Do XLR To USB Cables Really Work
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As home studio recording becomes more popular, many people are using all types of recording devices with their computers. However, most recoding devices use the XLR connector while computers use USB. This is why we need an audio interface or an XLR to USB cable. XLR to USB cables are used to connect XLR devices such as mics or some audio instrument to a computer that uses USB. They are much cheaper than audio interfaces. 

This means with an XLR cable, you will be able to plug an XLR microphone directly into your computer. This way, you will be able to record directly to your computer from your mic. However, do XLR to USB cables work? Are XLR cables any good?

XLR to USB cables work, however they only work with dynamic microphones. XLR to USB cables do not work with condenser microphones because they can’t supply the phantom power required by power condenser microphones. In addition, XLR to USB cables are not the best option for serious recording because they will slightly degrade audio quality. 

Read on to learn more. 

How Do XLR to USB Cables Work?

As we have already mentioned, XLR to USB cables are used to connect a recording device like a mic to your computer or another USB-enabled device. Of course, you can do this with a single, simple cable!

So, how do XLR to USB cables work? 

XLR to USB Cables
XLR to USB Cables

To understand how XLR to USB cables work, remember they are used to transmit your voice (from a mic for example) to a computer. Now, remember, a mic will convert your voice to an analog signal for the mic.

However, computers use digital signals. This means, an XLR to USB cable converts analog signals to digital signals. However, for this to work properly, the cable needs to amplify the signal. 

Simply put, XLR to USB cables connect to the microphone via standard 3-pin XLR at one end.  At the other end, they connect to your computer or laptop’s USB port.

XLR Cable
XLR Cable

For this reason, XLR to USB cables are built to pick up analog signals, strengthen it and convert them into digital signals.

xlr to usb cable with preamplifier

XLR to USB cables comprise of a preamp and an analog to digital converter (ADC) built directly into them:

Pre-Amplifier

The preamp or pre-amplifier is a device that amplifies or strengthens the audio signal before transmitting it to the analog to digital converter.

The pre-amplifier is needed because the analog audio signal from the mic will be very low. For this reason, the pre-amplifier will boost the signal into what is called a line-level signal for further processing.

xlr to usb cable with preamplifier diagram

One disadvantage of these pre-amplifiers is the fact that they have a fixed gain which means that you cannot increase the gain if the signal is not loud enough.

Gain is basically a measure of how much an amplifier “strengthens” or “amplifies” the input signal.

Analog To Digital Converter

The signal then passes to the “analog to digital converter” or ADC. The ADC then converts the analog signal into a digital format that your computer can process.

analog to digital converter for xlr to usb converter

Remember, the ADC is required because a mic will convert your voice or any other audio into analog signals, but your computer can only process digital signals. 

To get a better understanding of the difference between analog and digital, consider the difference between optical cables and AUX cables.

Do XLR to USB Cables Work?

 

Do XLR to USB Reduce Audio Quality?

XLR to USB cables do reduce the quality of your audio. This is because they convert the analog audio to digital which slightly degrades audio quality and they are often made with cheap components, may introduce latency and USB is unbalanced audio which is susceptible to noise or interference.

Read on to learn more.

XLR Cables and ADC Conversion

The main issue with XLR to USB cables is that there is likely to be a slight, or in some cases, significant loss of audio quality. However, this will largely depend on the quality of the XLR to USB cable that you are using. 

Of course, more expensive cables will be able to produce cleaner and clearer signals while the cheaper ones may cause signal degradation and lesser quality recordings. 

This means that the final output signal will be of a lower quality because the conversion process (Analog to Digital conversion) reduces the quality of the final audio output. However, unless you want to record some serious high-fidelity audio, the reduction in audio quality is usually not noticeable.

XLR Cables and Cheap Components

XLR cables are seen as simple pieces of electronics that most people don’t think about. For most people, it’s just a cable.

xlr to usb cable cheap

This is why they are so cheap and because they are so cheap, manufacturers compromise on the quality of the components they use to make these cables. Of course, this affects the quality of the audio output that these cables are able to produce. 

However, devices that are built with more expensive components like audio interfaces are of course, quite expensive. In fact, an audio interface can cost up to $200 or even more sometimes.

