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Balanced cable on an IEM - snake oil?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Killcomic, Jul 31, 2019.
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  1. Killcomic
    I bought a new pair of IEMs (Fiio F9 pro) and it came with one if those fandangled balanced cable in the box.
    I have a passing understanding of the purpose of balanced cables, but for and IEM, does it make any audible difference or is it just another case of snake oil?

    Unfortunately, I don't have a balanced source I can test it with.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
  2. taffy2207
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
  3. Killcomic
    Hey, thanks! There was a lot of talk of numbers and levels and such. Nothing made much sense to me till I saw some saying they couldn't tell the difference.
    If there's one thing I've learnt about audiophiles, is that one person saying it makes no difference is worth 100 people swearing black and blue that it does.
  4. taffy2207
    Yup, pretty much. That's what I noticed about where the industry is heading, higher numbers marketing. If those higher numbers are not audible then it's pretty pointless unless you're an 'Audiophile', thankfully I'm not :upside_down:.

    I started a thread about dual DACS that was quite similar to your question. I've got a Balanced headphone amplifier, it's louder on balanced and that's about it. I only bought it because I got it at half price in Romania, not because it was balanced. Half price, yeah I like those numbers :slight_smile:
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
    TronII likes this.
  5. castleofargh Contributor
    it's a balanced cable for balanced use, like a USB cable is used for USB connection. you cannot and mustn't use an adapter to try and turn a single ended cable into a balanced one. so if you happen to have a balanced DAP and want to use that IEM "balanced", you do need a balanced cable. it's not snake oil, just a matter of convenience IMO as FIIO also sells balanced DAPs.
    SilentNote and TronII like this.
  6. Killcomic
    I know that and that's not my concern. What I want to know is, would using a balanced source with my IEM make a difference considering the cable is just 1.2 metres.
  7. bigshot
  8. Killcomic
    I thought so. Cheers!
  9. castleofargh Contributor
    probably not. some will argue that a given DAP works better balanced, and in some cases that will be correct(or not). or they just happen to enjoy how the new impedance affects the signature of the IEM. or they just get tricked by the oldest audio magic, "louder is better". all that of course is going to be a case by case matter and not at all a global balanced vs single ended difference.
    I said somewhere not long ago that I don't really get the idea of balanced headphones or IEMs. it doesn't make much sense to me electrically.
  10. jagwap
    If an unbalanced cable has 2 ground wires, one for each channel, then balanced is not likely to make a difference on a well designed system. Sharing a ground cable will impose a little of the signal from one channel to the other as there is current, and the cable isn't zero resistance. However that accidental crosstalk is not going to be audible, as it is a near exact version of the other channel at a low level, and will be masked by the brain. A balanced cable ensures it is separate. It also ensures no ground return to mess up. But if again the system is well designed (not guaranteed) it is not an issue.

    Balanced connections are most useful when you need more voltage. Portable sources lack high voltage to drive large insensitive headphones, and balanced gives double the voltage, and therefore four times the power for a given impedance. This is unlikely to be useful on an IEM, as these are usually the most sensitive headphones out there, apart from oddities like the Audeze.
  11. bigshot
    Remember the old game show Name That Tune? The contestant would bet that they could name the tune from however many notes they chose... "I can name that tune in ten notes." Then the other contestant would say "I can name that tune in SIX notes." Finally the other contestant would give up and say "NAME THAT TUNE!"

    We could play that game with answers to questions... "I can answer that question in 96 words." "I can answer that question if 45 words." I can answer that question in one word..."
    CoryGillmore and Killcomic like this.
  12. SilverEars
    I've not found balanced to really make a difference with DAPs. I've found a single-end source to output greater power than balanced on a DAP that there was only a minimal difference in volume. Portable audio is where I have the most doubts in running into balanced making any difference.
  13. jmills8
    Basically . More Power.
  14. PopZeus
    My DAP has much better channel separation from the balanced out compared to the SE, and it is pretty obvious listening though any of my IEMs that the soundstage improves when A/B switching between them. For whatever reason, you see the channel separation spec improve with a lot of balanced DAPs. According to Shanling, both signal paths are identical, it's just the balanced path doubles everything. Now you could say that level of channel separation is possible with single-ended connections (no argument from me there), but maybe that technical proficiency is easier and simpler to achieve with a balanced circuit?
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
    prfallon69 likes this.
  15. Killcomic
    That's right. It comes through louder, and people think they are hearing an improvement of some sort (perhaps they are if their cans need more juice).
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