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DMX 5 pin vs DMX 3 pin

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My controller has a 5 pin Out, I got 5 pin cables only to realize that my moving head lights use 3 pin DMX cables.  Is it as simple as getting the converter cable 5 pin to 3 pin, or am I out of luck making these moving head lights work with my 5 pin controller?  Thanks so much!

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Check Guitar Center as I believe they may have the 5 pin to 3 pin convertors in whatever genders you may need.

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5 pin to 3 pin converter should work fine. DMX protocol calls for 5 pins, but 3 are only used. With the proliferation of cheaper and more accessible intelligent lights, 3 pin is much more accepted than it was even a few years ago.

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Most higher end stuff uses 5 pij.


Only three are used.


Sometimes, the other two pins have voltage on, so lights or a dimmer pack can have a footswitch or handheld controller which doesn't need another PSU.

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On 10/3/2016 at 0:45 PM, Greg Young said:

I don't know what controller you are referencing, but for traditional DMX only 3 pins are used.


Actually if I remember correctly, 3 pin XLR is NOT in the ESTA standard for DMX512.  Only the 5 pin.  Cheaper gear usually use the 3 pin for some reason..There is a story behind it but I don't remember it now.   Anyway........ almost all music stores have the 3-5pin XLR adapters. I have been ordering from Markertek of late.. very happy with price and service.  

          Here is something from the Wiki about the connectors:

DMX512 1990 specifies that where connectors are used, the data link shall use five-pin XLR style electrical connectors (XLR-5), with female connectors used on transmitting (OUT) ports and male connectors on receiving ports. The use of a 3-pin XLR connector is specifically prohibited.

DMX512-A (ANSI E1.11-2008) allows the use of eight-pin modular (8P8C, or "RJ-45") connectors for fixed installations where regular plugging and unplugging of equipment is not required.

Some equipment manufacturers have disregarded the formal topology rules, and designed their equipment to use non-standard 3-pin XLR connectors rather than the DMX-standard 5-pin XLR connectors, so as to eliminate the need for the unused second pair and allow for the use of regular microphone audio cables. Similarly, end users can create adapter pigtails to convert from the correct 5-pin XLR to a 3-pin XLR microphone cable.

Some DMX512 equipment manufacturers at the dawn of the DMX era employed non-compliant or proprietary connectors and pinouts; eventually, the most common of these became the already common three-pin XLR connector (also called cannon jack in some countries), since the electrical specification currently only defines a purpose for a single wire pair. There may be a risk of equipment damage if XLR 3-pin carrying DMX signal is plugged into an audio signal chain, but nevertheless some lighting fixtures and controllers are fitted with 3-pin XLR connectors exactly like the ones used in audio signal chains. These are sometimes common in inexpensive fixtures, Furthermore, some of these non-standard items have an inverse polarity for the data signal (This is like some of the Martin equipment), requiring the signal wires to be swapped over.

Also, devices are sometimes fitted with four-pin connectors when both communications and power are sent through a common cable. Note also that non-theatrical uses of DMX512 such as architectural lighting often use non-standard connectors.

XLR-5 pinout

  1. Signal Common
  2. Data 1- (Primary Data Link)
  3. Data 1+ (Primary Data Link)
  4. Data 2- (Optional Secondary Data Link)
  5. Data 2+ (Optional Secondary Data Link)

XLR-3 pinout

Note: This connector is prohibited by section 7.1.2 of the ANSI E1.11 standard.

DMX+ and DMX- are often swapped. The most commonly encountered pinout is given below.

  1. Ground
  2. Data 1- (Primary Data Link)
  3. Data 1+ (Primary Data Link)

RJ-45 pinout

  1. Data 1+
  2. Data 1-
  3. Data 2+
  4. Not Assigned
  5. Not Assigned
  6. Data 2-
  7. Signal Common (0 V) for Data 1
  8. Signal Common (0 V) for Data 2
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  • 2 weeks later...

So here is a real simple way to look at it after I got everything working.  Look at the device you're trying to power up.  In my case it's a DMX LED headlight.  The device uses 3 pin connectors in and out.  So if everything in your chain uses 3 pin, you're going to be fine using a converter from 5 pin to 3 pin right from your DMX controller and then use 3 pin cables from there on.  I understand there is a technical reason to keep it 5 pin but honestly it doesn't matter if your end devices are all 3 pin.  If you have any 5 pin devices that you plan to run on the same network , on the same cable run, you can't covert it down to 3 pin or you'll lose the two pins that *might* be used.  I bought an XLR (yes made for audio) converter from 5 to 3 and used 3 pin XLR microphone cables.  It worked perfectly for my testing purposes.  I tested them for several hours without any issue.  I was able to work on my sequences while I waited for better cables.  I went ahead and bought "dmx" 3 pin cables and a higher quality 5 to 3 pin adapter and now I'm using all DMX quality stuff.  However I get it that DMX is 5 pin, not 3 pin.  But then again no it's not because all that really matters is that you're firing up the pins that are needed by your end devices.  That's the reality despite all the technical specs etc.  I did get higher quality cables and adapters though, because who knows?  The last thing I need is a crappy XLR cable that's not made for the purpose to crap out on Halloween night.  I do thank you all very much for your help!

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Good decision Expected.. 

Technical specs aside, you need to look at the gear available for our use.

The various LED floods, rotating heads, lasers, etc that we see commonly available and use in our displays usually have 3 pin DINs. 

If they don't, use a 5 to 3 pin adapter, as 3 wire (shielded) cable used for balanced mike inputs etc is readily available, and lasts well. You don't need the other 2 wires for DMX control of devices. 

I have been using the same cables in my display since the mid 90's for DMX devices (long before there were LEDs.. those were the days of larger, power hungry incan types!) and the cables are still in use without any issues. 

By quality and you buy once, because with proper care they will last.

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  • 3 months later...

FYI the 5 pin version was more for "stage lights" where the primary set (2/3) was used for light color and intensity, and the secondary set (4/5) was used for head placement and angle.

It comes from first generation "Varilites" back in the 80s

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