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What Is an XLR Connector?

An XLR connector is a type of electrical connector primarily found in professional audio, video, and stage lighting equipment. Known for its balanced audio signals and high-quality sound, it's the go-to for clear, noise-free connections. With typically three to seven pins, it locks in place for secure, reliable use. Ever wondered how it impacts your audio experience? Join us to uncover its role.
Mal Baxter
Mal Baxter

The XLR connector is a three-pronged plug and socket cable end used to network professional audio equipment. It performs duty as an industry standard for analog and digital sound elements such as cables and DMX512 components. First design by Canon, it takes its name from the original X connector, which was later modified with a release latch (L) and rubber seal (R). Most commonly used for analog audio, this connector locks into its port with a balanced connection. A ground pin adds safety and reduces unwanted interference when plugged in during a live performance.

Designed for male and female type connectors, the XLR connector represents an international standard for this type of audio component. While it may possess up to seven pins, three pins are most common. It may be mounted to a cable or chassis, as for a rack-mounted audio component. The finger-width, cylindrical XLR connector attaches to a cable and may feature male pins or female sockets, as with the panel connectors. A typical three-pin XLR connector employs a balanced connection to minimize undesirable electrical contact with high-voltage equipment.

Vocal microphones typically require an XLR cable.
Vocal microphones typically require an XLR cable.

Typically, the first pin represents the chassis ground and usually makes contact before the other pins. The second pin represents the positive polarity terminal; this is the hot pin. The third, or cold, pin is called the return terminal. Together, these two pins are the source of the audio signal. Before this innovation, two-pin, hot connectors were common.

An XLR connector may be used to run a fog machine.
An XLR connector may be used to run a fog machine.

One of the most frequent applications of the XLR connector is to connect microphones to public address systems. Technologies like condenser microphones may require the use of an onboard battery to supply power. The XLR connector can supply this voltage, referred to as phantom power. Usually, this power supply is fed through the first, or ground pin. Such versatility permits the widespread use of this connector while minimizing potential damage to sensitive microphone equipment.

Other products designed for the XLR connector standard may feature rectangular chassis and right angle style plugs. Like the straight connector, these may feature male or female attachments. They may also vary in pin number.

Four-pin connectors are often used for intercom headsets, and five-pin types are employed in dual-element or stereo microphones and headsets. Six-pin types fit dual-channel intercom systems. Seven-pin connectors serve remote controls for fog machines and other analog components. Employing XLR connector components can help ensure trouble-free audio setups and safer, noiseless component switching.

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Discussion Comments


@SkyWhisperer - I would double check your specifications.

If you have batteries installed in your microphone you may not need phantom power, and could just use the XLR plug in your microphone for optimal results.

If you can use your microphone as is (with your mini jack) I don’t see why you couldn’t just use the XLR plug instead.


I have an XLR connector on my digital camcorder but I’ve never used it; I’ve never needed to.

I bought a shotgun microphone that had an XLR connector plug. However, this microphone also had an adapter to convert its XLR plug to a mini jack plug, which I also have on the camcorder.

So I just used the mini jack plug instead and it works great. The only thing is that I am told the XLR connection would provide better quality sound.

Be that as it may, I understand that I would need an additional amplification unit of some kind in order to use the XLR connection, so I don’t mess with it, not now anyway.

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    • Vocal microphones typically require an XLR cable.
      By: soundsnaps
      Vocal microphones typically require an XLR cable.
    • An XLR connector may be used to run a fog machine.
      By: nikkytok
      An XLR connector may be used to run a fog machine.