A patch cord can refer to any one of a number of cords or cables, depending on the context. In the music industry, these cords are used to connect instruments to amplifiers, and production components to one another. Microphones use them, and headphone extension cords can also be termed patch cables or cords. In computer networking, a patch cord refers to Ethernet cable, used to hard-wire computers to a router. Other industries might also refer to various types of cabling by this term.
This type of cord can be made of traditional copper wire or fiber optic cable. The former is standard in most industries, and it is widely used in the music industry. An RCA audio and video cable is one type, as is a guitar patch cable that connects the instrument to the amplifier. These cables are also used to route signals to mixing boards, processors, conditioners, drum machines, and other instruments and components. The characteristics that separate one type of electrical cord from another are thickness, shielding, length and connectors.
Most patch cords come in lengths of 6 feet (roughly 2 meters). As electrical signals travel through wire, resistance causes signal decay. To prevent this, longer cords are typically thicker in diameter with better, thicker shielding. As a result, a 25-foot (7.6 meter) cord will be quite a bit more expensive than its shorter counterpart. Typically, longer cables are referred to as snake cables.
Fiber optic cable is used to manufacture Ethernet cables. This type of cable is made of glass fibers and can transmit data faster than traditional cabling, while also handling more bandwidth. Fiber optic cable is slowly replacing copper telephone lines to provide telephone, cable television, and Internet services. It is the favored medium for relaying digital signaling.
Ethernet cabling is available in many different thicknesses, types, and lengths. Spooled cabling is less expensive than pre-cut cabling and can be used to make custom cords. The outer sheath of Ethernet cabling is commonly color-coded and stamped with specifications for easy identification. Connectors are typically RJ-45, which resemble large telephone jacks. This cabling runs from computers to a network router when wireless connectivity is not used.
Another type of cabling that is made into patch cord is coaxial cabling, most commonly used to connect a cable signal to a television or cable box. Coax is manufactured by wrapping mesh wire around a “hot” center. The mesh wiring transmits the ground, while the center transmits the signal. It is often used with BNC connectors, a metal cap with a central pin.
Patch cords are commonly available wherever electronics or wiring is sold. Before buying a cord, shoppers should be sure the connectors are correct for the intended application and that the cable’s specifications and length meet the user's needs.