5 Best XLR Cables: Guide to Pro Audio Cables
By Mason Hoberg
Microphone cables are an incredibly important addition to any musician’s rig. As a performer, your sound is made up of a million different variables. Any one thing going wrong will have an impact on your tone, and assuming that you want to sound as good as possible (which who doesn’t?) you’re going to want to make sure that you purchase equipment that doesn’t limit you.
A bad microphone cable can let you down mid-show, introduce electronic interference into the P.A., and result in a lessened signal that’s devoid of rich frequencies. We’ll give you all the information that you’re going to need to find the best XLR cable for your needs.
- What Exactly Is A Microphone Cable, and How Do I Find A Good One?
- On Buzzwords
- Top 5 XLR Cables
What Exactly Is A Microphone Cable, and How Do I Find A Good One?
Basically, a microphone cable is a cable that features an XLR connection. The one that has either the three pins (male end) or the three holes. The design is really simple, so there’s not much more to it than that.
On the other hand, trying to find a quality microphone cable can be a bit more challenging. There are tons of musicians who just go for the cheapest cable they can find, and really so long as you buy something that at least reasonably well built you’re not going to have too many issues. Generally, a more expensive cable is just designed to be more durable. These cables also aren’t too expensive, running between $25 and $70 at the most. Many cables in this price tier also come with a warranty, so if they happen to break down within an unreasonably short time frame odds are you’ll be able to get your money back.
The basic things to look for in an XLR cable are: - flexibility - shielding - balanced output/input - well-soldered connections.
Shielded cables are generally worth the extra cost. Shielding blocks signal interference and helps to make the wire in the cable more durable than it would be otherwise. If you plan on regularly performing you should definitely get a shielded cable.
Lastly, balanced cables transmit two signals which are out of phase with each other. This helps to eliminate noise because the circuit cancels electronic interference. This is a must-have feature if you’re going to be running a lot of cable, though you likely aren’t going to need it if you’re just looking for a cheap microphone cable to throw in a practice space.
Imagine you’re marketing a line of microphone cables for your company. Are you just going to say “Hey guys, look! We’ve got a microphone cable too!.” Obviously not. If you think that sounds like a good slogan, you probably aren’t ever going to have much of a career in marketing.
With that in mind, a lot of the buzzwords (gold plating, oxygen free wire) used by companies who produce microphone cables are basically just snake oil. Or at the very least, the features listed aren’t going to be of great importance to performing musicians. Now if you’re trying to set up your own recording studio that’s a different story, but in the majority of cases you’re not going to stand to gain a lot from high-end cables.
Top 5 XLR Cables
Planet Waves Classic Series XLR Microphone Cable
Founded in 1994 by Howard and Robert Silagy, Planet Waves first started as a small guitar strap company in Hicksville, New York. Their approach to business was to create a high-quality product, attractive, and durable product, and then let word of mouth do the rest of the work for them.
It was their dedication to producing a great product that first attracted D’Addario to the brand, and just four years after the founding of Planet Waves D’Addario would go on to absorb the company. D’Addario actually used Planet Waves for their first foray into producing a product that wasn’t aimed exclusively at guitarists. This product was an innovative new cable that featured enhanced durability, a patented strain-relief design, and gold contact points that increased connectivity and limited oxidation. These new cables were designed to be entirely tonally transparent, and were actually among the first cables that were designed to do more than simply carry a signal.
Under the close supervision of Jim D’Addario, Planet Waves has grown to become one of the premier manufacturers of musical accessories in the world. The company arguably has the widest range of musical products on the market today, and with their dedication to providing quality accessories at a reasonable price they’ve quickly become a household name for musicians the world over.
Because Planet Waves has been a cable focused division of D’Addario for so long, it’s no surprise that the Planet Waves Classic Series XLR Microphone Cable is a great option for virtually any musician.
The most notable feature of these cables is that for the price you’re getting a pretty solid bang for your buck. While it doesn’t have the features of more expensive cables it would be a good fit for musicians who rarely gig. The cables are shielded in addition to featuring a balanced in/output. The combination of these features does a lot to increase the noise rejection of the cables, resulting in a signal that is relatively pure and unaltered. The cables also aren’t quite long enough to dampen the signal, but they’re on the borderline.
The cable also comes with nickel plated brass connectors which are highly corrosion resistant. The plugs (the part you plug in) also come with a molded collar which helps to reduce stress when you’re plugging and unplugging the cable from either a microphone or a mixing board. At the end of the day, if you’re a professional musician or a recording engineer you’d be better off looking for a high-end cable. But if you’re just a hobbyist musician who rarely gigs these cables will be as good of a fit as any.
