Posted on Fri, 01 Jul, 2016
Posted by Raven

Inferior quality cabling can be the downfall of any system. It doesn’t matter how high end the units are, if the cabling doesn’t meet the same standard the quality will suffer. And if the sound isn’t optimal, I have to ask: what’s the point of a hi-fi system in the first place?

As with everything else hi-fi related, the devil lurks in the detail, and there’s no such thing as ‘too deep’. This extends to the type of interconnects you use, which makes for a very potent question:

“Is there a difference between XLR and RCA interconnects?”


Let’s start from the top.

XLRs look like this:
And RCAs look like this:

What it boils down to, is this: XLRs are balanced (3 pin) and RCAs are unbalanced (1 pin).

The main benefit of balanced cables is their ability to transfer sound signals over much longer runs/distances without signal loss, or interference. They have a very low signal to noise ratio, so will often give you a much better sound, especially over longer cables. What all cables are is various styles and lengths of copper, which act much like an antenna. The connects work in much the same way – unbalanced ones prone to picking up errant interference, balanced ones keeping the signal.

In a nutshell, a balanced interconnect has some sonic benefit over unbalanced. In equipment where you have both options, it’s wise to chose XLR over RCA. However its vital that the internal electronics (cabling etc.) are also balanced, and not simply an XLR connection on unbalanced everything-else. That’s where the aforementioned balanced cable comes in. Fully shielded, with minimal interference from the cable, the XLR will ensure that signal makes its way to the speakers unaffected. RCAs, however cannot guarantee that. It’s also worth noting that having an RCA connect at one end of the cable and an XLR on the other will unbalance the signal, and render the whole thing moot.

You will likely see more balanced cables with XLR connectors, because they are generally more common for balanced audio for this very reason.

The result? Less hum. Less buzz. Less undesirable stuff. We have anecdotally found XLRs to be a little more durable too.

There are, of course, those who believe that balanced and unbalanced interconnects are a myth, and they both result in the same amount of interference. Others say that XLR will certainly make the signal ‘stronger’, but not necessarily better. Such has to ultimately be left up to interpretation, but the next time you’re at a studio or a live music event, see which connects the musicians and techs use, and judge for yourself.

It’s worth mentioning that there are other connections out there, just to confuse matters slightly! Naim use “DIN” connectors, and digital kits use optical, USB or coaxial type cables and connectors. But more on those another time!

Click here for our full range of audio cables and see what you prefer.

One thought on “XLR vs. RCA interconnects: is there a difference?”

  1. Vivek Sood says:

    Will it make a difference if I use 3.5 MM to XLR and then connect it instead of using 3.5 mm to RCA?

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