Microphone cable is an umbrella term for balanced audio cables.
These cables are made of 18 to 24 gauge and comprise of positive and negative conductor wires.
Additionally, microphone cables consisted of a shielded ground wire which is fitted with a three-pin External Line Return (XLR) connectors which offers jack matching and universal plug.
Microphone cables are easily the most important piece for any studio setup.
They can be used to interconnect powered speakers, microphones, sound mixers, audio modification gears, and even consoles.
Balanced cables only carry a small voltage and are designed to prevent external electronic interference as well as enable longer run-length and transport signals much further.
A microphone may cost you hundreds of dollars but if the microphone cable is low-quality, it can ruin the sound.
- 1 Differences Between XLR Cables
- 2 Why Is It Important To Have The Right Cables For Your Microphone?
- 3 The Wrap
Differences Between XLR Cables
As mentioned above, XLR cables can provide excellent signal strength and because of that are used in professional applications.
XLR cables and typically used for two types of applications: audio applications and light applications.
There are a few differences between the two styles. XLR cables for audio are equipped with a three-pin connector and are created for low frequency of the audio signals.
They are used with microphones, speakers, amplifiers, and other music instruments.
XLR cables used for lighting, also known as DMX cables, are either equipped with a three-pin or a five-pin connector.
They are designed for 10-ohm high impedance and are used for stage or high end lighting.
Since there is a lot of difference between the impedance, you should never the audio XLR cable with a lighting XLR cable.
In this guide, we will only talk about the XLR audio cable.
With the huge variety of microphone cables out there, choosing the right cable for your speaker or other audio device is extremely important.
Factors like conductors, voltage, connectivity, shielding, length, and cable core, all matter when it comes to selecting the right kind of microphone speakers.
Let us take a look at some of the factors that can make a huge difference to your XLR cables:
Live vs Studio
Most XLR cables are fundamentally built in the same ways; however, there are certain features you should look for when deciding to use them for Live or Studio applications.
For live applications, it is important that the XLR microphone cable you are using is made up of a durable shielding.
If it is low-quality, it may break down in a few weeks. Additionally, it also needs to be very flexible to allow you ample motion on stage.
A PVC jacket on a cable can provide you with tons of flex that you can do to wrap it around mic stands.
If you are using your microphone cable for the studio, you don’t need to dole out too much money to ensure durability since the cable won’t experience as much movement.
However, that doesn’t mean it should be a cheap Chinese product.
If you take a look at the anatomy of a mic cable, you will see that the conductor is made of several fine strands rather than single wire.
By adding more strand count to a cable, manufacturers can increase the durability as well as the flexibility of the cable.
This is of particular importance if you intend to use the microphone cable for hand-held mics and for stage use, as they experience heavy abuse.
Naturally, cables with higher strand count are more expensive as well.
When look for the right kind of XLR mic cable, the core thickness is another thing that needs to be considered.
Core thickness is measured in diameter and can be anywhere between 20 to 26, with 26 being the thinnest.
If you are using it for live application, most people prefer thinner cables as they are flexible. For studio application, thicker cables can add more capacitance for better sound.
One of the best types of cable cores are made oxygen-free copper cores, which have a strong and oure sound, low noise, and improved flexibility.
Shielding is one of the most important aspects of a microphone cable as it prevents signal interferences due to power and radio frequencies.
The male or the output end of the XLR cables has three pins and the shielding is connected to the third pin, called the ground pin.
The function of the shielding is to take any ground interference and prevents it from moving through the main signal.
Some different types of XLR microphone cables are made from:
Spiral Copper Shielding
This type of cable is good for live use as it offers very good flexibility.
However, one main drawback of the spiral copper shielding is that its strand can stretch and break apart. This is why you need to be careful while using it.
Aluminum laminate is a very cost-effective shielding and can offer you good protection from signal interference; however, it is not as high quality as copper.
Aluminum laminate is quite breakable and it does not have a lot of flexibility, which is why we won’t recommend it for stage use.
However it is a standard option for snakes and permanent installation.
Tin-plated or braided tin copper shielding is good for studio use. This shielding is quite flexible and also provides 98% coverage from oxidation.
It is an excellent conductor, is very strong, and works the best with a mid-low range of frequencies.
The downside is that these cables are quire bulky so they are not suitable to be used with smaller instruments or tight spaces.
These shields are the most expensive and used for high-end cables.
XLR cables which see a lot of impact and abuse are equipped with special material for the outer jacket, filler, and insulation, which absorbs the shock.
This is done to prevent triboelectric noise, a distinct snapping sound that is made when someone steps on a cable.
Naturally, these impact absorption casings are expensive. However, studio cables can work fine with cables without impact absorption material.
The best XLR microphone cables will not break under stress or strain and can withstand a lot of abuse.
Typically, you may choose between silver and gold-plated connectors.
Both silver and gold-plated connectors provide you with extra material strength.
Some manufacturers may claim that gold connectors sound better, although this is not exactly true.
Gold only prevents corrosion and it does not warp in harsh conditions (which is not usually cause for concern).
Of course, gold-plated connectors are very expensive. Most people do just as well with silver-plated connectors.
To get the best conductivity, manufacturers coat their microphone cables with different materials like silver and gold.
Silver has the best conductivity out of the two though it can be harder to maintain. It tarnished quicker and must be cleaned regularly so that it performs better.
This is why most people prefer gold since it is low-maintenance, even though it is more costly.
Star-quad cables are a relatively new innovation. These cables use four smaller conductors instead of two conductors that are found in a typical microphone cable.
This design minimizes the loop area and cuts down on electrical interference by 20 db. This is why it is most commonly used in environments with high interference.
It also offers better quality of sound. Although the common layman may not be able to grasp the difference, audio expert say there is certainly a difference.
Why Is It Important To Have The Right Cables For Your Microphone?
Mic cables are usually not suitable for speakers.
You can only use XLR microphone cables with powered speakers with XLR inputs.
These speakers contain speaker wiring and internal amplifiers and are hence considered a line-level device, which is most suited with a balanced XLR microphone cable.
Most powered speakers comes with a balanced XLR input jack and some types also include an extra unbalanced 1/4th inch jack which can be used with shielded musical equipment cables to interconnect with keyboards, guitars, etc.
Powered speakers should never be interconnected with the use of unshielded speaker cables.
This can result in a humming noise, radio interference, non-operation of equipment, and in some cases, even equipment damage.
To make sure you don’t use the wrong cable, always use color-coding or labels to identify the different cable types that share a connector.
We hope that this guide sheds some light on what kind of XLR microphone cables should be used and whether you can use them on speakers or not.
Whether you want a microphone cable for studio recording or for a live performance on stage, you need to determine the right type of microphone for your speaker.
A combination of high-quality feature can give you durability, flexibility, reduced interference, and improved sound along with an audio quality that is loud and clear.
Although choosing the right microphone cable for your speaker may not be as fun as choosing the right guitar or keyboard, it is essential if you want to produce high-quality music.
Ultimately, only the right kind of tools can get the job done well.