As a podcaster’s most essential tool at their disposal, it makes sense to get your microphone setup just right.
One area that’s sometimes overlooked is the cables that connect your microphone to your laptop or audio workstation, but if you’re taking the audio seriously, it shouldn’t be.
How do you use microphone cables for podcasting? The microphone cable is the piece that connects the microphone directly to the speaker of the audio interface you’re using to record a podcast (also see, ‘Best Podcast Recording Software‘).
The most common type is a three-pin cable for XLR microphones, but it depends on your setup and the results you’re after (also see, ‘USB Mic vs XLR‘).
The difference that a premium microphone cable can make in the final audio track of your podcast is worth learning more about.
This guide can be used by podcasters to learn all about microphone cables, the different types and parts, and why it matters to get this simple mic accessory just right.
What Are Microphone Cables?
When looking at a recording setup, like the one you’d have for a podcast series, you might assume that a microphone is the most crucial part.
While it does play a significant role in the sound you get, the audio cable that connects the mic with the rest of your audio interfaces can be just as critical.
Microphone cables are usually purchased separately from the microphone, so it is imperative to know the different types and features they come with.
Many types of audio cables can be used to link your microphone with the rest of the recording setup, and within these types, a considerable variation in quality and price.
The microphone cable is an integral part of the setup because of its ability to keep noise interference as minimal as possible, and the cheaper and poorer quality a cable is, the more likely it is to cause issues.
Choosing one marketed as low noise and balanced is the best approach, but the more you learn about these cables and how they work, the better.
The Types of Audio Connections
A podcaster’s recording studio (also see, ‘How To Create A Podcasting Studio‘) doesn’t have to be complicated, as long as you can get the sound right.
When it comes to microphone cables and connections, there are a few names you need to familiarize yourself with so you can choose the right one for your home studio:
- XLR mic cable: An XLR microphone cable is the most common type of microphone cable. The XLR mic cable has a male and female end that makes it simple to connect the mic to a speaker, audio interface, or another two pieces of equipment.
- Quarter-inch plug: The quarter-inch or ¼” plug is another standard cable that connects microphones to other audio equipment. Depending on your setup, you should be able to connect a ¼-inch jack into many recording equipment, and some called combo ports allow either an XLR or 1/4-inch jack to be used.
- Headphone jack: A standard headphone jack is like a smaller version of the ¼-inch plug and used for listening to audio. This size jack is sometimes found on smaller types of microphones, like those on a headset or clip-on mic (also see, ‘Lapel Mic For Podcast’) so it might be the ideal size for your setup.
- RCA connector: An RCA connector can usually be connected to an audio mixer and will also fit into some types of microphones. The Y shape of an RCA cable and red and white audio plugs makes it instantly recognizable.
- Plugs: An audio plug is an accessory with black rings that dictate how and where it can be used, with a handful of available types. The TRRS plug is a more modern version of these audio plugs that give you the option to connect to a microphone as needed, similar to those used for PC headsets.
How a Mic Cable Works
To get a better understanding of what to look for in a mic cable, it’s good to know its inner workings. Let’s start with the most common XLR cable. There are four main parts, each with a unique purpose, including:
- Conductors: The conductor within the microphone cable carries the audio signal and consists of multiple balanced wires, including a ground wire, positive ire, and negative wire. These conductors need to be strong and efficient so that the signal passes through easily and quickly.
- Shielding: The shielding is found within the microphone cable, and its job is to protect the signal that passes through the conductors. The better the shielding, the less likely there is to be interference with the audio signal, so this part is crucial.
- Connectors: This essential part is what allows your microphone to connect to other pieces of audio gear. Depending on the other items in your recording setup, you’ll need to ensure this part is compatible.
- Outer jacket: As the name suggests, the outer jacket is the covering of the cords and parts inside. It’s usually made of PVC or some other durable but affordable material, aimed at protecting everything inside of it but giving good flexibility.
Premium vs. Standard Cables: What’s the Difference?
One of the biggest mistakes a podcaster makes when setting up their workstation is spending a lot of money on a good mixer, audio interface, and microphone while neglecting the importance of a mic cable.
Consider these features to separate the good from the bad when it comes to microphone cables:
Cable pin count
The cable connector’s pin count should be considered when choosing a microphone cable, and because XLR cables come in many different pin counts, you need to get it right.