USB Unbalanced Audio and Latency

USB Unbalanced and Noise: The fact that XLR to USB cables include a USB component also further reduces the audio quality that XLR to USB cables produce.

This is because USB audio cables are unbalanced (uses two wires – a signal and a gound, but the ground also carries part of the audio signal) and so are susceptible to interference. XLR cables on the other hand carry balanced audio which means the cables carry signals without picking up noise.

balanced vs unbalanced cables

This means they can it can pick up nearby frequencies and sounds that are not intended to be picked up.

Latency: Another issue with USB is latency. Latency refers to delays in the signal. In this case, the delay will occur between the input signal of the microphone, and the audio signal received by the computer.

However, issues of latency can be solved by adjusting the audio waveforms with software, typically your DAW. 

What About Using XLR Cables Alone?

XLR cables are very popular because when used alone, they produce clear and high-fidelity sound.

In fact, many XLR cables are known to reduce extra, unwanted noise and leave you with a clear, high-quality sound. This is why XLR cables are commonly used for home recordings and live shows like concerts. 

Why Does XLR To USB Reduce Audio Quality?

If you have not used a variety of XLR to USB cables, you may not have noticed that they reducer audio quality unless you are doing hi-fi recording.

The truth is, the quality of the audio output you get with these cables greatly depends on several factors. These are:

  • The quality of the analog to digital converter that is built into the adapter
  • Sensitivity of the preamp 
  • Quality of the materials used in the cable 
  • Unbalanced audio cables 

It is more likely that XLR to USB cable will reduce the audio quality since the USB portion has unbalanced audio cables. They are mainly built with two wires, with no earth portion, and are known to pick any frequencies within the range and cause sound distortions. 

On the other hand, there is no lying that cheap cables are made from inferior materials. You will definitely get low-quality audio output if you buy and use cheap XLR to USB cables.

Cheap materials are therefore more likely to lead to the reduction of the quality of sound transmitted. For instance, cheap adapters may not do so much to deliver quality sound signals.

Finally and importantly, the conversion process does play a major part in reducing the quality of the final audio out. Remember, the signals are converted from analog to digital which does reduce audio quality.

Do XLR to USB Cables Provide Phantom Power?

Firstly, let’s explain what phantom power is. Phantom power is the power that an XLR cable provides to a condenser microphone because those microphones require electricity to operate.

In cases where you have a device that requires electricity to operate and so requires phantom power like a condenser mic, can you use an XLR to USB cable? Will the XLR to USB provide phantom power to your condenser mic?

XLR to USB cables do not provide or generate phantom power. However, XLR to USB cables supports the transmission of phantom power. In other words, XLR to USB cables can carry phantom power to a mic condenser if they are connected to a device that provides phantom power, for example, a mixing console or an audio interface. 

Condenser Mics And Phantom Power

Unlike dynamic mics, condenser mics require phantom power to operate. In fact, condenser mics require 48V of phantom power.

If your condenser mic does not receive phantom power, it will not work. This is why most interfaces and mixing consoles provide phantom power for condenser mics. 

Why XLR To USB Don’t Provide Phantom Power?

We have already said that XLR to USB cables will ideally send analog audio signals from your microphone to the computer. But will they provide phantom power? 

Dynamic and condenser mics

It is important to add that these cables are particularly suitable for dynamic microphones that do not require any DC voltage to work.

This, therefore, means that you cannot use them with condenser microphones as they cannot supply the phantom power that condenser microphones require to work. 

The cables, however, support phantom power. Therefore, if you have condenser microphones, you will need to add an external phantom power unit to power them. 

Best XLR to USB Cables

There are a number of XLR to USB cables that can help you plug your XLR microphone directly into your computer and record. Although the market has been saturated with poorly built cables and electronics, there are great options out there.

best xlr to usb cables

Even though an XLR to USB has the potential to reduce the quality of your audio quality, this largely depends on the quality of the XLR to USB cable you use. Good quality cables will produce a clean signal, while cheap ones will produce low-quality signals and recordings.

A good audio cable should maintain the proper electronic signal through the cable to ensure audio quality. Let’s look at the best XLR to USB cables available on the market.

