Mar 14, 201813513 views

[Ongoing] Balanced Audio Gear

On Massdrop, whether you’re a beginner just starting out or a seasoned expert, you should always be able to find answers to your questions within the community.
BALANCED AUDIO GEAR There are many ways to achieve professional-grade audio quality and utilizing balanced gear is one of them. We’re kicking off this discussion to debate and examine the merits of a balanced setup versus others, and to help clear up any confusion with the subject.
ASK QUESTIONS • How does balanced audio work? • What’s the difference between balanced and left/right channels? • Which qualities make for good balanced cables?
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Ask your question/s by posting in the discussion below.
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Kevin Burke, ViperGeek, and 24 others

Right now my favorite sounding DACs are single ended (Chord) while my favorite headphone amps are balanced ones that convert SE signal to balanced (balanced Dynalos, KGSSHV Carbon). On paper this isn't even ideal. Makes me want a balanced Chord-type FPGA+pulse array DAC.
Don't mean to argue with anyone, but I find it odd when I read about people not being able to hear the difference between balanced and single ended. To my ears it's such an obvious difference in the placement of sounds that I can't see how anyone wouldn't be able to immediately tell the difference after listening to single ended for a while and then switching to balanced. It's not even a question of whether your ears are good enough to hear certain frequencies or anything like that. The main difference is in, as I said earlier, how sound is positioned. The main difference I hear when switching to balanced input is greater or "exaggerated" separation, and and overall wider soundstage/headstage. Again, this difference is so jarring to me that I don't understand this talk about not being able to tell the difference.
I'm not saying that this change is necessarily better though. I've heard a few headphones via balanced and single ended connection on a few different balanced amps (Questyle CM400i, Acro L1000, Opus #2 DAP (2.5mm balanced). The headphones were: Ether C (non flow), Ether Flow, HD600, Audioquest Nightowl Carbon, Audeze LCD-i4 (not mine, my cousins), and finally the Hifiman Edition X v2. Out of all of those I can honestly say that I only prefer(d) the sound of balanced over single ended on the Ether C, HD600, and Nightowl carbon. The reason relates to why I used "exaggerated" to describe separation and soundstage/headstage via balanced. On headphones with an already respectable amount of headstage, the increased separation sounds "off". It's almost sounds too wide or too separated and I don't like it. This is why I've come to the conclusion that balanced really only benefits headphones with a more intimate/congested presentation, i.e. closed backs, hd600/650/6xx, etc. After I heard the HD600 balanced, and going back and forth A/Bing, I never went back to single ended.
Again, I'm not trying to argue. I can understand a number of posts about not seeing the benefit of balanced, but I just read a few posts here about not even being able to tell the difference in sound and only seeing the benefits balanced gives in driving power or better components. Sorry if my ears are just really weird and no one is hearing what I'm hearing, but I just wanted to add to this thread in hopes that someone wont cast aside the possibility of trying balanced out.
I'm going to offer up my own personal view on the situation as well as my experience. I personally don't believe a balanced connection is inherently better in and of itself over singled-ended. I do however think that gear that includes a balanced topology has certain advantages given ones situation.
My signal chain(s): Laptop>Teac UD-501>Denon 2808>Emotiva XPA-100's>Emotiva ERT 8.3 (Single-ended) Laptop>Teac UD-501>Cayin IHA-6>Elex/HE500 (Fully Balanced) Laptop>Teac UD-501>Gustard H10>more headphones than I would care to list (Partially Balanced)
My DAC sits in the rack with the rest of my AV gear for the stereo/HT, I use the singled ended outputs into the receiver's 5.1 analog inputs and it acts as a pre-amp to my amps (1 each for L/R) again via RCA cables. The cables are all 2 meters or less for this chain. My headphone amps sit on a table at the end of my couch, around 15 ft 'as the cable runs' from the DAC and past power outlets. I use the balanced XLR output in this instance. The UD-501 & Cayin are both fully balanced designs and the UD offers a dual-mono configuration down to the transformers. The Cayin has some apparent advantages when being run balanced. It's OI drops from 10ohms to .3, and it goes from 2ish watts to 7 watts. I have tried the single ended output into the Cayin as I wanted to try various SE only headphones with it (no splitting/summing circuit).
