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Is there any truth to XLRs being better than RCAs?


Prodigal Son
No, XLRs are not effectively better than RCAs in home audio applications.

There are situations where the professional specifications which come with XLR Balanced interconnects are preferable. Those cases tend to be:
1) When the cable length is very long (over 20 feet)
2) When the cable is run close to other EMI/RFI sources like power cables or transformers
3) When there are severe ground loop issues or noise issues which cannot be cured via simpler means

In 95% of all installations, RCA is more than sufficient.
The human mind is much more powerful than our ears. We inherently interpret everything we hear into something we recognize, even when the sound is nowhere close to reality. Take the sound effects in movies... most common sounds in movies like the sound of a person bein g punched or the sound of a handgun being fired are nowhere close to what those things would sound like in real life. However, because we interpret all sounds, those non-real sounds seem very real to us when we watch a movie or TV show.

The brain can easily fool our minds. I used to do an experiment with audiophiles where I would swap out cables fron bhind the gear while someone listened. I would tell the person what each cable sounded like and what to listen for, and no matter what, they always heard exactly what I told then they would hear. The trick was that I never actually swapped a single cable yet the listener was 100% convinced they heard the difference.

I did another trick in my recording studio where people who wanted to get too engaged in the recording process, regardless of their ability, would get to sit down and adjust three dials which were lit up with bright lights and clearly labeled "Soar", "Thickness", and "Depth" (or something like that - the labels would change all the time). THey would spend hours getting the three controls perfect for their sound, and they would swear they got it exactly right after careful and sustained efforts. I would agree with them that it sounded great, but theknobs didn't control anything at all. They were placebo dials to let those losers add their input without actually hurting anything.

I could go on and on.

If you believe a line conditioner will make all the difference in the world, you will accept that as truth and hear that truth even if the difference isn't there. The only true test of a component's impact on the real sound is called a Blind ABX test. In those tests, the listener can switch between component A, component B, and an unknown setting of "X" which could be either A or B. The listener has to tell the tester (who also doesn't know what X is) which component X is, A or B. Then, the results are tallied and if the listener cannot accurately tell the difference more than 66% of the time, they cannot really hear a difference (if they are right only 33% of the time, that is evidence there is a difference as well).
I don't believe that XLR connections will sound "better" in any way.. personal experience.

However, I don't exactly agree with Flint in this matter.

XLR, "WILL" be less susceptible to noise ... PERIOD!

First off...
As Flint mentioned,
XLR are used in professional sound stage set ups because of the possibility of the cable being in close proximity of EMI/RFI power sources such as .... "POWER CABLES" and in a professional setting the last thing you want is to hear is "NOISE"
Well, almost ever HT I know of, stuffs all the power cables behind the TV/Cabinet, and all wires end up in some close proximity of a few power cables as well as transformers, even the outlet itself!

Ground loop issues are very common in HT and a repeated source of conversation/irritation, even here with us audio groupies. Many of the ground loop issues can be eliminated by XLR cables.

My reality,
Well, I've paid a good chunk of money "up-grading" to XLR cables and amplifier in my HT.. Did I hear a difference........ no. :angry-tappingfoot:

BUT, I have a good piece of mind that I'm doing all I can to prevent interference. :roll:
I can care less about "conditioners" and "fancy speaker wire"...... I've never heard a difference.
I've got 40+ foot in-wall runs of RCA signal cables from my equipment rack to the front of the room for the front speakers and sub. The signal cable or my surrounds are in the same conduit as power cables. I had the option to use XLR and would have if there were any noise issues but their hasn't been.
Assuming T7 is still running Mackies, I also have RCAs for my Mackies. My runs are not as long as his, maybe about 25-30ft tops, but I also have no noise issues.
Where's Soundhound when we need him? He always had a good observation about balanced connections, which XLR is one example of, that is often overlooked: They add active circuitry to the signal which can add noise to the system. Of course, for that to happen in the real world the noise floor of the other equipment would have to be substantially lower than the noise floor of the balancing equipment.

