Do Balanced Interconnects Really Make a Difference? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 29 Old 02-12-2007, 05:48 AM - Thread Starter
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Hey guys:

I may be investing in a Classe SSP600 preamp/processor. Classe states that the use of balanced interconnects on this unit will result in much better sound than using RCA interconnects.

But when I talk to certain knowledgable audiophiles about this, they laugh at that statement. The doubters say that balanced is benefical when you have a very long run. But with short runs, there is either no difference in sound quality, or the difference is that the sound is only slightly darker (reducing possible noise), and that there are no other ways the sound could be better.

Any thoughts on this?

Thanks!
Dave
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post #2 of 29 Old 02-12-2007, 07:41 AM
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You have my answer in another forum where you posted the same question.

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http://www.stereophile.com/category/music-round

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post #3 of 29 Old 02-12-2007, 07:41 AM
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With very long runs, balanced interconnects can be beneficial. They typically reduce the noise floor by 3db, but you probably will not notice the difference...unless your system is very high-end and your room is very quiet.

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post #4 of 29 Old 02-12-2007, 09:20 AM
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Nice thing is that it's cheaper to get nice quality XLR/balanced cables than RCA interconnects.

Ed
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post #5 of 29 Old 02-12-2007, 09:45 AM
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If I had my amp next to the speakers and my preamp on the otherside, given my druthers, I'd run a balanced connection. Otherwise, I'd only do so if I experienced a problem.

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post #6 of 29 Old 02-13-2007, 09:00 PM
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I come from the pro audio side, and I have learned that balanced interconnect saves so many problems. I run as much as I can balanced. The best thing with balanced is that you get excellent interference rejection -- orders of magnitude more than 3 dB. In fact, if it's perfectly balanced, you get infinite common mode rejection -- but reality is slightly off that target.

Meanwhile, a balanced interconnect will not make the sound be "darker" or lower the inherent noise floor, unless the equipment in question has different drivers or inputs for the balanced vs unbalanced connections (and then, it's an equipment question, not an interconnect question).
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post #7 of 29 Old 02-13-2007, 09:37 PM
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Balanced connects solve/prevent a problem only if the problem exits - otherwise, they merely add more parts in the signal chain. IMO, in most home installations, the problem doesn't exist.

Since there are extra components in the signal chain, there is the possibility of the sound actually being worse than an unbalanced setup with all other things being equal.

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #8 of 29 Old 02-13-2007, 11:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whoaru99 View Post


Since there are extra components in the signal chain, there is the possibility of the sound actually being worse than an unbalanced setup with all other things being equal.


Thats just dumb. Really what do you have to back this up? Statements like that are why we in the pro audio side laugh at you tweakers.
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post #9 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 05:37 AM
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I'm glad you got a chuckle. I stand by the remark.

EDIT: To clarify, my comment was in regard to the added components inside typical designs to convert SE into balanced and vice versa, not the cables themselves.

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #10 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 05:58 AM
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Dave,
I'm not sure how the Classe is set up internally. I suspect some of the varied responses you get is some equipment makes a balanced connection by just inverting the single ended out for the negative signal side of the balanced connection. With this type of connection there may not be a difference other then the resistance to noise, ground loops etc just like the pro guys have been saying. A great thing in itself. The inverter may be why some say the extra components can degrade things. Couldn't say personally.

If the equipment is balanced like my Dreadnaught then it can pay dividends beyond that. For reasons known only to Theta they did the single ended inputs by tying the negative side of the amp to signal ground so the thing would merrily amplify any of the crud on the shield of the RCA cable or comeing across the ground itself. The easy way to minimize this was floating the amp ground. I know bad idea. A set of balanced cables eliminated all of this with the amp grounded properly. These cables were from Markertek. They make them up from Canare Star Quad mike cable and Neutrik connectors. Don't cost an arm and a leg either. Are they audiophile approved? Dunno but they sound fine to me. Any balanced cable would have done this.

