Build Your Own XLR Cables From Scratch

Capturing great sound is just as important as capturing great video, and having the right audio tools in the kit is just as important as having the right video tools in the kit. At About Face Media we run our microphones straight into the camera. This keeps us very mobile and our crew small because often times we won’t have a sound guy on set, only a shotgun mic mounted on the camera.

Until the technology improves, cables are a necessary evil in the world of production. I say evil because they are almost always the cause of signal problems (both audio and video). This is why I prefer to know where my cables came from and that they are in good condition. So, for the most part, I build them from scratch. DIY cables also cost significantly less then factory made cables.

***Disclaimer: Although building cables is fairly simple, it does take lots of practice and a bit of expert advice.***

We typically use short XLR’s to connect a camera mounted shotgun microphone directly to the camera’s audio inputs. I like to always have a spare or two in the camera bag at all times.

What you’ll need

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Cable: Canare L-4E6S Star-Quad Microphone Cable. It’s extremely rugged and flexible.

Connectors: Neutrik NC3MX and Neutrik NC3FX. They are the industry standard XLR connectors.

Tools: Soldering iron, wire-stripper, precision scissors, utility knife, solder, small electronics clamp.

We like Markertek for all of our parts and tools but you can source these from anywhere you trust.

Step 1: Determine the length you want the cable to be. Once you have determined the length, cut the cable with your wire-strippers/cable cutter.

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Step 2: Place both cable boots on the cable. You want to do this prior to soldering the connections for obvious reasons.

Step 3: Use your utility knife to remove the outer rubber shell of the cable. You only need to remove about an inch.

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Once you remove the outer rubber shell there are a few parts of the cable: the braided shield, the cotton insulation, and two pairs of insulated copper wire (one white pair, and one blue pair).

Step 4: Unbraid the braided shield and twist the strands together to form the ground for the connection. (A thumbtack is very useful for unbraiding the shield)

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Step 5: Trim off the cotton insulation

Step 6: Use your wire-stripper to strip the ends of the copper wires. You only need to strip about a half inch or so. Twist the pairs together: white and white, blue and blue.

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Step 7: Tin the ends of each wire. This coats or fills the wires or connector contacts with solder so you can easily melt them together. To tin a wire, apply the tip of your iron to the wire for a second or two, then apply the solder to the wire. The solder should flow freely onto the wire and coat it. You may need to snip the end off afterwards so the least amount of bare wire is exposed for the soldered connection. Particularly if you have put a little too much solder on and it has formed a little ball at the end of the wire.

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Step 8: Solder the connection. On Neutrik connections, there a tiny numbers next to the connection points. You should solder the connections and wires in this order.

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Connection #1: Braid/Silver (Ground)

Connection #2: Blue/Color (Positive)

Connection #3: White (Negative)

You simply need to place your soldering iron onto the contact and the wire. After a few seconds, apply the tip of the solder to the point where the soldering iron and wire connect. The solder will melt or “flow” to physically and electronically join the two metals. You want to avoid applying the solder directly to the soldering iron. Remove the iron and hold the wire still while the solder solidifies again.

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You will see the solder ‘set’ as it goes hard. It will go pretty quick. A good solder joint will be smooth and shiny. You do not want the solder on the joint to be dull this means the wire moved while the solder was solidifying.

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Step 9: Slide the metal housing over the newly soldered connector and cable holder around the cable. These will only fit one way. Screw the boot onto the metal housing and you are done with that side of the cable.

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Step 10: Repeat steps 3-9 on the other side of the cable.

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Step 11: Test your cable with your gear.

All cables and connects are a bit different from model to model and brand to brand. Check with the manufacturer for specific specs.

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