stereo connection type; RCA is always “L” and “R”, not “maybe it’s mono or stereo?”.

It’s okay for there to be 1/4″ patch bays, but what’s not okay is for only 1% of patch bays to be RCA. Now you can see why I got an RCA patch bay.

What’s the patch bay for?

I got it because I am using a looping system to feed my desktop (the Neocomp) computer’s audio output into the audio input in order to record internal sounds as Windows (10) is screwed up for trying to do this virtually. On macOS, SoundFlower works beautifully to do this. But for Windows, I’m doing it externally.

Because I’m tying up the audio input, I figured getting a patch bay is a great solution. I only have two audio inputs and, because of stereo, both inputs are constantly plugged in. So, by connecting the RCA input cable to the patch bay, I can plug and unplug things without having to do it from the audio interface (and avoid accidentally turning knobs of the interface or, worst, disconnecting it and causing the audio driver to crash).

The patch bay also becomes useful for routing audio output to multiple devices. And it’s also a good place to keep my mic’s XLR connector; the XLR cable is connected to the audio interface’s XLR. When I want to use the mic, I connect an extension cable sitting near the patch bay to a cable leading up to the mic (essentially turning the mic “on”).

Later. – MJ