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Why the need for unbalanced connections?
Old 5th July 2007
Gear Guru
rickrock305's Avatar

Why the need for unbalanced connections?

So I was having a little discussion with someone and he asked me, if balanced connections are better, than why do we even have unbalanced cables and connections? I didn't really have an answer for him, so off to gearslutz!

So any ideas? Why the need for unbalanced connections?
Old 5th July 2007
Lives for gear
Chris Parsons's Avatar

I wouldn't say that balanced connections are always better. If the cable run is short enough that noise isn't an issue I see no reason to use a balanced connection.
Old 5th July 2007
Lives for gear

balancing a connection takes more electronics (read: a greater cost to build)

that's why most pro gear has the balanced connections and dinky 100 dollar stuff doesn't...
Old 5th July 2007
Lives for gear
Stitch333's Avatar

I've always believed it to be a difference in market placement as a quality vs. quantity sort of thing as unbalenced connections are typical to consumer audio and balanced connections are typical to pro audio. A balanced connector is by far the preference in Pro Audio and consists of a connector of three wires. The first wire is the audio signal, the second wire is the same signal but 180 out of phase with the first one, and the third is the ground or shield. The balanced connector is preferred because it is far less susceptible to noise, in general.
An unbalanced signal connector contains merely the 'hot' wire and a wire for ground or shield.
Old 5th July 2007
Lives for gear
Harvey Gerst's Avatar
But after the signal disappears into whatever piece of gear you're talking about, it's converted to unbalanced, processed, then converted back to balanced at the output. That's two stages of electronics (either transformers or op amps) added to the gear - just to unbalance, then re-balance, the signal.

Staying unbalanced (with short cords between each piece of gear) reduces the number of stages needed, and the resultant noise and distortion from each added stage.
Old 5th July 2007
Lives for gear
Dan's Avatar

It simply has to do with what equipment you're hooking together. Almost all audio equipment is internally unballanced. Most of the time interconnects are ballanced, but sometimes they're not. {for example} Many boards have been built with unballanced insert points. When hooking those points to outboard gear it makes sense to connect ot the unballanced i/o of that gear.
It costs very little for a manufacturer to add an unballanced in/out to a piece of gear that has ballanced i/o. And, doing so increases the functionality of the gear. Even though ballanced connections are more prone to picking up noise, some purists believe it's better to use unballanced connections, because you're going through less electronics.
Old 5th July 2007
Gear Nut

unbalanced cables are forced to use the shield as the return path. this sometimes causes havoc when interfacing unbalanced and balanced gear. i've had problems where the sound was leaking into the ground buss when shunting the neagtive to ground on a piece of balanced equipment in order to mate it to an unbalanced input.
Old 5th July 2007
Gear Guru
drBill's Avatar
Originally Posted by Stitch333 View Post
A balanced connector is by far the preference in Pro Audio
That is simply not true. As several have stated above, balancing is only there to make "relatively" sure that long cable runs and interconnects between companies that design their grounds differently connect as painlessly as possible. Balancing adds either an electronic circuit or transformer into the signal path, thus "degrading" the sound more than an unbalanced interconnect as well as costing more money.

In the real world, balancing is preferable if you;re constantly interconnecting different pieces of gear. Especially if you're in a heavy RF area. However, for ultra hi-fi electronics (like Bernie Grundman's analog mastering desks) many prefer unbalanced connections without transformers or extra electronics in the path.
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