I run Mackies in my HT and was able to reduce my noise floor by switching to balanced XLR connections. I have 50+ runs to my mains and a LOT of 110V wiring running around my HT for my 3 circuits of dimmable lights.

Notice that our side of this discussion has been about noise floor and only noise floor. None of us are even mentioning any other phenomena because they simply aren't affected by active or passive connectionns.

BTW, I don't think that flint's and Razz's post say very different things. They just show what's typical (see T7's and Yesfan's posts) and what can happen (see Razz's post and this one).

Save your money for items that will contibute materially to sound quality, let the snake oil wranglers spend their hard earned cash on immaterial trinkets, which do nothing to improve sonic value.

There's a reason cables are listed as accessories, not gear.

In my own rig where the preamp in the rear of the room requires a 23 foot cable to attach to the active crossover in the front of the room, I was able to reduce the noise floor of the front speakers by about 4dBV by swapping out unbalanced cables with balanced XLR cables with the shield only connected to the receiving end of the wire (when the shield was connected electrically to ends the noise reduction was so low it was virtually unmeasureable). The reduction in noise floor was enough to make it impossible to hear any hiss, noise, or hum from the speakers when placing my ears about 1 foot from the speaker cones/domes (with an ear closer than 1 foot from the dome tweeter you can hear a slight hiss). The previous noise floor with RCA cables was audible up to about 3 feet from the speaker. In both cases the hiss was complete inaudible from the listening position.
Some of the differences can be related to the source output. Some manufactures use a resister to create the output as impedance balanced. Active amps or transformers will create true balanced.

When your able to use a Quater inch plug that is either tip and sleeve, or Tip ring sleeve like headphone your are getting the resister impedance balanced.

Phase Splitter Tutorial

The phase splitter has one input and two outputs.
The two outputs are inverted with respect to each other. That is, as one increases in a positive direction the other increases in a negative direction.
In the first diagram the phase splitting is done by the transformer.
In the second diagram, the output from the collector is an inverted version of the input.
The output from the emitter follows the input.
There is no amplification from this circuit because the emitter is undecoupled.
The word PHASE indicates a shift in time. In actual fact there is no phase change here, only inversion of the signal.

You can convert the simple unbalanced preamp output to balanced circuit with one of the following tricks:
- Use a DI box to convert unbalanced signal to balanced microphone level signal
- An audio transformer is a classic way to convert unbalanced to balanced
- Balanced opamp output circuit can convert unbalanced to balanced (more modern approach but more components)
In addition to those there is not so widely mentioned impedance-balanced output option:
1. Figure out the output impedance of your unbalanced signal source. Usually looking at the circuit diagram of the device will tell you that easily. If you don’t have that, you can always measure the output impedance.
2. Pick a resistor that has same resistance as the output impedance of your unbalanced output (as close as possible… preferably within 1% accuracy).
3. Wire the unbalanced output signal to XLR pin 2 (+).
4. Wire ground to XLR pin 1 (ground).
5. Wire that resistor you just selected between XLR pins3 (-) and pin 1 (ground).
Now you have a impedance-balanced output. It is not exactly as good as a real balanced output, but performs pretty close a real balanced output in normal applications. You can use the same idea also with 6.3 mm jacks: signal goes to tip and the resistor to ring. An impedance balanced output with 6.3 mm jacks works as well as an unbalanced output if that is what is needed (just plug in a cable with mono plug).

Impedance-balanced principle has been used some professional electret mics and on outputs of some “budget” mixers! Just by adding one resistor an unbalanced output is converted to impedance balanced output that works very well with all equipment that has balanced inputs.
The other differene is on the receiving side because XLR is at a level of +4 and the RCA is at -10.
This requires a stage of gain to bring the RCA up to the XLR. When coming from a home receiver the question is with XLR is the receiver sending out +4 or -10.