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Gregory13

RCA vs Balanced XLR audio Interconnect

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Anyone know whether it's worth upgrading from RCA to XLR? I am looking to upgrade from my previous headphone & DAC and was wondering whether anyone has done an A-B test between an RCA and XLR with equivalent quality with the same unit to know the difference.

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Gregory,

             Several months ago I made the change to XLR interconnects from RCA Interconnects between my SACD player and my Integrated Amp. Both components are Esoteric (K-05Xs SACD player and the F-05 Integrated Amp) so high quality components. All the RCA interconnects I moved away from were high quality (read very expensive) so I was surprised at the improved sound from the XLR option. I wonder if it is connected to the higher signal voltage of the XLR option but the improvement in reproduced sound is certainly there. If you decide to go for the XLR option I would advise you to contact Mike Lenahan (Lenahan Audio) re the FOIL-FLEX XLR Interconnects. They outperform other XLR brands by a huge margin....particularly price-wise.

Cheers

Mick

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Guest Karl Rand
13 hours ago, Gregory13 said:

 

Anyone know whether it's worth upgrading from RCA to XLR? I am looking to upgrade from my previous headphone & DAC and was wondering whether anyone has done an A-B test between an RCA and XLR with equivalent quality with the same unit to know the difference.

 

This is a difficult one unless long runs prone to RFI etc are a problem. With some components I’ve found XLR’s better, with others RCA’s.

And more frustratingly with some no difference I could detect unless very long runs were involved. I’ve no experience with XLR’s on earphones so can’t comment. Then there are the problems of the quailty of the terminations and the question are these influencing the results rather then the simple difference between RCA & XLR’s. For me it’s always been one of those frustrating suck it as see methods.

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13 hours ago, Gregory13 said:

Anyone know whether it's worth upgrading from RCA to XLR?

It depends!

 

The quality of the interconnects does affect the sound. But the RCA and XLR implementation on the equipment itself can influence the result because they may not be created equal.

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Guest Karl Rand
20 minutes ago, Snoopy8 said:

It depends!

 

The quality of the interconnects does affect the sound. But the RCA and XLR implementation on the equipment itself can influence the result because they may not be created equal.

Good point. There can be so many variables its’ risky to make hard and fast rules. 

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It depends on the device , reasonably certain that a quick a , b comparison on any product if the implementation is true balanced it should have less noise and be of course louder. Cables would make a difference but I wouldn't go crazy . Personally I think it's the connectors on cables that make the difference. 

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Using balanced XLR interconnects can actually make things worse if the equipment is not a balanced design internally.

A balanced design handles the two halves of the balanced signal in separate circuits. This is less often the case with most equipment - since complexity of the design gets doubled.

One example:
My previous setup of Cambridge Audio DAC and preamplifier. Both had lovely XLR sockets - but since internally the equipment is single ended the balanced inputs are "unbalanced" using an op-amp, and then single ended output is converted to XLR balanced with another op-amp (or more).

Using single ended RCA connections would bypass these - i.e. remove two unnecessary op-amp buffers from the signal chain. These are unlikely to change the sound much - but they are unnecessary in the scheme of things.

Other example:
I have a Krell amplifier that does have separate amplifiers for the inverting/non-inverting halves of the input signal. I prefer to feed this amplifier with a balanced signal if I can.

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Gregory,
             Several months ago I made the change to XLR interconnects from RCA Interconnects between my SACD player and my Integrated Amp. Both components are Esoteric (K-05Xs SACD player and the F-05 Integrated Amp) so high quality components. All the RCA interconnects I moved away from were high quality (read very expensive) so I was surprised at the improved sound from the XLR option. I wonder if it is connected to the higher signal voltage of the XLR option but the improvement in reproduced sound is certainly there. If you decide to go for the XLR option I would advise you to contact Mike Lenahan (Lenahan Audio) re the FOIL-FLEX XLR Interconnects. They outperform other XLR brands by a huge margin....particularly price-wise.
Cheers
Mick
Thanks for your help!