Best Overall: Hosongin XLR to USB Cable

The Hosongin XLR to USB Cable comprises a high-quality wire and heavy-duty metal alloy connector to produce high-quality conversion and transmit high-quality sound. It is easily one of the best XLR to USB cables on the market. 

USB Microphone Cable 10Ft, HOSONGIN USB Male to...
  • HOSONGIN USB to XLR Female Microphone Cable help you recording high quality digital music. Package included:...
  • HOSONGIN USB to XLR Female Microphone Cable support plug and play. supports USB 2.0/1.1, no driver...
  • HOSONGIN USB to XLR Female Microphone Cable compatible with Mac OS X, Windows...

This cable is designed with a USB male to XLR female mic connector cord for microphones or recording. The main advantage of this cable is that normally XLR to USB cables are short because USB carries unbalanced audio. However, the Hosongin cable is all of 10 ft.

Besides, the cable comes with up to 18-months after-sales quality assurance to give you an extended guarantee that the quality you get from Hosongin will last long. 

Pros 

  • Supports plug and play 
  • Supports USB 2.0/1.1
  • No driver installation required 
  • Compatible with Mac OS X and Windows 98Se/2000/XP/Vista/7/8

Cons 

  • It does not provide phantom power 

Runner Up: NewBEP XLR To USB Cable

Second, to Hosongin, this cable will help you record audio without a noticeable drop in quality.

USB Microphone Cable, NewBEP 3 Pin USB Male to XLR...
  • Need Independent Sound Card to support Condenser mics! This USB2.0 microphone link cable enables you recording...
  • Support plug and play, can be used to all computers. Compatible with Mac OS X, Windows...
  • Embedded A/D convert with audio singnal boost Power supply via USB interface, LED indicator designed, High...

It supports plug-and-play with microphones, guitar, or any other device that supports male XLR input. 

Pros

  • Plug and play support
  • Compatible with Mac OS X, Windows 98SE/2000/XP/Vista/7/8, and PS2/PS3/WII/XBOX
  • Professional shielded cable
  • High-quality sound 
  • Affordable 

Cons

  • The USB connector may not work perfectly well in some cases

Best For Macbooks: Comica Audio XLR to USB Type C

The Comica Audio XLR to USB Type C is a strong runner up to the Hosongin XLR to USB Cable. Howewver, the main advantage of this XLR to USB cable is that it terminates in USB Type C on one end and a female XLR connector on the other.

XLR to USB C Microphone Cable, Comica CVM-XLR-UC...
  • 【Application】Comica CVM-XLR-UC microphone audio cable can connect your COMICA VP2, VP3, RODE NTG2 NTG4+...
  • 【High-sensitivity Signal Transmission】This USB-C microphone cable uses gold-plated terminals to reduce...
  • 【CNC Technology】This XLR to C-type adapter is made with precise CNC machining technology, which has super...

This cable is often used for dynamic or battery-powered mics and even allows your to record from a XLR microphone to an android device or a PC. 

With the USB C connector, the Comica cable is a great option for a Macbook. For example, many people use the Macbook Pro for home recordings. 

Best Design: Nuosiya Cable

This cable features a gold/black cord with gold-plated metal connectors that support high conductivity while making it resistant to corrosion.

USB to XLR Cable 10Ft, NUOSIYA XLR to USB...
  • 【BUILT-IN HIGH-END CHIP】This xlr usb cable is designed to transmit 16 bit 44.1kHz/48kHz high quality sound...
  • 【RELIABLE GOLD-PLATED】 Higher conductivity and corrosion resistance. damage to each XLR cable is usually a...
  • 【Need Independent Sound Card to support Condenser mics】This USB 2.0 Mic link cable enables you to...

If you care more about design, Nuosiya will fit your budget very well. 

Pros

  • Heavy-duty design 
  • High-density spiral OFC shielding helps eliminate noise
  • Higher conductivity and corrosion resistance 

Cons

  • It may not last long for consistent use

Best Type C: Comica Cable

Type-C connectivity is the most modern form of USB connections after USB and USB 2. If you use newer Pro models of computers in your recording, then you need Comica cable. 

