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Do XLR to 3.5mm adapters degrade quality?

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Miguel Sotto
Do XLR to 3.5mm adapters degrade quality?
on Mar 20, 2013 at 12:51:14 pm

I'm new to this site so forgive me if I'm misusing the forum.

I'm planning on buying a Zoom H2n for audio work that I use for school projects as well as freelance videography work. My budget is really tight since I'm a student-- not a full fledged professional, so the Zoom H2n is pretty much the max I can afford at the moment.

I thought about this because I recently came across a video on Youtube from Peter Gregg testing out a Zoom H2 plugged right into the camera (D800). Levels were turned all the way down to one notch above off, and gain was increased on the recorder itself (similar to the Juicedlink concept). It sounded really good IMHO. Better than the Audio Technica 2020 with Juiced Link RM 333. So It had me thinking if I can use the H2n as a preamp.

The H2n has a 3.5mm mic input, and I was thinking if eventually in the future I save up enough to get a decent XLR boom mic, I can attach it to the H2n via an adapter, then the H2n to my camera. My only issue is, will the conversion from XLR to 3.5mm degrade the quality in any way? What if the mini-jack cable is really short will it be better?

Again, I know recording straight into a DLSR is not the best option, but if I turn the levels way down on my camera and increase the gain through the H2n it might just sound good enough for the type of work that I do. The H4n is a bit out of my budget, it'll be a real struggle affording the H2n in fact. I just want assurance that the H2n is a worthy investment on my part, by knowing that I can attach XLR mics to it in the future and it'll give me decent sound.


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Andrew Rendell
Re: Do XLR to 3.5mm adapters degrade quality?
on Mar 21, 2013 at 1:51:28 pm

Well, much as the H2n looks like an interesting device for some uses, the tech spec for the mic input in the manual says this:
Line/mic stereo mini jack can supply plug-in power
2 kΩ impedance at input levels of 0 to –39 dBm


That's not directly compatible with a balanced XLR microphone, so a simple XLR to mini jack cable won't give you the results you need without a more sophisticated adapter.


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Miguel Sotto
Re: Do XLR to 3.5mm adapters degrade quality?
on Mar 22, 2013 at 2:29:55 pm

what about if my XLR mic doesn't require phantom power? what if it has its own power source? will this still be an issue?


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Andrew Rendell
Re: Do XLR to 3.5mm adapters degrade quality?
on Mar 23, 2013 at 3:54:14 pm

Power isn't the issue, professional microphones use balanced wiring
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balanced_audio

That's a different way of connecting audio than having a stereo jack carrying a left channel and a right channel.

It is possible to "unbalance" a balanced microphone signal, but then you'll have problems with noise, with altered frequency response due to impedance not matching the microphone's design and with the gain available to you not being in the correct range for the level the microphone would be giving you.

Sorry, it's a bit more complicated than you might have been expecting.

There are ways around the balanced/unbalanced mismatch but they require the application of some money.


(Aside: it is possible to fabricate useful bits and pieces like balancing/ unbalancing and level correcting circuits quite cheaply if you're already a soldering hobbyist with some experience in audio circuits, but I really wouldn't recommend it to a beginner, there is too much that can go wrong).


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Richard Crowley
Re: Do XLR to 3.5mm adapters degrade quality?
on Mar 22, 2013 at 6:07:45 am

The connector itself does NOT "degrade quality".

HOWEVER, the type of connector is highly indicative of what kind of circuit is inside AFTER the connector. As Mr. Rendell demonstrates, the kinds of equipment which use 3.5mm phone plugs for mic input have different (typically lower-quality, lower-gain, higher-noise, higher-distortion) mic input preamps.


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