What is balanced? What are balanced amps? Do they sound better? Discussion for noobs and boobs.

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Dec 5, 2015.

  1. DelsFan

    DelsFan Rando

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    My 2-channel system has been boxed for years, and for six months I've been in a quandary about which tube amplifier might anchor my new "end game" (you don't have to snicker, I know the folly of THAT) headphone system. I love (most) tube amps, and everyone knows balanced interconnects are "better". So why are fully balanced tube amps so hard to find? Why do many top rated (and expensive) tube based amplifiers come with only a 1/4" jack - how mid-fi is that?

    I'm thick-headed, but finally decided there must be a real-life reason I've seen 10 times more references to "single ended tube amplifier" than to tube amps of the balanced variety. Thank you for clearing up my misconceptions, so I can move on towards putting something on my shelf, instead of on (and off, and on, and off) my wish list.

    Now, leading the pack is the Micro ZOTL MZ2, with the Woo Audio W22 still a fully balanced option that is not too dis-similarly priced. Another contender, but fading, is the Dragon Inspire IHA-1. Maybe for use with (used, and slightly outdated, so I can maintain some semblance of a budget) HE1000 v1 headphones. Part of the reason I lean towards the MZ2 is (because of the design) the unit runs cooler so the tubes last forever, it has an outboard power supply, and there are only four tubes to roll, should I become so inclined.

    Any advice (other than RUN!, I already know the wisdom of that) will be appreciated, but mostly I just want to thank the poster for reducing my paralysis!
     
  2. numbercube

    numbercube Acquaintance

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  3. Dino

    Dino Friend

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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Another way to frame the balanced vs SE argument (which is really balanced transmission vs. balanced bridged vs. balanced push-pull vs. SE) is this: How many great SE amps will you miss out on if you have only considered balanced (whatever implementation of balanced that may be).
     
  5. johnjen

    johnjen Doesn’t want to be here but keeps posting anyways

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    And of course the exact opposite can be said as well.

    Because making the switch from one to the other requires, at minimum new IC's, or in some cases additional new gear as well, which can further complicate the results of the change over.

    Just my 2¢

    JJ
     
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Well, not really, it's more that the opposite does not need to be said. This is because people don't have this strange perverse unnatural desire for singled-end gear, like they do "balanced" (whatever that means). Single-ended regular ol' phono or RCA jacks aren't speshal. I don't get ten PMs a month asking me what is the best SE amp, I get ten PMs a month on what is the best balanced amp. Of course my next question is why are you only considering balanced? Then I usually get a stupid answer that goes along the lines of aren't balanced amps better? And then I do facepalm.

    It comes down to buy the best amp regardless.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2017
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  7. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Reading this thread I felt that I actually took more than few steps backward in my limited understanding what is a balanced setup. Both my main setup and my desk setup are supposed to be balanced. Are they?
    1. Sonny HAP-Z1ES XLR to Bryston BHA-1 - - that one was build for SQ, pure and simple, no computer, no connectors other than two XLR properly build cables.
    2. PC->Gustard U12 coax->Teac UD-501, XLR -> two Nuforce monoblocks - that setup was supposed to be versatile for playing with connections, formats, filters etc..and it does not sound bad at all

    I use > HD800S, HE500, T5p Gen 2 through balanced cables.with both.

    What is the main difference I notice when I connect those components as SE? Balanced setups are more quiet, that's noticeable right away.
    I can connect t5p gen 2, no music playing, and turn the volumes 90%, I hear nothing.
    And during playiback, even very loud, with balanced setup there is no background noise I can hear. Not the same with SE connections.
    Better sounding? Two Nuforce mono sound better than one in SE: better sound stage and instrument isolation.
     
  8. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    I like to think of balanced as bourbon in the left hand, scotch in the right, a microbrew in front and George Thorogood, House Rent Blues on the music machine.

    Need long runs of cable between equipment:, greater than 5 meters OR interfacing a lot of equipment in a studio or mastering facility: balanced
    Less than 2 meters cable between equipment in a residential setting: unbalanced will work fine.

    Hint: for my dialogue editing workstation there is a reason I use Saga instead of Freya.
     
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  9. winders

    winders Mentally ill. Do not engage.

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    Jason at Schiit probably has it right. He said something to the affect of if your hardware gives you the option to use balanced by all means use it as it is better than SE. But, don't get all excited if you don't have it. There are more important things to work about.
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Completely different context of which I was discussing. I'd say, don't worry and be happy. However, if one day you want to upgrade amps, I would not consider only amps with balanced inputs. That's just what I am saying.

    BTW, the BHA-1 has a circuit to sum the balanced inputs to SE to a two-gang pot, well before the balanced headphone jack outputs. So it's not really fully balanced from input to output.