SE vs Balanced effects with my headphone gear:
1) Balanced is more flexible with the .3 ohm output. I have a lot of pairs I would like to use with this thing (Cayin). That 10 ohm OI of SE out (120ohm on the 2nd SE output) will impact the frequency response of several of them.
2) The balanced run has a blacker background and greater soundstage size by a shade on the Cayin, more than likely a byproduct of reduced noise and crosstalk. On the Gustard it just gives it a slightly blacker ground.
3) Knowing my HE500's are getting more than enough wattage and should I ever decide to pickup a used HE-6, will not have to resort to re-purposing a speaker amp.
Additional Comments:
My prior DAC included a pre-amp, although not the best digital implementation it still sounded decent controlling the volume. That DAC was a balanced differential design and my XPA-100's accept XLR and/or RCA. I couldn't tell a difference on the monoblock/tower chain as the run is short and each amp only handles one channel from separate cables. I am personally a big fan of dual-mono configurations as you can see from my choice of gear. To me they give benefits to soundstage, imaging and low-level listening enjoyment. Since many of the balanced gear designs are dual-mono I think the benefits from that design philosophy get lumped in with "Balanced is great man!!"
Balanced audio connections do not use the signal/power ground as one of the two wires required to convey a single (say left channel or right channel) audio signal. Instead each of the two balanced wires for a channel carries the same waveform but 180 degrees out of phase (phase inverted) with respect to the other, each waveform being of nominally equal amplitude. The main potential advantage is that the ground (0V) connection of the equipment is not carrying an audio input (or output) signal. There is no inherent reason for balanced inputs to work better other than superior common mode interference rejection and the avoidance of ground loops. Neither possible problem is normally a major factor for domestic audio at line levels. If the amplifier is truly balanced throughout it is possible that signal current in the ground path will be reduced slightly, to the benefit of distortion but again this should not be an issue in well-designed equipment. A truly balanced throughout amplifier may generate a more complex distortion characteristic because it essentially contains two separate amplifier circuits, one handling the in-phase signal and the other the out-of-phase signal. Again, hopefully not a real issue. A true balanced output stage will be able, potentially, to deliver twice the voltage swing and four times the power into a given load, for the same DC voltage used to supply the amplifier. A balanced headphone amplifier with a balanced headphone lead will reduce ground wire intermodulation of the channels, though only very slightly unless the lead, whether within the amp or the external lead, is of very poor quality, and carries the left and right channel grounds for a significant length. The number of AC power transformers in a piece of equipment is entirely unrelated to whether the equipment is balanced in signal operation. Some equipment uses audio balancing input transformers to convert from balanced to unbalanced or vice-versa. These are normally very small and shielded magnetically and electrically. A stereo DAC requires a minimum of 2 DAC circuits. A balanced stereo DAC requires a minimum of 4 DAC circuits. Many DAC chips contain more than one actual DAC circuit. The number of DAC chips is not a direct indicator of balanced or unbalanced operation.
Balanced is better not because of common mode noise rejection (the reason often given) but because a truly balanced topology driving a balanced signal has better performance. Voltage amplification swings between - and +, and in balanced topology each amp circuit only needs to push - and + for one channel; this also means component matching is more critical but assuming its engineered right balanced will always be better.
Truly balanced means the amp topology is balanced, not that a single-ended signal gets split. One amp circuit for each channel. The downside is that single-ended outputs are degraded because the balanced signal has to be combined in some manner.
Balanced in DACs means something a little different -- still one line-level amp circuit for each channel but also one DAC chip for each channel (full differential balanced). DAC chips have better performance and noise specs when used in a balanced configuration.
The best: full differential / true balanced DAC -> XLR -> true balanced amp -> balanced headphones.
Quick visual guide: If an amp has more than one AC transformer it will be true balanced. If it has one transformer but the literature says its balanced, try to find assurance that it is true balanced (ie, there are secondary wingdings used off the single transformer which is a substitute for having two of them). DACs will often have two transformers but the second one is normally not used for balanced operation you'll have to find assurances in literature but if you can see more than one DAC chip than it's probably balanced.
Rumor has it that massdrop has a matching balanced dac in the works for the thx aaa amplifier?
Is there any truth to this?
