A TS connector is an unbalanced cable connector type while TRS is a balanced cable connector type. With that said, what’s a balanced cable? How are they different from unbalanced cables? What’s a connector? What is TS? What is TRS? What’s the difference between these cable types? In this guide, we will cover the key differences between the balanced TRS cable vs. the unbalanced TS cables. They’re different cables that are categorized into separate cable types.
Also, we will discuss TS vs TRS in regards to which is better and which applications they work best with. Keep reading to learn more.
Further reading: XLR vs. TRS: What’s The Deal with Them and Balanced Cable Connections?
Balanced versus Unbalanced Cables
A balanced electrical signal uses three wires to work in order to balance out the signal and do some noise-canceling on top of it. An imbalanced electrical signal works with simpler cables and connectors that are more noise-prone.
- Balanced Cables: Balanced audio cables are able to balance an electrical signal through having three wires labeled positive leg, negative leg, and ground. The two legs with opposite polarities carry the same signal. They can also do what’s known as a “Common Mode Rejection”, which is a noise-canceling or reduction process that puts noise out of phase by flipping from one wire to another. This means balanced cables like XLR and TRS equal clearer signals.
- Unbalanced Cables: Because unbalanced cables with one connector and ground are simpler and less complicated, it’s also more noise-prone due to not having polarized legs to switch the signal out at a moment’s notice. Examples of unbalanced cables include banana plugs, SpeakON, RCA, and TS. These connections should be under 25 feet to prevent attenuation (signal loss) and noise development. The longer an unbalanced cable the likelier it is to lose signal or catch noise.
TS vs. TRS Cables 101
Let’s now discuss what the differences are between TRS and TS cables from their categories to their individual features.
- TS Cables and Connectors: The TS type of cable can be utilized for unbalanced and mono signals. They’re also known as guitar cables mainly because the ¼” TS cable is mainly plugged into an electric guitar in order to link it to an amplifier device. The connectors of TS cables have two contact points divided by an insulator ring, which is the tip and the sleeve (hence “TS”). The audio signal is carried from the top while the ground is on the sleeve. The sleeve is ground and the tip is positive.
- TS Cable Applications: When can you use TS connectors? They’re best used when connecting a guitar to a mixer, audio interface, pedalboard, or amplifier. They can also be utilized when linking an instrument input on a mixer, an unbalanced TS output keyboard, or an unbalanced TS input on a DI box. You can use a TRS cable instead of a TS cable on any of the above but be aware that the signal will remain unbalanced and you need a specific balanced TRS input and output for the balancing and noise cancellation/Common Mode Rejection to work.
- TRS Cables and Connectors: TRS cables can be used for stereo signals, balanced signals, and mono signals as well as certain TS applications where the signal is instead unbalanced. An input or output from an audio or mixer interface is a good example of a mono, balanced signal. TRS cables can also be used to deliver stereo signals to headphones. TRS features 3 contact points or conductors separated by two insulation rings. Just like TS connectors, the tip is the audio signal and the sleeve is the ground. However, it has an additional ring conductor, so it’s TRS or “Tip, Ring, and Sleeve” combined.
- TRS Cable Applications: Possible TRS cable applications include making a connection to or from a mono balanced line output or input as well as linking a stereo output to a stereo input. Because of the two legs of balanced cables found in TRS and XLR, there’s twice as much signal that’s safeguarded from noise and attenuation. You can also run longer TRS cables beyond 25 feet without dealing with noise since any time there’s noise, the wires flip to the clearer signal to eliminate the noise.
- What’s the Difference? TS and TRS are not basically the same cable like in the case of TRS and XLR, though. In regards to using TS instead of TRS, there are times when it’s possible. However, you’ll have to deal with more noise interference and a weaker output possible compared to the superior and more advanced TRS cable. TS also doesn’t support stereo signals because the right channel or ring part is shorted with the ground.
- Interchangeable Usage? TS and TRS cables are typically used for different applications, but there are times when you can (safely) use them for the same application interchangeably. Some audio tasks don’t necessarily require a balanced type of connection so you can swap out your TRS with your TS and vice-versa, particularly during times where the cable is under 25 feet and the like. Using TS over TRS outputs or TRS over TS outputs always results in an unbalanced signal or no right channel/ring signal.
- Know By Other Names: TRS and TS cables are usually grouped together depending on the outside diameter of their respective connectors. They can be both referred to as ¼” cables or quarter-inch cables due to their connectors having roughly 6.35 millimeters or ¼ inch in diameter. They’re also available in the 3.5 millimeter or ⅛” diameter variety. Check the output to match the right connector to the right cable. The ⅛” connector for TS and TRS cables are usually used in wired earbuds or headphones.
What are TS and TRS Cables Made of?
Cables are composed of connectors, PVC coating, and copper wire cores. Every core delivers signal voltage but how this signal is carried will depend on the connector type. In any case, TRS and TS cables are available everywhere in the entertainment, music, and audio production industries. You can see them used in podcasts, live music performances, huge stadiums filled with screaming fans, professional recording studios for music and voice-over, and even smaller home installations.
Even though these two cable types can be utilized for the same (audio-related) purposes, they’re definitely different from each other from their signal type to their connector, thus requiring the right TRS or TS connector. TS cables only have a ground and signal conductor (positive) while TRS cables have two legs (negative and positive) as well as a ground wire.
- “What’s the Difference between TS and TRS Cables?“, SweetWater.com , March 22, 2019
- “Cable Buying Guide“, SweetWater.com , Retrieved November 3, 2020
- “TS vs TRS: What’s the Difference?“, Synaptic Sound, Retrieved November 5, 2020