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Is balance headphone amp still perferable?

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by flargosa, Jan 16, 2019.
  1. flargosa
    Is balance headphone amp still preferable over single ended? I read this article regarding the myth of balance headphone amps(link below), seems factual and makes sense. Are their counter arguments to this article which says balance introduces more artifacts to the signal and SE amps is inherently balance anyway. Deciding between balance and SE amps so been doing some reading regarding this topic. :)

    Last edited: Jan 16, 2019
  2. sheldaze
    Is your signature accurate? Do you still own the Ragnarok? What are you seeking in a new amplifier, which your Ragnarok does not provide?

    These are questions I would focus on - not balanced vs single-ended. Majority of what I use has tubes, which means balanced would make the amplifier prohibitively expensive. So in my case, my balanced amplifiers are solid-state or hybrid. These also happen to be my least expensive purchases, and thus due to design constraints do not sound as good as the pure tube amplifiers I own. This is also not a tube vs solid-state difference - just a cost for better parts, better design options difference. Simply, I would focus on more than balanced vs single-ended in making a selection for a next amplifier.
  3. 441879
    If your amp supplies enough power for your headphones, It’s unlikely you would be able to hear any audible difference between balanced and single end (assuming all other elements equal). That said, if you’re buying equipment at the high end of high end, it’s probably balanced to get every last iota of performance, audible or not.

    I have a portable player that puts out enough power for my Planar Magnetics from the balanced output, but not the single ended output, so in that case it makes a real and audible difference. Using a more efficient dynamic driver headphone with the same amp and the difference is not perceivable. My single ended home amp can deliver 9W / channel- far more than I would ever need for any headphone. It holds its own with similarly priced balanced amps in terms of sound so I’d say balanced isn’t a must have. It’s just a different topology than single end and other factors probably play a bigger role in how it sounds.
  4. flargosa
    Yes, I don’t hear all the claimed benefits of balanced many say, darker background, less distortion, more dynamics, clearer instrument separation, etc… So I was just wondering where the discussion of balance vs SE currently is, or maybe it has been settled? I read the article above saying, balance is actually worst than SE, but to me my Ragnorok to my HD800S sounds excellent with both balance and SE. No audible difference. Deciding if getting another but more portable balance amp(office amp) was really worth it. So got the Jot. My tube amp noise floor is audible, I think many are. So another tube wasn’t an option.
  5. Shane D
    I have been wondering about this also. What if your source (My DAP is a Sony NW-ZX300) has a balanced output which is far superior to the SE output?

    I had looked at a balanced amp and then realized that I would have to buy XLR cables for my headphones and DAP to amp.

    Shane D
  6. pichu
    Balanced isnt superior to SE necessarily. Not all DACs and or amps are true full balanced designs. Not to mention it totally depends how well designed the circuitry and quality of parts used. Balanced is good for long runs, but considering we are talking headphones, youre not gonna be anywhere near 15 foot or greater cable runs. Stick to balanced or SE (whatever you own currently), and be happy. Trust me, youll feel better in the end not being stressed out over what ifs in audio.
    BobG55 likes this.
  7. PointyFox
    I've had a few things with both balanced and SE and the only audible difference was balanced was louder than SE.
  8. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    There's one application for balanced drive that I'll concede can be useful for: (trans)portable systems. In some circuits it's easier to squeeze more power that way. You won't necessarily need it for a DAP driving an IEM, but if you want to take along a closed back reference headphone with dual entry cables anyway (ie you just replace the cable instead of paying for mods or modding it yourself) or an open back reference you might want to use in a hotel room or something like that, at least it's an option.

    That being said, if I wanted a really good transportable might as well just use a good IEM that will be my portable anyway or if I really want more comfortable, something easy to drive like a Grado or HE400S with an SE battery-powered DAC-HPamp. Which in my case for now is a D-Zero and an SR80e. If money was no object I'd use an RS2e with the Headphile C-Pads and would keep using my D-Zero until I can't find a replacement battery or something else breaks.

    Apart from generally more amplifier power, in a fully balanced system, the balanced output stage of the balanced DAC outputs 4V without the noise that SE output stages sometimes have if they're well past 2.2V, so basically you're starting with a louder signal that would be louder when the same gain and power are applied when amplifying it.
    " Balanced line-level interfaces reject hum and noise while providing a higher voltage level. The higher signal levels can improve the SNR (signal to noise ratio) of the audio system" There you have it. Ba;anced inputs/ ouputs have been using in pro audio for decades without any hypes as in consumers' home audio.
    Balance: Benefit or Bluff? https://www.stereophile.com/features/335/index.html

    Trust your own ears not someone else's ears.
    halcyon likes this.
  10. PointyFox
    You'll often see that in SNR specs with balanced being very slightly better. But is it audible? If SNR is good enough already, which it is with most equipment, the difference shouldn't be audible.
  11. flargosa
    On this article. It says, balance headphone outputs do not get the same benefits as balance line-level interfaces. Below is a cut and paste of pieces from this article. https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/audio-myth-balanced-headphone-outputs-are-better. Not sure how factual the article is, but for someone with zero electronics background like me, it makes sense.

    “a voltage-balanced interface serves no useful purpose when driving headphones…The truth is that a conventional single-ended headphone drive is technically superior to a balanced drive.”

    ”Balanced line-level interfaces reject hum and noise while providing a higher voltage level…If balanced connections work so well between audio boxes, it seems reasonable to expect improvements when driving headphones with a voltage-balanced feed. ”

    ”This expectation that balanced headphone amplifiers should be superior to single-ended amplifiers, ignores some of the most basic laws of electricity. The current into and out of a two-wire network is always equal and opposite. This means that the two-wire transducers used in headphones always see fully-balanced current. It also means that the headphone drivers are completely ignorant of the difference between single-ended and balanced-drive voltages. ”

    ”Headphone transducers are balanced devices. They have two wires. The electrons that flow into one wire must flow out of the other. The current is always balanced. The headphone transducers cannot detect the difference between a single-ended drive and a voltage-balanced drive. ”

    ” In many cases, voltage-balanced headphone amplifiers will produce more noise and more distortion than single-ended amplifiers of an identical design. The reason for this is that two separate output amplifiers are required in a voltage-balanced amplifier, and each must drive one half of the transducer's load impedance. The output noise will double because there are two amplifiers instead of one. The damping factor will degrade by a factor of 2 because both amplifiers contribute to the source impedance of the balanced amplifier (output impedance is doubled). Distortion will usually increase because each amplifier is required to drive half of the impedance that would be seen by an unbalanced amplifier. ”

    ”Please note that distortion is not always a bad thing. Many audio products are designed to add some harmonic distortion in an effort to add warmth to the audio reproduction… ”
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2019

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