We discuss the main differences between balanced and unbalanced audio cables so you can make the right choice

difference between balanced and unbalanced audio cables

So What's the difference between balanced & unbalanced audio cables?

In summary, unbalanced connections employ two conductors, one for the signal and the other for the ground, and are much more subject to hum and interference than balanced connections. Consumer equipment generally uses unbalanced connections. Balanced connections employ three conductors, one for the positive and one for the negative phase of the signal, and one for the ground. This ensures maximum protection against hum and interference. Servo-balanced connections achieve this electronically, whereas galvanically isolated connections rely on a transformer.

What does balanced mean?

Balance is defined in terms of the impedance of the two signal conductors with respect to a reference, which is usually ground. If these impedances are equal and non-zero, the system is balanced. If the impedances are unequal the system is unbalanced. A signal conductor with a grounded return conductor is, therefore, an unbalanced (sometimes referred to as a single-ended) system. Balanced Again, Balanced connections employ three conductors, one for the positive and one for the negative phase of the signal, and one for the ground. This ensures maximum protection against hum and interference. Servo-balanced connections achieve this electronically, whereas galvanically isolated connections rely on a transformer.

Typical Balanced Cable Uses

Here are the typical uses for Balanced Cables.

1. Cable Use - Connecting a microphone to a mixer or audio interface

Why balanced?: The microphone is a relatively quiet source that needs a lot of amplification. So needs a high Common Mode Rejection Ratio (CMRR) to reduce noise picked up in the cable between the mic and input. Balanced XLR Female to Male is by far the most common choice, but a Female XLR to Balanced 6.35mm Jack might be necessary with older or more compact audio interfaces. Recommended options: Short - TOURTECH XLR to XLR Basic Microphone Cable, 3m TOURTECH XLR to XLR Basic Microphone Cable, 3m Long - TOURTECH XLR to XLR Deluxe Microphone Cable, 10m

2. Cable Use - Connecting an audio interface or mixer to monitors

Whoever designed your monitors aimed to keep noise as low as electronically possible, so you should too! Getting an extra 6dB from a balanced connection helps keep you well above the noise floor too. It's not unusual to find a mix of XLR and Jack inputs here, with 6.35mm Jack to Male XLR being the most common. Recommended options: Short - TOURTECH Male XLR to Stereo 1/4 Jack Cable, 1m TOURTECH Male XLR to Stereo 1/4 Jack Cable, 1m Long - TOURTECH Stereo 1/4 Jack to Male XLR Cable, 3m

3. Cable Use - Connecting a keyboard or guitar on stage

Things are a lot less predictable in a live situation so you really want balanced cables where ever possible to avoid interference. For the keyboardists out there that means taking advantage of any balanced outputs you've got. Recommended options: Short - TOURTECH Deluxe Instrument Cable, 3m TOURTECH Deluxe Instrument Cable, 3m Long - TOURTECH Deluxe Instrument Cable, 6m Unbalanced connections employ two conductors, one for the signal and the other for the ground, and are much more subject to hum and interference than balanced connections. Consumer equipment generally uses unbalanced connections.

Typical Unbalanced Cable Uses

Why Unbalanced? Guitars, amps, basses and some keyboards/synths were never designed to use balanced connections. Unfortunately, they still suffer from interference and noise, especially in long cable runs. That's why it makes sense to buy the best quality cable you can with strong shielding to prevent unwanted signals and noise. On the plus side, they come in a fine selection of colours and lengths. Shop a full range of guitar cables over at PMT Online today or call into your local PMT store to speak to our experts about your needs. https://www.pmtonline.co.uk/products/guitar/guitaraccessories/guitar-cables