Balanced XLR Cables are used to connect microphones and other balanced output music gear into mixing consoles. They continue to be the industry standard for both recording and live performance because they can shield your signal from interference, and transfer your audio over longer distances.
There's no point in having great mics when your XLR cable is giving you noise, ground and other connectivity problems. And since not all XLR cables are created equal, you'll want ones that are reliable and better shielded. This is where we come in with our list of the best XLR cables. Note that we will be focusing on Mic or line level signals since this is what most balanced XLR cables are used for.
Things to Consider when buying XLR Cables
Some audiophiles will tell you that they can hear the difference between different leads and this is often used by some companies to sell extremely expensive leads. When it comes to Balanced XLR cables the consensus of audio engineering professionals and actual measurement is clear - there isn't any audible difference between properly functioning balanced XLR cables in normal conditions. However in situations where there is significant radio frequency interference, cables with less effective shielding will be more susceptible to picking up those signals. Of course a cable that's damaged can experience glitches, noise or not work at all. So the main issue to avoid problems with sound quality is to buy balanced cables that are durable, reliable and ideally have good shielding.
Usage : Recording versus Stage
XLR cables that will be used on stage have to be durable enough to handle movement and being stepped on. On the flip side, since you're not moving around as much in the studio, flexibility and durability may not be as important.
Getting a cable with the right length is important, obviously you don't want anything shorter than what you actually need and remember this can include running the cables around various obstacles . But there can be some reasons for not getting a cable too much longer than you'll use. Properly operating balanced cables can operate without any audible signal loss over 100 feet and more so that isn't much of a factor. However having surplus cable lying around in the wrong places can be messy and increase the chances that it will be damaged or get tangled up with other cables. Recording, rehearsal or performance setups can quickly become disorganized so consider what you'll do with that extra cable length. Note that we went with the cable lengths that are more popular with users, which incidentally ranges from 15 to 30 feet.
Core thickness range from 20 to 26 AWG (American Wire Gauge), with 20 being the thickest. Thicker cables allow for better signal transfer and are preferred for studio applications, while thinner ones are preferred for stage use because of their flexibility. While some audiophiles will insist Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) provides the best signal transfer, the consensus from pro audio techs is that it doesn't make any difference.
Shielding protects your audio signal from interference, and there are currently three types of materials used: Aluminum laminate (foil), Tin Plated Copper and Copper. The shielding itself is connected to the third pin of the XLR, which directs the intercepted interference to ground. Spiral copper shielding is preferred for stage use because of its 97% coverage and flexibility. Just note that gaps can open up when the cable is flexed too much. For this reason, some cables come with multi-spiral shielding that protects each cable core. Braided Tin Copper shielding is preferred in studio settings because of its higher 98% coverage, oxidation protection, and improved conductivity. Foil shield is commonly used on generic, cheap cables, because it provides effective interference protection without jacking up the price tag. Just note that it can be damaged when the cable is bent. For best results, some manufacturers combine different types of shielding.
Connector Type and Strain Relief
In this particular aspect, the saying you get what you pay for holds true. It may seem like you're saving a few bucks by going for a cheap generic XLR cable, but in the long run, you may end up spending more - and not to mention have problems at the worst possible times - like during a live performance! Having played a vital role in improving the XLR connector design, Neutrik continues to be one of the most trusted brands when it comes to connectors, but they do come with a more premium price tag. Having a Gold connector has a nice ring to it, but it's not really a better conductor, rather the gold plating just makes the pins last longer.
We looked at the most popular balanced XLR cables being sold in retailers, and picked the ones that stood out in terms of ratings and recommendations. The gathered data were fed into the Gearank algorithm, which in-turn helped us pick out the final list. Incidentally, we ended up with cables that are between 15' to 30' long, but all of the cables in this list are available in different lengths, and that the scores mostly reflect the combined ratings for all their length variations. For more information about this process, see How Gearank Works.
Best XLR Cables
Here are the seven best rated XLR cables in the market today, covering cables that work great for stage performance and those that are meant for studio use.
