XLR over CAT 5/6/7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_multicore_cable

An audio multicore cable (often colloquially referred to as a multicore, snake cable or snake) is a thick cable which usually contains 4–64 individual audio cables inside a common, sturdy outer jacket. Audio multicore cables are used to convey many audio signals between two locations, such as in audio recording, sound reinforcement, PA systems and broadcasting.

Multicores usually create a link between the stage and sound desk, or live room and control room. When used in sound reinforcement, the multicore cable runs from the stage box or microphone splitter to the front-of-house sound desk, where it connects to a mixing console. The signals going on the multicore cable are typically balanced microphone or line level signals. The vast majority of audio multicore cables consist of a number of shielded twisted-pair copper wires, suitable for balanced audio. The individual cables inside the multicore are usually screened independently. Multicore cables usually have a thick PVC or cross-linked polyethylene sheath protecting the bundle of individual cables.

In recent years there has been many attempts in sending audio signals over CAT5/5e/6/7 cable and even replace traditional “bulky” and expensive multicore cables with CAT5/5e/6/7 cable. I can see the financial attractiveness of using a couple of cat5e cables, and they might be persuaded to work in some situations. A mic multicore is a known, proven, robust and reliable solution which is readily available. If you are interested in more experimental solution, read further.

Although there’s an overall screen, each of the pairs in a cat5e cable are (usually) unscreened, and rely on different twist (lay) lengths to try and minimise crosstalk between the very high frequency signals they’re designed to carry. In contrast, a mic multicore uses identical lay lengths for each pair, but with individual pair screening (and sometimes an overall screen as well).

Interference from outside sources might not be too big a deal (as long as the cable doesnt get kinked or crushed), but it will be very reliant on the CMRR performance of the mic preamps, which varies considerably between different designs. However, my biggest concern would be for crosstalk between the different pairs in a cat5e cable. Crosstalk could be an issue but the twists are very tight, far tighter than any mic cable and are staggered so the adjacent pair does lay precisely aligned with the others. With well built balanced devices on the cable ends and signals at same signal level (all mic or line) things work usually OK. Even though a cat5e cable is designed to do a very different job to a purpose-made mic multicore, there are some products that claim to make it workable. You can run both balanced analogue line level signals and digital AES3 down cat5e. If you go for higher grade cable like CAT7 with individual per pair shield, the cross-talk issues are reduced.

There have been for some time been commercial products to convert XLR signals to CAT5 cable and back to XLR. SoundTools RAT CAT series of stage boxes, breakouts, and wall plates are designed to allow transmission of high resolution analog audio and data from XLR, DMX, or AES3 sources down Cat 5, Cat 6, or Cat 7 cables. A stage box unit with 4 channels allows to run mic level, line level analog, AES3, DMX and/or com down a single CAT cable. If more channels are needed several CAT cables are needed. There are also wall plate products that show XLR connectors on front and RJ-45 on the back.

#89 – SoundTools CAT Box Snake & SuperCAT CAT5e Review

SoundTools CAT Tails Audio over Cat5 First Look

Cat5e vs Audio Snake, Hear the Difference in Signal Loss of 100 meter cables

There are also other manufacturers that make products for the same application. Look for example following links
How to connect analog audio through cat 5 ethernet with the Radial Catapult
Audio Over CATx Cable – An Introduction to RDL’s Format-A System
Amazon XLR over CAT5 products

Besides commercial tools there are also DIY approaches for running audio over CAT 5/6/7 data cables. I have done that myself several times by soldering 6.3 mm jack or XLR connectors to the end of cut Ethernet cable. When you arrange the audio signals to different data pairs, balanced audio signals go over it quite well. For signal grounding I have used either one free data pair as signal ground in un-shielded cable. In shielded cable I can use the cable shield as ground. For balanced line level audio signals un-shielded and shielded cables have worked well. If your audio signals are not in balanced format, they do not transport too well over CAT 5 or 6 cables as they tend to pick up noise and crosstalk very easily. If you have unbalanced signals, it is best convert them to balanced before sending to CAT5/6 cable (signal converter or audio isolation transformer can be used).

