Understanding Balanced VS. Unbalanced XLR Cables

Yes. You can have Unbalanced XLR cables. Let me tell you about both types of standard studio cables!

Music Studio Essentials: Understanding Balanced VS. Unbalanced XLR Cables

Musicians and producers will probably have heard the term “Balanced” & “Unbalanced” used in reference to cables. Most likely those cables were XLR cables. But, do you know what the difference is?

The Anatomy of Balanced vs. Unbalanced Cords

Before we can get into the difference between the two types of cords, we need to understand what is inside them.

Once you remove the outer plastic housing from an unbalanced cord, you will run into what is called a “Braided Shield”. That is a mesh of copper wires wrapped around a single smaller signal wire. There are a few different forms of braids. There are single, double and French braiding styles. Each has a different effect of incoming noise.

Unbalanced braided-copper shielding

Unbalanced braided-copper shielding

If you are going to make or repair an unbalanced wire, you will need to gently gather those loose wire strains and twist them together.

Unbalanced positive wire shielding

Unbalanced positive wire shielding

Balanced cables have a bit more inside. After removing the outer plastic layer, you might encounter one of two things. The cord, depending on quality, might have just a braided shield, like that of the unbalanced cord above, but it also might have another foil shield for double the protection, like the picture below.

Balanced chord braid foil

Balanced cord braid foil

Here is the same wire with the braided shield gathered and twisted together giving you a better look at the foil.

Balanced chord exposed foil

Balanced cord exposed foil

Once you gently pull the foil over to the side, you will notice that a balanced cable has two signal wires. These are positive, sometimes called “hot”, and negative signal wires. Not to be confused with stereo wires, like RCAs. Those are two unbalanced cables joined together.

Balanced positive negative braid foil

Balanced positive negative braid foil.

To learn about when to use one over the other and how balanced XLRs actually work click the link below.

Read the Full Article on Ask Audio to Learn More – Ask.Audio/BvU.XLR

*this is an excerpt from my contribution to Ask Audio Magazine and is copied here with permission

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Author: Joshua Casper

Joshua Casper is an Artist, Musician, and Blogger.

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