As a podcaster, you are likely to come across XLR microphones, or you may be considering buying one for your audio recording. You may be wondering why such a microphone uses XLR cables only. What are XLR cables anyway, and how do they work? Does it matter whether you use an XLR microphone or not?

This article discusses what XLR cables are, how they work, their ideal length, how to choose XLR cables, and reviews the best XLR cables on the market.

What is an XLR Cable?

XLR is an acronym for external line return. XLR cables are electrical connectors that transfer electrical current and signals cleanly. They consist of a cable with connectors on either side. These connectors are circular with at least three male or female pins each.

What are XLR Cables Used For?

XLR cables are typically used for connecting microphones to the mixer during audio production. You can also use them to transmit line-level signals between balanced devices. For example, you can use them to connect a mixer to a powered speaker or amplifier.

Do XLR Cables Matter?

These cables deliver high-quality sound as they carry balanced audio signals. The audio transfer is clean and seamless, and the cable design eliminates signal distortion preventing loss of clarity in the sound.

They also protect the microphone against electrical damage.

XLR Cables

Transfer of Balanced Audio

You can use them on any standalone microphone, be it condenser or dynamic, as long as it has an XLR output.

These microphones usually have a 3-pin male XLR connector. On the other hand, XLR cables have a 3-pin female XLR connector on one end and a 3-pin male XLR connector on the other side. The female connector is a jack that fits onto the mic, and the male end acts as a plug that fits on the mixer.

Therefore, a simple XLR microphone connection consists of the microphone, 3 pin XLR cable, and microphone input, e.g. audio interface, speaker, or amplifier.

The 3-pin connector in an XLR cable plays a crucial role in transmitting balanced audio.

  • Pin 1: The shield or ground wire. It serves as a reference point for pins 2 and 3 and connects to the ground point in the microphone input. It also acts as a cable shield, protecting pins 2 and 3 from electromagnetic interference.
  • Pin 2: The positive or hot wire. It has a positive polarity and carries the positive audio signal from the microphone to the microphone input.
  • Pin 3: A cold or negative wire. It has a negative polarity and transmits negative mic signals from the microphone to the mic input.

Therefore, a microphone audio signal transmits through the different pins with equal amplitude. Pins 2 and 3 have opposite polarity relative to pin 1, balancing the audio.

Inside the cables are two wires that transmit the signals in equal amplitude but in opposite directions. The opposing signals create an effect known as Common Mode Rejection (CRM). Therefore, if an external signal would touch the wires since it would so simultaneously, it would be rejected, preventing distortion of the sound signal.

Electrical Damage Protection on the Microphone

When connecting a microphone to an XLR cable, Pin 1 – the grounding pin, connects first, then pin 2 and 3 connect simultaneously. This order prevents shorting, which would happen if pin 2 connected before pin 3 and vice versa.

XLR to XLR Cable

You may be wondering if it is possible to connect an XLR cable to another XLR cable, particularly if one XLR cable is not enough to connect a microphone to the mixer or audio interface and you want to increase the length.

You can connect an XLR cable to another by connecting the male connector to the female connector of the other. You still have a male and female connector available on each end to connect to the mixer and microphone, respectively.

Is There a Difference in XLR Cables?

A commonly asked question is – are all XLR cables the same?

Microphone XLR cables have a standard 3-pin design. They are suitable for the low frequency associated with audio signals. On the other hand, there are 4,5,6, and 7 pin XLR cables. These are also known as DMX cables, and they are specially designed for high impedance and low capacitance for lighting applications. All types of XLR cables offer superior integrity in signal transmission.

