A dual-beam detector is used to measure atmospheric trace species by differential absorption spectroscopy with commercial near-infrared InGaAs laser diodes. It is implemented on the Spectromètre à Diodes Laser Accordables, a balloonborne tunable diode laser spectrometer devoted to the in situ monitoring of CH4 and H2O. The dual-beam detector is made of simple analogical subtractor circuits combined with InGaAs photodiodes. The detection strategy consists in taking the balanced analogical difference between the reference and the sample signals detected at the input and the output of an open optical multipass cell to apply the full dynamic range of the measurements (16 digits) to the weak molecular absorption information. The obtained sensitivity approaches the shot-noise limit. With a 56-m optical cell, the detection limit obtained when the spectra is recorded within 8 ms is approximately 10(-4) (expressed in absorbance units). The design and performances of both a simple subtractor and an upgraded feedback subtractor circuit are discussed with regard to atmospheric in situ CH4 absorption spectra measured in the 1.653-microm region. Mixing ratios are obtained from the absorption spectra by application of a nonlinear least-squares fit to the full molecular line shape in conjunction with in situ P and T measurements.