XLR and 1/4 inch cables are two of the most common audio ports and jacks in the audio industry. Several audio equipment and devices use either one or both of these ports. This includes keyboards, musical instruments, mixers, audio interfaces, and so on. In this article, we explore XLR vs 1/4 inch cables.
Which is better? XLR or 1/4 cables and which should you use?
There is no major difference between XLR and 1/4 inch TRS connectors and cables in terms of audio quality as both of these cables carry balanced audio.
There is no noticeable difference in sound quality between XLR and 1/4 inch TRS connectors and cables. They are both balanced and can deliver a stereo audio signal. However, XLR is a better option compared to 1/4 inch TS cables.
Let’s first examine XLR and 1/4″ jacks in detail, their differences, and their advantages. And then we will follow that up with when to choose one over the other. Let’s dive into it.
What is an XLR Connector?
XLR Cables History
XLR connectors are very popular connectors and are used with mics, audio interfaces, and so on. In fact, they have existed since the ’90s when the connector was invented by James H. Cannon. XLR cables are simply used to transfer audio signals between two devices.
What Are XLR Cables Used For?
Such devices include amplifiers, mixing consoles, amplifiers, speakers, musical instruments, and microphones.
They are probably most known for their use of mics. For several years, XLR cables have been the standard connector used for microphones. In fact, many people know XLR cables as microphone cables.
Can XLR Cables Be Used For Lightening?
XLR cables should not be used for lighting. Many people often consume XLR cables with DMX cables. This is because they look similar.
However, DMX cables are used for lighting and they are different from XLR cables internally. For this reason, XLR cables should not be used for lighting.
Are XLR Cables Balanced?
XLR cables are balanced cables and carry balanced audio. If you were to open up an XLR cable, you will find three wires — ground (X), Left or Hot (L), and Right or Cold (R). They basically do as their name suggests.
The left and right wires carry electrical signals representing audio while the ground is connected to ground on the device of the device chassis. For this reason, XLR cables are balanced cables that carry balanced audio.
Please note however that if a cable has an XLR connection and an unbalanced connector like USB, then the entire cable will carry unbalanced audio. A good example is an XLR to USB cable.
XLR Male and Female Connectors
XLR cables normally have two types of connectors – male and female. What’s the difference? Male XLR connectors have three pins inside the connector, and Female XLR connectors have three pinholes.
Male XLR Connectors: Male XLR connectors are used to send audio signals. As an example, microphones have male XLR connectors that send signals from the microphone to another device like a mixing console. On the other hand, mixing consoles have XLR male connectors that can send signals out of the mixer.
Female XLR Connectors: Female XLR connectors are used to receive audio signals. As an example, mixing consoles have XLR female connectors that receive audio signals.
What is a 1/4 inch Connector and Cable?
1/4 inch connectors (also referred to as quarter-inch) connectors are also quite common in the audio industry. In fact, one of the most used audio connectors out there as they are used in both professional and consumer audio equipment and devices.
Is 1/4 The Same As 6.35mm?
Yes, 1/4 cables may be used interchangeably with 6.35mm cables because the millimeter equivalent of 1/4″ is 6.35mm (¼” or 6.35 mm).
What Are 1/4 inch Cables Used For?
1/4″ connectors and cables are extremely popular because they are of course used as a headphone jack. Today, it is the standard connector for headphones.
In addition, 1/4″ connectors and cables are used with several devices such as mixing consoles, power amplifiers, receivers, DACs, preamps, and audio interfaces.
In fact, they are used with several instruments as well such as synthesizers, keyboards, and digital pianos.
1/4″ Male and Female Connectors
Are 1/4 Inch Cables Balanced?
Types of 1/4″ Connectors
There are two main types of 1/4″ connectors – TS and TRS. We discuss these connectors below:
|Signal Type||Mono Only||Germany|
|Number of Connectors||1||2 or 4|
|Uses||Guitars, Instrumnets, On-Stage||Headphones, blanaced mono, recording studios|
|Cost||Low To Medium||Low To High|
TS is an abbreviation for Tip-Sleeve, which means the connector is composed of two sections – a tip and a sleeve.
