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Balanced and unbalanced signals
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques  
Author Balanced and unbalanced signals
naturligfunktion
Hello,

I've been thinking quite a bit what's the difference between unbalanced and balanced signals, and where to use them "correctly". Problem is that I really don't know the difference. All I know is that XLR is balanced and someone told me that balanced is good.

But is that the case? Is there times when an unbalanced signal is something to prefer? If so, why?

What do you guys think? Many thanks
Michael O.
This is pretty much the defacto bal/un bible and explains things in simple terms:
https://www.rane.com/note110.html
synthpriest
Great document to have handy in the lab while making cables. Thanks for sharing. Guinness ftw!
tuttlerecall
Michael O. wrote:
This is pretty much the defacto bal/un bible and explains things in simple terms:
https://www.rane.com/note110.html


2nd this.

The rane notes are super helpful in wiring a studio. The why not Wye article helped me understand the importance of direction in signal flow. https://www.rane.com/note109.html
Esample9
The short answer is, everything should be balanced all the time. Although I realize it isn’t always practical.
synthpriest
Esample9 wrote:
The short answer is, everything should be balanced all the time. Although I realize it isn’t always practical.


This is not possible when most of the synths and samplers of this world produce unbalanced signals. Of course those signals could be converted to balanced ones but the cost for a big setup could be tremendous. Trial and error approach while seeking what sounds more pleasing is the only option right here. Guinness ftw!
jorg
Balanced is for very long cable runs, such as in a large studio or stage situation. For the typical small studio, the loss you'd encounter when transforming normal instruments to balanced format is worse than the degradation due to unbalanced cable.
3pand
Great info, thanks everyone. I found this article that says some designers find that an unbalanced design sounds better and/or is more cost effective in some situations:

https://www.soundonsound.com/sound-advice/q-why-might-equipment-design er-prefer-unbalanced-io
felixer
3pand wrote:
Great info, thanks everyone. I found this article that says some designers find that an unbalanced design sounds better and/or is more cost effective in some situations:

https://www.soundonsound.com/sound-advice/q-why-might-equipment-design er-prefer-unbalanced-io

and remember that most devices are unbalanced in their circuitry. the balancing is purely done at the input/output stages. using transformers or specialized chips. and both impart a certain sound on things ... that you may like but that is not the point.
slow_riot
Balancing has several benefits for signal to noise ratio and signal integrity in audio systems. One is rejecting noise that can be induced on cable runs, the most frequent offender is 50/60Hz mains hum. It also can allow cancellation of a variety of 0V type noise (hum, buzz etc.) through the properties of a differential input stage. Problems with voltages impressed across the signal return paths of different devices can also create problems with control voltages, that balancing can overcome without needing expnsive studio refits.

It is also the only way to achieve true shielding in modules and cable runs, because it allows a dedicated shield which does not carry signal currents.

A balanced input and output stage *can* have no impact on signal integrity (or "the sound"), or indeed, the cost. Use of balancing is often cheaper and with less colouration, because the tendancy in unbalanced devices is to use DI boxes for integration into live and studio environments, which are expensive and create all manner of other problems.

Balancing doesn't really have anything to do with long cable runs, which need special consideration with opamps because of the effects of capacitive loading. Although these connections are often the ones which highlight signal integrity problems the most.
jorg
As users of electronic devices, far more than we are builders of such devices, we have to use what a given device provides; in the world of synthesizers, that is almost always unbalanced signals. Also true for electrified instruments such as guitar. To use a balanced cable with one of these devices, I'd have to put it through a conversion, typically a transformer. I would only be able to justify the loss any such device adds (not to mention cost and complexity) if it solves an actual problem. In my small studio, that's not what happens. When I have encountered noise, there are multiple other fixes I've applied first (better power supplies, better quality cables, more careful attention to grounding).

Mics, mixers, and pro sound reinforcement equipment usually offer both options.

In nearly 50 years of electrical engineering, I've yet to encounter a situation where the only fix to a noise problem is balanced signals, except for very long cable runs in hostile environments (e.g. factories, ships, large performance venues). In those cases, yes, balanced cables absolutely make sense. Otherwise, they are not at all the first resort.
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