Ten Principles of Cable Management
Running multiple computers, servers, electronic musical instruments, touch screens etc. can create a giant mess of cables in your studio. Unorganized cables can be very unsightly, make it harder to troubleshoot issues, cause issues when trying to add/upgrade new gear into your system, be big collectors of dust, and so much more. A lot of these issues can be greatly reduced, or even solved with proper cable management.
Cable management is the process of planning, organizing, and maintaining all of the cables in your system, be it the internal cables of your computer system or the external cables of your studio set up. Cable management can be a pain, especially when working with systems already in place, but can make your set up much neater looking aesthetically, as well as (and much more importantly) provide much more flexibility when performing maintenance and/or upgrade to your system. This will save you time, as well as being much easier to troubleshoot when something goes wrong. If you are cable managing inside your PC, you may even find that it helps increase the performance as fans may have even been accidentally blocked/clogged via untidy wiring.
Good cable management allows you to easily add or replace a whole cable from your set up without having to deal with a rat’s nest of tangled wires and not be sure if you are even tracing/disconnecting the right one before it is too late. Cables are less likely to be disconnected in accidental jostles, and you may find that you are even more physically comfortable in a well cable managed set up due to less physical wires on or around your desk, and peripherals you move around often (such as your mouse) are way less likely to get tangled and snagged on the other present cables.
1. Plan ahead
Plan out and know where you are going to run cables to and from before you start assembling your set up. This will help you figure out the best place to position your gear, as well as running your cables. Make note of any cables ports, channels, or electrical outlets that you have available, and strategize how you will utilize them most efficiently with what needs to be plugged in. You may find drawing it out by hand or in a program to be beneficial.
Some computer cases come with built in cable management features, such as cable loops or channels, as well as holes/grommets from the back of the case to the locations on the motherboard where you will need to connect your devices. Be sure to be aware of your cases features and utilize them in your build.
2. Route extra cables for modularity/upgrades
Routing extra cables in your initial set up for potential upgrades you see down the line can save you quite a bit of time in the future. For instance, if you know you will soon buy an additional computer or monitor for your rig, why not include an extra Ethernet or DisplayPort cable when routing the others? This will make it much faster when you do add that machine, and it won’t add much additional clutter.
Another option is to include cable clips on your desk for peripherals you don’t use all the time, but would like to be able to quickly connect. So extra USB-C , lightning bolt, thunderbolt etc. cables that are connected to the computer on one end, but not connected to anything yet and mounted to your desk ready to go when the time comes.
3. Have as few cables as needed (or eliminate extra cables)
Despite the previous tips advice of including additional cables that you don’t have use for currently, having fewer cables to manage can make management much easier. There are ways to do this without influencing the performance of your system. Consider using wireless accessories on devices it may make sense to use (such as a keyboard or mouse), docking stations or hubs, or even getting rid of wires/gear you don’t use often from your set up.
Inside a computer, consider using a modular power supply. This reduces the total amount of cabling in your system, which also has the benefit of giving you more space to work with.
4. Label your wires (color code!)
Looking at a bunch of very similar black wires can make it hard to find what you need when you need it. One option to alleviate this is to use a label maker and label what each wire is. For power bricks/power cables, it can be useful to write on them in white/silver sharpie what they are, or stick masking tape on them and write on that.
Some studios even color code their cables and set up a system where they know exactly which cable is which from either end. In the example linked, they use green electrical tape to denote microphone cables and then further colors to denote “cable 1”, “cable 2”, “cable 3”, etc. This can be very useful and worth setting up for your studio so you are never chasing XLR’s or ¼ inch cables from end to end to make sure you are plugging/unplugging the right one. Another option is to label your cables by length connection type and length.
5. Don’t be afraid to use “extra” components to help tidy up
There is a lot of cable management specific gear on the market. It is not “cheating” to buy additional gear to help you cable manage. In fact, in can be greatly beneficial and save you time and energy, as well as being visually pleasing.
Some options that exist are:
Cable mesh/Cable sleeves
Specifically designed cable management Velcro
6. Avoid diagonal lines and minimize crossings
Avoiding diagonal lines and minimizing the amount of times your wires cross other wire provides more than just aesthetic benefits. It makes it much easier to trace and replace your cables when needed. It also helps keep your wires from getting tangled.
7. Wrap your wires together
Loose wires typically are the biggest issues with cable management. Wrapping them with a sleeve, Velcro, zip ties, or string tidies them up. Try to group the cables in “logical” ways and be consistent. Don’t start by tying together your keyboard, mouse, and USB hub on one end and by the other side they are all separated differently and tied together with other cables. Remember, the goal is to not have to undo your entire system when you make a change.
An additional benefit of tying up your wires with a plan means you can hide your smaller, thinner wires behind either larger, thicker wires or cable sleeves.
8. Keep your wires off the floor
Keeping your wires off the floor can prevent injury to you, your coworkers, or even your gear. Tripping on a wire and falling, or having that wire pull down and destroy an entire system is an easily preventable thing. Keep your wires off the floor! You can mount wires underneath your desk via a cable rack (and also mount some form of a power strip via Velcro) and run all of your cables on the bottom side of your desk with only a few cables coming out, running down the side of the leg to where it needs to go. This also has the added benefit of being able to vacuum much more easily (thus, further preventing dust build up!)
If you need to run cables across the floor, make use of channel strips. These are a much safe option than loose wires or running it under a carpet (which I do NOT recommend).
9. Learn to wrap your cables properly for storage
Properly wrapping and storing your cables increases their lifespan as well as makes it much easier to use them when the time comes. Here, here, here, and here are great videos explaining how to properly wrap an audio cable. I cannot express how important it is to properly wrap your cables. Once they are wrapped, use a piece of cable management Velcro (which should be on each cable at all times if you used it properly) to keep them wrapped.
10. Hiding =/= management
Hiding your cables so they are out of sight is not cable management. Just because it is aesthetically pleasing, does not mean your cables are managed. A big thing to remember is the cleanliness and organization of your cables are just as important as the cleanliness and organization of your workspace. The ultimate goal here is to have a set up where you can change cables out quickly and safely, without needing to worry about a giant unsightly tangled mess.