Are the Questsyle lineup of dac/amps fully balanced? I'm very interested in the CMA400i
I mainly use iems and portable dac/dap with a portable amp Several months ago i bought ibasso PB3 amp with 2.5 balanced out along with the usual 3.5 single ended... Till now using several hybrid or exclusively balanced armature iems i cannot detect any audible difference between balanced out and single end out.. That is using PB3s 2.5 balanced out with expensive iems above the 300$ price range...
I'm not fully convinced the benefit of going balanced isn't just because the balanced gear is better built and costs more.
All of those comparisons I see are not comparing the same gear or the same circuit. Has anyone ever done a comparison using the same balanced output using a single ended adapter for the single ended test?
But then again, even if the only benefit of going balanced is because manufacturers puts better circuit behind the balanced output, does that really matter in practice?
At the end of the day, it just costs too damn much going balanced so count me out.
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What do you consider to be the less-obvious benefits of balanced output?
My first contribution to this thread offered some things to listen for in order to determine whether the gear you are using is delivering everything to your likeing.
I completely agree with you that there are many fine single ended devices. I think there are many whose component list and build quality are state-of-the-art. I am most often listening through SE because of where I am and what I may have with me at the time. I listen to music at work and the setup there is SE. When I come home, I listen through a balanced connection.
Like you, I listen to music at work with a single ended setup, and balanced at home. I can speak for two headphones like this, the ZMF Blackwood and ZMF Ori.
The SE setup is just a Chord Hugo 2 (though I've tried this with a Schiit Lyr 3 with excellent NOS tubes, zero improvement), the balanced setup is Chord Hugo 2 + Mjolnir Audio Pure BiPolar (this amp converts SE signal into balanced using Nelson Pass's "Super Symmetry" input). I have also used the Audeze LCD-4 with a Hugo 2 + Schiit Lyr 3, and Hugo 2 + Pure BiPolar but that's just unfair considering the Pure BiPolar is in a completely different class than the Lyr 3.
So the audible improvements with the ZMF headphones are: fuller bass, harder hitting bass, considerably better layering/instrument separation, far more transparent and overall cleaner treble but this isn't just because it's balanced.
A really interesting test though would be if I were to compare the Pure BiPolar amp to a really good single ended amp like a Bottlehead Mainline or an excellent SET speaker amp repurposed for headphones. But that's not gonna happen.
Hey folks. We have a winner of the Massdrop x HIFIMAN HE4XX Planar Magnetic Headphones. Congrats to @rantng! The giveaway has concluded, but if you have any questions (or answers), keep them coming. Thanks y'all.
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You will always be special to me if it's any consolation. ¯\_😍_/¯
You wouldn’t be the first to say so ;- )
I am in on the Sennheisser HD6xx drop. This is the first set of headphones that I have ever ordered. Ever. And I am 62 years old. I am very glad to have discovered Massdrop! So, I am a newborn, newbie, neophyte of the first order. I have plenty of questions while I search for a DAC and amp as I await delivery on the HD6xx in August. Please help with my first questions. What is the difference between balanced and left right channel amps? Would either enhance the hd6xx sound experience?
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I was hoping to find a good quality, once-and-done dac/amp combo or stack that's not too pricey, so that I can spend the rest of my budget on a few different headphones. Tke Jot with multibit would be at my limit for spending on a combo or stack.
It would certainly be difficult to find a more versatile rig to serve as the heart of your system at that price point.