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post #11 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 07:23 AM
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A number of years ago I compared several (many) Kimber Select and KCAG interconnects between a highly modified Counterpoint SA-5000 and an Audio Research D240 series II. In this application balanced interconnects produced significant improvements in a 1 meter run.

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post #12 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 12:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whoaru99 View Post

I'm glad you got a chuckle. I stand by the remark.

EDIT: To clarify, my comment was in regard to the added components inside typical designs to convert SE into balanced and vice versa, not the cables themselves.

Its still a stupid remark. Stand by it all you want but your wrong. Can you point to these many failures?

You dont need to clarify you made it perfectly clear it was about the gear. Just having balanced cables means nothing if the gear isnt balanced anyway.
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post #13 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 12:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by humbug2 View Post

A number of years ago I compared several (many) Kimber Select and KCAG interconnects between a highly modified Counterpoint SA-5000 and an Audio Research D240 series II. In this application balanced interconnects produced significant improvements in a 1 meter run.


The interconnects only made an improvement if the gear was balanced as well.
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post #14 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 03:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by speco2003 View Post

Its still a stupid remark. Stand by it all you want but your wrong. Can you point to these many failures?

What failures?

I merely stated that when you add extra components to the signal chain, the POSSIBILITY of changing the signal, thus the sound, increases. Changes are not necessarily for the better although that's highly subjective.

I don't see what is so hard to comprehend about that....

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #15 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 04:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whoaru99 View Post

What failures?

I merely stated that when you add extra components to the signal chain, the POSSIBILITY of changing the signal, thus the sound, increases. Changes are not necessarily for the better although that's highly subjective.

I don't see what is so hard to comprehend about that....


Somehow I read failure into that I was wrong. You on the other hand are just as wrong, balanced and unbalanced gear can both be good and bad. Just because its unbalanced doesnt make it better.Have you ever seen the noise floor and THD on some behringer crap?Yet alot of it is unbalanced.
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post #16 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 05:51 PM
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You assume that balanced outputs means extra components. Most well-designed signal processing gear (amplifiers, or whatnot) actually uses a balanced signal chain internally, and only un-balances when going to RCA outs.

Sure, you can find cheap-o consumer gear where the flowchart is "RCA -> AC97 ADC (unbalanced) -> DSP -> AC97 DAC (unbalanced) -> RCA," at which point going balanced won't help, unless you send the signal a far distance. However, with gear that has balanced outputs, chances are the signal path is already there to make it make sense.
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post #17 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 07:11 PM
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I have run both balanced and unbalanced cables to my power amps. Sonically I can't tell squat however I run balanced cables because:

The cables are thinner and much more flexible than the RG-6 I was using for unbalanced. Very handy for my 50' runs with a few twist and turns

The PEQ I used for my sub(s) is a pro one and it only had balanced connections so it was an ease of use scenario. I have since gone to an SMS-1 but use its balanced inputs and outputs.

The connection locks

Try both balanced and unbalanced and see what you like better. Good cables are cheap

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post #18 of 29 Old 02-14-2007, 08:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jwatte View Post

You assume that balanced outputs means extra components. Most well-designed signal processing gear (amplifiers, or whatnot) actually uses a balanced signal chain internally, and only un-balances when going to RCA outs.

Doesn't a fully balanced design always necessitate roughly twice as many parts since each half of the signal takes a fully separate path?


Quote:
Originally Posted by jwatte View Post

Sure, you can find cheap-o consumer gear where the flowchart is "RCA -> AC97 ADC (unbalanced) -> DSP -> AC97 DAC (unbalanced) -> RCA," at which point going balanced won't help, unless you send the signal a far distance. However, with gear that has balanced outputs, chances are the signal path is already there to make it make sense.

I think if you double-check that, you will find there is not that much gear with fully balanced circuitry from input to output.

Guys, don't take my comments the wrong way. I'm not trying to bash balanced gear or balanced input/output stages.

