XLR Cables are easily one of the most important pieces of any studio or stage setup. They can be used to connect everything from microphones to xlr output gear to your console. In comparison with TRS cables, they can better protect your cable from signal interference, as well as help to transport signal much further.
You can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a microphone, only for your sound to be foiled by a low-quality XLR cable…
The unfortunate thing is, not many people know what separates a great XLR cable from an inferior one. From shielding to design to connectors and beyond, there’s a lot to understand when looking for the best cable. You also MUST consider how you’ll be using it.
Luckily, we’re here for you and we’ll teach you everything you need to know about the glorious XLR so you can make the best decision the first time around!
- 1 Live vs. Studio
- 2 Length
- 3 Cable Core
- 4 Shielding
- 5 Connector Type
- 6 Top 5 XLR Cables Compared
- 7 Let’s Connect the Dots
Live vs. Studio
Most XLR cables have the same basic build, though deciding whether you want to use it for Live or Studio applications, can have some bearing on the features you should be looking for.
You can also decide whether you want to use them for microphone or instrument applications, though we can cover that more in depth in a different article so that we can focus on all-around applications here.
If you’re using an XLR audio cable for live use, it is of the utmost importance that it is built with durable shielding. It should also be flexible so that you can move it around the stage with ease. You’ll most likely be running the cable over with amps and wrapping it back and forth around different mic stands. It’s very helpful if the cable has a PVC Jacket as well, as that can provide tons of flex.
If the cable is low quality, it won’t last..
On the other hand, you might just be using you XLR for the studio. In that case, paying extra for the extreme durability might be a waste. Many XLR cables are labeled for live and studio use, so make sure to keep an eye out for that!
That brings us to length. Getting the cable that is the proper length, whether for live use or studio use, is extremely important.
For example, in live use, you must remember that you’ll probably be running it from the stage to the mixing console in the back, so you’ll likely need a cable that is 20+ feet.
All in all, give yourself some wiggle room. Never just measure from the console to the instrument. Take into account that there may be small obstacles like amps or speakers that you’ll need to snake the cables around, so a couple of extra feet can’t hurt.
Though you won’t have to worry about XLR signal degradation like with instrument cables, if you have a ton of extra cable from a 100-footer lying around, your studio or stage space can begin to seem disorganized. Know your space, and be as thorough as possible when deciding on length so you can keep everything neat, tidy, and in working condition.
Core thickness is another critical feature to consider when looking for an XLR, as it can affect the way your signal is transferred. Core thickness is measured in diameter with the American Wire Gauge table and ranges from 20 to 26, 26 being the thinnest.
Many people like to use thicker cables for studio recording as it adds more capacitance for the best sound.
For live sound, people like thinner cables because they are much more flexible.
Regarding the actual build, you should have your eyes on Oxygen Free Copper cores. They are very pure sounding, have low noise, are strong, and flexible.
Shielding on an XLR cable can protect your signal from any interference such as radio or power frequencies. You’ll find three pins on the male end of the XLR cable, and the shielding is connected to third one. Essentially, it takes any ground interference and directs it through the cable, keeping it from the main signal.
You’ll find a few types of materials that cable manufacturers use to make their shielding:
- Aluminum Laminate
- Tin Plated copper
Aluminum laminate is undoubtedly the cheapest of the three types of shielding. It’s essentially the bottom rung on which you can get solid protection from signal interference, though not as high quality as copper. The element of Aluminum Laminate is very fragile and it doesn’t have much flexibility, meaning we wouldn’t recommend it for live applications.
You’ll find tin-plated copper (sometimes referred to as Braided Tin Copper) in studios.
It’s very flexible, though also has up to 98% coverage, protection from oxidation, and has great conductivity. It’s especially great if you’re working with mid-low frequencies.
The biggest issue with these types of cables is that they are bulky. If you’re working in a tight space or with smaller instruments, they may not be in your best interest to use.
Spiral Copper Shielding
Spiral Copper Shielding is excellent for live use as well, as it is very flexible, even more so than braided copper. It’s an excellent in-between in terms of cost for Braided Copper and Aluminum Laminate.
The biggest issue with spiral copper shielding is that it is prone to breakage. The strands can easily stretch and come apart if you’re not careful.
When we’re talking about connector type, what we’re really talking about is longevity and durability of your cable. Great XLR connectors won’t break if put under a bit of strain and stress, giving you the ability to treat your cables in a more carefree manner
Neutrik is easily one of the most trusted XLR connector brands. They solder easily and are made to last a lot longer.
You’ll most likely end up choosing between silver or gold-plated connectors. The main difference is the material strength. Some companies will tell you that gold sounds better to get you to spend the extra dough, though that’s just not true.
Gold-plated connectors just resist corrosion better (which may not be extremely important unless you live right next to the beach), they won’t deform as easily in harsh conditions, and they just look a little cooler.
