Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio – Understanding Audio Signal Transmission

Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio – Understanding Audio Signal Transmission Image

When it comes to video streaming, audio balancing matters. The quality of your sound and audio signal transmission has to keep your audiences engaged to enhance their viewing experience.

Balanced and unbalanced audio outputs are two common types of connections you can use for your video streaming. The difference between the two lies in how each handles external interference and noise. 

A balanced audio setup provides an interface that reduces external noise interference and guarantees exceptional audio capture and transmission. Unbalanced audio, on the other hand, plays a key role in specific applications within video streaming, particularly when adequate audio quality is needed for shorter-distance connections.

Understanding the difference between balanced and unbalanced audio is crucial to making an informed decision about your video streaming audio setup. 

In this post, we cover everything you need to know about balanced and unbalanced inputs for video streaming.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:

  • Understanding Audio Signal Transmission: What is Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio
  • What is Balanced Audio?
  • What is Unbalanced Audio?
  • Comparison Table: Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio
  • Audio Transmission: Technical Insights
  • Identifying Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio Inputs
  • Practical Applications of Audio in Video Streaming
  • How Do Balanced Audio And Video Streaming Complement Each Other?
  • Considerations for Integrating Audio in Video Streaming Systems
  • Real-world Application Examples of Integrations in Video Streaming
  • Audio Application Challenges and Solutions
  • Expert Advice and Best Practices for Video Streaming Professionals 
  • Conclusion
  • FAQs
  • Glossary

Understanding Audio Signal Transmission: What is Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio

Audio signal transmission refers to how an audio signal is routed, processed, and assigned to the desired output channel. To understand the fundamentals of audio signal transmission for better video and audio livestreaming, let’s explore how balanced and unbalanced audio work.

What is Balanced Audio? 

Balanced audio is a method of transmitting audio signals using three-conductor cables. Two conductors carry negative and positive signals, with audio serving as an AC signal and the third signal as a ground reference. 

The main benefit of a balanced audio signal transmission is its ability to cancel noise and interference. Any noise picked up along the cable will be common to both signals and cancel out when they merge at the receiving end. The result is a cleaner, more reliable audio signal.

What is Unbalanced Audio?

Unbalanced audio differs from balanced audio in that it utilizes a two-conductor cable. One conductor carries the signal, while the other serves as a ground reference. Unlike in a balanced setup, there is no duplication of the signal or inversion in this setup.

Unbalanced audio is more susceptible to external electromagnetic interference. There is no mechanism to eliminate the noise picked up along the cable, which can quickly degrade the sound quality during an audio broadcast.

The key difference between balanced and unbalanced audio lies in how they handle interference and noise. Balanced audio, with its three-conductor setup, offers superior noise resistance and rejection compared to unbalanced audio.


Comparison Table: Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio

Here is a table to help illustrate the key differences of balanced vs unbalanced audio input systems:

Balanced AudioUnbalanced Audio
  1. Signal Transmission
  • Two conductors with a third ground conductor
  • Two conductors (signal and Ground)
      2. Signal Quality
  • Better noise rejection and interference
  • Susceptible to noise and interference
      3. Noise Reduction
  • Easily cancels out noise
  • Can easily pick up noise
      4. Cable Length
  • Can support longer cable lengths
  • You need to use shorter cable lengths 
      5. Connector Types
  • XLR, TRS, or TRRS
  • RCA, TS, or TS/TRS
      6. Applications 
  • Professional audio, studios, live sound
  • Consumer electronics, home audio
      7. Grounding


  • Separate ground conductor for each signal


  • Single shared ground conductor




Audio Transmission: Technical Insights

The technical aspects of balanced vs. unbalanced audio quality are essential when building an audio streaming platform, or hooking up audio equipment for video streaming. Before you plug things in, you need to understand the intricacies of balanced vs unbalanced audio connections, and how they can influence your choice.

Balanced Audio

Signal Path 

In a balanced audio system, the audio signal is transmitted by three conductors: the Ground reference, positive, and negative (or inverted) audio conductors. Positive and negative conductors carry the same information despite differences in polarity.

During the audio transmission, the inverted signal mixes with the positive signal at the receiving end after being reversed to its normal polarity. Any noise detected along the route can impact both signals.

However, this noise is usually canceled when recombining signals, leaving behind a clear audio signal with a better signal-to-noise ratio.