LyxPro LCS Premium Balanced XLR Cable
With its 98% braided shield, twin PVC inner shields and cotton yarn wrap, this reasonably priced cable has everything going for it in terms of specs, and its popularity in the market reflects it nicely. Even without the big name branding that other cables enjoy, the LyxPro LCS Premium cables continue to accumulate high ratings and positive reviews, a testament to their quality and value for money.
- Length: 15'
- Available Lengths: 1.5' to 100'
- 98% braided shield
- Dual PVC Inner Shields
- Cotton Yarn wrap for Noise Reduction
- Black metal housing connectors
- Cable strain relief
- Gold plated contact points
From small bars, to churches and big auditoriums, the LyxPro LCS Premium has been proven to be stage-worthy by many users. They are particularly happy with how sturdy and reliable the cable is, resulting in more worry free performances. Other users have also put this cable to good use in studio recording, with some even using it on more modern applications like Podcasting. The general consensus is that this XLR cable gives you more than what you actually paid for.
There aren't that many complaints about the quality and reliability, still there are some who gave the cable a slightly lower score because they want to use the cable longer first before updating their reviews - and unfortunately, many of them either forget or neglect to actually follow up. There was one reviewer who complained about some noise in a studio setting when bending the cable at a sharper 90 degree angle, but this can be avoided by proper planning and cable layout.
For the price and the specs, this XLR cable is simply a steal and is a true professional quality gear that will not disappoint. Highly recommended for live performance situations.
Mogami Gold Studio
Mogami started out in a small workshop in Tokyo, Japan. They made a name for themselves back in 1977, thanks to audiophiles who were impressed with the quality of their cables, and helped spread the word. These days, Mogami have grown to be a worldwide provider of premium "Hi-Fi" cables (with the help of Marshall Electronics), and the Gold Studio XLR is one of their top products. As the name suggests, this is designed to be as transparent as possible for studio recording purposes.
- Length: 15'
- Available Lengths: 2' to 50'
- 100% coverage spiral copper shield
- Neglex oxygen free copper cable.
- 4-conductor cable design
- Black metal jacks
- Gold-pin Neutrik XLR connectors
The majority of reviewers are impressed with this cable's consistent and quiet operation, some of them go so far as to claim that it actually "improved" their sound. Other positive comments on this cable pertain to its durability and heavy insulation. Many consider it as the gold standard for microphone cables, with its zero noise operation and high signal transfer fidelity.
Speaking of insulation, some users nit-picked on the cable being a bit on the heavy side, and that because of its bulky jacket and shielding design. Some complained that it takes more effort to get the cable rolled up. However, being an XLR cable designed specifically for studio use, flexibility is expected to be limited since the cable has to be heavily shielded. It would also be nice if the cable were a-bit more affordable, but I guess the higher price point is expected from this particular brand.
If you have the budget and you're looking to wire up your home studio with a branded cable of reliable quality, then this will be a worthy investment.
Hosa Technology started back in 1984, specializing in providing affordably priced cables for stages, studios and video recording applications. They have since grown to be one of the major providers of affordable audio cables, and the Hosa XLR-115 is one of the reasons why they continue to thrive in this market. This particular cable is meant for stage use, with its OFC spiral shield and sturdy die-cast connectors with cable strain relief.
- Length: 15'
- Available Lengths: 2' to 20'
- Spiral shield
- Oxygen Free Copper (OFC)
- Die-cast Connectors with internal strain relief
The general consensus among reviewers is that this cable is really good for the money. Reviewers found that it provides reliable connection to your console, night after night. Interestingly, brand loyalty also helped with this cable's rating because there were some who mentioned standing behind the quality of Hosa Technology made products and that they have done so for years.
There's really not too many specific complaints about the cable, other than the few who describe the cable as just an "OK" cable.
If you're on a tight budget and you're looking for a good quality stage microphone cable, then we agree with the many who recommend the Hosa XLR-115 cable.
Planet Waves Classic Series XLR Cable
Planet Waves was acquired by popular guitar accessories manufacturer D'Addario, and it became their entry point into the cable market. This sub brand now carries an extensive line of cables designed for specific purposes, and the Classic Series XLR cable is just one of them, especially designed for microphone use. This XLR cable makes it to this list with its reliable operation, carrying over the same qualities that made Planet Waves instrument cables popular among musicians.
