RCA versus XLR interconnects

For short distances (less than 3 ft) which is better, RCA or XLR for interconnects (source to preamp and preamp to amp)?  I know the XLR's are balanced but it seems like that only helps with longer distances.   


XLR cables are not balanced. Your components are balanced (or not) and the XLR cables are used to connect them. At three feet lengths I doubt most folks could tell the difference IF the wire used in them was the same. Personally I like XLR cables connectors, they don't pull out accidentally which can cause pops and blow out speakers.

Unfortunately it depends.

It depends on the components. It would be really helpful to know what your system is. There is a place to put photos and ID your components under your virtual system (To the right of Audiogon Discussion at the top is a downward pointed triangle). That would help enormously.


It sounds like @newbee is being pedantic. Yes XLR cables are balanced cables.

Typically, I find the quality of the interconnects are more important than whether they are single ended or balanced. Balanced are a bit louder… but this difference is not likely to net you a performance gain.


There is the theoretical best match, which is if your components are designed with an internal balanced configuration… then using balanced interconnects may sound better. But, they may sound the same. My equipment is full balanced, but using single ended interconnects sounded virtually the same.

Many good quality interconnects cost nearly twice as much as their single ended counterparts. If true, then you may achieve better sound using higher quality single ended interconnects.


The broader picture is that the industry is slowly moving , more and more toward XLR… so that is a better long termed investment. [I have high quality interconnects that are 40 years old… they are great to have when you upgrade your system] I finally converted to all balanced interconnects a few years ago… ~$12K. Did I hear a difference? No. But peace of mind.

ghdprentice, Pedantic, perhaps, but some manufacturers put xlr inputs and outputs on components which are not truly balanced. Merely attaching xlr cables to them does not make a balanced circuit. For edification you might google Balanced (XLR) and Unbalanced (cinch)connections by Christiaan Punter owner of HIFI Advise. At the risk of adding redundancy to pedantic, the difference between a 1 meter cable will, except in rare circumstances,  be differences in the effect of the connectors and wires used. Both of which would IMHO dwarf any differences caused by the noise isolation benefits of an balanced XLR cable. Your turn. :-)

If you have balanced equipment then XLR is the way to go. I have SPL, Gold Note PA-10 and they are balanced. 

OCD hi fi guy just did a video on balanced vs RCA



Listen to @ghdprentice.  He speaks the truth. XLR work on a higher voltage and will give you a slight increase in volume, but for a one meter IC, I doubt either of us will hear any other details.

All the best.


... I find the quality of the interconnects are more important than whether they are single ended or balanced. Balanced are a bit louder… but this difference is not likely to net you a performance gain.

It really depends on the design of the equipment. For differentially balanced components that are AES48 compliant, there should be no volume difference between single-ended and balanced. But many differentially balanced components do not observe the AES48 standard, such as most (if not all) ARC amplifiers. In that case, you get 6 dB more gain using the balanced connection. Or, if you prefer, you can look at it as a 6dB improvement in S/N.


The video was very helpful. To have a truly balanced component, it needs to have 2 completely identical circuits that are out of phase (full deferential). OCD HiFi Guy also said true balanced components do not have RCA connectors, only XLR. 

My source is an Eversolo DMP-A6 which at $850 most likely is not balanced even though it has XLR outputs. My preamp and amp are MacIntosh C2300 and MC 302. While they are more expensive, I am doubtful they are fully deferential, and they both have RCA connectors. 

I will, however, call the companies and report back. At the end of the day, it doesn't sound like XLR versus RCA for my system will make a significant difference.  


... To have a truly balanced component, it needs to have 2 completely identical circuits that are out of phase (full deferential) ...

That isn’t really correct and the guy who told you that doesn’t know how op-amps work.

OCD HiFi Guy also said true balanced components do not have RCA connectors, only XLR.

OCD HiFi guy is completely wrong. It isn’t the connector that establishes whether an amplifier is differentially balanced, it’s the circuitry. As an example, consider ARC’s series of Reference Phono preamps. Fully differentially balanced; inputs are RCAs only.

Got a amazingly fast reply from MacIntosh:

"The 2300 preamplifier circuitry, XLR’s are converted from bal-unbal on the way in and unbal-bal on the way out.

Converting involves a single op-Amp of added circuitry. While added circuitry does add noise to a signal,

XLR connections cancel any noise induced along the cable, which will be infinitely more than the noise created by the single op amp.

The MC302 Amp is differential."


IMO, purists would probably only accept full differential with identical circuits. Op-Amp converts to a balance signal on the way out but does not preserve balance circuitry in the component. In any case, except for the uber high-end (which is not my system), it probably doesn't make much of a difference except of some DB gain for XLR's. @ghdprentice advice that the quality of the interconnect matters more than whether it's XLR versus RCA makes sense, at least at my level. 

all my electronics are Ayre....differentially balanced...hace all xlr cables including phono input....dead quiet even at full volume.