There are several web pages in Internet that show how you can build your own XLR to CAT5 adapters. I will take a look at Jeff Geerling XLR over Cat5 – Balanced XLR Mic-Level & Line-Level Audio over Cat5 & Cat5e Cabling and Random Contributions DIY XLR ethernet cable audio snake on standard (unshielded) Cat5 Cat5e Cat6 cable pages.

XLR over Cat5 – Balanced XLR Mic-Level & Line-Level Audio over Cat5 & Cat5e Cabling page shows how to run readily-available Cat5e (shielded, solid) network cable to two VOX/mic locations that have XLR outlets. Limitations extremely tight budget for cable + installation. Use custom faceplates with two XLR jacks—female for VOX headsets, female for Mic input. Here is one picture from article:

DIY XLR ethernet cable audio snake on standard (unshielded) Cat5 Cat5e Cat6 cable tells that advertised products and solutions of this type demonstrate 4 channels of XLR audio on single Ethernet wire, but require shielded Ethernet. The “trick” to maximize the number of audio channels on an Ethernet cable is through the sharing of the ground connection for each of the individual channels. This article will focus on using un-shielded Ethernet cable to get THREE (3) analog audio channels. Here is drawing from that article:

If you have shielded cable, you can add fourth channel by connecting all the XLR pins 1 to cable shied, and use the last wire pair (in above example used as common ground) as the fourth audio channel. Remember that if you connect this king of four channel circuit with unbalanced cable, you will loose the ground continuity, which can show up on noise performance and that phantom power on mics might not work.

Here is Stairville RJ45 DMX Shuttle Snake FX4 wiring circuit diagram for 4 XLR to RJ-45 wiring. It is similar to RJ45 DMX Adaptor Snake 3 Pin Male wiring circuit diagram.

Here is my DIY adapter cable using the same wiring idea

20210422_215355

Trick to convert 4 channel adapter to 3 channel: Plug a special XLR plug where you have wired all pins 1,2,3 together to the channel 4 on both ends adapters. It will make the ground connection through the fourth wire pair.

You are free to build your DIY converters as boxes or as cables with many connectors. Both approaches should work as well electrically, but can have difference how much mechanical use and abuse they can take.

Some more discussion on DIY designs:
MUlticore cabling vs cat5/6/7 cabling for analog audio
Multi core cables vs Ethernet cables for snake connection
What makes a good Ethernet cable for audio applications?
Everything over Cat5 Cable

Another alternative to converting analog signals to Ethernet cable is to go full digital, where the audio is converted to digital format and transported as Ethernet data over CAT5/6/7 cable. There are cases where going digital and hooking up via catx cable makes a but more practical sense. But here there be dragons because there are a lot of different systems with different capabilities and — importantly — (in)compatibilities! There are several digital stagebox/snake solutions on the market that are entirely stand-alone and self-contained, with analogue converter stageboxes at each end. Others use variations of standard networking protocols that theoretically make them compatible with other manufacturers systems — or use proprietary formats that are compatible with certain manufacturers products. DANTE is one of the most popular right now, but there are many others. Several stage box devices can be powered also though Ethernet cable, link for example one shown in Neutrik DLINE & DPRO PoE Dante Audio Network Interface – Second Look video.

29 Comments

  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    https://gearspace.com/board/music-computers/148698-wiring-cat-5-digital-aes-connection.html

    Yes, this is common these days. Using an ethernet patch bay you can send 8 channels/4 pairs over each cat 5. Just don’t feed it through a switch! I’ve included a pinout.

    Couple of points – Cat5/6 has the same characteristic impedance as balanced AES, and shielding is not necessary – ethernet is not shielded.
    The TX and RX of a balanced AES stream is transformer balanced and floating.
    Cat5e or 6 is not an issue, but not for the reason you’d expect – the bandwidth of AES is a hair under 2 MHz, nowhere near the 50MHz of Cat5 or the 500MHz of Cat6. That said, AES receivers are not as good at reclocking rounded signals, so you’re better off with Cat6 in theory. However, Cat5e works very well and it’s cheap.
    If you’re sending the signals a distance you’re always better with 75ohm coax AES, but if you’re just shipping it around locally then Cat5e will work great. It’s NOT a compromise at all.

