As you can see, there are many different cable types and connectors to choose from. Do your headphones have an attached cable with a connector that is not compatible with your gear? No problem. Again, headphones are just speakers and you can wire any kind of cable and connector to them. Balanced cables, unbalanced cables, XLR, TRS, TRRS connectors, etc; what really matters is the gear you are connecting them to. We'll learn more about that on the next page. Let's get into cable placements and cable lengths next.
Depending on the placement of the cables, you can also minimize the amount of interference intercepting the signal. For instance, if you have single-ended cables, running them perpendicular along power lines (as opposed to running them parallel) will minimize the amount of noise that will enter the signal. Because the cable only has a single polarity it is unable to do common mode rejection and is thus more susceptible to noise and interference.
Noise interference is not a concern with balanced cables on the other hand since they can do common-mode rejection.
So, in applications where you are running lines near power sources or over longer distances, balanced cabling would be preferred over single-ended. In scenarios where you do not need long cable solutions and proximity of power lines are not a concern, single-ended cables should be just fine.
If your sole factor in determining the cable you need is based on noise and interference concerns, then in some cases you can save money and opt for more budget-friendly single-ended cables. If you are very detailed about the placement of your wires and make sure there is no power current crossover, you have shorter cable lengths, etc, then you could potentially get away with single-ended solutions. But you'll have to assess this on a case-by-case basis. Environmental factors, RF, various wireless signals, power cable placement, and much more need to be factored in to make the best decision on the proper cable type and requirements for your situation.
The Right Cable for the Right System
Cables have the power to make your signal extremely clear or extremely poor. They are an integral component to your system that often gets overlooked or treated as an afterthought. Keep in mind that balanced cables are not necessarily better than single ended cables. It depends on what you plan on using them for: longer cable runs versus shorter runs, need for noise resistance, signal chain, components and inputs/outputs, etc.
If your signal/source is unbalanced, then using a balanced cable is not going to add any sonic benefit or enhance your sound. The connectors at the ends of your cable must also be appropriate for the cable type. For instance, if you attach TRS connectors to a single-ended cable, it does not magically make it a balanced cable.
On the other hand, if you connect a single-ended cable to a balanced source, it will still "work" and transfer the audio signal, but it will also still be susceptible to noise interference since it will not be able to utilize common-mode rejection (and is ultimately not advised).
Application is key. If you use the wrong cable for the wrong application, it can actually be detrimental to your sound. Knowing how to use your gear appropriately and for the right purpose can make all the difference.