The argument of whether XLR cables are directional or not has been going on for a long time.
This is a concept that has been around since some audio cable manufacturers began advertising their products as having a direction when it comes to how audio signals are transferred from one audio device to the other.
But are these claims true? Are XLR cables directional?
In short, no. XLR cables are not directional. They do not have a fixed pathway for audio signals to travel. The direction in which audio signals flow through XLR cables is determined by which part of the connector end is connected to the signal input source.
What Are Directional Cables?
Directional cables come with arrows showing the direction of the flow of current or signal. These arrows are known as one-way signal flow direction arrows.
The directionality of cables is based on the argument that; an audio cable will sound different depending on how it has been hooked up.
The reason given for this is that the crystal structure of copper in audio cables is usually aligned in a particular direction because of how they are drawn.
And for this reason, some audio cable manufacturers recommend that audio signals flow in that direction to produce great sound. Thus, they tag their cables with arrows depicting the direction in which audio signals must flow.
Audio cables come with a shield surrounding the internal wires. The direction in which the arrow points is usually the direction where the shield floats towards.
Having an audio cable with a directional arrow makes it easy for you to set up your audio components and system. It shows you which end of the audio you should connect to the audio source and which end you should connect to the audio receiver.
For newbies, it serves as a helpful guide for ensuring that everything is set up straight and lined up correctly.
Audio cables that come with directional arrows are much more expensive than those that do not come with arrows on them. However, is the directionality of cables really a thing?
By the time you are done reading this article, you will get to know exactly what the answer is.
Understanding XLR Cable Directionality
An XLR cable does not have a fixed pathway for audio signals to move. Depending on how the connectors have been fixed on the cable, the audio signals can travel in either direction.
An XLR cable comes with an XLR male connector at one end and an XLR female connector at the other end.
The female end normally serves as the input while the male serves as the output. This means the female end is usually connected to the audio source while the male end is connected to the outlet.
Due to this, the audio signal travels from the female end of the XLR cable to the male end of the cable. However, you should not confuse this standard way of connecting XLR cables for signal direction or pathway.
XLR cables are used primarily for connecting microphones, mixing consoles, amplifiers, etc. Due to how these audio devices that are connected using XLR are made, using the XLR female end for input and the male end for output has become the norm.
If you have built your own XLR cables from XLR connectors and a coil of cable, then you will know the point I am driving at.
When you buy a coil of audio cable from the shop, it does not come with any predetermined signal directional pathway. Thus, to use this cable coil to build XLR cables, you need to connect the male and female XLR connectors to whichever end you decide.
However, some manufacturers claim that their XLR cables undergo complex manufacturing processes. Due to this, their XLR cables have a prefixed direction of signal flow.
Unfortunately, this is nothing more than an attempt at inflating the price of their cables. I will talk more about this later in this article.
In summary, XLR cables are not directional. The direction of signal flow in XLR cables depends on the routing source. What this means is to determine how the signal is flowing through an XLR cable, you need to trace the signal from the linked audio equipment.
Do XLR Cables Work Both Ways?
Technically, XLR cables should work both ways. A proper XLR cable that has been connected to a signal source should not sound different no matter the direction in which it has been hooked up.
It should work perfectly as long as the XLR cable has been connected to an input and output. Therefore, an XLR cable that does not work both ways might have been poorly designed or defective.
An XLR cable can work both ways depending on how the male and female connectors are fixed to it. There will not be any difference if the two ends of the cable are switched before the connections are fixed.
However, because most audio equipment like microphones, mixing consoles, receivers, etc., are manufactured, they typically accept the female end of XLR cables as signal input while the male end serves as the output.
Does XLR Cable Length Affect Its Direction?
The length of an XLR cable plays a major role in its performance. It affects the audio quality of XLR cables. However, it does not affect the direction in which audio signals travel in an XLR cable.
First of all, naturally, an XLR cable does not have a direction. It gets its direction from the audio equipment it has been connected to.
What this means is that since microphones are compatible with the female connector on XLR cables, the audio signal will travel from the female connector to the male connector and finally into the mixing console.
That notwithstanding, the length of the XLR cable will not affect the direction of signal travel in any way. The length of an XLR cable only affects the audio quality.
When it comes to audio quality, an XLR cable that is close to 200 feet long can be susceptible to noise and static interference. This will affect the quality of the final audio output and not the signal direction.
Several audio cable manufacturers claim that the cables they make have a particular pathway for audio signals to pass through. However, I don’t buy into that. I do not believe that all cables, in general, have directionality.
I have many friends who are electrical engineers, yet none has backed the claim that cables have direction. Think about this critically, if all cables, including audio and electrical cables, were directional, wouldn’t these electrical and telecom companies have championed this cause by now?
Audio signals are basically electric signals. Therefore, why is the issue of cable directionality only limited to audio cables produced by a few audio equipment manufacturers?
Since the early 1980s, when high-end audio cables began appearing on the market, many claims about the capabilities and specifications of these cables have surfaced.
All of these audio cables end up having huge price tags on them due to the specifications associated with them. The directionality of cables is one of such claims. Unfortunately, this is still happening, and most people end up falling for it.
The truth is, the copper cables in XLR cables, just like every wire, are drawn in a particular direction. Most of these audio companies base on this to claim directionality in XLR cables.
However, how many of these audio companies actually do the entire process of cable manufacture, from the smelting of the copper, coating, and spooling all by themselves?
I dare say some of these companies don’t even have a clue how the copper was drawn. For companies that actually draw the copper themselves, the direction in which the wire was drawn may be what has been marked with an arrow.
However, even if XLR cables have directionality due to this, the difference it makes is insignificant.
XLR cables are not directional. All XLR cables have a fixed way of connecting them. It has become standard practice to use the female XLR connector end for input signals while the XLR male connector end serves as the output.
However, the direction the audio signal travels is not fixed.
What this means is that they can function equally well either way round. Therefore, even though some XLR cables come with directional signal arrows on them.
These are nothing but marketing gimmicks aimed at overpricing these XLR cables.