What is an XLR Cable?
XLR cables connect audio equipment in studio and live show settings. These connectors are balanced cables, which means they contain three wires inside of their casings: two signal wires and a ground wire.
How Does an XLR Cable Work?
There are four main components of an XLR cable that work together:
- The conductors are the internal wires that carry the audio signal.
- The shielding protects the signal passing through the conductors from interference.
- The connectors allow the microphone cable to connect with another device or piece of equipment.
- The outer jacket holds everything together and protects all of the internal parts from the elements.
XLR mic cables are balanced cables and have three wires that act as conductors: a negative wire, a positive wire, and a ground wire.
This XLR connector design reduces unwanted noise interference in recordings. When in use, the audio signal travels along the negative and positive wires while the ground wire protects them from any kind of interference.
With a balanced microphone cable, both the positive and negative wires carry the same signal, but with opposite polarities. This allows the audio signal to phase out external interference that could affect your recording quality.
When Do I Need an XLR Cable?
XLR cables connect many different audio devices including microphones, speakers, amps, audio interfaces, and other pieces of recording equipment.
For example, you can use an XLR speaker cable to connect a microphone directly to a speaker or to connect a speaker to an audio interface.
Most commonly, podcasters will use a three-pin XLR microphone cable to connect their microphones to other pieces of audio equipment in their podcast recording setup.
Things to Consider when Buying XLR Cables
There are many different product specifications to consider when it comes to mic cables, and it can get overwhelming trying to figure out how to find the best XLR cable for your recording setup.
Here are some of the things we recommend paying close attention to during your hunt for an XLR microphone cord:
XLR Cable Pin Count
One of the most important things to pay attention to when shopping for mic cables is the cable's connector pin count. XLR cords come in three-pin, four-pin, five-pin, six-pin, and seven-pin varieties.
The XLR connectors with more than three pins connect lighting equipment or other pieces of audio equipment like intercom systems. So, you're going to want a three-pin XLR cord to connect your microphone to your other recording equipment.
XLR Cable Materials
The material of XLR connectors affects the sound quality of your recording and the durability of the cable itself. A couple of things to consider when you're looking at XLR cable materials include:
Which type of shielding does the XLR cable use?
The two main types of shielding used in an XLR microphone cable are braided shielding and foil shielding. There are pros and cons for each type.
- Braided shielding uses tightly woven tin or copper wires that resemble a braid to protect the conductors. It is the more traditional form of shielding. Copper is most commonly used in braided shielding, and you can find microphone cords that use either single spiral shielding or dual spiral copper shielding.
Braided shielding is strong, flexible, and works for recording all different frequencies. However, it only provides 70% to 95% coverage. Because of the materials used for this type of shield, cables with braided shielding tend to cost more and can be a bit bulky. They may not be ideal for small, tight spaces.
- Foil shielding uses a thin layer of copper or aluminum laminate to cover the conductors and shield them from interference. Foil shielding provides 100% coverage and performs well when recording higher frequencies. They use easy-to-find materials, which makes them cheaper than their braided counterparts.
However, this type of shielding is fragile and has very little flexibility. If you need a super durable and flexible mic cord, a cable with foil shielding probably isn't the best XLR cable for you.
What are the conductors of the XLR connector made of?
The conductors play a major role in how the audio signal is relayed in XLR connectors. Keep in mind the quality of the conductors in any microphone cord you're considering. Most high-quality XLR cables will have oxygen-free copper conductors at their core. Oxygen-free copper conductors produce better clarity in recorded sound, short out less, and are generally more durable and last longer.
Which material is the outer jacket made of?
The cable jacket protects your mic cord from things like moisture, fire, the sun, and other types of physical damage. Most commonly, you will see microphone cords with a PVC jacket because they're low-cost, durable, and designed in several finishes that include glossy, matte, and slick.
We recommend sticking with a PVC jacket, as other materials are more expensive and made specifically to resist certain elements like heat or cold.
XLR Cable Sizes
How do you have the audio equipment set up in your podcast recording studio?
