XLR to USB adapters are a common sight in studios and live sound venues. They allow you to plug your XLR microphone or XLR guitar cable into a computer for recording, without having to buy an XLR-USB converter. However, there is some question about whether these adapters will reduce sound quality when compared with straight XLR cables. In this article, we will look at the science of how XLRs work, and what effects they have on audio signals going through them.
What is an XLR to USB adapter
An XLR to USB adapter also called an “XLR breakout cable” or “audio breakout cable”, is a 3.5mm male-to-female adapter that splits an XLR input into multiple outputs as well as converts from analog audio to digital. These adapters are crucial for any professional sound-based work such as live commentary, voiceover recording, or podcasting. There are plenty of adapters on the market that can do this conversion. These adapters usually come in two possible flavors: balanced, and unbalanced/single-ended. The difference between these flavors lies with how they transmit interference across their connections; balanced requires significantly more power than unbalanced due to its multiple pins in both connectors
How does XLR to USB adapter work
XLR to USB adapters are used to convert signals from balanced audio or unbalanced audio XLR connections to USB.
XLR-USB adapters extract the electrical signal which is otherwise only available inside the transmitter, by connecting one’s outputs via an XLR cable and simply converting it into PCM data for use with digital equipment. These converters work well if the input signal is already digital – that is, if it starts out as PCM data within the microphone or preamp. This then makes this sound mixer phono preamp converter easy enough for anyone even without much technical knowledge.
Why would you use an XLR to USB adapter
The XLR to USB adapter can convert an analogue audio signal from an XLR jack to a digital audio signal that can be compatible with computers. It also has two sets of stereo headphones output jacks that are perfect for mixing or previewing sounds. Some possible uses include plugging in studio equipment, being able to have microphones plugged in, mixers also provide high-quality HD sound through the USB port making it easier than ever before.
How can using an XLR to USB Adapter reduce the quality
The USB port delivers only a nominal amount of power to the XLR cable, and this low level of power can lead to quality problems with the audio transmission. The traditional analog audio connection is an unbalanced signal that requires very little voltage to operate. Unbalanced connections are susceptible to interference induced from nearby sources such as personal computers and other digital devices. This is not the case with balanced connections, so XLR-USB adapters must be purchased separately or purchased at a premium cost.
The levels of the audio may be altered when they are digitized, so if this type of adapter is used, it’s important to keep all settings at 100% in any software system that may be used with the adapter and in any computer playback system. When using an XLR to USB Adapter, I would advise listening through in-ear monitors for a more controlled sound and to avoid any acoustic feedback.
In any situation where a cable has more than two correct cable ports, you can usually conclude with some certainty that one of those cables will cause a downgrade in the signal passing through it. This rule does not apply if both cables are going across 2 different types of hardware, but if anything sounds wrong when using an adapter, stop and do your own research before proceeding.
The benefits of using a professional audio interface instead of an XLR to USB adapter
XLR to USB adapter cables are a cheaper solution. But these devices don’t have the proper circuitry to keep interference out of the audio signal and could cause serious problems for your computer because of noise typically found on stage or in a studio. In contrast, pro-audio quality interfaces have been designed from scratch for this task with specially shielded wiring, powerful shielding around both sides of converters, and outputs that reduce noise from computers and wireless mics.