The tip is the end of the connector or literally the ‘tip’ while the sleeve is the second section behind the tip.
Here are the uses of each:
The Tip: The tip is used to carry the actual audio signal.
The Sleeve: The sleeve is ground.
Are TS Connectors Balanced?
1/4″ TS cable connectors are unbalanced because they only have one wire for carrying the audio signal and another for ground.
TRS is an abbreviation for Tip-Ring-Sleeve. The tip is the end of the connector or literally the ‘tip’.
In addition, there is a second section consisting of two lines. The first line is the Ring, and the second line is the Sleeve.
Here is the use for these sections:
Tip: The tip is used to carry the actual audio signal. The left-channel signal is attached to the tip.
The Ring: The ring refers to a ring wedged between the tip and sleeve. The right-channel signal connected to the ring
The Sleeve: The sleeve is ground or the shield.
This type of cord is generally wired with the left-channel signal attached to the tip, the right-channel signal connected to the ring, and the shield wire to the sleeve.
Are TS Connectors Balanced?
1/4″ TRS cables connectors are balanced because have separate wires for carrying the left and right signal and another for carrying ground.
XLR vs 1/4 Inch Connectors
Now that you have a clear understanding of XLR cables and 1/4 inch connectors, let’s now compare both types of connectors and cables. We will compare XLR connectors to 1/4″ TS and 1/4″ TRS connectors.
|XLR||1/4″ TS||1/4″ TRS|
XLR vs 1/4 Inch TS Connectors
The main difference between XLR and 1/4 Inch TS connectors is that XLR connectors are balanced while 1/4 Inch connectors are unbalanced.
In addition, 1/4 inch TS cables can only mono signals while XLR cables can carry stereo signals. We explain further below:
Balanced XLR vs Unbalanced 1/4 Inch Connectors
Unbalanced 1/4 Inch Connectors
1/4 inch TS cables are unbalanced which means they only have two wires – one for carrying audio signals and the other connected to ground. This means they will likely pick up noise (interference) from nearby electronics such as radios or antennas.
Of course, the longer the 1/4 Inch cable, the more noise the cable will pick up. For example, a 1/4 inch cable that is say 20 feet long will certainly pick up noticeable unwanted noise which will sound like ‘static’.
Certainly, this unwanted noise will drastically reduce the audio signal’s sound quality. If you are trying to produce hi-fi music or recordings, then 1/4 inch cables arent the best choice.
XLR to 1/4 inch cables are like XLR to RCA cables in terms of converting balanced signals to unbalanced signals.
Balanced XLR Connectors
XLR connectors are balanced which means they have a separate wire for carrying left and right signals and a separate wire connected to ground. This also means that these cables are far less likely to pick up noise. As such, they are more suitable for hi-fi recording.
The main advantage of XLR cables is that you can run extremely long XLR cables without the risk of picking up noise. More accurately, XLR cables may pick up some noise, but when it gets to the other end of the cable, the noise gets filtered out. This will of course leave a clean audio signal.
1/4 Inch Cables and Mono Signals
1/4 inch cables can only carry mono signals. This means they only carry one channel.
XLR Cables and Stereo Signals
XLR cables can carry stereo signals which means they can carry both left and right audio signals.
XLR vs 1/4 inch TRS Connector
Balanced XLR and 1/4 inch TRS Connectors
There is no major difference between XLR and 1/4 inch TRS connectors or cables structurally because both are balanced cables.
This also means there is no major difference between the two in terms of audio quality because there will be no or little noise in your audio signals.
XLR and 1/4 inch TRS Connectors and Stereo Signals
Also, both XLR and TRS cables can carry stereo signals which means they can both carry left and right audio signals or 2 channels.
What Is The Difference Between XLR and 1/4 Inch TRS?
