Audio / Buying Guide

An XLR Cable is Just a Cable, Right?

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The discovery of electricity has dramatically changed our lives, with the wonders of modern science surrounding us everywhere—the light bulb, the electric motor, radio waves. Who would want to be without them? Audio engineers, for one, because all of the above are potential sources of audio pollution that can affect our pristine signal, as it travels between source and destination. Refrigerator motors, light dimmers, radio transmitters, Wi-Fi, etc., can all cause unwanted noise in audio. Of course, the proposition is absurd, since without electricity there wouldn’t be audio engineers and cables, to begin with. However, the point is that what benefits us one way can easily be detrimental in another situation.

There are multiple points at which a signal can degrade in an audio system, but often the first culprit is a microphone cable. Why the microphone cable? What’s the big deal? Attach a microphone to one end and plug the other end into a preamp and you have sound, right? Yes, except that the cheap cable you just bought at the discount store is providing your vocal with an accompaniment featuring a local taxi dispatcher’s instructions, along with some nice 60-cycle hum. Might be what you want if you’re into avant-garde recording, but otherwise those are some serious problems. You run out to the local music store and buy a really expensive cable and suddenly all of those issues are gone—or perhaps not. So, did you spend your money wisely?

Despite cables being ubiquitous, information that helps the typical purchaser make competent decisions about a cable’s performance is hard to come by. Mostly, manufacturers tend to rely on marketing rather than hard facts to promote their cables. Low noise, oxygen-free copper, and gold-plated contacts are all notable features, but they don’t really tell you why a given feature will work, or in what scenario. And sometimes, unfortunately, the manufacturer misstates facts that only confuse. This article aims to dispel the hype, while examining what constitutes a good, balanced microphone cable.

A balanced microphone cable consists of three main components—the conductors (internal wires, or cores), which carry the signal; the shielding, which helps protect the integrity of the information passing through the conductors; and in the case of a microphone cable, three-pronged connectors (XLR) that allow connection of the cable at either end. All three need to work together to ensure proper functioning of the cable, especially with increased lengths, as distance provides additional opportunity to increase electromagnetic and other noise interference.

So, what is it in particular that makes a microphone cable susceptible to noise interference? Microphones generally operate at very low voltages, with the output requiring a relatively hefty amount of amplification applied to it before the signal can successfully travel on its way through an audio system, at line level. When the signal arrives at the preamp, any noise that has infiltrated the cable becomes greatly amplified along with the original signal. Using a good, balanced cable helps to eliminate the problem.

The solution starts with the signal generated by the microphone capsule being sent over two wires, with one side inverted by 180 degrees. A differential input amplifier at the receiving end re-inverts and then combines the two signals. Since any interference entering the cable during transmission will appear equally in both conductors, the induced noise is now inverted and therefore cancelled (phased) out, leaving the original signal intact. Additionally, the original signal is slightly strengthened by the recombination of the two sides, thus helping to compensate for any reduction in signal strength that occurs on a long cable run. However, it should be noted that any noise inherent in the signal, from say, a noisy microphone, will not benefit from this process.

Having defined the basic operation of a balanced cable, let’s look in detail at each component. Although it is not customary to give away the plot, let me state that the shield is the most important factor in a cable. But it makes sense to start the discussion from inside out, so let’s begin with the conductor, the part that carries the audio signal. Copper has been the material of choice for conductors for well over a century, because it has the greatest electrical conductivity of all non-precious metals. Normally, the stronger a metal is, the less pliable. Copper is unique in that it combines strength with high pliability. It is resistant to the effects of corrosion, which normally weaken other metals and impair their conductivity, and copper is easy to solder, allowing for durable connections.

Generic Balanced Cable

The use of oxygen-free copper in cables is contentious. There are “levels” of oxygen-free copper, with 99.99% OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) being the purest form. Certain audiophiles insist their cabling meets this highest standard of purity. However, in reality the difference between the grades is negligible for most audio applications. The purest copper is required only for extreme scientific situations such as the manufacture of semiconductors, or for use in particle accelerators, etc. Use of such copper in audio is expensive and unnecessary. For audio applications OF (Oxygen Free) and the most common ETP (Electrolytic-Tough-Pitch) copper will meet the needs of audio applications.

Audio cables generally use a stranded conductor as opposed to a solid cable. While the latter is cheaper to produce, a solid conductor is more rigid and prone to breaking when flexed. Obviously, microphone cables need flexibility, and a stranded conductor provides that. And if damage to a strand does occur, the whole conductor does not cease functioning. Also, in certain circumstances the stranded conductor can include a higher “volume” of copper than a solid one, aiding in the transmission of the signal. The downside is that termination of the stranded conductor is slightly more finicky, and if the strands aren’t wound tightly enough, the conductor will have a higher resistance, which in turn will require greater electrical energy to maintain the same flow.

As noted, a balanced cable needs at least two conductors (cores), with the majority of cables belonging to this category. Generally, the cores vary in thickness between 26- and 20-AWG (American Wire Gauge), with the smaller number being thicker in diameter. Here, the compromise is between a manageable overall thickness of the cable, as applied to its flexibility and level of conductivity. Some cables feature four cores (two pairs) and are often referred to as quad cables. Four-core cables are more expensive, but in extremely “noisy” environments or where cables run unavoidably parallel to power cables, they can provide at least 20 dB or more of common-mode noise reduction when compared to two-core cables. However, care should be exercised as not all these cables are constructed equally, with some cheaper varieties simply having four parallel cores wrapped in the cable jacket, which can introduce more problems than they solve. To be effective, the four cores need to be wound tightly around each other to achieve the additional noise cancellation that such a configuration provides.


