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XLR vs. 1/4" Mixer Outputs?
#3051412 06/27/20 11:14 PM
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I am in the market for a small form unpowered mixer. I play in a trio and use two powered speakers for our PA. I have been looking at mixers like the Yamaha MG10XU and similarly priced ones but my choices are limited IF I stick to those with only XLR outputs so that I don't have to buy new cables to connect my powered speakers with. I am a keyboardist and not so well versed on PA "things". Can anyone advise me on the difference between XLR and 1/4" outputs on a mixer? I do have a couple of XLR to 1/4" adapters that I could adapt my mic-type cables to so that they would connect to the powered speakers from the mixer, which would open up my options for many types of mixers that would work for my budget and needs. I don't know if I would be compromising quality or opening up for more noise, interference, etc if I went with the 1/4" output mixer and adapters.
By the way, the powered speakers (2) are usually never more than 20 ft or so from the mixer.


Kurzweil Artis 7 (2)
Alto TS312 Powered Speaker
Samson 6 channel mixer
Re: XLR vs. 1/4" Mixer Outputs?
rockinroller #3051420 06/27/20 11:52 PM
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There are two kinds of 1/4" cables used on small mixers - balanced and unbalanced. XLR IO is balanced. Balanced inputs and outputs have better noise rejection, particularly over long distances. A balanced 1/4" jack and a balanced XLR jack are almost interchangeable. There is one functional difference (beside the obvious physical one)

The primary difference is what happens when plugging or unplugging the cable. With an XLR cable, all pins are individually connected, and there is no shorting of pins as a result. With a 1/4" plug, there is a brief moment where the contacts of the jack sweep across the inserted plug and cause a momentary short. This is the "thump" you hear when pulling cables or pushing them in. You can, of course, avoid this by cabling the jacks before powering them on, etc.

Small mixers typically use 1/4" outs to save space and possibly cost. But usually space. If the 1/4" outputs of your mixer are balanced, your adapters will work fine. (The dirty secret is that for 20', they'll work fine anyway even if it is unbalanced).

The consideration for gigging is those adapters are now critical to your rig. You forget one, one goes bad.... no sound. I'd add them to your spares kit. But a pair of cables to serve as your 'mains" wouldn't cost a whole lot either and you could have them terminated however you needed - 1/4" one end, XLR the other, or whatever you need.

In the end, you'll just have to decide what seems best, spend a little more on a mixer, spend less on mixer, more on cable, or less on mixer and use adapters.

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Re: XLR vs. 1/4" Mixer Outputs?
Nathanael_I #3051426 06/28/20 12:12 AM
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Thanks! It sounds like the 1/4" with balanced outs on some of the mixers I'm considering would result in no noticeable deterioration in sound. And I NEVER turn either the powered speakers on or the mixer before everything's connected anyway, so good there. Thanks for the advice!


Kurzweil Artis 7 (2)
Alto TS312 Powered Speaker
Samson 6 channel mixer
Re: XLR vs. 1/4" Mixer Outputs?
rockinroller #3051437 06/28/20 01:36 AM
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To add to Nathaniel's post, most small format mixers with 1/4" output jacks (whether or not there are also XLRs) are TRS (two conductors plus shield, just like an XLR) jacks, which provide a balanced output to a TRS plug, but work equally well as an unbalanced output if you use a single conductor shielded cable with a "guitar" style plug. On some mixers, both pins 2 and 3 of the XLR are driven, which gets you 6 dB more output level (which translates to headroom in the system) than with the 1/4" outputs.

Adapters between XLR and 1/4" connectors are inexpensive, but in order to take best advantage of the mixer's outputs, you need to pick the right kind. You want ones with the TRS plug. And especially, you don't want the adapters with a transformer. They're designed to connect a microphone to a high impedance input.


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