Today I’m going to be bringing you a relatively short post on TRS vs. TS cables, and what each is generally used for in studio. So grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this article
Application/Real world example
In building your home studio, you will come across a variety of different cables. Way back when, RCA (unbalanced) were the most common ones. Remember those annoying Red, White, and Yellow wires that seemingly always ended up collecting dust somewhere? I do! Still to this day I find them in the strangest places, and just have to laugh. While still very useful, they aren’t the primary go to cable anymore.
They do function well in a lot of instances, but TRS and TS are used in a lot of things that may or may not show up in your studio. Things like:
You may have bought a pair before, not really thinking twice about the difference. I’m the same way actually. When I purchased my JBL LSR 305’s, I paired them with TRS because I saw that they said “balanced.” I didn’t really know what that entailed however. Today I will make it very clear!
TRS stands for “Tip, Ring, Sleeve” and can be used with mono balanced, and stereo unbalanced signal. An example of a mono, balanced signal is the line output from the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (An audio interface). What does an audio interface do?
A stereo signal could be when you plug your headphones in to a jack.
TRS cables are great for studio monitors because they have very low noise. The last thing you want to hear when your speakers are idle is a hum, or a faint, distant sound which is extremely hard to get rid of. Good cables go a long way! A lot of the time, people end up buying the cheapest thing out there, when really the more expensive (and well researched option) could make all the difference in the world in receiving a good sound vs. a crappy one.
The same goes for microphones. For instance, the Scarlett 2i2 has combo inputs, meaning you can plug a TRS cable OR an XLR cable into the front of it. If you went the TRS route, a quality cable can make the difference in how your recording comes out when you play it back. The same goes for XLR cables actually.
You will also notice that a lot of entry to mid level audiophile headphones come with 1/4″ TRS adapters, which conveniently plug into your interface or mixer. Again, mono and unbalanced.
Some people say that in dealing with under 6 feet of cable, the differences in sound between a TS and TRS cable is almost indistinguishable. You be the judge.
If you use a TRS cable as mono unbalanced, the Tip is the signal, the ring is the negative signal, (this is what blocks out the noise that we talked about), and the sleeve is the shielding of the cable, which is also present in the TS version.
What’s also interesting to note is that the 3 pronged XLR cable functions in the exact same way as a TRS cable when it’s used.
TS cables are generally used for mono, unbalanced signals like sound from an electric guitar or another instrument such as a keyboard. They are also quite a bit longer (between 10-20 ft.), because of the fact that musicians on stage move around a lot. They act as noise “gatherers” if you will, for cables that are pretty long.
The reason that guitarists use TS is because:
TRS does not allow the “tone” of the guitar to actually come out when playing.
It’s also more expensive to produce instruments that have a balanced connector.
Even getting more in depth, a TS cable only has 2 separate wires running inside. One wire carries the audio, the other carries the ground. Being that there is only one copy of the audio signal, it then becomes susceptible to picking up noise as the signal travels down the wire.
It would be unfair to leave poor XLR out of the equation, since he’s also very important in studio. What is XLR? These guys can run up to 100 ft. without noise, and are generally used with a lot of entry to mid level condenser microphones.
As mentioned above, XLR is also used very frequently with Near-field Studio Monitors that have line level signal.
The cool thing about an XLR cable is that it has 3 signals.
One is the ground wire (same as in an unbalanced cable)
But the other 2 are actually two copies of the same signal
As an example:
If you’re singing or rapping into a mic, your voice is split into two wires. As it’s running down the wires, one wires polarity is suddenly flipped, and the 2 signals become out of phase with each-other. As the sound continues to travel, it eventually reaches the other side of the wire. When it gets there, the polarity is flipped a second time, and the signals become in sync again. After this they are processed by whatever gear you are using (An interface or mixer). Your computer actually does this in the form of 1’s and 0’s.
So the signals got flipped and were out of phase with each-other.
Your voice is still traveling down the line.
A sudden alien abduction happens outside of your window, causing a lot of interference. This gets picked up by the wires inside of the cable.
There is now alien abduction signal on both copies of the wire signal.
All of that travels down with your voice, and you think “OH NO!” But wait.
It gets to the other end, the signal is flipped that second time (back in phase), and cancels out the interference/noise (flipping it as well) and basically giving it a big old boot to the ass. This leaves only the sound of your voice left.
Personally, my mind is blown. I really do think that’s the coolest thing I’ve learned in quite a while. I hope you do too!
Well my friend, that’s about it for today. I really hope you’ve learned a lot in this TRS vs. TS article, and came away with a better idea of which to use in different situations.
Have a question or comment? Did I miss something? Spot an error? Please let me know in the box below, or Contact me! I very much look forward to speaking with you.
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.