I merely made a common sense statement saying that when more stuff is added to the signal chain there is more possibility of signal degradation. In a commercial/pro sound situation, any possible degradation of the signal by the additional components could quite easily be offset by the CMR of the balanced lines on those long runs - in effect a net benefit. However, very few HT setups have to deal with the issues that make balanced lines a necessity in the pro sound world. Therefore, IMO, potential benefits of additional SE>balanced conversion circuitry in a home environment are dubious.

I too have components with balanced inputs and outputs and a power amp with fully balanced circuits all the way though. I've used both SE and balanced connections and can't say with any certainty that I could differentiate them - but I don't discount the possibility of what I was saying earlier.

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #19 of 29 Old 02-15-2007, 01:27 PM
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Quote:


Doesn't a fully balanced design always necessitate roughly twice as many parts since each half of the signal takes a fully separate path?

I don't think so overall, unless you use the block diagram I posted above. A balanced design mostly has to do with where your reference ground is. This means that you can get common mode rejection in the signal path within the equipment as well, which typically leads to lower noise floor, etc.

It's quiet likely that most affordable consumer gear uses that block diagram. The question is where you're coming from.
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post #20 of 29 Old 02-15-2007, 01:52 PM
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If your equipment has balanced ins and outs between Amp and preamp, there is no reason you cannot use them. Whether you see a marked improvement in sound depends as stated by several others on some of the external forces. For long runs balanced is definitely better because of the common mode rejection improvements.
With Semiconductor amplifiers, the input stages are often low noise op amps. By their nature, an op amp is a differential amplifier and to make it single ended the negative input is normally tied to signal ground. There are really no extra components involved in that case. With tube equipment it requires separate stages to do differential. However, any high end audio designer is going to be taking into account the optimum biasing for noise as well as gain through a stage. Components are selected for their low noise performance. From a price and design standpoint, there is definitely low end equipment out there in both the consumer and professional venues and all bets are off when you are talking about the low end. If you have a problem with noise getting into your cables then Balanced connections might be something you want to evaluate.

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post #21 of 29 Old 02-15-2007, 05:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jwatte View Post

I don't think so overall, unless you use the block diagram I posted above. A balanced design mostly has to do with where your reference ground is. This means that you can get common mode rejection in the signal path within the equipment as well, which typically leads to lower noise floor, etc.

It's quiet likely that most affordable consumer gear uses that block diagram. The question is where you're coming from.

This, from Wiki, is what I meant - although reading it there is not where I came by the opinion. The following merely seems to explain satisfactorily and was much easier to copy and paste rather than trying to hash it all out. Unfortunately, I could not find schematics that clearly showed fully differential balanced vs single ended/unbalanced vs. differential balanced at only the input/output stages.

From Wikipedia....
"Most professional audio products (recording, public address, etc.) provide differential balanced inputs and outputs, typically via XLR connectors. However, in most cases, a differential balanced input signal is internally converted to a single-ended signal via transformer or electronic amplifier. After internal processing, the single-ended signal is converted back to a differential balanced signal and fed to an output.

A small number of professional audio products have been designed as an entirely differential balanced signal path from input to output; the audio signal never unbalances. This design is achieved by providing identical (mirrored) internal signal paths for both pin 2 and pin 3 signals (AKA "hot" and "cold" audio signals). In critical applications, such as classical music recording, a 100% differential balanced circuit design can offer better signal integrity by avoiding the extra amplifiers and/or transformers required for front-end unbalancing and back-end rebalancing."

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #22 of 29 Old 02-15-2007, 05:34 PM
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To reap the full benefit of "balanced" ---everything in the chain should be balanced-capable, and run that way. Also many amps are not true- balanced. These just allow the use of balanced cables but the circuit needs to be designed balanced.
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post #23 of 29 Old 02-15-2007, 06:21 PM
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Because of my room setup, I have experimented with balanced signals for quite a while. I totally agree with the thinking that the more cables/connectors in the signal chain, the more resolution one loses.

