Probably one of the least understood and most important topics on electronic equipment these days needs to cover in electronic repair forums is the difference between unbalanced and balanced audio cables. Without this basic understanding, you’ll have a very difficult time Setting up your equipment. In fact, I once had someone who was struggling with setting up a new system because she believed that unbalanced cables were causing issues with her amplifier. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not impossible to mix unbalanced and balanced cables… but people are often misinformed as to the basic differences. This article aims to shed some light on this issue.
The first thing you need to understand is that unbalanced audio cable/connectors are really just different types of plugs. Let’s use microphones for example. There are different plug types which correspond to different microphones. As an example, a mic plug for microphones that uses ribbon needles (tubular) will only accept signals from microphones using needles that have a pin-like tip.
If you use electronic musical equipment that uses sampled data as its signal, you also have three main audio cable types to choose from. They’re omnidirectional feeds, bi-directional feeds and left/right channels. Let’s use keyboards for a moment. These types of signal handling cables are used when you connect them directly to keyboards. The advantage of these types of connections is that they send stereo audio signals from one source to another and also send a mono signal from one input source to another.
On the other hand, bi-directional and balanced audio cables are used when you hook your gear up to more than one source. For example, if you want to play lead guitar and also sing vocals, then you’ll need balanced signals for both elements of your band to work together. The advantage here is that it enables you to send audio signals from lead guitars to basses without losing any quality in the basses. You can also use this type of connection if you want to send audio signals to headphones, which are connected to speakers or to subwoofers. Balanced cables tend to give the best signal transfer rate and they are easy to work with.
The final two audio cable types are designed to connect signals using demodulation or noise control. The most popular example of this would be MP3s and their associated devices. This type of connection is often called “balanced audio cables” since two signals are sent instead of just one. This ensures a high quality sound and ensures that the transferred signals don’t clash with each other.
Another option when connecting your gear is USB connectors. In fact, many manufacturers prefer to use these types of cabling for convenience rather than because they offer any better signal transfer rate. That said, there is no reason why you shouldn’t use a USB connector if you have the right equipment. However, a USB connectors cable will make the process of hooking up your equipment much easier and faster, even when your computer is on. You don’t need to line up the cables to the right gear, and you don’t need to mess around with messy power outlets.
The last type of cable you need to look at is coaxial cables, which are just like the previous types but run through conductors instead of plastic insulation. The difference between these cables and the rest is that their conductors are placed in the middle of the cable, while the latter are placed on the outside. Because of that, coaxial cables provide a cleaner signal transfer due to the fact that the conductors are right in the middle. A problem with these cables is that they tend to break easily because of physical stress, so you should take special care when using them.
If you use electronic instruments such as drum machines and other such gear, then you definitely need to consider getting an audio interface. Audio interface devices act as a plug adaptor, allowing you to use standard interfaces as well as USB cables to transfer signals from one source to another. If you want to get the best quality transfer possible, then it is highly recommended that you use one of these plugs.