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LiPo Battery Connectors
 
 LiPo batteries have all sorts of power just waiting to be unleashed, and we want as much of that power to reach the motor as possible. But all too frequently, I have customers come in with a great LiPo battery attached to a terrible connector. Bad connectors increase resistance and prevent all that power from being used efficiently. So while it's not specifically about LiPo batteries, let's talk about connectors a little.
Traxxas Connectors  
Traxxas' High Current Connectors have been gaining in popularity over the last few years. These are seen mostly on R/C cars and trucks, though some airplane enthusiasts have switched over to them as well. The main appeal of these connectors are the ease of assembly. The terminals are separate from the plastic housing, making them easier for novices to solder. They don't require heat shrink, as the plastic housing shrouds the terminals completely. They are polarity protected, so they can't be plugged in backward. Finally, they have the most surface area of any of the high current connectors, and are probably the easiest connectors to slide together and apart.
Deans Connectors  
Deans Connectors are really the king of connectors. They've been around seemingly forever, and have been the top choice for the discerning R/C enthusiast for quite some time now. They are somewhat difficult to solder, especially for novice users. Deans connectors slide together smoothly, and are very well designed. Like almost every modern connector, they are polarity protected. Currently, they are neck-and-neck with Traxxas connectors for the title of most popular connector - Traxxas has the edge in the R/C surface category, but Deans dominates in the air.
EC3 Connectors  
EC3 connectors came onto the scene because Horizon Hobby was looking for a connector to replace the Tamiya connector as its standard plug. So the story goes, Horizon approached Deans with the intent to license the connectors and obtain them at a bulk rate (so they could install them on their batteries at the factory). Deans refused to be "reasonable" in negotiations, so Horizon was left to come up with an alternative. They found the EC3 and licensed that connector. From there, it's no surprise that the EC3 spread like wildfire. While they aren't much fun to assemble, they have a sizeable foothold in the R/C airplane market.
Tamiya Connectors  
Only through the shear force of Tamiya's market share did these connectors take on their name. Originally called a 'Molex' connector, these connectors were the de facto standard of the hobby industry for years. Popularized by Tamiya in their bazillion R/C cars, these connectors came on every vehicle until very, very recently. Even today, some R/C manufacturers still use the Tamiya connector on their vehicles (Axial, I'm looking at you). This is a terrible connector with lots of resistance. You are more likely to melt these connectors than anything else. If you have a LiPo that has a Tamiya connector on it, cut it off and solder on one of the above connectors.
Venom Connectors  
Venom's offering to the connector world sounded really great on paper. When they were announced, I was quite excited about the idea of having a connector that would interface with the four most popular connectors on the market. However, when they came out and I got to see them in person... Let's just say that we pretty much always cut off the Venom connectors to solder on the connector that our customer is actually using. The Venom connectors come with adapters to interface with Traxxas, Tamiya, Deans, and EC3 plugs. None of these adapters work particularly well in my experience. The only reason I bring them up is because they come standard on all Venom's batteries.
Anderson Power Poles  
These connectors were wide-spread in the early days of radio control. As most of our stuff is borrowed from other industries, Anderson Power Poles are no different. Originally designed by the ham radio industry for their 12V DC standard connector, they were quickly adopted in the radio control community. Power Poles are the only plug on this list that is hermaphroditic, meaning that the plug is neither male or female. They are all the same - so no worrying about which gender plug goes on the battery or the speed control. They're much rarer in the R/C world today, but they are probably my favorite plug. They do take up a lot of room, though, and as such, may not be useful in many applications.
XT-60 Connectors  
XT-60s have gained a little bit of ground in the last few years. So far as I can tell, they were developed by a Chinese company called AMASS, and then HobbyKing either purchased or licensed the patent from them. But whatever their origin story is, the XT-60 connector is getting some adoption due to their prevelance on the LiPo batteries coming directly out of China. As far as I know, there aren't many domestic battery manufacturers that use the XT-60 plug as their default. I do like the plug; it's easy to solder to. It's relatively small and compact as well. It's not my favorite, but I don't mind these connectors. You could do worse.

These are the most common connectors today. Other connectors have come out in recent years, but their adoption rate is minimal. Of the above connectors, the only ones you want to avoid are the Tamiya and Venom connectors. Other than that, go with whatever connector makes sense for what you're doing - if Bind-N-Fly Parkzone airplanes are your thing, it makes sense to use all EC3 connectors, as that is what all those airplanes come with. If you run Traxxas trucks, well, Traxxas connectors are an obvious fit. Most of the above plugs have similar specs, so go with what your vehicles come with. Don't make it more complicated than it has to be!

Now let's talk about balancing plugs. There are many different plugs here as well, but there are only two main plugs.

JST-XH Plug  
This plug is as close to an industry standard as we will ever have in a balance plug. It comes on almost all the major brands, from Traxxas and Venom to E-Flite and Duratrax. Most of the cheap battery places out of China use this plug as well. While it's not quite as nice as the Thunder Power plug below, it's ubiquitous, and that makes it the logical choice for these brands. There are very few manufacturers that don't use the JST-XH plug for their balance lead. Just make sure to unplug it by grasping the plastic housing. Pulling on the wires will almost certainly pull the wires out of the housing, potentially shorting the battery out.
Thunder Power (TP) Plugs  
I bemoaned Thunder Power's choice of balance connector for years. Thunder Power makes some of the nicest (and most expensive) LiPo packs in the industry, but their connector is not compatible with 95% of the chargers on the market, at least out of the box (most chargers will require an adapter from the more common JST-XH to the TP connector). That having been said, it's a nicer design, with a little clip on the top of the plug, allowing the user to unplug the connector much more easily. It's hard for me to recommend this connector, as it's only used on Thunder Power and Flite Power battery packs. But I'll begrudgingly admit it's a better plug than the JST-XH.
On Soldering...

Another reader, Aaron, emailed me, suggesting a section on soldering — what to do, what not to do, etc. I thought this sounded like a great idea. Soldering is as much an art as it is a tool, and but there is a right way to solder when you're talking about battery packs.

Never Cut Your Positive and Negative Wires at the Same Time: This is a great way to damage your battery pack and risk a fire. Cutting both wires at the same time will short out the battery pack, which will generate a lot of heat. Think of it this way — when a welder completes a circuit and welds two pieces of metal together, that's called Arc Welding — and the same principal is at play in Arc Welding as it would be when you touch positive and negative on your battery together. Cut, solder, and heat-shrink (if necessary) one wire at a time. It might take a little longer, but it's far and away the safest way to solder a battery.

 

Get Your Polarity Right: One sure-fire way to destroy a speed control is to solder your connector on backwards. Reversing the polarity is never a good idea. Be mindful of the markings on the connector — most brands include a simple "+" for positive and "-" for negative to indicate which contact is which. Red is positive and black is negative. If your battery or speed control (or whatever you happen to be soldering) doesn't use the red/black paradigm, usually the lightest color wire is positive and the darkest is negative. If both wires are black, look for one of them to have white dashes on it — that's the positive wire.

Those are some basic safety tips on soldering. If you're not happy with your ability to solder, keep at it! I went from the worst solderer in our store to the best simply by practicing and taking pride in my work. Like I said above, soldering is as much an art as it is a tool. Keep working at it and eventually you'll be amazed at how nice your solder joints look!

Thanks to Aaron for the suggestion!

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