Four Core Cable

Now let’s look at cable shielding. This is where a cable will stand up or fall down. You can have all the OF copper you want, with millions of strands, but if the signal traveling down the cable is compromised with noise, then it is next to useless. To this end, there are multiple layers of protection that address the basic forms of electrical interference, and we will discuss those as we travel through the various layers of a complete cable. It should be noted that not all cables have the same kinds and levels of protection, and most of that comes down to price.

The first order of things is to isolate the two (or four) cores from each other, and not just for the obvious reason that wires that touch will short each other out. Any current travelling down a wire will generate a magnetic field, and the resulting EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) introduces noise in an adjacent conductor. In this case a layer of insulation is applied over each core to contain the magnetic field. These days, polyethylene (PE) is used, since it provides better insulation over the PVC found in earlier cables. Although not a 100% insulator, the voltage levels present in an audio cable are small enough that they will not overwhelm the insulator. Some cables then add a layer of conductive (modified) PVC on top to do the opposite, that is drain off any EMI that might be trying to enter the conductors from outside.

The other form of protection that is common to all cables is a metal-based shield, usually copper but sometimes TAC (Tin Plated Copper), and in the case of foil, an aluminum laminate. This is the third leg of a balanced cable, and is connected to ground via the third pin of the XLR connector. A foil shield provides excellent coverage and is very effective when radio frequency (RF) interference is present. It is also lighter and cheaper to produce, but the down side is that it is far easier to damage when flexed, is more difficult to terminate, and should only be used in fixed installations, or as an absolute last resort.

Copper Braid TAC Braid

The other type of shield is a braid, an interwoven mesh of bare or tinned copper wires, which is much easier to terminate. TAC braiding is more expensive than regular copper, but the tin coating aids in preventing oxidation of the copper and improves wear. The type of braiding also comes into play. Because copper possesses higher conductivity than aluminum and the braid has a larger mass, it is more effective as a shield. It doesn’t provide absolute coverage due to the unavoidable presence of small gaps in the braid, but given that for stationary cable 70% coverage will usually suffice, the 98% offered by the braid is more than sufficient. However, it will add bulk and cost to a cable.

Copper Spiral Braid

A spiral shield utilizes helical, wrapped strands for up to 97% coverage and provides excellent flexibility, but gaps in the weave can open up when the cable is flexed. Some manufacturers implement dual-spiral shielding where each core gets its own shield. This provides better cable flexibility while ensuring the integrity of the shield. For very noisy environments, combination shields consisting of more than one layer of shielding are employed. For broadcast and studio applications, a braided shield with conductive PVC is the best solution, whereas where flexibility is required, as in live-sound situations, dual-spiral with conductive PVC is the preferred answer.

Dual Copper Spiral Braid

Another issue is the presence of microphonic noise. This has nothing to do with the microphone, but is noise generated within the cable when it is flexed. A poorly designed or damaged cable allows friction to be created between the two conductive cores, resulting in static discharges which in turn are amplified by the high gain of a microphone preamp. To prevent such movement, cotton yarn is placed between the insulated conductors and the braid. Finally, the outer jacket has no effect in regard to noise, and while a heavier one will help protect the cable innards in high-traffic areas, heavier doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s all a question of application.

The issue of frequency-response degradation in cables is sometimes brought up, and while there is a small potential for a cable to do this, the problem is largely immaterial except when dealing with extremely long cable lengths. It takes close to four hundred feet of cable to produce 1 dB of attenuation at 20 kHz (nominal), which in most live situations, is virtually inaudible.

And so we come to the connectors. XLR connectors are favored for two reasons. The first is the design of the female XLR connectors, which allows pin 1 (the earth pin) to connect before the other two pins, (which carry the signal) when the male XLR connector is inserted. With the ground established first, it is possible to insert or remove the connectors, especially in live-equipment situations, without picking up external signals. (TRS phone connectors mate the ground last, which can cause short bursts of hum, or cracks and pops.) The second advantage of the XLR connector is the external locking mechanism on the female connector that provides an additional level of security.

There are several different types of XLR connectors and methods of termination. Due to its modular design, the internal, four-part cable connector as developed by Neutrik allows for field serviceability in the event of a cold solder joint or other damage around the area of the connector. This design is also used on connectors from Rean and Attaché. Manufacturers of other types of XLR plugs include Switchcraft and Amphenol, along with various Far East companies that produce unbranded plugs. Molded connectors, (those that are permanently affixed to the cable ends) while cheaper, will involve greater cost down the road, if the wiring inside the connectors fails and the cable needs to be completely replaced.

Modular XLR Female Connector

Another question often asked is: which are better, gold- or silver-plated contacts? Gold is not as good as a conductor as silver but has a greater level of corrosion resistance, and many people prefer the look of the gold-plated connector. But unless the cables are to be used in harsh environments (close to sea water for example) the added cost is mostly unwarranted. Other considerations for a good XLR connector are what kind of chuck-type strain relief is provided, and the quality of the boot that covers the connector points to alleviate bending stress. The internal thread on the shell should be protected from damage, and some cable manufacturers include shrink-wrapped solder points for added protection and to meet broadcast specifications.

