We get asked this question a lot: Is XLR better quality than RCA?
If you’re in the market for high-quality audio cables, you’ve probably seen both of these terms thrown around. But what do they actually mean, and is one really better than the other?
Let’s break it down.
Quick Answer: XLR cables are balanced and have higher quality connectors. This means that you can (theoretically) run up to 1000ft (300m) without losing quality. An RCA cable should not be run for longer than 10ft (3m).
Balanced vs Unbalanced Cable
First things first: what’s the difference between a balanced and unbalanced cable? The answer lies in the way the cable handles interference.
Unbalanced cables, like RCA, have two conductors: a center conductor and a shield. The center conductor carries the audio signal, while the shield is there to protect against interference. However, the shield can also pick up interference, which can lead to noise in the audio signal.
Balanced cables, like XLR, have three conductors: a positive, a negative, and a shield. The positive and negative conductors carry opposite phases of the audio signal, while the shield protects against interference. By using two opposite phases, any interference that’s picked up is canceled out, resulting in a cleaner audio signal.
This means that XLR will deliver a higher quality signal over a longer distance, compared to RCA.
In terms of a connector, RCA connectors are popular, and inexpensive – you’ve probably seen them on the back of your DJ equipment, TV or home theater system. They’re cheap, easy to use, and get the job done. RCA connectors work well in a home environment, but they won’t last long in a professional environment where they are constantly being connected and disconnected.
XLR connectors, on the other hand, are more robust. They have three pins – one for the positive, one for the negative, and one for the shield – and a locking mechanism that ensures a secure connection. They are designed to be “tour grade” and will take a beating.
Types of Applications
So, when should you use XLR vs RCA? In general, XLR cables are preferred in professional audio applications, such as recording studios, live sound, and sound reinforcement. They’re especially useful when running cables over long distances, as the balanced design helps to maintain signal integrity.
RCA cables are more common in consumer audio applications, such as home theater systems and stereo setups. They’re perfectly fine for short cable runs, and they’re cheap and easy to find.
Inexpensive DJ gear will have RCA cables, but more professional gear will rely on XLR, generally. If you’re using a DJ mixer like the Pioneer DJM series, plan on replacing your cables often.
If you’re a professional audio engineer or musician, XLR cables are definitely worth the investment. They offer superior signal quality and are more resistant to interference. However, if you’re just looking to connect your TV to a soundbar, RCA cables will do the job just fine.
RCA vs XLR Cable Pricing
RCA vs XLR Cable FAQs
Does RCA sound better than XLR?
RCA does not sound better than XLR. RCA cables are unbalanced which means they are likely to degrade the audio quality when they are run longer than 10ft (3M). On the other hand, XLR cables can run up to 1000ft (300m) with minimal audio degradation.
Can I use XLR to RCA cable?
You can use an XLR to RCA cable if you need to make a connection, but this will be unbalanced and should not be longer than 10ft. For best results you should use a fully balanced (XLR) solution.
Are RCA cables good for audio?
RCA cables are fine for audio, but they should not be run longer than 10ft (3M). Since RCA cables are unbalanced, the audio will be prone to noise and interference on long cables.
What is the difference between RCA and XLR for DJ?
XLR cables are balanced and RCA cables are not. This means that XLR cables can run up to 1000ft (300m) and RCA cables can run up to 10ft (3m) without audio deterioration.
Is RCA balanced or unbalanced?
RCA Cables are unbalanced. This means that they should be as short as possible, preferably shorter than 10ft (3m)