    Something is probably very wrong with your setup then. While balanced does have advantages in noise rejection, at normal or even realistic volume levels, every SE amp I've owned (with gain levels appropriate to the transducer's sensitivity), the noise floor of the recording exceeds that of the source/amp.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2017
  11. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    I did not describe it well. At normal, or even higher than normal, volume levels SE is just fine. Exactly as you described, the noise I can hear is from the recording, it stops when the track ends. But if I am not playing music, and turn on the volume high or very high, the balanced setup is more quiet than SE. And again, I am not sure if this is really that relevant to the SQ. I just like it more that way.
     
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  12. zonto

    zonto Friend

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    Same thing for me. Actually tested this last night with two sets of well-shielded RCA interconnects from Yggdrasil to T3 using HD600 and Utopia.
    • With RCAs unplugged on T3 and no music playing, there was no noise/hum on either T3 gain setting at max volume on the knob.
    • With either set of RCAs plugged in and Yggdrasil on, some hum is audible at maybe 4-5 o'clock on the T3 volume knob. (Maybe 90%+ play on the knob? Volume knob starts around 7 o'clock.) No audible hum/noise below that point on knob.
    • With HD600, didn't notice any audible hum on the low gain setting with knob maxed.
    • Volume of hum did not change with T3 moved further away from Yggdrasil and is not audible except through the headphones.
    Wasn't too concerned given I rarely go past 12 o'clock on the volume knob anyway, but still not sure why it occurs.

    Edit: Same thing occurs with the PrimaLuna integrated speaker amp hooked up via the same RCAs. So it's not a T3-specific thing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2017
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  13. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Agreed, Simply following "balanced amps are better" may, in some cases, actually reduce the SQ and listening experience.
    I just installed Xonar Essence STX and my T5p 2Gen sound way better, more air, less congested, just from the STX SE headphone amp than through balanced Nuforce. It may be that Xonar STX is configurable for the headphone impedance, and it works better for T5p 2 Gen.
    With HD800S and HE500 it is the exact opposite - they sound better through two Nuforce monoblocks than from Xonar STX, or single Nuforce amp.
    So I am convinced that upgrading amps I need to look at an amp quality and the headphone/amp matching first.
     
  14. TjH

    TjH Rando

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    Quick question btw guys, are there any truly balanced portable Amps out there? I know a few amps like WA8 and (The elusive) iBasso PB3 have a "balanced circuitry" intenrally and even balanced out, but: and this is the STRANGEST thing i've heard in a while - no balanced in (doesn't that almost ruin the whole 'balanced' thing?

    Are there any Amps that has like 2.5mm TRRS in->balanced circuit->2.5mm TRRS out? (the point being say that i wanted more power on something like AK 70).
     
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    If you want more power, get something with more power. It doesn't necessarily have to be balanced. Balanced is just one of many ways to get more power. Portable devices with a SE in and balanced are likely using a phase splitter into two amps running the differential signals. Probably better off without the phase splitter because it's just another active device in the chain.

    I believe the Liquid Carbon has TRRS output, but 3 pin XLR inputs. If you want something smaller, maybe Sony PHA3, but no balanced inputs. It does accept digital inputs from iPhone or ZX2 for its built-in DAC.
     
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  16. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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  17. johnjen

    johnjen Doesn’t want to be here but keeps posting anyways

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    In my mind, then it comes down to what "best" means to him.
    Thus far I don't see much congruence between what he values and what I value as 'best'.

    But then he's a 'pro' and I'm a mere hobbyist.
    And being a hobbyist gives me lots more freedom to play.

    JJ
     
  18. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    Picked up an almost-new Matrix HPA-3B ... cheap enough to fool around with and put my balanced HD800 and LCD cables to the test. Has both balanced and SE outputs so should be a fun little comparison.
     
  19. Resolve

    Resolve Facebook Friend

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    I just took the leap into balanced and I'm impressed with the improvements. One thing I've noticed though is that with the amp I got (IHA-6), the XLR out has a slight hiss on the left channel. Any idea what's causing that? Using 25 ohm impedance headphone at the moment. Could that be the issue? or is there something wrong in the chain?
     
  20. johnjen

    johnjen Doesn’t want to be here but keeps posting anyways

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    Do the 2 tests of swapping the input cables to the amp to see if the hiss changes.
    This can tell you if the hiss is upstream of the amp, is due to the input signal cables, or is in the amp itself.

    And does the hiss vary with the volume control, or does it stay at a fixed level?

    Once you figure those parts out, then you can start focusing in on the source of the hiss.

    JJ
     

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