What is the difference between “balanced” and “unbalanced”?

Most professional audio devices are connected via balanced cables to minimize pickup of stray electrical noise. Consumer audio devices use unbalanced cables and are very prone to picking up noise, especially at low signal levels from devices such as microphones. Balanced circuits have an inherent ability to only pass audio signals and reject unwanted noise. Balanced refers to the fact that there are two symmetrical signal lines and one ground, while unbalanced uses just one signal line in reference to ground. Normally, XLR connectors are used in most balanced devices while unbalanced consumer gear normally use mini-plug connectors.