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Speaker or instrument cable

Discussion in 'Accessories [BG] - NEW!' started by Patrock, Jul 22, 2019.

  1. Patrock


    Aug 20, 2018
    If I can't unscrew the plug is there a way, maybe with a multi meter, to determine whether it is an instrument or speaker cable? Lots of the older, cheaper cables have nothing written on them and the plugs cannot be unscrewed. I have lots of these cables and don't really want to cut the ends off then have to put a new plug on to determine which is what.
  2. basscooker

    basscooker Commercial User

    Apr 11, 2010
    cincy ky
    Owner, ChopShopAmps
    Got a radio transmitter?

  3. giacomobass


    Dec 30, 2011
    You could measure the resistance. Speaker cables have much lower resistance than instrument cables, due to the heavy gauge conductors.

  4. giacomobass


    Dec 30, 2011
    Also, speaker cables are noticeably thicker than most instrument cables.
  5. Crater


    Oct 12, 2011
    Dallas, TX area
    I would assume they're instrument cables unless you know for certain otherwise. I've seen a few speaker cables made with so-called "zip cord": flat two-conductor cable, those are easy to spot.

    Any cable that has "shielded" printed on the cable jacket is of course an instrument cable. I don't have much experience with speaker cables because I'm mainly a guitarist who plays through combo amps. But the speaker cable I do have is noticeably thicker and stiffer than any of my instrument cables, so I don't think I'd mix them up casually. Does a speaker cable ever need to be longer than 6 feet? Is an instrument cable ever less than 8 feet long?

    That's true, but I am skeptical about this being a good way to separate speaker and instrument cables, because it might be hard to consistently read resistances of less than 1 Ohm on a 'consumer grade' DMM, but I'll do an experiment when I get home and report back.
  6. giacomobass


    Dec 30, 2011
    Right. You would need a device capable of measuring resistance in the milliOhm range. I just checked and my (consumer grade) DMM isn't. :unsure:
    31HZ, AudioTaper and Bugeyed Earl like this.
  7. tadawson


    Aug 24, 2005
    Lewisville, TX
    Check for markings on the cable rubber jacket, if it has one. Most wire is marked . . .
    Thorny1 likes this.
  8. juggahnaught


    Feb 11, 2018
    As someone else said, checking resistance might work. Speaker cable is GENERALLY thicker than instrument cable, but as they come in different gauges, this isn't really the best rule to use for identification.

    You could just ditch all of them and replace them with Speakon cables (which, honestly, is a better choice for many reasons).
    Frank77 and TheReceder like this.
  9. Patrock


    Aug 20, 2018
    Very true. But I hzve about 50 or 60 cables and I want to get rid of the unused ones for a buck or whatever. But I figure the buyer will want to know what he's buyi g
  10. Patrock


    Aug 20, 2018
    Thank you. I read something to that affectt years sgo but couldn't remember the details.
    giacomobass likes this.
  11. agedhorse

    agedhorse Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 12, 2006
    Davis, CA (USA)
    Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Benz
    The difference in resistance is going to be so small that often the connection itself is the compromising factor in the measurement. ESPECIALLY for short cables. IF this were really true, and there was a small difference it would take a specialized precision meter to resolve the difference.

    This is often not true, especially with some of the jumbo instrument cables with stupid thick jackets (who thought this was a good idea???)
  12. farace


    Jul 9, 2016
    Connecticut USA
    I have quite a few that are 25' or longer, running from the PA head to the speakers.
    BrBss, Clutchcargo, Bassngtr and 3 others like this.
  13. farace


    Jul 9, 2016
    Connecticut USA
    Are they all identical? Sacrifice one and cut an end off and see what's inside. If you're selling them for a buck, you're not losing much. Or honestly, for a buck, let the buyer take the chance on what they are.
  14. SteveIII


    Jul 11, 2019
    Would there be a difference in capacitance? I know my meter measures that.
  15. agedhorse

    agedhorse Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 12, 2006
    Davis, CA (USA)
    Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Benz
    Generally, though not always, the capacitance per foot on shielded cable is higher. That said, there are exceptions, and for short cables this is also somewhat difficult to measure accurately.
    Bob Lee (QSC), BrBss and dralionux like this.
  16. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    Yeah, as the cable could be intermittent and one wouldn't possibly know that until a crucial time, say, on an important gig, for example.

    I buy lots of things secondhand - cables wouldn't be one of them.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2019
  17. tjh


    Mar 22, 2006
    I always opt to consider it instrument cable if not marked, or if not able to be opened to check … if I error, the safer side is to use a speaker cable on an instrument application, which usually lets me know it is not shielded at some point … bottom line, decent cables of either type are not that expensive … buy a decent one you are sure of what you have and be done …

    JMHO … as always
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2019
    ObsessiveArcher likes this.
  18. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    Find a way to open the ¼” plug. You’ll know for sure.
  19. Plug your instrument in with it & wave your cellphone around the cable, you'll know if it's shielded or not.
  20. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    Plug one end into your bass, the other into your practice rig (mine is headphones through a small mixer) - hopefully you have one with hum cancelling pickups. Turn up the gain and listen (with the bass volume up as well) - a speaker cable will, if you wrap the cable (not the bass) around a transformer, or hold the cable near your computer monitor, buzz. An instrument cable, being shielded, won't. I just tried this with a couple of 10 foot cables I have, and the difference is quite audible.

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