The Planet Waves Classic Series XLR Microphone Cable offers a great value to musicians who don’t consistently gig. It is a very durable and incredibly reasonably priced XLR cable.
Mogami Silver Series XLR Microphone Cable
Founded by Tetsu Sato in a small workshop located out of his personal residence, Mogami has been a mainstay in the audio industry for decades. The company has gained a reputation of consistently providing a quality product at a price that’s incredibly reasonable for the features included, resulting in accolades from professionals and hobbyists alike.
Mogami has also always been a brand that stays on the cutting edge of innovation in its industry, a trend which stretches all the way back to the company’s very roots. Something that many musicians don’t know about the company is that they were actually among the first to research just what causes signal loss and coloration in cables. The results of their research flew in the face of all commonly held conventions of the time, resulting in the industry transforming Mogani Neglex series of cables.
The most inspiring thing about Mogami is that they’ve never compromised on their commitment to manufacturing high-quality goods. Everything produced in the company’s factory is done so under the direct supervision of the company’s founder. With all of these factors in mind, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Mogami Silver Series XLR Microphone Cable is a worthy addition to any musician’s arsenal.
The first thing to know about the Mogami Silver series is that it’s intended to be a more affordable option, aimed at musicians who can’t justify paying an incredibly high sum for their cables. With that in mind, the Mogami Silver series offers value as a mid-range cable. So even though it may be intended to act as a more affordable option, don’t discount it just because it’s cheaper than other cables produced by the company.
Another important thing to keep in mind when looking at Mogami cables is that every component of the cable is produced inside the Mogami factory, which is relatively unique in this industry. This means that the components themselves are made to the level of quality Mogami has become associated with.
As a general rule any cable made to at least a baseline level of quality is going to work just fine for live performance applications. If you gig a lot you’re going to want to focus more on getting a cable that’s incredibly durable. Given the background noise and acoustic limitations of whatever venue you’re playing in odds are you’re not going to stand to benefit all that much from a really expensive cable.
With that being said, the Mogami Silver series is unique in that in addition to being a cable that is durable enough for live performances it’s also capable of performing reasonably well in amateur studio. We wouldn’t go as far to say that it’ll be up to the level of cables that are intended for use in commercial applications, but at the same time we’re not going to say that serious audiophiles should dismiss it.
However, we wouldn’t say that the lack of reviews should scare anyone away from buying this cable. Every Mogami cable comes with a lifetime warranty, so should you happen to experience any problems in your cable you can send it back and get a replacement. Mogami also uses a “No Excuses Warranty”, so unless you take a pair of hedge trimmers to the cable you’re going to be able to get a new one should anything unfortunate occur.
The Mogami Silver Series XLR Microphone cable offers a great value to any musician looking for a reasonably priced microphone cable. Even better, every Mogami cable comes with a lifetime “No Excuses” warranty.
Monster Performer 600 Mic Cable
Founded in 1979 by Noel Lee, Monster Cables has become one of the most reputable companies in its field. Lee was uniquely suited to start a company in the audio sphere, being both an audiophile as well as an engineer at the Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory. Lee was also a professional drummer, giving him real world experience as to what a performing musician needs from a cable.
A fun fact about the company that many musicians don’t know is that Lee actually hand tested and designed his original cables in his family’s garage. While listening to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture he experimented with using different alloys, wire constructs, and winding methods in order to find the combination of design factors that would create the highest fidelity of sound. The first cables produced by the company were actually assembled by Lee himself, and he sold the door-to-door.
At the time Lee launched the company, the commonly held belief was that cables didn’t have much of an impact on the quality of sound listeners experienced. Because of this Lee is actually credited with being the father of the modern high-end audio cord, as well as creating the market in the first place. Lee actually held live demonstrations for his cables, proving to both customers and retailers that his cables were capable of producing a fidelity of sound that was previously unattainable.
The most important thing to know about these cables is that they are intended for musicians who want a high-quality of sound that exceeds a standard microphone cable. It’s not aimed at musicians who are looking for looking for the cheapest functional option, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Feature wise, the Monster Performer 600 is on par with any cable in this price range. The series uses a custom XLR connection system, which is intended to reduce strain as well as provide a higher degree of durability and flexibility.
The cable is also shielded with a carbon-fiber polymer which intended to reduce handling noise. The exact fiber use isn’t widely disclosed, so it’s hard to say how the coating compares to similar products. At the very least it’s functional enough where the majority of musicians are going to experience a negligible (if any) difference between the handling noise inherent to this cable compared to its competitors.
Lastly, the Monster Performer 600 Mic Cable comes with a high-density braided shielding. The intention of this is to reduce electrical interference which can either introduce unwanted noise into a signal or create a loss of clarity.
