In this article we will focus:
- Basics of analog audio XLR cables
- Features differentiating premium cables feature vs. standard cable
- How to choose the right analog audio cables for recording podcast
- XLR best audio cables for podcasting recommendations
Is upgrading to premium audio cables worth the investment?
In this article, we will consider if there are enough reasons to go from $5-10 cable to premium cables and spending an additional $30-40 (or more depending on the cable length you require). Let’s review the basics of cable construction and what premium cables are offering and how those features actually impact the quality of recorded sound.
But cable transmitting sound is only as good as the overall setup. Don’t invest in premium cables if your microphone and audio interface are budget solutions. This won’t improve the quality of your podcast.
What cables are required for one person podcast setup?
Our minimum recommended setup for podcasting is to have a dynamic microphone, mic activator and an audio interface (with built-in preamp). To connect this setup you will need:
2 analog cables:
- 1x medium length analog XLR cable to connect a dynamic microphone to mic activator
- 1x short analog XLR cable to connect mic activator to the audio interface – if you are not using a mic activator this cable won’t be necessary for you.
To pick the most relevant and powerful mic check our guide: Choosing a Microphone for Podcasting.
1 digital cable;
- 1x short digital USB cable to connect audio interface (with built-in preamp) to computer – most likely when you bought an audio interface it came equipped with an audio USB cable. The quality of cables sold with audio interfaces varies significantly.
Having a good audio interface is extremely important for the performance of your entire recording setup. See what we recommend in our buyers guide Best Audio Interface for Podcasting.
Audio analog cables basics
Audio cables are build of up to 6 main components:
- Connectors – are attached at both ends of the cable and allow you to plug-in the cable into a device
- The core of the cable are two copper wires capable of conducting an electrical signal,
- Each wire is wrapped in its own insulation and they are both twisted together,
- Twisted wires are covered with filler to smooth-out warping, and preserve the cable’s roundness,
- The filler is covered with shielding (usually made out of copper), which protects the conductors from various sources of interference. It is designed to keep the electricity in and prevent radio waves or other electromagnetic sources from interfering with the signal.
- The outside layer of the cable role is covered with a rubber outer jacket. Its role is to protect it from damage.
Resistance in audio cables
- Due to laws of physics copper wire don’t transmit electrical signals perfectly,
- The metal out of which audio cables are made of creates a resistance, which results in some of the signal being lost,
- This, of course, means that the signal which arrives from your microphone to your audio interface isn’t a perfect reflection of your voice,
- Resistance is proportional to the length of wire so when you buy a good cable buy as short as possible (not to save money, but to improve quality),
- Solution cable manufacturers use to minimize the resistance and loss is making wires thicker, which increases the ability to transmit electricity without loss,
How do we measure resistance and which is optimal for podcasting XLR cables?
- The most popular way to describe wires thickness is American Wire Gauge (AWG) number. It is also known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge.
- There is also a separate British standard known as SWG.
- SWG wires of the same gauge are bigger than AWG wires which are shown in the table below.
- AWG and SWG are the inverses of wires thickness, meaning the lower the number, the thicker the wire is.
|Gauge||SWG||B&S / AWG|
Premium cables feature vs. standard cable
Let’s focus on the characteristics required for podcasting so high audio quality, protection from interferences. We will look less for extreme durability required from cables required for stage performances.
- Connectors – material for max conductivity – in premium cables you will find connectors made out of most conductive, precious metals. As connectors are exposed all the time to air the precious metals are more resistant to oxidation in contrast to e.g. highly conductive copper. Silver and gold are the most popular.
- Silver – silver is actually more conductive than gold but it tarnishes faster, so to maintain the performance you will need to clean the connectors more often,
- Gold – gold is also extremely conductive, slightly less than clean silver conductors. But because it tarnishes slower it requires less often maintenance. It’s is a preferred choice despite a higher price.
- Conductors – material quality – in premium cables, you will find material higher quality. Most premium cables use high purity oxygen-free copper (OFC). Sometimes metals also used in cables contain silver or palladium. The benefit here is as with connectors. Those precious materials are more conductive thus generate less resistance in the cable so you have less quality loss.
- Conductors – star-quad cables – modern premium cables start using 4 smaller conductors compared to the standard design which uses only 2 conductors. The important key benefit for podcasters of star-quad design include is higher immunity to electromagnetic interferences. This results if low-frequency noises reduction by 10 to 30 dB. This makes quad cables especially useful in environments with heavy interference from surrounding equipment like many imperfect home studios or office buildings packed with electronic equipment.
- Conductors – strand count – each of the copper conductors inside the audio cable is in fact made of many small strands. It is not just a single thick wire. The high amount of strands increases the flexibility and durability of the audio cables. However often this parameter is not displayed by producers and by simply having your mic mounted on the stand you don’t have to worry that much about damaging the cable.
- Conductors – cable lay length – conductor cables are twisted together inside the cable. Lay length is the distance required to complete one revolution of the one conductor around the diameter of the cable. The tighter the wires are twisted the shorter the lay. Premium cables have more twists that require longer length conductors to create a cable. Benefits of shorter lays are:
- durability improvement by increasing cables flexibility and strength,
- audio quality improvement by increasing concentricity and noise cancellation,
- reducing crosstalk (when a signal transmitted in one conductor creates a disturbance in another conductor).