My two cents on the Van Damme Audio balanced HD 6XX Cables
Not total crap, but pretty close to it. Bought the blue one with the balanced connector upgrade to pair with a Schitt Jotunheim. First off, I hear no difference between the stock single-ended Sennheiser cable and the balanced Van Damme cable--zip, nada, nothing. If there is a measurable difference of some kind that my analog ears can't hear, I still claim that difference isn't worth $70. Next point: I have the same problem described by others, the terminations on the "R" and "L" connections were done fast and sloppy--there is a noticeable gap between the heat shrink and the plug, revealing exposed conductor. Additionally, the connectors are too difficult to connect to the headphones. Evidently there is a polarity requirement (makes sense) but there is no visual indicator to guide you as you attempt to plug them in. Assuming you figure out the direction, in my case there is an annoying twist to the right channel cable (in other words, the two sides weren't lying flat and parallel when the heat shrink was applied at the spilt). I suppose the can be "worked" out, but for the price, I would have expected better. Another point: the connectors do not fit securely; there is no perceivable "click", no way to know you've made a positive connection--and half the time I didn't--the connector just slipped out of the headphone. By contrast, the stock Sennheiser connectors have directional indicators, and plug right in smoothly and securely--first time, every time. Not sure why the Van Damme connectors can't do the same thing? Last point: the cable is long and heavy--as in very heavy. The weight is similar to those outdoor extension cables you might use for a leaf blower. That may be a "feature" for some, but it's uncomfortable lying across your body/neck/shoulders and exerts a lot of downward force on those feeble connectors I mentioned above. By the way, it's worth adding that I have no issues with the other end of the cable, the male XLR connects easily and securely to the corresponding connector on the Jot--no problem there.
So, closing thoughts: as to the Snake Oil qualities associated with balanced cables, I'll leave that determination for another day (but I will say, to my eye (ear), the emperor is clearly butt-naked). In terms of overall value, I'd say save your money. Seventy bucks isn't the end of the world, but I'd rather have spent it on better source material, where the sound quality (and value) are much easier to hear.
What they show in the drop (above) and what we got (below)
I've not modded my gear and here's what I have with which to mess around:
HiFiMan HE-560 HiFiMan HE-400 MrSpeakers Alpha Prime Sennheiser SD-6XX
Each pair of these cans have a short cable adapter that terminates with a mini 3-PIN XLR. I have a set of WyWire RED headphone cables that terminate at the HP end with the mini-XLR. This cable could plug directly into several of the Audeze headphones with an adapter.
I also have a pair of Audeze iSine 20 and I contacted Audeze to get a balanced cable from them. The response from them is that balanced-out has to be done correctly and most of the time it only provides an increase in volume. I was also told to go elsewhere to get a cable, so I did. ( Plussound Apollonian+ Series Custom Cable for In-Ear Monitors)
The other end of this HP cable is a Nuetrik locking 4-pin XLR. This plugs directly into any system with a 4-pin XLR balanced out. I have a Geek Pulse Xfinity in my system, that I have been enjoying very much. I think it is comparable to any Schiit or Hugo that I've listened to at CanJams
I have adapters for this side of the cable. I can plug into a single-ended 3.5mm TRS jack, a balanced 3.5mm TRRS jack and into the two 3.5mm TRS jacks on a Pono Player (that can be combined for balanced playback).
This is what I have noticed with the balanced output, and it does vary from recording to recording. I think that I appreciate it more on the better recordings. If you have something like that was recorded well to begin with and you have it in an higher resolution, that can be an additional bonus. As someone else has pointed out, one's hearing has a lot to do with perception. Another contributor made a valid point that none of this really matters :-). I've noticed this at times with the Geek Pulse, the Pono Player, and the recently acquired Astell&Kern AK240.
For me, something is worth it if I am enjoying the same music more than I did before.
1) There is an increase in volume Audeze once told me that is about 3 - 6dB
2) There is an increase in the width of the sound-stage. Listen for the perceived space in between instruments. If there is space between their "images", you're more likely to hear each instrument more clearly. I find that this is more noticeable with my HifiMan's (open-back) than it is with the Mr. Speakers (closed)
3) Sometimes these images are in 3-D. See if there is any difference in the height of instrument or if it appears to be closer or farther than others
4) The source of the lower notes, bass guitar, kick drum, etc., might appear to originate from a point, instead of an area. In many listening experiences, I notice that the bass can sometimes overwhelm the rest of the instruments. In other times, it can appear to be in a specific location on the stage. I have found that balanced output can tighten up the base.
5) If the track listened to is primarily vocal, I've noticed that the timbre of the voice can change, where the mid-range comes forward more and the overall sound comes down a bit from the upper range. The voice sounds more fuller, more rich. I think I'm simply receiving more of the original voice.
I do think that there is limited return for the additional expense and that a lot of folks can dig their music without additional expense. I noticed that a lot of posters are basically asking if it worth the prices to do this. That tells me that there are a lot of music lovers that are basically not content with what they're hearing. If you can budget for it, I'd say that you should do it. If buying better equipment puts a strain on your wallet, don't sweat it. You're still going to dig your music!
