XLR vs. TRS: Which Is the Best Choice for a Recording Studio?


If you are working towards developing the perfect recording studio, your head is probably spinning at all cable options. There’s balanced vs. unbalanced, analog vs. digital, low impedance vs. high impedance, and the list goes on. However, it is worth the time and effort to understand these terms’ basic meanings to produce the best possible audio quality in your recording studio. 

XLR is the best choice for a recording studio because you are less likely to have to remove it frequently. This type of cable is intended to be a lot more sturdy when it’s plugged in compared to a TRS. They are also typically more compatible with microphones, a staple in all recording studios. 

Buckle up because there’s a lot to learn about XLR and TRS audio cables. This article will be a deep dive into the terminology, anatomy, and purpose of each of these cables. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this, you will have a much clearer idea of which type of cable is right for you. 

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XLR vs. TRS: What’s The Difference?

XLR connectors are used to transmit mainly balanced mono audio but sometimes stereo signals, from one device to another, whereas TRS connectors are used for headphones and unbalanced stereo connections.

Basic Similarities

Functionally, these two cables serve many of the same purposes. There are slight differences that may affect your buying choice, but for now, let’s talk about what they have in common. Later on in this article, we will discuss the specifics of each audio cable.

First, they are both analog cables, as opposed to digital cables. The difference is that analog cables use electricity to transmit information, while digital cables use binary code (a series of ones and zeros) to transmit information.

Analog is the main type of cable used in audio recording settings, whereas digital is more compatible with computing electronic signals. This is because analog cables can transmit information in real-time, upholding the integrity of your recordings. 

Both XLR and TRS are used to make an analog cable balanced. Typically, you want your analog cables to be balanced (as opposed to unbalanced) because they are essentially unaffected by sound interference, such as radio frequencies or other electronic equipment. Balanced analog cables are the standard in professional studios because they make for overall superior sound quality. 

The last thing they have in common is that each cable has three contact points, or wires, that make them balanced. Each contact point is responsible for either carrying a positive signal, a negative signal, or a ground signal. This is in opposition to an unbalanced cable that only has two wires (signal and ground).

The third wire enables them to balance the audio output, which drastically reduces sound interference from other equipment or radio frequencies, which improves the overall sound quality of your recordings.  

What Makes a Quality Cable?

How can you tell a good cable from a bad cable? Not surprisingly, many of the things you should look for in a quality cable certainly tend to be more expensive compared to their counterparts. A good rule of thumb is to not reach for the cheapest cables, nor the most expensive cables. Take a look at some of the things to keep an eye out for when looking for the right cable for you. 

Impact Absorption

You want your cable to have some impact absorption, particularly if they will get heavy use. It is not uncommon for cables to be stepped on or squashed between pieces of heavy equipment. When this happens, they make a sound known as the Triboelectric Effect. If they are going to stay in the studio, then this will be less of an issue. 

Strand Count

Strand count is another way to determine the quality of cables. If you dissect a cable, you will notice that it is made up of a lot of tiny strands. The more strands, the stronger the cord will be, which, of course, will extend its life. Higher strand counts also add flexibility to the cable, which just makes it easier to maneuver. 

Shielding 

As with the other components, cables have a wide variation in shielding, which affects their effectiveness. The purpose of shielding is to protect the cables from picking up other sound interference, improving your audio recordings’ recordings’ overall quality. 

The three most popular types of shielding are braided shielding, serve shielding, and foil shielding. Braided shielding will most likely be on your higher quality cables, as it offers more protection, strength, and durability. Service shielding is your middle ground, and foil shielding will be found on your bargain cables. 

Cable Lay

The lay refers to the cable twists’ tightness: the tighter the twists, the higher quality cable you have on your hands. The lay is measured by the distance it takes one cable to make one full revolution. The article linked above does a great job of describing and illustrating lay. 

Connector Conductivity

The connector at the end of your cable will be coated with something to promote electrical conductivity. The most common coatings are silver and gold, with gold being the more expensive option. This depends on your preferences, so we will lay it out for you. 

Silver has a higher conductivity than gold, but it tarnishes easily and has to be cleaned frequently to maintain that higher level of conductivity. Gold is more expensive and does not have as high conductivity levels, but it requires less maintenance. The choice is yours! 

Length

Cables vary quite a bit in their length, and obviously, your decision will depend heavily on your needs and your studio set up. The general rule of thumb is, the shorter the cable, the better. It’s a no brainer that the length of the cable is how far the signal has to carry to get to its destination. The shorter the cable, the less time a signal transmission has to be interrupted. 

If you are feeling ambitious, you can attempt to solder your cables. Essentially, this means making long cables shorter to fit your needs. The main benefit of soldering your cables is that the length is customized to fit your needs. Check out this four-minute video by JordanAudio on how to solder your XLR audio cables: 

XLR Overview

XLR stands for External Line Return. It was invented in the mid-1900 by a man named Kenneth Cannon. He intended to standardize the cables used in microphones, amplifiers, speakers, and other audio equipment. XLR cables have had many different patterns over the years, with some models having up to ten pins. However, the three-pin model is the most common, and that is the one we will be discussing today. 

