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I'm a semi-new podcaster and accumulating some gear (pre amp, dynamics processor, mixer). Is there any difference in quality between using an XLR patch cable versus a 1/4 inch balanced (TRS) cable? Cable lengths will be about 3 feet in all cases.

I'm really asking about cases where gear gives me the option of using either an XLR cable or a balanced 1/4 inch.

Example: going from my Behringer MDX4600 dynamics processor to my mixer: both XLR and 1/4" TRS are options, but if XLR is always going to give better quality I'll just spend more for those cables. If it doesn't make a difference then I'll go with 1/4" TRS with right-angle connectors which would be more convenient in my limited space.

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    Take a look at this related question: sound.stackexchange.com/questions/37258/… – Michael Hansen Buur Aug 22 '17 at 11:29
  • That is similar but different. I don't question the durability of XLR versus 1/4" TRS, only the quality of the signal. That said, the conclusion I'm reaching does overlap with that question: while the audio signal on a balanced 1/4" cable will be the same as XLR, long term durability of connections does affect signal quality... throwing the preference to XLR. So I'm going to add more XLR patch cables to my collection of gear and keep the 1/4" cables as backups rather than primary use cables. – Mike C. Aug 23 '17 at 12:33
  • Well, the cable is typically the same, so the difference is in the connectors and physical interface. Be aware that the input on many mixers vary in the sense that XLR is for microphone level inputs and TRS is for line level inputs. Feeding a line level input to the mic preamp input may distort. – Michael Hansen Buur Aug 24 '17 at 9:39
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What kind of connections are on the mic, preamp, dynamics processor, and mixer? If you have to use an adapter to go to 1/4", then you are degrading the signal. Same vice versa. If it's either or, I always lean towards XLR because they have the key to prevent accidental pullouts. I think the quality would be, to all but an audiophile, the same.

In studio, we go Mic > XLR > pre-amp > mixer(dynamics built in). From there, we have a patch bay, and with those patches we use TT (similar to TRS but smaller).

In your specific case, I would recommend the TRS for the convenience (which is a huge factor in my mind). The XLR is grounded as it connects (because the TRS ground is the last thing to connect, power spikes like pops can occur), and I find XLR to be more sturdy and long-lasting. TRS can sure be convenient though (especially as the guitarist I am).

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    I have fixed a lot of broken cables in my life and from a durability perspective I'd go with XLR because, since you can't pull them out without pushing the lock, people tend not to just pull them by the cable. They also have better strain relief in most cases although there are some really good jacks too. – Schizomorph Aug 22 '17 at 16:03
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    @MikeC - keep in mind that right angle XLR cables are also a thing. They are a bit more rare, but they do exist. – AJ Henderson Aug 23 '17 at 15:46
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AS a patch cable XLR, you can daisy chain multiple cables together with ease, this isn't ideal but it gets the job done in pinch.

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With XLR, you know you are getting a balanced cable. With TRS, you might as well get a stereo cable. Where is the difference? In a balanced cable, the cables are twisted around each other so that large-scale magnetic fields tend to have a net induction close to zero: the two signal cables are desired to be tighly coupled. In a stereo cable, you don't want this tight coupling. You won't have the twist and the cables might even be individually shielded. If there is a cable impendance and/or capacity rating, it will be between the cores for a balanced cable, and between core and shield for a stereo cable.

The connectors as such don't make for a lot of difference though the plugging action of TRS is much more chaotic since contacts pass by wipers not intended for them, partly even shortening them (or the signal source). So you won't see TRS for microphone inputs with phantom power where the results would be particularly disturbing.

Now patch cables are pretty short: the fine distinctions are not likely to matter all that much for analog audio applications in the field. For patching, TRS likely is most convenient.

  • So even though 1/4" TRS is more convenient there is a qualitative difference with XLR and I should just suck it up and invest in XLR patch cables on quality alone... not to mention they will last longer. Or least that's what I'm understanding from the replies on this threat and another one. – Mike C. Aug 22 '17 at 15:09

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