Monster cables are a controversial product due to their price. Many musicians don’t really see the worth in purchasing a cable this expensive, and that’s understandable. It’s like a guitar or amp. You don’t really get the full benefit out of a really expensive piece of gear unless you’re using it in a professional capacity. With that being said, Monster is widely lauded by professionals in the industry. Just as importantly, every monster cable comes with a lifetime warranty provided that it was purchased from an authorized retailer. Unfortunately, there are a handful of retailers who claim to be authorized but are not. To view the full list of authorized retailers, head to the Monster Cables warranty page. They offer the terms of the warranty itself as well as a comprehensive list of authorized Monster Cable retailers.
While Monster Cables are expensive, the lifetime warranty that covers every cable produced by the company helps to justify the cost. The cables are aimed more at musicians who need a really high quality of sound, so those of you who rarely gig may be better off going with a cheaper cable. The Monster Performer 600 Mic Cable is a great value for any musician looking for a microphone cord that is equally suited to both the studio and live applications.
CBL MLC20 Low Z XLR Microphone
While studio and professional musicians the world over all need a cable that is equipped to dish out the high-quality of sound that they need in order to make their livelihood, there are still musicians who simply need a cable that will get the job done. It only makes financial sense to go with a really expensive cable if you’re either really picky or playing/recording music for money. Luckily for hobbyist musicians, or those of you who are just getting your start and don’t have a ton of cash available for gear, CBL cables has a solid option available. CBL cables may not excite professional musicians or have the features that they require, but if you’re strapped for cash and just looking to make sound this cable is a viable addition to your rig.
The CBL MLC20 is a no frills microphone cable. The product doesn’t really boast a lot of exciting features, though they are praised for their overall durability considering the price. They do also come with nickel plated connectors, which while fairly standard is an important inclusion to note.
The main thing you really need to know about these cables is that for the price you’re going to get a lot of cable for the price. 20 feet of xlr cable for less than ten bucks means that you could conceivably wire up just about any band for under $60. For bands who just have one vocalist you may even be able to get away with just one cord. The CBL MLC20 has a 90-day warranty. So should you happen to receive a dead or damaged cable you can either get a replacement or get your money back without a ton of hassle.
The main thing to realize about these cables is that they really aren’t a bad option for occasions where a high-quality of sound isn’t really required. The perfect situation to use one of these microphone cables would be a small open mic, because due to the background noise of the venue odds are you’re sound isn’t going to suffer too much. Also, it should be stated that in more controlled settings the difference between this cable and a more expensive one aren’t going to be quite as apparent. If you’re looking to record demos at home or podcast you’re probably going to end up being just fine.
However, if you’re looking to gig more than once or twice a year or record a professional quality album you’d probably be better off with a more expensive cable. The cost difference to get a nicer cable is going to be at most $20 or so, so consider your own needs before purchasing.
The CBL MLC20 is a great buy for the budget-minded that just require a basic no-frills microphone cable.
Audio-Technica AT8314 Microphone Cable
Founded in 1962 by Hideo Matushita, Audio-Technica has become a juggernaut in the high-end audio industry. Something that many musicians and audiophiles actually don’t know about the company is that Audio-Technica actually started out as a manufacturer of phonograph cartridges. Their production of phonograph cartridges is what allowed them to gain the capital needed in order to begin the process of transforming themselves into the company we know today.
Audio-Technica has also been the recipient of multiple awards in the industry, which in turn has led them to be one of the most reputable brands currently operating in their niche. Products made by Audio-Technica have been used in a wide variety of professional capacities all over the world, including but by no means limited to: live sound tours conducted by notable musicians, facilitating live sound in houses of worship, and being utilized in the United States House of U.S. of Representatives.
The most notable feature of this cable, which is a generally included in any cable manufactured by the company, is that it features a heavy-duty PVC jacket. Basically, the PVC jacket is intended to reinforce the cable without severely impacting its flexibility. It’s a bit stiffer than a cable that lacks this jacket, but at the same time it’s better suited to situations where it’s going to be subject to abuse. The cable also comes with dual copper outer shields, which help to reduce the level of signal interference you get when using this cable. This actually functions pretty well all things considered. The noise canceling of this cable obviously isn’t going to compare with a high-end cable, but it’s still a better option than the majority of entry-level priced cables.
Lastly, the Audio-Technica AT8314 features “Professional Neutrik” connecters. These connecters do a good job of helping to reduce the strain the cable is subjected to when it’s either being plugged in or removed from a mixer/microphone.
XLR cables don’t really color your sound in any appreciable way, and the AT8314 isn’t an exception to this rule. With that being said, the cable doesn’t have any reports of failing to reject noise or lessening signal quality when used in amateur settings. In most situations this cable will function extremely well.