Connector Varieties

The two common connectors used in balanced audio systems are TRS and XLR. TRS Connectors are 3.5mm long and have two bands near the tip. They are commonly used for single-cable stereo signals, such as in professional audio equipment and headphones.

In contrast, XLR connectors contain three pins, albeit in some cases, they may have four or five. The three pins carry the positive, negative, and Ground charges. XLR connectors are used by most professional audio equipment because of their durability, locking mechanism, and effectiveness in transmitting balanced signal over long distances.

Cable Construction

Cable construction in balanced audio connections features three wires inside the plastic casing: two signal wires and a ground wire. The ground wire protects the two signal wires from external electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). The shield further minimizes any crosstalk between channels in multi-channel audio systems.

Noise and Interference Reduction

One of the primary advantages of balanced inputs is their ability to reject common types of interference, including:


Power cables, wireless transmissions, and electronic equipment all produce electromagnetic interference. Balanced audio cables are made to reject this interference by relying on a common-wide rejection concept, which views any noise introduced into the signal stream as a common-mode signal and cancels it out.

Ground Loop Hum

You’ll often experience a ground loop when you plug various audio equipment into different AC outlets. It’s a common issue in audio systems that balanced cables can eliminate, considering their lesser risk for unwanted noise. Unbalanced audio connections are often susceptible to picking up humming sounds in specific environments.

Unbalanced Audio

The Signal Path

The signal path in unbalanced audio transmission has two conductors: a signal conductor and a ground conductor. The signal conductor transmits the audio signal, while the ground conductor provides the signal’s reference point. 

Connector Varieties

Unbalanced audio commonly uses RCA, TS (Tip-Sleeve), and 3.5mm jacks as connectors.

RCA connectors

RCA connectors have a distinct red and white color coding, and are usually found in home audio systems and consumer electronics. They are mostly single-pin connectors that carry analog signals.

3.5mm jacks

These are associated with the TRS (Tip, Ring, and Sleeve) connectors and are common with the standard portable headphone jack. They facilitate a seamless connection between various devices.

TS Connectors

Though they seem alike, TS (Tip-Sleeve) connectors differ from TRS cables because they’re made up of just a tip and sleeve. They’re inherently unbalanced and used in mono audio equipment. You can use them with unbalanced outputs in instruments like guitars or keyboards.

Cable Construction

Unbalanced cables are designed with a single signal conductor and a layer of shielding. The shielding layer protects the signal from outside interference, but is not as effective as balanced cables’ twisted pair design. 

Between balanced versus unbalanced cables, the later are considered more noise-prone, particularly in areas where electromagnetic interference is prevalent.

Noise and Interference Reduction

Unbalanced audio is highly susceptible to noise and interference, especially from electromagnetic Interference (EMI) and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI).


Unbalanced cables can easily pick up interference from nearby electronic devices, power lines, and wireless signals. To avoid both EMI and RFI, you need high-quality shielded cables, keep cable runs short, and avoid routing them near sources of electromagnetic interference. 

Ground Loop Hum

Ground loop hums in unbalanced cables are caused by the differences in electrical potential between connected devices. You can use ground loop isolators to prevent this from happening, especially in unbalanced audio setups.

Identifying Balanced vs Unbalanced Audio Inputs

How can you tell if an audio input is balanced or unbalanced? In most cases, if the audio cable has two points of contact, then the input is unbalanced. Similarly, an audio cable with three contact points can be viewed as a balanced. Still, there’s more to telling the difference between balanced versus unbalanced audio when it comes to setting up a video stream or live stream recording.

Here are various methods to identify the type of input:

1. Visually Inspect Connectors

You can easily identify balanced XLR vs unbalanced XLR by simply looking at them. A balanced XLR contains three pins or conductors. Unbalanced connectors have two pins or conductors, and examples include RCA and TS (Tip-Sleeve) connectors.

So, if you want to set up a balanced audio connection for your video streams, look for the “balanced” label or any symbols (such as the letters “XLR”) that denote balanced connections. 

Connectors labeled as “unbalanced” or without sections typical of balanced connectors like the three conductors, are likely to be unbalanced. The same also applies to balanced vs unbalanced TRS connectors.

2. Review Equipment Documentation and Specifications

You can also review your audio livestreaming equipment manuals for any specifications that indicate a balanced or unbalanced audio connection. Along with other important information like connector types and configurations, the specifications publicly available in the equipment manual and documentation should explicitly specify the type of audio inputs.