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I did this using the exact same cables - one configured for RCA, one for XLR (Van Den Hul The Mountain).

 

On my Krell pre to Krell power, there was no discernible difference.

 

On my Electrocompaniet pre power, XLR was clearly better.

 

I think it comes down to how much effort goes into one or the other, or is system dependent.

Edited by furtherpale

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I've got XLR inputs on the back of my Monobloks and they are Single Ended. Just make sure that the components are fully balanced from input to output.

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14 hours ago, 075Congo said:

Gregory,

             Several months ago I made the change to XLR interconnects from RCA Interconnects between my SACD player and my Integrated Amp. Both components are Esoteric (K-05Xs SACD player and the F-05 Integrated Amp) so high quality components. All the RCA interconnects I moved away from were high quality (read very expensive) so I was surprised at the improved sound from the XLR option. I wonder if it is connected to the higher signal voltage of the XLR option but the improvement in reproduced sound is certainly there. If you decide to go for the XLR option I would advise you to contact Mike Lenahan (Lenahan Audio) re the FOIL-FLEX XLR Interconnects. They outperform other XLR brands by a huge margin....particularly price-wise.

Cheers

Mick

That Statement indicates you've heard every XLR Cable, which somehow I doubt.

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From my anecdotal experience, they can make they same amount of do as changing from one RCA to another.

 

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This question gets asked fairly often on audio forums. A bit of searching for existing answers wouldn't go astray.

 

My "short version" reply... 

There are two situations where balanced cables should be used. 1. You're solving a noise problem by using a differential circuit. 2. You have fully balanced components and want to get optimal performance from them. 

 

My DAC has a fully balanced transformer output stage and my amp is also a fully balanced design without protection capacitors on the input. It makes sense to use balanced cabling between them. nobleintp provided a good example above of the Cambridge Audio system which is single-ended internally but can make use of balanced cables to avoid noise issues over longer interconnects – though it would usually be better with that gear to stick to single-ended connections. 

 

In the end of course you ought to do whatever brings you the most joy, whether that be because you like the way it sounds or the way it looks or just the way the XLR connectors click into place. 

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On 09/08/2019 at 2:15 PM, n0bleINtP said:


One example:
My previous setup of Cambridge Audio DAC and preamplifier. Both had lovely XLR sockets - but since internally the equipment is single ended the balanced inputs are "unbalanced" using an op-amp, and then single ended output is converted to XLR balanced with another op-amp (or more).

Using single ended RCA connections would bypass these - i.e. remove two unnecessary op-amp buffers from the signal chain. These are unlikely to change the sound much - but they are unnecessary in the scheme of things.

.

If you download the data sheet of any Wolfson Delta Sigma Dac chip, or any BB or ESS, digital converter chip, the outputs of these chips are XLR or balanced.  They go through a set of I/V opamps, to get to RCA it’s an extra differential op amp that converts the XLR to single ended for RCA.  Both XLR and RCA outputs are used for line drivers or buffers.  So if you think you are bypassing a set of opamps using RCA,  you should really check the circuit diagram or follow the output XLR of that chip b4 you make that statement 

 

 

 

On 09/08/2019 at 2:15 PM, n0bleINtP said:

 
Other example:
I have a Krell amplifier that does have separate amplifiers for the inverting/non-inverting halves of the input signal. I prefer to feed this amplifier with a balanced signal if I can.

The use of XLR is to reduced noise by differential in signal transmission, for long  distances along a wire, not necessary for amplification,  this should be done on the input b4 the amp circuit. 

Edited by Addicted to music

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2 minutes ago, Addicted to music said:

The use of XLR is to reduced noise by differential in signal transmission, for long  distances along a wire, not necessary for amplification

Well aware of this. It is vital in professional sound?  ie. long cable runs of small signal (microphones), line level signals, mains power, speaker cables.  All lying next to each other. Balanced signals provide noise immunity for these. 

