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. BassDigger
    As I suspected: marketing BS! In the world of speaker amps, single-ended (such as SET amps) are revered (by some). The idea is that the less components that are producing your sound signal, the more pure it is likely to be. But it seems that the headphone industry has turned this around and done the opposite, by using a 'nice' sounding word to sell their amps, maybe because the word 'balanced' just sounds right, whereas 'differential' is....forgettable.

    I know that they're much higher impedance, but I'm sure that SE is generally more appropriate for driving headphones than it is for loudspeakers. My main frustration is the cabling: you don't have different connectors for SE and balanced....sorry....differential amplifiers for speakers, but for gets complicated! :triportsad:
  2. Alcophone
    That may be true for people who just kind of stumble upon balanced setups (rare, I assume), but if I didn't have the funds for a proper balanced setup, I'd go for a proper SE setup (at less cost). At least you can't generalize that just because someone is using a balanced setup, they are using lower quality conductors. And low quality balanced cables still have inherent benefits over low quality single ended cables.

    From Wikipedia:


    That's the good thing about differential: whatever you add to or subtract from both lines (noise), the difference is still the same (noise rejection). How relevant that is depends on your environment (how much noise there is), the length of the cables and the shielding used, and many critics say it's only relevant in much longer cable runs than you typically encounter at home.

    You're also avoiding a shared ground, said to reduce cross talk between channels, leading to better channel separation. Logically that makes sense to me, though I've not knowingly been the victim of diminished enjoyment due to cross talk.

    My two channel system is still single ended so far, with a 15ft RCA cable between preamp and amp, running parallel to various other cables, including the power cord of a surge protector. Can't say I noticed noise, but some distortion manifests in other ways than directly perceived noise, like maybe worse imaging or loss of details, or whatever. Impossible to judge without proper A/B. Though it's clear that it's not super bad.

    The most important thing is always the transducers.

    Well, cost and space, presumably. Truly balanced would mean four signals generated (for stereo), and it's expensive enough as it is.
    It does have balanced outputs, though - probably via inverters, as I read about the Hugo TT.
    Given its acclaim, a single ended Dave is apparently still better than most truly balanced DACs.

    But, by your line of reasoning, there must be a reason the Yggdrasil is balanced (truly so, with two DACs per channel).
    I have advocated for a single ended Yggy in the past, though, to avoid the cost impact of doubling most everything and the possible sound impact of using summers for the single ended out.
  3. BassDigger
    If I had a long run of line level signal, I'd prefer it to be a balanced connection. So, I'd try and source equipment with balanced connections.

    However, there's far too much confusion over the meaning of this term. For instance, most headphones are 'balanced', if you're talking about their cable conductors. It's just that for your single-ended 6.5/3.5mm jack, certain conductors have to be commoned. If all headphone amps used xlr type 4-pin 'balanced' connections (for the HP jacks), regardless of whether they were SE or differential designs, then things would be much simpler. But, because of other considerations (like portable audio) this isn't the case, and as ever the manufacturers have taken advantage of this.
  4. hypnos1

    Hi music_man.

    Apologies to folks once again for staying somewhat off thread topic, but AT LAST...a fellow head-fier who agrees genuine, 'single crystal' UP-OCC wire brings substantial (and not imaginary!) performance benefits over 'ordinary' metals...hence the added motivation to take the plunge into DIY land!

    I must also add that I'm much relieved at the further confirmation of my own doubts re. 'going balanced'...doubts that were also strengthened by Chord's use of SE, not to mention Focal's insanely priced Utopia sporting an SE jack plug! As already mentioned by others, I personally believe the money saved from not having to double up everything in the system is FAR better spent on upgrading other elements in one's setup...including the use of UP-OCC-wired cable, if at all possible lol!! :wink: :gs1000smile:

    ps. Sorry to hear of your joy at all - especially for delicate technical work! But it's good that at least it seems to have halted enough so you can still tackle something! :smile_phones:...long may it continue this way...CJ
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
  5. rkw
  6. BassDigger
    Whilst it may contain a good explanation, that's a manufacturer's webpage promoting the design characteristics of what they happen to sell: maybe not the most impartial of sources. However, I guess that there are plenty of unbiased testimonies, if one was prepared to look for them. But, those who favour/promote 'balanced/differential' designs will surely have their own webpages containing the logic, theories, and reasoning that they feel supports their position.