    Pinout PDF
    https://gearspace.com/board/attachments/music-computers/42182d1191518199-wiring-cat-5-digital-aes-connection-rj45-aes-pinout.pdf?s=712c705f6056933c2a37c4e19995fac8

    Reply
  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    From https://www.facebook.com/groups/avdisasters/permalink/3708569405938210/

    You said “indoor and outdoor” recordings. If this is cable that will be coiled and uncoiled often, and exposed to foot traffic or the weather, you’d be better off with a “tactical” Cat 6 cable that has stranded conductors for flexibility and a sturdy jacket similar to mic cables. They are A LOT more expensive, but potentially worth it to avoid a failure in the middle of a gig.
    Something like this:

    https://www.markertek.com/product/tuffcat6a-ep-150/laird-tuffcat6a-ep-150-super-tough-cat6a-cable-with-ethercon-rj45-to-proshell-rj45-locking-connector-system-150-foot

    Reply
  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Some ideas for audio and other signals over UTP and STP wiring connections

    QTP User guide Expands with Support from Ward-Beck Systems
    https://quadtwistedpair.com/qtp-to-xlr/541/

    Reply
  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    WHAT IS QTP?
    Quad Twisted Pair is moving 4 channels of Analog or AES audio over Category Networking cables.
    http://quadtwistedpair.com/what-is-qtp/

    Most audio Installations use shielded microphone cable for transmitting, this practice is overkill in most installations

    If the transmitter and the receiver are differentially balanced, the shield is not necessary for transmission

    Within Quad Twisted Pair, the different twisting ratios within Cat 5e and Cat 6, Crosstalk is nonexistent.

    Reply
  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    AES STANDARD
    AES72-2019: AES standard on interconnections – Application of RJ45-type connectors and quad twisted pair cable for audio interconnections
    https://www.aes.org/publications/standards/search.cfm?docID=108

    Printing Date: 2019-07-07
    Publication History: Published 2019
    Abstract: This standard documents 8P8C (RJ45) pin-outs commonly used in analog and digital professional audio applications to carry four links, including channel/link order, signal polarity and phantom power compatibility. Type numbers are assigned to these variations, allowing manufacturers to easily specify which wiring standard is used in a particular piece of equipment. Users may use these type numbers to assess compatibility of disparate equipment in a given application. This standard also documents practical application details of interest to users of this technology. Conformance with this standard will identify mutually compatible devices, enabling users to avoid problems when employing equipment from multiple manufacturers.

    COMMENTS ON DRAFT AES72-XXXX
    https://www.aes.org/standards/comments/comments-draft-aes72-xxxx-190215.cfm

    Reply
  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    2017-11-17
    AES-X246, AES Standard: Audio over quad twisted pair
    https://www.aes.org/standards/meetings/init-projects/aes-x246-init.cfm

    This standard documents 8C8P (RJ45) pin-outs commonly used in analog and digital professional audio applications, including channel/link order, signal polarity and phantom power compatibility. Conformance with this standard will identify mutually compatible devices, enabling users to avoid problems when employing equipment from multiple manufacturers.

    The RJ45 – 8P8C connector and quad twisted pair cable has become ubiquitous throughout the datacom (data communications) industry for Ethernet connections. This high-volume usage has greatly reduced costs, making the hardware attractive for other applications. In typical installations, it is necessary to connect multiple signals from one location to another. Consequently several manufacturers have developed schemes to connect 4 balanced analog audio signals or 4 balanced AES3 connections using this hardware. Unfortunately equipment from different manufacturers is often incompatible. This standard identifies the commercially available variants and specifies a labeling scheme so users may select compatible equipment or takes steps to alleviate the problems

    Reply
  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Cat5e vs Audio Snake, Hear the Difference in Signal Loss of 100 meter cables
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KZqoA12Qjr8&feature=youtu.be

    I came up with a really cool test to easily and clearly hear the actual loss in signal cables using simple and relatively inexpensive gear.

    the test setup allows you to hear the actual loss in the cables. So louder is more loss and brighter is more HF loss which means the cable is dulling the sound

    Reply
  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_multicore_cable

    An audio multicore cable (often colloquially referred to as a multicore, snake cable or snake) is a thick cable which usually contains 4–64 individual audio cables inside a common, sturdy outer jacket. Audio multicore cables are used to convey many audio signals between two locations, such as in audio recording, sound reinforcement, PA systems and broadcasting.[1] Multicores often route many signals from microphones or musical instruments to a mixing console, and can also carry signals from a mixing console back to speakers.