Neutrik Connector (Exploded View)

The “XX” connector from Neutrik is a redesign of the company’s older “X” design, generally considered the best, but more expensive choice for premium cables. It employs a strengthened grounding spring on the female connector for a more robust ground connection, while the female receiving sockets offer more points of contact with the male pins (eight points versus three), and a tighter tolerance of the pins and sockets for improved connectivity.

Neutrik "X" Connector Neutrik "XX" Connector

In summation, the following points need to be considered. Use a cable that is suited to the application. In environments with high EMI and RFI (these days that could be almost anywhere, with the proliferation of wireless communications), a braid/conductive PVC combination should be considered. If the cable will be subjected to repeat flexing, a spiral shield might offer better performance than a braided shield. Again, foil shielding should be avoided since continuous flexing will damage the foil. Make sure the connector provides as effective shielding as the cable itself, and make sure that the equipment being connected is properly matched. A too-high output from a preamp can overdrive and distort a down-stream circuit, while a low-level signal will not make use of the full dynamic range of the complete system. Following this advice will ensure clean and problem-free audio.

Comparison Chart
  Cores- Twisted Gauge OFC %Shield Type  Material Conductive PVC Shield Shrink Wrapped Solder Connector Contact Material Connector Color Cable Color
Audio-Technica
AT8314 Premium Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG No 100% Dual Spiral Copper Yes No Neutrik XX Nickel Silver Black Black
AT8313 Value Microphone Cable 2-No 24 AWG No ns  Spiral Copper No No OEM - similar to Neutrik X Nickel Silver Silver Black
Blue
Dual  Cable 2-Yes 22 AWG No 95% Braid TAC No Yes OEM - similar to
Neutrik X
Nickel Silver Silver Blue
Quad Cable 4-Yes 22 AWG No 95% Braid TAC No Yes OEM - similar to Neutrik X Nickel Silver Silver Blue
Canare
Star-Quad (L-4E6S) Microphone Cable 4-Yes 24 AWG No 95% Braid TAC No No Neutrik XX Gold Black Black, Blue, Brown, Grey, Green, Orange, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
Comprehensive
Performer Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG No 90% Braid Copper No No Neutrik XX Nickel Silver Black Black
Touring Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 20 AWG No 95% Braid Copper No No Neutrik X Gold Black Black
Studio Series Quad Audio Cable (L-4E6S) 4-Yes 21 AWG No 95% Braid TAC No No Neutrik XX Gold Black Black, Blue, Brown, Grey, Green, Orange, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
Hosa Technology
Hosa Contractor Series Microphone Cable (CMK-) 2-Yes 20 AWG Yes 95% Braid Copper No No Neutrik XX Gold Black Black
Hosa Quad Microphone Cable (CMI-) 4-Yes (not tight ) 24 AWG Yes 90% Braid Copper No No OEM - similar to Switchcaft AA Nickel Silver Silver Black
Hosa Standard Microphone Cable (MCL-) 2-Yes 22 AWG Yes 88% Braid Copper No No OEM - similar to Switchcaft AA Nickel Silver Silver Black
Hosa Economy Microphone Cable (MBL-) 2-Yes 24 AWG Yes 76% Braid Copper No No OEM - similar to Switchcaft AA Nickel Silver Black Black
Hosa Pro Microphone Cable (HMIC-) 2-Yes 20 AWG Yes 90% Braid Copper No Yes Rean Nickel Silver Black Black
Hosa Elite Elite Microphone Cable (EMIC-) 2-Yes 20 AWG Yes 95% Braid Copper Yes No Neutrik XX Gold Black Black
Kopul
Studio Elite 4000 Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG Yes 98% Braid Copper Yes Yes Neutrik XX Silver Plate Black Black
Performance 2000 Series  Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG Yes 92%   Dual Spiral Copper Yes No Attache Silver Plate Black Black
Premium Performance 3000 Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG Yes 95%   Dual Spiral Copper Yes Yes Neutrik XX Silver Plate Black Black
Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series Microphone Cable 4-Yes 24 AWG Yes 99% Braid TAC No Yes Neutrik XX Gold Black Black
Mogami
Gold Studio Microphone Cable 4-Yes 24 AWG Yes 100% Spiral Copper No No Neutrik X Gold Black Black
Gold Stage Microphone Cable 4-Yes 24 AWG Yes 95% Braid Copper No No Neutrik X Gold Black Black, Red, Yellow,
Green, Blue
Monster Cable
Performer 500 Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 20 AWG No 95% Braid Copper Yes No Neutrik Molded Gold Black Black
Standard 100 Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 22 AWG No 92% Braid Copper No No Molded Nickel Silver Black Black
Pearstone
PM Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG Yes ns  Spiral Copper Yes No Attache Silver Plate Black Black
SM Series Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG Yes ns  Spiral Copper Yes No Molded Nickel Silver Silver Black
Pro Co Sound
MasterMIKE Microphone Cable 2-Yes 23 AWG No 94% Braid Copper No No Neutrik XX Nickel Silver Black Black
Ameriquad Microphone Cable 4-Yes 24 AWG No 95% Braid Coppper No No Neutrik XX Gold Black Black
Excellines Microphone Cable 2-Yes 24 AWG No 90% Spiral Copper No No Neutrik XX Nickel Silver Silver Black
StageMASTER Microphone Cable 2-No 24 AWG No 72%   Dual Spiral Copper No No Rean Molded Nickel Silver Silver Black
Remote Audio
Quad Microphone Cable (L-4E6S) 4-Yes 24 AWG No 95% Braid TAC No No Neutrik XX Nickel Silver Black Black
Shure
Triple-Flex Microphone Cable 2-Yes 26 AWG No ns  Dual Spiral Copper No No OEM - similar to Switchcaft AA Nickel Silver Silver Black
Hi-Flex Microphone Cable 2-No 26 AWG No ns  Spiral Copper No No OEM - similar to Switchcaft AA Nickel Silver Silver Black
Whirlwind
MK Series (Accusonic+2) Microphone Cable 2-Yes 22 AWG No 78% Braid Copper No No Whirlwind Gold Black Black
Quad (MKQ) Microphone Cable (L-4E6S) 4-Yes 24 AWG No 95% Braid TAC No No Whirlwind Gold Black Black, Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Grey