ProsCons
Balanced cableMore expensive than TRS
Standard microphone connectorMay need an adapter in some situations
Tug resistant
Three separate wires for grounding

Purpose

Its sole purpose is to pass large electrical currents cleanly between two line-level audio equipment. An XLR cable is almost always used in conjunction with a microphone. Typically, you would use your XLR cable to connect your microphone to an audio interface.

In doing so, you would then be able to connect your interface to your computer or tablet and produce a high-quality piece of audio. Without the XLR connector, your audio would not be loud enough or very high sound quality.

Anatomy

As we said earlier, what makes the XLR balanced is having three contact points. In this type of cable, they are either three pins or three pin-holes. There are two different types of XLR cables – male and female. Predictably, the male has three pins, and the female has three pin-holes. This is similar to plugging a three-pronged-plug into an outlet. 

You have to make sure you have a complementary connector when using these cables. Just like when you use an electrical outlet, the audio jacks frequently align with the cable type. However, adapters are available if necessary. 

Check out which is better between XLR vs. USB mics here!

Pros

Besides many of the pros listed under “basic similarities,” the XLR cable offers some benefits you will not find in the TRS cable. 

The XLR cable is tug resistant, which is undoubtedly a benefit in most recording studio setups. Many of them require that the user pushes a lever to disengage it from its jack. This prevents them from coming out if they are stepped on, tugged, or tripped on. Overall, this will protect your recordings and sound quality from experiencing gaps in audio. 

Perhaps more importantly, the three prongs equip it with a completely separate wire for grounding the signal. Grounding the signal is the most important part of having a balanced signal, so having this third wire is a huge advantage.

Cons

Because there are two different types (male and female), your equipment must match the connector that you have. Typically, your equipment will have a female port, and your connector will be a male port. However, if you are in a situation where that’s not the case, you will have to use an adapter to connect your equipment. Adapters are generally affordable and easy to find. Check out this XLR Female to Female adapter. 

XLR Female to XLR Female Adapter, HOSONGIN 3PIN XLR Female to XLR Female Heavy Duty Metal Audio Microphone Adapter, 2 Pack
587 Reviews
XLR Female to XLR Female Adapter, HOSONGIN 3PIN XLR Female to XLR Female Heavy Duty Metal Audio Microphone Adapter, 2 Pack
  • All Metal Structure of High Strength Zinc Alloy, Attractive and Durable.
  • One End is 3 PIN XLR Female Connector, One End is 3 PIN XLR Female Connector.
  • With one HOSONGIN Audio Adapter, take one less audio cable.

XLR cables tend to be a bit more expensive than TRS cables. They can range significantly in price, but my recommendation would be to purchase the middle of the road cables. The cheapest ones won’t last you a week, but the more expensive ones may not be worth the small increase in quality. This Mogami Silver Series XLR is affordable yet meets many of the quality standards you may be looking for in your home recording studio. 

Mogami Silver Series XLR Microphone Cable 15 ft.
42 Reviews
Mogami Silver Series XLR Microphone Cable 15 ft.
  • Silver Series XLR Microphone Cable 15 ft
  • Mogami Silver is genuine Mogami microphone cable built for more economical budgets than Platinum and Gold assemblies
  • Despite having an attractive price, each Mogami silver cable is made without compromise to quality using top quality connectors

Check out to see which is better between USB mics and XLRs mics here!

TRS Overview

TRS stands for Tip, Ring, and Sleeve, representing the three contact points that make this a balanced cable. Versions of this cable have been around since the late 1800s when the first telephone switchboard was invented. It is commonly referred to as a ¼ inch or ⅛ inch cable, depending on its size. 

ProsCons
Balanced cableNot a secure attachment to jack
More affordableNo separate wire for grounding
Connects to inputs and outputs

Purpose

TRS cables are most commonly used for connecting balanced line-level equipment. A TRS is meant to connect a stereo to some other input or output. A good example is using your TRS cable to connect your instrument to an interface, which again would be connected to a computer or tablet. 

Anatomy

A TRS cable looks very similar to your everyday headphone jack (or what it used to look like before we all went to Bluetooth headphones), but it is a bit larger. As is described previously, there are three important parts of a TRS cable: the tip, ring, and sleeve. The ring makes this cable particularly helpful because it grounds the signal creating much better overall audio quality.

Pros

Unlike XLR, a TRS cable connects to both inputs and outputs. Respectively, that means that it can connect to something that is receiving audio signals (e.g., microphone) and with something that is sending audio signals out (e.g., speaker or computer monitor). Each end of the cable has the same connector. Check out this Mogami CorePlus TRS cable for an affordable option with impressive specs. 