3. Test with Audio Signal

Audio testing equipment like a multimeter or cable tester can help you determine whether a connection is balanced or unbalanced. Cable testers test the integrity of the connections, while multimeters can sense the continuity between pins. You can also connect audio sources to the input and listen for noise, hum, or interference.

Practical Applications of Audio in Video Streaming

Balanced and unbalanced audio transmissions have practical applications across various industries. Let’s explore how they are utilized in different contexts:

1. Live Event Streaming

Streaming a live event, such as a digital conference where guest speakers from across the globe share their insights requires more than just a reliable video stream. Delivering the content from the live event at once requires you to have professional-quality video accompanied by perfect audio. 

Balanced audio connections will benefit your live event video streaming setups because they are reliable and immune to interference. It ensures that all presentations have audible content, regardless of whether you wish to broadcast multimedia content from audio sources or amplify guest talks from microphones.

2. Broadcasting Live Sports

Strong audio links are necessary to capture the thrill of the game interference-free when broadcasting live sports. To guarantee quality audio transmission from microphones, commentators, and venue sound systems, consider utilizing balanced audio setups.

However, you can still employ unbalanced audio setup in some aspects of the broadcasting setup, such as attaching microphones close to audio mixing consoles, where shorter cable runs and less interference are allowed.

3. Fitness and Exercise

As a fitness expert, broadcasting fitness content to your students means investing in the best video and audio transmission equipment. In most cases, fitness and exercise environments are exposed to moisture, sweat, and physical stress. 

Balanced audio connections will provide a more reliable and durable connection that is less susceptible to these interferences and signal degradation – keeping the audio quality consistent for those working out during online workouts/classes.

4. Churches and Houses of Worship

There’s much a value a dedicated live stream can bring to your church or house of worship during a normal service or an event. To complement your live streaming solutions for church, choose balanced audio connections for sound systems to ensure clear and consistent audio. 

From wireless microphones and musical instruments to choir monitors and audio mixers, balanced audio provides a crisp and near-flawless sound that maintains the spiritual atmosphere without interference or noise issues.

5. Home Audio Systems

A home audio system doesn’t require much unless it’s a high-end or professional-grade studio setup. In such a case, they benefit more from unbalanced audio connections which are considered standard in most consumer-grade home audio systems.

This cuts across stereo systems, home theaters, and personal audio setups you may have installed in your home. The setups are always favored due to their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and compatibility with standard audio devices and accessories.

6. Government and Municipalities

Governments and municipalities are often required to brief the press through ad-hoc conferences that include Q&As. This may also include broadcasting public addresses and speeches while recording end-to-end live video streaming  for remote audiences.

For this, balanced audio connections are required for AV systems to ensure clear and reliable communication. Unbalanced audio connections may be used in specific settings where simplicity and cost-effectiveness are prioritized. 

For example, municipal town hall meetings to capture public hearings may only require something as simple as connecting a public address system that hugely benefits from unbalanced audio.

7. Video for Agencies

To wow clients and leave a lasting impression, agencies are continually challenged to provide the greatest video experience. They must host video libraries, publish their video content on the website, and, on particular occasions, stream live video events.

With a higher emphasis on guaranteeing high-quality audio capture from microphones, field recorders, and audio mixers, Video agencies need balanced audio connections in their professional video production settings. 

How Do Balanced Audio And Video Streaming Complement Each Other?

If you run a video stream, you must ensure the accompanying audio is well-balanced to complement the production quality. Here’s how balanced audio and video streaming work together effectively:

1. Crystal Clear Sound in a Noisy Setting

During video streaming, a balanced audio design that cancels noise alongside other interferences helps maintain a clear signal free of buzzes and hums. A crystal clear audio that preserves signal integrity is crucial for enhancing overall viewer engagement in a video stream.

2. Extended Cable Lengths to Improve Signal 

Advanced streaming setups with dispersed microphones, cameras, and other equipment require balanced and long cable runs to avoid signal degradation. Keeping the audio equipment far from each other in the streaming setup makes it easier to maintain the audio signal strength and clarity, which in turn improves signal integrity.

3. High Fidelity Sound

High-fidelity sound is necessary to capture the subtleties of speech, music, and ambient noises. A balanced audio setup assures you of this. A high-definition video stream enhanced by high-quality sound creates a polished viewing experience for the audience.

4. Better Audio Consistency

A balanced audio setup is adept at delivering consistent audio quality without fluctuations, which is critical for maintaining a stream’s professionalism. Ensuring your stream has consistent audio quality without any distracting audio issues can enhance the overall reliability of the stream.

Advantages of Balanced Audio in Video Streaming

A balanced audio has numerous advantages regarding video streaming setups. The most common benefits include:

Improved Signal Integrity

Balanced audio has mechanisms that reduce external interferences and noise to provide better audio signals for your video streams.

Longer Cable Runs

Longer cable runs in a balanced audio setup ensure that the audio can be transmitted over longer distances without significant degradation in quality or strength. This makes it perfect for running a production with advanced and large-scale video streaming setups.

Improved Noise Rejection

Balanced audio systems can successfully reject common-mode noise by using differential signals, guaranteeing high-quality audio transmission for your video streams even in busy surroundings.

Advantages of Unbalanced Audio in Video Streaming

Using an unbalanced audio inputs also comes in handy in video streaming setups by offering you the following benefits:

Cost-effectiveness and Simplicity

Unbalanced audio systems are less expensive and easier to implement than balanced audio systems, making them ideal for smaller-scale video streaming applications.

Compatibility with Consumer Devices

Unbalanced connections are included in many consumer-grade audio devices and equipment, which facilitates smooth integration with various frequently used gadgets.

Considerations for Integrating Audio in Video Streaming Systems

Before integrating balanced or unbalanced audio in your video streaming setup, here are vital factors worth considering: 

Equipment Compatibility

To prevent compatibility problems, ensure that every piece of the audio equipment you use for the video stream is compatible with balanced and unbalanced connections. This may prevent problems such as signal integrity and its overall strength.

Cable Management

Configurations that combine balanced and unbalanced audio require proper cable management to prevent external interference and maintain signal integrity.

Signal Mixing and Routing

Ensure you implement a strong signal mixing and routing system to integrate audio signals seamlessly and provide flexible control and adjustment during streaming sessions

Real-world Application Examples of Integrations in Video Streaming

Some of the common real-world applications that involve integrating balanced and unbalanced audio for video streaming setups are as follows:

Hybrid Audio Systems

You can integrate balanced and unbalanced audio connectors into a hybrid audio systems to ensure compatibility with a range of audio equipment and offer flexibility in audio routing.

Multi-camera Live Streaming Setups

A combination of balanced and unbalanced audio connections allows for effective control of audio signals from various sources in live streaming scenarios involving many cameras and audio sources.

Remote Production Environments

With balanced and unbalanced connections, you can transmit high-quality audio signals over great distances, guaranteeing dependable audio recording and streaming.

Audio Application Challenges and Solutions

Balanced Audio

Balanced audio offers several advantages over unbalanced audio, including improved noise rejection capabilities and longer cable runs without signal degradation. However, it also comes with a set of challenges. 

1. Cost

One of the biggest challenges of balanced audio systems is that you’ll need more components than unbalanced ones. This means higher initial costs, even if the result is high-quality audio.

If you want to minimize this challenge, investing in quality audio solutions and components upfront can save you lots of costs associated with maintenance and replacement. Besides, the benefits you get from the balanced audio unit justify the initial investment.

2. Compatibility

Not all audio equipment supports balanced connections, which limits interoperability between devices. However, there are ways around compatibility challenges, such as investing in adapters or interface devices to bridge the gap between balanced and unbalanced systems. 

3. Ground Loops

Balanced audio systems are always susceptible to ground loops, which lead to unwanted noise and interference. However, employing proper grounding techniques, such as keeping all the equipment connected to the same ground reference point, can help mitigate ground loop issues. 

Unbalanced Audio

Unbalanced audio is simpler and often more cost-effective than balanced audio. However, there are challenges with its implementation for your video streaming along with potential solutions:

1. Noise Sensitivity

Unbalanced audio connections are more prone to noise and interference, particularly in high electromagnetic interference (EMI) situations or over lengthy cable runs. However, you can cut down on the noise and interference by using premium shielded cables. Additionally, you can reduce the interference risk if your route cables are away from common sources of EMI. 

2. Signal Degradation

Long cable runs cause imbalanced audio signals to deteriorate because of cable capacitance and mismatched impedance. You can only lessen this by investing in low-capacitance cables and limiting cable lengths. Preamplifiers or signal boosters can also amplify the signal and enhance performance over extended ranges.

