Are Microphone And Speaker Cables The Same?

Microphones and speakers are surprisingly similar when you consider the way they work, but they both require specialized cables to function. This leads many to wonder if speaker cables and microphone cables are the same, if they are similar, or if they are completely different from one another. Are microphone and speaker cables the same?

Microphone and speaker cables are not the same. Microphone cables are balanced XLR cables with two live wires and a shielded ground wire for delivering balanced audio signals. Speaker cables are ungrounded, thicker gauge wires that deliver speaker-level audio to properly drive speakers for output. 

Are Microphone And Speaker Cables The Same

All audio hardware and equipment require the right cable to function. This is simply part of using this type of equipment. Without the right cable, no speaker or microphone will work. Let’s explore the cable used for speakers and microphones to identify their unique features, determine their similarities, and find out how they can be used well. 

Microphone Cables Vs. Speaker Cables

As we have already stated, every piece of audio equipment requires the right cable for it to function correctly. All audio equipment, including microphones and speakers, require the right type of signal to be sent to or from them, and the right cable is necessary to perform these functions. 

For example, various types of speakers can receive audio signals of different levels. Some speakers can receive line-level audio, while others receive amplified audio signals. Each speaker type requires cables that can deliver this type of audio without interference. 

Microphones are input devices rather than output devices like speakers. This means that microphones require cables that enable them to input audio into a system. Some microphones require electrical power to function, and so must be able to send audio into a system and receive power with the same cable. 

All of this reinforces the fact that these audio devices must be used with the right type of cable to work properly. 

With that in mind, let’s explore the cables used for microphones and those used for speakers to learn more about them and identify their differences. 

Microphone Cables

Microphone cables use a type of cable called an XLR cable. This cable is a specialized audio that is multi-functional in the world of audio and can be used for multiple purposes.

These cables are balanced audio cables, meaning they can be used over long distances and still produce high-quality, interference, and noise-free audio signals. 

These cables are capable of this because they are made with two live inner wires, one with a positive signal and the other with a negative. These cables also have a grounded core that runs alongside the two live connections. 

The positive and negative signal wires in an XLR cable produce opposing signal forms, which means that any interference or noise that is accumulated or picked up along the length of the cable is canceled out upon signal delivery. 

The ground in the cable is shielded, which enables the cable to also carry an electrical current for powering microphones. This ground wire also provides a means for collected or accumulated interference to be dispersed outside the signal chain of the cable. 

These cables are ideal for microphones, as they can send and receive information. They are quiet, balanced, and interference-free, can be used well over long distances, and have good grounding while also being very durable. 

Microphone cables always have three-pin XLR connectors, with a female XLR connector at one end and a male XLR connector at the other. 

These cables can be used to send mic-level audio to mixers, microphone preamps, amplifiers, audio interfaces, or recording devices. They can also send power to microphones that require it by safely sending phantom power from a mixer or interface to the microphone. 

Speaker Cables

Speaker cables are also a specialized cable type, and they are made to function with speakers in particular. 

There are two main types of speakers, those that have built-in amplifiers and those that do not. A speaker without a built-in amp is a passive speaker, and an amplified speaker is an active speaker. 

Most speakers require special speaker cables with no grounding or shielding but much heavier-gauge wire cores. These cables need to carry audio that is of a much higher strength than most other audio cables and is so thick that they do not usually require shielding as they can easily mitigate external interference. 

These cables are designed to carry audio signals that can be used by the speakers and can either send line-level audio or speaker-level audio, depending on what the speakers require. 

Speakers with their own built-in amplifiers do not need to use these cables, as they can amplify the audio they receive, allowing them to simply use regular XLR cables to input audio into the speaker. 

The type of cable used for a speaker depends on the type of signal that the speaker requires. So long as the cable can safely deliver the audio at the correct levels for the speaker, it can be used for the speaker without issues. 

Are Microphone And Speaker Cables The Same?

Microphones use XLR cables almost exclusively, and some speakers use XLR cables as well. Does this mean that XLR and microphone cables could be considered the same thing?

The reality is that while some speakers do use XLR cables, a speaker cable is not the same thing as a microphone or XLR cable. An XLR cable is a cable type on its own, and so is a speaker cable. 

Speaker cables are a type of cable and are, therefore, not the same as a microphone cable. 

Some speaker cables can appear to be similar to XLR cables, as older speakers use a connector that is compatible with XLR connectors. Some older models still use a cable that resembles an XLR from the outside, but they are not XLR cables at all. 

