I'm new to sound design but I noticed something odd with a set of cables I purchased. I have a set of 3' Xlr cables that I purchased along with a set of Xlr(Female) to 1/4"(Male) adapters. I am noticing that when I have everything hooked up to my mini mixer it does not sound as good as when the microphone is hooked up with a 20' Xlr to 1/4 in cable. Everything seems lower and the sound isn't as deep as it is with the Xlr to 1/4 cable. I know that my mixer does not have a preamp but I'm not entirely sure that's the problem. Are my Xlr cables just bad, or am I missing something. I'm really sorry if the answer is something simple its just I am new to this and I haven't been able to find anything online.

Edit 1: I didn't list the mics or the mixer that was my bad. The mics are behringer XM1800S which are dynamic mics. The mixer is a behringer mx400. It is a line mixer and from what I understand mics done have a line level signal. Is the XLR to 1/4" cable giving it a line level signal that the regular XLR cables aren't? I really just want to make sure my cables aren't bad.

  • To clarify, you're saying one signal chain is: Mic > XLR cable > 1/4" adapter > mini mixer. And the other is: Mic > XLR cable > mini mixer ?
    – user22688
    Aug 19, 2017 at 2:12
  • Or are you using a different mixer/interface?
    – user22688
    Aug 19, 2017 at 2:12
  • What I have is a cable with 2 XLR ends (one male, one female) with the female end connected to the mic and the male end connected to a male 1/4 adapter connected to a mini mixer. This is what isn't working well. The othe mic is connected to a cable that has a female XLR end and a male 1/4" end. I have switched the mics and it seems to be a setup issue because any mic attached to the XLR > 1/4" cable sounds better then the one attached to the XLR > XLR > 1/4" adapter setup. Aug 19, 2017 at 3:51
  • 'I know that my mixer does not have a preamp' -> that is a clue for mic not sounding great. Maybe the XLR inputs do have a mic preamp and not the 1/4" ones ?
    – audionuma
    Aug 19, 2017 at 7:18
  • 2
    @audionuma It sounds like neither option uses an XLR input. The difference is whether there's an adapter in the signal path, or an XLR to 1/4" cable (no adapter)
    – user22688
    Aug 19, 2017 at 19:32

3 Answers 3


You don't say what your microphone is, you don't say what your XLR-to-1/4 adapters look like, you don't say what your XLR-to-1/4-plug cable looks like, you don't say what lengths the cable have.

So there will be handwaving and guesswork involved in any answer. Your minimixer does not have preamps according to you, and your setup will not provide phantom power. So you are either working with dynamic microphones or battery-power ones. Without a preamp, probably the latter.

The typical XLR-to-1/4" adapter has a TRS (tip-ring-shield with three contacts) plug. Your mixer likely has a mono receptacle. There is some likelihood of those combining non-optimally. In contrast, a XLR-to-1/4" cable tends to use an unbalanced cable and use a TS plug (tip-shield with two contacts).

This could be a difference. Or the difference could be the other way round. Or one setup involves pin 1 from the XLR (ground) and the other doesn't and uses only 2 and 3. Or conversely one setup, because of plug incompatibilities, ends up not using 3 (cold) from the microphone.

Without you volunteering any detailed information, that's basically what I can currently think of throwing out there. Take a look. And/or take a multimeter and see what arrives where and what not.

  • Sorry about not mentioning the mic types they are both behringer XM1800s. The XLR Male/Female cable is only a 3' patch cable while the XLR to 1/4" cable is a 20' cable. I know for a fact that the XLR Male/Female cable along with the XLR to 1/4" adapter are balanced. I can't tell if the XLR to 1/4" cable is balanced or not. Again I am very new to this but I thought I wanted everything to be balanced, why would a balanced mic sound better through an unbalanced cable? Aug 19, 2017 at 10:12
  • 1
    Mics aren't balanced or unbalanced. The signal is balanced or unbalanced. A balanced XLR cable (most common that I've seen, but unbalanced ones exist) will pass two signals, which are out of phase with each other (meaning they cancel the sound out, giving silence). Then at the receiving device, one signal is flipped in phase. This makes the sound that is recorded come through like normal, BUT all of the noise picked up along the cable is now cancelling itself out. This means no (ok, very very little) radio frequency interference (noise). This effect becomes more pronounced with distance.
    – user22688
    Aug 19, 2017 at 19:47

According to the specs, the XM-400 mixer has unbalanced (TS) inputs and outputs. Your plugs apparently are balanced (TRS). This combination is unreliable: the S of the socket might make contact with either R or S or both on the plug. For best (meaning least bad) results, you want both.

