XLR and DMX cables have a bit of overlap and it can be difficult to keep the two separate. The short answer is that XLR is used for audio while DMX is used for lighting. Both cables use the same kind of connectors and look the same on the outside, there are differences on the inside. There is a little bit of cross-functionality, but XLR and DMX should not be interchanged unless users find themselves in a desperate situation.
Are DMX and XLR Connectors the Same?
Whereas DMX refers to something specific, “XLR” is more of a catch-all term. It can refer to an XLR cable, XLR connector, or even audio cables in general. Oftentimes, microphone cables are referred to as XLR even if they may feature another kind of audio connection as well. DMX cables do use XLR connectors, but their specialized use has given them their own name as well. Users unfamiliar with all the different XLR options may need to clarify exactly what “XLR” means when they hear the term used.
XLR cables are used with professional audio equipment, such as microphones, mixers, amplifiers, and soundboards. While there are a few different varieties of XLR connectors out there, the most common is the 3-pin version. Each pin is used for positive, negative, and a ground, respectively. If more pins are needed for additional signals, XLR connectors with more than 3 pins may be used instead.
“Pinout” is a term describing how an electrical cable is wired. Some cables do not have pinouts because they only contain a single internal wire, like coax cables. But if a cable has multiple pins on the end of the cable, it will have a pinout.
Each type of multi-pin cable has a standard pinout or two, but these layouts are not set in stone. Some machines will require non-standard pinouts; this will require users to use a custom cable.
Pinouts also come into play when using a cable with two different ends. For example, going from DB9 (9 pins) to DB25 (25 pins) will mean the DB25 side has 16 unused, “dead” pins.
If you need to know what pinout a cable needs, ideally there will be a spec sheet handy showing it. The next best option is contacting the manufacturer of the equipment the cable will be used with to see if they have a spec sheet available. If you have a cable tester available, that can be used to see how the pins line up. As a last resort, a cable can also be cut open to verify the pinout.
In the guide below, we will be highlighting the standard pinout configuration for common types of multi-pin cables.
Ethernet uses two main pinouts, straight and crossover. Straight cables are used to connect computers to other devices, like modems and routers. Crossover cables are used to connect two computers directly. The wires inside ethernet cables are color-coded to industry standards, making it easy to follow the standard pinout options.
Audio and video cables go hand-in-hand, often being paired together. Some cables can even transmit audio and video on just one line. Over time a lot of new audio and video cables have been introduced, so the cable you need will often depend on the age of the equipment you are using. Most TVs, computers, and other devices can use multiple types of audio and video connections, so it is good to be able to identify them and know your options.
Audio-only cables include:
- Optical Toslink
Video-only cables include:
Audio/video cables include:
3.5mm, also called ⅛” cables, is one of the most common audio cables. They are sometimes called “headphone jacks”, being the type of connection used for headphones. These ports are frequently found on cell phones, computers, and televisions.
There are a few different versions of 3.5mm: TS, TRS, and TRRS. TS cables will have one ring, dividing the metal sections into two conductors and are most often used for mono connections like microphones. TRS has two rings to give it three conductors, allowing them to be used for stereo connections such as speakers. TRRS has three rings for four conductors to support stereo aud