Different Types of XLR cables

  • Short XLR cable – XLR cables come in different lengths. If you are keen on maintaining extremely high sound quality, use short XLR cables. The shorter the XLR cable, the shorter the signal-to-noise ratio. Shorter cables produce better sound quality. These cables are about 15” long.
  • Colored XLR cable – Although black is the standard color of most XLR cables, you will find a range of colored XLR cables on the market. Color is not a crucial factor in XLR cables, but those who are keen to color-code their cables for organizational purposes may find the colored cables useful.
  • Braided XLR cable – XLR cables have three types of shielding – braided, serve, or foil. Braided shielding is strands of braided copper for enhanced durability and strength. It is suitable for hi-frequency shielding. Serve shielding is flat copper strands wrapped unidirectionally and offers the cables greater frequency but compromises shielding effectiveness. On the other hand, foil shielding is foil wrapping and copper drain wire. It is far less effective or durable than the other types of shielding. Braided XLR cables are considered premium quality. They are the most expensive. Serve shielding is standard in most mid-range cables, while foil shields are the most common and most affordable on the market.
  • Wireless XLR cable – Typically, this type of XLR wireless transmitter is for a dynamic microphone. They are not as popular as the standard wired XLR cables. They are shielded, enabling them to reject interference and come with the 3-pin female connector on the end that you install on your microphone. On the other end is an enclosed transmitter. They come as a bundle that also includes the receiver. On the downside, they are not as effective at maintaining the integrity of your audio quality as wired XLR cables.
  • Gold Plated XLR Cable – These are XLR cables whose connectors are gold-plated. The gold plating does not affect the sound quality; rather, it improves the connector’s durability.
  • 2 to 1 XLR Cable – These are also known as mic splitters and are suitable when you want to send an audio signal from one source to multiple destinations. In the case of microphones, you may want to split the signal, sending one for recording and the other to a mixer. They usually have 2 female and 1 male connector. Note that they lower the output level of the signal.
  • USB C to XLR Cable –  An USB C to XLR cable allows you to plug and play your XLR microphone to your computer. It is best suited for use with dynamic microphones, although you can use it with self-charged condenser microphones. For a condenser microphone, you need to connect it to phantom power for power supply, then to your computer. The challenge with this method is that it lowers the sound quality.
  • Male XLR Cable to Male XLR Cable – This type of XLR cable is suitable for use with devices that have incorrect XLR connector gender. 
different types of xlr cables

How Long Can an XLR Cable Be?

XLR cables are available in different lengths, including:

  • 3-foot XLR cable
  • 5-foot XLR cable
  • 25-foot XLR cable
  • 30-foot XLR cable
  • 50-foot XLR cable
  • 100-foot XLR cable

The standard XLR cable length is within 50 ft. Invest in various sizes, depending on your audio production setup and needs. The cables should have impedance protection on both ends to optimize quality.

For longer cables, ensure that they are solid copper conductors rather than stranded copper. Solid copper is sturdier and less likely to break. It also provides better noise protection.

With the wide range of XLR cables on the market, it can be challenging to determine which ones to buy. The most suitable XLR cables for you depend on factors such as your audio production needs and set up, budget, and quality of the cables. Below are some tips to help you narrow down your options.

XLR cable cost

A simple search online for XLR cables will reveal numerous options at different price points ranging from less than $10 for single units up to $100 for packages. So, the question is whether to go for cheap XLR cables versus expensive ones.

It is best to avoid the cheapest ones as chances are they are of low quality and get damaged within a few uses. However, you do not have to go for the most expensive option. A price range of $25-$50 offers a good combination of quality and affordability.

Professional vs Premium XLR Cables

These are some of the best XLR cables on the market. They are high-end, good-quality XLR cables that deliver value at their premium price and have the following key characteristics:

  • High strand count – In high XLR cables, the copper conductor cable is fine strands rather than a single wire. The more the strands, the better the flexibility and durability.
  • Short lay – Lay refers to the distance between each copper conductor twist. The shorter it is, the better the XLR cable’s noise cancellation efficiency and flexibility.
  • Braided shielding for enhanced strength and durability.
  • Silver or gold plated connectors to improve their conductivity.

Best XLR Cables for the Money

Buying bulk XLR cables, XLR cable bundles, or 10 pack XLR cables offer better cost-effectiveness and better value for money than buying individual units.

XLR Cable Tester

When buying your XLR cables in a local store, test them to ensure they work as required. You cannot test cables you buy online until they are delivered, so it is best to invest in an XLR cable tester that you can use to test that the cables are functional before beginning to use them. If they are defective, contact the seller to return for a refund or exchange.

An audio cable test also helps you to know if your existing XLR cables are broken. You may notice some tell-tale signs such as intermittent sound, loss in sound quality, missing audio, etc. Running an audio cable test confirms whether or not they are working optimally.

