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I know that the impedances should be matches so the input impedance of the device is around 10 times bigger than the output signal that goes to this input. But is there a limit?

If I have a signal coming out of the device and its 1k ohm then I'd load it into something with impedance around 10k (line level). But what would happen if I loaded it into input that has around 1 milion ohms (instrument level)? Will the signal be attenuated so I can hear it because it's too weak? Where's the boundary that shouldn't be crossed? Or is there any?

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    I think you're worrying about it all too much. I've been doing this over 40 years & basically if the plug fits the socket, it'll do.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 19, 2019 at 17:37
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    @Tetsujin Agreed, with the caveat that 1/4” instrument cables should not be used for speaker connections, even though the plug will fit. Well, there’s also that 1/4” instrument outlets generally won’t work in 1/4” line level inputs. Really 1/4” cables are the confusing part. Jul 19, 2019 at 17:41
  • The "if it fits, it'll do" advice is not very good advice. For example, electric guitars use 1/4" cables but you don't want to plug one into a line input. It works, but it sucks (low signal, high noise.) A passive acoustic guitar pickup needs to be plugged into a preamp, though you can usually get away with using a passive DI to a snake. And of course, don't mix and match instrument and speaker cables. Oct 7, 2022 at 15:01

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There’s a difference between matched impedances and bridged impedances. With matched impedance, they are matched. Meaning both output and input impedances would be about the same, like 8 Ohms for a speaker connection. Matched impedances provide the best power transfer.

Bridging impedances, where the input of the next stage is about ten times or more than the output impedances, provide the best voltage transfer. They also generally support longer distances.

I think one limitation on the input impedance is the next stage is that after the signal gets past the input, you have something you want to do with it, and you don’t want to have to change the impedance overly much before whatever processing you want to do.

Also, the greater the difference in impedance, the lower the power transfer, so at some point you really start to weaken the overall signal level. And higher value resistors are more expensive.

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  • Ok, I got it. Since I'd first send microphone signal to mic preamp to add gain (which has low impedance line output, around 60 ohms) and then to a high impedance guitar pedal (around 500k input impedance), will the signal suffer greatly, worsening noise to signal ratio?
    – Toby
    Jul 20, 2019 at 8:41
  • Good answer, but in what sense do bridged impedances support longer distances? And, the cost of higher value resistors is hardly going to matter. What does matter is that they incure more Johnson-Nyquist noise. Sep 11, 2020 at 8:51
  • @leftaroundabout When the load (input) is high impedance, the signal is transferred more through voltage than current. A higher voltage to current ratio (ie, higher impedance) signal makes current loss in the transmission line less significant. Oct 6, 2022 at 20:43
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If a high impedance source is connected to a lower impedance input the signal will be attenuated, more so at the higher frequencies. When a low impedance source is connected to a higher impedance input the signal is weak, but not distorted. The best power transfer occurs when the impedance matches and the best voltage transfer occurs when the input is up to ten times high impedance than the source. The greater the difference in impedance the more the signal will be affected.

I was a loudspeaker (cabinets and drivers) designer in the 1970s.

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High impedance inputs tend to be also comparatively high voltage inputs. That's what makes them reasonably noise tolerant. Feeding them with low level signals will force you to crank up your gain with a resulting less than favorable signal/noise ratio. For that reason, using a DI for transforming a low level low impedance signal to a higher level (and, given a passive DI, higher impedance) signal may make quite a bit of sense. One typical use case would be for matching a dynamic microphone (balanced, low level, low impedance) to an instrument amp input (unbalanced, higher level, high impedance).

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  • @user62068 Hi! to match impedances I'd use a reamping device, right? The DI you mentioned translates high impedance signal to low impedance and that's the opposite of what I want to do. Am I wrong here?
    – Toby
    Jul 20, 2019 at 8:37
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For practical purposes as a musician or for recording, there are three main categories:

  1. Low-impedance, mostly, microphones (but not all microphones). These are in the 100-1000 ohm range. For these, you want to maximize power transfer to minimize noise injection. By "matching", "low-Z to low-Z" is usually good enough: be in the right ballpark, you don't have to be on the right base. That is, use gear designed for "low impedance" and you're OK.
  2. Line level, electronics. These tend to be in the 5K to 20K ohm region. The important thing to remember for these devices is to not "overload" the output by plugging it into something with too low an input impedance. That just puts the electronics in regions where it's not happy. On older gear, it can burn out the line level output. Mainly, this just means, "don't plug a line level output into a low-Z (mic level) input." The other implication is when using one output to drive multiple inputs. Avoid multiple Y cables unless you know the rules. In general with typical modern line outputs you can send one output to two inputs. Maybe even 4, but avoid 8 unless you do the (relatively simple) math.
  3. Hi-Z, like passive guitar pickups. These tend to be in the 100's of kOhms. This is also voltage transfer, so you want the input impedance to be higher than the output impedance. A good general rule is to plug a guitar into something that's made to plug a guitar into. Generally, after that, it's a line level.

So, category 1 is special: don't mix and match. For anything with a low-Z output, use a low-Z mic preamp.

When plugging a line level output into a low-Z mic input, use a "DI" (direct input) device -- but note that there are many kinds of DI, so make sure its intended use is "impedance matching." This is what we use on stage with keyboards to send them through a mic-only snake. These devices also convert unbalanced outputs to balanced, which is important for low-level signals like mic outputs sent over a long distance. (If the line output is already balanced, it doesn't matter; the "other side" is usually ignored and that's fine.)

Don't bother plugging a low-Z mic into a line level or electric guitar input. You won't get much signal and you'll get a lot of noise.

You can plug a line output into a guitar input (for the reasons given above by @Todd-Wilcox .) This is how a guitarist with a train of FX pedals works. Each pedal has a hi-Z input, suitable for plugging an electric guitar into, and a line output, which can be plugged into a mixer's line input or the hi-Z guitar input of an amp or other pedal.

Plugging a guitar into a line input can be done but doesn't give very good results, because the input impedance needs to be quite a bit higher but is lower.

So, the general rule of thumb is, use stuff that's intended for the purpose. Usually, that's pretty obvious.

Note that some (usually inexpensive) mics are hi-Z, which probably should be treated like electric guitars.

And finally, there are variations on line inputs and outputs. They can be balanced or unbalanced. Unbalanced is generally better. They can be -10dBV or +4dBu. The latter is a higher voltage and is generally better. But you can plug any type output into any type input; you just have to adjust the level on the input accordingly. (When plugging +4dBu into -10dBV, keep it low to avoid overdriving the input. When plugging -10dBV into +4dBu, you'll need to crank it up a bit but you should be fine. In any case, use your ears. If overdriving, turn it down at that stage. If noisy, turn it up at that stage and down later in the signal chain. To learn more about this, when using multiple devices in a chain, google "gain staging.")

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