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Can XLR Cables Be Used For DMX? Mistakes To Avoid

DMX and XLR cables look very similar, but many people wonder if they have distinct purposes or can be used interchangeably.

XLR cables can be used for DMX cable purposes but only as a last resort. Using an XLR cable instead of a DMX will cause the connected light fixtures to flicker, become dim, or not turn on at all. Additionally, using a DMX cable instead of an XLR cable will likely cause the sound quality to decrease.

While XLR and DMX cables look very similar, there are key differences that affect the function of the cables.

Purpose Of A DMX Cable

DMX cables are used to remotely control intelligent lighting fixtures and are commonly used to control stage lighting.

DMX is an acronym for Digital Multiplex.

The most common DMX cables are the ones that have 3 or 5 pins. The 5-pin cable was created with the intention that the extra prongs would aid in controlling “future upgrades,” so you can easily use a 3-pin cable rather than a 5-pin one unless the lights that you have purchased explicitly say that the system requires you to use a 5-pinned cable. (source) However, most of the time the two extra pins are not used.

According to users on Reddit, the two extra pins have recently been used to “send temperature or other data from individual lights back to the control setup over the same single cable.” (source). However, this is not currently a standard use for the 5-pin DMX cable in the industry.

Take a look at this YouTube video to help you get started with DMX cables.

The 5-pin DMX cable has only recently begun to be commonly used because of how much lighting systems have advanced in the past few years. 

If you are experiencing technical difficulties while controlling the lighting system, then you are likely using the wrong type of cable that cannot handle the signals that are being sent.

Differences Between XLR And DMX Cables

Cable Uses

Although XLR and DMX cables look very similar and often have the same number of connecting pins, they have very different functions, and should not be used interchangeably unless there is an emergency, and you cannot acquire the correct cable.

  • XLR cables are used for audio systems while DMX cables are used to remotely control lighting systems.

If you use an XLR cable rather than a DMX to remotely control a lighting system, then the lights may flicker, become dim, or not turn on at all.

The lights may also take a very long time to work in the way that you intend them to, which is never good. This is because the signal is unable to be sent correctly from the control system to the lights.

Even a slight variation in the signal transmission can cause serious technical malfunctions because of the missed signals, which is never good when you are controlling the lighting for a performance or show.

  • You can use a DMX cable when an XLR cable should be used as long as you are willing to sacrifice the quality of the sound.

The quality of the sound will be lower if a DMX cable is used rather than an XLR cable, but you may not be able to tell the difference. It also increases the likelihood that there will be static or feedback through the sound system.

One of the reasons why the cables should not be interchanged is because of the difference in impedance.

The DMX cable has a higher impedance capability. It can handle 110-120 ohms, while the XLR cable can handle around 75 ohms. This means that XLR uses different signals than DMX is built to handle. An XLR cable can transmit a DMX signal, but not very well. (source)

If you do have to use an XLR cable when you should be using a DMX cable or vice versa, it will not cause permanent damage to your electronic system. However, if you need these cables during a performance and use the wrong one, the performance or show will likely be ruined.

Received Signals

DMX and XLR cables receive different types of signals. XLR cables receive analog signals better than they receive digital signals. DMX cables receive digital signals rather than analog signals. (source)

“The odds of degradation, or total signal loss, can also increase based on the distance of the cable, the number of connections used, and how many of those connections are XLR vs. DMX.” (source)

Cost of XLR and DMX Cables

DMX cables are slightly more expensive than XLR cables because of the amount of braided wiring that they require to function correctly. A DMX cable can be found for $24-$53, depending on the length of the cable.

XLR cables cost $15-$30, although the 250 feet long cost up to $80.

DMX and XLR cables can both be found at almost any electronic hardware store or online.

Check out these DMX cables here on Amazon.