TS vs TRS vs TRRS AUDIO CABLES: What Is the Difference?

September 27, 2020

In this post, you’ll learn the difference between TS, TRS, and TRRS connectors. By the end, you’ll understand how each connector is designed to carry a specific type of audio signal.

What is the difference between TS, TRS, and TRRS?

TS, TRS, and TRRS indicates the sections on a ¼-inch or 3.5mm connector. The letters stand for tip, ring, and sleeve. Each conductive section allows for an additional connection between the source and destination.

¼-inch & 3.5mm Audio Connectors

All of the connectors you see here are either ¼-inch or 3.5mm connectors. The differentiating characteristic of each connector is the number of conductive sections.

¼-inch and 3.5mm connectors consist of three types of sections – tip, ring, and sleeve. Some connectors only have a tip and a sleeve – some have a tip, a ring, and a sleeve – and some have a tip, two rings, and a sleeve.

In order for a cable to carry a signal, it needs to form a complete electrical circuit between the source and the destination. A complete circuit consists of at least two wires. Each section of the connector is connected to a conductive pathway that runs through the cable. 

The unique configuration of each connector gives it the ability to transmit different types of signals. That could mean balanced or unbalanced signals, mono or stereo signals, or even bi-directional signals.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of connector and its common uses.

TS Audio Connectors (Tip-Sleeve)

This is a TS connector. TS stands for Tip-Sleeve.

1/4-inch TS Cables

The two conductive sections provide two connections, meeting the minimum requirement for creating an electrical circuit between the source and destination.

¼-inch TS connectors have two common applications – instrument cables and speaker cables.

¼-inch instrument cables consist of a signal wire surrounded by a shield and are used to carry unbalanced signals. I recommend this instrument cable by RapcoHorizon.

¼-inch speaker cables look exactly the same from the outside, but there is a big difference – a speaker cable consists of two identical wires with no shield. I recommend this speaker cable by RapcoHorizon.

Watch this video to learn more about the difference between ¼-inch instrument cables and speaker cables.

3.5mm TS Cables

3.5mm TS connectors are relatively rare, but I have seen them. They are usually found on consumer microphones or infrared control systems.

Here is a high-quality 3.5mm TS cable on Amazon.

TRS Audio Connectors (Tip-Ring-Sleeve)

This is a TRS connector. TRS stands for Tip-Ring-Sleeve.

1/4-inch TRS Cables

This connector has three sections, which indicates that three pathways run through the cable.

¼-inch TRS cables are most commonly used to carry balanced signals. They consist of two signal wires and a shield. 

I recommend this RapcoHorizon 1/4-inch TRS balanced line cable.

To learn how balanced signals work, read this post I wrote about balanced and unbalanced signals.

3.5mm TRS Cables

3.5mm TRS cables are usually used to carry stereo signals, which means they carry both a left signal and a right signal.

The Tip and Ring carry the left and the right signal, while the sleeve connects to a third conductor. This third conductor provides a common pathway that completes both the left and the right circuit.

If a TRS cable is used to transmit a stereo signal, the signal is unbalanced.

This is a good 3.5mm TRS stereo male-to-male cable. It allows you to connect a device to an auxiliary input.

TRRS Audio Connectors (Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve)

This is a TRRS connector. TRRS stands for Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve.

This connector has four sections, which allow for four connections between the connected devices.

¼-inch TRRS cables are very rare. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one.

3.5mm TRRS Cables

3.5mm TRRS cables are very common. They are typically used for headphones that have a built-in microphone.

The four connections allow for a left and a right speaker as well as a microphone. In this case, all three of these circuits are completed by a common pathway.

To extend headphone cables with TRRS connectors, I recommend a cable like this 3.5mm TRRS headphone (with microphone) extension cable.

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