    However I agree, that unless the load (hp) presents a problem that a differential design has a significant advantage in solving, SE is the way to go. It's a simple matter of economics: for your money, if you are buying twice the circuitry, then it is highly improbable that this circuitry will be of the same quality as a single circuit stereo design. And potentially, even if the component quality were the same, you could still be buying something that sounds worse: as rkw's link shows, there's plenty of theory to indicate this.

    Yes, I know that plenty of people say that they've tried both outputs, from the same amp, and balanced was clearly superior. Or, those who say that their new balanced amp is so much better than their old SE amp. But I think that this is ignoring other key factors (like the amp's optimal configuration, or that it cost more, or it's a better design anyway). Ultimately, it's still economics.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
  7. castleofargh Contributor
    indeed, or that the balanced output is louder so will logically feel better subjectively anyway. ^_^
    IMO it's a false good idea to test the same amp with both outputs. obviously if the single ended output was the main design, there wouldn't be a balanced output. 100% of the time, those amps are balanced amps with that extra SE output implemented for added practicality, and practicality alone.
    2 amps are likely to be different in more areas than being BA or SE. trying to dumb it all down to the type of output plug is a little candid. it's understandable that some would try, because after all that's what we can all see. "Hermagerdd! the plug is different!!!!!! it must mean something major, perhaps". but the end result might be as relevant for the sound quality as the color of the case for all we know.

    luckily there are many good amps for many purposes, so we can always hope to find something for our needs.
  8. music_man
    Thank you, CJ I appreciate that. It should have been bad by now but just fine motor is affected so luckily. Still stinks I cannot solder. I was an audio and electronic Engineer so of course I miss building things. Luckily you do not have to DIY if you are willing to pay. there are scores of people that will build any project you want for you by now.

    We used Balanced XLR in commercial audio due to the length and to reject noise from many cables. those are the only reasons. It sounds better is this typical Audiophile voodoo. My speaker systems are fully balanced just because I was used to it in my job. The headphones my best Se amp will beat any of my Balanced amps. Benchmark is a pro audio company they are not into lies. So I am pretty sure you can trust them unless something has really changed there. I think the quality of the amp is a heck of a lot more important than it's terminations.

    Apparently the Ayre QX5 Twenty is not truly differential but I am sure they will argue it is. It is crushed by my best couple of SS SE amps. So many people got a Codex and then a bal. cable. At which time they exclaimed how much better balanced was. They might not understand that is a very low end amp in there. Simple and good but nothing SOTA. Of course in that situation it sounded better. It was running more voltage. People equate higher SPL to a better sound. That amp was not good enough that you could use it to judge the difference. The QX5 I do not know. It very well may have the same amp. Either is a good dac. Which is exactly what they are. A headamp was tacked on as with most dacs. Even the Dave I bet.

    The bottom line: I will take a better SE amp over a lower quality Bal amp any day. Now, if it is a very high end bal. amp that is fine but not the sole reason I would posses it. In fact I often run high end differential headamps with the 1/4" stereo. I find no huge difference comparing likewise amps. If there was, trust me I would be the first to say so. It is like AES/EBU. these are things adopted from the pro industry and hyped by stereo manufacturers. AES/EBU as well has no real place in today's home audio. No matter how high end. S/PDIF and Toslink will serve the same function for our purposes. This is also balanced. The reason for differential circuits is to offset noise and facilitate long cable runs. Under our usage if it does sound better, it is something other than differential circuitry. There are those that will believe however. it, by itself should have no bearing on sound. to overly simplify this think of it as the difference between a 3.5mm jack and a 6.3mm jack. if someone can hear a difference in this either they need the men in white scrubs or they are magical. Don't get me wrong. Balanced is fine and shall not detract I would just look at a lot of other things first. If money is an issue use it to buy a better SE amp. Unfortunately there is no huge improvement to be had here. even though some say they can absolutely hear it. First question would be was everything else equal? One last thing, if you want to spend $$$ there is a way better 1/4" connector than there are mini xlr or 3.5,2.5mm. So an excuse to go SE.
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