    In audio engineering, the term multicore may refer to the several things:

    an unterminated length of multicore cable intended for analog audio signals (a type of cable harness)
    a terminated cable, with a multipin connector or many individual connectors
    the entire assembly of a terminated multicore cable and stage box

    Multicores usually create a link between the stage and sound desk, or live room and control room. When used in sound reinforcement, the multicore cable runs from the stage box or microphone splitter to the front-of-house sound desk, where it connects to a mixing console.[2] Portable multicore cables, stored loose or on a drum, enable sound systems to be set up at temporary outdoor locations such as music festivals.[3] Permanent installations, especially recording studios, use stage boxes mounted in the floor or walls, with the multicore cable running through the ceiling or false floor.[4]

    Different termination methods can be used on each end to suit the application. When individual connectors are used, three pin XLR connectors are most common, although 1⁄4 inch (6.35 mm) phone connectors are occasionally used.[2] An end with many individual connectors fanning out is sometimes called a tail or fanout, and generally connects directly to a mixing console.

    The number of connectors on a multicore is often specified by notation such as “8/4″ or “8×4″ for 8 sends and 4 returns. Sends usually connect a microphone to a mixing console, and returns connect a mixing console to speakers.[1] A snake with only returns is often called a drive snake

    Composite multicores combine different types of signals in the one cable. They may contain coaxial cores for video, twisted pair for data or low voltage cores for mains power. Composite multicores are usually used to connect professional video cameras, but they are now gaining usage in live event support

    The vast majority of audio multicore cables consist of a number of twisted-pair copper wires, suitable for balanced audio.[2]:50 To reduce noise, the shield of each channel is often isolated from the other shields. Balanced connections may use XLR connectors or 1⁄4 inch (6.35 mm) TRS phone connectors (see § Terminations).

    The broadcast industry tends to use audio multicores containing star quad cables, due to their increased rejection of radio-frequency interference.[14] Some multicore cables designed for unbalanced audio are made, and they contain a number of single-core screened cables.

    What Is An Audio Snake And Are They Required?
    https://mynewmicrophone.com/what-is-an-audio-snake-and-are-they-required/

    The audio world is full of neat gadgets and devices that make the lives of professionals and amateurs easier. One such optimization is the audio snake.

    What Is An Audio Snake And Are They Required? An audio snake is essentially one physical cable that combines multiple audio cables within its body. Snakes come in a variety of lengths; a number of channels, and connection types. Though snakes make patching/running multiple lines much easier, they are not required and are simply an optimization.

    In this article, we’ll discuss audio snakes in greater detail and touch on their applications in the audio industry.

    Reply
  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    FTP cable also known as F/UTP cabling is one of the three main types of twisted pair wiring. The other two types are UTP cable, where the twisted pairs are unshielded, and STP cable with twisted pairs screened with a braid.

    https://www.elandcables.com/the-cable-lab/faqs/faq-what-are-ftp-foiled-twisted-pairs-cables

    Reply
  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Studio 6: Q&A 0 – Balanced Audio over Ethernet Cabling?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6KXNkF8zS0

    Sam buys some junk at a hardware store and kitbashes up an XLR to RJ-45 adapter to see if it works.

    And by “ethernet cabling,” I do mean ethernet cable. As in cable used for ethernet. Sure, you could call it “unshielded Cat5e twisted pair,” but no one will admit to knowing what you mean. So it’s ethernet cable.

    Reply
  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    HOW TO SEND AUDIO OVER ETHERNET WITH THE WALLCAT 8 | Unboxing and Review
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Icdd_IGXqo

    In this video, we are checking out the SoundTools WallCat 8; an easy to install 2 gang wall plate that can send 4 XLR connections over a single shielded CAT5/CAT6/CAT7 ethernet cable.

    I plan to use this at an install I am doing in Petersburg, VA, Greater Works, to handle their two front speakers and 2 instrument plug-ins that will be routed to their new media booth.

