MacedonianHero, when using fully balanced headphone amps, is it really better to use balanced interconnects for balanced input (from source to amp)? For example, Schiit Mjolnir is a fully balanced amp that is purely balanced input to output, although it does offer a pair of RCA inputs too. I suppose in the latter's case, the amp converts unbalanced input signal to balanced (whereas in the former's case such conversion is not necessary), but would this conversion degrade sonic quality? While I too believe balanced amps work better for many hard-to-drive headphones including orthos, I hesitate to buy them because my DAC doesn't offer any balanced outputs. I'm afraid that I may not get the best out of a fully balanced amp unless I go balanced with my DAC too, which would cost a lot of money... So what do you think?
Although there are legitimate ways for amps to derive balanced output from unbalanced input (as the Schiit Mjolnir does, among others), the ideal, optimal way to set up a balanced system is with a source that has dual-differential balanced output (aka "dual-differential DAC configuration"). When properly implemented, balanced output from dual-differential DACs is essentially going to sound the best that it possibly can. Keep in mind that not all so-called "balanced sources" actually have dual-differential DACs - in some cases you need to literally get under the hood to see what a source is packing. Case in point: my Plinius CD-101, which has balanced output but only 2 PCM1704 DACs. Dual-differential output can't be achieved from two PCM1704s, because it's a mono-channel DAC. 4 of them are needed to achieve dual-differential output (2 per channel).
Balanced components are overrated IMO and aren't a necessity for hard-to-drive headphones. Unbalanced components have the potential to outperform balanced components. Generally, balanced components will also cost twice the amount of equivalent unbalanced components, as they generally require twice the amount of parts. That's part of the reason I recommend buying nothing cheaply when it comes to balanced components - a $500 balanced DAC, for example, won't be any better than a $250 unbalanced DAC. If you want optimal balanced components, you have to be prepared to pay for it.
Edited by Asr - 11/27/12 at 11:28pm