How far away is your microphone from the other recording devices you need to connect it to?
You should consider both of these questions when trying to find the best XLR cable for your podcasting needs. XLR connectors come in a variety of sizes ranging from 3 feet to 50+ feet and the right size for you will depend on your podcast setup.
Have a clear idea of how long of a microphone cable you need! If you get a cable that's too long, you can crowd your recording area. Conversely, if you get a cable that's too short, you won't be able to connect your microphone for recording.
10 Best XLR Cables For Microphones
Because XLR cables are widely used across many industries, many manufacturers make them at every price point. You can easily find a mic cord that will perform well for your podcast no matter your budget.
Just as with anything else, you'll have to spend a little extra if you want top quality. We'll introduce you to some of the best budget XLR cables, mid-range XLR cables, and high-end XLR cables available on the market today.
Best Budget XLR Cables
Whether you're tight on cash or don't want to spend a lot of money on equipment yet, these budget mic cords are great options:
GLS Audio Mic Cable Cords
These cords have XLR connectors on both ends, a thick, flexible rubber jacket, and use dual insulated copper conductors. There is double strain relief on the two cable ends, and the XLR female end has a locking mechanism so the cable can snap into place and hold there. They come in a pack of five, great if you need multiples or want backups. This also makes the price per cable extremely low.
LyxPro Balanced XLR Cable
This three-pin cable is great for both studio recording and live gigs. It can also connect DMX (digital multiplex) lighting equipment if you're in a pinch.
The LyxPro cable is available in sizes that range from 1 foot all the way up to 200 feet. You can get it in any color of the rainbow. This microphone cord uses gold-plated contact points to reduce cable strain and has self-locking cable connectors.
Gearlux XLR Microphone Cable
The Gearlux XLR Microphone Cable has a black PVC cable jacket and uses three-pin XLR to XLR male and female connectors. The conductors are made of oxygen-free copper to produce better clarity in the sound you record. These cables boast professional quality at a fraction of the cost and come with a lifetime warranty.
Planet Waves Classic Series
This cable uses XLR male to XLR female connectors and oxygen-free copper conductors. The connectors are nickel-plated brass, and the braided cable shielding provides 95% coverage which eliminates virtually all noise interference. The cable collar design provides strain relief so you don't have to worry about fraying or breakage.
Best Mid-Range XLR Cables
If you have a little extra cash to invest in your podcast recording equipment, these mid-range XLR cables will give you the best value for your dollar.
NUOSIYA XLR Microphone Cable
This mic cord has foil shielding that provides conductor protection and noise reduction. The cable jacket is made of high-quality nylon hybrid material that allows it to be super flexible and ultra-durable.
This cable uses three-pin connectors and has oxygen-free copper conductors. It comes in sizes ranging from three feet to ten feet.
Monster Classic Microphone Cable
The Monster Classic Microphone cable is designed for voice recording and live music performances, as it uses a high-density braided polymer shielding that eliminates noise and produces crystal clear vocals.
The cable jacket uses Duraflex technology that provides maximum protection while remaining lightweight. This three-pin connector cable comes in sizes from 5 feet to 30 feet.
Mogami Gold Studio XLR Microphone Cable
The Mogami Gold Studio XLR Microphone Cable comes in sizes from 2 feet to 100 feet. It accommodates recording studios of any size, a great sell for podcasters, especially if you record at home.
This connector is wired with quad cabling and a balanced 4-conductor cable that provides outstanding clarity and unmatched noise cancellation. It is a three-pin XLR cable and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
Best High-End XLR Cables
If you want quality, you’ll have to pay for it. But it’s worth the investment! If you’re looking to upgrade your equipment or you want to start out with the best money can buy, these are some of the best XLR cable options for those with money to spare.
AudioQuest Red River Male XLR to Female XLR Cable
These premium cables use "Perfect-Surface" copper for the conductors and a layered noise dissipation system that produces amazingly clear vocals.
AudioQuest connector cables have nitrogen-injected hard-cell foam insulation that protects against unwanted noise and makes the cables highly durable.
