Cables are an important part of our lives. They bring electricity to our homes, the internet to our computers, and cable TV to our screens. Similarly, cables are what bring the sound to the studio monitor to be replicated in its true and pure form. The type and quality of the cable are very important.
So what are the different kinds of cables available for studio monitors? The very first classification would be analog and digital cables. The digital cables are relatively rare in studio monitors. Many high-end monitors do provide the options for a digital cable but it’s usually best to go for the classic analog. The basic types of analog cables would be unbalanced and balanced cables.
Unbalanced cables have two wires. One wire is for the signal, and the second one is ground. The signal cable is responsible for transmitting the sound, while the ground is for reference. The Unbalanced cable connectors have two conductors, one for each wire.
A common unbalanced cable used is TS cable. The TS stands for Tip Sleeve. It’s a two-conductor connector for a two-wire unbalanced cable. Other unbalanced cables used are RCA and banana plugs.
The unbalanced cable is classified as such because it is not protected against noise. That means the signal can become noisy on the way. The noise mostly comes from other electrical equipment around the cable. This problem with noise requires that the unbalanced cables stay short, at most around 15-20 feet.
Despite the limitation of unbalanced cable, their use is quite common because instruments like guitars cannot produce balanced sound by default. They produce unbalanced sound, and if it has to go longer the 20 feet, the unbalanced signal is converted to balanced using a Direct Injection (DI) box.
Balanced cables have three wires, two for signal and one for ground. The two signal wires are fed the same signal inverted, and they both gather noise in the way. At the end connector, the signals are recombined and the noise in both wires cancels each other out (because the collected noise was inverted).
Balanced cables are great against noise. The three-wire method protects the signal from noise even when the cable is as long as 100 feet.
Whenever there is a choice between using a balanced or unbalanced cable, there is usually more preference given to balanced cables, even for shorter lengths. Less noise and interference is always desirable. Especially for studio monitors that will replicate the sound as accurately as they can. This means you will be able to hear the noise in the sound quite clearly as well.
The two most common types of balanced cables used with studio monitors are TRS and XLR.
XLR stands for eXternal Line Return. It is a three-wire balanced cable with three separate conductors. The design is protrusions on the male connectors and cavities in the female connectors. The XLR cables are mostly comparable to TRS cable because they are both balanced cables with three wires.
XLR connectors usually latch on, making them tug-resistant. It also ensures that the connectors fit properly even if you remove them often.
TRS stands for Tip Ring Sleeve. The name might be evidence of the fact that it is related to the unbalanced TS cable. The TRS connectors are basically the same with just one additional ring on the TRS connector. This ring provides another disconnect in the sleeve conductor, splitting it into two, Ring and Sleeve. Along with the Tip, these three conductors are connected to the three wires of a TRS cable.
TRS stands for Tip Ring Sleeve.
XLR and TRS are both called ¼ inch jacks normally. While the XLR consists of three different conductor pins or holes, the TRS is one pin connector, called the male TRS connector. The three connectors are three separate conducting areas of the single pin: the Tip, Ring, and Sleeve.
Difference Between TRS and XLR Cables
There is not much difference between the two when it comes to noise. The cable connecting either two TRS connectors or two XLR connectors can even be the same. The difference comes from the two different types of connectors.
The TRS connector was designed to be frequently removed and replaced. They were originally designed for telephone exchanges, where the frequent connection and disconnection of these cables was common. Removing and reconnecting TRS cables is very easy. On the flip side, these connectors might need cleaning if they stay in one jack for too long.
XLR connectors latch on. Another benefit of XLR is that similar to 3-pin electric plugs; the ground gets connected first, discharging any stray energy in the line. They are designed to stay connected for longer periods of times.
XLR cables have three different pins for three wires, which are ground, hot, and cold. While connecting, the correct pins should be inserted into the correct cavities. XLR cables are relatively more expensive than TRS cables.
TRS Cable for Studio Monitors
Studio monitors can have a lot of input choices: analog and digital, and within analog, balanced or unbalanced. If the monitor does not have the digital option (which they rarely do), it is best to go with a balanced cable. In balanced, the choice is between XLR and TRS.
A balanced TRS cable is a much better choice than an unbalanced TS cable for instance. Unless you don’t have a choice like with a guitar or another instrument that only produce unbalanced.
Some of the variables that go into buying the right TRS cable for your studio monitor are the length, conductor, shielding, and the quality of the connector.
The simple rule for the length would be the smaller the better. Even though the balanced cable will not pick up noise for length up to 100 feet, having a longer cable to connect studio monitor doesn’t make sense. Once studio monitors are set up, they are rarely moved.
The quality of the conductor is important, and most of the time, the conductor is pure copper. Some expensive cables use silver, which might be the better conductor but it can wear down over time. In rare cases, the conductor core is solid (one single thick wire as opposed to many thin ones). But the normal standard conductors are better because they offer more flexibility.
A balanced cable is almost completely noise-free. But a shielded TRS cable can have an additional mesh just inside the insulation, which acts as even greater protection against noise. The shielding is a conductive mesh that is especially good against electromagnetic noise. Electromagnetic noise is usually produced by monitors, permanent magnet devices, and other electronic devices.
No matter how good the cable is, without a good connector, the overall quality of cable comes down. Gold plated and silver plated connectors are usually preferred. They are both highly resistant to corrosion. Cables with gold connectors are usually more expensive than silver ones.
Good Studio Monitor Cables
Here are our picks for some of the good TRS cables available.
Mogami GOLD TRS-10
Mogami GOLD TRS-10 is a 10-foot cable with the gold connector. It is a well-balanced TRS cable to consider. Mogami uses a 4 conductor configuration. This is ideal for home studios that suffer from high electromagnetic interference. The gold plated connectors have a long life, and safe against elements.
The cable is relatively costly.
Canare L-4E6S Star Quad
The L-4E6S is another cable that uses the 4 conductor configuration for an efficient operation against noise. The connectors are gold plated. The Japanese manufacturers Canare are known for the endurance of their cables. The cable is reasonably priced.
LyxPro ¼” TRS to ¼” TRS Balanced Cable
LyxPro ¼” TRS to ¼” TRS Balanced Cable is an ultra-flexible also used by many music-makers to connect their monitors. The cable is durable enough to constantly travel with musical gear without it affecting the quality. Gold plated contacts make for great conductivity and results. The helical shielding provides an extra layer of protection against noise.
If you have done everything right, the home studio might act like a well-oiled machine. Providing you results the way you wanted. But if any element of the studio is not up to the mark, the whole music-making or mixing process would suffer.
Therefore, it is imperative that you take utmost care when choosing a TRS cable, which might seem trivial compared to your other gear. Even a small decision of choosing the right TRS cable can be game-changing for your music.