SE high end Vs balanced MID-fi

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by music_man, Dec 26, 2017.
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  1. music_man
    I am asking this because I am deciding what I am doing cable wise. I know there are adapters but honestly they degrade the sound IMO.

    So If your favorite amp was SE and you preferred it to all your balanced amps Would you stick with the SE or is balanced better no matter what? I am thinking a better amp or one I like better is more important than what termination it utilizes? I can make an adapter but I would hardly listen to balanced amps and I have some very good ones. I just prefer a particular amp that just happens to be Se. With specific headphones that prefer SS.

    Also, what is the point of all these amps that have SE inputs and balanced out? They are not actually balanced! This includes I believe the new Sony unit that has been well received. Many amps are like this. Then there is the odd amp that has balanced input and SE output. Also not truly balanced! Balanced is not the only factor in a headphone amp but rather the quality of the actual amp IMO. There are SE amps in one manner or another that will smash balanced amps 3x their price. What I prefer was a rare gem. Doubtful anyone could get one.
  2. Alcophone
    I'm trying to get the best sound possible, and theoretically, balanced is more likely to give me that, which is why I'm focused on that at the moment. But if the best SE system within my budget sounded better than the best balanced system within my budget, the choice would be easy: SE. Balanced is inherently more expensive because of all the redundancies, so it's quite possible that a single ended system for the same price sounds better. But taking future upgrades and budget expansions in mind, going balanced is possibly a bit safer.

    Some amps with single ended inputs and balanced outputs have phase splitters on the input, and are actually balanced as a result. Others only offer it as a convenience option, which is still useful with headphones for which your preferred cable is a balanced one. It might also sound better than using an adapter. For my Ethers, I only have/will get balanced cables, so I would appreciate that option.

    Amps with balanced inputs, but only single ended outputs still offer the noise rejection benefits of balanced cables. Maybe your DAC is on the other end of the room, connected to your two channel system, while your headphone amp is closer to where you sit; long balanced interconnects would then still be preferable to a long single-ended interconnects.
    Or maybe your source has only balanced outs, or its single ended out(s) are already in use, or you want to avoid using its summing circuitry in favor of what your amp can do (Yggy/Gumby balanced to Jotunheim with single ended headphones should be better than Yggy/Gumby single ended to Jotunheim with single ended headphones, because Jotunheim doesn't need summers for its single-ended headphone out, while both DACs use summers for their single-ended outs).
  3. castleofargh Contributor
    balanced is in no way an indicator of quality. it's seen that way based on all the possible misunderstanding about noise rejection, maximum power, and assumed correlations like thinking expensive gears are better, balanced gears cost more, therefore they must be better. which of course is a fallacy.
    objectively I'm actually tempted to think that SE could probably give the best overal fidelity. but saying that is already giving too much credit to the balanced vs unbalanced story. the amp is good, or it isn't. the type of output is a detail about the amp, not a cause for its quality.

    IMO, if you're the kind to get new amps every 3 months while following the hype train, then you should be fully equipped with balanced cables and use a SE adapter when needed. it's the best financial and practical option with a rapid turnaround of diverse gears.
    otherwise, pick the amp you like and that's it. problem solved for many years where you need the cables to go with that amp. ^_^