Cable Glossary
Amplifier  Electronic component or circuit for amplifying power, current, or voltage. In this context, a pre-amplifier takes microphone level signals and boosts them to line level.
Balanced Equal distribution of weight, amount, etc. A balanced cable refers to the signal being sent across two conductors, with the phase of one side reversed.
Boot  Sheath-like protective covering. Some XLR connectors include a boot that slides over the internal connectors of the plug to provide additional protection.
Braided Shield Multiple strands of material interwoven to form a shield to protect against radio interference.
Cable Insulated electrical conductor, often in strands, or a combination of electrical conductors insulated from one another that transmits electrical information.
Capacitance Ability of a body to store an electrical charge and eventually discharge it.
Capsule Part of the microphone that responds to incoming sound-pressure waves and in turn outputs a corresponding voltage that is sent along the cable to a preamplifier.
Chuck Device for centering and clamping an object. In this case, the cable where it enters the connector.
Common-Mode Rejection Ratio (CMRR) A number that describes how well an input or output will reject noise, or how well "balanced" a balanced line is. A high CMRR is important in applications where the signal is represented by a small voltage fluctuation, as in microphone signal transmission over balanced lines.
Conductor Substance, body, or device that readily conducts heat, electricity, sound. Refers to the cores contained in a cable.
Connector Device for connecting one object to another. In this application, types include XLR female or male.
Copper Malleable metallic element used in large quantities as an electrical conductor.
Core Innermost part of a cable, also referred to as conductor.
Corrosion Process in which a metal is changed by a chemical reaction, causing it to lose conductivity. Copper is relatively good at resisting corrosion, but even when it corrodes, the overall conductivity of the metal is not greatly reduced.
Differential Input Amplifier Type of electronic amplifier that amplifies the difference between two voltages but does not amplify the particular voltages.
Electrolytic-Tough-Pitch (ETP) Standard type of commercial wrought copper used in the production of electrical wire.
Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) High or radio-frequency disturbance that affects an electrical circuit, due to either electromagnetic induction or electromagnetic radiation emitted from an external source, such as light dimmers or refrigerator motors.
Impedance Description of a circuit’s resistance to a signal, as measured in ohms, thousands of ohms (Kilohms), or millions of ohms (megohms).
Line Level  Refers to the voltages used by audio devices such as mixers, signal processors, tape recorders, and DAWs.
Magnetic Field Mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. Produced by electric currents in wires.
Microphone Level Very low level signal output from microphones, typically around 2 millivolts (2 thousandths of a volt).
Microphonic Noise Phenomenon in which certain components in electronic devices transform mechanical vibrations into an undesirable electrical signal (noise).
Microphone Preamp An electronic device used to amplify low-level signals. Commonly used to bring microphone outputs up to levels that subsequent equipment can utilize, such as mixing consoles, tape recorders, or Digital Audio Workstations (DAW).
Ohm Unit of electrical resistance. Named after its founder Georg Ohm, Ohm's Law states that current varies in direct ratio to the wires' resistance.
Oxygen-Free Copper Copper that has varying degrees of oxygen removed to increase its purity.
Polyethylene (PE) Synthetic plastc material used in multiple applications, including electrical cable insulation.
PVC Synthetic plastc material also used for electrical cable insulation.

Quad

Generic term for balanced cables that use four conductors

Radio Frequency (RF) Interference from signals that are in the radio frequency range.
Resistance The opposition that a substance offers to the flow of electric current. All electrical systems display a certain amount of resistance. The standard unit of resistance is the ohm.
Shielding Various methods for preventing inteference entering a system.
Tin-Plated Copper (TAC) Widely used in the electronics industry because of its ability to protect the copper from oxidation and preserve its solderability.
XLR Standard three-pin connector on which pin 1 is typically connected to the shield of the cabling to provide a ground, whereas pins 2 and 3 carry the actual audio signal, normally in a balanced (out-of-phase) configuration.

Discussion 98

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Hi, great article!!!

What are your thoughts on "Ferrite Core Cord Ring RFI EMI Noise Filter Cable Clip"?

