A ‘TS’ cable stands for ‘Tip Sleeve’ and is generally used for mono and unbalanced signals such as a guitar or bass. Now, a ‘TRS’ cable is short for ‘Tip Ring Sleeve’ and can be used for balanced mono as well as stereo signals. If you listen to old vinyl from the 60s a lot are mixed for mono as radio, the common way of hearing music was a mono speaker. You might not notice a difference between the two but they have very different purposes and the circuitry is completely different.
First, what’s the main difference between a ‘TS’ and ‘TRS’ Cable?
A ‘TS’ cable is used for unbalanced and mono signal. A ‘TRS’ can be used for both balanced (stereo) and unbalanced signals.
‘TRS’ cable have lower noise interference than ‘TS’ cables.
The ‘TS’ cable only carries one audio signal. Which cannot transmit balanced audio since it only has one conductor.
4. If you want a full stereo, left and right signal you can only use a ‘TRS’ as they have two audio signals. This is the same signal used for headphones which allow you to hear guitar instruments on left and right speakers.
Now ... what are ‘TS’ Cables mostly used for?
They used for guitar, bass, pedals, keyboards, microphones to connect to an amplifier. Speaker outputs, line outputs also use ‘TS’ cables.
What about ‘TRS’? What are they used for?
‘TRS’ can also be used for microphones, stereo headphones, and you know those big mixing desks you see? Yep, ‘TRS’.
Is my guitar cable as ‘TS’ or ‘TRS’?
It is a ‘TS’ because it uses a single audio signal. Most instrument and audio units are ‘TS’. You could have two outputs on your guitar but that’s usually a custom and will need something that splits the signals. For example Billy Sheehan has two outputs on his Yamaha bass, in which the bridge and neck pick ups have individual outputs so he can send them to difference speakers. But he still uses ‘TS’ cables with each output. Much like out Y-Splitter cable it takes the Stereo signal and splits it into two mono.
Can I use a ‘TRS’ cable be used as a normal (ie ‘TS’) cable?
Yes, you can use a ‘TRS’ cable as a guitar cable. The only thing is that it will not conduct a balanced signal. The guitar, unless customized, can only produce an unbalanced audio signal. If you’re thinking of using a ‘TRS’ cable to get rid of unwanted noise, it won’t solve your issue. Check your pedalboard connection or your amp in/output, that might be the main problem. However if you’re stuck and need a ‘TRS’ temporarily it will work just fine.
What are the visual differences between a ‘TS’ and ‘TRS’?
While they look similar there is an easy difference between them. You will notice by the black rings on the jack. The ‘TS’ (Tip, Sleeve) only has one ring. The ‘TRS’ (Tip, Ring, Sleeve) has two rings around the tip. Since the ‘TRS’ has two conductors and a shield there are two rings. The ‘TS’ is mono as previously mentioned so it only has one ring.
What about using an Audio-Interface?
Some Audio-Interfaces will mark what is for ‘TS’ or ‘TRS’. Some with have INT or High-Z, those are expecting a ‘TS’ connection. You might see others that have LINE written. Those are expecting a ‘TRS’ connection. If you flip your audio-interface they should in many cases be line leveled. Meaning if you look at your audio-interface from above it should be a straight connection from front to back of the unit.