A TRS Cable is unique in that it can carry either a balanced audio signal or an unbalanced stereo signal. So when the common question, “Are TRS cables balanced?” arises, the answer seems somewhat vague: “They can be.”
Whether a TRS cable is balanced or not depends on what it is connecting. If the cable is between a balanced TRS output and a balanced TRS input, then the cable will carry a balanced signal, as well.
The reason for this is that a TRS cable can carry two audio signals, which gives it the ability to transfer both balanced and stereo audio. When it serves as a balanced audio signal, it is carrying two version of one signal (the normal signal and its inverted form). The input device then combines these two signals, creating one “noiseless” signal, meaning unwanted interference and noise is eliminated from the original audio signal.
On the other hand, when the TRS carries a stereo audio, it is taking the left and right audio signals from the output to the input – and the two signals will remain separate, thus staying in true stereo. A great example of this TRS stereo output is on headphones, which is why you get left audio signal in your left ear and the right in your right ear.
One thing to remember is that the stereo signal will be unbalanced in a TRS cord, as opposed to the balanced mono signal it can carry.
A TRS Cable is Not a Guitar Cord
As a final note, it is important to remember that a TRS cord is not the same as a standard ¼” guitar cord, even though the connectors on the two look very similar.
The above photo illustrates where the TRS connector gets its name, since it contains a Tip, Ring and Sleeve. It has two rings because it has two conductors, therefore containing the ability to carry two individual audio signals. It should be noted that TRS cords also come in 1/8” connectors, like those used on iPod or other MP3 player headphones.
A standard guitar cord, however, only has one connector, and is therefore known as a TS Cable. This type of cord is easily identified by the lack of a Ring in the Sleeve area.