    I don't get how an adapter to plug balanced cables into SE amps would be any different from using a single ended cable? one of the wires is going to separate into 2 at some point, does it matter that it is done at the neck splitter, in the plug or in an adapter? as long as each plug has solid contacts, there is no issue IMO. am I missing something here?
  4. Alcophone
    That depends on whether you believe in cables making a difference or not. There's a reason why some makers of after market cables offer matching adapters, matching meaning the same materials for conductors, isolation, plugs, solder, etc, same wire gauge, etc. Makes little sense to connect a Double Helix Prion4 with 19 AWG conductors via an adapter with, say, 26 AWG conductors. Or an OCC silver cable to an adapter using copper. Sure, you will get sound out, and it likely won't sound terrible to most people, but whatever nuances your cable may be able to reveal could get lost in the adapter first.
  5. castleofargh Contributor
    if the adapter alone has a significant electrical impact despite being so super short, then it's really crap.
    matching materials is probably a nice subjective idea, but the coil in the headphone isn't silver, the wires and PCB in the amp also aren't, the components in the circuit won't be. so are we playing the game of pretending that none of it matters, but all that + 5cm of an adapter will? I'm not sold on that.
    plus an adapter doesn't have to be small or very flexible or anything so there is nothing against having fairly large wires(so long as we can actually solder them into the plugs ^_^). that way the electrical specs shouldn't make it a weak link of anything. again I would be more worried about having good surface contact with the plugs. that I've sometimes measured to mess things up.
  6. NA Blur
    Balanced yields almost twice the cost and twice the components. If you can't fully explain the benefits it's likely you should stick to an SE setup. I've heard a ton of great SE gear and in the end the biggest difference in balanced headphone setups is you get higher voltage outputs ( volumes ). That's why so many people think they sound better. If you actually take the time to set the dB levels you really should not be able to tell the difference. If people claim the soundstage is soooo much better in balanced mode it is more likely there are phase issues from the added components and separation of channels.
  7. Alcophone
    I ask myself the same questions. All kinds of wonky materials go into the components, and the cases don't provide perfect RF isolation either, so how much of a difference can a cable make? But I'm still curious. And there are components (amps, speakers, most likely others) where the manufacturers emphasize their choice of materials as well. And even if the materials inside the components have downsides, I don't see why bad interconnects couldn't make it even worse. Cables can't add anything, they can only help to preserve what's there, and possibly reduce unwanted aspects (like interference).
    And at least the gauge part should make sense, if you take a fat pipe and put a tiny hose on the other end, the hose will be a bottleneck for the entire thing. I'm both skeptical and curious, and there are too many smart people that I trust that say cables do make a difference (in sound) to just dismiss the idea entirely.
  8. music_man
    I am going to tell the whole story. In my bedroom system I use either the Ayre QX-5 Twenty which is balanced or the Chord Dave. I know many think the Chord is worth like $100 but that is a different story. I ordered a very expensive Kimber Axios AG cable for Sony Z1R. I vastly prefer the dave and it is Se 1/4". There must be a reason they do that on such an expensive amp. The same goes for Ayre using only 3.5mm on their balanced. Kimber does not offer a balanced cable with a SE adapter. So I had to choose. Being I feel the dave is better and my Cullen GCHA+ extrad modifications is much better I choose the Se. I figured I should go with what sounds best to me. The amp is going to be a lot more important than the cable. I have a couple other balanced amps. My favorite is the Cullen. I know it is an old amp but amp technology does not change like digital does. I figured my best bet was to utilize what I feel is my best SS amp. I have stuff like Blue Hawaii with PSU on SR009 but mainly prefer SS. Especially for these Sony Z1R and 010 and R10. I also have the Dave next to the Cullen if I want a different sound and I say it is a fine sound. So You guy's affirmed my feelings. The amp is much more important than it's connections. I do have fully balanced in the speaker system. preamp to amp and from dave. in fact it is bal. in and se out. Except for the Cullen but I have it connected with Crystal's top interconnects RCA. I agree, in all instances go with the better sound not the technology employed. Chord might know something too, to put SE on that. The Culen is still much better anyways. Later PS audio had it made in china with bal. inputs. The sony made for those is fully SE. So, go figure. I guess it is not nearly as much of a deal some people make of it. I feel I made the right choice. Between balanced on amps I do not prefer or SE on amps I vastly prefer. In the end it is the sound that matters but many people are hung up on things. bal. does improve a high end speaker system perhaps. for headphones again. it all depends on the amp not it's connection. Seeing as they did not offer an adapter it would have ben an easy choice. Why I asked. I think people that listened to bal. and were amazed were listening to low end equipment. At the high end perhaps more comes into play. Well I was not going to get two cables for thousands each. One of which I would not use much. You guy's may laugh about the Cullen but it is the best SS amp I have ever heard. I just got the Luxman P750 u traded the P1u, other amps like that and the Cullen will crush them in many instances! That was really overlooked back then and I think people did not realize what it was packing. to this day. Of course many might hate it. Mine is modified even above the standard package. a $2,500 amp back then was not cheap anyways. not so much the economy as it was not that long ago but that we did not have that kind of stuff yet. Anyways, I feel you guys made the right remarks. Plus I was referring to the QX-5 as mid-fi and I do not think it exactly is. I think most people regard that as high end stuff. nonetheless, I feel it is as in overpriced. just not my favorite. Of course many people think the dave sucks. Downstairs no headphones, MSB select and stuff like that. just not the room in our bedroom. luckily my wife is cool with that. I took a 15' dresser and filled it with stereo equipment. including the sonus faber extrema 2 at each end each on a plinth. the system sounds not nearly as good as it could which is where headphones come in lol. I mean I totally bastardized some peoples dream system but amazingly it still sounds pretty decent.

