Trying to figure out the best way to connect studio monitor speakers to an audio interface? We’re going to share 7 different methods to connect any audio interface to a set of studio monitors or powered speakers.
Quick Answer: A balanced connection with a TRS or TRS to XLR cable would always be our first choice. If your speaker or audio interface doesn’t have these inputs/outputs, there are various unbalanced solutions too.
In the accompanying video, we demo these methods using two different types of studio monitors.
- Yamaha HS5
These are our favorite studio monitors out of any that we’ve ever used, and these are the monitors we use on a daily basis.
- M-Audio AV40
We’ve picked these to help us demonstrate connection options that are slightly different from those found on the Yamaha HS5.
Studio Monitor Power/Volume Level
Before we jump into showing you how to connect studio monitors to an audio interface, we have some tips and knowledge to share. Our first tip relates to the power/volume setting on your speaker.
We recommend 50% as a good starting point for the level setting on your speakers. Then make any further adjustments to the level using the output volume knob on your audio interface.
Speaker Cable Length
Looking at your desk, you might think that a 6′ cable will be long enough to connect your speaker to the audio interface. But in our experience, this ends up being too short by a few inches.
So fight the temptation to save a few bucks, take our advice, and buy the 10′ version of the cable you need instead. It’ll give you more flexibility in running your cable cleanly too.
Balanced Vs. Unbalanced Cable
It’s important that you understand the differences between balanced and unbalanced cables as we’ll be talking about them a lot during this article. Of the 7 methods we’re going to show you, 2 use balanced cables and 5 use unbalanced cables.
- Also known as TS or Tip and Sleeve
- Good for carrying an audio signal over runs of up to 15′
- Susceptible to electronic distortion and radio interference
- Also known as TRS or Tip, Ring, Sleeve
- Delivers a better audio signal over a longer (600′) cable run
- Sends 2 copies of the signal, which the speaker processes to cancel out noise
Method 1 – Balanced 1/4″ TRS Cable
Audio interface 1/4″ outputs > 1/4″ TRS cables > Speaker 1/4″ inputs
We’re working our way through these methods in order of reliability, preference, and commonality, starting with our favorite method.
In our opinion, a pair of 1/4″ balanced TRS cables is the simplest, highest quality option for connecting studio monitors to an audio interface. Use one cable to connect your left speaker to the interface’s left output and another to connect the right speaker to the right.
Method 2 – Balanced 1/4″ TRS to XLR Cable
Audio interface 1/4″ outputs > 1/4″ TRS to XLR cables > Speaker XLR inputs
This second method also uses a balanced connection but makes use of a cable with a 1/4″ TRS connector on one end and an XLR connector on the other.
The setup is exactly the same as above, only with XLR connectors going into the speakers. The sound quality is the same as method 1, but the cable is less common, so we would reserve this approach for speakers that only have an XLR input.
Method 3 – Unbalanced 1/4″ TS Cable
Audio interface 1/4″ outputs > 1/4″ TS cables > Speaker 1/4″ inputs
If you’re looking to make a small saving on the cost of the cables you use to connect your speakers to an audio interface, an unbalance (TS) cable is the cheaper alternative.
Although unbalanced cables are more prone to interference, a short cable run in a controlled environment can be okay. You’ll just have to be careful with placing cables near power bars and computer equipment.
- 1/4″ Unbalanced TS Cable: https://currentprice.io/ts_cable
Method 4 – Unbalanced 1/4″ TS to RCA Cable
Audio interface 1/4″ outputs > 1/4″ TS to RCA cables > Speaker RCA inputs
If your speakers only have RCA inputs, then none of the above methods will work for you. The RCA inputs on studio monitors vary, with some having inputs for both channels on one speaker and others having one input on each speaker. This method works for both types.
This is an unbalanced connection, with all of the associated limitations we have already spoken about. Still, it will allow you to work with studio monitors that only have RCA inputs.
Method 5 – RCA Cable
Audio interface RCA outputs > RCA cable > Speaker RCA inputs
What if your audio interface only has RCA outputs? In that case, we recommend going RCA to RCA. You could use the RCA to 1/4″ cable from the previous method to use the speaker’s 1/4″ inputs, but we think it’s best to keep things simple.
Method 6 – 1/8″ TRS to Dual 1/4″ TS Cable
Audio interface headphone output > 1/8″ TRS to dual 1/4″ TS cable > Speaker 1/4″ inputs
Some smaller audio interfaces, like the Elgato Wave XLR, only have a 1/8″ headphone jack output. In cases like this, you can use a 1/8″ TRS to dual 1/4″ TS cable.
This is an unbalanced connection, but it can work well with a high-quality set of speakers in giving you sound from a smaller audio interface.
Method 7 – 1/8″ TRS to Dual RCA Cable
Audio interface headphone output > 1/8″ TRS to RCA cable > Speaker RCA inputs
This is a pretty rare situation, but if your audio interface only has a headphone jack and your speakers only have RCA inputs, we still have a solution for you.
Using a 1/8″ TRS to dual RCA cable, you’ll create an unbalanced connection between your audio interface and studio monitors.
7 Ways To Connect Studio Monitors To Audio Interface | Feature Equipment Prices
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2: https://currentprice.io/scarlett_2i2
- Solid State Logic SSL2+: https://currentprice.io/ssl2_plus
- M-Audio M-Track Solo: https://currentprice.io/mtrack_solo
- Elgato Wave XLR: https://currentprice.io/wave_xlr
- Yamaha HS5 Studio Monitors: https://currentprice.io/hs5_monitor
- XLR Cable: https://currentprice.io/xlr_cable
- TRS Cable: https://currentprice.io/trs_cable
- TRS To XLR Cable: https://currentprice.io/trs_xlr
- TS Cable: https://currentprice.io/ts_cable
- TS To RCA Cable: https://currentprice.io/ts_rca
- RCA Cable: https://currentprice.io/rca_cable
- 1/8″ To TS Cable: https://currentprice.io/14_to_dual_18
- 1/8″ To RCA Cable: https://currentprice.io/18_rca
- Mic Stand: https://currentprice.io/desk_stand
- Rode PSA1 Boom Arm: https://currentprice.io/boom_arm
7 Ways To Connect Studio Monitors (Speakers) To Audio Interface Topics
- 0:00 – Introduction
- 0:28 – Pricing & Specs
- 0:47 – Studio Monitors
- 1:13 – Studio Monitor Power/Volume Level
- 1:47 – Cable Length
- 2:37 – Balanced vs. Unbalanced Cable
- 5:05 – Method 1 – Balanced 1/4″ TRS Cable
- 7:01 – Method 2 – Balanced 1/4″ TRS to XLR Cable
- 9:01 – Method 3 – Unbalanced 1/4″ TS Cable
- 10:38 – Method 4 – Unbalanced 1/4″ TS to RCA Cable
- 12:21 – Method 5 – RCA Cable
- 13:21 – Method 6 – 1/8″ TRS to Dual 1/4″ TS Cable
- 14:21 – Method 7 – 1/8″ TRS to Dual RCA Cable
- 15:14 – Summary
- 15:27 – Final Thoughts