I also believe the best performance one can get from their amp is having it as close to the speakers as possible. Active speakers, mono amps, or stereo amp vertically biamped, place close to the speaker is the best way to do this. Many times balanced cables are needed to achieve this type of setup.

For some great info on using/mixing balanced and unbalanced equipment, read the various papers on the subject at the Jensen Transformer web site:

http://www.jensen-transformers.com/apps_wp.html

Right now I run between my preamp and power amp, what Jensen considers the best way to connect unbalanced to balanced equipment. Using a low capacitance, highly shielded twisted pair, connected in single-ended fashion on the driving side, but with an input transformer on the output side, at the amp end.

The improvement of this setup, compared to previously running long speaker cables, was very apparent.
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post #24 of 29 Old 02-15-2007, 10:14 PM
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As has been said: If the input is an op amp (which it likely is these days), then, for a balanced input, it will connect to the + and - sides. For an unbalanced input, the - side will be grounded, or, more scarily, left floating with a pull down. Thus, I argue there is no component difference for balanced vs unbalanced inputs on equipment that provides balanced inputs (or the difference will favor the balanced side). Meanwhile, there is a clear transmission connectivity benefit with balanced connectors.

Think of it this way: if balanced wasn't the way to go, why would EVERY recording studio, live mixing desk, mastering house and any other stop in the path from performer to your house, all be using balanced interconnects?
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post #25 of 29 Old 02-16-2007, 04:36 AM
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Using a balanced setup is all about noise reduction. Whether anyone with a consumer system needs it or not totally depends on his/her system.

To the OP, buy the Classe, it's excellent equipment. Then, if you do have the facilities to run balanced into your amp, try it both ways (balanced/unbalanced). Decide for yourself what sounds best...

Then you too can become a guru
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post #26 of 29 Old 02-16-2007, 04:58 AM
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I'm using balanced with my Anthem D2, I didn't notice a sound quality change, but it did get rid of a hum issue I was having. I also like the fact that the connectors lock in and since my amp for the LCR speakers is 30 feet away from the processor they were much cheaper. BTW I bought mine from Blue Jeans Cable.

Bill
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post #27 of 29 Old 02-16-2007, 05:46 AM
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Quote:


As has been said: If the input is an op amp (which it likely is these days), then, for a balanced input, it will connect to the + and - sides. For an unbalanced input, the - side will be grounded, or, more scarily, left floating with a pull down. Thus, I argue there is no component difference for balanced vs unbalanced inputs on equipment that provides balanced inputs (or the difference will favor the balanced side). Meanwhile, there is a clear transmission connectivity benefit with balanced connectors.

I won't discount that possibility, but without a schematic at hand, we don't really know for sure one way or another. Nor do we know if that would be the case in all instances.

It is possible, isn't it, that an unbalanced input could bypass the op amp and be essentially tied to it's output instead of going through it?

Quote:


Think of it this way: if balanced wasn't the way to go, why would EVERY recording studio, live mixing desk, mastering house and any other stop in the path from performer to your house, all be using balanced interconnects?

No disagreement here that a XLR connector/balanced line is a more robust methodology. However, within the context of the question, there is no reason, IMO, that balanced line sounds better in all cases - or in any specific case - unless noise is such an issue that a balanced line is the only cure.

Sort of like putting premium gas in a car that runs perfectly fine on regular.

Just because there is a knob doesn't mean you should turn it.
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post #28 of 29 Old 02-16-2007, 07:47 AM
 
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Quote:


It is possible, isn't it, that an unbalanced input could bypass the op amp and be essentially tied to it's output instead of going through it?

If you're going for an un-buffered approach.
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post #29 of 29 Old 02-16-2007, 05:16 PM
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I just looked up the Classe, and the difference between the 600 and 300 is balanced interconnects and signal path. If you don't have a balanced destination, or are not going to use balanced interconnects, go with the 300.
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