TS vs TRS: What’s the Difference?
TS and TRS cables are used everywhere in audio production and entertainment. You’ll find them in large professional recording studios, stadiums jam-packed with fans for a live musical performance, and in smaller home installations. But what’s the difference between the two? In this article, we’ll compare TS vs TRS connectors and cables, and look at when and where you should use each to get the best out of your investment.
TS and TRS cables and connectors are commonly grouped together under a couple of different umbrella terms depending on the outside diameter of the connector itself. Both TS and TRS cables can be referred to as quarter inch or 1/4″ cables. This is because the ends of each connector have an outside diameter of roughly 1/4″ or 6.35 mm. These connectors are also made in the 1/8″ or 3.5 mm variety, which are more commonly used in consumer audio products such as headphones and wired ear buds.
TS cables and connectors can also be called phone connectors, phone jacks, jack plugs, mono cables, guitar cables, or instrument cables, and we’ll learn why next.
TS Connectors & Cables
The “T” in TS stands for “tip” which is referring to the end of the connector. The “S” in TS stands for “sleeve” which is referring to the middle part of the connector. Each part is electrically isolated from the other with an insulator between the two.
TS cables carry just one audio signal through a single conductor. The audio signal conductor is electrically connected to the “tip” portion. The shield in the TS cable is connected to ground, the “sleeve” of the connector.
Since TS connectors and cables only carry one audio signal, they’re referred to as mono cables. TS carry one signal vs TRS connectors and cables, which can carry two audio signals due to it having two signal conductors.
Signal balancing is a method used to reduce noise interference and hum as the cable transmits the signal between two points. For balancing to work, we need two signal conductors in our cable. TS cables only have one signal conductor and are therefore unable to transmit balanced audio. The video below shows how signal balancing works.
When Should I Use TS Cables?
In the past, TS cables were used by telephone operators to connect calls between two parties. Today, they’re commonly used to connect guitars and other electrical instruments to audio interfaces, amps, and mixing consoles.
TS cables only carry one audio signal, so they should normally be used with unbalanced TS jacks. Some examples of unbalanced inputs are DI boxes, or any instrument/Hi-Z input jack on a mixing console or audio interface. TS cables will still work with TRS jacks in most cases to transmit an unbalanced, mono signal without problems. Another difference in TS vs TRS cables is this – if you require signal balancing or need to transmit stereo audio, you’ll need to use a TRS cable.
TRS Connectors & Cables
Just like with TS connectors, the “T” in TRS stands for “tip” which is referring to the end of the connector. The “R” in TRS stands for “ring” which is referring to a ring wedged between the tip and sleeve. And the “S” in TRS stands for “sleeve” which is referring to the longer part of the connector. Just like TS connectors, each part is electrically isolated from the other and carries a different signal.
TRS cables are capable of carrying two audio signals. One signal is labeled + and transmitted through the tip. The other is labeled – and transmitted through the ring. The third is the grounded shield, connected to the sleeve.
Since TRS connectors and cables can carry two audio signals they’re often referred to as stereo cables. Stereo TRS cables are commonly used with headphones.
TRS cables and connectors have two signal conductors and can transmit balanced audio. This makes TRS the better choice vs TS for professional recording applications. Balancing results in less noise interference, especially over longer runs of cable.
When Should I use TRS Cables?
TRS cables can be used to transmit mono and stereo signals from balanced sources. An example of a balanced mono signal could be one coming from a condenser microphone in a recording situation. Balanced stereo signals are commonly transmitted to monitoring headphones.
TS vs TRS Summary