Would they help in reducing the noise as well even if you have a cable with a tightly braided screen?

Kind regards;

Hi Douglas - 

These ferrite core rings can be effective only on a cable carrying a digital data signal like a USB cable.  An XLR cable is carying an analog signal and any interference that can be filtered is likely to be created by power.  In that case choose a power conditioner for your AC outlet. 

I have a Shure 57 Microphone that I want to re-cable.  Currently it has a 4-pin XLR to a 1/4 jack for live use.

I would Like to be able to hook it up to my Focusrite 2i2 Digital Interface and then use it in Logic Pro X.

My question to you is.... The XLR that is currently hooked into the Shure 57 is a (4-Pin XLR Male).   How do I wire the (3-Pin Male XLR) so it works correctly with my Focusrite 2i2?  (4 post to 3 post)

Thank You!

Hi  Rich - 

Use the schematic in the User's Guide and the information below to rewire.  You may also want to check with Shure as well; 

http://cdn.shure.com/user_guide/upload/1554/us_pro_sm57_ug.pdf  

XLR pin 1 = shield

XLR pin 2 = low impedance audio hot
XLR pin 3 = low impedance audio return

Thanks for your reply Mark! Rich

Hi

please advise the cables type required to connect the XLR and the speakon of the speaker JBL VRX932LA?

the lenthg of cables i need is 250 meter.

many thanks 

Ahmad

Hi Ahmad - 

Re-examine your engineering. Running cable that far will result in significant signal loss and degradation.

Longest bulk cable we offer:

Canare 4S11 4-Conductor Speaker Bulk Cable (200 m / Black)

Add the connectors: 

Neutrik NLT4FX Speakon 4-Pole Female Cable Connector

 Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I'm a guitar player (Not professional) using the Trio+ that is a Looper, and would like get the "Cabinet Emulator" signal from my guitar amp that comes from a XLR to the GTR input of the TRIO+ that is a 1/4TS socket. The signal is weak and it's not enough to record. Is it possible to adapt the XLR/ 1/4"TS cable to get a good signal? What should I do in the 1/4"TS side of the cable? Best Regards Carlos

Hi Carlos - 

Here you go:

The ProDI from Radial Engineering is a high-quality, single channel, ultra-compact passive direct box, specifically developed to allow regional sound companies and project studios access to the quality of a Radial direct box at a more affordable price point. The ProDI is a great choice for bass and acoustic guitar.

The unit features a custom-made transformer that is able to handle high levels without saturation and has an exceptionally linear frequency response from 20Hz to 18kHz, making it ideal for electronic musical instruments and audio equipment. Also featured is a -15dB pad for high output sources and ground lift switch to troubleshoot noise from ground loops.

A 14-gauge welded I-beam inner chassis and outer shell greatly reduce the possibility of torque stresses being applied to the PC board. A full-bottom no-slip rubber pad works double-duty by providing protection from electrical shock and making sure the ProDI stays put.

Great sounding, single channel, rugged passive DI for acoustic guitars and bass guitars

High performance custom-wound transformer eliminates noise

Very low harmonic and phase distortion

-15dB pad for wide range of input levels and a ground lift switch eliminates ground loop hum

Ideal for live sound and studio

Passive design requires no external power

Hi, I'm looking into replacing an audio system for our auction (automotive). Currently each lane differs in quality of sound due to various components (auctioneers bringing own mics, amp/mixers, wide open facility where audio 'bleeds' to other lanes). I'm looking into creating a solution where it's a controlled environment (no hands touch equipment other than myself) and have the Ashly ne8250 in mind to facilitate the lanes we have. That said, I'm curious in cable types/runs... this unit uses the euroblocks which can be converted to XLR and if I have runs of 100-170', would you suggest a particular gauge that can be terminated XLR? Each lane has an input from MIC and output of 1 to 2 or 3 speakers (pending adjustements) and will run to a 'closet'. Granted it won't be perfect but we're looking more clarity of the chatter but some bass to accompany it since the auction business holds heavily on the experience for the buyers... if that makes any sense. Thanks for info in advance!

Hi Matt -

Please send us this question via e-mail so we can better assess your situation:  Audio@bandh.com

hi i had some question for a school project i wanted two know what the more common term used for xlr cables is. also does XLR refer to the cable or the connector? and last but not least what does XLR stand for it would be pretty cool if you guys could help me out because there is no help on other sites. thanks jose

XLR refers to the name of the connector,. However, cables that use XLR connectosr on either end, are commonly referred to as XLR cables. The genesis of the XLR moniker goes back to a company called Cannon that developed X-style connectors in the 50s (why X, I don't know). That connector was later refined by adding a latch, hence the "L". Finally the company embedded the contacts in a resilient polychloroprene compound, hence the "R". Strangely enough, other manufacturers did not adopted the use of the compound, but the XLR name still stuck.

Hi Jose -

From Wikepedia:

The XLR connector was invented by James H. Cannon, founder of Cannon Electric in Los Angeles, California (now part of ITT Corporation), and for this reason it was sometimes colloquially known as a Cannon plug or Cannon connector and in Japan as Cannon jack, though this term has since fallen out of common usage in the industry.[citation needed] Originally manufactured as the Cannon X series, by 1950 a locking mechanism was added (Cannon XL)[2] and by 1955[2] a version surrounding the female contacts with a synthetic rubber polychloroprene insulation using the part number prefix XLR.[3][4] There was also an XLP series which used a hard plastic insulation, but was otherwise the same.[2] ITT Cannon originally manufactured XLR connectors in two locations Kanagawa, Japan and Melbourne, Australia. The Australian operation was sold to Alcatel Components in 1992 and then acquired by Amphenol in 1998. ITT Cannon continues to manufacture XLR connectors in Japan.

The Switchcraft corporation later started manufacturing compatible connectors, followed by Neutrik. Neutrik made a number of improvements to the connector and its second-generation design (known as the X-series) had just four parts for the cable connector and eliminated the small screws used by both Cannon and Switchcraft, which were prone to working loose, falling out and becoming lost. These improvements have made Neutrik the most popular brand of XLR connector.[citation needed]

Unbranded XLRs are also made by East Asian manufacturers. Originally these were copies of the Cannon or Switchcraft designs, but in recent years the Neutrik designs have also been copied in large numbers.

Awesome article. Thank you!

I am recording podcasts on my ZOOM H4N using SHURE SM7 mics. I don't need super long cables and for the most part they're going to be left set up, but of course I may need to travel with them from time to time so I'd like them to be able to handle that kind of wear, though I'd be tempted to have a 2nd set for travel because I'm a little crazy like that.

Can you please give me your thoughts about the best cable choice for me? Let me know if you need more info to guide my purchase.

Thank you!

Hi Jason -

This cable is available in a variety of lengths and should suit your application:

The Kopul Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable - 10' (3 m) is a studio- and broadcast-quality 4-conductor cable precision engineered for maximum rejection of RFI and electro-magnetic interference, extremely quiet performance, high flexibility and durability. Its twisted quad-conductor design features oxygen-free copper and allows for excellent conductivity, flexibility, low capacitance, and tensile strength.

Hi there, 

Thanks all this great information. Would you have a recommendation for the best cable to connect the TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder to the Electro-Voice RE50/B Omnidirectional Dynamic Microphone? I'll be using them for field recording for radio stories. 

Hi Alex -

The Kopul Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable - 10' (3 m) is a studio- and broadcast-quality 4-conductor cable precision engineered for maximum rejection of RFI and electro-magnetic interference, extremely quiet performance, high flexibility and durability. Its twisted quad-conductor design features oxygen-free copper and allows for excellent conductivity, flexibility, low capacitance, and tensile strength.

Hello,

I am getting my daughter started with a PA speaker Behringer B205D and a Mic Shure SM58. She will be using this to sing and play key board at home and at family functions. I am looking to get the most realistic sound of her voice. Can you recommend a specific cable for the mic connection? Also what do you think of my PA speaker choice? please note that this is for  13 year old. thank you

     This mic and PA system are a fine combination for your daughter.  This cable will be a good match for these components:

The Kopul Studio Elite 4000 Series XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable (25') is a studio-quality cable for connecting mics to mixers, preamps, audio interfaces and recorders; or to be used in any other application where XLR connectivity is required. The cable is engineered to be both quiet and durable, and is well-suited for critical recording and broadcast situations.

Studio Elite 4000 Series cables are made from 24 AWG OFC copper wire that's wrapped with PE insulation and a conductive PVC inner shield. A cotton-yarn inner layer helps reduce electrostatic and microphonic noise. A 98% braided outer shield makes the cable resistant to EMI and RFI noise. The Neutrix XX silver connectors provide a high level of connectivity, and all the solder connections are shrink-wrapped for protection.

Great article! i have a question i have a pioneer ddj sr and im having trouble finding the right 1/4 to XLR Male to go into my powered speakers. Any recommendations?

Really great article! I'd like to know which XLR cable is the best in my case: I need a cable from a mic (the schoeps mk4) to the preamp (focus rite isa two), and one from the preamp to the pc sound card (focus rite clarett)
I want the best audio quality for a professional studio recording. (solo acoustic guitar)

I'd also like to know what is the chart of the most important features of the cable: twist, gauge, ofc, etc... which are the best features to keep in consideration and in which order of importance? Thx

Hi Alessio -

All of the above factors are important.  Gauge is less critical over short distances. The best cables we offer are from Mogami, Canare, and Kopul.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Enough with all the copper copper copper. It's time to switch to ADCs at the microphones and use fiber-optic interlinks. (For optional redundancy, add IR or RF wireless.) Digital adds zero distortion, zero alteration, and zero noise, regardless of cable length and routing. (Except for the noise added by the analog-to-digital conversion.) Using digital microphones needs a digital mixing board. (Well, you could use one DAC per microphone and an analog mixing board.) A digital mixing board has possibilities for additional sophistication (powerful options for delay, equalization, and echo). A digital mixing board for real-time use has to be designed for real-time use (constant, minimal input-to-output delay). Digital microphones have more problems: their sampling is not synchronized to the ADC, so even with one DAC per microphone, the DAC has to adaptively keep pace, in the worst case repeating or discarding a sample. Processing multiple unsynchronized digital inputs through to digital outputs seems especially challenging. Inevitably it re-samples every digital input, in step with the output clock. If it digitally records all inputs, it has to either time-stamp the raw data, or record the re-sampled data.

