Nowadays, a lot of people record and produce audio materials from the comfort of their homes. The introduction of USB audio devices and cables such as XLR to USB cables has further increased this statistic. XLR to USB cables are electrical cables that enable you to connect an XLR device directly to your computer.
The idea behind the design and manufacture of XLR to USB cables is to enable you to plug an XLR microphone directly into your computer. After the connection, you should be able to record on to your computer. However, do XLR to USB cables work?
XLR to USB cables work. But they only work well with dynamic microphones and provide the needed amplification for dynamic microphones. You can’t use XLR to USB cables for condenser microphones because they can’t supply phantom power required by condenser microphones to work.
How Do XLR to USB Cables Work?
XLR to USB cables are fascinating devices. Honestly, if you asked me if this would be possible 20 years ago, I would have told you no. But technology has advanced quite fast recently. And this has made it possible to connect a microphone or a musical instrument directly to a computer via a single cable.
But how exactly do XLR to USB cables work? Let me explain.
XLR to USB cables have a preamp and an analog to digital converter (or ADC) built into them. The preamp amplifies the audio signal that passes through it before transmitting it to the analog to digital converter.
The analog to digital converter then converts the signal into a digital format that computers understand. And then, the digital format is passed on to the computer.
XLR and USB are connectors that are primarily known to send signals in completely different formats. A USB sends signals in digital format along a cable. On the other hand, an XLR is primarily designed to send analog signals along a cable.
When a microphone or instrument is connected to an XLR to USB cable, the audio signal it picks up gets transmitted through XLR. And this signal is in the form of an electrical current.
This audio signal will usually be very low, especially when a microphone picked up the signal. For this reason, the audio signal is processed through a preamp built into the XLR to USB cable. The preamp will then boost the signal into a line-level signal for further processing.
Unlike traditional preamps, the preamps inside XLR to USB cables have a fixed gain. This means you can increase the gain if the signal is not loud enough. That’s just one downside of using an XLR to USB cable.
After the preamp processes the audio signal, it is then passed on to an analog to digital converter, which is also built into the XLR to USB cable. The analog to digital converter (or ADC) converts the signal from an analog signal into a digital format. The digital signal is then passed on to your computer.
Does XLR to USB Reduce Audio Quality?
XLR to USB cables reduces the quality of audio output. When you convert different audio signals through different formats, it can affect your final output quality. XLR to USB is designed to convert analog signals to digital format, and this conversion process reduces the quality of the final audio output. However, the reduction in audio quality is usually not noticeable.
Ideally, XLR to USB cables should work perfectly without any issue. However, as you may already know, XLR to USB cables are quite cheap. And this means manufacturers compromise a lot on making a quality product. They use less quality electronic components in making these cables. This affects the audio quality.
Also, the USB portion of these cables contributes to the reduction in audio quality. This is because USBs are known to have unbalanced audio cables. This means that it has two wires that serve as the main conductors with no earth portion.
When a USB audio cable is unbalanced, it can pick up nearby frequencies and sounds that are not intended to be picked up.
On the other hand, XLR cables on their own produce clearer sound and are known to remove background noise you don’t want to hear. This leaves you with a much clearer sound. This is one of the main reasons millions of people worldwide use XLR cables for live shows, studio soundtracks, and home recordings.
This deficiency in USB cables and the conversion of electrical signals from one format to another is responsible for reducing the quality of audio output in XLR to USB cables.
Does XLR to USB Provide Phantom Power?
Let’s say you own a condenser mic that requires phantom power to operate. Can you use it with an XLR to USB cable? Will the XLR to USB provide phantom power to your condenser mic?
XLR to USB cables on their own do not provide or generate phantom power. However, XLR to USB cables supports the transmission of phantom power. This means XLR to USB will carry phantom power to a condenser if they are connected to a device that provides phantom power.
Condenser mics, unlike dynamic mics, require 48V of phantom power to work. Without a supply of phantom power to your condenser mic, they will not operate.
For this reason, many audio interfaces and mixing consoles have a built-in phantom power to help power condenser mics.
XLR to USB cables, however, don’t provide phantom power on their own. This is why they only work with dynamic microphones. This means you cannot use these cables independently to power XLR condenser microphones.
I highly recommend you continue reading. That’s because I’ll show you the recommended ways as well as devices that can help you plug a condenser mic directly into your computer and record.
Best XLR to USB Cables
There are a number of XLR to USB cables that can help you plug your XLR microphone directly into your computer and record. Although the market has been saturated with poorly built cables and electronics, there are great cables you can go in for.