How to Connect XLR Cable to PC

There are 3 main ways of connecting an XLR mic to a computer as follows:

Using an XLR to USB Signal Adapter

This method is one of the easiest. All you have to do is connect the microphone XLR cable to the adapter and the adapter to the computer. Most of the XLR to USB signal adapters have phantom power, so they work well for either a dynamic mic or condenser mic.

Through an Audio Interface

This method is most effective for connecting your microphone XLR cable to your PC. The audio interface converts the analog signal from the microphone to a digital signal and transmits it to the computer. You can use the audio interface with both dynamic and condenser mics.

Using a USB to XLR Microphone Cable

This method is an easy and cost-effective way of connecting your XLR mic to your PC. The XLR cable has a female connector on one end and a USB microphone on the other. You plug and play the USB connector on your computer.

Best Way to Store XLR Cables

Properly storing your XLR cables extends their lifetime. It also keeps them organized for easy access when setting up for an audio recording session.

Wrapping XLR cables is the best way to organize them for storage. Use the over-under wrapping technique to avoid twisting the conductors, then secure them with a tie.

You can use Velcro ties, pipe cleaners, shoelaces, or extension cord hold straps to tie the wrapped cables.

Do not use tape as it may be hard to remove from the cables. It also leaves a sticky residue on the cables. Zip ties are also not suitable. They organize the cables securely, but you will need a knife or scissors to snip them. A simple slip-up could cause you to cut the cables or hurt yourself.

Once secure, store them in a cool, dry place such as a storage bag, plastic bin, container, or wooden rack, among others.

5 Best XLR Cable Review

1. Mogami XLR Cable

[amazon box=”B00JHHZ1UQ”]

This standard 10-foot XLR cable is also available in other sizes, including 2ft., 3ft., 6ft., 10ft., 15ft., 25ft., 50ft, 75ft., and 100ft. It is compatible with a range of audio devices, including monitors, speakers, amplifiers, and music instruments.

The XLR cable is suitable for use in large and small recording studios. They enhance a dynamic range and give you a crisp and clear sound.


  • Comes in multiple sizes
  • Compatible with a wide range of equipment
  • Good for large and small recording studios


  • Pricey

2. Amazon XLR Cable

[amazon box=”B01JNLUA5G”]

 The AmazonBasics XLR cable is ideal for live sound and studio recording.  The connectors are plated with nickel to enhance durability, and the housing is a 6.00mm PVC jacket that is flexible and enhances durability.

The inner copper conductors are spiral shielded to minimize noise interference. It has a simple plug-and-play design compatible with a variety of audio systems, including PA systems and speakers.

 It is available in different lengths, including 6ft, 10ft, 25ft, and 50ft. You can buy it as a single unit or a bundle of multiple units.


  • Comes in multiple sizes
  • Durable materials
  • Affordable
  • Minimal noise interference


  • Not professional grade

3. Audio Technica XLR cable

[amazon box=”B00B43LKDI”]

Available in three lengths (10 feet, 20 feet, and 30 feet) and have a professional quality build. They have dual copper outer shields and twin conductive PVC inner shields to optimize signal quality. The design also incorporates 24-gauge stranded copper conductors for enhanced signal transfer. They are super flexible for easy storage and use.


  • Comes in multiple sizes
  • Durable
  • Reliable
  • Professional quality


  • Thin design

4. Rapco XLR Cable

[amazon box=”B007SNU700″]

They are available in different lengths (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 50, 75, and 100) and colors (red, purple, green, blue, black, white, and various neon colors).

They ensure a quiet operation with a serve shield and 24-gauge bare copper center conductors. The outer jacket is flexible and durable and made of PVC.


  • Available in different lengths and colors
  • Quiet operation
  • Durable and flexible design
  • Limited lifetime warranty


  • Not professional grade

5. Shure XLR cable

[amazon box=”B00018CXV0″]

It is a Hi-flex microphone cable with chrome XLR connectors for low impedance operation. It is 25-feet long and comes as a single unit with a flexible cord for easy maneuvering.


  • Reasonable price
  • Thin, flexible cord
  • Decent sound quality


  • Not professional grade


Balanced XLR cables ensure superior audio quality. They block out any interference and deliver crisp sound. Standard ones have male and female connectors on each end, although some have male and male connectors.

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Last Update: April 1, 2024