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XLR cables are essential purchases for any home studio.
Your choice of XLR cables can make a big difference.
Read our FAQ to learn all you need to know!
XLR cables, or microphone cables in this case, are not the most exciting of purchases but they still play a really important part in any studio or recording setup.
We can all relate to GAS (or ”Gear Acquisition Syndrome”) where we as producers feel a compulsive need to splash out on high-end equipment, but it’s easy to forget that while we might have a top-end mixing console we still need to make sure our signal is clean. To do that we need a quality XLR connection!
So while XLR cabling is not the sexiest of subjects, it is still very important to remember that a good recording or perfect take can easily be spoiled by a crackling cable or dodgy connectors.
Because you want to achieve the best sound quality in your studio, today we’re talking about the best XLR cables and why they matter.
What Are The Best XLR Cables For Recording?
If you’re on a budget we’d highly recommend going for the Amazon Basics XLR. For the price, it’s a reliable and durable lead. Our number one cable choice, however, is the Mogami Gold range, another quality XLR for a great price. If you are looking for a premium cable and happy to part with some cash then the GLS Audio range is the one.
Remember, cables are an investment and picking one of these up will give you superior audio quality without having to re-order or replace your leads every few months.
Now, let’s get into the reviews of 9 best XLR cables of 2020.
Planet Waves Classic Series microphone cables provide the ultimate in quality and value. Planet Waves Classic Series microphone cables utilize ultra-pure, oxygen-free copper conductors for low capacitance and pure signal transfer.
The Planet Waves Classic Series XLR cables are a great place to start on any list of the best microphone cables.
The Classic Series utilizes oxygen-free copper conductors for the cleanest signal possible, which is vital for capturing the best audio signal during recording. If you’re looking for a high-quality XLR microphone cable with a mid-range price then Planet Waves Classic is a great place to start.
The cables are available in either 10ft or 25ft giving you a couple of different options which is perfect if you need your microphone to be distanced from your preamp (or even in a separate live room). A great feature of the Planet Waves Classic Series is the option to go for 1/4 inch jack to XLR which makes them some of the best XLR cables for studio monitors as well.
Planet Waves Classic XLR cables are priced at around $28, which makes them a solid mid-tier budget pick.
Mogami Gold Studio leads are in the higher end XLR cables on the market but well worth the investment if you are looking for superior sound quality and reliability.
Mogami themselves recommend their cables for use in home studios due to their excellent ability to counter noise issues which can result from wiring problems (an issue many musicians and producers find at home). If you’re encountering any buzz or hum and it’s not coming from your equipment it may well be your XLR microphone lead.
There isn’t a way of simply proving which is the best XLR cable on the market, but anyone searching for the best XLR cables for microphones can’t go wrong with the Mogami range, especially with their range offering 2, 3, 6, 10, 15, 25, 50 and 100ft options.
What’s more, the Mogami Gold Studio range offers a lifetime guarantee, so if you start to hear any crackling or notice any failures in the XLR cable you can easily get it replaced.
For a high-quality XLR cable, you can’t go wrong with the Gold Studio range. Prices range from around $49.95.
Audio-Technica Premium Microphone Cables are engineered for maximum signal transfer and minimum loss. Designed for low-impedance operation, these balanced cables feature heavy-duty construction and professional Neutrik® connectors.
Think of Audio Technica and you’ll probably picture headphones and mics rather than XLR cables. However aside from being a leading mic manufacturer Audio Technica have a great cable range perfect for any studio.
The AT8314 XLR microphone cable has dual copper shielding and twin conductive PVC inner shields for a high-end sound at a reasonable mid-range price.
These cables have been around for quite some time and have earned plenty of enthusiastic reviews, once again solidifying Audio Technica’s reputation for providing amazing products at affordable prices.
If you’re just hearing about these cables, you might be wondering how oxygen factors into cable quality? Well, you could say that it’s a very fine point for only extreme audiophiles to argue over, but oxygen-free copper means higher purity and better signal transmission.
The Kinsman Oxygen Free Cable is a lead that does just that, which means its a great option for studios that don’t want to make any compromises. Despite the “high-end” nature of the materials, the price is thankfully mid-range, and you still get a great sounding and reliable XLR cable.
One of the medium price range XLR cables on our list, GLS Audio still promises high-end “audiophile quality” cables, but you won’t see this reflected in the price.
With high-grade copper conductors, the GLS range offers ultra low noise performance which is exactly what you need from an XLR microphone cable. Because this is a quality cable at a good price, this would be a good choice for anyone looking to buy multiple cables without compromising on quality.
LyxPro is another great brand that doesn’t require a bank loan to get a top-quality lead.
Their range starts at around $25 for a 30-foot lead. What’s even better is they are available in a range of colours – great for eliminating headaches during a drum tracking session or any scenario with multiple mics that might require you to retrace your steps and figure out your patching.
