XLR vs AES/EBU: What’s The Difference? All You Need to Know!

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Two different cables that come with the same type of connector are XLR and AES/EBU cables. With these two cables looking virtually the same, what is the real difference between them? I will talk about this and more in this article.  

The main difference between XLR and AES/EBU cables can be found in the type of signal they transmit. XLR cables are designed to send analog audio signals whiles AES/EBU cables are used to send digital signals.

Why Both Analog and AES/EBU Cables Have XLR Connectors

The main reason why XLR and AES/EBU cables are often confused with one another is that both cables have the same type of connector. To put it simply, all AES/EBU and XLR audio cables have three-pin XLR connectors

If you are reading this article, then I’m sure you are eager to find out why both cables have the same connector type if they are made for different purposes. The answer to this question is simple.

All AES/EBU and analog XLR audio cables have three-pin XLR connectors because XLR was the main standard for audio cables when AES/EBU cables were developed.

The purpose of the development of AES/EBU cables was to create a standard for the transmission of digital audio signals between audio devices. All of these audio devices were already fitted with XLR connectors. These XLR sockets were and are readily available, easy to use, reliable, and safe.

Thus, fitting XLR connectors on AES/EBU cables made it easy to connect these audio devices together. Using a different type of standard connector for these cables would defeat the purpose of creating a standard audio cable.

Building AES/EBU cables to have XLR connectors at the ends also allowed the cables to be made to the standard of shielding and balancing in audio cables, which is very convenient for all manufacturers.

It is for these reasons, most audio cables are fitted with XLR cables, regardless of what they are used for. Therefore, XLR is bound to remain the general audio cable standard for most professional audio applications for the foreseeable future.

However, with that said, not all AES/EBU cables have an XLR connector. All balanced versions of this cable are equipped with XLR connectors. There are unbalanced AES/EBU cables that usually have a single-pin BNC connector instead of an XLR connector.

Though some AES/EBU cables have BNC connectors at their ends, it is far more common to use AES/EBU cables with XLR connectors, as XLR sockets are the international standard for audio equipment.

Similarities Between XLR and AES/EBU Cables

XLR cables and AES/EBU cables are similar in several ways. These similarities make it challenging to distinguish them from each other. It is not surprising then that most people fail to do so.

As you may already know, the main similarity between XLR and AES/EBU cables is that they both come with XLR connectors at their ends.

Apart from having XLR connectors at their ends, both XLR and AES/EBU cables are balanced audio cables that are shielded and come with twisted cores. The fact that these two cable types are shielded is very important in the preservation of their audio signal integrity. To learn more about it, read this article titled ”Are XLR Cables Shielded

The great thing about these audio cables is that both of these cables can be used in live and studio environments.

Differences Between XLR and AES/EBU Cables

Due to how they have been designed to function, there are quite a number of differences between XLR and AES/EBU cables. There is a need to understand these differences so that going forward, you will fully appreciate these cables when using them. Therefore, I am going to write extensively on these differences here.

The main difference between XLR and AES/EBU cables lies in the type of audio signal they carry. XLR audio cables are made for sending analog audio whiles AES/EBU cables are meant for digital audio.

What most people do not know is that, even though these cables appear the same externally, they have very different internal components. This difference in their internal composition can be attributed to the fact that analog and digital signals are very different.

Thus, XLR and AES/EBU cables are built to effectively maximize the transmission of their respective signals. Due to the difference in their internal components, the signal capacity and resistance of their internal wires are not the same as well.

Standard analog XLR cables have an impedance of about 45 Ohms and usually transmit audio in the range of around 100kHz. The signal capacity of these cables is somewhat fixed, and they do not usually do well with a signal that is significantly outside of this typical range.

On the other hand, AES/EBU cables also have an impedance of 110 Ohms in a balanced configuration and 75 Ohms in an unbalanced configuration.

In addition to this, AES/EBU cables, have a much higher signal capacity than traditional XLR, as they are designed to send significantly larger amounts of signal. These AES/EBU cables have a capacity range of 0.5MHz – 30MHz. That is why a significantly higher amount of data is transferred digitally compared to an analog signal.

Are XLR and AES/EBU Cables Interchangeable?

Due to the fact that these two cables are similar in many regards, many people question whether they can be used interchangeably, or whether they can be used for the same purposes. What do you think? Are XLR and AES/EBU cables interchangeable? Here is my take on the subject.

The answer to this is not as straightforward as it may seem. The truth is, if necessary, you can use AES/EBU cables in place of XLR microphone cables. However, you should never use XLR microphones in place of AES/EBU cables.

Using a standard XLR microphone cable to transmit AES/EBU digital signal will result in unexpected problems. Some of these problems include; a reduction in signal quality or signal transmission difficulty.

For this reason, if you use an XLR cable in place of an AES/EBU cable, the signal may reach the intended location. However, this signal will be very weak, with the signal quality being extremely low due to the lower signal capacity of the cable. All these mean that the signal may fail altogether.

These problems can be attributed to the fact that XLR microphone cables have a lower signal capacity and impedance than AES/EBU cables. Therefore, it is not a good idea to use XLR microphone cables to run digital signals.

Even though XLR microphones cannot work efficiently as AES/EBU cables, you can use your AES/EBU cables as XLR microphone cables. This is because, AES/EBU cables are faster, and have a much larger signal capacity than XLR.

The signal capacity of AES/EBU cables is within the spectrum of analog signals and can carry the same current required to transmit the signal. Due to this, some audiophiles prefer using AES/EBU cables exclusively rather than XLR cables, as the higher signal capacity can result in better audio quality overall.

In fact, AES/EBU cables are being used for both digital and analog wiring in many new studios.


XLR and AES/EBU cables are similar in several ways, but it is critical to learn their differences to get the most from them. AES/EBU cables can carry both analog and digital audio signals. However, XLR microphone cables can carry only analog audio signals. Therefore, you should never use your XLR microphone cables in place of AES/EBU cables.

It is important to label your cables if you use both XLR and AES/EBU cables in your line of work. This will ensure that you do not mix them up.