XLR Cables vs DMX Cables – What’s the difference?

XLR vs DMX

Have you noticed that XLR cables for audio look very similar to DMX cables that are used for lighting? You’re not alone. When introduced to event production many people notice the same thing, these cables look similar if not identical!

So, can you freely exchange them for one another? No!

In this article we’ll walk through the various components of each cable and do our best to explain why they cannot be substituted for one another.

Quick Answer: XLR cables are used for audio and DMX cables are used for lighting. Both use identical 3-pin connectors but XLR has a lower impedance (75 ohms) than DMX (110 ohms).

Components of XLR And DMX Cables

XLR Connector

For both DMX Cables and XLR, there are two different components.

  • The Connector
  • The Cable / Wire

The XLR Connector

This is probably why you’re here in the first place. You’ve noticed that 3 Pin XLR looks similar to 3 Pin DMX. And you’re right. Both cables have the same physical connector. You can freely substitute the connector from one cable to another without any problems.

When DMX was originally developed, there wasn’t much urgency to come up with a new connection method. It was simply cheaper to use the same connector that is commonly used in audio (XLR), so the developers chose to use 3-Pin XLR connectors for DMX as well.

Some DMX cables have a 5 pin connector. The unique 5 pin XLR connector prevented audio cables from getting plugged into the lighting system and vise-versa . It was originally thought that as demand grew that they might need additional data on the same cable, so they reserved the additional two pins for future use. Despite several attempts, the two additional pins were never fully adopted.

Today, lighting uses 3 Pin XLR Connectors, 5 Pin XLR Connectors, and Ethernet cable, depending on the needs of any given event.

Audio primarily uses 3 Pin XLR connectors and Ethernet cable for all data transmission.

The Cable

Audio cables and lighting cables have different impedance (resistance). Since DMX cables are sending more data (512 channels of values between 0-255) they are far more sensitive to cable impedance.

If you’re really in a pinch, you can substitute a DMX cable for audio use, but you cannot use XLR cable for lighting use.


Kettner Creative is a full service audio visual (A/V) company located in Vancouver, BC. We rent AudioVideoLightingDrape and LED Furniture for events. If you’re interested in our services for an upcoming event – Please contact us!