    Thanks guys,
    This time it mattered. you made me feel I made the right choice. It seems I am asking advice here lately and I never did in 15+ years. I guess I feel insecure now that I am a senior citizen haha!
  9. hypnos1
    Although somewhat off thread topic, I would just like to share my own findings in this very contentious area re. possible detrimental effects of adapters/connectors...not to mention mediocre quality wire! (Actually, I'm sure the quality of such items must contribute greatly to any performance differences between SE and Balanced, and so is not too far off topic anyway!). doesn't make sense in some ways that some extra, relatively short connecting interfaces should make much difference, given the possible horrors associated with PCB circuits and/or piles of less-than-high quality solder...or said mediocre internal wiring. HOWEVER, while first experimenting with DIY silver speaker cables, I also decided to put to the test a mantra from an obviously very experienced and knowledgeable DIYer - "The best connector is no connector". And so I removed the speaker terminals and took the cables direct to the crossovers...with obvious, immediate improvement to the sound, compared to using plugs and terminals....(verification #1).

    Some time later, due to the failure of a so-called hi-Q Neutrik headphone socket in my tube amp of the time, I took the opportunity to once again bypass a connector (and HP plug, of course), and took the HP cable direct to the amp's internal wiring...with the same very noticeable leap in performance...(verification #2).

    Just recently, and now with much better equipment than previously, I decided to carry out even more intensive experimentation with both wire and connectors.
    Firstly, I terminated some DIY interconnects - Neotech's amazing UPOCC silver-wired cable - with rhodium-plated copper RCA plugs, and after a while changed them for KLEI 'Harmony' silver plugs, which alone brought a noticeable improvement (the cable itself transforming the final performance way beyond my previous 'ordinary', 99.9% pure silver ICs)...(verification #3).
    Secondly, I replaced my Beyer T1 (v1) headphone cable, also with Neotech UPOCC silver wire - but this time made with their individual 'hookup wire'. I then decided to once again trial bypassing the connector, and took the wires straight to my (now much better) tube amp's internal wiring - and yet once more...further noticeable improvement...(verification #4).
    Finally, I bit the bullet and threw warranty-busting caution to the wind, and removed pretty well the last remaining connectors in the entire system - ie. the ICs also direct to the amp's internals at one end, and into my Hugo2 DAC at the other. This did in fact bring the greatest leap in overall performance, second only to use of the UPOCC wire itself...(verification #5).

    And so, for me at least, this is proof positive that the connectors we are usually obliged to use when using multiple separates do indeed have a far greater bearing on final very good sound systems, at least! They obviously act as a 'throttle' in the various signal lines. Removing as many as is viably possible will surely bring great benefits, when even just upgrading the connectors themselves can make noticeable differences...and IMHO adapters, by their very design, must therefore be even more likely to have a negative impact - especially in light of my previous findings! I can already hear cries of..."expectation bias"; "wishful thinking"; "effort/cost justification"; "simple personal sound preferences", etc. etc....usually uttered by folks who have never actually carried out extensive trials of such things themselves. And although not a 'professional', my own position is one that is a result of over 4 years of intensive (and extensive), analytical comparison of many different tubes' performance in several tube amps (along with different peripherals, cables etc.) and which I trust has finally honed my assessment in most areas of sound as objective a way as I believe possible, given that our appreciation of music is surely a very subjective one!!

