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How to wire a passive 4 channel Cat5 XLR Snake
Old 27th March 2013
Gear Head

How to wire a passive 4 channel Cat5 XLR Snake

I've heard it's possible to use standard Cat5 to create a passive 4 channel xlr snake (8 wires in cat5, just not using the ground in each xlr) Can someone explain how to do this and what equipment I'll need? I'm not sure what kind of Cat5 to use (ie shielded? unshielded? ) and have never terminated Cat5 ends before.

I understand the risk in voiding the ground, and this snake would also not be able to carry phantom, but in my situation it would help out greatly and be very cost effective.

If anyone can provide any pin out diagrams or suggestions on how to go about doing this, it'd be greatly appreciated.
Old 27th March 2013
Gear Head

I forgot to clarify...I'd like something that has a disconnect at both ends so I can use the cat5 for other things (not permanently wired to the xlr ends).
Old 27th March 2013
Gear Nut

Cat 5 cable is basically a 'use once' deal in that it doesn't coil up again very well and of course it's dirt cheap. If you're absolutely determined to use the same cable in different ways in different places, just wire a 9-way D-sub connector at each end to make it portable from a wiring point of view.

There's something on the net somewhere about a guy who used shielded cat5 cable to wire a big church for mikes. Can't remember enough about it off the top of my head to tell you more but using the shielded cat5 you've got an earth, albeit a shared one. The cable is not much dearer than the ordinary unshielded ethernet cable, so that might be worth a think.

Be prepared for cable failure if you start coiling and re-coiling a load of this stuff. It doesn't like it.

Last edited by tacitus; 27th March 2013 at 12:12 PM.. Reason: poor spelling
Old 27th March 2013
Lives for gear
S21's Avatar

Cat5 cable has four twisted pairs. You need to use a pair of wires that are twisted together for each signal. Running signals over "split pairs" is a recipie for maximum interference.

Cat5 comes in solid copper (for permanent installations) and stranded copper (for patch leads and things that get moved). You will probably want stranded.

Shielded Cat5 isn't particularly common. Cat6 foiled twisted pair is pretty common, but Cat6 properly shielded isn't too common either. In the data world people who don't have interference/crosstalk/grounding/security problems use Unshielded cable, and people who have interference/crosstalk/grounding/security problems use fibre.
Old 27th March 2013
Gear Head

I'm only planning on using for Mic channels (which would use all eight cat 5 leads if I ignore the ground oink each xlr) I know I've seen something like this in professional environments before. The reason I want to use cat5 is I need it to go 300 feet and may need the cat5 for other things in the future.
Old 27th March 2013
Gear Head

Sorry I'm posting from my cell a hotel Av gig right now
Old 27th March 2013
Lives for gear

I have a four channel Cat5 snake from CBI. I believe it's made for DMX but I tested it with a microphone, DMX, and Clearcom and they all work. It's just an Ethercon box with female XLR's as one side and another set of Ethercon/male tails on the other end. Can't tell you the wiring schematic as I purchased it, and it wasn't expensive enough for me to consider making it myself (and I love building custom cabling).

Edit: Just came to me, it's called the Shuttle Snake.
Old 28th March 2013
Gear Head

Hmm im having trouble finding it. Can you post a picture?
Old 28th March 2013
Lives for gear

I did a quick Google search and couldn't find it either. I emailed CBI and should hear back soon. If they don't have a picture I'll take one later tonight. I'm not in the office today.
Old 28th March 2013
Lives for gear
Ok so now how about the exact opposite? We've been running a single 300' Ethercon to FOH along with our input snake and drive snake. Is there any way we could utilize 2 XLR channels from the drive snake (cat5 only uses 2 of the 4 pair if I'm not mistaken) and build some Y adaptors on each end to have them terminate to rj45 on each end, eliminating the need for a 3rd cable run to FOH? That would be great
Old 29th March 2013
Gear Nut
Lazerface's Avatar
Physically, yes. You'd need 3 channels to do that. CAT5, depending on what you're doing with it, will require at minimum 2 of the 4 pairs for transmission. That will get you 100 meg speeds (100BASE-TX), but that standard is falling out of use. Gigabit Ethernet requires all 4 pairs to function, and is still backwards compatible with earlier systems.

