There are a lot of misconceptiions about analog audio connectors. Many folks believe that audio will somehow sound better if it is carried on an XLR plug.

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Several different types of connectors are used for audio equipment. Consumer equipment commonly uses RCA plugs and 3.5mm mini plugs. Pro gear has 1/4″ plugs and XLR connectors. Installed gear may have screw terminals or multi-pin connectors.

The primary purpose of all of these is the same… to deliver the electrical signals from one piece of audio equipment to the next without any loss. And they all do that job quite well. Then why are there so many different types of connectors?

The type of connector used is determined by cost, size, and special features.

RCA plugs are limited to 2 wire (unbalanced) audio. This is perfect for consumer audio gear that will remain connected for months or years at a time. Unbalanced audio works fine on cables under about 10 feet in length.

3.5 mm mini plugs are common with portable gear. Typically wired for unbalanced stereo.  Their small size makes them prone to damage from rough handling.

XLR plugs most frequently deal with 3 wire (balanced) audio. Balanced audio is not “better quality” than unbalanced. The advantage of balanced audio is noise immunity and the ability to operate over longer cable runs. XLR connections have a couple of specific features that make them especially useful on stage: 1) the metal connectors are rugged, and can tolerate being stepped on or rolled over,  and 2) the connectors lock together so the cables don’t come apart if someone trips on them.

1/4″ TRS plugs also carry 3 wires. They may be wired for unbalanced stereo, balanced mono, or various other configurations. TRS jacks are popular on compact mixers because of their lower cost and smaller size than XLR. You can pack a lot of TRS jacks onto a small mixer.

RJ45 plugs are becoming more popular for audio recently. Even smaller than TRS,  and they latch. 8 wires carry stereo balanced audio and DC power. These are the same connections used by computer equipment with CAT5 and CAT6 cable. Excellent reliability.

Multi-pin connectors can be of any configuration. High density connections used mostly for permanent installations.

There are more. These are the most common. Remember, the configuration of the connector does not alter the sound. A balanced connection has better immunity to extraneous noise, but the audio signal is no different in quality.

BSW stocks interconnect cables that allow connection between TRS and RCA, or XLR and mini, or just about any combination you’re likely to encounter. In most cases signal level differences between the equipment can be accommodated. In a few cases you may need an interface amplifier to boost or attenuate the signals to keep the gear happy.

Don’t fear the connector… it’s just a plug.

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