• Donny

TRS connectors, a balancing act?

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

Today I want to explain the difference between quarter inch guitar plugs and TRS quarter inch plugs. TRS plugs can be used in three distinct and different ways and can be the source of confusion, so hopefully this blog post can help. Quarter inch plugs were first used by the telephone industry hence the term "phone plug." Later, electric guitars, basses, and keyboards adopted the design and all of a sudden you'll hear them called "guitar plugs." Seems legit. The other term you'll sometimes hear is TS which stands for Tip Sleeve, the two parts of the business end of the connector. TRS stands for Tip Ring Sleeve. It's easy to tell the difference. TS has two connection surfaces divided by a single thin band, and TRS has three connection surfaces divided by two thin bands. (see example A.)

TRS vs TS connectors

TS connectors are always mono. There's no other way it can be since there are only two components, hot and ground = tip and sleeve. They are the same size as TRS and fit into the same quarter inch sized jack.


Note: the plug is the part you hold soldered to a cable, the jack is the receptacle you put the plug into on your gear. TRS connectors are a little more complicated and can be used for balanced mono, stereo headphone, and for insert cables. One connector with different uses.

Balanced Mono Balanced mono is used to prevent the collection of un-wanted noise, hum, or buzz over the length of a long cable run. Balanced signals have three parts: hot or "in-phase," cold or "out of phase," and ground. The out of phase component serves to help cancel noise. It's created by the circuitry in the gear, not by the cable.


One signal with three parts. Stereo Headphone Stereo headphone TRS connectors collect a separate Left and Right signal (with a shared ground) from the headphone jack and deliver it to each cup of a headphone allowing a stereo image from the two independent left and right channels. This is an unbalanced signal.

(see example B)

Two signals with three parts.

TRS for headphones

Insert Cables Insert cables are used to get to and from compressors, effect processors, or other sound gear with an analog mixer. Back in the day to do this job mixers had a "patch point" consisting of two jacks, a send and a return. To save space and money (same thing?) designers came up with the "insert jack" using a special cable to get the same job done with one jack instead of two. Brilliant. (see example C) Note: Watch out, on some mixers the Insert jack is abbreviated to Ins. Some people think it means Instrument. It might---so be aware, could be one, could be the other. Two signals going different directions.

TRS on a Send and Return or INSERT cable

I hope this information is helpful. Feel free to call us at 503-774-2481 for further assistance. Donny Wright Astro Audio PDX 4420 SE 64th Ave (side door facing Holgate) Portland OR 97206

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