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How to
Do it Right
Ray Rayburn

Sooner or later the audio professional must interface

balanced outputs to unbalanced inputs. Ray Rayburn has
provided some insight into how this can be accomplished
without fallout.
With regard to balanced outputs, there are actually
four types with two different optimum ways of wiring
them to an unbalanced input:
1. Push-Pull output - This is the most common active (transformerless) output. Here you want to just use
the high side and ground to drive the unbalanced input.
There is a 6 dB loss which usually is no problem as the
unbalanced input usually cant take the level the balanced
output can provide. With some of these outputs tying the
low side to ground may cause overheating of the drive
amp for the low side. If the drive amp is on the same
silicon as the high side drive amp, then distortion on the
high side may occur. Therefore use just the high side (pin
2) and ground (pin 1) and leave the low side (pin 3) disconnected.
2. Transformer like active output - If the low
side is left open circuit like #1 above, then you get about
a 6 dB level loss. If the low side is tied to Ground at the
output you get no level loss, but instead get a 6 dB headroom loss. This is what most manufacturers of such circuits recommend. 6 dB of level loss is usually no problem, and the level is easy to adjust. 6 dB loss of headroom can cause your signal to distort for no apparent reason, and there is no way to fix it. Some versions of this
circuit will misbehave and have poor frequency response
if the low side is left open like #1 above. Sometimes these

So Where Do I Hook
the Wires?

Balanced Output

Unbalanced Input

problems can be reduced by tying the low side to ground

through a resistor equal to the impedance of the unbalanced input. If the low side is tied to Ground at the far
end of the cable like #2 above you often get oscillation!
There seems to be no single best way to drive an unbalanced input from such an output. I dislike this type of
output for this reason.
3. Transformer floating output - In this case the
low side must be tied to ground in order to get audio out
(other than a little highs). The best way to do this is to
wire the output as though it was a normal balanced connection, and tie the low side to ground at the unbalanced
input. There will be no level loss - you may need to pad
the level down to what the unbalanced input will take.
4. Transformer center-tap grounded - Fortunately
rarely seen today. The low side must be left floating, or
the entire output is shorted out. 6 dB level loss. Wire like
#1 above.
Remember that the term balanced refers to the impedance of each output terminal as measured to ground.
It has nothing to do with the voltage symmetry of the
output. In fact, if the impedances are balanced and a
single-ended drive voltage is used, most of the noise rejection benefits of balanced circuitry are retained. Bill
Whitlock of Jensen Transformers provides a clever and
simple way to balance an unbalanced output. A PDF
file for Application Note 003 is available at http:// in the Applications section.
In terms of noise rejection, the transformer has extremely high common-mode impedance to ground, but
low differential impedance, which results in very good
noise rejection.
The transformer-like or cross-coupled feedback
active output is anything but like a transformer. In terms
of noise rejection, it will provide very little since the common-mode impedance to ground is very low. There seems
to be no universal optimum wiring to an unbalanced input. If you wire it like the transformer, most implementations of this circuit that I have tested will oscillate if there
is much line capacitance and/or any significant amount
of common-mode voltage between the drive and receive

Push-Pull Output:
Most common active output.
6 dB level loss
Dont short the low side!


Balanced Ouput

Unbalanced Input

Transformer Emulation:
6 dB headroom loss
Leave low side open!
Can oscillate if low side
grounded at far end.

Balanced Output

(See text)

Unbalanced Input

Transformer Floating:
No level loss
Low side must be
grounded at unbalanced

Transformer "Floating"

Unbalanced Input

Transformer Center-Tapped:
6 dB level loss
Low side must be left

Transformer CT
Grounded Output

Unbalanced Input

A Versatile Solution...

A Simple Implementation of the

Impedance Balanced Output
by Rick Chinn
Ive always been interested in transformerless output circuits. Over the years, Ive watched and played with
the variations that have appeared: the chain of inverters,
the cross-coupled circuits, etc. and while each of them
solved a particular problem, none was as foolproof as a
decent transformer driven with a high-current capability
The issue of electronics-challenged users connecting the output to both balanced and unbalanced inputs
was always particularly vexing. The chain of inverters
circuit emulates a grounded center-tapped transformer.
When used with an unbalanced input by connecting the
low-side output to ground, the chain of inverters circuit,
injects current (usually distorted) into your ground system. If everything is free of pin 1 trouble, then this is
probably OK. If the unbalancing happens at the load, then
this ground current is flowing through your snake system, which often causes trouble. This unbalancing act
also severely taxes the circuitry driving the grounded
output. Another problem this circuit has is a free 6 dB
The cross-coupled output emulates a floating transformer winding. Unlike the transformer, this circuit demands that it be unbalanced at the source. Heaven help
you if there is a pin 1 problem designed into the units
output connector (a pin 1 problem results from pin 1 of
input and/or output connectors being connected to signal
ground rather than earth ground). Unbalancing at the load
causes instability. The good news is that the gain is constant, balanced or unbalanced.
All of this is exacerbated by most manufacturers
omission of any discussion of output stage topology in
their manuals. Of course, if they were considerate enough
to include a schematic (not often), then anyone with a bit
of circuit smarts can figure this out at a glance. Some
manufacturers now include a discussion of balanced and
unbalanced interface issues along with specific recommendations for their unit. I believe that they should also
describe their units input and output circuit topologies.
As an equipment designer, Ive agonized over this
problem for some time now. One solution is to simply
provide two connectors: one marked balanced, and one
marked unbalanced. This works, and doesnt really take
a rocket scientist to figure out (good when the user re-

fuses to read the g!@**! manual). On the other hand, it

requires two connectors along with more PCB space and
panel space (both cost money, and panel space may be
limited). Ive also gone so far as to insist on using TRS
connectors for the unbalanced outputs, wiring the ring
contact to circuit ground. This way, connecting the gear
using a TRS cable into a balanced input works just fine.
The people at Mackie Designs have played with a
scheme that they called Impedance Balanced for phone
jack outputs. At first, I gasped and sputtered. But after
thinking about the problem, Ive come to embrace this as
the best solution, especially when you dont have dual
output connectors.
Simply stated, you use a TRS jack for the connector,
and you connect the ring contact to ground through the
same resistance as used for the build-out resistor on the
tip contact. From the lines standpoint, the circuit is balanced, driven from a grounded center-tap source. Yes,
only half of the circuit is driven from an audio standpoint. It doesnt matter what sort of plug the user inserts,
either way is optimum for that case. For the unbalanced
case, no ground current flows.
From the balanced inputs standpoint, there are equal
impedances from both sides of the line to ground. This
results in the best common-mode rejection (CMR) performance, especially if close-tolerance resistors are used
at the output side. The circuit noise is actually 3 dB less
than either of the other two balanced line drivers. There
is no level difference if used with a balanced or unbalanced input.
Finally, you should note that both AKG and Neumann
use this circuit for their transformerless microphones. If
its good enough for them at microphone signal levels,
Im comfortable with it at line level.

Rick Chinn is a consultant with Uneeda Audio in

Redmond, WA. Formerly employed by Mackie Designs, he was instrumental in the design of the SR
line of live mixing consoles.