- Length: 25’
- Oxygen-free copper conductors
- Nickel-plated connectors
- Dense Shielding
- Virtually no handling noise
Reviews consistently mention that the Classic Series XLR cable is built well with impressive quality. The general consensus is that the cable works nicely, and in a variety of scenarios, including stage and recording. Value for money is also one of the most praised aspects of this cable, which when coupled with its worldwide availability makes this a strong competitor in the affordable XLR cable market.
There are no specific complaints, other than a few who gave the cable a slightly lower rating without much justification.
If you're looking for a reliable bargain cable that will not change your sound, and comes with big brand backing, then you should consider the Planet Waves Classic Series XLR cable.
Hosa Pro Balanced XLR Cable
Hosa again makes it to this list with their Pro Microphone Cable line, with its silver-plated Neutrik REAN connectors and thicker conductors. As the name implies, this one is meant for professional use, specifically for the studio with its improved signal transfer thanks to its thicker 20 AWG OF core. But what really makes it stand out is its tempting price, which Hosa was able to maintain despite the specs.
- Length: 25’
- Available Lengths: 3' to 100'
- Silver-plated Neutrik Rean connectors
- 20 AWG Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) conductor
- 90% OFC braided shield.
The majority agree that this XLR cable works very well as intended, with some even comparing it to more expensive alternatives from more established brands. Toughness and durability are also mentioned, and it has received recommendations from musicians, engineers and owners of recording studios. Finally, all of these positive traits are complemented by the Hosa Pro's low price point, which gives you great value for your money.
Its unfortunate that some users complained about the cable being stiff, when this is something that should be expected, given that it has a thicker core. This is the reason why cables with thicker cores are better used on fixed installations, because they are harder to roll and unroll, and tend to pose problems when doing quick setups.
If you're looking for an affordable studio friendly balanced XLR cable, then the Hosa Pro is your best bet.
ProCo Sound is more popular for their guitar distortion pedal called "Rat", but they also make affordable musical equipment including microphone XLR cables. The ProCo StageMaster is among the most popular in the market, with its accessible price tag and good performance, and as such is worthy of a spot in this list. Having a thinner 24 AWG wire, this cable is meant to be flexible and easy to roll for stage performance use.
- Length: 30’
- Available Lengths: 1' to 100'
- Metal nickel-plated XLR Connectors
- Low-noise twisted-pair 24 AWG wire
- 90% Shield Coverage (Copper)
Users have reported putting this cable to good use in a variety of situations, from small to medium sized band performance stages, to recording setups, to DJ performances. The common theme is that this cable gets the job done nicely and that for the price, the ProCo StageMaster does not feel cheap.
There really aren't any specific complaints other than the few who had cables that quickly had connection problems. Others who gave the tank a slightly lower score were probably not blown away with the cable, but many did mention that they were content, especially with its price point and accessibility.
The ProCo StageMaster is highly recommended if you're looking for an affordable stage cable that does not color your sound.
Monster Classic Balanced XLR Cable
Monster Cable started in 1979 by an audiophile engineer who experimented with copper qualities and different wiring methods to see if cables can be engineered to work and sound better. By 1980, their popularity spread via word of mouth, fast forward to the future, the company continues to produce premium cables, one of which, the Classic Balanced XLR makes it to this list with its high ratings and recommendations. While many of their claims of sound quality enhancement are disputed by those in pro audio circles, they do make cables that are solid and sturdy.
- Length: 20’
- Available Lengths: 10' to 30'
- Magnetic Flux Tube design
- Twisted Pair construction
- Metal nickel-plated connectors
- Duraflex outer jacket
- 90% copper spiral wrap shielding
A number of reviewers reported that the Monster Classic XLR cable surpassed their expectations. Some even commented that they believed the resulting sound was clearer, and most were happy with how durable and different feeling the cable is compared to cheaper counterparts. A very interesting positive review also praised the company's customer service, where in their Monster Classic XLR cable was quickly replaced when they encountered a problem.
There were a few who experienced issues out of the box, but they were helped by the company to get the cables either fixed or replaced. Others complained about the price, stating that this cable is not even Monster's top of the line product.
If you have the budget and you want to make sure that your cables aren't under engineered, the Monster Classic could be for you. Recommended for DJs and small band setups.