Unbalanced and Balanced Clarification

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by exsion, Jun 10, 2017.
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  1. boomtube
    I have a cable terminated in 4 pin XLR. I have an SE adapter...is what I'm hearing the same as if I were to connect directly to an amp with the 4 pin?
  2. pinnahertz
    Ok...I'll bite...

    How did you compare balanced to single ended? How were the cans wired?

    What difference did you hear?
  3. pinnahertz
    Not enough info. What cable? What headphones? What amp(s)? Too many variables, enough that you'd be comparing apples and oranges.

    You have to study the principles, though. A good low impedance amp capable of delivering required power to the headphones for your target SPL that could be configured for either a differential output or single ended output, and the gain difference compensated for, then there would be no audible difference. But if you're comparing two different amps, different levels and gains, and doing the comparison by unplugging from one and inserting into the other, yes, you'll "hear" a difference, pretty much guaranteed. But your "test" is flawed in several ways, and meaningless when attempting to isolate the effect of a balanced connection vs single ended.
  4. boomtube
    I have Focal Utopia and have an upgrade cable terminated in 4 pin XLR...I'm anticipating the new Hugo2 any day now and will initially just be using the Hugo2's amp.
  5. pinnahertz
    Easy to drive load, almost anything should work.
    Unless the stock cable was real junk (hard to believe at $4k), the upgrade would have no audible effect.
    The Hugo2 is a single-ended output device with a number of features that deliberately alter sound quality. Each of those features has a far, far greater possibility of altering sound audibly than changing the means of driving the headphones. In your case the 4-pin cable is superfluous as far as the connector goes, you'll adapt it to the single-ended Hugo2 anyway. The adapter has no audible effect.

    In answer to your question, "...is what I'm hearing the same as if I were to connect directly to an amp with the 4 pin?" then, Yes it is. But you can't actually make that comparison with the Hugo2 as it is single-ended only, and comparing that DAC with another, balanced output or not, changes a lot of possibly audible stuff other than the output type.

    To put it another more theoretical way, just changing from a single-ended amp to a differential output amp doesn't change anything as far as audible sound quality goes. The slight but measurable degradation in signal quality using a differential output configuration won't be audible, assuming properly designed and applied electronics.
  6. L8MDL
    Here's John Atkinson's take on using the Pono in balanced mode:


    He says it much better than I could, and even provides SCIENTIFIC measurements!!!

    As for wiring, I use SurfCables exclusively. In a nutshell, it's quieter and more defined on each of my headphones as well as when I run it balanced into my Mac amp.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
  7. pinnahertz
    Those "scientific measurements" display inaudible differences. If he'd compensated for the additional 6dB of gain and double-blind tested that way the results would be a draw.
  8. Whitigir
    Debates ? There is no debates. Stereos is best if each channel is individually playing and not having to share anything from the sources to everything else. This is a proper balanced connection. Let's not open a can of worm where an improper implementation is considered balanced vs a proper implemented Single Ended.
  9. pinnahertz
    Single ended connections do not "share" anything either. The full mutual isolation of channels is completely possible.

    The only condition where the sharing of the ground is a problem in headphones is when the headphone is wired with three conductors from the headphone all the way back to the connector, the cord is long, like 10', and the conductors in the wire are extremely small. That condition causes crosstalk between channels. Otherwise, a 4-wire cable wired to a TRS connector doesn't have that issue, and channel isolation is maintained, even when connected single-ended at the connector/amp.
  10. castleofargh Contributor
    now that's an idea I can stand behind. why do I need a balanced headphone amp? because I want a balanced cable! ^_^
  11. pinnahertz
    Yes, that's funny! 'Course the "balanced cable" works just as well connected to a single-ended TRS connector, no balanced amp required.
  12. castleofargh Contributor
    you're not supposed to explain the joke.
  13. L8MDL
    pinnahertz & castleofargh:

    Just curious as to what you thought when you heard the Pono through balanced phones vs single-ended?
  14. pinnahertz
    My audition of the Pono player was an abomination. The thing was loaded with "high-res" audio that was all from old analog masters, there was nothing "high-res" about it. Within that limited demo selection I found a few OK demo pieces, and they sounded OK. Nothing spectacular. I've heard better SQ on my iPhone (single-ended, BTW).

    Looks like I wasn't alone.

    You cannot compare balanced vs single ended using a single Pono, though. You'd need two and a custom switch driven by an ABX comparator.
  15. castleofargh Contributor
    never tried it. I'm the typical egoist when it comes to audio gears and only care to try the stuff I plan to maybe purchase. pono fell off from that list many times over. the shape alone was a deal killer for me.
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