What Do Microphones Plug Into? (Full List Of Mic Connections)


A microphone is an important transducer that converts sound waves into audio signals. However, microphones need to plug into mixers/recorders, and, ultimately a playback system in order to be heard and truly enjoyed by the listener.

What do microphones plug into? Microphones typically plug into mic preamplifiers (which can be standalone devices or built into mixers, recorders, interfaces, etc.). However, mics can plug into any audio input with the proper connection.

In this article, we’ll go through a full list of microphone connectors and an extensive list of the devices that microphones connect to.


Full List Of Microphone Connections

Before we start, let’s list out all the microphone connectors on the market.

In the following paragraphs, I’ll describe each of these connections in a bit more detail before moving on to the inputs that microphone plug into.


DIN And AES Standards

But first, let’s look at the industry standards in the world today, namely, DIN and AES:

  • DIN = Deutsches Institut für Normung, meaning “German institute for standardization”
  • AES = Audio Engineering Society

DIN

DIN Standards are the results of work at national, European and/or international level. Although anyone can submit a proposal for a new standard, the standards are ultimately developed with full consensus of technology experts.

DIN standards do not only apply to audio, but to technology in general.

AES

AES standards are developed by audio engineers for audio engineers. This society brings industry leaders and teams together to facilitate new technologies, improve performance and ensure interoperability.

With the help of the AES, the technology and user experience of audio equipment continues to improve while remaining compatible with technology from the past.


XLR

Because the XLR is such an important microphone connector, let’s discuss the history of the XLR a bit.

The XLR was invented by James H. Cannon in the 1940s. His company, Cannon Electric, originally brought the Cannon X series of cables and connectors to the market.

By 1950, Cannon had added a latching mechanism to this connector and called it the Cannon XL.

In 1955, the company introduced a version that insulated the female connector contacts within neoprene (a synthetic rubber polychloroprene), giving it the name Cannon XLR.

An alternative (the XLP) insulated the contacts with hard plastic, but was not nearly as successful.

Cannon had invented the XLR connector, and other companies like Amphenol, Switchcraft, and Neutrik helped to improve upon the design up to the XLR we know today.

So, contrary to what many think, XLR is not an initialism. Rather, it’s simply a product name.

XLR connectors come in a variety of wiring schemes, ranging from 3-pin to 7-pin designs. XLRs can be used for more than just audio, but for the sake of keeping this article focused on microphones, we’ll only discuss their connections and wiring to microphones.

3-Pin XLR Connector

The 3-pin XLR is the most common connection for professional microphones. It carries balanced audio on pins 2 and 3 and has a ground/shield on pin 1.

3-pin XLR connectors

Standard microphone cable:

  • Pin 1: ground/shield.
  • Pin 2: positive polarity mic audio signal.
  • Pin 3: negative polarity mic audio signal.

The XLR carries balanced microphone audio. Pins 2 and 3 carry the same exact signal in opposite polarity. A differential amplifier at the balanced input sums the differences in signal between pins 2 and 3. In doing so, it eliminated any noise common to the two pins.

Balanced Audio Illustration

For more information on balanced microphone audio, check out my article Do Microphones Output Balanced Or Unbalanced Audio?

Phantom power, which is required to power many active ribbon and condenser microphones through the XLR cable, puts +48V DC on pins 2 and 3. This constant and equal voltage does not affect the audio signal but effectively powers the microphone.

To learn more about microphones and phantom power, check out my article What Is Phantom Power And How Does It Work With Microphones?

4-Pin XLR Connector

The 4-pin XLR is used with microphones with the following wiring setups:

4-pin XLR connectors

Intercom headsets (headphones with microphone):

  • Pin 1: microphone ground/shield.
  • Pin 2: unbalanced mic audio signal.
  • Pin 3: headphone ground/shield.
  • Pin 4: unbalanced mono headphone signal.

Microphones with LED indicators (for radio and broadcast)

  • Pin 1: ground/shield.
  • Pin 2: positive polarity audio signal.
  • Pin 3: negative polarity audio signal.
  • Pin 4: LED light.

5-Pin XLR Connector

The 5-pin XLR is used with microphones with the following wiring setups:

5-pin XLR connections

Stereo microphones and some dual-element microphones:

  • Pin 1: common ground/shield.
  • Pin 2: positive polarity audio signal of element 1.
  • Pin 3: negative polarity audio signal of element 1.
  • Pin 4: positive polarity audio signal of element 2.
  • Pin 5: negative polarity audio signal of element 2.

