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Thread: Make Your Own Audiophile Quality RCA Patch Cables...DIY & Save $$$

  1. #1
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    Make Your Own Audiophile Quality RCA Patch Cables...DIY & Save $$$

    Please refrain from replying till I am finished with the tutorial to keep things consistant. Thanks guys!

    The Project

    Using standard CAT-5 Networking cable you can make your own RCAs in what ever length you need rather than having a foot or so of extra, or barely having enough. You can also have them color matched in one of the rainbow of colors available.

    They are HELLA cheaper than even Wal-Mart RCAs and have been tested by the guys at the labs at CarSound & Performance Magazine (Richard Clark & David Navone) to be as good if not better than some top of the line cables out there.

    The following posts will give technical details about the theory of CAT 5 UTP being used as signal cable, pictures, and the different parts of this tutorial.

    Coming up...Technical Information

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  2. #2
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    Talking Technical Gibberish... :)

    Ill first start with a bit of technical information on the concept of using UTP cable over standard RCA Patch cables.

    Most standard RCA patch cables (offered by a MYRIAD of companies) have a copper foil shielding or braided sheath within the jacket surrounding the cable itself to reduce and block the introduction of noise into the system. Home co-ax cable has this "sheath" as well as a foil shielding.

    This works fine for the most part in the home & car, but sometimes the shielding can act like an antenna and pull noise in rather than block it.

    There are a few things you need to know about any multi-strand twisted pairs. The standard run of CAT-5 (IV) is comprised of four twisted pairs of wire. These 4 pairs come in 4 colors, each pair with a solid color wire and a white wire with corresponding color stripe. The colors of a standard CAT-5 cable are: Green-White/Green, Brown-White/Brown, Blue-White/Blue, Orange-White/Orange.

    The premise behind the lack of an outer shielding is that signals (positive through one and ground through the other) traveling through the twisted pair will reject noise. They don't reject it as a copper foil or braided sheath does but it absorbs the noise then since the noise is introduced into positive and ground at the same time, each travelling opposite directions, they cancel each other out. This is what's referred to as Common Mode Noise Rejection (CMNR).

    First before we get into construction, there is an issue that we must address. If you take a short section and remove the outer sheath you will notice two pairs are tightly twisted and two pairs are loosely twisted.

    Outer insulation removed...


    If you use both the tightly twisted pair and the loosely twisted pair in the same cable construction you will have an issue with "time". Obviously the tightly twisted pair uses a longer run of copper to cover the same one foot as the loosely twisted pairs. Is this really an issue? Some think so. Granted, in the communications field, they transfer information in Gigabit networks. Ultra-high speed transfer of information. Does this apply to audio? Doubtful, but it's worth mentioning. Since our cable runs are relatively short, the likelihood of hearing the audible difference is small. Some audiophiles out there will argue that fact.

    I never noticed a difference though but if you are skeptical, here's a suggestion, to be on the safe side when you build your cables, peel off the outer sheath and just use the tightly twisted pairs. Slide the bundle of wires into your favorite color heat shrink.

    While I am talking about construction techniques, I need to mention a couple of things about unshielded twisted pairs. First and foremost. The positive and ground have to be run through the same twisted pair. If you don't, the CMNR of the twisted pair is negated. This will be a pain in the ass when you go to terminate the wires but it will be worth it to take full advantage of the CMNR.

    Second, when you build and place your cables, don't kink them. For that matter, don't turn them in tight radius's either. If you do, this will skew the twist of the pair, thus introducing a point where noise can enter the cable and also create the possibility of crosstalk. Also, make sure you get STRANDED-CORE CAT-5 cable. A Solid-Core in each wire will make the whole length very stiff and too much bending can break the small inner wires. A stranded-core cable flexes and moves so much easier.

    Next up, Parts List...

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  3. #3
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    Gotta have these things...

    Here is a list of what you need to do this project:

    For a standard 2-channel RCA cable (2 jacks per end)...

    (2) Sets of Solder-on RCA Jacks/Plugs. They come 2 per set, or individually from Parts Express.

    Length of favorite color CAT-5 UTP STRANDED CORE telecommunications cable. Length is determined for what your particular application calls for, plus a few inches or extra foot to cover mistakes.

    Heat Shrink Tubing - Small diameter to go around twisted pairs, and a larger diameter to go around the outside insulation point where the wires split.

    Electrical tape - to shield the internal connections on the RCAs from each other to prevent shorting.

