Audio Cables: Balanced vs Unbalanced

Audio cables are one of the essential elements when it comes to connecting equipment to produce clean sound without distortion. Its operation consists of transmitting a sound emitted by a device in the form of voltage through the entire cable length and finally reaching the other device without losing its properties. An example might be that an electric guitar must pass its sound to a multi-effects pedal, a sound control console, and finally to the speakers that will output the sound.

We know that it is difficult to choose a cable among the infinity that exists in the market. That is why today we will talk about balanced and unbalanced audio cables, their differences, and which one you should choose.

What is an unbalanced audio cable?

An unbalanced cable is composed of two conductors, one transmits the voltage to the equipment, and the other is a ground connector to avoid annoying ground noise. Another unbalanced cable model only has one conductor, plastic sheeting, and a mesh that wraps the cable to prevent interference from electric fields.

The two connectors used for this type of cable are the RCA and the ¼ tip-sleeve. The RCA connector usually has a yellow cable for transmitting video, white and red cables for transmitting left and right stereo audio. Finally, the ¼ tip-sleeve connector is the standard cable used to connect instruments to an amplifier in a semi-professional way since this type of cable can be vulnerable to interference.

What is a balanced audio cable?

A balanced cable has two voltage conductors, but one of the cables carries the voltage signal, and the other carries the same signal with reversed polarity. In addition to these two conductors, these cables have a plastic sheath, a protective mesh to bounce off interference, and a third ground wire on some models that do the same job as unbalanced cables.

The two connectors for balanced cables are the TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) and the XLR cable used for microphones. On the other hand, the balanced cables process can seem a bit complicated, but here we will explain it step by step:

  • The cable transmits the same electrical signal through two conductors, but one has the signal with the polarity reversed.
  • When there is an interference in the electrical signal, it will affect the two conductors in the same way, and they will have the same interference.
  • At the end of the path, the polarity of the second conductor signal is reversed and will cancel the interference when the two signals are joined into one.
  • The interference is canceled because when the polarity of the conductor changes, the interference will also change position. So when the signals are added together, the interference will disappear.
What is the best cable to buy?

Each cable has advantages and disadvantages, but the balanced line will always be the best option for people who have enough money to buy expensive cables, are in a professional music or sound business, and want perfect results. On the other hand, if you only need one cable to practice some instruments, do little gigs, or hook up speakers, a little interference wouldn't be a big deal when you can pay up to 50% less for the same cable.

Remember that the problem is not necessarily the cable but the situation in which you are testing it.

If you want a good quality custom cable, where budget and quality is the best offer, you can check out our cables to fit your needs.