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Connection Tips 101 - Cabling Your System

by September 02, 2004

I am often called on to provide calibration services for the budding audiophile and even the professional installer to try to maximize the performance of their systems. I am always shocked to see the mess behind their racks and built in cabinets. I find it humorous that we audiophiles debate the performance or the ability to hear differences in cables and then totally defeat and degrade performance of our systems by having our cables jumbled up like a tumble weed. If I had a choice between a mega-buck cabled system that was a mess, or a cheapo cable system that was managed correctly I would opt for the cheapo system any day. Here are some basic tips that will get you Straightened out.

Tip#1: Isolate Power Cords
Keep all power cords away from interconnects, speaker wire, video cables and all other wire from the equipment, all the way to the outlet or line conditioner. When I wire a system I always find a way to keep them separated. It may take some thinking and trial and error but I can assure you it can be done. If you absolutely have to cross a power cord do so at a 90 degree angle and place a piece of rubber hose over the wire were it crosses the power cord 3/8" or 1/2" thick. A split down one side works well for fitting the wires neatly into it and the hose will help isolate RF ingress onto your audio or video signals.

Tip #2 Be Careful with Routing Cables Through Your Rack
Here is a word about racks that provide hollow spaces for cable management. If you choose to use this space you do so at your own peril. While it may look clean when you are done, all kinds of problems can be created. For example, metal when cast, or welded, leaves burrs that can cut your cable when you pull them through. Sometimes this damage is hidden in the rack were it can't be seen. Be warned, these burrs are sharp. I have cut my fingers on them and have pulled cables out that were sliced to the core. The other problem is that you are lumping all your cables together down a metal tube. This is not the preferred method of isolation.

Tip#3 Use Trunks for Cable Management
When I wire a system I like to have four individual trunks run down the back of my rack or cabinet.

  • Trunk #1 is for all power cords.
  • Trunk #2 is for all speaker wire.
  • Trunk #3 is for all audio interconnects.
  • Trunk #4 is for all video cables.

If this is not possible then run one for all power cords and one for the rest of the cables and interconnects.

Cables should be installed in a relaxed position never kink or try to make a short cable reach; there should be gentle bends at both ends for optimal stress relief for the attached components and cabling.

Tip#4 Keep it Neat!
You can keep your "Trunks" neat and together a number of ways. Split Loom is the black plastic tube that is split down one side and has a corrugated look to it. It is available in sizes from 1/2" to 1-1/2" you can use this keep your "Trunks" neat and give the back of your rack a high tech look.

Another option is to use Velcro tie straps to keep your "Trunks" together; these are available at most pro sound stores. Hosa is a brand that I use and personally recommend.

The last option is plastic zip ties, you can use these (I do) but be careful, don't pull them tight around your cables, only enough to hold them in place the small teeth on them will cut you cables if you pull them too tight.

Miscellaneous Tips "Take them or Leave them"

Wall Outlets
Does your power cord plug tightly in your outlet? If not, replace the outlet.

Caution: If you don't know how to do this call an electrician. Death or injury can occur if you don't know what you are doing. Also make sure the polarity is correct on the outlet. Polarity Checkers are available at Home Depot under $5.

I have had loose power cords and reverse polarity outlets; these can cause severe hum and noise in systems resulting from ground loops.

Also lighting systems and lighting dimmers, ceiling fans, etc. can be the source of humming or noise problems.

Connectors and Connections
Modern Interconnect heads are most often designed to grab or lock onto the input terminal of your equipment. This is a good way to make sure they don't come off or work loose; but, can be a real problem when you need to remove them and will sometimes scar or even break off at the interconnect cable, or break off the input terminal of your equipment. When installing this type of Interconnect apply a small amount of Dielectric Grease to the shell of the input terminal and install the Interconnect by pushing it on and turning it (clockwise) at the same time. When you need to remove it pull and turn (counterclockwise) at the same time. Dielectric Grease can be found at most auto-parts stores.

A Final Word of Advice
The most important and practical tip is to spend the time, and use a little common sense, when connecting your equipment. This will allow you to achieve the maximum performance and problem free operation of your system.

Happy Listening!


About the author:

RLA Home Theater and Hi-Fi began as a hobby and has expanded into a business. Ray took his love of music and movies and turned it into his personal business to bring movie theater sound and quality into the homes of his customers. Ray brought great knowledge and expertise to us from a custom installer/integrator's perspective.

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