Balanced to unbalanced

Hi everyone, I’m diving further and further into the details of sound output and I’m trying to understand if it makes a difference if I use balanced outs if they anyways go unbalanced into a mixer. So something like XLR to cinch.

I heard balanced outs generally have 6db more level than unbalanced but does this still apply in the case of balanced to unbalanced?

Really appreciate the input! Happy holidays everyone :christmas_tree::sunglasses:

i thought you were talking about outputs :joy: :joy: :joy:
merry christmas!

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Your signal will lose around -6dB when you output balanced to an un-balanced input. It’s the way the physics works. Another way to look at it, a balanced signal is always around -6dB higher than an unbalanced signal. This is generally what people hear when they say balanced XLR sounds “better” than unbalanced RCA - it’s basically louder/stronger.

If you’re running your own external mixer, it doesn’t really matter if you mix things up. Aside from the -6dB hit - sound quality is basically the same between RCA and XLR (especially short runs, less than 10-15 feet).

Where it does count is if you’re plugging into the same mixer as a band with other instruments and mics. Then everybody matching impedances is important because you want to have as much dynamic range as possible to fit everybody into the mix. The person running the mixer will usually force everybody to plug into the correct inputs (mics to mic inputs, guitars to high-z, balanced/un-balanced DJ controllers and keyboards into the matching inputs etc.) When done correctly, the person at the mixing board will have the most amount of head room to make the mix work. In many professional settings, they have everyone plug their gear into a DI box which will lower your hotter signal to mic level (the lowest signal on the mixer totem pole). With everyone’s gear plugged into a DI Box - everyone will be at the same lower mic level and the tech will have the most headroom on the mixer to mix everybody together.


  • if you run un-balanced RCA to your personal mixer and then run balanced out from your mixer, you’ll get the -6dB boost - it’s a good reason to use a personal mixer.
  • generally DJ audio isn’t super-dynamic compared to LIVE audio

Ahhh, excellent: an audio fundamentals question.

when we’re talking electrical/electronic signals, a 6dB boost means a 4x higher signal, where a 6dB drop means 1/4 lower signal

A balanced signal run is always preferred to an unbalanced one, because the signal is 6dB higher (compared to the noise floor).

I mention the noise floor because in the analog world, when you turn up the gain on a mixer to get a signal in the optimal range, the noise from that signal gets turned up as well…and then passed onto the amplifiers and speakers and listeners’ ears.

So to keep signal well above the noise of a system, in this case a PA or sound system, balanced signal pathways are the way to go, or you’ll be amplifying noise AS WELL AS the signal…your mix/performance. You don’t want that (cumulative, amplified) noise to detract from your art, do you?

This doesn’t mean that you should compensate for noise by blasting ridiculously high levels through a sound system: it’ll just get turned down somewhere down the line to appropriate levels. What it means is that a proper level leaves about 20dB of wiggle room (to go louder) on the output meters, which will keep the noise 40+ dB below that “sweet spot”

Hope this helps. Happy Holidays!


Thank you so much, this is super helpful!!

Thank you both of you for your detailed explanations!

always happy to help…it’s important fundamental knowledge that a good many people overlook.

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Hi all!

I just wanted to chime in and thank both @Michael_Wisniewski & @heysoundude for such great answers!

We are grateful to have such helpful members of our community!


Raising our bar as users raises everybody’s bar ;-D

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