We could talk for days about all kinds of gear: consoles, compressors, equalizers, microphone preamps, and audio interfaces – all of these are worthless without something to connect the microphone to the actual gear. Truth be told cables are one of the most overlooked parts of a recording rig and they are actually very important. So today we will be looking at XLR cables, how they are made, how they work, and who makes the best.
What Is An XLR Cable?
The XLR cable is a connector cable used in professional audio, lighting, and sometimes video. XLR connectors are easy to recognize by their circular shape. Usually, an XLR cable has one male connector and one female connector. XLR connectors can have anywhere between three and ten pins. Three-pin XLR is used with audio gear. In a three-pin XLR connector pin one carries the ground connection, pin two carries a positive polarity signal, and pin three negative polarity signal. (Pin two is also called “hot” and pin three “cold”.)
This type of three-pin XLR has been standardized and named XLR3. Typically signal flows from the female connector to the male connector in an XLR cable. (Or more explicitly, from the connector with holes to the connector with pins.) XLR3 can also power microphones that need it. This is called phantom power. Phantom power is a direct current applied to both signal paths in an XLR cable. Normally it is a 48V direct current but some modern microphones work with other voltages. However, most audio gear that powers microphones supply the nominal 48V. A lot of speakers still use XLR3 as a primary connector – active speakers especially. XLR3 is also commonly used to connect lighting equipment though it is not recommended to do so. (In fact, it is prohibited as it can damage the lighting equipment.) However, as most PA rental companies have a lot of low-quality XLR3 cables it is common to see them in use on stage lighting installations.
How XLR Cables Work
XLR cables are composed of the conductors (the inner cables), the shielding, and the pins. The pins allow for interconnection of XLR equipped gear, the shielding protects the signal from interference and the connectors carry the signal from one end to the other. XLR cables are most commonly used with microphones – and their design reflects this. Because microphones output a very low amplitude signal that is then amplified by anywhere up to 60+ dB by a microphone preamplifier the signal is likely to pick-up interference while traveling through the cable. Why? Well, there is a lot of information traveling around all the time, radio waves being the main culprit in our case. The XLR cable is practically a long antenna.
However, as I said, XLR cables are designed with this in mind. When the signal leaves the capsule of a microphone and enters the cable one pin will carry the original signal while one will carry the signal inverted. Any interference is picked up by both conductors equally and in phase to one another even though the two cables are conducting 180 degrees out of phase signal. At the end of the cable, a differential input amplifier inverts the out-of-phase signal and then combines the two signals that have been traveling through the cable. The result? The interference picked up along the cable is now 180 degrees out of phase in one conductor compared to the other so when summed up by the differential amp it gets canceled out. On top of that, the original signal gets a little stronger because when it is summed the two signals that have been in the cable (one in-phase and one out of phase) are now in-phase to one another so their amplitude doubles.
The conductors inside of audio cables are made from oxygen-free copper as it is a very strong material that is also easy to bend. Shielding is actually the most important part of an XLR cable. Unexpected, right? Well, think about it. The conductors inside cannot touch each other because that would create a short. Also, because all current creates a magnetic field, electromagnetic interference can be a problem. Shielding has to take care of both in order for the cable to function properly. To make the XLR cable as effective as possible the conductors are also covered in either a copper shield or an aluminum laminate. This metallic shielding is connected to the ground pin. Cotton is also common as a padding between the conductors so that they do not touch when the cable bends. The outer shield (The part you actually touch.) has nothing to do with how the cable sounds. In live sound applications, it is better to have a thick shield if it is going to be stepped on a lot while thinner shields are recommended for studio usage.
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Best XLR Cables
Now that we looked at the basics of how an XLR cable works, let us also see what the best options are with regards to buying for live or studio applications:
Mogami XLR Review
- This is a custom built cable assembly, by WORLDS BEST CABLES (WBC). This cable assembly is made using the Mogami 2549 (Black) wire and Neutrik NC3MXX-B Male XLR & NC3FXX-B Female XLR Connectors. We at WBC always make world-class custom-built cable assemblies using many of the leading cable and connector brands, if you are unable to find the length and type of cable you are looking for, please feel free to contact us, we will strive to assemble the required cable for you.
- The brand of wire we used for this custom cable assembly: Mogami, one of the most sought after Pro cable brands, preferred by major recording studios and leading sound engineers around the world. All Mogami cables are made in Nagano - Japan using the best materials and technological expertise of decades of R&D.
- The brand of connector we used for this custom cable assembly: The NC3MXX-B is the latest and the highest-end Male XLR offering by Neutrik AG-Liechtenstein, the world's leading brand for professional audio connectors. XX series offers greater reliability, improves contact integrity and reduces cable strain, comes in a Black metal housing and features Gold plated contacts.
- The brand of connector we used for this custom cable assembly: The NC3FXX-B is the latest and the highest-end Female XLR offering by Neutrik AG-Liechtenstein, the world's leading brand for professional audio connectors. XX series offers greater reliability, improves contact integrity and reduces cable strain, comes in a Black metal housing and features Gold plated contacts.
- Custom Made 6 Foot long cable professionally soldered using WBC's proprietary 4% silver solder blend & a nitrogen-assisted soldering process unique to us, exceeding industry standards, improves integrity of solder joints over traditional methods.
*Price from: 2023-06-01 at 13:47 EST
This is a Japanese cable company that makes all of its cables to high-quality standards. Mogami Gold is their studio cable and they also offer another product designed specifically for live use, the Mogami Gold Stage cable. Mogami cables are known for their durability, low noise, and excellent frequency response. Mogami cables use Neutrik X connectors which are regarded as the industry-standard connector. ✔️ Let's get it NOW!
AmazonBasics XLR Cable Review
- FOR LIVE SOUND & RECORDING: XLR male to female microphone cable for studio recording and live sound
- 3 PIN CONNECTORS: Zinc alloy 3-pin connectors with nickeling
- DURABLE & FLEXIBLE: Protective metal housing and flexible 6.0mm PVC jacket
- CLEAR TRANSMISSION: All-copper conductors with inner copper spiral shielding to reduce noise interference
- PLUG & PLAY DESIGN: Easily use with XLR-compatible PA systems, speakers, and other sound equipment
*Price from: 2023-06-01 at 13:47 EST
This extremely affordable cable is a steal at the low price point and is well constructed and shown to be extremely durable. All copper conductors with inner spiral shielding make these cables extremely high quality, but not quite to the level of “Professional” at a very affordable price. They come in a variety of sizes to meet your every need. They even include velcro ties to keep things nice and neat! ✔️ I'm sold, let's get it!
- Cordial 'intro' line brings the very best product quality and specification at entry level prices.
- 5 metre chrome 'rean' xlr-female to xlr-male
- Micorphone cable suitable for home or stage use.
- Xlr-female to xlr-male
- Rean jack plugs is a brand of neutrik ag
*Price from: 2023-06-01 at 13:47 EST
Cordial is a German company that has a revealing motto: “We are cable”. They make very good quality cables for both live and studio applications. Their cables use Neutrik connectors and are made with German precision, with low noise and excellent frequency response. ✔️ Yes! I want it!
XLR cables are extremely important in any recording setup and using high quality, low noise cables guarantee that your recording will be as good as possible – taking into consideration all your other gear and the musician you are recording, of course.