Friday, April 24, 2009

Balanced to unbalanced audio - wiring?

Simon, one of our wiremen asked me the following question;
...why do we always cut-back the black core when wiring FST into RCA (phono) connectors?

Back when all broadcast gear drove balanced lines with a proper rep-coil (a 1:1 audio transformer) you could safely bodge-unbalance a balanced line by shorting the cold to the screen and you get full signal across half of the sending rep-coil and everything worked. Nowadays not all equipment drives a balanced line this way - may bits of gear use op-amps to derived the +ve and -ve going halves of the balanced pair (via the inverting and non-inverting inputs - think 741 Op-amp). If you pull one of the signal cores to ground you effectively short one bit of silicon and it sits there warming up. That may not be a problem, but in the case of Avitel distribution amplifiers (well, after 1995) they driver stage burns out after a few months (long after the SI engineers have left!). This exact problem bit my backside when I worked at Oasis TV and all the monitoring switchers in the machine room had unbalanced inputs.
The only downside of using my method is that you loose 6dBs of level, but probably into a piece of equipment that wasn't calibrated (like a DVD recorder or TV). I think that's a worthwhile compromise to avoid the possibility of frying the backplane on audio distribution amps (or suchlike).

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