Does XLR Cable Length Matter? Here Are the Facts


For every audio equipment manufacturer in the market, the most challenging part is designing high-performance audio cables. Creating a cable that can transmit audio signals with minimum loss while maintaining excellent signal integrity isn’t easy. Additionally, cable length can be the make or break of your audio.

The XLR cable length matters and is a crucial factor that determines overall audio quality. Typically, using shorter cables reduces the chances of signal interference, producing cleaner audio. Although all XLR cables are balanced, longer ones are prone to signal degradation.

The rest of this article will explain why shorter XLR cables are better. Read on for more details on these and ways to enjoy cleaner audio in situations that require longer cables.

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Why the XLR Cable Length Matters

XLR cable length matters. Generally, properly designed XLR cables are made to work best at specific lengths. Longer cables increase the chances of picking up noise, disturb frequency signals, and affect sound quality, while shorter ones produce better quality sound.

For most concert venues or small clubs with low ceilings, the ideal cable length would be less than 60 meters (200 ft) in length because if it was any longer, it would compromise audio fidelity due to interference.

The problem is that cables differ in their thickness and shielding material leading to space between individual meshes within a conductor casing and deficient insulation properties if strung too far.

Also, as you stretch a cable, you would tear its inner fibers apart.

In general, shortening your XLR reduces your signal-to-noise ratio, as well as the amplitude and clarity of your audio.

On the other hand, using longer cables boosts microphonics or undesirable mechanical noise from contact with electrical sources such as motors and power supplies.

Here’s a video that explains why cable length matters:

For more information, check out whether all XLR mics need phantom power.

The Difference Between Balanced and Unbalanced Cables

As I mentioned, all XLR cables are balanced, regardless of their length. Balanced cables consist of a 3-wire line cable with a shield, individual conductors twisted together, and an overall braided shield.

The three wires serve different purposes:

  • The first carries the audio signal.
  • The second is a ground wire which helps to reduce hum and noise during transmission. This wire is usually connected to the metal chassis of equipment or appliance, providing a low-impedance path for currents induced by electromagnetic fields from other gadgets.
  • The third wire is for the cable screen, protecting against interference by acting as another path of least impedance for induced currents.

On the other hand, unbalanced cables have only two wire lines and a shield. This type of cable is much cheaper, but it’s less suitable for carrying audio signals.

Notably, unbalanced cables are less effective in noisy environments or maintaining consistent audio quality over long distances. They pick up magnetic interferences in the signal path, resulting in hums in the audio produced.

Check out my guide to the differences between: XLR vs. mini XLR.

How To Choose the Right XLR Cable Length for Your Application

To ensure that your cables produce premium-quality audio every time, here are the steps to follow when choosing the right length for your application:

Determine Your Cable’s Shielding Needs

XLR connectors come in three types: male, female, and male/female combo. The standard connector is the male, which has a hollow tip to receive the female counterpart. They’re usually color-coded with red for positive (+), black for negative (-), and green for ground (sleeve).

Be sure that you get cables specifically designed for your equipment plug or socket because it can also be different depending on the manufacturer.

Test Your Cables Before Wiring the Whole Rig

Before wiring your equipment, test each cable first to check if it’s performing as expected.

Run a signal through the whole system and note whether there are any signs of interference or humming. Discovering a cable problem now will save you a lot of troubleshooting and hassle later on.  

Keep Cable Lengths Under 60 Meters (200 Feet) at All Times

XLR cables are limited to 60 meters (200 feet) in length. While this number might seem enough for practical purposes, it’s not ideal when you’re covering a larger space.

Ensure that your cables are shorter than the limit—and that they have impedance protection at both ends.

Use Cable Extensions Strategically

Extending the cable with a male/female XLR extension in long cable runs can help you maintain your audio signal.

If you need to go beyond 60 meters (200 feet), use an impedance matching transformer on one end of the cable or both.

Tips on Using Longer Cables

As mentioned, cables are limited in length. However, certain conditions might require you to use longer cables.

The following guidelines may help in such instances:

Make Sure the Cable Is Multi-Channel

Multi-channel cables carry multiple channels of audio in one cable. Longer multi-channel cabling is great because it’s less likely to pick up electromagnetic interference from the environment, which would degrade your sound quality.

This means that you can use longer, more reliable cables without worrying about signal loss.

Ensure the Cable Uses Solid Core Copper Conductors

Solid core copper conductors are more reliable than stranded ones because they allow longer cable runs without breaking.

Additionally, solid core copper provides better protection from outside noise such as “hum” caused by nearby power transformers and electrical equipment while giving you full range frequencies. Hence, every note comes through loud and clear!

Use Quality XLR Connectors

It’s best to use XLR connectors from reputable manufacturers such as Switchcraft, Gepco, or Rean.

These can provide a tighter fit that reduces cable slippage and interference from outside sources. Besides, these connectors are durable, so you won’t have to worry about them wearing out any time soon.

Use 600 Ohm Couplers for Low-Impedance Signals

When you have low-impedance audio signals, use couplers instead of cables to reduce the risk of impedance mismatch. A 600 Ohm coupler will maintain signal strength even at long cable lengths. 

After all, 600-ohm couplers were the standard in early telephone systems and became the default for broadcasting when that industry developed.

Use Shielded Cables

Shielded cables are ideal for moving audio signals because they reduce electromagnetic interference via their metal braid. Notably, they come with either braided copper or aluminum shields.

These metals work as a barrier between the cable and external sources of interference, ensuring your signal remains clear and noise-free.

Also, shielded cables tend to be more durable than unshielded ones, which would otherwise break easily due to wear and tear.

If you need quality, shielded XLR cables, I recommend this Cable Matters XLR to XLR Microphone Cable from Amazon.com. Its copper-braided shielding prevents any signal interference while the PVC housing improves its lifetime. You also get pristine sound, thanks to its copper conductors.

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Cable Matters 2-Pack Premium XLR to XLR Microphone Cable 6 Feet
8,070 Reviews
Cable Matters 2-Pack Premium XLR to XLR Microphone Cable 6 Feet
  • Pro-grade microphone cord is designed for microphones or other professional recording, mixing, and lighting equipment with the 3 pin XLR connectors
  • Convenient and cost-effective 2-pack microphone cables provide spare or replacement XLR cables (XLR male to female cable) to use on a set of microphones or on different systems
  • Balanced Mic cable with soft PVC jacket is constructed with oxygen-free copper (OFC) conductors for delivering pristine sound

Keep Cable Runs Organized

If you must use very long cables, you should keep them organized so they don’t become tangled or interfere with one another.

Mark each cable to indicate which channel it belongs to and make sure they’re appropriately arranged.

Doing so enhances the quality of your audio and reduces the risk of short-circuiting.

Bottom Line

XLR cable length matters because signal loss occurs when the cable is too long, or interference occurs due to electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency signals. To avoid such problems, determine your cable shielding needs and exceed 60 meters (200 ft) of cable length. 

Also, test each cable before wiring the whole system and choose impedance matching transformers, splitters and couplers whenever necessary to avoid signal degradation from long cables. Additionally, organize your cables to ensure they don’t interfere with one another. With these measures, you should be able to use an XLR cable of any length without worrying about signal degradation.

For more information, check out which is better: XLR vs. TRS.

Sources

Last update on 2021-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Vinnie

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!

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