XLR to USB C Microphone Cable, Comica CVM-XLR-UC...
  • 【Application】Comica CVM-XLR-UC microphone audio cable can connect your COMICA VP2, VP3, RODE NTG2 NTG4+...
  • 【High-sensitivity Signal Transmission】This USB-C microphone cable uses gold-plated terminals to reduce...
  • 【CNC Technology】This XLR to C-type adapter is made with precise CNC machining technology, which has super...

Pros

  • High-sensitivity signal transmission 
  • XLR to type C adapter 

Cons

  • Does not provide phantom power

How To Provide Phantom Power For A Condensor Mic

Like we said already, condenser mics require phantom power to work. Phantom power is a positive voltage from 12 to 48 volts DC running on pins 2 and 3 in an XLR cable. But how do you provide phantom power? 

To provide phantom power to your XLR to USB cables, use a microphone preamp that supplies phantom power or use an external power supply. Below are some devices that can supply phantom power for XLR condenser mics. 

  • XLR To USB Adaptor, e.g., Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter 
  • USB Audio Mixer
  • Audio Interface 

Let’s look at some of the ways we can provide phantom power to drive condenser mic when recording:

1. XLR To USB Adaptor

If you have a condenser mic or another musical instrument that requires phantom power, an XLR to USB adapter is a good way to directly record onto your computer.

XLR to USB adapters can produce phantom power and is a simple way to connect up your condenser mic for recoding without any hassle.

Similar to XLR to USB cables, XLR to USB adapters can convert analog signals from a mic to digital signals to be processed by a computer. So, with XLR to USB adapters, all you need is a condenser mic and a computer to start recording. 

Best XLR To USB Adaptor: Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter

If you decide that an XLR to USB adapter is the best choice for you, then the Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter is an excellent option.

SALE!!
Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter
  • Plug and Play USB Connectivity allows the convenience of digital recording
  • Provides +48V Phantom power for use with condenser microphones
  • Includes Padded, zippered pouch and USB cable (3m / 9.8ft)

In terms of features, it offers a +48V phantom power switch built-in and a preamp gain knob which means you can adjust the signal amplification. You cant do this with XLR to USB cables. 

In fact, the adapter also offers a monitor mix control that can mix audio playback from your computer.

2. USB Audio Mixer

A USB mixer is a box (similar to an audio interface) that has multiple USB ports that allow you to play and record audio directly into your computer. USB Mixers work similarly to an ADA audio interface.

However, unlike your standard audio interface, the USB mixer still allows you the capability of mixing several channels during the process of a live performance or live recording. These devices function like regular mixer boards. The mixer converts the analog signal from your mixing process into a digital signal to be processed by your computer.

USB mixer boards are capable of generating the phantom voltage needed to power your condenser microphones.

These devices will combine multiple audio sources together, balance them, and add various different sound effects to sound to create your desired sounding audio track. This can then be used to power a USB condenser microphone.

To use a USB mixer, all you need to do is to simply plug it directly into your computer’s USB port. Then, simply connect your XLR condenser mic to the mixer using an XLR cable.

3. Audio Interface

Like XLR to USB cables, audio interfaces can convert signals from a mic or another analog device into a format that a digital computer and audio processing software can recognize and understand. Audio interfaces also route audio from your computer out to your headphones and studio monitors.

Almost all audio interfaces have a phantom power switch, so they can work with almost any kind of microphone.

In most cases, you can easily connect up your audio interface to your computer using a simple USB cable. Some audio interfaces also allow you to use thunderbolt or firewire ports.

However, audio interfaces are expensive when compared to XLR to USB cables and so for most people, it’s not an option. Many audiophiles and professionals prefer to use audio interfaces for greater sound fidelity.

Why Do You Need Phantom Power for XLR Condenser Mics

Both XLR condenser mics and USB condenser mics require power to function. However, XLR condenser mics require much more power than USB condenser mics. XLR condenser mics require phantom power of 48v to function.

On the other hand, USB condenser mics require only a small amount of power which they get directly from their USB cable. Remember, USB  can carry about 5 volts.

Now because XLR to USB cables do not produce power themselves, an XLR to USB cable alone will not be enough to power or even activate your condenser mic.

