The microphone cable remains one of the most popular cable types used in audio and video production. This is true for schools and churches as well as for recording studios and live performance production. While wireless microphones have eliminated the need for some mic cables, the growth in the use of powered speakers has more than offset the potential decline. By “microphone cable,” I am referring to a balanced audio cable with a three-pin XLR connector on one or both ends.
It’s not high tech and it’s not sexy, but the challenge of keeping track of mic cables and having them where and when you want them is universal. You can replace a microphone cable for around $20. It’s typically not the cost that is an issue — it’s the inconvenience of finding that a cable is not working, having to dig around for that unique cable when you need it, or returning from a remote location to find that your case with 12 cables now has 11. Or sometimes it’s just wrestling with mic cable spaghetti.
So, let’s break down the issues that are related to mic cable management. What would you want the ultimate cable organizing system to provide?
A checklist might include:
- Proper winding — You can find many discussions in online forums regarding the correct way to coil an audio cable. The “over-and-under” method and the “alternate-twist” method are effective but take more time and often fall victim to shortcutting tendencies. Whichever method you use, the key is to avoid inducing a twist into the cable which over time can cause a failure. You can tell when a cable has been stored while twisted as it tends to bundle up and fight you when you try to straighten it out.
- Protection from damage — Although cables are most vulnerable when they are stretched out and underfoot, damage can occur when stress is applied between the connector and the cable, and that can occur during setup, teardown, and transportation. Most good XLR cables are engineered with a stress relief feature at each end, but rough handling can still cause damage.
- Ease of inventory — The use of hook-and-loop straps, along with proper winding, helps to reduce the “spaghetti effect” that occurs when cables are tossed into a case. However, you will still have to dig through the pile of cables to makes sure you have everything that you came with and everything you need.
- Identification of unique cables — It can be frustrating, especially when under time constraints, to try and locate that unique cable with an XLR connector one end and a one-quarter-inch connector on the other or the 15-foot cable among a pile of 25-foot cables.
- Convenient transportation and storage — For shorter cables that will be used in a single location, hanging them over pegs can be effective. This is typically done in recording studios for short cables like jumpers. But if your cables are longer than six feet and/or they will need to be transported, you will need some sort of container in which to store and transport them. A large hand-crank cable reel is effective for cables that are longer than 50 feet or for large numbers of cables. With this tool, cables are wound end-to-end with the male connector of one attaching to the female connector of the next. However, like finding a specific clip on an old VCR tape, you will have to search through the entire string of cables to find a specific one.
So, where am I going with this? Full disclosure: I am going to describe a device that I have recently developed that works great for me and for many others. It addresses all the above issues.
I am a lifelong musician and had been struggling for years with mic cable madness which drove me to work on a solution. The system I’ve developed — the Reel-Axe cable reel — is not yet widely recognized and represents somewhat of a paradigm shift, but there are some early adopters. These include the Los Angeles Valley College, and the Honolulu, Hawaii, music and multi-media academy Mana Mele, as well as high schools, churches, and performing musicians in the U.S., Mexico, Australia, and India.
This device is a patented high impact ABS reel onto which you can quickly wind a single mic cable of up to 25 feet or more in length. When you reach the end of the cable, the trailing end snaps into place automatically with no moving parts. This feature works with any connector that is three-quarters of an inch in diameter — the size of most microphone cable connectors. Now you have a cable which is neatly nested in a portable, protective housing.
When wound properly (it’s quick and easy to do), the cable will have no twist and will thus be untangled and ready to use when needed. There is space on the side of the reel to make notations regarding the cable within. If you use multiple reels, then a case or carry bag can be used to complete the system. To see how it works, go to www.reel-axe.com.
I originally expected the primary benefits of the Reel-Axe would prove to be cable protection, quick pack-up, and convenience. After much use, what tops the list for me is improvement in organization. After striking the set, I can glance into my case and see if all the reels are filled. If not, it’s time to find the missing rascal. When I grab the case to load up and head to the next remote location, I know exactly how many mic cables I have. The bright yellow reels are easily seen, and I stock some light gray ones as well — I keep a couple of those in the case to help identify special cables.
You don’t have to be the type of person who is especially fond of organization to appreciate this, but if you are, it’s definitely for you. It just might be the thing that makes your most hectic day go a little more smoothly.