News Updates
November 10, 2015:
Google Hangouts Gets Higher Quality Video

TS, TRS, TRRS – BALANCED AND UNBALANCED

  • By Mike Phillips
  • Monday October 01, 2012
Filed Under:
Podcasting, Audio Broadcasting

There are several types of plugs typically used by Internet broadcasters and podcasters to connect their computers, MP3 players, and microphones to their mixers and recorders. Two of the most popular connectors are the ⅛” mini plug and the ¼” phone plug. People often confuse these plugs, so they are discussed here.

⅛” Mini Plug
The ⅛” mini plug, also known as a 3.5mm mini plug, is the size that plugs into most portable radios and MP3 players. The headphone that connects to an iPod has a ⅛” mini plug. There are three versions of the ⅛” mini plug that are often encountered by Internet broadcasters:

1. TS - Tip and Sleeve - These plugs have two electrical connections, the tip and the sleeve. In most circuits, the tip is the positive connection, and the sleeve is the negative. Since there are only two connections, the TS connector is often called a mono plug.

 

2. TRS - Tip, Ring, and Sleeve - These plugs have three electrical connections, the tip, the ring, and the sleeve. In most circuits, the tip is the positive connection for one channel of a stereo signal, the ring is the positive connection for the other channel of a stereo signal, and the sleeve is the common negative for both channels. Since there are three connections, the TRS connector is often called a stereo plug. TRS connectors are most often found on earphones, earbuds, and computer sound card inputs and outputs.

 

3. TRRS - Tip, Ring, Ring, and Sleeve - These plugs have four electrical connections, the tip, a first ring, a second ring, and the sleeve. In most circuits, the tip is the positive connection for one channel of a stereo signal, the first ring is the positive connection for the other channel of a stereo signal, and the sleeve is the common negative for both channels. The TRRS differs from the TRS in that it has a connection for the audio input to the device to which it connects. Smart phones typically use a TRRS connector. A TRRS earphone can be used in a circuit that is designed for a TRS connection, but the microphone will not work.

¼” Phone Plug
The ¼” phone plug, also known as a 6.5mm phone plug, is the size that plugs into most audio mixers. The line inputs on Behringer, Mackie, and Presonus mixers are ¼”. (The inputs on these mixers could be balanced or unbalanced. See the discussion below.) There are two versions of the ¼” phone plug that are often encountered by Internet broadcasters:

1. TS - Tip and Sleeve - These plugs have two electrical connections, the tip and the sleeve. In most circuits, the tip is the positive connection, and the sleeve is the negative. Since there are only two connections, the TS connector is often called a mono plug.

 

2. TRS - Tip, Ring, and Sleeve - These plugs have three electrical connections, the tip, the ring, and the sleeve. In most circuits, the tip is the positive connection for one channel of a stereo signal, the ring is the positive connection for the other channel of a stereo signal, and the sleeve is the common negative for both channels. Since there are three connections, the TRS connector is often called a stereo plug.

Balanced Circuits

There is a use of ¼” TRS plugs that is often confusing to many people. While the ¼” TRS phone plug is usually considered a stereo plug, it can also be used for a balanced circuit. Since a balanced circuit requires three wires, the TRS plug is required for a mono balanced circuit. In an unbalanced circuit, the signal is carried on the positive and on the negative connections. Only two wires are necessary. In a balanced circuit, the audio signal is carried on two wires (tip and ring). The ground or shield (sleeve) has its own wire. Said in another way, an unbalanced signal is connected to a hot wire and a ground wire. A balanced signal is connected to two hot wires and has a third wire as a separate ground.

The same TRS plug used for stereo unbalanced connections is the same plug that is used for mono balanced connections. The XLR connector has three wires and is the connector most often used in professional environments for microphones and balanced audio lines.

The balanced line inputs on most mixers are configured such that they can be used for balanced or unbalanced connections. That is, if you connect a balanced line with a ¼” TRS plug to a balanced/unbalanced input, the circuit is balanced. If you connect an unbalanced line with a ¼” TS plug to a balanced/unbalanced input, the circuit is unbalanced. Check the manual for your mixer to see whether your inputs are unbalanced or balanced/unbalanced. While balanced connections are almost always preferred, most consumer equipment (including computer sound cards) is unbalanced.

Many thanks to REAN for providing the images of the NYS226 and NYS231 1/8” connectors and to Neutrik USA for providing the images of the NP2X and NP3X ¼” connectors. Always buy quality connectors. REAN and Neutrik are two of the best.

  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Twitter

Mike Phillips is formerly a radio broadcast engineer, as well as a disk jockey, sales manager, and general manager. His technical experiences include building and maintaining radio stations and transmitter sites. A production console he built for a radio station in the early eighties is still in use on a daily basis. He also has been an electrical design engineer for a manufacturing company developing analog and digital industrial transducers. His undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering.

5 Comments

  • Tom Sinclair

    Tom Sinclair posted 10/01/2012 at 11:59pm UTC

    Another AHA! moment. Thanks, Mike!!

  • Max Flight

    Max Flight posted 10/05/2012 at 02:07am UTC

    OK, this is helpful - I better understand balanced and unbalanced. I’m having difficulty with something and maybe it’s because I’m mixing balance and unbalanced.

    My podcasting setup has an analog mixer interfacing with a laptop through a Behringer U-Control interface, in a mix-minus configuration. I’m recording off the mixer with a digital audio recorder. Life is good. For simultaneous streaming, I want to run the full mix from the mixer to another laptop.

    I have available on the mixer balanced XLR main outputs. I have XLR to RCA cables for connecting those outputs to another U-Control interface, then on to the USB port of the second laptop doing the streaming. But I only get one channel. Why is that?

    What’s happening with the two XLR to RCA cables since the XLR on the mixer is balanced (per the manual) but the RCA on the other end of the cables is unbalanced, right?

  • GeneName

    GeneName posted 09/19/2013 at 10:30pm UTC

    I am looking for a trrs female to trs male, both 3.5 mm adapter. So a mini amp could be used with my mic/headphone. There are very few of this item available on the net. And when I have found something there’s no indication of the quality of the plug or jack. I was hoping for the converter to be a solid piece without any cable that could get damaged (portability issues).

  • David Albers

    David Albers posted 12/29/2013 at 05:56pm UTC

    Thanks Mike…that was very helpful to me.  I was out yesterday buying cables and reading this helped me avoid making multiple trips.  I was previously confused with regard to balanced vs unbalanced and you cleared it up.

  • gustov

    gustov posted 07/19/2014 at 01:30pm UTC

    Thank you for this

Leave a Comment: