Most modern electrical and lighting cables come with an extra layer or component that protects them from serious harm and further insulates them from interference. This extra layer is referred to as shielding. Shielding is a very useful component in lots of lighting and electrical cables.
In the last few decades, some audio cables have been known to come with this shielding as well. Audio cables that are widely known to be shielded are RCA and speaker cables.
However, with XLR cables being incredibly useful in all spheres of the music and audio industry, there are quite a number of people that wonder if this type of cable is shielded like other audio cables.
What do you think? Do XLR cables come with this extra shielding? Let’s find out in this article!
Most XLR cables are shielded. This shielding makes XLR cables resistant to noise and electrical signal interferences. In addition to these, the shielding also allows XLR cables to safely carry an electrical current while protecting the cable core.
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Why XLR Cables are Shielded?
XLR cables have been designed to create as clean and clear a signal as possible. Having shielding within this type of cable enables it to achieve this.
The most important benefit of having shielding within an XLR cable is that it keeps it as quiet as possible and enables it to produce the best signal transmission possible.
This is because adding shielding to an XLR cable improves the ability of the cable to mitigate interference and lowers the possibility of picking up noise along the length of the cable.
Thus, due to the shielding that comes with most XLR cables, the signals that the cables transmit remain clear, strong, quiet, and free of excess noise that can make the audio sound muddy, unclear, and difficult to manage and mix.
The shielding also helps to add rigidity to the cable, as it acts as a physical shield against harm and helps to protect the inner cable core from damage. Shielding also makes the cable physically stronger, more durable, and far less likely to break.
Shielding keeps the cable rigid, which makes it more manageable and less likely to tangle. All these ultimately mean that shielding increases the durability of XLR cables by enabling them to remain functional for far longer.
It is worth noting that, high-end XLR cables are shielded with high-quality, highly conductive braided copper shielding. This shielding is highly effective and protects the cable well.
Mid-range XLR cables have straight sheets of copper shielding. These sheets are very thin and flexible and offer less physical protection, but they are still effective Radio Frequency (RF) and Electromagnetic (EM) shields.
Inexpensive or low-end XLR cables have simple foil shielding. This type of shielding is ineffective as a form of physical protection. However, it still functions as a basic noise and interference shield.
Do XLR Cables Need To Be Shielded?
Apart from these two signal-carrying wires, XLR cables have a third wire that serves as the grounding wire.
XLR cables are balanced cables. These cables are designed to have two signal-carrying wires that have their polarities inverted from each other. The double signal-carrying wires duplicate the audio signal, with one side being inverted from the original.
This signal inversion ensures that any signal noise or interference collected along the cable’s length is eliminated. What this means is, the noise and interferences are mitigated by the audio signal inversion that happens in balanced cables. To learn more about how XLR cables carry audio signals, you should read this article.
Due to the fact that most XLR cables are balanced cables, and have been designed to naturally resist interference and signal noise, it has led many to wonder if this shielding is really necessary.
The truth is, even though XLR cables have balanced outputs, the shielding that comes with XLR cables is designed to work together with the balanced output of the cable to add an additional layer of protection against noise and interference to the cable.
All balanced cables can still transmit audio signals with noise and interference present in them if they are used for connections reaching 200 feet in length. In addition to this, unshielded XLR cables are susceptible to large signal interferences, particularly high-frequency interferences such as RF interference
What this means is, noise and static interferences can still pop up in XLR cables if they are exposed to high-frequencies or used for long-distance applications.
Therefore, an extra layer of shielding within XLR cables entirely blocks RF and EM noise and interference. Thus making XLR cables the best cables for sending long-distance and balanced signals.
Why Are Some XLR Cables Not Shielded?
If you have read up to this point, then you definitely know about the important role shielding plays in XLR cables. Since shielding is so beneficial in XLR cables, why do some manufacturers make XLR cables without adding an extra layer of shielding?
The truth is, the extra layer of material added to XLR cables to serve as shielding adds additional cost to the manufacturing process. This is the primary reason why some XLR cables are not shielded.
Manufacturing shielded cables can be relatively expensive to do whiles unshielded XLR cables are far cheaper to produce. Thus, in their quest to cut down on cost, some manufacturers choose to produce XLR cables without the extra layer of shielding.
Apart from the extra manufacturing cost that comes with shielding XLR cables, shielding actually decreases the flexibility of XLR cables. This is because the extra layer of the material increases the thickness of the cables. Thus, reducing its flexibility.
Finally, very short XLR cables have been proven to be more effective at mitigating noise even without being shielded. Due to this, short XLR cables usually have no shielding material in them. These are the reasons why some XLR cables are not shielded.
How To Know If XLR Cables Are Shielded
At this point, I am certain that you know that it is better to use XLR cables that have been properly shielded than non-shielded ones. However, since most XLR cables appear very similar externally, how can you tell if a particular XLR cable is shielded?
It can be challenging to differentiate between an XLR with shielding and a cable without shielding. That notwithstanding, the best way to do so is to unscrew one of the connectors on the XLR cable to check whether it has an internal metal or braiding.
Most XLR connectors can be easily unscrewed, exposing the cable core’s internal ends. When the connector is unscrewed, be careful not to pull on the core, damage any wires, or pull the connector too much, as the cable is very susceptible to damage in this state.
If an XLR cable has shielding, it will be clearly visible when the connector is removed. Shielding typically looks like braided copper/tin or braided material lined with metal. Therefore, look for any metal that is installed around the inner core of the cable.
You should note that some XLR cable connectors cannot be removed or unscrewed from the cable. Some may have their shielding too far within the outer insulation of the cable. With such XLR cables, the best way to determine if they are shielded is to bend them.
The idea behind this is that shielding always adds rigidity to an XLR cable. If such XLR cables are very easy to bend or you can crimp their outer rubber insulation very easily, they are likely to be unshielded. Thus, if a cable is very flexible and feels soft, it is unlikely to have any form of shielding.
Is XLR Cable Shielding Grounded?
Yes, XLR cable shielding is always grounded. XLR cable shielding is always grounded to ensure that no signal noise and interference remain in the audio signal being transmitted.
Therefore, if the shielding in an XLR cable is not grounded, there is a higher tendency for it to introduce signal noise and interference rather than block them.
What this means is, an un-grounded shield will act more like an antenna to receive external signals rather than shielding the cable from them.
A great advantage of the grounding is that it allows an electrical current to be sent down the cable for powering lights, switch boxes, and certain microphones.
To end it all, XLR cable shielding is a useful component in XLR cables, due to this, it is grounded to make it more efficient.
Most XLR cables come with an extra material within them that makes them far more resistant to external noise and interference. This material is known as shielding. This shielding also provides physical protection to the cable core and mitigates heavy damage from being used.
Shielding is a standard feature in almost all XLR cables and is generally considered to be an important component of this cable type. This is because XLR cable functions far better for its intended purpose with internal shielding than without it.