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What are the differences between TRS and TS cables?
How long should my cables be?
Learn how balanced connections remove noise and interference.
You can spend a lot of money on speakers, amplifiers, sound units, instruments, and accessories like headphones and pedals. But none of them will work without cables.
If you plug in the wrong audio cable, your equipment won’t work or the sound quality won’t be as good. That’s because each type of connector is designed to carry a specific signal type. Some cables are also more prone to adding noise or distortion, which you need to consider based on what set up you need.
It’s important to understand what makes them different, and what they were designed for.
TS vs TRS Cables (Which Should You Get?)
The question of TS vs TRS boils down to whether you need a balanced or unbalanced signal.
If you are looking for a guitar cable, then your best bet is to get TS cable connectors. Typically, guitars output a mono signal, so even if you hook it up to a TRS cable, it won’t necessarily lower your risk of interference. Also, TS cables tend to be longer, and are easier to use if you’re playing your guitar on a stage. To prevent noise, just make sure that your guitar cables are never longer than 20 feet.
But if your audio equipment specifically requires using a balanced signal or a stereo signal, you need to use TRS. TS cables can only output mono, unbalanced signals.
You can always check what kind of connector your device needs in the product manual. Many audio interfaces will also indicate what to plug in for the input, output, etc. Although in most cases, you’ll know right away if you have the wrong cable—the jack simply won’t fit!
Breaking Down The TS Cable
A TS cable has two contact points: the Tip (T) and the Sleeve (S). The signal wire sends audio through the tip. The ground wire, which shields the signal from interference, passes through the sleeve.
TS cables are most often used for instruments like electric guitars, guitar effects patch cables, keyboards, and single-switch amp A/B boxes.
They are sometimes called mono cables, because they can only send one signal. So if you want to use TS cables for stereo audio, you’ll need two cables.
TS cables are unbalanced. That means the audio signal is sent directly to whatever equipment it’s connected to, whether it’s a mixer, receiver, or musical instrument. While it’s simpler (and cheaper), it also means that there’s a risk of distortion and noise.
The longer your TS cables are, the more likely you are to run into issues with noise and interference. To avoid this, make sure that they are shorter than 20 feet.
Breaking Down The TRS Cable
TRS cables have three contact points: tip (T), ring (R), and sleeve (S). That extra contact point makes a big difference because it enables a balanced audio signal. That’s why these are also called “balanced cables” or “balanced TRS”.
The tip has a positive wire, and the ring has a negative wire. When the audio signal passes through, both the wires gather any noise and interference. But since they have opposite polarities, the noise is canceled out. This helps produce a clean, crisp, and pure audio signal.
Unlike TS cables, the TRS cable can be used with both mono signals and stereo signals. So, it can be used with headphones or any equipment that requires balanced connections. It’s also safer to use TRS cables when you need to plug equipment into multiple devices. It can work with mono balanced, unbalanced mono, etc. That can take out most of the guesswork over which connectors to use on the right channel.
What About TRRS Cables?
Aside from TS and TRS cables, you’ll also run into TRRS cables, which have a Tip (T), two rings (R ), and a sleeve. They follow the same principle as the other tip ring cables, with the difference being that they offer more channels.
These connectors have four conductors and are commonly used for smartphones, tablets, and computers. That’s because that extra channel allows you to use a microphone, or mono balanced with video—very important for any multi-media device!
TRS cables can be used with a TRRS socket. The two often have overlapping standards, and your gadget will usually adjust to a TRS cable by shutting off its internal speaker. That’s why you can still have a conversation on your phone, even if you’re using a stereo headset.
In instances when TRS cables don’t fit with your TRRS devices (or the more recent TRRRS, and endless variations of the tip ring sleeve) you can use an adaptor. Adaptors can fit over both TS and TRS connectors so they work across all types of audio interfaces. Just remember that only a balanced cable can do stereo.
Help, My TS and TRS Connectors Won’t Work!
Even after plugging in your connector, you still don’t hear any sound. Here’s what you need to check.
First, ensure your cable isn’t broken. Try taking it out and reinserting it, or swapping it for a different cable.
You used the wrong cable. You may have used an unbalanced TS instead of a TRS connector. Double-check your product manual. To avoid this problem, label your line input and output so you know what kind of connector to use.
You plugged it in the wrong place. You may have inserted an input cable into an output cable.
There’s a problem with the position. If two unbalanced cables TS are parallel to each other they can create a hum in the channel. Try placing them in a perpendicular position.
However, 9 times out of 10, the problem lies in using the wrong connectors. As long as you get the right cables, you’ll get the results you want.
Quarter inch TRS Stereo Cable, designed to connect pro audio gear and DJ equipment such as studio monitors, mixers, amplifiers, and similar devices with balanced phone jacks. It may also be used as a stereo interconnect.