Mogami CorePlus TRS-TRS Cable - 5 Feet
12 Reviews
Mogami CorePlus TRS-TRS Cable - 5 Feet
  • Exclusive Ultra High Density Spiral Shield eliminates noise
  • Top Tier connectors for long life and quality you can hear
  • Finely stranded bare copper for flexibility and reliability

Cons

The main drawback of the TRS cables is that they don’t have the same mechanical strength as an XLR cable. It originally was meant for plugging and unplugging frequently, which means that it does not fit as tightly into its jack. This is problematic because they can fall out or get yanked out pretty easily, interrupting your audio recording. 

Secondly, even though it is a balanced connector (three contact points), they are not separate wires like in an XLR. So, even though it is grounded, which makes for a better signal, it is not as strong as the XLR, which has three completely separate wires. 

For more information, check out what happens if you plug a TRS cable in a TS jack.

Additional Information

For extra flexibility in your recording studio, you could also opt to get a TRS to XLR cable. This third type of cable has one end with a TRS connector and one end with an XLR connector. This could be beneficial to you if your equipment (such as an interface or speaker) has multiple female jack options. A good option for a TRS to XLR adapter is this Mogami GOLD adapter, which is great for a professional or home studio. 

Mogami GOLD TRS-XLRF-03 Balanced Audio Adapter Cable, XLR-Female to 1/4' TRS Male Plug, Gold Contacts, Straight Connectors, 3 Foot
133 Reviews
Mogami GOLD TRS-XLRF-03 Balanced Audio Adapter Cable, XLR-Female to 1/4" TRS Male Plug, Gold Contacts, Straight Connectors, 3 Foot
  • From large recording facilities to small project studios, engineers and artists trust Mogami GOLD TRS-XLRF Balanced Audio Adapter Cables for professional results. Engineered to provide an enhanced dynamic range with a pin-drop quiet recording environment, Mogami GOLD TRS-XLRF Balanced Audio Adapter Cables are an excellent interconnect for any XLR-Female to 1/4" TRS application.
  • Mogami GOLD TRS-XLRF Balanced Audio Adapter Cables are wired with Mogami Neglex Quad High Definition Microphone Cable, a balanced 4-conductor cable with amazingly superior clarity and the highest cancellation of noise and RF interference. Mogami’s quad cable design is renowned for vastly improving the rejection of noise to the tune of a 95% quieter background as compared to even the best 2-conductor microphone cable.
  • Use Mogami GOLD TRS-XLRF Balanced Audio Adapter Cables for pro audio sound between devices equipped with an industry-standard XLR output and devices equipped with a balanced 1/4" TRS input. Common uses include to and from mixers, preamps, amplifiers, audio interfaces, loudspeakers, powered speakers, studio monitors, and more.

Manufacturers

Countless companies manufacture audio cables, many of them producing cheap and ineffective cables. Here are a few recommendations for manufactures with solid reputations and track records in the professional audio industry. Purchasing from one of these companies will guarantee your satisfaction with the quality of the cable. 

Mogami

Mogami has been a leader in the audio cable industry for years, and they are widely revered as the most prominent audio cable manufacturer. Their cables are used by music professionals around the world, such as Fleetwood Mac and the Foo Fighters. They make superior quality audio cables out of the best materials and under the watchful eye of their founder. 

This company prides itself on creating the most accurate signal transfer possible. Keep in mind, though, the price reflects the quality. With that said, expect Mogami cables to cost a bit more than other manufacturers, but they are certainly worth the investment. 

Gotham Audio

Gotham Audio is another leader in audio cable production. Originating in Germany and now located in Switzerland, their only goal has been to minimize noise and interference since 1976. Gotham also has superior quality cables, but for a very reasonable price. The company has experienced a lot of changes in leadership over the last couple of decades but consistently delivers on crisp sound and quality. 

Canare Corporation

Headquartered in Japan, Canare Corporation has been surpassing the expectation of its consumer for forty years. Since 1970, their philosophy has been to be a manufacturer of superior value and meet the challenges of any era. This company is constantly evolving to meet the needs of its customers in the ever-changing audio industry. 

Hosa Technology Inc.

Hosa Technology Inc. is a woman-owned technology company that has been a leader in analog and digital audio cables since 1984.  While they have not been producing audio equipment quite as long as some of their competitors, you can expect the quality to be just as high. 

They strive for their products to evolve as studios, artists, and other equipment evolve. As such, their cable design and technology is always changing and adjusting to ensure they can meet the needs of their customers. With a mission to create reliable connectivity solutions with unparalleled service, passion, and care, you can rest easy knowing that your audio cables are coming from a great company. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an XLR/TRS combo?

An XLR/TRS is a combo mic socket or omni socket that lets you insert a microphone regardless of the jack type, whether its XLR or TRS.

Final Thoughts

Both XLR and TRS both have the same general function. They are used to improve audio quality, reduce sound interference, and connect equipment. However, slight differences should be considered when choosing cables.

Your decision ultimately depends on your personal preferences. The main things to consider are the jacks that your current equipment has, how much you are willing to spend, and how strong you want the mechanical connection to me. Whether you are just beginning your recording studio journey or have been in the game for years, we hope you could glean some clarity from this article. 

Sources

Last update on 2021-10-04 / 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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