With gold plated contacts and cotton yarn to reduce noise, the LyxPro series XLR leads even come with a 5-year warranty and angled connectors should you need to use them with a camcorder.
Another nice affordable cable, and a good choice for anyone looking for a reliable XLR cable that offers a high-quality sound.
Cable Matters range include gold plated connectors and oxygen-free copper shielding to produce a noise-free signal. Whilst these are arguably one of the best XLR Cables for microphones, they are good ”all-rounders” in a live situation as well as the studio.
OK, so we aren’t all in the position to be splashing out on the best XLR cable on the market. Maybe you’re just starting out and need a budget microphone cable to get started. Or maybe you just need a couple of backup XLR cables.
The Amazon Basics range is a great place to start and their microphone cable range will, whilst at the cheaper end, still give a decent sound quality without breaking the bank.
You’ll easily be able to pick up a few Amazon Basics cables for the price of one of the more expensive cables in this list. While they may not last as long, or have “audiophile” sound quality, at around $12 for a 25-foot lead they certainly can’t be grumbled at.
As we’ve mentioned, XLR cables are a bit of a dry topic but it’s worth getting to grips with your cables. Top-of-the-line recording gear is great but your leads are equally as important. We’ve answered all your burning questions on XLR cables below.
What Is An XLR Cable Used For?
An XLR cable is a type of cable most commonly used in transferring a signal from a microphone to a mixing desk, preamp, interface, or PA system. An XLR is characterized by three pin connectors on either end and will come in varying lengths usually starting at around a few feet up to 50 feet or more.
XLR cables have three pins because they are balanced connections. This means that, unlike standard guitar leads, XLR cables can carry signals much further without signal loss and are less susceptible to noise and interference (more on this later).
XLR cables are also used in lighting, although these are special high-impedance cables called DMX cables, and have five pins instead of three.
What makes an XLR different to other cables is their use of male and female connectors within the same cable. “Plug” and “socket” are becoming increasingly popular as non-gendered alternatives to these terms.
At one end you will see three prongs (the plug / male connector) which are slotted into a female input that is a socket for the prongs.
Because of this, XLR cables differ from other leads, such as 1/4 inch guitar leads, which have plugs on either end. So with a guitar lead, either end can be connected to your guitar or amp, it makes no difference.
This means two XLR cables can be joined together if you need a longer cable, but because this may degrade the signal quality, it’s recommended that you have one long XLR cable instead.
Are All XLR Cables The Same?
If we’re talking about the very basic function of an XLR cable then yes, they all essentially do the same job. But this is like asking ”are all cars the same”? Sure, you can get from A to B in a Ford or a Ferrari, but the experience will be drastically different!
Whether you buy a budget or top-tier XLR lead you will still be able to connect them to a microphone and mixer exactly the same but the composition, parts, and connectors will all create a very different microphone lead.
Which brings us to our next question…
Does XLR Cable Quality Matter?
In a word, yes. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are only going to get a high-quality cable by spending a fortune. But as a general rule, higher quality cables are more reliable, will last longer, and are guaranteed to sound great.
We’ve mentioned some of the best XLR cables in this list that are gold plated for example, and other factors such as the quality of the copper conductors will all play a part as well.
So yes, you can pick up a cable for cheap and it may well do the trick, but it’s important to also think of the durability as well as the sound quality. A cheap cable with cheap connectors may break sooner than more expensive cables, so it can be wise to invest in a more expensive brand once than have to replace a cheaper version several times.
Balanced Vs Unbalanced: Which Is Better For Recording?
You’ll often see the terms balanced and unbalanced thrown around when discussing leads. Typically a balanced lead will be favoured over an unbalanced lead.
A balanced XLR cable is designed to offer less noise than its unbalanced counterpart, eliminating distortion and other annoying noises which can be generated from electrical interference and hum.
This is done by flipping the phase of the signal in the cable (if you are unsure on what ”phase” is, check out our guide on phase reverse). A balanced lead cleverly splits the signal within the XLR cable identically into two, and from there reverses the phase of one of the signals.
When noise is inevitably introduced, it has the same phase for both signals, so it’s easy to isolate and remove it from the original source. This is a really simple and clever trick that makesXLR cables perfect for transmitting audio without introducing any extra noise.
Technically a balanced XLR cable is only classed as balanced if the receiving ends are able to process a balanced signal, but this will pretty much always be the case.
Do XLR Cables Sound Better Than Other Cables?
Again this comes down to the idea of balanced cables in general, but is otherwise a subject that only applies to the hardcore audiophiles out there. A balanced XLR cable, as a rule, will sound better than an RCA cable or guitar lead (both of which are unbalanced).
That’s not to say you should only be using XLR cables for all your audio needs. Often monitors will offer an RCA output and you may not immediately notice a black and white difference between the two but yes, technically an XLR cable will have the edge over another lead sonically. The difference is most immediately noticeable with long cables, and this is where balanced connections are particularly important.
