Balanced and Unbalanced Headphones: What’s The Difference?

When looking for new headphones, there are so many options and factors to consider than making the right decision seems like an arduous and almost impossible task. One of these decisions that many may find themselves having to make is whether to choose headphones with a balanced cable or an unbalanced one.

So what’s the difference between the two?

The makeup of a cable can have a significant effect on how the overall audio system will sound. Your set up is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, so finding the best cable for your needs is a crucial factor. An unbalanced cable uses two electrical conductors in their design; one for the audio signal, and one for the ground. This results in a connection that is much more subject to hum and interference. A balanced cable uses three conductors; one for the positive and one for the negative phase of the signal, and one for the ground. This ensures maximum protection against hum and interference. Using a balanced connection will also increase the headroom, stereo image and soundstage of the music you are listening to.


Does my gear support a balanced connection?

Generally, a balanced connector will be 2.5mm in size rather than the standard 3.5mm connector most frequently used by unbalanced headphones. Players that support balanced headphones will also have a 2.5mm port.

Some headphones come with the option to swap between a 3.5mm unbalanced cable or a 2.5mm balanced one. Some headphones may have removable unbalanced cables, which can then be swapped for a balanced cable bought separately, so long as the connection between the headphone and the cable is compatible.

Do you have any gear you could recommend?

Two brands that are making some excellently designed yet reasonably priced balanced connection compatiable products are FiiO and Pioneer.

For earphones, the new FiiO F5 earphones provide a rich and detailed sound, and if you would rather use them with unbalanced equipment, the cables are interchangable, and the 3.5mm unbalanced cable is Made For iPhone (MFi) certified, and comes with in line controls! Alternatively, the Pioneer SE-CH5BL cover a huge frequency range (up to 45kHz!), resulting in a realistic sound with pin point accuracy. Both of these sets are Hi-Res certified too!

If you love your current interchangable cable earphones and don’t want to swap them, you can still balance them using FiiO’s range of balanced RC cables! They come in three different variations, with each compatible with a different type of earphone connector, depending on what brand your current earphones are.


A good example of a player with a balanced output would be the new Pioneer XDP-30R. A small but powerful player that provides an immersive sound experience for satisfying the audiophile and casual listener alike.


All of these suggestions and many more balanced connector products are now available at AMP3. If you need any further advice, be sure to give us a call or a message and we’ll be happy to help you find the perfect product to suit your needs!