All that said, most people do just fine with silver-plated connectors.
Top 5 XLR Cables Compared
The GLS Audio MC25 is one of the cables that seems to be incredibly popular for all-around applications. It gives you professional quality sound at a consumer cost.
Because it’s 25’ long, you can easily use it for most live situations and you won’t have any signal degradation. The copper cores are 21”, giving you enough capacitance for studio recordings as well. The entire cable is wrapped in a thick and flexible exterior jacket that is made from rubber.
The cable connectors are wrapped in a nice rubber to add a bit of flexibility and keep strain to a minimum. We’ve used these cables and have never noticed any interference or static. Overall, GLS is an extremely reputable cable manufacturer and works with clients to make sure their cables are always in tip-top shape.
Bottom Line: While the best application for the MC25 is live use due to its length, it is absolutely high quality enough to use for studio recordings as well. If you’re on a budget and need a quietly operating, no-frills, solid XLR audio cable, the GLS Audio MC25 is at the top of the ranks.
If you’re a guitarist who loves D’Addario, you’ll be happy to know that these cables were their pioneering effort into the world of XLR cables. The Planet Waves Classic Series is one that is built for microphone use specifically. The low capacitance on it makes it excellent for providing signal transparency. You truly won’t get any noise using this bad boy.
Even with the tough-as-nails nickel-plated connectors that resist corrosion better than silver, and oxygen-free copper cores that sound amazing, this cable is incredibly inexpensive. The Classic Series is made with flexible molded collars on each end that give the cable tons of strain relief on either side, giving you a worry-free experience when using it.
Bottom Line: The Planet Waves Classic is one of the best XLR cables if you’re on a budget. It provides tons of reliability, great sound, and is perfect for studio use.
The Hosa Pro Balanced XLR is another great choice for those looking to use their XLR in the studio. The most significant purchasing point is the fact that Neutrik makes the silver connectors. They’re strong, reliable, and give you tons of flexibility.
The conductors are also very thick, adding more to the durability. The reason these are best suited for the studio is because of their crystal clear signal transfer that utilizes a thick, 20 AWG Oxygen-Free Copper Core.
It’s crazy that they were able to wrap up all these specs in a cable that is so affordable, as not many other cable companies seem to do that. This cable is very well-insulated and shielded, so you don’t have to worry about any interference or hiss. Because of that, any recorded audio will sound amazing.
Bottom Line: The durability of this cable is its most prominent feature, a huge reason why it is so widely praised by studio engineers all over the world. If you need a thick, pure sounding cable for your home studio, we highly recommend Hosa’s Pro Balanced XLR.
The ProCo StageMaster, as you might have guessed, is best when used on the stage. The main reason for this is that the cable is made with 24 AWG wire, meaning it’s much thinner and easy to flex or roll about the stage. If you’re running a complicated stage setup, this is extremely important. Beyond that, the StageMaster is exceptionally durable. The twisted-pair wire on the inside gives it very low noise as well, so no need to worry about that nasty hiss from lousy venue wiring.
Another cool thing that ProCo decided to include is a pair of colored rings so that you can easily color coat your cables. This is something stage manager typically have to do themselves with colored tape, so the fact that ProCo added it in is pretty sweet.
Bottom Line:The ProCo StageMaster is an excellent budget cable that excels over most in terms of live use. It’s sturdy yet flexible, and with 30-feet of cable, you’ll have just enough length for most small to mid-sized venues.
If you’ve ever entered a forum about high-quality XLR cables, you’ve most definitely heard of Mogami. Mogami makes some of the highest quality cables in the game and the Gold Studio XLR fits the bill for one of the best.
Even though it’s labeled as a studio cable for its sound quality, it's far more durable enough to hit the road. The most prominent feature about the Mogami Gold XLR is the premium 105 copper core. It has three times more strands than leading competitor brands, meaning more flexibility conductor reliability.
Pair all that with the XLPE insulation (which makes this thing the tank of XLR cables), the gold-plated connectors, and the braided-shield, and you have a cable that will last you a lifetime.
Bottom Line: For sound fidelity, strength, and value, Mogami cables are at the top of the game. For a cable like this, you have to pay a premium, though it could be worth the investment considering it will last you forever.
Let’s Connect the Dots
So by now you should have a very solid understanding of XLR cables. Whether you are recording in the studio or setting up for a live show, we highly recommend the GLS Audio MC25. It has a combination of high-quality features for a price tag that won’t leave your pockets empty. You’ll get excellent noise and interference cancellation along with audio quality that is crisp and clear.
What more can you ask for?
Choosing the right cables is SO important. You never want to have to worry about getting a degraded signal when recording or having your cable bust during a gig.
What’s the point of getting a cheap XLR cable when you’ve already spent so much on your interface or PA system?
The answer is: Go Quality or Go Home.
Luckily, we’ve provided options on here that range over budget and use, so you should surely be able to find one that suits your needs!