    The RCA jacks I picked up from Radio Shack were $3.99 for the set. Their model # and info is below:

    Solder-Type Phono Plug
    Nickel Plated
    Solder-type Terminals
    Screw-on Housing
    Shielded
    Item #: 274-339
    Package of 2.

    These are what they look like...


    They also have these jacks at www.partsexpress.com They are cheaper and come in either all nickel plated or nickel/gold. Here are pics and links:

    Neutrik Nickel RCA Plug
    http://www.partsexpress.com/pe/show...t_ID=2531&DID=7

    $1.19 Each

    Neutrik Nickel/Gold Plug
    http://www.partsexpress.com/pe/show...t_ID=2532&DID=7

    $1.29 Each

    Next up...The Basis For Your DIY Patch Cables...

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  4. #4
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    Talking Gotta have the CAT

    Ok, now we get into the basis of our DIY RCA patch cable.

    CAT-5 UTP Stranded Core Tele-Communications Cable

    This photo is a better one than above, the outer jacket has been stripped to show each individual pair. The loose and tight pairs of this cable are hard to determine, unlike the picture above, but as I said...it really doesnt matter because we're not running lengths of cable over 30+ feet where attenuation and noise introduction can occur.


    Picture of the internal twisted pairs again for reference...


    CAT-5 cabling can be purchased from a large amount of resources.

    You can purchase it by the foot, or you can get pre-made cables in determined lengths and just remove the connectors on each end. This cable I found today I purchased at Lowe's. $.09 @ foot wasnt too bad, wouldn't you agree? Home Depot also has it, as well as a countless amount of sites on the internet. Most sites though (like eBay and cable supply sites) dont sell it by the foot. Some do, but about 85% dont. They either sell the pre made cables for computers or they sell the CAT-5 by the box in 500' or 1000' rolls.

    CAT-5 also comes in a rainbow of colors to match your specific tastes. Color match the cable with a nice accentuating heat-shrink tubing and you have a very appealing cable cosmetically. I personally have seen these colors:
    Black
    Red
    Blue
    Green
    Grey
    White
    Cream
    Purple
    Yellow
    Brown
    Orange

    The majority of cable thats sold though is a off-white or grey jacketed cable. The colors take a bit of searching to find. But remember, you must get STRANDED-CORE...I cannot stress that enough. Even if it means not getting your favorite color because you cant find stranded...get the other cable.

    Most CAT-5 out now is called CAT-5E for "enhanced". Dont think you have the wrong kind if it has E on it .

    Up Next...Preparing the CAT-5...

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  5. #5
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    Post Now we cut & strip & seperate & twist..2,3,4...:)

    In this post we strip and prepare the CAT-5 cable to start our project.


    Take your length of cable and cut the ends off flush and smooth. Usually when cut at Lowes or HD, they use a universal cutter that sometimes pulls and otherwise distorts the cables.

    Now cut off between 3-4" of the outer insulating jacket. Becareful not to cut into the twisted pairs inside. You will have to do this with a knife, wire strippers wont work for this insulation.

    Pull off the insulation to reveal the twisted pairs inside. You will also notice a small "string" of what appears to be nylon material. Cut this off as well, flush with the end of the outer insulation.

    Now seperate the each pair from the bundle so you have 4 pairs fanned out.

    Next, untwist each pair so you can re-twist them with their corresponding colors for connection. You should have 8 individual wires. Like so:


    Remember before in my technical information I said that the Positive and Negative runs had to be down the same twisted pair for the CMNR to work properly. To do this, I usualy designate all solid color wires as POSITIVE and all white/stripe wires as NEGATIVE, as you will see further on with example pictures.

    While you have these 8 wires fanned out, go ahead and strip off a good 0.50"-0.75" of insulation on these little wires to give you some room to work. You can always cut down the ends later if they are too long. These small wires are 24 AWG so you need a stripper that handles that guage, if not a pocket knife works.

    Now, take the 8 wires you have and begin to pair them. Pair 2 solid colors together, and twist, then pair their counterpart white/stripe wires together and twist. You should again have 4 twisted pairs, which are now color paired and ready to begin connection. As below, I have the following colors: White/Orange-White/Blue, Blue-Orange, White/Brown-White/Green, Green-Brown. Bad color in the picture so the orange and brown look the same.



    This setup will yield a standard 2 channel RCA cable (2 channel meaning 2 ends on each cable end. There are enough wires though to do a 4 channel cable if need be.)