Do I Need An XLR Cable For Phantom Power?
Phantom power is necessary for a condenser microphone to work. Phantom power sends a very small electrical current through an XLR microphone cable which enables the condenser to convert the sound it picks up into an electrical signal which is in turn recorded into a DAW.
A condenser microphone will have an XLR connection so yes, you will need an XLR cable in order for phantom power to work. However, not all microphones will require phantom power.
A Shure SM7B is regarded as one of the best microphones on the market however this is classed as a dynamic microphone. So while it will still require an XLR cable to work it doesn’t need phantom power (and the same goes for a ribbon microphone).
Do Longer Leads Mean Less Quality?
There is a bit of a stigma around using long leads and the way they affect audio quality. For example, a guitarist’s pedal board can create a lot of hum depending on how many pedals they have powered on. However in this case the signal is being processed through several pedal circuits, different patch leads, and potentially several devices connected to mains power.
In terms of a microphone cable you probably aren’t going to get any significant audio degradation until you are reaching huge lengths, certainly not from the amount you would expect to see in a home (or even a pro studio). Once again, this is all thanks to the magic of balanced connections, and we wouldn’t have long cables without them!
So if you are looking to purchase lengthy leads, don’t be afraid of getting a longer one if necessary. A short cable may look a little neater but in the grand scheme of things, a long cable isn’t going to affect your audio quality.
How Do I Look After My XLR Cables?
It goes without saying that it’s really important to look after your investments. Sadly, XLR cables often get overlooked!
We’ve all seen bands loading out of the venue with their amps and guitars in sturdy, expensive flight cases, and we’ve all seen a bunch of XLR cables thrown in a rucksack or shoved in a box to be transported.
It’s really important to take care of your cables, ensuring they are coiled neatly to preserve them and eliminate the risk of them breaking or losing audio quality.
Avoid the ”wrapping around the elbow” technique, this only adds extra stress to the lead and can weaken connectors and the inner workings of the cable. It may seem a bit over-the-top but learning how to coil your leads neatly will ultimately prolong their lifespan. If you think about how much you are moving and twisting the lead you can imagine the toll it takes on the components inside.
Check out this video on how to coil and store your leads neatly. It is a very basic technique, but one that will save you a fortune in the long run!
Are USB Microphones Better Or Worse Than XLR Microphones?
With the rise of podcasting and live-streaming, naturally, microphone manufacturers are adapting to the market and creating convenient tools for recording at home. One of these tools is the USB microphone.
Where you would normally need to connect your condenser microphone to your preamp via XLR to then be fed to your DAW, a USB mic simply plugs straight into the computer for ease.
Of course, a condenser/XLR/preamp (or interface setup) is going to be pricier than a USB mic, but we’re not factoring in the cost here, just the quality. In this case, as a general rule, an XLR mic tends to be more favourable for several reasons.
One is that with an XLR mic you have the ability to control your gain staging better via a mixer or interface, with a USB it’s simply straight into the computer. With a USB mic if anything goes wrong then you will need to replace the whole unit, whereas with a condenser and XLR there is a little more in terms of troubleshooting options.
So if your USB mic breaks, it’s much harder to figure out where the problem is. But with an XLR mic, if the problem is traced to a dodgy cable then you’re in luck – just grab one of the ones we’ve listed above!
Of course, there are pros and cons to both but if we’re dealing with a recording scenario we think a traditional XLR mic setup is far more favorable. However, if you are a casual podcaster and not interested in the technical side of things, a USB mic will do just fine as long as you are prepared to deal with the consequences if it breaks.
What Is A Preamp And Do I Need One For My XLR Microphone Lead?
A preamp boosts the microphone signal to an acceptable level for recording and playback. If you are recording with a microphone, it’s inevitable that you will use a preamp at some stage, and many audio interfaces include preamps just for this.
So do you need a preamp? In a word, yes! But if your mixer or audio interface already has decent enough preamps, getting a separate one is a luxury. However, if you’re running a professional studio, it’s considered “improper” to only use the preamps on your interface.
For most of us recording at home, a USB audio interface will do the trick. Audio interfaces act as connectors to your computer from your mic and allow you to gain stage your levels to a suitable level.
Preamps themselves are a separate topic altogether, with units ranging from under $100 through to thousand of dollars. Some will offer a unique tonal characteristic that another may lack and some can be favourable for specific tasks or genres.
So yes, you do need a preamp for an XLR microphone, but chances are if you’ve got a mic, you’ve already got an interface, and the preamps on your interface will be just fine in most cases.
If you’re serious about recording at home, you will definitely need at least one XLR cable! There’s no reason why you can’t try a few of the ones listed above if you regularly find yourself recording with multiple mics at once.