A three-pin count is ideal for a microphone, so don’t be swayed at buying anything higher than that, or it might not be compatible.
The material used to make the outer jacket is essential as it will protect it from moisture, sunlight, and other potentially damaging factors.
Likewise, the conductors should be made of oxygen-free copper, or similar material, as they produce better quality audio. Finally, the type of shielding used for the conductor matters, with foil shielding and braided shielding being the most common.
Getting the cable size is important, so spend some time sitting at the desk you’ll be recording and think about how much length you need between the mic and the recording gear.
A standard XLR cable ranges from three to 50 feet, so you want it to be short enough to prevent overhang but long enough to give your equipment room to reach.
A regular XLR microphone cable will cost between $30 to $50, with some higher-end options being more than a few hundred each.
While you don’t want to go for the cheapest end of the scale because it likely indicates poor traits, there’s no need to spend more than $30 to get something that can vastly improve your audio quality.
The more you pay, the more likely it will be covered by a lifetime warranty, so consider the long-term investment.
The good news is that a quality microphone cable isn’t expensive, so it’s possible to get a premium one that won’t affect your audio.
Make sure you tick off the above boxes, and you’ll avoid sending a poor audio signal down the line from your microphone and ruining the whole recording.
Why the Length Matters
You might not consider the length of a microphone cable when comparing features, but it’s a spec that you should pay close attention to.
The size of a microphone cable can directly impact the quality of the recorded sound, along with other factors, and it’s common for them to reach up to 200 feet in some cases.
The quality of the signal that a microphone cable provides is called its electrical resistance, and the higher this is, the more energy it converts.
The length of a cable and its thickness will dictate the electrical resistance of a cable, so you need to get it right to ensure superior sound quality.
A microphone cable with lower resistance and less heat is ideal, so its wires and parts can stay in good condition.
This means choosing something that’s not too thick or long, with most microphone cables used for podcasting coming in standard sizes to ensure the electrical resistance is just right.
The Best Cables for Podcasting
A quick search online will show you just how many microphone audio cables and other accessories there are so that it can get overwhelming. If you’d rather skip the long search and go with only trusted brands that podcasters recommend, these are the best:
Monster Pro Audio Microphone Cable
Monster Pro has a reputation for mid-range and highly professional microphone accessories. The Pro Audio Microphone Cable comes in one size of 30 feet and has a vintage design.
With nickel-plated connectors and a Duraflex protective jacket, it’s designed to last for years. It’s priced at under $80 but vastly improves audio quality.
AudioQuest Mackenzie XLR
This XLR cable comes in all different lengths, sizes, and pin counts, with something for every audio interface.
The Mackenzie has solid copper conductors, a carbon-based noise dissipation system, and cold-welded connectors, giving you the absolute best when it comes to mic cables.
Priced at over $300, it’s the most expensive on our list but a must-have for professional podcasters who take their audio setup seriously.
The Mogami Silver Studio XLR is one of the most popular cables for podcasters and audio producers. It’s hand-assembled, built to last with a lifetime warranty, and made with top-quality connectors.
And, if you want something even more impressive, you can go one step further with Mogami’s Gold XLR, which is even more impressive.
LyxPRo Balanced XLR Cable
Coming in at the cheaper end of the scale but still, with a lot to offer, you have the LyxPro Balanced XLR Cable. This cable costs less than $30 but has rave reviews, especially among podcasters and small-scale recording artists.
It comes in various colors and lengths, has a cotton yarn wrap, twin conductive PVC inner braided shields, and cable strain relief, which is surprising for a mic cable at this price point.
Rapco Horizon N1M1-15 Stage Series
If you only need a smaller 15-foot microphone cable, the Rapco Horizon N1M1-15 Stage Series is a great contender. This is another affordable option, costing around $40 to purchase but giving you years of use and a reliable build.
With a PVC jacket, pure copper conductor, and a variety of connector options to choose from, you can build a cable that’s perfectly suited to your audio workstation.
Getting Your Mic Right
Alongside the microphone, a microphone cable is a hugely important part of the setup that a podcaster would use to record their show.
Getting this seemingly simple accessory right will result in clearer audio with less interference, so spend some time learning the basics and choosing the best one.