Anyone familiar with the workings of audio cables knows that balanced cables have a slight edge over their unbalanced counterparts when it comes to reducing interference and preserving audio quality.
However, unbalanced cables also have unique benefits, and balanced cables may not change the audio output in some situations.
Given that balanced cables cost more, you’re well within your rights to wonder whether they’re worth splurging on.
Balanced cables are worth it if you have an issue that you need to fix or prefer them to unbalanced connectors. Otherwise, you are better off sticking to unbalanced ones. To decide whether balanced cables are worth it, you will have to determine why you need them in the first place.
In the rest of the article, I will explain what balanced cables are and the issues you need to consider to decide whether using them is worthwhile.
Table of Contents
- Balanced Cables vs. Unbalanced Cables
- Deciding Whether Balanced Cables Are Worth It
- Final Thoughts
Balanced Cables vs. Unbalanced Cables
Before I talk about how you can decide if plugging balanced cables is a worthy endeavor, let me expound on what a balanced cable truly is compared to an unbalanced one.
Unbalanced and Balanced Cables
A balanced cable is a three-pin connector that transmits a balanced audio signal from a device with balanced ports to another with similar inputs while ensuring that noise does not interfere with the signal.
You need to understand that using a balanced cable will not balance an audio signal but instead act as its conductor. Examples of balanced cables include XLR and TRS.
On the other hand, an unbalanced cable has only one pin and is prone to picking up unwanted noise as it transmits an audio signal over longer distances. An example of an unbalanced cable is the RCA audio jack.
Deciding Whether Balanced Cables Are Worth It
These connectors will only prove worthwhile if they fulfill the reason you bought them. To help you decide if you have a reason to buy them, here are the things you should consider:
How You Are Going To Use Them
At times noise from the environment can interfere with the sound (especially if you have sensitive speakers and amplifiers), making it intolerable to listen to music.
To get rid of this noise, you need to use balanced cables as they can transmit sound without allowing electronic interference to mess up the quality and clarity.
Balanced cables reject noise interference by canceling it out in a process called common-mode rejection, whereby the hot and cold audio signals inside the ground wire reverse in polarity to match.
However, balanced cables can only reject ground loop noise in long runs of 6 meters (about 20 feet) and above, which can be used on stages when playing live music, using a microphone, and listening to music in another room.
They will be ineffective if used on a guitar, balanced headphones, or basses since they usually have short runs.
Balanced cables can only fix noise in long runs because sound has to travel a long distance before it’s released. When sound travels such distances, it has a higher chance of picking up noise from electronics and other disturbances that can affect the audio signal.
They cannot cancel noise interference in short runs because sound has to travel a small distance, where it’s unlikely to get any humming or buzzing intrusions.
Your Style and Preference for a Balanced Cable
If you are the kind of person who prefers a balanced XLR connector to an unbalanced RCA one, then getting balanced cables will be worth it.
XLR audio cables fit easily into the ports, are more reliable, and look better than RCA connectors.
And since they can cover longer distances, you can use them on different systems of your choice.
Whether You Need More Balanced Output Power
If you need more sound because you love listening to music at high volumes or are nearly deaf, then using balanced audio cables will be good for you.
But for the balanced audio cables to offer the extra power you need, they need to be high-quality connectors with higher output voltage for balanced output.
Plugging cheap balanced audio cables will not improve the power of your amp or the balanced output. Instead, they will work just like unbalanced cables would.
Balanced and Unbalanced Cables
To determine whether your amp works better with a balanced cable or an unbalanced one, use both alternately and listen for the one that sounds better.
If the sound is better with the balanced cable, that’s what you should opt for.
The Kind of System You Have (Balanced Outputs)
Although you can use balanced audio cables on a system with unbalanced outputs, you will not notice any difference in the sound.
Similarly, if you have an amp with balanced outputs, you will need to use balanced cables.
All the interconnects between your amp, DAC, and source must be balanced to attain the benefits of excellent sound and zero noise interference.
The Kind of Person You Are
For purely aesthetic reasons, you will find that balanced XLR cables are better as they will fit perfectly into the outputs and inputs.
That’s unlike RCA unbalanced connectors, which you may sometimes fail to plug fully into the ports and end up with a distorted audio signal.
Also, that sticking out part can put you on edge when you notice it before connecting the jack correctly.
If They Are Within Your Budget
Balanced cables are more expensive than unbalanced ones.
The reason balanced cables are more costly is the extra material required to make their inner components, which contributes to their noise canceling properties.
You may feel cheated if you spend extra money on connectors that will not change your audio feed unless it has an issue. However, they will be worth the cost if you do not mind the expense and want to buy them only because you prefer them to unbalanced cables.
A balanced cable will always be worth it if you buy them to help you solve issues related to noise interference and low sound or if you feel that they suit your style much better.
But if you realize that using a balanced cable will add nothing to your life, the best decision would be to avoid buying a balanced cable. Stick with an unbalanced cable, like an RCA jack.
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