When you think of recording music or producing music, it doesn’t sound that difficult, right? But when you go into it, you find out that the quality isn't even near the professional quality. Especially in the recording part, you will see a lot of discrepancies.
One major reason for that is the choice of audio ports. Yes, there are different types of audio ports that have an impact on the performance of your recording. Among them, XLR vs. TRS has a special feud that goes back and forth.
We will be looking into that feud and compare them to find out which one works better for what purpose. So, if you are looking for some quality recording experience, you should learn about this stuff.
XLR connection has been there for audio connectivity purposes since the '90s. It was a standard connection method for microphones back then. Due to this reason, many people know them as microphone cables as well.
Usually, you get to see two types of XLR cables, one is male, and one is female. Each cable has three connecting points. They are ground, left and right. These points carry the audio signals from and to the audio devices you connect to them.
In the male connectors, you will see three different pins on the head that transmit the audio to the devices. And in the female connectors, you will see three holes that can receive audio signals from instruments or devices.
Now the question Is, what the point of using an XLR cable is? Well, you can use XLR cables for any live recording or live shows. They can provide balanced sound quality and transmit clear audio without capturing too much noise.
Usually, the instruments have male XLR ports installed in them that allow you to insert the female XLR cable. Then the other end of the cable either goes to the amplifier, mixer or any other device you want to use. However, not every instrument will come with the XLR input feature. So, you may need to install it additionally.
Rare use of XLR cable is on stage lighting as well. Many people use these cables for better lighting purposes as well. It's not common, but you can see it every once in a while.
Using an XLR cable
Well, it's pretty straightforward to use an XLR cable. You have to connect it to your devices properly. However, figuring out the male and female ends can get tricky, so here’s a tip on that.
Whether you want to use a microphone or an instrument, always remember that it should have an XLR male input. Male inputs are the part of XLR that will send the audio signals. So, if you are recording your vocals, the microphones send the audio signals. Hence, it will have a male XLR jack.
Now, that means you will connect the female end of the XLR cable to your microphone or your instrument. And then, the male end of the XLR cable will go into your audio interface, which will have a female XLR jack. This way, the audio signals from your microphone or instruments go into the audio interface you use.
For recording purposes, you should be setting up your audio interface to your computer. And that’s how you can record using an XLR cable.
Perks of an XLR cable
There are several benefits you get from using XLR cables for your audio usage-
- It gives you balanced noiseless sound transmission.
- The cables are usually very strong and sturdy to withstand tugs or tears
- They are standard cables for microphones, so you can’t go wrong
- The audio quality stays top-notch with these cables.
- These cables are protected from any exterior damage and don't impact the audio results.
- It gives you a more secured connection that doesn't come off easily.
Is it all good and nothing bad for XLR cables? Well, there is something that keeps them at bay. The price of XLR cables will be a bit higher than other audio transmission cables. And, you may have to use an adapter or an audio interface to get used out of it.
About TRS & TS
Now, let’s get to know about TRS and TS cables. They both are variants of ¼ inch or 6.3mm jack audio cables. But there are is a huge difference in the functionality of both of them. Let’s check them out one by one.
TRS is an audio connector that has three contact points in it. It has a tip, a ring, and a sleeve which gives it the name TRS. These three connecting points give this connector the balanced cable quality you will want for noise-free recording.
These connectors look just like headphone jacks but bigger. You can see three parts to the connectors, which are tip, ring, and sleeve. These have three different purposes, one works as ground, one is for the left end, and one is for the right end. So, this means you can use these cables for stereo purposes.
Unlike the XLR cables, there are no male or female ends to these cables. Both the ends look pretty much the same and function the same as well. This means you can use these connectors as both input and output connections. It makes using these cables and connectors much easier.
Using a TRS connector
Well, it’s very simple and straight to use. All you do is connect any end of the cable to your audio input sources like a microphone or an instrument. And then connect the other end of the cable to your audio interface. After that, you know what to do.
You should know here that there aren't many microphones out there that work with TRS connectors. Most of the microphones come with XLR compatibility.
Perks of TRS connectors
There are several benefits you get from TRS connectors such as-
- These cables are balanced; thus, you get noise-free recording facilities
- It’s more affordable and functional
- These connectors are very easy to use due to their input and output facilities.
