Are XLR Cables Better Than RCA? (2-minute read)


There are many various types of audio cables, but two of the most prevalent are RCA and XLR cables. These two types of cables have their own characteristics, but which of the two is a better cable? Are XLR cables better than RCA?

XLR cables are balanced audio cables, while RCA cables are unbalanced. This means that XLR is better for long distances, high outputs, and noisy environments. RCA cables can be better for short distances, and they are cheaper, but as a general rule, XLR cables are better audio cables than RCA.

The cables that you use should be based on the application that you are using them for and the connectors that are available, but what if your system could use both RCA and XLR? Which is better? Let’s find out!

What Is The Difference Between An XLR And RCA Cable?

The main difference between XLR cables and RCA cables is that XLR cables are balanced, and RCA is unbalanced.

What this means is that XLR cables are protected against cable interference and signal noise, especially over long distances, which makes them very stable, secure, quiet sounding, and clean cables to use.

RCA cables are unbalanced, which means that they have no such shielding against interference and noise, and they are better suited for short distances and generally have a lower-quality audio transference.

Other differences between these two are the fact that XLR cables are intended for high-density, high current use. They are intended for pro audio systems, and they expect a much a louder signal input than would be used for RCA, which is intended for home or car audio use.

In useable terms, this means that XLR cables tend to be quieter than RCA cables. Any audio that is sent through them is likely to sound much softer than audio sent through an RCA cable.

If you want to know how long an XLR cable can be. Check out this article.

These are the important differences between the two types of cables, but what if there is the option to use either cable in a particular system? Let’s try to determine which type of cable is better.

Are XLR Cables Better Than RCA?

XLR cables and RCA cables are both audio cables, but they are intended for different uses. RCA cables are usually purely meant for audio signals such as music, and XLR cables cover a much broader spectrum of uses.

I’m often asked if you can use XLR for DMX so I wrote an article on this. You can read it here.

XLR cables are used to carry everything from music, audio, instruments, voices, and even all the way to high-voltage electrical currents. This makes these two cables best suited for different uses.

Generally speaking, XLR cables are better cables due to the fact they are balanced, well-grounded, cleaner, and can be used over very long distances without picking up any outside frequencies at all.

Even low-quality XLR cables are capable of transmitting very high-quality audio because of the internal design, whereas cheaper RCA cables and connectors tend to only put out low-quality audio.

That being said, while XLR cables technically are better cables than RCA, there are some drawbacks to them, and RCA cables are better suited for certain instances.

XLR cables are far better suited for high-output audio uses, while RCA cables are best for low-output uses, especially when the volume of the signal is very weak and should not be reduced by the cable it is run through.

The best cable to use should be the one that is best suited for the application that you are using it for. It is not always better to use an XLR over an RCA cable.

Check out the high quality XLR cables I regularly use here on Amazon. (These last ages)

What Should XLR And RCA Cables Be Used For?

The uses for these two types of cables are varied, and they both have ideal uses that are not intended for any other type of cable.

With regards to audio cables, it is absolutely critical to use the correct cable for the application. If an XLR cable is used when an RCA cable should be, or vice versa, it could cause problems for the system, significantly impaired audio quality, or it may even result in serious damage to system components.

XLR cables are intended for PA systems, recording, and broadcasting. These cables are designed to carry high output signals and electrical signals over long distances while not allowing any single interference at all. 

This makes XLR cables perfect for stage use, recording studios, and live events. 

RCA cables are smaller, shorter, unbalanced, and not intended for high output audio.

However, these cables are perfect for short distances, for simple stereo connections, and for audio that should be transmitted without any volume loss.

This makes RCA the perfect audio cable for home audio systems, home theatre systems, and car audio systems.

Check out these high quality RCA cables here on Amazon.

RCA cables can be used to transmit low-output audio, such as those that are used for watching movies or for playing music through a Hi-Fi system.

Another advantage of RCA cables is that they are a very simple stereo connection. It only requires one cable for a stereo connection when using RCA, but with XLR, a stereo output would require two cables.

If an XLR cable is used where an RCA is best, it makes the system very complicated and can lead to EQ and mixing issues due to the loss of volume that may be caused by using an XLR cable.

However, an RCA cable can simply not be used in place of an XLR cable, as their requirements are simply too far separated. If an RCA cable was somehow used where an XLR should be, it could cause potential hazards and serious danger to equipment.

Check out this video from PS Audio on mixing XLR and RCA cables.

Conclusion

XLR and RCA cables are specialized audio cables, and they both have their best-suited uses.

XLR cables are balanced and able to send signals a very long distance, while RCA cables are unbalanced but good for simple stereo connections and cause no appreciable drop in volume.

That being said, if there were to be an official verdict, XLR cables are superior cables to RCA with regards to audio quality, reliability, sound clarity, sheiling, interference, and transmission distance.

XLR cables are better than RCA cables, but RCA cables are better suited for some audio instances such as home theatre systems or car audio systems.

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