Balanced Cables: How Headphone Cables Make a Difference




Corded headphones hanging on a hook on the wall


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If you are searching for new headphone cables, you’ve likely come across balanced headphones. Though they may perform the same role as unbalanced cables, they are often significantly more expensive.

But if you use balanced headphones does it make a difference? 

Balanced headphone cables can reduce audio interference for a clearer sound. They can also increase dynamic range. But the user will need to make sure that the audio source is also balanced properly. If they don’t, using a balanced headphone cable will have a minimal effect. 

It’s common to notice a slightly better audio quality when using balanced cables. But is it worth paying extra for? That will depend on why you are planning on using the cable.

Keep reading to learn about balanced headphones and whether they will present any benefits for you. 

Corded headphones hanging on a hook on the wall

What Are the Advantages of Balanced Headphone Cables?

Before we discuss the pros and cons of balanced headphones, let’s quickly talk about what makes them special. 

It all comes down to the way that they have been wired. In this case, they have two audio channels, compared to the one used by an unbalanced cable. One will carry a negative signal, the other will be positive. 

Now that we have a better idea of what these headphone cables do, let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why people choose to use them: 

  • Less interference. It’s common for audio interference to end up cluttering your listening experience, as the wires pick up feedback. Both the positive and negative wires are going to pick up a little interference. But the polarities will cancel themselves out when they hit the headphones. This eliminates any interference for a clearer listening experience. 
  • Better for longer cables. The longer the cable is the more electronic interference it will experience. As we mentioned, balanced cables will be able to eliminate this so you can listen to music clearly. 
  • More dynamic range. This is the difference between the loudest and softest parts of the song. This ensures that all parts of the song will sound fantastic, regardless of the volume they are played at. Furthermore, you will have more headroom in the upper ranges before the notes start to become distorted. 

The upshot of these functions is that a balanced headphone cable will create superior audio quality. You might also start to notice more detail in the songs.

Music lovers will be able to enjoy their favorite songs in the purest form possible. 

What are the Drawbacks of Balanced Headphone Cables? 

While there are several reasons why you might want to consider using balanced headphone cables, there are a few drawbacks that you will need to think about.

These include: 

  • Requires optimal setup. For you to experience any of these benefits, you will need to make sure that your setup is tuned to the optimal settings. This can be a lot of work, often requiring a lot of fine-tuning to get everything the way you want it. 
  • More expensive. Balanced headphone cables are significantly more expensive than conventional cables. It’s not uncommon to see these for around $100. An unbalanced cable will be $20. Furthermore, you will need to pay for the machinery that is compatible with these cables, which will be top-of-the-range. 
  • More complex circuitry. This will be more complex than other types of cables. This usually isn’t a problem. But it will require you to implement it properly, otherwise, it can add interference, though this won’t often be audible. 

Are Balanced Headphones Better Than Unbalanced Headphone Cables? 

Now that we have a better idea of what balanced headphones are, it’s time to consider if they are any better than their unbalanced variety. Here are some of the things to consider. 

What Are Unbalanced Headphone Cables

Traditionally, unbalanced cables only use the ground and signal wire in their audio signal setup. The ground wire protects us from fires and electrical overloads, etc.

The signal wire sends the audio signal to headphones, producing the sound that we hear in both ears. 

Pros and Cons of Unbalanced Headphones

Let’s start with some of the reasons why you might want to think twice before getting unbalanced headphones: 

  • More prone to interference. Due to their nature, there is a greater chance that these models will be more likely to pick up on electrical interference. This can have a minor impact on the sound quality. 
  • Chance of cross-talk. This is where the signal going into each ear can leak together. The good news is that this won’t usually be audible. But there is a chance that when you are using professional-level equipment, it can sometimes be picked up. 

Of course, everything won’t be bad. There are a few reasons why you might want to consider using unbalanced headphones.

These include: 

  • More inexpensive. As we mentioned, unbalanced headphones are significantly less expensive than their balanced alternatives. This makes them the ideal choice for people on a tight budget. 
  • More availability. This is far more common than balanced headphones. Because of this, you should be able to use it with more audio technologies. So, you don’t need a professional setup to enjoy these headphones. 

Should You Choose Balanced Or Unbalanced Headphones? 

So, which option is the best? Ultimately, it comes down to what you are looking for. If you are a music lover and you want to get the best possible performance, you might want to choose balanced headphones. 

Most people, though, won’t want to spend hundreds to optimize their listening setup. Because of this, you will be better off choosing a good pair of unbalanced headphones.

To many people, the difference between the two systems will be negligible. 

How Do I Tell If My Headphones Are Balanced?

The quality of the audio source contributes a great deal to the type of audio signals you get in your headphones. The easiest way to tell if your headphones are balanced is by looking at the connector.

You should see two lines, one for the left ear and one for the right. At other times, there will be a large round connector, with four connectors. 

Final Thoughts on Balanced Headphone Cables

Getting the right headphones can have a huge impact on your listening experience. If you love music, balanced headphone cables might be worth the cost.

They can work with top equipment to eliminate interference for a clearer sound. But if your equipment isn’t balanced, it can be tough to hear the difference. 

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