I've been fortunate enough to treat this like a hobby and try different experiences. If I were to do a complete rewind with regard to my personal EDC audio, I'd settle on the AK240 for a DAP and the AudioQuest DragonFly RED connected to my iPhone7 for streaming music. It would be nice if it had balanced output :-)
Agree completely with your comments on headphones sounding better and the type of differences with balanced connection. Using HD600 ,hifiman 4xx even in ear shure 846 with balanced connectors there is more 3D feeling, more bass dynamics, even if I account for loudness levels changing. I used other balanced amps before but now as you using geek pulse xfi.
Ok so.... Balanced is great and all giving all the power and no noise but you have to mod most headphone cables for it to work. Or buy one. There goes all use for balanced unless youre at home. While your normal 1/8 jack works with everything and is universal though with the drawback of more noise --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------So I just tried my friends modded akg k7xx 4 pin mini xlr headphone compared it to my stock k7xx and well.... I was disappointing even with a jounteim (I can't spell it). There was no noise on either even if balanced provides basically 0. Though the sound was maybe a little better but no where close to some of the HYPE that people gave balanced. I will say though that headphones and IEMS all seem to get some level of improvement using balanced . Some will benefit more than others. I don't think the k7xx was the right headphone for this test but balanced is fun to mess with if you have the money.
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I see. My mistake!
My mistake. Now I see it looking into it. You're right!
Would it be fair to say balanced audio gear is useless for non audiophiles and of minimal value for most audiophiles? Meaning for those that have to have it..... perhaps they're unique and or buying into too many online reviews?
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It depends on what your purpose is.
If you are planning to source active monitors which don't have native unbalanced input, or which handle balanced input poorly, there can be great gains from moving to a properly balanced DAC.
For headphones, there's generally marginal benefit at best, and money can be better spent on SQ directly rather than on specs.
No. Balanced gear is good for those who live in cities with huge RF energy issues. Downtown dweller? Getting noise on your cables? Hearing radio stations when you're trying to listen to an album or CD? Then balanced may be for you. If you couldn't hear a problem in the first place, balanced wasn't necessary and isn't for many folks. Want the lowest noise floor you can get, no matter what? Balanced might be for you. Please note, many XLR plugs in audio components really aren't balanced, merely XLR. Some audio gear sounds best single ended.
As some one who cannot hear a difference with expensive DACs and solid state amps, but who has never heard balanced gear before: should I even bother looking into it?
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Incorrect of course. Another person who doesn't know what balanced is.
Maybe, there are definitely technical specifics that go much deeper than my own understanding. But I believe the current popularity of balanced in/out for headphone setups requiring only runs of cable are getting minimal, if any benefit. It looks good on-paper so, why not use it if available. But doubt the practical benefits to sound quality.
That said, I run risk of hypocrisy because I use a balanced-ready rig at home and exclusively use balanced on my Audeze LCD3s, I love it. But in this case balanced provides a valuable extra output when I'm switching between different headphones.
But in my own (unscientific) testing with friends, I have yet to meet anyone who can actually hear the difference between the balanced output or quarter-inch headphone jacks.
Like fancy cables, there are a lot of people project a quasi-religious faith that expensive peripherals included in their gear will bring significant gains in sound quality. I'm a skeptic.
It's not just me, Tom Nousaine was one of the great hi-fi writers from the pre-digital age who did a lot of interesting controlled tests on audiophiles, sound engineers and hobbyests alike. His A/B/X testing on variants of very high-end audio rigs were legendary. He basically concluded that audiophiles tend to overestimate improvements when "high-end" peripherals are added to a sound system.
One in particular test I found amusing was when he took two of the same Carver power amp, and on one of them he replaced the power LED indicator light, the standard was blue but on one of the amps he replaced it with a red LED. He asked a panel, that could only see the face of the two amps, to describe differences in sound between the two amps. The panel of audiophiles and hi-fi journalists and engineers included Bob Carver himself, designer of the amp being used in the test.
The audience claimed to hear distinct differences between the two amps that roughly corresponded to the colour of the LED. The red LED amp frequently described as warm, colourful. The blue - cool, analytical. The punchline being that they were the same amp!
