Audio / video cables tend to be fairly expensive, especially when one needs them of abnormal / atypical lengths / configurations. While there are some lower cost cable suppliers, it's difficult to tell if one is getting decent quality cables (eg: coax used in component / subwoofer cables) or just something with lots of rubber molded over cheap twisted copper conductors.
At one point when refinishing my livingroom I had a need for a pair of 50' cables which would cleanly connect a subwoofer with line-level signals, without picking up extra noise. The obvious choice was some sort of coax cable, but purchasing them pre-made would have cost almost $300. (~$150 each for two cables, as it is a stereo subwoofer.) So, I decided to make my own. This opened my eyes to the cost savings which can be realized by making one's own cables. Such cables are also rather cheap to make, too.
Here is information on cables that I have made over time in order to document parts and techniques used.
- Belden 9259 - A very nice coaxial cable with a braided copper shield, 22 AWG braided copper core, and PTFE foam dielectric. Cost is around US$0.40/ft and is available from many different suppliers.
- For some uses I have also employed the five-conductor cable salvaged from an old MIDI cable. This cable has an extremely flexible jacket and braided conductors.
- Neutrik NYS352G - Low-cost screw together RCA / Phono connector, available for US$1.29 (or less in quantity) from Parts Express.
- Ridax sells a number of different iPod dock connectors in both white and black. While iPod dock connectors are almost standard, their custom keying makes them difficult to find.
Heat Shrink Tubing
- I prefer to use Parts Express' house brand adhesive lined heat shrink tubing when making cable assemblies. It is essentially hot-melt-glue lined shrink tubing which I find good for ensuring that the cable is nicely physically mated to the connector housing. It also makes for a nice looking finish.
- In order to save cost I tend to use simple strips of non-stretched colored electrical tape for marking connectors. Such tape is available in all the standard connector indicator colors, and if cut and applied without stretching it adheres rather well.
- These days my custom cables are all soldered with Kester 245, a nice solder with low-residue flux which does not have to be removed after soldering.
- A soldering iron tip appropriate for each application is selected based on the connector and wire being soldered. Normally a 1/32" conical or 1/8" screwdriver tip works best.
Cables I've Made
Component Video Cables
As seen at the top of the page, I've made a number of sets of cables for component video signals. These require three simple coax / RCA connector cables. I typically make these using Neutrik NYS352G, Belden 9259, and adhesive lined heat shrink tubing from Parts Express. Connectors were marked with the typical Green (Y), Blue (Pb), and Red (Pr) markings.
iPod Cable for in-Car Use
Using one of the larger (part A from Ridax) iPod dock connectors I made a custom iPod connection for in my car. The cable was salvaged from a MIDI cable. With the 0.6mm spacing (and width) of the terminals in the iPod dock connector soldering is a bit difficult, but it's not impossible.
The first set of custom cables I made using Belden 9259 also used the standard Neutrik NYS352G connectors and adhesive lined heat shrink tubing from Parts Express. These are two 50' runs of cable which actually had their connectors fitted after the cable was pulled from one corner of my living room to the other, through the joists in the floor. The stereo line-in connectors on subwoofer are connected to a Y cable which bridges the line out and amp in connections on a NAD stereo receiver.
Some of my preferred suppliers for parts for making cables:
- Parts Express - Low-cost cable, connector, and other parts supplier. Very prompt shipping, with orders shipped via UPS Ground generally arriving in the Detroit area the day after order placement.
- Ridax - iPod dock connectors. Due to custom keying these connectors are generally not available from larger suppliers.
- Anixter - Bulk cable, generally available from will-call.
- Mouser - General electronics supplier, good for obscure connectors.
- All-Spec - Excellent supplier of soldering equipment and other industrial electronics supplies.