If you are using a condenser mic with an XLR to USB cable, you will need a source device that provides phantom power. This device can be a mixing console or audio interface.

XLR To USB C Cables

USB C is a later USB standard that was introduced in 2014. Currently, it is the standard for USB. The main advantage of USB C is that they can carry significantly more power, so they can be used to charge larger devices like laptops.

The Comica Cable is a good example of a XLR To USB C Cable.

XLR vs USB

XLR cables are balanced cables while USB cables are unbalanced. Balanced cables can transmit signals without picking up noise while unbalanced cables are susceptible to picking up noise.

XLR Balanced Cables

Like ¼-inch TRS cables, XLR cables contain a shield, positive, and negative wires. This is why XLR cables have three prongs that form their connector.

Because XLR cables carry balanced audio, they are the ideal choice for using either dynamic or condenser microphones. 

USB Cables

USB cables carry unbalanced audio which means they are susceptible to picking up noise. Of course, USB cables are immensely popular because of their simplicity. However, they are not suitable for home recordings or any type of recording for that matter because they are susceptible to noise. 

While USB is not suitable for regular dynamic or condenser mics, there are many specialized USB microphones available. One such option is the Rode -NT-USB-Mini. They are quite convenient because of their simplicity, but they produce lesser quality recordings and are more limited when it comes to monitoring. 

XLR to USB cables are simple and are to be used for basic home recording. For example, it’s a good choice if you only want to record one audio track at a time. In addition, if you don’t have an issue with a little latency in your recordings along with a lack of monitoring capabilities, this is a good enough option. 

Check out the table below that shows different types of microphones, their preferred connection type, and their compatibility with USB:

Microphone TypePreferred ConnectorUSB Compatibility
DynamicXLRYes (with an adapter)
XLR CondenserXLRNo
USB CondenserUSBYes
RibbonXLRNo

How To Make XLR To USB Cable

To make an XLR to USB cable, you will need to make the components of the cable as well as get the connectors. Here is what you need:

  1. XLR connector: You can buy XLR connectors online or at a local audio electronics store
  2. USB connector: You can buy USB connectors online or at a local audio electronics store
  3. A/D converter: You will need to build an in-line converter into the cable
  4. Software: You will need to write your own software to recognize your cable. 

Of course, building and connecting all these components is difficult and will take a lot of time. Best options is to simply purchase the XLR to USB cable, because they are cheap. 

Can You Connect A USB Microphone To An Audio Interface?

It is not possible to connect a USB microphone to an audio interface. This is because USB microphones are designed to be plugged directly into the USB port on a PC.

This type of connection is not supported by audio interfaces because it is a digital connection. 

Does A USB Connection Produce Phantom Power?

USB connections do not produce Phantom Power. Standard USB carries about 5 volts. However, the phantom power required for a condenser mic is about 48 volts.

This is why regular condenser microphones cannot be used with XLR to USB adapter cables. However, USB condenser microphones don’t require +48 volts. Instead, they receive adequate power from the USB connection. 

Do XLR To USB Adapters Include A Preamp?

Regular XLR to USB cables often include a preamp, however not all do. The cheaper ones typically don’t, whereas the most expensive ones will include a preamp.

Some of these cables include integrated preamps with gain controls which allows you to monitor signal strength by adjusting the amplification. 

Quick Summary

As stated, you can now connect microphones to the computer and record music with much ease using XLR to USB cables. Here are some of the three key things to know about XLR to USB cables:

  • They are electrical cables designed to make it easier to connect XLR devices to a computer.
  • XLR to USB cables work well with dynamic microphones to provide the necessary amplification for audio signals.
  • You cannot use XLR to USB cables with condenser microphones. This is because they cannot provide the phantom power that condenser microphones require.

Conclusion

XLR to USB cables are useful devices that are often used with dynamic microphones to convert the mic’s analog audio into digital signals that your computer and recording software can understand. If all you want to do is to quickly and easily record to your computer using a simple dynamic mic, you can use an XLR to USB cable. Remember, XLR to USB cables allow you to record using a dynamic microphone without the need for an audio interface or another expensive processor. However, they may slightly reduce your audio quality so consider that if you want to record hi-fi audio.