A plea for the most boring piece of hardware: the cable tester

Today, I’m writing about the most boring piece of hardware a musician can have.

No, I’m not talking about tuners – they come in great varieties, and there’s even some which allow you to tune all of the strings of your guitar simultaneously. I’m not talking about cables, either – this is one of the biggest nerd topics in the music (electronics) universe, as a look into any gear forum will quickly tell you. However, we’re already close: I’m talking about the cable tester.

The cable tester is so boring because you don’t hear it in any way – it does not affect your music or your sound; or so they think. And let’s be honest, if you just wire your microphone to your computer’s microphone in, then you most probably don’t need one.

Things change when your setup gets more complex. Already assembling that guitar pedal board and hauling it to a gig may leave you with crackles, hum or simply no signal at the venue, even if the thing did work before. Using a standard resistance tester as found in any simple meter can help here – but holding the probes of that meter to every lead of every cable gets boring quickly.

sending a most boring message: "that patch cable looks ok!"

Enter the cable tester. First of all, they come very cheaply. Mine is a Behringer CT-100, which goes for €25. There are cheaper ones available for as low as €15, and although there’s some by SM Pro Audio which go up to nearly €500, the sub-€50 range is usually what you’ll be looking at.

It works rather simple: for any supported cable type (here: XLR, 1/4, 1/8, TT, RCA and MIDI), there’s two connectors. Plug your cable in, switch to “cable tester” mode, and a 3×3 matrix shows you which input pins connect to which output pins. Twist the cable a little, and another set of LEDs will display intermittent contact. There’s also a test tone which you can feed into the cable (great for testing inputs e.g. of a mixing console), a LED pair displaying if a connected XLR supplies phantom (again: great for testing mixer inputs), and an installed cable mode will test for shorts (and if you short the other end also interruptions) on installed cables where you can’t just plug both ends into the tester. Ah btw, the thing is run with a 9V battery (which lasts very long).

This cable tester does everything I need. Especially the detection of intermittent faults is great, because many cables tend not to fail completely, but just when you twist one end one specific way. It’s also rather small, and cheap – and you need it if you have over 1000 cables…

 

…and the investment pays back right that day when you’re on that stage and have five minutes to find the faulty cable just before that big gig.

Everyone should have one.

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