    However, as usual...YMMV...!!!
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2017
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  10. castleofargh Contributor
    I'm all for soldering to remove plugs. as I said, my main concern in cables are the contact surfaces in the plugs(enough pressure+enough surface). but you must realize that it goes against any attempt to increase compatibility which was why we brought up adapters in the first place ^_^.

    on my amp, the plug alone adds a great deal of crosstalk. it's still not reaching an audible level in most cases with my gears, but when I measure stuff just before the jack I get a clearly measurable improvement. yet I don't solder anything directly to it. I have plenty of gears(too many for a dude with only 2 ears), and removing that little extra crosstalk is just not worth sacrificing the practicality of a plug.
    on the other hand, I've fooled around chaining like ten really short stuff with croco plugs or mini jacks, that I made using some cheap speaker cable I have. and the entire chain wasn't having a lot more impact than the very first plug and a 1 long cable. but the contacts were clean and good, and the cable used had like 0.5ohm of resistance over the full 30meters I bought of it. so even many super short pieces of it stuck badly together with plugs were unlikely to have a lot of impact.

    personally I also tend to reject sighted tests. they always make us feel like everything is more than it really is. but again, we do agree that having good contacts is a good idea. I mentioned a few times that I'm a fan of banana plugs for that very reason. we still have the practical aspect of plugs, and some usually fairly solid contacts.
  11. music_man
    I just wanted to say something very controversial. There is no such thing beyond 5N. Especially silver. sure 7N is nice to say. Since they cannot measure it there is no guarantee you are getting it. Unless it was a small difference I would not pay $$$ more for 2 more "N".

    I am never going to rip apart any of my equipment. Remember that guy that busted up 100 grand equipment the ultimately got banned? depends how long you were here. That being said I do feel unesscesarry connections are bad. Sure, it offers flexibility at the expense of SQ. I already established my SE amp blows away my Bal. amps so there is no reason for me to make a "versatile" wire. Plus I am disabled and it is very difficult. Rather it would be over. As it is I plan to build a better cable than the Axios Ag which shall be a tall order.
    Alcophone likes this.
  12. hypnos1
    Indeed, castleofargh...sometimes adapters may be required for 'compatibility', and can surely be useful. In the end, I suppose all comes down to just how far one wishes to push the limits of one's equipment...or, rather, exploit its true, full potential.

    In my own case, I'm also quite sure that the definite, and pragmatic/objective improvements in sound delivery I mentioned - based upon detail resolution; tonal range; instrument/voice separation and positioning; spatial presentation within a 3-dimensional soundstage; pace/rhythm/timing; overall control/coherence, etc. - are now more apparent since upgrading mains power supply (PowerInspired Regenerator feeding an AirlinkTransformers ASF3000 Balanced AC Mains with Advanced Filtering; source (Naim UnitiCore server/CD ripper/internal SSD + ext. USB playback), and Hugo2 DAC/AMP...along with upgraded cables throughout.

    With these items in situ, I repeat...each of the 'verification' stages I listed presented definite improvements in a good few, if not all, of the assessment areas I described...much to my surprise, actually! It is indeed unfortunate that we are usually obliged to rely upon less-than-ideal methods of connecting our various pieces of hi-fi area in which I wish more research and development had been undertaken before now!...KLEI (Eichmann) at least have improved upon the traditional RCA plug design, so perhaps more is to come eventually.
    And so yes, where plugs are truly necessary, then I personally believe one should go for the very best one can afford...assuming equal quality in the peripherals!

    Hi music_man.

    I agree re. the long number of "N"s in pure silver. Much more important than that is the difference in the way the (highest possible purity) silver is actually drawn into wire form - UPOCC wire undergoes a "Continuous Cast", "single crystal" process, for which I initially had a healthy scepticism.... until I performed strict A/B comparisons with cables made from 'ordinary' pure silver. Much to my surprise, the performance increases were not just marginal, but substantial. The only problem with this wire/cabling is cost!! The only reason I was able to afford experimenting with this stuff was because of Neotech making available the bare cable and wires that I could terminate myself (before going connectorless!). Ready made cables in the marketplace are for those with very deep pockets indeed, alas!

    As for destroying uber-expensive gear, my own 'modifications' are relatively simple, safe procedures for anyone with basic knowledge and skills in this area...and FAR less complex than anyone who builds their own amp from a kit, for example. So hopefully there's no danger of getting myself banned lol!! :wink::L3000:...CHEERS!...

    ps. Good luck with your own cable building...I'm sure you will succeed with no problem at all!! :ksc75smile:...(I wish more folks would have a go at this. With minimal skill, but plenty of practice and patience - just as I took the plunge, never before having wielded a soldering iron - one can fairly easily make something that outperforms very expensive cables, at a fraction of the cost!).
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  13. BassDigger
    As I understand it, balanced amps are a good option when the designer wants to give an amp good voltage capabilities. But, it may also be a cost effective way of creating a 'higher spec' amp: doubling the already designed circuits, rather than creating a new design. How much the fact that a design is balanced, rather than single-ended, actually 'improves' the sound quality is probably much overrated.