Using a microphone cable in lieu of a speaker cable and vice versa can result in catastrophic equipment damage and failure, or it may simply not work with the hardware at all. 

These cables are not the same and cannot be treated as such. Microphone cables and XLR cables are not the same cable type. 

The instances when an XLR cable is used for a speaker is when the speaker is compatible with an XLR cable and does not require a speaker cable. 

Can You Use An XLR Cable For A Speaker?

Let’s dive a little deeper into using XLR cables with speakers to help clear up any confusion that may have been caused at this point. 

XLR cables are audio cables used to transmit a balanced audio signal at line level, mic level, or instrument level, depending on their application. These cables are capable of all of these signal levels and can be used to send audio to or from any device that can receive or send this type of audio. 

Some speakers are equipped with line-level inputs and have built-in amplifiers to increase the signal strength before transducing it into sound. 

In this instance, a microphone or XLR cable can be used with a speaker, as all the cable is doing is sending balanced audio into the speaker. 

When a speaker cable is used, the cable transmits the audio signal and a small electrical current, which is usually amplified before it reaches the speaker. 

This signal type necessitates the use of a speaker cable and will not function with an XLR cable. 

When an XLR cable is used with a speaker, it is only when the speaker is active, has onboard amplification, and only needs the XLR as an audio input. These speakers do not require power from the cables, nor do they need an amplified audio signal. 

These speakers can usually receive audio from any sound source so long as the speaker has a compatible input port. 

The choice of an XLR to deliver audio is simply practical and a way of sending good-quality, clear audio to the speaker. 

A speaker that requires a speaker cable to function cannot be operated with a microphone or XLR cable at all. 

Check out: XLR Vs. TRS

Why Do Microphones Need Specialized Cables?

Microphones are designed to work with balanced XLR microphone cables and do not function well when forced to operate with other cables. This leads many to wonder why microphones require this type of cable and why they cannot use another form of cable.

XLR cables are used for microphones almost exclusively due to the nature of the signal that microphones produce. The microphone level signal is very weak and very quiet. 

This type of signal is not strong at all, and it is very susceptible to external interference in the form of radio frequencies, electromagnetic frequencies, and other kinds of noise as well. 

The basic form of how microphones work is they have an internal diaphragm that vibrates at the same frequency as sound waves that come in contact with it, but these vibrations are very small and very difficult to transmit. 

All of this means that microphones require a cable that can mitigate any noise and signal interference, as well as provide a small amount of power to carry the signal as far as possible. 

Some microphones have diaphragms that are so thin and fragile that they require external power to operate safely, so the cable that the microphone use must also be able to deliver electrical current to the microphone without damaging it. 

These cables must do this while still transmitting the audio signal from the mic simultaneously. 

The microphone or XLR cable is ideal for this device, then, as there are no other cables that possess all of these features. 

The ability of XLR cables to send balanced audio, mitigate interference, supply power, and carry signals a long distance makes them the perfect cable for use with microphones. 

These features are also why the XLR cable has become the industry standard for almost all audio delivery, and in some instances, for power delivery as well. 

Why Do Speakers Need Specialized Cables?

As microphones require specialized cables, so do speakers and almost all other audio devices. 

The reason why speakers require specialized cables is simply that speakers require either speaker-level audio or line-level audio. 

Speakers that require an input of speaker-level audio require that audio be amplified in order to output it as sound. A speaker that requires audio at this level will function with a weaker signal from another cable type. 

Speaker cables that deliver speaker-level audio need to be very thick to carry the voltage that the signal requires. This signal is very strong compared to other audio signals and must be strong enough to drive the speaker heads in the speaker units to accurately replicate the audio sent from the audio system. 

Speakers that require line-level audio need to receive audio that is powerful enough to be amplified, having already been through a preamp, or they need a very clear and balanced audio signal. 

This is only achieved through the use of specialized cables, and therefore speakers must use these cables to function well. 


Microphone and speaker cables are not the same. Speaker and microphone cables are cable types with different properties, functions, and uses. Speaker cables and microphone cables are not interchangeable. Some speakers do use the same cables as microphones, but these are not speaker cables. 

Speaker cables and XLR microphone cables must be used in the proper context, or the hardware that they are used with may be damaged. These cables are required to deliver audio of the correct signal strength, level, and quality for the hardware to be used well. 


Was this article helpful?


I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

Recent Posts