    Now we can begin connections...Connections Inside RCA Jacks

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    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    Time to burn...

    Now we get to the fun soldering part. Finger tips and soldering irons don't mix, remember that :doh:

    In the picture below, here is what the inside of the jack looks like after the outer shell has been unscrewed. Notice the connection points that I have labeled.



    You can solder the negative wires anywhere along that long piece, but with the positive your limited. I would insert the wire into the hole and then solder around that, rather than soldering to the outside edge. That way you get the best connection.


    Ok, to start this part of the project you have to have a few things done before hand.

    1. You need to have color coded heat shrink tubing applied to each twisted pair from the main outer jacket to the stripped end. Leave enough of the insualtion showing so you can tell which pair is solid and which is colored. I would use red and black appropriately. Red for solid, black for white/stripe.

    2. Now, you should have 4 heat shrinked twisted pairs. Next take a larger piece of heat shrink and apply over 2 of the corresponding pairs (1 colored 1 white/stripe, color coordinated). This heat shrink can be ANY color you want, or you can use Red and Black. Just make sure, this is important that what ever color heat shrink you designate 2 twisted pairs as, it has to be that same color on the opposite end so you when you connect them to your amp from your HU they stay the same. (IE: premade RCAs are labled red on one and black on the other. If you cross connect, a red jack to a black plug on the amp, if it had been connected properly at the head unit, problems can occur).

    3. I would go ahead and also add (but not shrink just yet) a larger piece of heat shrink around the main line, so it can be shrunk down around the edge of the outer insulation.

    If all that sounded confusing, I will post further pics if you need help. Read and re read.

    Here is a diagram of a final heat shrinked cable end.



    Now with that out of the way, you can add your jacks and get ready to solder. You MUST do the heat shrink first or you wont be able to after you get the end soldered on! I made that mistake my first round hehe.

    Unscrew the outer shell of on of the jacks and slide it down over the pair of twisted pairs you intend to solder first.

    Place your negative and positive pairs on their correct points and solder. As shown below (I left off the heat shrink so you could see what colors went where.



    Next...Finishing Up...

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  7. #7
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Quittin Time...

    Once your all soldered and cooled, I would add a bit of electrical tape between the two connections just to further negate the possibility of a short.

    Then close the gripping tabs around the pairs...



    And then slide the outer shell back up and screw on...



    Now your done. Finish the other 3 jacks and finish applying heat shrink to appropriate points and your done.

    A bit of work but an audiophile grade cable for under $10 :D

    Any questions feel free to ask, hope you guys make some of these!

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  8. #8
    . SlimJimmy's Avatar
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    Where can I find heat shrink tubing?

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    Registered User SupraFuzion's Avatar
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    Doesn't the fact that CAT-5 is not pure copper affect the performance of the signal?
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  11. #11
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    nope. its pure enough to be used for network transmissions over lengths alot longer than your average truck, I think it will be just fine :)

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  12. #12
    Rage Against The Machine Underground87's Avatar
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    where do you buy the wire???
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  13. #13
    Registered User wizeguy4's Avatar
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    you can get that wire at Home depot either buy prepacked or you can buy it for whatever legnth you need off the rolls they have. You can find it in the electrical area with all fo the rest of the wiring they have for residential wiring.

    And the best part is that they are cheap.


    Let me add also that one time I was short on RCA's and I was in need of some in a bad way. I have RCA ends already. I took 2 legnths of remote turn on wire and put the ends into my cordless drill and had someone hold the other end of the wire and I twisted them with the drill. They come out perfectly twisted. I just soldered on the ends and I had RCA. They were 20 feet long and I paid like 2 bucks for the wire. And they were subs so I only needed one connector on each side since I do not play my subs in stereo.

    So if you do not have CAT5 wire, you can just use ordinary wire and a cordless drill. Just make sure it is stranded and not solid cause you may break solid wire during the twisting part.

    Bet you never knew you could make twisted wire with a cordless drill. Or at least never thought of it :)

  14. #14
    Dark Side Master LayinBodyBlazer's Avatar
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    got a tutorial of a guy who used several lenghts of CAT-5 (outer insulation removed) that braided them together using a drill for his speaker wire :)

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  15. #15
    Registered User wizeguy4's Avatar
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    uh, please tel me it was for interior speakers and not subs. That is some thin wire for use with a sub amp

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