You might try to use a passive DI "the wrong way round", feeding its "output" with the balanced low-impedance microphone signal and connecting its "input" with a short mono TS cable to your mixer (active DIs don't work in that direction). However, the XM-400 has 4.7kOhm inputs: this makes it inadvisable to use DIs with high impedance "inputs" (like intended for guitars) in reverse since their impedance on the unbalanced side is more like 50kOhm. The connection will still be balanced but all bets regarding the resulting frequency response are off since their transformer is then used outside its specs.

Since your mixer's input has one 0 Ohm ground connection and one higher impedance signal connection, you won't be able to make use of the common mode rejection of a balanced cable without either using a DI or actually putting a resistor matching the mixer's input impedance into your "cold" signal path while keeping a 0 Ohm connection to the "shield" of the cable.

Or you say "to heck with balanced". In that case, TRS from a balanced connection needs to connect T (hot) to the T (signal) of the TS socket, and both R (cold) and S (shield/sleeve) to the S (ground) of the TS socket.

This is likely what happens with your "good" connection anyway.

The net moral is: this mixer is not intended for balanced signals, and not intended for microphone level signals. Its input levels, balancing, and sockets are not designed for that job, and any connection made with a TRS plug will be inherently unreliable given the TS socket.


Ok, so like user22766 was saying, it might have to do with being balanced or unbalanced. If that adapter is unbalanced (using a TS connection) then you may pick up noise there. I assume the adapter is short though, so that shouldn't make too much of a difference. Unbalanced signal is fine if you keep it short.

For reference, this is a balanced 1/4" connection (TRS) enter image description here Notice the two black lines. The first section of metal is the sleeve, then between the lines is the ring, and finally the point is called the tip. These are three separate signal paths.

Here is an unbalanced 1/4" connection (TS) on top. (The bottom is a 3.5mm connection) enter image description here Notice the ring is not there anymore, leaving only two signal paths. This doesn't allow the noise rejection possible with the TRS cable.

Now, another cause could just be that you are creating more connection points. Each time you 'plug in' to something, that connection point will lose a bit of signal strength. So adding in the adapter gives you one more point of signal loss. I again feel like this wouldn't make too noticeable of a difference. Perhaps this issue combined with the last could create the difference you are noticing.

Now lastly, you say there isn't a preamp? This is not good, and will negatively affect your sound for sure (making it sound lower in volume and not as deep in the low end, just like you described). That doesn't answer the DIFFERENCE between the two signals though. Are you plugging in to the same input when using the adapter? If that's the case, then the preamp would not be the problem.

It would be helpful if you told us the name of the mixer, as that (to me) seems like the most crucial piece to this problem.

  • The setup that doesn't sound good is a 3' XLR Male/Female cable with the female end hooked up to the mic and the male end in a XLR(female) to 1/4"(male) adaptor that is then plugged into the mixer. The setup that is working is a 20' XLR(female) to 1/4" (male) cable with no adaptors. Aug 19, 2017 at 21:39
  • Ok, maybe you got confused because I said "Are you plugging in to the same input when using the adapter?" That is talking about the mixer, not the cables you're using
    – user22688
    Aug 19, 2017 at 21:50
  • Sorry about the not listing the mixer and mics I did edit the question to avoid later confusion. The mixer is a behringer xm400 and the mics are behringer XM1800S. I know that the xm400 is a line level mixer and mics without a preamp don't have a line level signal which is why I initially thought the problem was lack of preamps. But then when I plugged in the XLR to 1/4" cable everything sounded fine so then I started second guessing my XLR cables. I have tested this using both different input on the mixer and the same input on the mixer and have gotten similar results. Aug 19, 2017 at 21:56
  • Thanks for all the help on this I am very new and honestly more complex than I originally thought. Aug 19, 2017 at 21:58
  • 1
    Oh no worries. It is very complex. I have a degree and about 8 years experience, and I also find it very confusing and complex. Looking at the mixer didn't really help like I had hoped. The inputs are all the same. It does only take unbalanced TS signal, but like I said that shouldn't have a major difference... It is possible that there's a fault in the adapter or XLR to XLR cable, while the XLR to 1/4" is just a normal cable. Hopefully someone has a few more ideas to get you going!
    – user22688
    Aug 19, 2017 at 22:09

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