- You can easily get them in and out because of their anatomy.
While it has got some perks, these also lack in some aspects.
First of all, these cables can come off easily and become loose over time. Also, even the slightest movement in the connectors can create unwanted noise because of the weak connections. Despite being balanced, these wires lack the strength in signals compared to the XLR cables.
TS looks just like a TRS connector, but it has fewer contact points. You can differentiate between these two just by looking at them. A TRS will have two black rings on the body, while a TS will have only one. The TS stands for tip and body, so you get two points. One works as a signal, and the other works as a ground; there is no left and right.
All of its features make the TS connector an unbalanced option for cables. So, this means TS cables will be picking up noise from surrounding audio sources. For example, if there is a radio somewhere near your recording, it will pick up some noise from that which is not what you want.
Also, these cables are only capable of mono signaling, which means you don't have that separation of left and right channels. This makes it suitable only for instruments that are mono signaled, such as guitars. You can’t use these cables for recording with your mic at all.
Related: Mono vs Stereo
Using TS cables
Usage of these cables is the same as TRS cables. These also have the same connector for input and output on both ends. So, you can follow along with that for using these cables. But just like we said earlier, these aren’t good for microphones. You can get a lot of use out of them if you are recording or playing your guitars.
However, you would still want to avoid them if you have any radio or antenna-like device surrounding you.
Perks of TS cables
There isn’t much use you get out of these cables besides using them on instruments. They are great for using on your guitar to get those effects from your pedals and processors. And another upside of TS cables is that they are way cheaper than TRS and XLR cables.
Other than that, you can’t rely on these cables for too much. Go with these only if you need cables for an instrument.
XLR vs. TRS differences
Now, let’s dive into the real deal here. Here we go outline the differences of both types of connectors and see which one wins the race. We won't go through TS ones too much because they are way down for any comparison with the XLR cables.
First, coming to the quality, XLR and TRS both are pretty equal. But if we go very deep and consider even the slightest changes, then XLR has to be on top. How is that?
Well, both XLR and TRS are balanced, which means they don’t capture noise. They both support stereo recording, which is what you would love for recording. However, the XLR is a better choice because the connector wires are stronger than what you get in TRS connectors. This leads to slightly better sound quality from the wires.
So, here XLR takes the cake away in terms of sound quality.
Well, when it’s about power, XLR is the clear winner here. These cables can send phantom power to the audio devices. One of the most useful applications of this is in the condenser microphones.
You probably know that condenser microphones are so good for recording audio. And these mics need phantom power to work. You can’t get that power from any other cable except XLR ones. So, it’s a clear choice here in terms of power.
Cable and connection
Now, this is a tricky part. If you are considering ease of connection, then TRS is a better choice. It doesn't have any male or female ends like XLR cables which makes it easy to connect. You can get both input and output functions from any of the ends from TRS. So, you don’t need to put too much brain into it.
However, there is a catch here. While TRS is easy to connect, the connection isn’t as secure as an XLR cable. TRS connections can get loose over time and result in unnecessary noise in the recording. Whereas XLR cables will be a lot better for connectivity strength and quality of the audio. It may be a bit tricky to figure out the input and output end, but it's worth it.
So, which one should you go for in terms of connectivity? If you are using cables in a permanent recording setup, then XLR is a great choice as you won’t have to take the cables on and off every time. But if it’s not a regular thing, you should go for a TRS cable, especially for instruments.
TRS is a clear winner when you consider the price. These are much more affordable than XLR cables. So, if you want to save up some money, then you can opt for these. You can also go with the combination of XLR and TRS. For example, you can get TRS cables for your instruments and get XLR cables for your microphone.
Although, if you want long-lasting performance and better quality in sounds for your permanent recording studio, then XLR is overall the best option to go for.
To sum up, for any recording studio purposes, XLR is the way to go. The quality of the cables outweighs TRS cables in every aspect. But if you don’t want to complicate things too much and want an affordable solution, you can always go with TRS cables. They aren’t bad in any way; XLR is just a better option, that’s it. So, in the battle between XLR vs. TRS, XLR is the clear winner.
Graduated with a Bachelor of Audio Engineering and Sound Production. He has worked with a number of studios as a Recording Engineer, with over 10 years of servicing experience in both re-recording mixing and sound editing.