  1. Balanced vs. Unbalanced: XLR cables are balanced, while RCA cables are unbalanced. Balanced cables have an advantage in rejecting interference and noise over longer distances, but for short runs (less than 3 feet), the difference in noise rejection may not be very noticeable.

  2. Equipment Compatibility: Consider the compatibility of your audio equipment. Some devices only have RCA connections, while others have both RCA and XLR inputs/outputs. Ensure your equipment can support the type of cables you plan to use.

  3. Sound Quality: While XLR cables are generally considered to be of higher quality, the difference in sound quality for short cable runs may not be very significant. The audible difference between RCA and XLR cables is often subjective and may vary depending on the specific components and the overall quality of your audio system.

  4. Cost: XLR cables, especially those of high quality, tend to be more expensive than RCA cables. If you're on a budget and don't require the added benefits of XLR for short distances, RCA cables may be a more cost-effective choice.

  5. Future Expansion: Consider your future plans for your audio system. If you anticipate expanding your setup or adding longer cable runs in the future, investing in XLR cables now may provide more flexibility.

In summary, for short cable runs (less than 3 feet), the choice between RCA and XLR interconnects may not make a significant difference in sound quality, especially if your audio equipment is not very susceptible to interference. Both RCA and XLR cables can work well for these short distances. If your equipment supports both types of connections and you want to future-proof your setup or prioritize the highest possible quality, you may opt for XLR. Otherwise, RCA cables can be a practical and cost-effective choice.

I spoke to more than one designer in the audio industry and believe me very well respected in both cable manufacturing and equipment design and ALL SAID THE SAME THING XLR DOES NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE NOT ONE LITTLE BIT in the sound

XLR cables are balanced, while RCA cables are unbalanced. Balanced cables have an advantage ...

It is the circuit, not the cable, that determines whether a component is balanced. Some differentially balanced components use RCAs on the inputs, such as the ARC Reference Phono preamps. Some components use only XLRs on the inputs and outputs but in fact are single-ended components, and use only two pins of the XLR connector.

Depending on the component design, balanced circuitry can yield 6dB greater output when using the balanced input rather than a single-ended input.


While it is true that a component with XLR inputs probably will not sound different when the component is not differentially balanced (but it is still a much better m/f connector, it absolutely does make a huge difference when the components are true/differentially balanced



So much absolute BS on here lately.

Of course XLR cables make a difference on balanced components.

Anyone who says differently obviously hasn't tried using quality balanced components with good XLR cabling.


I upgraded from a Zesto Andros 1.2 phono stage that only had RCA outputs to a Zesto Andros Deluxe II that has both RCA and XLR output connections. I had been using a 32” Wywires Diamond RCA interconnect on the Andros 1.2 and used the same cable on the Andros Deluxe II for about 3 months. I experienced a significant improvement in sound quality and enjoyment with the upgrade.

The designer of the Zesto equipment, George Counnas, recommended I try an XLR cable from the Deluxe II phono stage to the preamp instead of the RCA cable. I was somewhat skeptical, but he promised me it would be a worthwhile improvement. Because I have found the Wywires Diamond cables to better every other cable I have tried in my system, I purchased a Wywires Diamond XLR cable to replace the Diamond RCA cable.

George was right and I was very surprised at the improvement the XLR cable made. The bass was better defined and more powerful, highs were more extended and airy, the background was quieter, images were better defined, and the overall sound was richer and more dynamic. While not as large an improvement as the upgrade from the Andros 1.2 to the Andros Deluxe II, the change from the RCA cable to the very same model XLR cable was another significant jump in performance. I can’t say this same improvement will hold true for all equipment, but in the case of the Zesto phono stages it certainly does.

My Recording Engineer friend & I always get into this argument and just let him win out of respect to my Elders 😁.

He insists that XLR is only for long runs and recording situations. I totally agree. But I love XLR’s because they are easy to solder (just remember pin 1 is GND) and you can join them together for longer runs in the home situation. I HATE RCA CONNECTOR SOLDERING !!! My entire rig is XLR input to output except for a pair of RCA’s for my TT, another pair that I built for my Headphone Amp’s inputs, and my Atmos Channels.

Also I refuse to mute or turn off equipment just to plug/unplug cables. RCA single ended gives you that nice ’BANG" & "BUZZ" that you don’t get from a properly Balanced XLR circuit.

As Paul McGowan once postulated in one of his earlier YT Video’s. Let’s just do away with RCA altogether just go balanced on everything. Circuit components are dirt cheap nowadays so why not ?

I’ve also chopped off many and old 3 conductor Monster & Audioquest Cable and converted them to XLR use with no issues.