You make a fair point regarding digital audio, technologically it is far more reliable, but something to keep in mind is digital audio inherently has quality loss, and it is unavoidable. A computer for example, typically maxes out at 24-bit 192 KHz stereo input (and even that is usually only supported by the higher end sound cards), and while you may not be able to hear a difference in quality beyond that, there is still loss from converting analog ("infinite" bitrate) to digital (a limited and typically fixed bitrate). That loss would not happen if you had a microphone connected to an amplifier which then connects to speakers, such as at a concert. Another comparison would be vinyls to CD's, vinyls can be written by analog means with as much accuracy as the source, but a digital CD has a fixed capacity. So there are merits to both.

I work in the world of digital telephony, so I get exposed to a great deal of analog vs digital, and for the sake of a phone call we can replicate and surpass the same perceivable quality that analog phone carriers are required to have for their copper lines, yet due to bandwidth forcing reductions in bitrate and basic microphones and speakers in handsets the quality still just isn't the same as talking to someone in person, and only made worse due to packet loss and jitter when going over the internet.

That's not entirely acurate.  Actually, the digital signal quality we enjoy today with the higher bit and frequency sampling rates is probably not measurably lower than a comparable analog signal.  The problem is that in the digital domain we encounter time domain issues that cause a signal phase, i.e. jitter, and to the human ear can make the digital signal sound smeared or distorted.  In the audiophile and studio worlds these issues are often corrected by using very expensive clocks that synchronize the digital signals to maintain a consistent time domain.  But in the live world that technology does not exist.  Therefore in a live setting it is possible to have a very accurate digital signal that just doesn't sound as warm and open as the old standby analog.  The human ear is remarkably accurate, and people will often say that digital signals sound mechanical, flat, or lifeless.  Again, that is true but again not because of poor quality digital signals, but because of the out-of-phase time domain errors.

What are the best XLR cables for Camcorders and DSLR video cameras regarding ease of gripping and removing from the XLR holes?

I  make YouTube videos and am trying to improve my audio quality to get it as crystal clear as possible especially regarding indoor recording. I am not a tech guy so I am looking for the most simple solutions.

I presently have a Panasonic Lumix GH3 (3.5mm) and I just got a Tascam DR-70D 4-Channel Audio Recording Device which I am trying to figure out how to use. Do I really need the Tascam or will some XLR cables alone be sufficient?

I also am also exploring the SOHXRNX100 Sony HXR-NX100 Full HD NXCAM Camcorder and also the AG-AC90A AVCCAM Handheld Camcorder which both have 2 XLR holes.

I got Polsen and Sony wireless mics. The Polsen mic cables were very, very, very difficult to get out of the cameras. I see no band name on the Polsen mics so I am unsure if it's a Polsen brand cable or if they use a 3rd party cable. The end of that cable has a long, smooth end that was very difficult to grip. The Sony mic came with a Neutrik brand XLR cable and it went in and out of the XLR hole just fine. The end of that cable was a shorter metal with some engraved rings towards area where the metal and cord material meet (which also bulges out making it easier to grip).

So what brand cable is best for this? And does this brand have a variety of sizes from the around 1 foot up to 15 feet?

Thanks.

Also, why do some XLR cables come with 2 ends?

Hi Jeff -

Most applications would require connecting a cable between devices.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi Jeff -

Neutrik connectors have a locking feature that must be depressed firmly to disengage the XLR cable. This safety feature requires moderate pressure to unlock. Using the Tascam recorder provides a higher resolution recording than what your camera will offer.  The Kopul branded cables offer tremendous quality and value. 

KOPUL XLR CABLE

 

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Our church was wired with 18/2 shielded west penn wire for permanent microphone installation.  The lengths is about 120' from the mixer board. Is 18/2 shielded a good gauge for our mics or should we rewire with 22-20 AWG? Why would they do 18/2? Thank you in advance.

Hi Tony -

18/2 is common cabling used generally for doorbells and intercoms.  Probably an electrician was hired who had this in his truck.

If you are re-wiring to satisfy local zoning or fire regulations yu may need a plenum-rated cable:

Comprehensive CVC-2TW/P Premium 2-Conductor Flexible CL2 Plenum Audio Bulk Cable (2x 22 AWG) - 1000'

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

Im a newbie to mics and cables. I bought a Sony tc d5 pro II cassette recorder wich has 2 xlr (3 pin) mic inputs. I have a Sony ECM MS957 microphone which has a 5 pin output, but on the box it says : output impedance : 600 ohm +-30% unbalanced. Does that mean that if I buy a 5 pin to dual 3 pin balanced cable that in the end it will not be balanced ? And is this the solution you would recommend or is there some better solution ?

Thank you very much.

Hi Zoltán -

This mic originally included a 5-pin XLR to stereo 1/8" mini-stereo cable which converts the signal to unbalanced anyway.  With this adapter, the signal will remain balanced.

This Remote Audio 5-Pin Stereo XLR Female to Dual XLR Male Y-Cable will split a stereo signal coming from a 5-pin XLR connection into separate 3-pin XLR Left and Right signals. The cabling used is quality Mogami cable, and it comes terminated with Neutrik connectors.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi! So my question is this; I have a condensor mic hooked up to my pc for live streaming, I am about to purchase a phantom power supply but my mic has a 4 pin xlr  cable to usb. Is there an adapter that is xlr4 f to xlr3 m? There must be someway to do this without buying a whole new microphone! Please help!