These connectors come in a pack of two - one with male connectors and one with female connectors - so you can use them for a variety of applications
Viborg 02VA801 HiFi XLR Cable
The Viborg cable comes in sizes from 3.3 feet to 9.8 feet, and the cable jacket is made of a braided polyester that offers maximum flexibility and protection.
The connectors are made from pure copper and are rhodium plated. This XLR connector guarantees 100% coverage and uses pure red copper as its shielding material.
It’s great for connecting both microphones and musical instruments so it works for both podcasters and musicians.
AudioQuest Mackenzie XLR
Just like the other AudioQuest cable we recommended, this mic cable has nitrogen-injected hard-cell foam insulation to prevent interference and provide durability. It also has the same 3-layer noise dissipation system and “Perfect-Surface” copper.
What sets this three-pin XLR cable apart is it uses triple-balance geometry and cold-welded hanging silver and pure purple copper connectors for improved clarity and performance.
Conclusion: What is the best XLR cable to buy?
The best XLR cable for you will depend on your budget, the setup of your recording studio, and the other equipment you use. If you still can’t decide, go with a mid-range cable if you’re just starting out, as these cables provide great quality at good prices.
Still want to know more about XLR cables? Check out these frequently asked questions.
Are all XLR cables the same quality?
Not all XLR cables are created equal. While you can find quality cables at any price point, the more you spend, the better quality cable (and recording) you'll get.
Does it matter what XLR cable you get?
There are many factors you should consider when shopping for an XLR cable. These include the pin count, the materials of the cable, the size of the cable, and how much you have budgeted to purchase an XLR microphone cable.
Is XLR or 1/4 better?
There is no noticeable difference in the sound recording quality between these two cables. However, XLR cables are better if you need to connect to a variety of different recording device types as the XLR connectors make them more versatile.
What does XLR stand for?
XLR stands for "External Line Return".
Do XLR cables sound better?
XLR cables are balanced cables, so they're capable of producing outstanding sound quality. They're used across many different industries for a variety of applications because they provide such great sound quality.
Are thicker XLR cables better?
There is no straightforward answer as to whether thicker XLR cables are better because it depends on how you're using the cable. While thicker cables can provide better protection for the parts inside, they can also be less flexible and may not work in your recording setup.
Should I buy expensive XLR cables?
There are affordable XLR cable options at every price point. The important thing is to understand exactly how you’ll use the cable, so you can find the best one to handle your unique needs. Don't buy an XLR cable just because it's expensive as it may not function the way you need it.
Is XLR better than USB?
XLR cables are more versatile than USB cables and produce better sound quality because of their balanced design. XLR cords are designed with sound quality in mind, making them best for recording vocals.
Are XLR cables better than TRS?
XLR cables are better for podcast recording because they're designed to be microphone cords. TRS are unbalanced cables and are used more often for connecting equipment like headphones.
Can an XLR cable carry a stereo signal?
An XLR cable can carry a stereo signal. However, if you use it in this way, you risk losing quality because your recording will be unbalanced.
Is XLR better than RCA?
XLR cables are balanced while RCA cables are not. Balanced cables produce better audio and reduce unwanted noise better than unbalanced cables. Because of this, you'll get a better quality recording with an XLR cable.
Is XLR stereo or mono?
XLR cables can be used for stereo or mono. If you use them for stereo, you risk losing quality because the cable will no longer operate as a balanced cable.
Do balanced cables sound better?
Balanced cables eliminate interference and produce better quality audio. Therefore, recordings captured using balanced cables sound clearer than audio recorded unbalanced cables.
What does an XLR cable plug into?
An XLR cable can plug into a variety of recording equipment that includes microphones, speakers, amps, audio interfaces, mixers, and more. Some types of XLR cables also connect lighting devices or intercom systems.
Is there a difference between XLR mic cables and XLR speaker cables?
This answer depends on the number of pins the connectors use. An XLR mic cable will usually have a three-pin connector while the number of pins for an XLR speaker cable can vary.