1. Technology

How To Wire an XLR Cable

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Microphone cables -- or XLR cables, as they're commonly called -- are one of the most common cables you'll see in the audio world. Every stage and recording studio in the world uses XLR cables, and most semi-professional and better recording devices use XLR connectors. Buying XLR cables, especially high-quality ones, can get expensive. With a steady hand, some cheap supplies, and this guide, you can easily (and cheaply) make your own.

One warning: if you've never soldered before, get a little practice in before trying to make cables. It's not too hard, but if you're unprepared, you may injure yourself.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: About 20 minutes per cable

Here's How:

  1. First, acquire the necessary parts. You'll need:

    - One XLR-Male connector.
    - One XLR Female connector.
    - One three-conductor, shielded cable -- length of your preference.
    - Soldering iron, solder, and a clean worksurface.
    - Wire cutter/stripper.


    The quality of the connectors and cable is up to you, and, of course, your budget. There's some really high-quality silver three-conductor cable you can use to build mic cables; it's also very popular to make microphone cable from "military spec" cable. Again, it's up to you and your budget what you wish to use. Even the cheaper ones work fine.
  2. While your soldering iron is warming up, strip both ends of the microphone cable. You'll want to leave about a quarter-inch of cable on each conductor. It's also a good time to take the back half of your XLR connectors apart, and slide the covers over the cable. You'll solder the connecting end, and then slide the cover up from the cable itself and fasten it together.
  3. Now, take your warmed-up soldering iron and expose about four inches of solder. With the solder and the tip of your iron, deposit a few drops of solder on the exposed ends of each cable. This allows you to build up a nice base of solder which you'll use to fasten the wires to the actual connector.
  4. On each side of the cable, identify which cables you wish to use for each function. An XLR cable uses three connectors: positive, negative, and ground. On the male end, pin 1 is ground, pin 2 is positive, and pin 3 is negative. Take note of which cables you choose for each pin, as you'll need to match them up on the other side. On the female XLR, pins one and two are reversed in location, but attach them as normal.
  5. Solder your cables into their proper pin positions. Give the solder a few moments to cure, and then assemble the XLR barrels onto the connectors.
  6. Test your cable. If it works, congratulations! You've just made yourself an XLR cable, and probably saved yourself at least $15-$20.

    If your cable doesn't work, first, check your soldering. If you didn't solder your connections properly, you won't be getting signal. Second, make sure your wires were properly cut, stripped, and prepared. If you left too little cable on the end, you may not be making firm enough contact.

Tips:

  1. Practice your soldering first! Making cables isn't too hard, but if you practice soldering before you're making a cable you need to use, you'll be closer to success. Soldering takes a steady hand and a lot of patience. Make sure you buy high-quality solder, as well. Soldering irons are very hot, and can easily burn you or anything around you -- just ask my MacBook that suffered an injury after I set a soldering iron down on it!
  2. Cable quality does matter, but the differences between the most expensive cable is arguably a matter of taste. Don't feel like you need to overspend on your raw cable. Middle-of-the-road cable, even "Military-spec" cable, can be had relatively cheaply.
  3. Always test your cables before you use them in a critical project.

What You Need

  • Soldering Iron
  • Solder
  • XLR Connectors (Male and Female)
  • Three-conductor cable

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