The 10 Best XLR Cables
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in February of 2017. A shorted-out XLR cable is an audio engineer's worst nightmare, as it is capable of derailing a big show or delaying an important recording session. Along with proper equipment upkeep, a reliable choice will prevent such failures and keep the music playing. The conductive and insulating materials used, as well as the general build quality, are worthwhile factors to consider for your application. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 21, 2020:
For this revision of our ranking, we switched the Mogami Studio for the Cable Matters 2-Pack Premium. This is due to the fact that the former is very similar to the Mogami AE in this list, and we thought the latter would come in handy in a lot of home studio and static applications. These also come in a two-pack, making them an ideal choice for wiring audio interfaces and other outboard gear with more than one channel.
When setting up a digital audio workstation, cable clutter can be a real curse from both a practical and aesthetic point of view. When space is limited it's far more satisfying to work with as little excess wire as possible, and the longer the cable, the lower the signal-to-noise ratio, and the greater the chance of unwanted hum. It's therefore a good idea to be mindful of your setup and length requirements when purchasing XLRs for home or studio use.
July 05, 2019:
On this go around, we added a new item to our #5 spot on the list. This product is the GLS Audio Tweed, instantly recognizable by its retro tweed jacket and sold by a company that has developed a reputation for producing high-quality cables at a very reasonable price — like as featured on our guitar cables ranking. While some musicians could care less about how their cables look on stage, others will certainly gravitate towards the stylish braided jacket, which sets it apart, visually, from its competitors.
We've also developed a stronger appreciation for Mogami's XLR cables on this update. We've bumped the Mogami AES to #1, and the Mogami Studio to #3. Sandwiched between is the LyxPro Quad Series, which we've also bumped up substantially in the pecking order. While our previous #1 pick, the Monoprice 22 Gauge, still holds a spot on our list (#7), we decided that that it doesn't stand out enough from the various similarly-priced options to justify placing it at #1, especially considering it is the least expensive on our list. If you're pressed for cash, we do highly recommend it, though, as well as the GLS Audio Tweed, which are both nearly the same price.
Belden 1800F Very commonly found in small- to medium-sized studios, the versatile Belden 1800F offers the impedance needed for digital use, plus a low capacitance that's excellent for analog sound. Using this raw cable calls for a bit of DIY handiwork, but it saves a lot of money. It's great for all uses under 300 feet, and is foam insulated for efficient data transmission, but keep in mind that you'll have to purchase connectors separately. belden.com
The Love Of High Fidelity
So it stands to reason that a clean, professionally produced album can likely evoke stronger feelings than a lo-fi, basement tape.
Nearly everyone enjoys listening to music. Its incredible popularity among almost all cultures worldwide causes some to call it the universal language. As the late Leonard Meyer explains, music is a powerful emotional stimulus because it helps us to control, share, and in a way quantify our emotions. So it stands to reason that a clean, professionally produced album can likely evoke stronger feelings than a lo-fi, basement tape. And even if the unmistakable hiss of a cassette, or the irreplicable pop of a vinyl satisfies the most discerning or nostalgic of listeners, reliable signal transmission is still of the utmost importance. After all, how can any stereo system accurately reproduce anything if it's beset by shorts and cable failures?
Luckily for listeners, there's a huge host of people dedicated to recording and reproducing fine music. As any of these audiophiles will tell you, there's an incredible variety of potential influences on the listening experience. At the end of the day, however, every recording is only as good as its source, and the best cables are exactingly engineered to have as little an influence on the signal as possible. That way, as long as you start with a pristine signal, your recording will sound the same.
Interference Bad, Balance Good
Sound is the brain's interpretation of the vibrating particles in the atmosphere around us. You may have heard that there is no sound in space, and although that isn't 100 percent accurate, it's true that sound does require a medium through which to travel. Normally, the various molecules that make up the air around us collide with one another, delivering noises to the inner ear. Very often, however, the source of a vibration isn't strong enough to reach every person who wants in on the noise. If there's a stadium full of people who are dying to hear their favorite riff, the band will definitely have to employ electrically amplified sound, and that is where XLR cables come in.
These consist of two main transmission wires, each independently insulated, and a third one serving as ground.
Contrary to a belief popular among non-professionals, audio cabling does not operate like a garden hose moving large amounts of water — in fact, the reality is just about the opposite. Rather than flowing through the inside of a tube, audio signal is a variable electrical current traveling down the exterior of the wire, which can allow for interference without proper insulation. Interference occurs when nearby network communications or high-powered machinery produce extraneous noise that the wire picks up, adding distortion and artifacts to the end product.
If you're wondering what's so special about these XLR cables, you're not alone. They certainly appear to be nothing but strands of wire wrapped in rubber and plastic, but they have one important feature: they're balanced. Unbalanced cables are constructed of a single transmission wire and a ground. Most of the 1/4" guitar cables on the market, also known as tip-sleeve cables, operate this way. Their main wire is often in the center, surrounded by a thin layer of metal that serves as the ground. They work in some short-range applications, however around 15-20 feet and longer, they tend to pick up significant noise. But after the sound is amplified, or when traveling over long distances, it's necessary to use a shielded, balanced cable. These consist of two main transmission wires, each independently insulated, and a third one serving as ground. An electronic image of the audio is transmitted down the hot signal wire, and its perfectly reflected negative is sent down the cold one. When the transmission reaches its target, the negative polarity is switched so the two signals once again match. Along the way, the two wires picked up identical interference, so when the polarity reverses, that extraneous noise cancels itself out, resulting in a nearly exact copy of the original signal.
Features To Consider
There are a few steps to designing an interference-free cable. Quality construction almost always means a layer of metal foil on top of braided or twisted line. Also, there are a number of characteristics to consider, such as resistance and impedance. Digital audio requires a certain class of high-impedance wire, which generally works better for analog than a traditional low-impedance type, so it can't hurt to step up to the most advanced grade.
When it comes down to it, reliability is really one of the most important factors.
While the connectors themselves share a basic design, there's a difference in long-term reliability between brands. In particular, you'll find a very large number of well-respected options that utilize Neutrik-branded connectors, because they promise consistent contact with every plug, as well as years of reliability. When it comes down to it, reliability is really one of the most important factors. Almost every cable will sound great out of the box; what matters is the sound quality after it's been stepped on, rewound, and tossed in a van for a tour or two.
On that note, the more industrious engineers often prefer to make their own cable. After all, it's just a length of specialized wire with a connector soldered to either end, and making your own ensures confidence in the product, in addition to the perfect length for your needs and a significantly lower cost per foot. Of course, this does require a steady hand, a bit of skill, and a touch of electronics know-how, but it's not entirely too difficult.
Finally, it's important to consider a cable's pliability. Recording artists swear up and down by thickly shielded, heavy, stiffer materials, and for the most extreme applications, that's a very good idea. On-stage musicians, such as any band that serves as their own roadies (which is most of them), will seriously appreciate a product that is as reliable and low-resistance as it is flexible and portable for on-stage use. Whether your mixer is nestled in a top-dollar recording studio, or on top of a speaker case in the middle of the field, there are innumerable options on the market to help you feed it sound.