HI Ethan -

Your mic appears to be using some sort of dedicated connector.  I am not aware of any adapters for this configuration. Send us your mic brand and model number to the e-mail address listed below and I will be happy to look into this for you.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Can I ask what you think the outer sheath of an XLR cable should be made from? Some people say a PVC outer sheath is good while others say a TPE sheath is better. Any opinion?

Hi John -

These days, polyethylene (PE) or (TPE- Thermoplastic elastomer) is used, since it provides better insulation over the PVC found in earlier cables.  They also have the advantage of being recyclable.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Currently I'm running a 6' xlr cale from my mic to my I/O, and a 6' audio cable from my I/O to my headphones.  Is there any way to combine those 2 cords into 1?  I'm a stickler for minimalism and neatness and 2 cords drives my ADD crazy if the possibility exists that I could condense them.  

After reading your article, my guess is that I would need something like a braded 2 core, but doubled up inside the same outer coating (does that make sense?).

For the connectors I would separate the wires at the end and solder standard xlr and 1/4" male/female to the appropriate pairs, giving me my nice neat single wire for the run.

Does soemthing like this already exist?  

PS- I imagine that a knee jerk reaction would be that it's tantamount to sacrilige to attempt running differently tasked wires together, but currently I'm kind of already doing it and it seems fine with no interference in my short 6' run.  I cut off the ends of an xlr and 1/4" headphone extennsion type cable, passed them thru a 6' length of shrink tube and re-soldered the connections at the end, and it works absolutely perfect, aside from being kinda ugly and jerry rigged and not very flexible.  The shrink tube after heating and cooling turned into something like softish pvc pipe plastic, not a nice flexible normal outter coating on most cords.  

Am I a mad scientist who should be scoffed at, or is there a cable for me?

Hi Chris -

I am not aware of an off-the-shelf solution.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hey. Which cable would be the best to connect my focusrite 2i4 to Krk rokit g2 p8 studio monitor speakers? Both end TRS. And need advice to connect the same speakers to my denon dnmc6000 controller with XLR cable male/female. Thx very much..

Hi Levente -

Consider the:

Kopul Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable - 6' (1.8 m), Black B&H # KOM5006

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Great article.  Unfortunately I'm still a little confused on how to tell if a cable is plenum or general rated.  I'm looking to buy some bulk cable for permanent installation running from floor box connectors to the A/V cabinet through the crawlspace (some sections in conduit but some not).  So I want to get a high quality cable, but it looks like all of those mentioned in the article are temporary use laying above floor.

Hi William -

Cable that is plenum rated will always be marked and rated as such.

Comprehensive Plenum XLR Plug to Jack Premium Audio Cable (25')

Comprehensive CVC-2TW/P Premium 2-Conductor Flexible CL2 Plenum Audio Bulk Cable (2x 22 AWG) - 1000'

 Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

At a football field, I have equipment (speakers, mixer, amps, and mics) connected to the Opponents pressbox on 1 side of the field. The home speakers (quantity 6 cable runs/1 run per speaker) are on the other side of the feild. I was asked by the announcer to connect a mic to all speakers on the field. This is a temperary fix. I've suggested some very pricy but more durable options to the announcer, but got shot down. Now I'm wondering if i can accomplish this with a single (Or How Many?) XLR run. ...?

Hi Edro -

Please send these and additional details regarding your component make-up and budget requirement to us at the e-mail provided below.  We will review your request and make the best practical recommendations we can.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Thank you so much for the article! 

Which cable would you recommend for use with a RØDE microphone (likely a NTG2) and a Zoom H4NSP? It will be used on location and in the field, so lots of packing and unpacking will be happening. 

I appreciate the assistance!

Hi David -

     If the cable will need to be stored and stowed frequently and subject to frequent flexing, then go with the  KOPUL Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series Microphone Cable.

Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series cables are ideal for use in the most demanding studio, touring, and broadcast applications.

Precision-engineered twisted quad-conductor design

2cm pitch twist length for greater induced noise reduction

99% tinned copper braided shield for long-lasting protection against RFI and EMI

Ultra-low capacitance for accurate signal reproduction

Cotton yarn to reduce electrostatic and microphonic noise

Shrink-wrapped solder points for extra protection

Ideal for broadcast and audio professionals

I like this cable for mobile DJ and touring band work.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

well guys, after all the reading very hot.  But, what are the good cables I should have?  Got a band and I need drum cables for my mics.  Thanks.

Hi George -

  If the cable will need to be stored and stowed frequently and subject to frequent flexing, then go with the  KOPUL Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series Microphone Cable.

Premier Quad Pro 5000 Series cables are ideal for use in the most demanding studio, touring, and broadcast applications.

Precision-engineered twisted quad-conductor design

2cm pitch twist length for greater induced noise reduction

99% tinned copper braided shield for long-lasting protection against RFI and EMI

Ultra-low capacitance for accurate signal reproduction

Cotton yarn to reduce electrostatic and microphonic noise

Shrink-wrapped solder points for extra protection

Ideal for broadcast and audio professionals

I like this cable for mobile DJ and touring band work.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

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