3. Limited Noise Rejection

Unbalanced audio doesn’t reject noise to the same degree as balanced audio. However, you stand a chance at reducing noise interference by minimizing the distance between audio sources and receivers. Investing in high-end audio gear with robust shielding can further enhance noise rejection. 

Expert Advice and Best Practices for Video Streaming Professionals 

Besides, investing in the best codecs, every video streaming professional needs to apply the following best practices for a smooth and high-quality streaming experience

Take into Account Compatibility 

When selecting equipment, ensure that the audio equipment you choose for your streaming configurations can handle both balanced and unbalanced connections, allowing for greater flexibility and integration.

Optimization of Setup

Practice cable management by properly routing and organizing audio cables to reduce interference and preserve signal integrity. This is especially essential when combining balanced and unbalanced audio in a setup in your video streaming.

Have Problem-Solving Strategies in place 

Employ signal strategies, such as signal testing, to avoid disruptions during streaming sessions. Ensure you test audio signals regularly and address any problems as soon as they arise in your video streams.

Practice Routine Maintenance

Schedule routine maintenance for audio equipment and cables in your video streaming setups to guarantee optimum performance and dependability.

Carry out Regular Sound Check

Always perform comprehensive audio sound checks before your video streaming sessions to find and fix any issues with audio quality beforehand.


The choice between balanced vs unbalanced audio for video streaming requires you to weigh numerous factors against each other. This includes equipment cost, complexity, noise rejection capabilities, and compatibility. 

Balanced inputs are an ideal option for professional environments where high-quality audio is paramount due to its superior noise-rejection capabilities and reliability. However, balanced audio comes with higher costs and complexity in setup and maintenance.

Unbalanced audio, on the other hand, is simpler and more cost-effective, ideal for low-cost setups where advanced equipment is not a necessity. The major downside is that it’s more susceptible to noise and interference, especially over long cable runs.

Despite these challenges, both options can be viable depending on the key requirements of your video streaming setup. 

Remember that investing in video streaming solutions, high-quality cables, and regular maintenance can help maximize audio performance in your video streaming setup. Dacast offers all-in-one video streaming solutions with a range of core features tailored to meet your streaming needs. 

Whether you need a stable live streaming platform, professional VOD hosting capabilities, or distribution and monetization tools via OTT solutions, Dacast has what you need to deliver quality video content to your audience.

These, together with Video Marketing tools, Video Monetization solutions, and other Live streaming solutions capabilities, make Dacast a perfect partner to take your business’s streaming capabilities to the next level.

If what you need is a professional-grade, feature-rich and flexible live streaming platform, look no further than Dacast. Dacast continues to lead in live streaming and video content.

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1. What’s The Key Difference Between Balanced And Unbalanced Audio?

Balanced audio uses positive, negative, and Ground conductors to transmit signals, reducing noise. Unbalanced audio only utilizes two conductors: a signal wire and a ground.

2. When Should I Use Balanced Audio?

Balanced audio is ideal for professional settings where high-quality sound and noise rejection are crucial, such as in studios, live performances, and broadcasting.

3. Why Decide To Use Unbalanced Audio Setup?

Unbalanced audio is simpler, cost-effective, and suitable for casual setups or situations where noise rejection isn’t a primary concern, such as your home stereo systems or small events.

4. How Can I Troubleshoot Ground Loop Issues In Unbalanced Audio?

To avoid ground loops, use ground lift adapters or isolation transformers. They help break the loop. You can also ensure the equipment shares the same ground reference to minimize interference.

5. Is TRS Balanced or Unbalanced if it contains three pins or conductors?

TRS balanced vs unbalanced stems from the presence of three conductors or the “TRS” label. A TRS with three conductors is often counted as balanced.


  1. EMI: Electromagnetic Interference
  2. RFI: Radio Frequency Interference
  3. Ground Loop: This is unwanted electric current path in a circuit that results in signal stray or interference.
  4. RCA Connector: A type of electrical connector used to transmit audio and video signals
  5. TRS: (Tip/Ring/Sleeve)
Jon Whitehead

Jon is the Chief Operating Officer at Dacast. He has over 20 years of experience working in Digital Marketing with a specialty in AudioVisual and Live Streaming technology.