- Shielding – cheap cables tend not to have shielding at all or have the shielding of the lowest quality
- Foil shielding – made of foil wrapping. It is the least expensive and least durable. You can find it on the cheapest cables that provide basic isolation from electromagnetic disturbances. It is acceptable if your cables lay permanently e.g. hidden in walls of the floor and are not exposed to mechanical damage like bending or stomping.
- Served shielding – made of bare copper. It is the best option for podcasting cables. It will provide better durability and isolation than foil shielding and better flexibility than braided shielding.
- Braided shielding – made of braided copper. Most often required for stage cables where high levels of durability are necessary.
Does the length of the cable impact the sound quality?
Yes, due to resistance and bigger exposure to electromagnetic interferences. Choose the shortest length of the cable required for your setup. 30 feet (9 meters) will work fine but if you can use 20 feet (6 meters) or lower that’s even better for your podcast quality.
How to choose the right analog audio cables for recording podcasts?
Optimal cable for podcasting requirements and given what product information is available to look for:
- Connectors – buy cables with gold-plated connectors, optionally silver-plated connectors
- Conductors resistance – look for lowest possible; low 20’s AWG is good for podcasting
- Conductors material quality – buy cables made of oxygen-free copper (OFC)
- Conductors star-quad cables – choose a cable with this design if it is available
- Shielding – served shielding is appropriate for podcasting studio
Recommended XLR audio cables for podcasting
|LyxPro Quad||Mogami Silver||Canare L-4E6S XLR-F||Mogami Gold Studio|
|Number of conductors||4||2||4||4|
|Strands per conductor||40||n/a||40||n/a|
|Overall evaluation||budget||mid-range||mid-range||premium recommended|
We absolutely recommend at some point upgrading your podcasting studio setup to Mogami Gold Studio XLR cables. Investing in this cable is also the maximum investment level you should put into your podcasting XLR cable. There are more expensive offers on the market but it won’t make any material impact on your quality and your brand.
Do different USB cables impact audio quality?
Yes, despite being overall different from analog cables, the same rules of physics apply to digital USB cables.
All the same phenomena as conductivity, conductors oxidization, electromagnetic interferences, etc. impact also the audio performance of your USB cable. There are dedicated audio USB cables which with their construction solve the same problems analog XLR audio cables face.
Digital signal transmitting 1 and 0 has a greater vulnerability to noise than normal analog signals as it transmits at a much higher frequency. Increased jitter leads to digital timing errors, lowering bitrate, and higher noise floor.
How to choose USB cable to upgrade for podcasting audio interface connection?
Although there are many aspects to a cable like a cable geometry, materials used, conductor quality, termination, shielding, 5V power (should be on separate conductors within the cable), etc. many of those details are not provided by cable manufacturers.
To simplify important for podcasting audio
- Connectors – material for max conductivity – go with gold connectors
- Length – buy as short as possible for your setup. If you are using a laptop your audio interface can practically lay next to it.
- Shielding – choose a cable with braided shielding.
Recommended USB audio cables for podcasting
|AudioQuest Pearl||AudioQuest Cinnamon||AudioQuest Carbon|
|Conductor||long-grain copper||long-grain copper with 1.25% silver||long-grain copper with 5% silver|
|Insulation||Hard-Cell Foam (HCF) insulation||Hard-Cell Foam (HCF) insulation; braided||Hard-Cell Foam (HCF) insulation; braided|
|Overall evaluation||mid-range||mid-range recommended||premium|
As with our recommendation regarding Mogami Gold Studio XLR cables providing the most value you will need, the same holds true for AudioQuest Cinnamon. Although AudioQuest and other cable manufacturers offer cables containing more % of silver in the conductor, and other technical improvements, the promised quality improvement won’t be recognizable even with good podcasting equipment. Don’t buy more expensive cables. You won’t get any benefits.
Additionally, remember that premium USB cable on low-quality equipment won’t make any difference.
How to properly maintain your cables to sustain high audio quality?
- Don’t bend cables using excessive force
- Don’t stomp on them, unless you buy stage dedicated cables with extra durability
- If you don’t record constantly, or have longer breaks from recording, consider locking them in airtight bags to minimize the oxidization. Keep the unused cables in airtight bags.
- As the conductors can oxidize (especially silver or non-precious metal) or simply get dirty from using their conductivity capabilities will be hindered and you may need to periodically clean the conductors. You can simply do it with one of the easily available contact cleaners like CAIG Laboratories D100L-25C.
If you are looking for more options to improve audio quality, we highly recommend soundproofing your recording studio (check our detailed soundproofing guide) and simply working on your vocal (check out our tips on improving vocals).
- Avoid the cheapest non-branded cables available, they use cheap materials, provide poor .conductivity, get easily damaged and don’t isolate effectively electromagnetic noises.
- Cables won’t solve all the problems. Mic, preamp, mic activator should be priorities when considering where to invest money.
- Cables can be an important addition but are not on the first place of priorities.
- Reasonable premium cables should be the go-to solution – there are justifiable benefits going for the upgrade when comparing to standard XLR audio cables.
- For podcasting needs, there is no justification to go above recommended premium cables. High-end expensive solutions won’t deliver noticeable benefits. Our favorite XLR cable is Mogami Gold Studio XLR.
- In the case of USB cables upgrade to a mid-range solution. It will improve the audio quality. Going for premium cables here is not justified.
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