He did many more of these controlled tests of psychoacoustics at a Michigan or Massachusetts audio club he belonged to.
I believe, as Nousaine did, that we project a lot of our perception of sound quality based on unconscious biases.
I'm not saying balanced is bad by any means, I just question whether you're getting any practical value from it on a very short run. But hey, if the option is available I think it's worth it - just cuz.
I read through a bunch of this comments and realized, I do not know what this is about, can slowly build a vague picture of what it is about, and know that I never was concerned about the cables at all.
That is quite interesting topic, my question is does this make sense for gaming as well? As aural localization is a big thing there.
I'm new to the cable world and it is a lot to take in. I have a couple questions because I've been confused by my research. Are y split cables balanced capable? Are they always balanced? Also, is a TRRS connector balanced? (e.g. Tip is R+, Ring L+, Ring R-, Sleeve L- or some other combination)
I just wanted to say thank you to all of the amazing people who contribute to this section and all of the others across the entire Massdrop sections.
I may have a great depth of knowledge in many different arenas, yet I always love to plumb the depths of pretty much any and all fields. I love learning and my passion will never be sated.
It is fantastic and fascinating to find how very little I know and understand, across the entire range Massdrop covers. I can't believe how much I have already gleaned from everyone's selfless sharing and kindness. Especially the fact that I have an endless amount to learn, until I can even come remotely close to truly gaining the most out of the collective knowledge of this wonderous community, I randomly stumbled upon.
I apologize that this is a lengthy and not a question, but I really felt compelled to share my overwhelming gratitude to the collective and to Massdrop. What has been created and goes on here is hard to find anywhere!
I have encountered everything wrong, one can imagine, in the forum universe. It's a sheer joy to find a place, which has totally flipped the paradigm. It's almost like rediscovering my faith in humanity and community.
I'm new to Massdrop, so I felt like I must say this, as those who have been around may be so used to it, they may not even realize just how mind blowing the experience created by this community.
With the greatest appreciation and gratitude, my most heartfelt thanks to all. Adam T Glass
You are The-Dude. Cheers. :)
What's a good set of MMCX cables? Mainly looking to replace the insanely long ones I have with my Shure SE215s.
Check out for good quality cables at a reasonable price. Can get yourself a set of MMCX cables with your choice of amp termination for right around $60 and should last. ((I'm not paid by or related to in any way))
Hi all. I'm a novice at cables and would like to ask for anyone's advice on the following:
I want to reterminate my Noble Audio Gold x Silver cable with a Balanced 4.4mm TRRRS connector.
Use case: Sony NW-WM1A audio player. Yes, I have learned which points are hot and cold, via a continuity test.
1. Can it be done with this cable? I've uploaded a photo which shows each 2-pin connector has 4 wires (2 silver & 2 gold).
2. How am I to discern which to solder to hot/cold points and which one is Ground?
Yes. If you still need advise let me know.
So, maybe I'm weird, but something that I am interested in but have a hard time finding:
An inexpensive* DAC with optical input and balanced (XLR) output. Something that would electrically gap the audio signal, unlike USB, to power studio monitors or whatever balanced headphone amp one wanted.
*(let's call inexpensive ~US$100)
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I agree that such a device is hard to find!
I think the bigger issue is not that it would be hard or expensive to make such a device- such an 'interface' doesn't need a headphone amp- and most purport to have very nice headphone amps. I have the Topping DX7 (previous model to the DX7s) that does what I want, purchased through Massdrop, and should be able to hit US$200 if it lacked the headphone amp section.
A basic, clean interface should be able to be built for US$100, I think.
My follow-on concern with 'streaming' is now latency; by putting a computer (albeit a small, application-focused one) in the loop you are providing the same basic electrical isolation, which is great!, but latency for gaming might be an issue too.
Just something to think about!