But more importantly, CAT5/5e/6 cabling works because each pair is twisted around each other, helping to reject interference. The length of each of the wires in a CAT5e/6 is also important as having too much difference in length can cause long delays and possibly no transmission problems. An audio multicore may not meet all these requirements. There are other standards too that I won't go into detail on. Also, you may get interference on neighboring channels of the multicore, which wouldn't be fun to troubleshoot mid show.

Your best bet is to just run another cable. A bit of up front effort will give you far less problems in the long run, and would be guaranteed to work the minute its in.
Old 29th March 2013
Lives for gear

Here's the shuttle snake info. As I mentioned, it's made for DMX but I tested it with a microphone and Clearcom, over a 100' Ethercon cable.
Attached Thumbnails
How to wire a passive 4 channel Cat5 XLR Snake-shuttlesnake.jpg  
Old 29th March 2013
Gear Head

How much was the shuttle snake, do you recall? If you can find any link to where I can purchase it that'd be great.
Old 29th March 2013
Gear Nut


There is a commercial product that does what you want called the InstaSnake. I have used it often for remote recording and it works well. There was a very large discussion of InstaSnake and DIY versions of Cat 5 and 6 cables as mic snakes on the Remote Possibiliites Forum:

There have been other discussions as well. Just do a search on GearSlutz for InstaSnake.

Bob Miller
Old 30th March 2013
Gear Head

great thanks Bob!
Old 13th December 2014
Here for the gear

found this : Sound Tools - CatSnake
Old 23rd May 2017
Here for the gear

I realize these posts are quit old but I thought I would chime in on the topic as I have just constructed one of these passive 4 channel snakes and it works very well.
I was a little worried that the signal to noise would be excessive but it was not. I tested my snake out at a show this past weekend and it was fine.

Basically it takes a little patience but anyone that is a little bit handy with a hole saw and soldering can put together a complete snake for around 60-70 dollars American.

The cost for me were primarily the hole saw.
Allied Electronics has a wide choice of solid aluminum boxes that work great for around 10-12 each. so the boxes themselves were 24.00 for each snake.
XLR connectors from GLS were around 1.50 each I used a total of 12 for the snake - about 18.00 total then add an etherCON connector to each box for 11.50 each or 23.00 and you have a total of around 65.00 for a complete snake. This of course does not include the cat 5 cable itself. However long you want it .. Just make sure it is SHIELDED.

I used 6 XLRs on each end of the two boxes to allow for both in and out signals I realize you can only use 4 channels at a time, but I built my snakes to be side snakes for on stage to get from the S16 digital snake back by the drummer and run along the outside edge of the stage to the front areas on each side. Thus I have two 4 channel snakes that at the end of the night, I can coil up and store neatly in a small briefcase size travel case. I paralleled two of the channels with both male and female connectors. This allow me to use the channels as either an input from the Performer into the S16 or as an out put from the S16 to the PA Mains. You could use adapters, but I hade the room on the box to add the additional connectors and for a couple dollars more it made it convenient.

The ethercon connectors are Neutrik NE8FDP etherCON RJ-45 Feedthrough Chassis Connector - $11.50 each. I chose feedthrough design so I did not have to mess with wiring the connector. I simply took a short shielded cat 5 patch cable and cut it off on each end to give me the connector and about 5 inches of pigtail.

All I had to do then was wire the pigtail ends to the XLR connectors.

Wiring is simple... I first grounded each Pin 1 of the XLR connectors by soldering a jumper between the ground lug of the connector and Pin 1.
Then making sure you keep the Twisted pairs consistent, I soldered all the solid colored wires to Pin 3s and the white/colored wires to Pin 2s.
All that was left was to solder the drain wire of the cat 5 to the Ground of one of the connectors.
All in all it was fun and it saved me around 75.00 a snake.
Old 24th May 2017
Here for the gear
I use these

I have used them with 300m cat5 and it works fine - ain't xlr
Old 29th May 2017
Not precisely the same thing, but Rat Sound makes goddamn awesome Cat5/6 stage boxes and cables called SuperCat that is VERY good. Maybe over the top for some people if it's just weekend warrior stuff you're after but if you're going to use it a lot, it's worth the dough.
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