TL;DR: both Tendrils and Ctrl-Mod 3.5mm eurorack patch cables are amazingly thin, durable, and highly functional. Make your decision based on whether you need straight or right-angled, and how you feel about the aesthetic differences.
Update 2022/08/01: article updated to note that Ctrl-Mod also has 3.5mm patch cables with a head color other than black - translucent and a variety of camo-ish colours (white, gray, olive, desert, brown), as well as right-angle cables.
Eurorack modular synth enthusiasts have no shortage of cables to choose from. There are thick ones, thin ones, and even ones that glow in the dark. As you might imagine, not every cable is ideal for every situation. I'm going to explore two very popular super-thin cables - Tendrils and Ctrl-Mod.
Why Super Thin?
When I first go into eurorack I didn't overthink my first set of cables. I went for Winterbloom's patch cables because of their lovely colours and nothing else. Admittedly, they are wonderful, tough, and fun looking. But they are also quite thick and chunky.
This year I decided to travel and take my eurorack case with me for some impromptu sets on various street corners in various parts of the world. It became immediately clear that I'd need a thin patch cable that was pliable, durable, and would allow me to leave my case patched up even when closed.
There are a few options on the market but I went with Tendrils and Ctrl-Mod because of their reputation, price, and availability. Oh, and because they have a wonderful set of colour options.
Tendrils Right-Angled Patch Cables
Unless you're a total patch rebel who starts fresh every day, you generally have a few patch points that are consistently the same. Perhaps you route your oscillators to your mixer the same each time or always sync the same way. In these instances it really makes sense to find the shortest length of cable. You will also benefit greatly, visually and ergonomically, from having these connections be as low as possible.
The best way to achieve this is with a right-angled cable. This allows the head to get out of the way so that the cable length is situated closer to your modules rather than sticking high up in the air.
These cables are TS to TS (mono/unbalanced), spirally shielded and are made with 26 AWG copper wire. They come in 10, 15, 20, 30, 45, 60, or 90cm which is equivalent to 4, 6, 8, 12, 18, 24, or 36".
Tendrils are particularly wonderful because they're so bloody thin in body, 2.5mm in diameter, but also the head is particularly slender and only 12mm in height when patched. This creates a setup in which you can forget about the foundational components of your patch so that you can focus on exploring.
The cables feel great. They're the perfect balance of sturdy while also being pliable. There is a fine balance between a thin cable and jelly. You want your patches to have some amount of hold to them so that they're not sagging and getting in your way.
I should note that I also got a few straight cables and they are equally fantastic. In fact, in some applications they are even preferable to the right-angled. For example Bastl's wonderful Softpop2 synth has patch points that are so close together that right-angled cables are impractical. Tendrils has some wonderful 10cm and 15cm cables that work wonderfully in these situations. In the above photo the white cables are Tendrils. The cables with the black head are Ctrl-Mod which we'll get to next; they look wonderful too against the Softpop 2's black body, don't you think? We can all get along.
Aesthetically the design gets top marks. There is a wide variety of colours which should have something for everyone. I myself like the lighter colours but there are bolder options too. There is no branding and the colours are solid whereas Ctrl-Mod has black, translucent, white, gray, olive, desert, and brown as options.
The fact that the entire cable is one colour can be used to your advantage by enabling you to structure and organize your patches.
For example, if you know that all of your gates are turquoise then you save yourself a little mental time trying to figure out what's routed where as you delve further into your rabbit hole. Or perhaps your modules are entirely black but you want to use only white patch cables. You can get quite artistic in this way. What a wonderful world.
The package from Tendrils was incredibly compact but also packed very professionally. Contents were all carefully positioned and in pristine condition. I was very pleased. There were no mystery costs when the goods arrived to me in Canada from Australia. Communication was quick and professional.
My only complaint
Just kidding, there are none! I have nothing but positive things to say about Tendrils cables. They are durable, pliable, ultra compact and will make tangible and aesthetic contributions to your eurorack journey.
Control, or Ctrl-Mod, is a eurorack shop from Brooklyn, NY. They have an awesome, in-house set of 3.5mm patch cables that come in sizes of 10, 15, 22, 30, 50, 65, or 90cm which is equivalent to 4, 6, 8.5, 12, 20, 25.5, 35.5, or 47".
As touched upon earlier there are many instances where right-angled cables are not practical. This is why you really have to take into consideration all of the factors that you're weighing up when determining whether to go with straight or right-angled cables.
Perhaps you're wiring up your new Bastl Softpop 2 or some other wonderful contraption. Look closely at distance between patch points to make sure you're picking the right cable for the right job.
Specific measurements on the official site are scant, but have no fear, these cables are impeccably built. The head and neck are slightly shorter than the Tendrils, but not hugely so. The tension holds a little differently which may be desirable for some.
You should know that there is a very gentle 'CONTROL' embossed on the head of each cable. It's a very gentle inset that is visually soft enough to be out of the way while giving that air of cool, don't you think? The head is also exclusively black on all colours. If you have all black modules this may be desirable as the ends of the cables will blend in more seamlessly.
Overall, there are some wonderful shades here that can nicely accentuate your setup.
The lengths are slightly different than Tendrils so it's worth taking note. I am particularly fond of the colour options that are available.
It's useful to get a sense of how the shortest lengths feel when making connections that push the limit of the cables' extendability. As expected, there were no issues, you can really make some tight patches and feel confident that you aren't negatively impacting the durability of the cables.
No complaints here
I am really happy with how these feel. They are very light yet durable, pleasant to handle, patch up, and unplug. The bend holds its shape really well, but not in a way that's in any way cumbersome to work with. Top marks!
There are two ways to compare these thin cables. The first is to see how they differ from thicker cables, and the second is to see how they compare to each other.
Super thin vs regular
I don't want to overstate how thin these cables are lest you get the impression that they're whispy or cheap and therefore unlikely to last long. My hunch is that because of their flexibility they might last longer than a thicker solution for a number of reasons.
First of all, if your case and cable combo are such that you're constantly have to unpatch and repatch then that's considerably more wear and tear that your thinner, always plugged in patch cables, are not being put through.
Also, these cables are thin enough that you can see around them more easily, so you're not having to push them aside to look at screens or panels and you're also not tugging at them to try and trace what you've done as your patches get more and more complex.
Tendrils vs Ctrl-Mod
I honestly wasn't expecting these to be that different, and for the most part they aren't. When I physically put these cables next to each other I saw two distinct differences, colours aside.
First of all, when we look at the head, which is the thickest part of the cable that comes immediately after the audio plug itself, Ctrl-Mod's patch cable is perhaps 1mm shorter. The diameter of both appears to be identical.
The neck, which is the part immediately after the head, is a few mm shorter still on the Ctrl-Mod. However, the actual cable body on the Ctrl-Mod cable is a touch thicker than that of the Tendril cable body.
The difference is noticeable if you look very closely, but unlikely to make any discernible impact in day to day use.
The only other difference you might notice when comparing the two is that the Ctrl-Mod cable is fractionally stiffer. When I say fractionally I mean that it's not that perceptible. Whereas the Tendrils is loose, the Ctrl-Mod holds its position a hair's breath more. I know these are quite technical terms, but we are literally splitting hairs here.
Practically speaking it's hard to imagine there being any difference.
You Can't Go Wrong
Whichever way you go, Tendrils or Ctrl-Mod, you will be pleased. Both of these eurorack patch cables are incredibly useful in function and will benefit your setup in many ways from their thinness. Both outfits are as professional as they come, offering a great, well-priced tool that's essential to the modern modular synth enthusiast and professional.