It’s not about sound quality. It’s about convenance. When will "Audiophools" get it through your thick heads ? It’s taken me forever BTW.



Simple answer - Two meters or shorter, use unbalanced (RCA) cables.

The common mode rejection which makes balanced line and mic cables suitable for long distances is not an advantage here. If anything, it is a disadvantage, requiring an additional gain stage to ramp up -10dBm signal to +4, and to invert phase in order to filter cable-borne interference (that's the common mode part: the source component inverts phase, the amplifier inverts it again getting it back to normal, cancelling out interference and noise that could have entered along the length of the cable).

Even better: Unshielded cables. Lower capacitance = greater signal purity than cables with a coaxial shield but still very effectively shielded with twisted pair construction.

Like these: Stager Silver Solids Pure Silver High-End Audio Cables



@eylai777 my biggest take away on XLR vs Balanced is that when I run XLR from DAC/Preamp to AMP's and put my ear up to my tweeter roughly 1" away I here far less hiss/buzz (with XLR I here nothing). This hiss/buzz isn't audible with RCA from my listening position (10' away) but when/if setting up your system and you're wanting everything to be at least "in theory" optimal, I would use XLR all the time, not matter the length of run when possible (my example is with 1m cables, monoblock and dual mono amps and 92dB speakers)

 I've used a puritan 156 with connection cable and still didn't negate this and am presently testing unbalanced to balanced signal conversation options to see if. Also tried HumX at the mains wall AC (helps).

XLR is dead silent for me. I have listened for years and enjoyed my system with RCA, but now use all XLR.

One of the factors that has not been discussed above is the design of the actual connectors

  • XLR conncetors convey the signal via low mass pins - this works much better for the delicate signals involved
  • RCA connectors generally tend to have a relatively low mass signal pin but a much higher mass neutral barrel.
    • This can degrade performance, so an XLR cable may sound better
    • However, more recent RCA designs use low mass pins and as a result they can perform better than their XLR counterparts.
  • also, an XLR cable, having effectively two signal wiires will suffer more distortion that is generated by the insulation on the wires
    • i.e. wires using an insulation with a lower value dielectric constant provide significantly better details, clarity and imaging

If you were to take two very good cables from a single manufacturer - I doubt if you would notice any difference

So, it is not as simple as XLR vs. RCA - it comes down to the cable design i.e.

  • metals used in the wires
  • type of insulation used
  • type of connectors used
  • the geometry of the cable

For more details on this take a look at


Regards - Steve

For what it’s worth, MacIntosh technical advisor said he would use XLR over RCA all the time regardless of the length because of RF interference. 

"It depends" is the most accurate thing I have seen posted yet. 

It depends on if you have any interference problem. Few actually do. 

It depends if you have some ground loop fault you are not fixing and want to band aid. 

It depends on the quality of the execution of the drivers and receivers. Some good, some terrible. 

It depends on how much money the salesman wants to make.

It depends if you have a new Purify/Hypex ilk amp that is by definition a balanced architecture.  Best if the source is also balanced.  Many modern DACs are.  ( and many the DAC is, but the IV is not and a balanced driver is just hung onto it. )

It depends if you feel the need for bragging rights over actual performance.  Even Chord is se at the Qutest level. Balanced is not necessary for most systems according to Mr. Watts. 

If you need boutique cables, It depends if you are a snake oil believer and feel the need to find some magic that Mogami,  Cardas, Belden, or the studios who use miles of said cable do not know. 

If making your own cables, how easy to assemble Cannon vs Amphenol vs various others can be a royal pain.  I am not really a fan of XLR connectors. At audio frequencies, terminal strips can work just fine and are widely used in the field. 

I promised to report back, and here's the reply from Eversolo:



I have an Eversolo DMP-A6 DAC/Streamer.


It has XLR outputs, but I want to know whether the circuitry inside the unit is fully deferential?  In other words, two completely identical circuits out of phase to minimize distortion



Regarding the issue, the answer is yes.



Seems like this budget $850 DAC/Streamer has a full differential circuitry but Jay Iyagi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESZxMDxapm0) suggests it's Op-amp. One can only verify by opening the unit up which I'm not going to do so since it's under warranty. 

Seems like this budget $850 DAC/Streamer has a full differential circuitry but Jay Iyagi ... suggests it’s Op-amp.

You don’t seem to understand balanced differential circuits, which commonly use operational amplifiers. It is not as simple as "two completely identical circuits out of phase to minimize distortion" as you seem to believe.

One can only verify by opening the unit up which I'm not going to do ...

The schematic would be just as helpful.

You’re probably right but I really don’t want to get too much into it either. 

If I have a decent system and tried my best to maximize it (without spending too much time), that’s good enough for me. Rest is for the forum community. Someone may find these posts helpful.