Stereo intercom headsets (headphones with microphone):

  • Pin 1: microphone ground/shield.
  • Pin 2: unbalanced mic audio signal.
  • Pin 3: headphone ground/shield.
  • Pin 4: unbalanced left channel headphone signal.
  • Pin 5: unbalanced right channel headphone signal.

6-Pin XLR Connector

The 6-pin XLR is used with microphones with the following wiring setups:

6-pin XLR connectors

Stereo headset with balanced microphone:

  • Pin 1: microphone ground/shield.
  • Pin 2: positive polarity mic audio signal.
  • Pin 3: negative polarity mic audio signal.
  • Pin 4: headphone ground/shield.
  • Pin 5: unbalanced left channel headphone signal.
  • Pin 6: unbalanced right channel headphone signal.

7-Pin XLR Connector

The 7-pin XLR is sometimes used to power tube microphones. The 7-pin wiring schematics vary from tube mic to tube mic, but all generally have the following setup:

7-pin XLR connections
  • 2 mic signal wires to carry balanced audio.
  • 2 wires to provide DC bias voltage.
  • 2 wires to complete the tube’s heater circuit.
  • 1 ground/shield.

For more info on microphones and XLR connections, check out my article Why Do Microphones Use XLR Cables?


Mini XLR (TQG, TA3, TA4)

Mini XLR (also known as TQG, TA3, or TA4 depending on the number of pins) resembles the typical XLR microphone connection. As the name suggests, the connection is smaller than that of the regular XLR.

TA3 and TA4 connectors

The Mini XLR was developed by Switchcraft. It is a common connection between body/lavalier microphones to wireless transmitters and is even used in some studio microphones.

There are no standards for Mini XLR, though the wiring diagrams often resemble the following:

TA3 (3-pin mini XLR)

  • 1 ground/shield.
  • 1 wire to carry DC bias voltage (to power the impedance converters of electret mics).
  • 1 wire to carry unbalanced audio.

TA4 (4-pin mini XLR)

  • 1 ground/shield.
  • 1 wire to carry DC bias voltage (to power the impedance converters of electret mics).
  • 1 wire to carry unbalanced audio.
  • 1 pin that provides a 20 k Ohm resistor between power and the mic input.

TS

TS or Tip-Sleeve connections are used to carry unbalanced audio in consumer-grade microphones. The pins are as follows:

1/4″ TS connector
  • Tip: unbalanced mic audio signal.
  • Sleeve: ground/shield.

TS connections come in a variety of sizes, though the main sizes are 1/8″ and 1/4″ diameters.


TRS

TRS or Tip-Ring-Sleeve connections carry balanced audio in some microphones. The TRS connection is not nearly as popular as the XLR and min-XLR connections mentioned above. The pins of TRS are as follows:

1/4″ TRS connector
  • Tip: positive polarity mic audio signal.
  • Ring: negative polarity mic audio signal.
  • Sleeve: ground/shield.

Like the TS connector, TRS comes in a variety of sizes but is typically found in 1/8″ or 1/4″ diameter.


TRRS

TRRS is commonly used in headsets (microphone and headphone combos) or in microphones designed to connect to headphone jacks (like in smartphones and computers).

1/8″ TRRS connectors

There are no sets standards for TRRS connections. Let’s go over a few combinations we typically see:

CTIA standard TRRS:

  • Tip: Audio (left)
  • Ring: Audio (right)
  • Ring: Ground
  • Sleeve: Microphone

OMTP standard TRRS:

  • Tip: Audio (left)
  • Ring: Audio (right)
  • Ring: Microphone
  • Sleeve: Ground

The 3.5mm TRS and TRRS jacks are typically referred to as headphone jacks or auxiliary jacks. For more information, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
What Is The Difference Between A Microphone Plug And Jack?
Differences Between 2.5mm, 3.5mm & 6.35mm Headphone Jacks
Are AUX (Auxiliary) Connectors & Headphone Jacks The Same?


TA5

The TA5 connector is far from standardized.

TA5 connector

Though it is a very common connector between lavalier mics and wireless transmitters, its pins are not set to any standard. Rather, the pins are used for various functions. Some connections even bypass pins altogether.

Lectrosonics has a great article on the various TA5 connections here.

The most common TA5 microphone connection for lavalier mics is as follows:

  • Pin 1: shield/ground.
  • Pin 2: bias voltage for positively biased electrets in special circuits.
  • Pin 3: audio and servo bias for two-wire electrets.
  • Pin 4: bias voltage selector for Pin 3.
  • Pin 5: Typically disconnected.

Tube Power Supplies

Tube microphones connect to and send their signals though their power supplies.