The main difference between XLR and 1/4 inch is simply the connectors themselves. The cables will basically work the same and deliver high-quality noise-free stereo audio signals.
Why Choose XLR Over 1/4 Inch? – Advantages of XLR
There are certain advantages that XLR cables offer over 1/4 inch cables and if you have the choice of these connectors there are the reasons to choose XLR:
1. XLR Cables Offer Phantom Power and Pre-Amps For Mic Level Signals
Phantom Power: Condenser mics require phantom power to work. This means they require 48 V to work properly (phantom power). Not all cables can pass this power required, but XLR cables can.
So, if you are using a condenser mic, then an XLR cable is the best choice.
Pre-Amp For Mic Level Signals: For years, XLR cables have been the standard cable for microphones. If you have ever used a wired microphone, you will likely have seen an XLR cable.
One of the main advantages of using XLR cables for mics is the pre-amp that many XLR cables have. This is because mics produce a very weak mic-level signal. These signals need to be boosted or strengthened before they can be processed properly.
XLR cables with pre-amps built-in will therefore take the mic-level signal and boost it to be sent to the mixing console for further processing.
As I mentioned earlier, XLR cables have been the standard cable for microphones for decades, and they still are. Let me explain.
2. XLR Cables Offer Better Audio Quality
XLR cables offer better audio quality than 1/4 inch TR cables. However, you will get the same audio quality if you use 1/4 inch TRS cables.
3. XLR Cales Have A Locking Mechanism
If you have ever set up musical equipment at a live show like a concert or any live production, you know the risks of cables getting unplugged accidentally. Someone may trip on a cable for example.
This is why female XLR cables have a locking mechanism to help prevent accidental cable pull-outs.
1/4 cables do not have this mechanism and so are at risk of being pulled out easily.
4. You Can Daisy-Chain Multiple XLR Cables
If you need a very long cable to connect two pieces of equipment, you can actually daisy-chain multiple XLR cables.
This means you’ll plug the male XLR connector of one cable to the female XLR connector of the next cable, and so on until you end up with one long cable.
1/4 inc cables cannot be daily-chained and so you are limited to the length of the 1/4 inch cable.
Reasons to Choose 1/4 inch over XLR – Advantages of 1/4 Inch Cables
Though there are many advantages of XLR cables there are advantages of 1/4 inch cables over XLR as well.
In some cases, 1/4 inch cables may be the better choice for your situation and setup.
1. 1/4 Inch Cables Are Cheaper Than XLR
1/4 Inch cables are both used in professional and consumer-grade audio and as such, they are very popular and also very cheap.
You will likely find them going for a few bucks at your local audio store or your neighbor likely has one. In fact, if you go with 1/4 TRS, you will get the same audio quality and XLR but for much cheaper.
2. 1/4 Inch Cables Are Popular And A Standard Cable Choice For Instruments
1/4 inch cables are very popular. Even if you aren’t a musician or sound engineer, you likely have one in your house right now. They are used with most instruments such as keyboards, guitars, bass, digital pianos, and synthesizers.
The main advantage is that most vintage requirements and instruments likely have a 1/4 inch port.
In fact, for many instruments out there, the only option you’ll have is a 1/4 inch connector.
Converting XLR to 1/4 Inch
In some cases, you may need to connect a device that used XLR to another that doesn’t have an XLR port, but has a 1/4 inch port. In this case, you can use an XLR to 1/4 inch cable. You can actually build this cable yourself. Below is a schematic of how you can wire this for a balanced mono connection:
There are also many good options on amazon like the TISINO XLR Female to 1/4 Inch (6.35mm) TRS Jack.
XLR and 1/4 inch cables are very popular and each offers its own advantages and disadvantages.
XLR cables are balanced which means there won’t be any noise in the audio signal, but they are more expensive, and not all equipment use them. They can also deliver stereo signals.
1/4 inch cables are both unbalanced (TS) and balanced (TRS). They are cheaper and almost all equipment ( even vintage ones) can use these cables. 1/4 inch TS cables can only deliver mono signals.