Should You Use XLR or TRS for Studio Monitors?

I remember setting up a home recording studio for my brother last year.

After months of planning, research, and preparation, we could finally pull off the massive project. However, building a home recording studio is not as easy as most people think.

You should use an XLR or External Line Return cable for studio monitors. Although TRS cables have pretty similar electrical properties, XLR offers significant advantages over TRS, making it the go-to cable.

In the remainder of this article, I will answer questions related to this scenario. This includes the brief differences between the two cables, which of the two is better, if cable selection affects quality, and if expensive cables are worth your money.

Table of Contents

Should You Use XLR or TRS for Studio Monitors?

Which of the Two Cables Is Better?

Choosing the “right” cable for your recording studio is a daunting task and requires extensive research.

A lot of experts don’t mind picking either. Still, if you’ve just started building your dream studio, you must make the correct decision.

Should I use XLR or TRS for Studio Monitors?

An XLR cable is a better choice for a studio monitor. It has several advantages over a TRS cable. It also locks the cord, significantly reducing the risk of the cord being pulled out. This is an actual danger in the case of TRS cables.

Most experts recommend using an XLR for studio monitors, as well as microphone recordings, as it provides an extra string of protection along with the advantages previously mentioned.

This YouTube video provides valuable insight into which cable is better for use with a studio monitor:

XLR vs TRS – Differences

When it comes to performance, the two cables have similar results.

Both of them are analog cables and have the same electrical properties. Your decision is ultimately a personal preference based on your current equipment, budget, and how powerful you want the connection to be.

However, there are some significant differences that I’ll cover here:

XLR Cable for Studio Monitors

This is the audio cable most commonly used in recording studios. In simple terms, it is the standard microphone cable you’ve seen everywhere. They are available in two types: male and female. Both types have different configurations for pin conductors, but the three-pin type is the most common.

Balanced Cable for studio monitors

An XLR provides complete noise immunity and is a balanced cable. This is because of the balanced nature of an XLR connection, which uses three inversions and conductors. Audio sent through balanced cables is less prone to interference by radio and electromagnetic interference.

This is especially helpful in recording studios.

XLR cables primarily transmit balanced mono audio and sometimes a stereo signal. These balanced cables are capable of transmitting two frequencies at once.

XLR Connectors for studio monitors

Logistically, XLR cables are easier to manage because of the secure lock the XLR connectors offer. An XLR has a mechanism of “locking” into place, and this dramatically reduces the chances of a detachment of the audio cable from your studio monitors.

For the most part, XLR cables are more expensive than TRS, and this is due to the wire material and the gauge or thickness it has. XLR cables are much thicker than TRS, making them pricier.

Note: As gauge translates to the amount of power the cable can carry, you don’t need to buy the thickest possible wire. Instead, you should buy a wire that meets the minimum requirement of your studio monitors.

TRS Cables for Studio Monitors

TRS, or Tip, Ring, and Slip refer to the parts of the audio jacks plug to which the different conductors are attached. TRS cable is usually male on both ends, and all audio equipment is female.

A TRS cable can offer the same noise protection (less interference) as an XLR cable but is used solely for that purpose and not stereo. This has a disadvantage as it requires extra studio monitor cables for recording.

Unbalanced Signals in studio monitors

TRS connectors are mainly used for unbalanced stereo connections and headphone usage.

Also, these unbalanced cables are capable of transmitting only one frequency at a time.

The TRS connectors, unfortunately, do not provide a secure attachment to the studio monitors’ jack. While some models have a secure lock, conventional TRS does not usually offer protection.

A TRS cable is less expensive than an XLR. Cheaper material and a wire with a thinner gauge is the reason for this difference. In short, a good quality TRS cable is less expensive compared to its XLR counterpart.

Does Cable Selection Affect Quality?

As with everything in life, the correct selection does affect audio signal quality.

The same principle stands true for the best studio monitor cables, and your choice can provide different outcomes.

Cable selection can affect audio signal quality. However, it is essential to note that there is not much difference in the sound using audio cables unless you pick out the details covered in this article.

It’s, therefore, worth spending a little more for the most well-suited and best studio monitor cables for your studio monitor. 

For audio cables for studio monitors, it is still recommended to use an XLR cable for balanced audio signals. This essential feature reduces undesired noise and gives you a sound with less interference.

Are Expensive Cables Worth the Money?

The higher the price of the cable, the better the quality. In the case of studio monitors, the answer is a little more complicated than that.

Expensive cables are worth the money only if you have a high-end studio setup. This is generally not true for home studios, as designs are typically more modest.

Cables make a difference, but it’s a much smaller difference compared to upgrading your studio monitors. If you have a high-end setup, audio cables should be your next logical step, preferably, an XLR cable.

Final Thoughts on XLR Cables vs TRS for Studio Monitors

XLR and TRS cables have the same function. Both are analog cables that improve audio quality and connect audio equipment.

Most experts, if not all, recommend using an XLR cable for your monitor. There are slight differences that you must consider before making this choice, like balanced and unbalanced cables.

At the end of the day, it really depends on your system, balanced signals or unbalanced signals, active studio monitors, the quality of the connection you prefer, and your budget.

So, next time you shop for a studio monitor, audio interface, or microphone, remember to choose the right cables!

Juan Louder
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Juan Louder

I started SoundStudioMagic to learn how to record my own audiobook at home, and now I'm addicted to all the latest techniques and gear.

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