    Reply
  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Cat5e vs Audio Snake, Hear the Difference in Signal Loss of 100 meter cables
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZqoA12Qjr8

    I came up with a really cool test to easily and clearly hear the actual loss in signal cables using simple and relatively inexpensive gear.

    the test setup allows you to hear the actual loss in the cables. So louder is more loss and brighter is more HF loss which means the cable is dulling the sound

    Reply
  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Using Cat5 cable for analog, AES3 and ClearCom signals with the Cat Snake System
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djep5sFmVsU

    The Cat Snake System uses shielded cat5/6 to transpot 4 lines of analog audio, AES/EBU, Clear Com or DMX. Here is a demo of analog, com and AES down a 100 meter Cat5 cable. For more info check out soundtools.com

    Reply
  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Testing AES3 maximum cable lengths down CAT5, Audio Snake and Mic Cables
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-qoZPKsLDs

    Comparing various lengths of mic cable, AES cable, snake cable and Cat 5 cables with AES 48, 96 and 192 Khz.

    Reply
  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    What is the difference between Cat5e Cat6 Cat7 and Cat8 Cabling? (cat 6 vs 7 vs 8 )
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69yF8K6JGE

    Which Ethernet Cable to Use? Cat5? Cat6? Cat7? Cat8?
    What is the difference between Cat5e Cat6 Cat7 and Cat8 Cabling?
    When it comes to Cat5e Cat6 Cat7 Cat8 data cabling it’s hard to know which cable to go for. They all deliver unique results for even the most complicated projects. Due to the increasing implementation of 10 Gigabit networks within the workplace in not only backbone links but also 10Gig to the desk the legacy cabling systems of Cat5e and Cat6 are now phasing out in newer installations

    How does Cat5e Cat6 Cat7 Cat8 data cabling work?
    A data cable consists of 8 copper wires with a single cable sheath. This data cable provides electrical signal transmission between two devices
    The termination ends of the data cable are standardised to create a common connector. Especially for all patch leads, patch panels and data termination plugs. Furthermore the high categories of cabling these connectors have kept the outline of the standard and evolved into additional contacts for faster transmission speeds

    Reply
  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Ethernet Cables, UTP vs STP, Straight vs Crossover, CAT 5,5e,6,7,8 Network Cables
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NX99ad2FUA

    This is an animated video explaining Ethernet network cables, such as unshielded twisted pair (UTP) and shielded twisted pair (STP). Straight (patch ) cables vs Crossover cables and CAT 3,5,5e,6,6a,7 and 8. It also shows the wiring order of ethernet cables and how to make RJ45 network patch cables.

    Terminating Cat6 Shielded Cable with a Standard RJ45 Connector: Detailed tutorial
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bQjrDirT6g

    Terminating Cat 6 cable can be tricky with a standard RJ45 connector that is not pre-booted. In this video, Pro AV product engineer Ralph Parrett demonstrates some best practices for terminating Cat6 cable with full 360º shielding and strain relief by using heat shrink tubing.

    Reply
  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How To: Terminate an Unshielded Cat6/6A RJ45 Plug
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYYVhimigYM

    How to Make Ethernet Pass Through Patch Cable? | VCELINK
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4Mkr-TJtkw

    Reply
  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Audio Over CATx Cable – An Introduction to RDL’s Format-A System
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SID05i_jB-4

    RDL’s Format-A system is a family of compatible products that send, receive and distribute audio and dc power over standard CATx cable and connectors. Endpoint sending and receiving modules are available for every type of audio device; mic level, line level, balanced, unbalanced, mono and stereo.

    Visit http://www.rdlnet.com/Format-A for more information.

    Introduction to RDL Dante / Format-A Networked Audio Products
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxzw7169E_M

    Reply
  19. Tomi Engdahl says:

    #122​ – SoundTools CAT Tails Audio over Cat5 First Look
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KksCNheWmO4

    In this video we’re taking a first look at the CAT Tails audio over CAT5 break-out adapters for sending balanced audio over shielded network cable.

    Reply
  20. Tomi Engdahl says:

    UTP (Unshielded twisted pair) is very inexpensive, easy to run, and versatile. In this project, I show how I make an adaptor to run unbalanced audio from RCA jacks over cat5e already running in the wall to connect to my amplifier.

    The unbalanced over UTP cable is not usually a good idea because it is much more sensitive in picking noises than balanced signals.

    Unbalanced Audio over UTP
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JbhR_tNPXE

    Unbalanced Audio over UTP part 2
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVETLSw8ovY

    Reply

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