Which qualities make for good balanced cables? Personally I feel that silver cables just sound better to me, I know balanced cables stereo. The highs are more airy, the lows less muddy, and the mids just pop better, which in turn makes the stereo spread wider at times or tighter at other times. And it's the same way with my bass guitar. When I use the silver cord it sounds better than a Mogami 2524 cable and a Monster platinum cable(got this for free). The said cord has a solid silver core and is 18 ft long. But man it sounds so good! Really can not believe the difference. And since silver is a better conductor of electricity than copper, it also seems logical. Don't believe me? Try it out for yourself! I dare ya....;)
My subjective experience is also that silver wire tends to sound better (and as an Electrical Engineer, it somewhat pains me to say that, lest it be construed as validating the phony-baloney voodoo nonsense that is all too commonly used to sell more expensive wire). Having said that: voltage, current, and wire are not mysteries, and there are plausible explanations for why silver wire may indeed sound better (skin depth, surface oxide behavior), or at least different than copper...
But with respect to line-level interconnect audibility, I would be remiss not to emphasize that I think it is dependent on the source component, mostly. If you can readily hear the difference between properly engineered interconnect cables, then I would venture to say the source component is not well engineered.
In general, all interconnect cables should feature: - low DCR in the conductors (and matched DCR on +/- conductors is essential for balanced interconnects) - low microphonic properties (including capacitance modulation, triboelectric effects, etc.) - low inductance and decent electrostatic shielding (low EMI susceptibility) - low capacitance
Basic physics dictates that most if not all audible difference between different cables of sensible construction must come down to parasitic impedances and noise pickup in the cable interacting with the finite output impedance of the source component to induce error voltages at the receiving input. Therefore, it is important for the source component to have very low output impedance, as this is what allows it to impress the intended signal voltage at the far end of the cable without influence from these effects. Only the resistance and inductance of the wire itself can get in the way by adding series impedance between the source component and the far end of the cable, and these parameters are not difficult to make small enough that their influence becomes vanishingly low.
Until fall of last year I was completely new at audiophile headphones and gear. Sure, I knew bits in music one sounds horrible quality and ones better etc. This community actually helped me buy my first set and second set of headphones. I'd love to grow my collection but as well as most of you know it's an expensive hobby. I bought a Schiit Magni 3 to power my dt880 600ohm and once I got it I realised very shortly after I need a new cable. Either way my questions are these: Am I losing sound quality not having the magni 3 connected to a dac like it's supposed to? Is having a RCA to 3.5 bad quality? Which modi2 is best for me? I keep hearing multiple answers. I don't think balanced cables are going to work for me and if they do, do I need them?
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Thank you for that extra little push. I've been reading up on Audio Science Review and I will probably go for one that Amir has reviewed and tested. I wish I would've seen it before!
audiosciencereview is a good resource, although I don't make purchases strictly on measurements. Sometimes Amir does a good job calling out "this is increased over X but is still inaudible" while other times I feel he gets a little to hung up on sheer numbers. I don't pick a side here either... some live and die by measurements, some by subjective listening. I think both should be taken into account and one should also remember that test scenarios APPROXIMATE real world listening but are NOT a 1:1 representation.
Another tip of people just getting into balanced audio is to not abuse adapters and interoperable connectors. It may seem that you can plug a male single-ended TS connector into a female balanced TRS connector but it is not always the case. Plugging an unbalanced signal into a balanced input is perfectly fine since the only thing that matters to the input is the potential difference (voltage) between the positive wire and the negative / ground wire. That's why you see a single connector for both balanced and unbalanced input on active monitors and mixers, and that's also how dual-entry (balanced-capable) headphones work. On the other hand plugging an unbalanced cable into a balanced output (single-ended TS into balanced TRS output), even through an adapter (like 4-pin XLR to single-ended stereo TRS), is NOT fine. Apart from not gaining any advantage compared to plugging directly into the single-ended output, you are shorting the negative pins of your amp and you will burn your amp for that. There is a reason manufacturers provide both a balanced and an unbalanced output for amps and not just a balanced one with an adapter while they can just use a single balanced connector for input (like the case of active monitors and mixers.)
A 3 Pin Balanced L/R pair can be converted to a singled ended pair under the right circumstances. I don't know if I would want to do it with any high voltage signals however. I agree with most of your post, just wanted to throw that addition out there. Oh yeah, the above mentioned scenario, even when done under the right condition, can increase the possibility for clipping as you will still get a higher voltage going to the SE input. Many SE inputs CANNOT handle this voltage.
