The term ‘audio cable’ covers a range of cables used for connecting various kinds of audio devices together. This category includes cables used for connecting phones, tablets, and laptops to home speakers and other portable devices. In most cases, these cables consist of three parts: the plug, the jack, and the unifying element (or mid-pole) that connects the two.
There are two main types of audio cables commonly used: XLR (‘eXtra LeveL’) and RCA. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two cable types and which one you should use in your audio setup.
Included within the audio cable acronym XLR, there are a number of sub-brands including Neutrik, Quad, Dante, and more. All of these cables are capable of handling high frequencies and carrying large amounts of data thanks to the shielded twisted pair (STP) construction used within them. This type of cable combines the flexibility of a wire with the strength and durability of a cable. The shielded twisted pair construction adds a little more to the durability of these cables. While standard XLR cables can operate at high frequencies of up to 100kHz, these shielded ones can carry up to 500kHz signals, which makes them perfect for, for example, wireless microphones and hi-fi systems that require high-quality transmission.
The main downside to XLR cables is that they are more expensive than RCA ones. So if you’re looking for an economical option, you should consider going with the less expensive RCA ones instead. However, the higher quality and thicker insulation of XLR cables makes them more suitable for high-end applications. In addition, the extra shielding used within these cables makes them more immune to electromagnetic interferences. Finally, due to their thicker and more robust construction, XLR cables are less flexible than their RCA counterparts and are, therefore, less suitable for long-distance transmissions. If all of this seems a little too much for you, there is another option: the hybrid XLR-RCA cable, which is a combination of the best of both worlds.
Just like with XLR, there are a number of sub-brands within the audio cable category RCA including Alesis, Onkyo, and many more. These cables are characterized by the use of unshielded twisted pair (UTP) construction and the inclusion of an unifying element that connects the plug and the jack. UTPs are commonly used in all types of cables including speaker, microphone, and headphone varieties. They are also less expensive than the shielded twisted pair type and, as a result, are preferred by low-end applications such as portable music players and gaming consoles. In addition, a large number of RCA cables include an LED light that provides additional flexibility in terms of the positioning of the plug and jack ends.
A downside to UTPs is that they are less robust than the STP construction used in many high-end applications such as hi-fi systems, which can limit their usability.
Which One To Choose?
Even though there are a variety of advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of cable, there is one clear winner when it comes to comparing the two most popular audio cable brands: XLR. With its extended range of frequencies and durability, superior insulation, and robust shielding all supported by a high-quality, long-lasting plug, you can be sure that this cable is going to serve your needs for many years to come. In addition, the fact that virtually all popular music devices, operating systems, and recording software are designed to work with XLR makes it an obvious choice for musicians, producers, and, indeed, for anyone looking for the best quality audio transmission possible.
On the other hand, RCA has been around for a while and, as a result, is a proven choice for a more mature audience. Due to its low cost and longstanding reputation for quality, many older devices, as well as some newer ones, are still compatible with RCA cables. If you’re planning on purchasing audio equipment that is at least a few years old, consider investing in some RCA cables as well. This will not only make your life a lot easier, it will also add a touch of nostalgia to your music collection.