When you decide to upgrade your lighting set-up with a DMX controller, you’re going to need the right cables. And as a quick Google search will tell you, it’s all about two cables: DMX, and XLR cables. Here, we’ll explain the difference between both, and help you decide which one you need when, and where.

What’s The Difference Between DMX and XLR Cables?

Similar but Different

Take a look at both a DMX and an XLR cable and you’ll notice that they look exactly the same. Both come fitted with XLR plugs, which allow the cables to carry multiple signals, whether they’re made for audio for lighting gear. But this is also where the difference between the two types of cables pops up: resistance. XLR cables have a 75 Ohm resistance and are suitable for audio signals, while DMX cables sit at 110-120 Ohms and are better equipped to handle lighting equipment. In practice, an XLR cable will do for the smaller and simpler jobs. But, if you’re aiming for a more extensive rig, we definitely recommend you use DMX cables.

Why DMX Cables?

Basically, by going for a DMX cable, you’re going for reliability. Like we said, it is possible to use XLR cables for lighting setups, but you will run the risk of signal interference, causing some lights to take matters into their own hands, while other units will simply continue to perform like they were programmed to. While this is unlikely to happen to two pars suspended above a DJ booth, the chance of interference increase when more fixtures are used. Another important thing to keep in mind is the distance between the controller and the lights. The larger the distance, the higher the risk of a bad signal. To answer the question, this can be prevented by using a DMX cable.

3-Pin or 5-Pin?

The DMX cable is originally a 5-pin cable so we’re going to say 5-pin. On other hand, lighting manufacturers have been increasingly using 3-pin sockets and plugs, while big theatre productions and other professional events continue to use 5-pin cables due to their higher data-carrying capacity. A 3-pin DMX connector consists of an earthing pin plus a positive and a negative data pin, while its 5-pin counterpart boasts two extra data pins. Which one you need, depends mostly on the gear you’re looking to hook up.

DMX Cable Accessories

At the end of a daisy-chain of lights, you’re left with an open signal and, to close it, you can use a Terminator: an XLR plug with a 110-120 Ohm resistor soldered in. Also, to make sure the last light in the series ends up with a strong-enough signal, you could drop in a DMX booster/splitter. For specialists, or more ambitious amateurs that want to go all the way, it’s even worth considering crafting their own custom-length, custom-plug cables.

If you’ve had to overcome any interruptions in your signal before, or have some handy tips to share, then please leave them in the comments below!

See also

» Lighting & Special Effects
» Stage Lighting: What’s The Right Lighting For You?
» The Ideal DJ Lighting Setup

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