Balanced Headphones and Amps
Mar 7, 2013 at 11:28 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 3

HPiper

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I was doing some reading as I didn't really understand what was meant by balanced vs unbalanced headphone connections. I am still not sure I understand it or why most people think balanced is better. Now looking at my regular headphone connector I see 3 contact points. I am assuming that those are + left, +right, and common for both left and right. Is that correct? So if one were to convert that to a balanced configuration what would I need to do? I am thinking I would need to bring the + and - from each individual driver all the way out to an xlr or some other balanced type connector thereby ending up with 4 contact points (vs 3), 2 for each driver, then what would the third wire be, grounded at the source (amp) and unterminated at the driver or grounded at the source and tied together at the drivers? I can see how in an electronically noisy  environment that would reduce the noise level somewhat, in what other ways does that improve the sound? I hope this is understandable as I am not real sure of the terminology.
 
Jul 14, 2013 at 5:14 AM Post #3 of 3

Hipper

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This thread covered it:
 
http://www.head-fi.org/t/539458/why-balanced-headphone-amps
 
The gist of it is that with a single 1/4" jack plug the left and right signals to the headphone share the return path - a jack plug only has three connections. The result, it is said, is that there is 'crosstalk' between the left and right signals leading to the sound being muddied. Separating the complete left and right signal, either with a separate plug for left and right (could be a jack plug or three pin XLR) or with a single four pin XLR, is supposed to solve this problem.
 
Is there really a problem with muddied sound? Looking at the market there are many very high end headphone amps that employ just a single jack output. This suggests there isn't a problem. On the linked thread someone thought the signal damage was so tiny as to be inaudible. Yet, when reviews of amps with a single ended or balanced options are offered, they usually say that balanced is preferable. That of course does not tell us if a rival single ended amp would perform just as well, or better.
 
Separating the signals does seem to make common sense, but does it work in practice? As usual, the only way us confused types can know is to try it ourselves. Which isn't really that easy as we need headphone special cables for balanced amps.
 
The 'balanced' when referring to headphones has nothing to do with 'balanced' when talking about amp - DAC connections, for example. 
 

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