Cables and What They Do: TS and TRS cables (Jack Cables)

TS (Tip and Sleeve) cables and, TRS (Tip, Ring and, Sleeve) cables are extremely common yet perhaps the most confusing of all audio cables. Each have their own application(s) and it is all down to the little black rings. These rings separate the cable into two/three parts, each isolated from each other. 

These cables are commonly referred to as "phone" and "jack" cables. Here are the different types and their uses:

TS 1/4" Cables
have one ring meaning two separate connections, the tip and, the sleeve. One of these connections is used to carry an audio signal, while the other is the ground. As there is only one connector dedicated to audio, this cable only carries a mono signal. It is used for guitars and other electric instruments. Due to the very low signal that instruments output (hence amplifiers), instrument cables are shielded to prevent RF interference from all the electronics nearby. 

Stereo/Balanced 1/4" TRS Cables
 have two purposes, depending on how it is used. A single cable has the capacity to carry two audio signal channels as well as a ground. These two signal channels, depending on what it is plugged into will be either hot and cold or, left and right audio. If it is the former, then the cable will be a balanced mono TRS cable. If it is the latter, it will be an unbalanced stereo TRS cable. 

This image above demonstrates two mono cables combining 
to form a stereo TRS (Jack)

Stereo TRS cables usually come out of headphone outs and monitor outputs while mixing desks, monitors and audio interfaces usually use the balanced TRS cables. An easy way to know is if your speakers have two 1/4" inputs labelled "left" and "right", then they use balanced TRS as two balanced mono cables are needed.

Stereo Minijack 1/8" Cables
are the most familiar cables to pretty much anyone. They are on almost all of our phones as headphone outputs and most speakers have them as the inputs to play music into. Because they follow the TRS format, they are stereo. Adapters from 1/4" to 1/8" are among the most common audio adaptors around and will never be obsolete as long as both connections are used in music.

For more posts in the series of Cables and What They Do, click below: