XLR Speaker Cable vs Microphone Cable: A Detailed Guide

xlr speaker cable vs microphone cable

In the music industry, from production to recording and performance, several audio equipment and instruments are involved.

To work in synchrony, you need the right cables to connect them. These cables are primarily responsible for transferring electrical signals from one point to another or from one device to another.

When shopping for one, you need to find a cost-effective, durable, and flexible cable with soldered connections and sufficient length.

Audio cables with those features will maintain sound quality and clarity, but you must also ensure you choose the right type.

Two of the most common audio cable types based on equipment compatibility are speaker and microphone cables that come in several pin types to match equipment connectors.

Most audio devices have had XLR connectors, leading to confusion when choosing between XLR speaker cable vs microphone cable.

Since you’ll still find devices with XLR connectors or ports, let’s get to know XLR cables and these subtypes better.

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    XLR Speaker Cable vs Microphone Cable: A Detailed Guide 1

    What Are XLR Cables?

    XLR or External Line Return cables have long been popular in the recording and audio industries and are considered by many as a better option than ¼-inch jack cables.

    You can find cables with two, three, four, five, and more pins to match the same types of XLR connectors.

    The most common is the XLR cable with three pins that correspond to positive, negative, and ground, which is a design similar to a DMX cable.

    XLR vs. DMX Cables

    As a beginner, you need to know the difference between the two so that you don’t end up using the wrong cable for the incorrect device.

    DMX cables have nothing to do with audio equipment since they’re meant for lighting.

    Meaning they carry data or information to communicate changes between the source and the lights.

    On the other hand, XLR cables have analog functionalities.

    Depending on which cable subtype you have, they can accommodate various devices with XLR ports, such as mixers, amplifiers, microphones, and speakers.

    The two most common subtypes of XLR cables are the XLR speaker cable vs microphone cable.

    To determine how these two XLR cable subtypes differ, let’s discuss how each of them is designed.

    Their specific designs will also help us understand how each of these cables works and where you should connect them to specifically.

    XLR Speaker Cable

    XLR Speaker Cable vs Microphone Cable: A Detailed Guide 2

    Generally speaking, these cables carry the wattage or power from the amplifier to the speaker.

    It has three essential features, namely impedance, capacitance, and inductance, that you need to consider when buying one.

    That’s because the numbers should match the ones in your speaker and amplifiers.

    Most experts in the audio industry also point out the importance of speaker cable length.

    Long XLR speaker cables are highly vulnerable to external interferences, so you need to find a high-quality one since it will surely have signal-protection features.

    Short cables will be more cost-effective, especially for beginners, and the highly suggested length is eight feet or one meter.

    Generally, speaker cables have no shielding and are designed with two heavy conductors to prevent electrical interference when used in RF or radiofrequency environments, specifically at 20 kiloHertz.

    This design makes them unsuitable for any other devices.

    You must also note that you can’t directly use XLR speaker cables on most modern or more advanced speakers since they now have different connectors.

    That said, there is a hack if you still prefer to use XLR cables or you already have these cables lying around your storage room.

    You can find a suitable adaptor that is available in many physical retail and online stores.

    XLR speaker cables also have thick wires or a lower gauge, ranging from 12 to 14, since they mostly carry low impedance and high power.

    Remember that the power amplifiers where you connect speaker cables to provide or carry a voltage higher than other pieces of audio equipment.

    XLR Microphone Cable

    XLR Speaker Cable vs Microphone Cable: A Detailed Guide 3

    Microphone cables also have two-conductor wires but are thinner or higher gauge, ranging from 18 to 24.

    They also have a braided shield to protect the coaxial cables from outside interferences.

    The microphone cable’s centralized gauge wire can only carry and deliver low voltages.

    These cables also come in two types based on impedance: high-Z and low-Z.

    Low-Z microphone cables have two XLR connectors, the male at its mixer end and the female at the microphone end.

    On the other hand, the high-Z cable has the ¼-inch phone-type plug on its mixer end, while a female XLR is on its microphone end.

    Ideally, you would need to connect the specific microphone cable with the same type of microphone.

    However, you may also connect the high-Z cable to a low-Z microphone if no low-Z cables are available.

    Just keep in mind that you might notice a loss of volume when you do so.

    With that out of the way, many professionals in the audio industry prefer the XLR microphone cables over other types.

    That’s because of the many benefits of using XLR microphone cables, such as a secure connection and balanced audio.

    XLR Speaker Cable vs Microphone Cable

    Now that we already have a better idea of XLR microphone and speaker cables, how do they really differ?

    From the definition of XLR speaker and microphone cables, you’ll find that the primary difference between the two is their anatomy.

    The unshielded and unbalanced XLR speaker cables require more durable and thicker cores, while the shielded and balanced microphone cables require two thinner cores.

    These anatomical differences significantly affect their functionality.

    XLR speaker cables can handle high wattages or voltages, while the microphone cables can only handle lower wattages or voltages.

    What Are the Dangers of Cable Substitution?

    Since XLR speaker and microphone cable subtypes aren’t designed exactly the same, connecting the wrong cable to the incorrect equipment can lead to a number of issues.

    You’ll notice radio interference noises and hums when connecting speaker cables to line-level or mic-level devices.

    On the other hand, there would be low or poor sound output when connecting your XLR microphone cable to a speaker with the wrong pre-amp.

    In both cases, there would be times when your equipment will not work completely since each carries different wattages.

    That’s because you’ll end up damaging your microphone, amplifier, speaker, and cables, which can be irreparable or require costly repair.

    The Exception

    Although designed for microphone connectivity, you should choose the XLR microphone cable to connect to a powered XLR speaker.

    Remember that the speaker cable is unshielded, and connecting it to a powered XLR speaker will produce lead to the possible issues discussed earlier.

    These speakers are considered line-level devices since they have speaker wirings and internal amplifiers.

    A Better Understanding of XLR Cables

    Although not as expensive as a piece of audio equipment and devices, purchasing and using the right kind of cable from the get-go will save you time, money, and effort.

    With the many choices, XLR cables have become the standard for years, though you’ll already find modern connectors.

    However, you can easily find adaptors to convert these connectors, especially since most professionals still prefer XLR cables.

    Remember to always use the correct cable to connect your equipment or device to avoid costly mistakes.

    To sum up, an XLR speaker cable is exclusively used for speakers and amps with XLR connectors.

    On the other hand, you can safely connect the XLR microphone cables to microphones, mixers, musical instruments, and powered speakers.

    Since they look somewhat similar unless you scrutinize their anatomy closely, such as differences in wire thickness, we suggest that you label your cables or color-code them upon unboxing.

    Doing so will ensure you won’t pick the wrong XLR cable when setting up your audio equipment in your audio recording or production studio, DJ booth, podcast and music room, or concert stage.

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