If you have a balanced dac/amp and a balanced headphone but with a single ended cable (e.g. HD 6XX, these only come with an SE cable) I would seriously recommend you getting a balanced cable. The elimination of crosstalk itself would be worth the price imo. The Fanmusic ones for HD 6XX dropping right now seems decent and it's at a reasonable price. For the more budget conscious users I would recommend making you own cable. I made one for my HD 6XX with neutrik plug for about $20 (excluding tools like soldering iron, solder... as I already own them.) And they look as good the the commercial ones. If you don't mind tinkering this would really save you quite some money, and allow more customization.
Can you please send the link how you have made that cable by yourself? I would want to build my own cable.
There is much info about cables in the audio world and one can spend a small fortune on them. Recently, I wanted to upgrade to "better" cables. I am talking about unbalanced ones here. I simply can not spend mega dollars on some of the high end cables. I came across some used AR (Acoustic Research) cables that were intended for RGB video. They were gold plated, heavy, and featured locking RCA plugs. But, they were for video, so would the impedance be OK for audio. Web searches produced much opinion, but I found these thre sites helpful. They manufacture the cables and are objective despite making the cables they talk about. While the discussion is not strictly about balanced cables or ones considered "audiophile", I think you will be informed by reading them. The links are: In the end, I felt these AR cables could be used for quality audio. I have them in my second system for now. Scott
I read this link ( )with some interest and it is mostly right. I take issue with the statement that the cold side is flipped at the input. A balanced circuit arriving at an input is a difference signal. The input is a differential input using a transformer or differential transistor (or tube or FET) pair to create a single ended signal. That is if the amp is single ended, some amps are balanced throughout and do not make the conversion to single ended. As an aside, amps using push pull outputs make the conversion to differential from single ended to drive the push pull output. Balanced circuits do have double the voltage of single ended (unbalanced) ones, all things being equal. However they also have greater noise from the additional circuitry of a differential pair. The noise is not double because the signal is double, but it is higher than a single ended input. I am not a designer, but I seem to remember the noise is the square root of two for a differential pair. All the other benefits of reduced interference are true, balanced circuits came into existence with the telephone long ago. It is worth noting that only two wires are neded for balanced audio. The third wire is the shield and is often left disconnected at one end to eliminate ground loop hum. Another example of balanced wiring is the LAN cable where the pairs are simply twisted tightly, again the differential input cancels the interference. I agree with a comment here about making a high quality single ended instead of a cheaper balanced one. Balanced is dominant in professional audio where long wire runs are common. The greater signal level of a professional circuit at the nominal level of +4 dB with peaks as high as +24 dB is also part of the greater cost to build a balanced amp for use in professional settings, like recording or broadcast. The level of consumer equipment is lower at - 10 to -12 dB, but in a home it is not usually subject to the same demands. There are no high power lighting circuits or long cable runs and unbalanced has thrived in consumer and audiophile gear. HTH, Scott.
Around what price point is it necessary to consider balanced cables? Is it cost efficient around the 200 - 300s or is it high hundreds to thousands territory? Bought 6xxs recently and haventhaven't looked into balanced solutions as Id assumed they were incredibly out of budget.
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That was sort of the vibe I was getting but it's good to get some straight confirmation. If I get a chance I'll try a setup but by the sounds of it, it'd probably be a fruitless endeavor. Thanks for the thought out response.
Definitely not something to actively avoid if a piece of gear looks to be what you're after based on how it actually performs, but yeah, I wouldn't go after it just because it's different. You'd end up throwing a bunch of money at recabling and new gear only to be disappointed if you weren't in it because it was already what you were really after.
Does the plug type, TRS or XLR or 2.5mm aux, impact sound quality?
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The quality of the connector is more likely to impact things than the type. A big solid copper connector with thick plating is going to be better than cheap brass with some flimsy gold over it or something else along those lines. XLR is one of the beefiest, and most secure connectors out there, so if sheer contact size and connection strength is good for anything, 3 pin XLR is probably the best path.
Personally, I don't buy into the balanced nonsense for headphones, so I run TRS everywhere, but, sticking with what I've been saying, I run big 1/4" TRS rather than 3.5mm whenever possible. It's just more satisfying and confidence inspiring to have a hefty plug that snaps in with some real tactility than little things that slip in and out with ease.
no not really, the point of balanced is to power the two drivers separated and to not share the ground, so it really depends on your amp, but remember to also have a balanced dac.