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XLR vs TRS 3.5mm: Are XLR microphones better than 3.5mm microphones?
You may have heard that professional videographers only use XLR microphones. That is because XLR mics are better but not because they necessarily sound better straight out the gate.
In a sense, it’s the length of the cable and the proximity of the interference sources that make a significant difference when you compare XLR vs TRS 3.5mm quality microphones and cables.
To be clear, when talking about XLR cables here I am referring to cables with three-pin XLR connectors. These are an industry standard for balanced audio signals. Most professional microphones use XLR connectors since the balanced design allows the use of long cables without risking the pick-up of external noise and electromagnetic interference.
XLR cables are shielded twisted pair cables, and as audio engineers say, they’re balanced cables. The “balanced” design helps to cancel out any noise or interference when your cable is quite long.
The design helps to “preserve” the clean output from the microphone. So once the signal is delivered to your audio interface, camera, or digital recorder in will in effect be the same as when it left the microphone.
A standard cable with a 3.5mm TRS connector is “unbalanced”. This means it will be more susceptible to noise and electronic interference if the cable run is quite long. In such circumstances, the audio can become degraded before it gets to your audio interface, camera, or digital recorder.
But here’s the truth. Professional videographers do use microphones with 3.5mm connectors!
You see it all the time on TV when presenters and guests use lavalier mics. However, the cable run is usually short and therefore less likely to pick up interference.
If you have a Deity D3 or D3 Pro or similar on-camera microphone and are using the supplied cable to connect to your DSLR/DSLM camera, the cable run is extremely short. Therefore, you are unlikely or at least very much less likely to pick up interference that will degrade your audio recording.
How do balanced cables work?
I’ll explain how the design of a balanced cable helps to keep the audio signal free of external noise or interference. Sometimes cables can pick up hum or noise from electromagnetic sources but a balanced cable with the same impedance loads at either end cancels any noise.
You can see in the photograph that the XLR connector has three “pins” or connection points. Pin one is for the ground. Pin two carries the audio signal with a positive polarity. Pin three carries the audio signal with the polarity flipped to negative.
The idea is that when a signal and a polarity reverse of the signal are sent down the cable, and then the polarity is reversed again at the end, any noise or inference induced in the cable will be canceled out. In other words, the positive and negative noise cancel each other out leaving a clean audio signal.
This video explains and demonstrates the difference between balanced and unbalanced cables and how balanced cables can eliminate unwanted noise.
XLR vs TRS 3.5 mm quality mic FAQ
What does XLR stand for?
XLR stands for “External Line Return”. It is a type of electrical connector used in professional audio/visual and stage lighting equipment. It is most frequently seen as the three-prong connector on professional microphones used on stage, movies, radio and TV broadcasts, music recording studios, and voice talent studios/booths.
Are XLR cables mono or stereo?
XLR cables are mono cables. Since an XLR connector has three pins/conductors, it could be used as a stereo connector, just like a 1/4-inch or 6.5mm TRS jack. However, the main purpose of XLR connectors/cables is to deliver a “clean” audio signal by carrying a balanced signal. Two pins/wires are used to carry the signal, the third is the earth.
Do balanced cables sound better?
Balanced cables have a better signal-to-noise ratio and are designed to be immune to external noise and interference. The design of a balanced cable is effectively noise-canceling. That is why they are used in professional audio recording, whether in music recording or video/broadcast settings.
Does XLR cable length matter?
The balanced design of an XLR cable is effectively a noise-canceling design. Whether the cable is 5m, 20m, or 30m the length of the XLR cable will not degrade the quality of the audio signal. So, long and short XLR cables should perform equally well, in terms of resistance to external noise and interference.
Tosh Lubek runs an audio and video production business in the UK and has been using the Canon EOS R since it was released in the Autumn of 2018. He has used the camera to shoot TV commercials for Sky TV, promotional business videos, videos of events and functions, and YouTube creator content. He has also won international awards for his advertising and promotional work. You can meet by visiting his “video booth” at HashTag business events across the country.
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