Coax Connectors - Crimp vs. Solder vs. Compression vs. Twist-On
Coax cables are fairly simple to assemble, but there are a few different ways to go about doing so. Having a good coax signal is heavily dependant on installing a connector correctly. If you are unsure about how to install a coax connector, see our installation guide here.
Whether crimp, solder, compression, and twist-on is the best option will depend on the exact setting the cable will be used in. Consider questions such as:
- Is the cable low- or high-voltage?
- Will it be used for field-work or factory-work?
- How experienced are the individuals working with the cable?
- How long is the cable expected to last?
- What is the budget?
- Will the cable be in a hazardous environment (extreme temperatures, exposure to chemicals, vibrating machinery, etc.)?
The details below cover the different options with general, overall performance in mind. If other factors come into play, a type of connector not normally considered “the best” could be your best option.
Crimp connectors are the most popular option and the go-to for most professionals. Crimping has two large advantages over the other options: it is easy and it is fast. With good tools and enough know-how, a crimp connector can be attached in less than 30 seconds.
Crimping works by taking the metal sleeve of the connector and squeezing it tightly onto the cable, securing the connector into place. It sounds simple, but these connections are gas-tight and can hold up to any reasonable pull test when secured properly. The only special tool needed to install a crimp connector is a crimper.
How simple crimping is will depend on the crimp tool used. As is the case with most tools, you get what you pay for. People starting out with crimping or who only need a crimp a few cables should be ok with a simple, inexpensive crimper. If you are planning to make 1000 cables, picking up something with good grips that will not kill your hands is a good investment.
*Note: Some types of crimp connectors will require users to solder the center pin into place, even though the connector is labeled as a crimp connector.
Soldering takes more time and effort than crimping with a similar end result. When done correctly a solder connection can perform better than crimping, but pulling this off generally requires a skilled technician and depends on the connector being used. A properly soldered connector can provide a stronger electrical signal than a crimp connector, but physically they are a bit more flimsy.
Soldering anything (coax connectors or otherwise) can be difficult for beginners. If soldering is new to you, it is highly recommended to look up a guide beforehand and take it slow. Applying too much solder or too little can result in a faulty or non-functional cable. Watching video guides also helps with getting an idea of how the process works before jumping in.
Performing a solder installation will require a soldering iron. There are different types of soldering irons and having the right tools for the job is just as important as having the right skills. Unless you must solder, crimping is usually the faster, easier, and as efficient option. You will also need a wrench, pliers, or something similar to tighten the connector together after hand-tightening.
One consideration for soldier connections is the type of material the dielectric is made from. The dielectric is the plastic-looking bit inside some types of cable and connectors. If a soldering iron is mishandled, the dielectric can melt and break the connector. Some materials like teflon can hold up to soldering well. Others, like foam, do not hold up as well to soldering and can be easily damaged.
Compression connectors are similar to crimp connectors, being faster and easier to install while using a similar installation method. First, the connector is twisted onto the cable and then a compression tool is used to tighten the connection. The seal between the cable and connector is tighter for compression, making them more weatherproof than their crimp counterparts.
The downsides of compression connectors stem from one simple fact: they are new. Not every type of coax connector is available in compression. Typically, only the most common types of coax like F-type and BNC are available as compression connectors. Compression connectors tend to cost about the same as crimp connectors, although this can vary from one manufacturer to the next.
Compression tools do tend to cost more than crimp tools but there is less strain on the tool with each install, so they last longer. A single compression tool could still be going strong in the same amount of time two or three crimpers wear out. The quality of the tools is also a major factor here, but compression tools tend to have a longer lifespan.
Twist-on connectors are not recommended. Since no tool is used to secure the connector, twist-on coax always has a weaker signal than the other types of coax on top of being more flimsy. At best, twist-on connectors can be used as a short-term solution or as an emergency field repair. Twist-on is not recommended for use with a signal exceeding 1 GHz.