Back when I started to get into modulars you didn’t have a lot of choices when it came to patch cables. Doepfer made the ones with the best price-value ratio, Tiptop stackables were the object of desire, available to those with deeper pockets. That was more or less it.
Fortunately, with the explosion of the modular phenomenon, there’s also been quite a growth in the cabling department. Patch cables aren’t just patch cables, they can have very different qualities, or defects. Aspects like colour, stiffness, thickness and overall build quality strongly determine how well they perform their duties.
While going the monochromatic route might look good, using cables of different colours has various practical advantages: For example you can use one for audio, one for modulations and another one for gates/clock signals, or you can use different colours for different sections of a complex patch. Even if you don’t follow any of the previous approaches, visual differences help in following the signal path, especially on big systems and busy patches.
Not every manufactuter will let you buy any length in any colour, for example Doepfer uses grey for 50cm cables, black for the 30cm ones and yellow for the really short ones, but you can’t get a 50cm one in red or any other hue. I have actually always wondered about the reasons behind this, since it’s not a very useful information when patching, they might as well produce them all in grey.
Stiff vs. Soft
This seems to be a topic that splits the community in two: some people like cables to hang down like overcooked-spagettis, others like them to stick out so that the modules are easier to reach. I guess both approaches have their pros and cons and fortunately you can get cables with a pretty wide range of stiffness or softness.
Since the market starts to get pretty crowded, a little list might help you find the perfect cable. Let’s have a look at each brand in detail. I’ll only be focusing on standard 3,5mm patch cables here, leaving out more specialized ones.
The A100C cables are a classic like most of Doepfer’s products and the price is pretty fair. They come in different lengths (as previously mentioned each length has its own colour). The connector is very thin, which can be both good and bad. Good because even on modules with very tight jack layouts you won’t have any problems, bad because they can be a bit hard to grab at times. The plastic used to coat them is rather stiff, so cables up to 50cm aren’t really affected by gravity. Occasionally you can get a bad one, but in general the quality of these seem to be good.
These cables come in the following sizes: 15cm, 30cm, 50cm, 80cm, 120cm, and 200cm.
Stackability vs. non stackability might be worth an entire article. Tiptop is among the few to offer cables you can connect in series just like bananas. This makes the euro modular feel a bit more like a Buchla and replaces passive multiples in many cases (though you’ll still need the buffered ones). There’s of course a limit to how many cables you can stack and it’s not really great if you’re the mobile-type of modularist, who likes to put the lid onto the case in a hurry.
This said, Tiptop covers the upper part of the price spectrum but the cords feel very sturdy and well made. The plastic is more on the soft side, so they tend to hang down a bit. Like the ones from Dopfer, the colour refelects the length of the cable.
They come in the following sizes: 20cm, 35mm, 55mm, 70cm and 95cm.
Analogue Systems invented their own Eurorack format in parallel with Doepfer, they also have their own cables (made by Cliff, who also makes the jack sockets). Apparently these were made according to inputs and feedbacks from people on Muffwiggler and, while not really cheap, they are said to be of highest standards. Not sure you can buy the nice coloured pack above outside of the UK.
The second generation
Ad Infinitum offers some good quality cables for a decent (though not super-cheap) price. You can get each length in different hues, which makes it easier to incorporate colour in your own patching strategy. The plastic is also rather soft, so we’re dealing with the “hanging” type here as well.
The only thing to keep in mind with these, is that the connector is rather big, so on certain, very tight modules there could be problems.
They come in the following sizes: 15mm, 30cm, 45cm, 60cm, 90cm and 120cm. Depending on the size you can get them in up to 8 different colours.
You’ll also find rebranded versions of these cables from companies like Intellijel, Make Noise and Schneiders Laden.
Erthenvar cables have been around for some time, haven’t used them myself, but they seem to have a good reputation, plus they probably have the largest selection of colours and models.
Available lenghts are 12cm, 15cm, 22cm, 30cm, 45cm, 60cm, 90cm, 120cm, 180cm, 360cm. You can get them straight or angled and they also have a stackable version with an additional stacking connector in the middle. Almost all models come in a wide range of colours.
ES fill another gap in the cabling landscape by offering “glow at night” cables. This is also the only model they have. The quality of the cable is good. They have a white-yellowish colour by day, but in the dark they glow like a pimped-up ride. You can get these in the following sizes: 15cm, 30cm, 50cm and 65cm.
They have some black and yellow cables, with these sizes: 30cm, 60cm and 120cm.
They offer cables in various lenghts (15cm, 30cm, 50cm, 80cm), the longer ones are red, the 30cm ones white and the small ones black. Haven’t used them, but I’ve heard good things. They used to have orange ones as well, but I can’t find them anymore.
If you like metal connectors, you’ll be pretty much out of luck if not for these guys from Germany (and another brand we’ll see below). They offer some nice cables with aluminum connectors in 30cm, 60cm and 90cm lengths. You can have them in any colour you want, as long as it is black.
update: I was able to try some of these cords, the build quality is excellent and they have a nice feel. To be honest, since the price is quite high, I wasn’t expecting any less, but it’s probably worth it. The cable used is rather soft (i.e. “hanging type”). The only downside is that the shell comes loose quite easily while patching, so they might be better for more permanent connections.
Since releasing their MS-20 reissues, Korg also introduced the “MS Cable Set”, which includes 12 long (75cm) cables and 6 short (25cm) ones. They are well made and come in several colours (though you can’t choose them). The connector is slightly bigger than on the Dopefers, but still small enough to fit even the tighter modules.
They have a great price/value ratio.
They only offer one type of braided, 30cm cable in black. They look very nice and felt good when I tried them at a synth meeting.
They come in 3 sizes, the small ones (20cm) are black, the long ones (80cm) are grey and the medium ones (40cm) are turquoise and purple. The cables are very thick and stiff, despite this, the connector is still smaller than the one on the Ad Infinitums. The price is pretty good considering the quality of the cable.
(no, I didn’t have anything to do with the design of these, in case you’re wondering).
*update*: it’s been confirmed to me that these are not being made by the same company that makes the Nazca ones below, they might look similar, but they’re actually very different cables.
Nazca offers braided patch cables in different lengths (22cm, 138cm and 60cm), there’s two colours for each size to choose from. Haven’t used them, but they look pretty similar to the Mutable Instruments ones, and the price is more or less the same.
Black Market Modular
You can get these in an abundance of lengths (9cm, 25cm, 50cm, 75cm, 100cm, 150cm), and each one is available in many colours! The connector seems to be just of the right size. Haven’t tried these yet, but will report back when I have.
Lat but not least, you’ll have seen these on Divkid’s module demo videos, these cables have a small LED built into the connector, which shows the current flowing through them. You can use them to monitor your CVs, or just to add even more blinking to your rack.
Could not find any information about available lengths, and they seem to only have three colours: red, green and yellow. The connector seems to be a nice, solid metal one.