Even though an XLR to USB has the potential to reduce the quality of your audio quality, this largely depends on the quality of the XLR to USB cable you use. Good quality cables will produce a clean signal, while cheap ones will produce low-quality signals and recordings.
A good audio cable should maintain the proper electronic signal through the cable to ensure audio quality. Let’s look at the best XLR to USB cables available on the market.
Hosongin XLR to USB Cable
Hosongin XLR to USB Cable (on Amazon) is, without doubt, the best XLR to USB cable on the market. It is designed with the best and high-quality wiring, with a heavy-duty alloy metal connector, and can produce high-quality conversion. This helps it to deliver the best electronic signal conversion between XLR and USB.
This cable is designed to have a USB male to XLR female mic connector cord for microphones or recording. Amazingly, the Hosongin cable comes with an 18-months after-sales quality assurance.
Comica Audio XLR to USB Type C
The Comica Audio XLR to USB cable (also on Amazon) is also a great option to go in for when selecting an XLR to USB cable. However, unlike the Hosongin cable, this cable is terminated with a USB Type C on one end and a female XLR connector on the other.
It is designed for dynamic or battery-powered mics and enables you to record on an XLR microphone to an android device or a computer. If you use one of the newer Macbook Pro models that exclusively use USB-C for your recording, you should go in for the Comica cable.
How To Provide Phantom Power for XLR Condenser Mics
There are XLR condenser mics and USB condenser mics on the market. XLR condenser mics require phantom power of 48v to function. However, USB condenser mics are different. USB condenser mics require only a small amount of voltage which they draw directly from their USB connection or cable.
XLR Condenser mics require external electricity to function. These mics require phantom power of 48 volts to work. Due to this, using an XLR to USB cable alone will not be enough to activate your condenser mic in the first place.
In order to provide the required amount of power for an XLR condenser microphone when recording, you need to use an audio device that has phantom power capabilities and the option for USB output. Let’s look at some of the ways we can provide phantom power to drive condenser microphones.
XLR To USB Adaptor
An XLR to USB adaptor is a great way to directly record onto your computer if you have a microphone that requires phantom power. This device can produce phantom power and enables you to connect a condenser microphone directly to a computer via the USB port for recording.
XLR to USB adaptors can convert the analog signal from an XLR device such as a microphone into a digital signal that your computer can understand. These devices can be used with a condenser microphone. Connecting the adapter to an XLR condenser mic and to your computer’s USB port is all you need to start recording.
Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter
The Shure X2U XLR to USB Adapter (on Amazon) is undoubtedly the best choice when it comes to XLR to USB adapters. It is a good adapter that bridges the gap between a basic converter and a full-blown professional audio interface. It has a great feel to it and has additional features built over a simple XLR to USB cable.
These features include a +48V phantom power switch built right in. Another great feature that this device comes with is a preamp gain knob. Unlike the fixed mic gain on XLR to USB cable, the Shure X2U adapter provides you with a mic gain to boost your microphone signal to a level you prefer.
It also comes with a monitor mix control that can mix audio playback from your computer. It is portable but has a high build quality, which makes it feel heavy. It has a locking XLR connector and a headphone jack with volume control.
USB Audio Mixer
A USB mixer is a box that has one or more USB ports that enables you to play and record audio directly into your computer. It converts the analog signal from your mixing process into digital to be read by your computer and its recording software.
It is designed to function just like a normal mixer board, and its capable of generating the phantom voltage needed to power condenser microphones. It can mix multiple audio sources together, balance them out, and add different effects to sound to create your desired sounding audio track. This can be used to power a USB condenser microphone.
A USB mixer is a great way to connect your XLR microphone to your computer. To use a USB mixer, just plug it directly into your computer’s USB port. Afterward, connect your XLR condenser mic to the mixer using an XLR cable.
Audio interfaces come in many sizes, shapes, and formats. However, they are usually small rectangular devices that convert microphone and instrument signals into a format your computer and software recognize. Virtually all audio interfaces have a phantom power switch, so they can work with any kind of microphone.
It is designed with ports to route audio from your computer out to your headphones and studio monitors. Most interfaces can be connected to your computer via USB cables. On the back of the interface, there will be a USB, thunderbolt, or firewire port which you can use to connect your interface to your computer.
If your interface requires an external power supply, don’t forget to plug it in. next, connect the XLR cable to your condenser microphone and then plug the other end of the cable directly into the microphone input on your interface.
XLR to USB cable work effectively with dynamic microphones. This type of cable is a useful and cheap alternative that enables you to record using a dynamic microphone without the need for an audio interface. If you want to record with an XLR to USB cable with minimal fuss and good audio output, you should choose a quality XLR to USB cable.