    At the end of the day, the amp is supposed to match and have synergy with the headphones that it's tasked to drive. I worry that there are other, perhaps more important factors, such as real voltage or damping factor, that get overlooked. I mean, it's only in the last few years that manufacturers have started publishing the power outputs of their headphone amps!

    I think, as has been discussed, it's mostly a matter of what suits your situation, such as your cables. I have 3 single ended cables, so when I bought my last amp, this surely had a major effect on my choice. I don't spend big bucks on my cables, despite the importance that i believe they have, but I still don't want the hassle of changing them to balanced. However, if I owned the HE-6 (which requires both power and voltage), it might be a different matter.

    I'm still struggling with the concept of 'balanced', in headphone amp design. Is it the same as 'push-pull', in speaker amps?
  14. rkw
    Your confusion is understandable, because the word "balanced" is being misused. Nobody talks about "balanced speaker amps". One headphone amp manufacturer started using the term for marketing purposes and everybody else picked it up.

    This post explains it well:
    BassDigger likes this.
  15. music_man
    Wow, I am talking to the right folks here! Sometimes I will bring up my views on stuff like this and get flamed right out. Often it is by newcomers but not always. there now seem to be newcomers here that really know there stuff. times have changed.

    I feel strongly that a very good amp that is SE is going to be better than a mediocre amp that is Bal. That was my original question and it seems you all agree. A long time ago in programming they used to say "garbage in, garbage out". I think that applies here. To begin with Two good amps, one Se and the other Bal. there should be little difference but people will say they hear angels on the bal. upgrade the Se amp 10x and there is no comparison imo. Plus cables. Bal. cables are expensive so people will run less quality. A single at twice the quality in Se is going to make a difference too. I am tired of this being such a big deal, everyone recabling since it really is not. My favorite amp can put out more wattage and voltage than any headphone on the planet can use and it is se. in this case I am not concerned about more voltage. my bal. amps actually put out much less voltage! Plus there must be a reason Dave is Se. They could have easily put Bal. if they desired. The Ayre is Bal. but with two 3.5mm they are obviously not taking it seriously. I do not see any benefit to it but they want to please the masses. it is amazing how people get a Bal. cable and now their headphones are 10x better. In very good amps there should be NO difference. In lower end amps it makes a difference but not huge. it is still a lower end amp. I would much rather use my best amp se than one below it Bal. I am also guessing if it is Se out it does not matter if it takes RCA in? I know bal there has benefits but in a very high end amp it should not matter?


    I 100% agree. UP-OCC CU or AG is the only kind of metal I want in my gear. The single crystal makes a big sound difference. you do not need dbt or any bs like that it can easily be heard. like going from $1,000 speakers to $20,000. it is honestly that noticeable you know what else? Ohno do not put the "7N". somewhere someone else adds that moniker. They do not state that it is any "N". just UP-OCC. see, it is something different and with a single crystal continually drawn "N" does not really apply. People used the number to judge the quality. It is a misnomer. It goes right back to people thinking they know something and having misinformation that is handed down again and again. Sometimes Ohono alone does not apply though. Both Cardas and Kimber make serious cables with what they call oxygen free. Obviously it is much more than that. I think with that they do not want people to know their proprietary formulas so they can go be copied. I am almost positive those are exceptionally pure metals. well, they have different ranges I mean the totl..

    Only 3 or so factories can make OCC legally. Correct number if I am wrong. It is just a few. Others copy and junk. Neotech is great. They make the same exact stuff but affordable. Not $140 a meter but $15. AT $140 a meter plus Oyaide connectors, Cards solder etc it is too much to even build your own. that is why Neotech is very welcome. You can for instance build an insane headphone cable for $150.

    I was heavy into electronics. No problem with soldering and still have a very good station temp regulated. The problem is much later in life I got Parkinson's. luckily my dr. is amazed it is not progressing. I shake enough to make soldering small, especially smd difficult. I think I am good because I have always been a vegan and body builder. I am in much better shape than most 20 year olds these days. Thank Mcdonald's.
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