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Connectors, XLR

Originally manufacturer by Cannon, and still called "Cannon plugs" by some old-timers.

What does XLR stand for? According to wikipedia:
Today, Switchcraft and Neutrik are the two largest manufacturers. Pomona is often a less expensive brand, and there are a number of lesser quality products available.

Audio
3-pin XLR connectors are used to connect various pieces of audio equipment. These devices can include mixers, microphones, power amplifiers, self-powered loudspeakers, Compressors/limiter/gates, effects processors and other processing equipment. 3-pin XLR connectors are often used on multi-pair Snakes. Audio snakes use a large multi-core cable, which is made up of many smaller shielded pair microphone cables. Input connectors are typically female, while outputs are male. A snake may have a stage box (or connector panel) at one end, and a fanout at the other. In recording situations and installations it is not uncommon to see snakes that have fanouts on both ends.

Prior to the development of SpeakON connector, 3 pin XLR was sometimes used for connection of speakers to amplifiers. Speaker cables were conventionally wired with female connectors each end to help differentiate them from shielded cable. Interesting results when an amplifier accidentally plugged into microphone led to the decline of the connector's use in favor of SpeakON.

Other Uses

DMX cable also uses an XLR style connector, however, it contains 5 pins. Often, other devices, such as hazers, smoke machines, and occasionally lighting equipment, will use 3 pin XLR for control/data.
4-pin XLR connectors are often used in conjunction with DMX controlled power supplies to supply power and control signal to devices such as Color Scrollers, DMX Gobo Rotators, DMX Irises, and other 4-pin DMX accessories. 4-pin XLR is also very common when used in work lights for equipment, such as Littlites (gooseneck lamps). 4 pin XLR can also be used for carrying low voltage power, conventionally with - on pin 1 and + on pin 4.
Even rarer are 6pin and 7pin XLR connectors.

Note there are two different pin configurations of 6pin.
Below are Switchcraft part numbers for the most common connectors, but any of a number of manufacturers can substitute. The most popular competitor is Neutrik, pronounced "NOYtrick."
D3M = panel mount, 3pin, male
D3F = panel mount, 3pin, female
A3M = inline, 3pin, male
A3F = inline, 3pin, female
A4M = inline, 4pin, male
A4F = inline, 4pin, female
A5M = inline, 5pin, male (DMX-512A approved/required)
A5F = inline, 5pin, female (DMX-512A approved/required)

# of Pins and Uses
2-pin:
Very rarely used to carry power from amplifiers to loudspeakers
Sometimes used to carry 6-24 VDC to power electronic devices

3-pin:
The most common audio mic- and line-level connector.
Clear-Com type intercom systems.
Also used to provide power for some consoles' Littlite, often in a right-angle version.
Used by lesser automated lighting fixtures and smoke machines to carry DMX512 or proprietary control data.
Once used for as standard connector between amplifier and speaker.

4-pin:
Intercom headset connectors.
As LED, color scroller, gobo rotator, and other lighting gadgets' power and data connectors.
Also used to provide power for some consoles' Littlite, often in a right-angle version.
Also used in low-voltage DC power.
An approved alternative to the Switchcraft TA4 connector for the nearly defunct AMX-192 (CD80) lighting protocol.
Remote control of some strobes and smoke machines.

5-pin:
Most common use (and the only connector approved for) transmission of DMX-512A-2008.
Intercom stereo headset connectors.
Stereo microphones.
Some analog control systems having one common and four analog outputs.

6-pin:
(Note that there are TWO non-compatible pin configurations of 6-pin connectors. See Why does my 6-pin XLR not fit into the Neutrik 6-pin XLR? from Neutrik's site for explanation/information.)
Some two-channel intercom systems
ETC wired RFUs for Express(ion) and Obsession use the Switchcraft-style, gray-insert, "symmetrical" 6-pin XLR connectors (what Neutrik refers to as "non-standard").
ETCLink protocol, (same connector as above).
Element Labs Versatube signal and control
Used with rigging's weight-sensing load cells

7-pin:
Some analog control systems having one common and six analog outputs.

As the number of pins increase, so does the difficulty of working with the connectors. The pins are smaller in diameter and more fragile, and spaced closer together. Naturally, the cost increases as well.

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