Sometimes this is done via a 7-pin XLR cable (as mentioned above). However, there are no set standards for all tube microphone output connections. Many tube microphones have their own output connectors and cables.

Related article: What Is A Tube Microphone And How Do Tube Mics Work?


2501, Nexus, Tuchel

The 2051, Nexus, and Tuchel connectors are somewhat outdated and rare microphone connections today. For more information on these connectors, I’ve added the following links:


Common Microphone Connections (What Do Microphones Plug Into?)

Microphones will typically plug into one of the following:

  • Microphone Preamplifier Input (Mixer, Recorder, Audio Interface).
  • In-Line Device (Pad, HPF, Standalone Preamp).
  • Audio Snake.
  • Speaker Directly.
  • Other Devices (Guitar/Bass Amp, Smartphone, Computer, Camera).

Microphone Preamplifier Input (Mixer, Recorder, Audio Interface)

In order to effectively use the audio signals outputted from a microphone, we need to apply gain. This is done with a microphone preamplifier.

Microphones output mic level signals which need significant gain to become line level for use in professional equipment.

Therefore, microphones, when in use, nearly always connect to a preamp. Preamps are found in mixing consoles, audio recorders and interfaces, and standalone preamp units.

For more information on mic preamps, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
What Is A Microphone Preamplifier & Why Does A Mic Need One?
Complete Guide To Microphone Preamplifier Specifications
Best Microphone Preamplifiers

In-Line Device (Pad, HPF, EMI Filters, Standalone Preamp)

In-line devices are units that are put in between a microphone and a mic preamplifier.

These in-line devices include:

  • Passive attenuation devices (PADs): to decrease the strength of the signal by a given dB amount.
  • High-pass filters (HPFs): to attenuate frequencies below a certain cut-off point on the frequency spectrum.
  • Electromagnetic interference (EMI) filters: these filters effectively remove radio frequencies and electromagnetic noise from a mic signal.
  • Standalone preamps: sometimes a mic signal needs an extra boost before it gets to the main preamp. This is particularly true with low-sensitivity dynamic and ribbon mics.

For more info on microphone pads and HPFs, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
What Is A Microphone Attenuation Pad And What Does It Do?

What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?

Audio Snake

An audio snake is essentially a single cable that has multiple mic inputs and outputs. Multiple microphones can be plugged into a single snake, allowing all the mic signals to travel in one consolidated cable.

There are analog snakes which have many individual mic cables and there are digital snakes that can carry multiple channels of audio simultaneously.

To learn more about audio snakes, check out my article What Is An Audio Snake And Are They Required?

Speaker Directly

Microphones can also connect to active/powered loudspeakers directly. The internal amps in these speakers are strong enough to boost the low mic level signal to a speaker level signal so that the mic’s audio will effectively be reproduced by the speaker.

For a detailed article on plugging microphones into loudspeakers, check out my article How To Plug A Microphone Into A Speaker.

Other Devices (Guitar/Bass Amp, Smartphone, Computer, Camera)

Microphones can also be connected to any other audio inputs given the right connection adapters.

Guitar and bass amps expect instrument level signals but can accept mic level signal from a microphone with a proper adapter.

Smartphones, computers, and cameras tend to have audio inputs. If they do, then a mic can be hardwired to these devices. Cell phones and computers will generally be able to boost a mic level signal properly. With a camera, ensure the input is mic level if you’re connecting a microphone directly.

For more information on connecting microphones to the aforementioned devices, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
How To Plug A Microphone Into A Guitar Or Bass Amp

How To Connect An External Microphone To A Smartphone

How To Connect A Microphone To A Computer (A Detailed Guide)

How To Connect A Wireless Microphone To A Computer (+ Bluetooth Mics)


Can you plug a microphone into a line input? Though it’s easy to physically plug a mic into a line input, it is not recommended. Microphones output mic level signals and line inputs expect line level signals (which are magnitudes stronger than mic level). Plugging a mic into a line input results in a low signal with poor signal-to-noise ratio.

For more information on microphones and their relationship to mic level and line level, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
Do Microphones Output Mic, Line, Or Instrument Level Signals?

What Is Microphone Gain And How Does It Affect Mic Signals?

How do I connect my microphone to my computer? In order to connect a microphone to a computer, the mic signal must be converted into digital audio. This is done with an analog-to-digital converter, which is often found in an audio interface or within the mic (in the case of a digital/USB mic) or computer (in the case of an audio jack).

For more information about connecting microphones to computers, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
How To Connect A Microphone To A Computer (A Detailed Guide)

How To Connect A Wireless Microphone To A Computer (+ Bluetooth Mics)

Do Microphones Need Drivers To Work Properly With Computers?

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