With the Krell I was referring to the fact that the two halves of the balanced signal are handled with separate amplifiers - ie. it has two per channel, four in total. The balanced design continues all the way to the speaker terminals: Red terminal gets the amplified non-inverting signal, Black terminal gets the amplified inverting signal.  And I'm allowed to be wrong about that :)

I believe it would better to send a balanced signal into this Krell, rather than unbalancing its input, and then having the Krell reconstruct the other half of the balanced signal that it uses in its design. Again - could be wrong.

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I haven't read all the replies but as I manage and maintain a PA system, I am very familiar with how balanced and unbalanced connections work, what they do and how to connect them together. Primarily, unbalanced connection like RCA have 2 conductors, a core (signal line) and a shield (ground). The signal line is an analogue AC voltage representation of the sound wave form.  The voltage amplitude represents the volume of sound or sound pressure level (SPL) and the frequency represents the sound frequency.  Sound tends to be the sum of many frequencies and wave shapes at different and varying SPL.  So too, the electrical signal is the sum or these.  The shield provides 2 functions. 1. It is the signals electrical reference (representing average atmospheric pressure or zero SPL)  It is the difference between this reference potential and the signals varying (AC) potential that makes the signal a signal at all.  For this reason, fidelity depends on both the signal being free of unwanted noise or interference and the shield potential being stable and constant.  2. However, the shield is electrical grounded so that most  interference, radio (RFI) or induced (EMI) bleeds to ground, reducing it's effect on the signal core.  Now, ground has a great capacity to absorb this interference and noise.  However, the earthing system to ground is not a perfect conductor and also grounds out power supply noise etc.  Therefore, there is some noise present in both the signal and it's reference and the longer the interconnect, the more RFI & EMI infects the system.  For this reason, unbalanced lines are generally considered good for 3 to 5 m but that depends on how noisy the environment is and how revealing your system is.  Generally, it is hard to  detect any noise from a component other that the noisiest one.  So in a system that is not particularly noise free, the interconnects are not going to matter as much as in a high end system that has exceptionally low noise.  Generally speaking though, it is best to keep these interconnects as short as possible and away form interference sources  (WiFi, Cat5-6, HDMI, USB, speaker cables, power etc).  If you do need to, cross these cables close to perpendicular, never run parallel.

 

Balanced systems have 2 cores, signal lines, one is in phase as above and the other is phase inverted, that is a mirror image. and then, there is a grounded shield.  The shield takes not part in the signal path, it only protects the signal cores from the interference, though some can get through.  Some of these cables have a common shield around both signal lines while some have a shield for each line reducing induced cross talk between the signal lines.  Now, any noise, interference that does infect the signal lines is in the same phase on both lines.  The receiving device inverts the inverted signal so now the 2 signals are in phase and any noise they carry is in opposite phase on each line.  The 2 signals are then summed together reinforcing the signal while the opposite phase noise cancels itself by subtractive destruction.  Therefore, the balanced interconnect can carry a signal around 100 m with impeccable integrity.  Which is the reason that PA and professional systems use it.  Nothings perfect though.  I guess I should point out that components usually handle signals internally as unbalanced and that signal reference can be totally isolated from ground and obtained as the mean signal potential or sum of the inverted signals but some manufacturers do not necessarily follow the correct schema for this.

 

So I think that we can see from this that the balanced system is potentially superior at noise suppression if implemented well.  Hopefully this answers the OPs question but I have to say that generally in a domestic environment, the interconnects are so short, balanced systems seem unlikely to make a noticeable difference.  That depends of course on the specific environments and how much your willing to spend and how discerning your ears and brain are. 

 

Regards,

Ken

 

Edited by kenwstr

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9 minutes ago, kenwstr said:

So I think that we can see from this that the balanced system is potentially superior at noise suppression if implemented well.  Hopefully this answers the OP question but I have to say that generally in a domestic environment, the interconnects are so short, balanced systems seem unlikely to make a noticeable difference.  That depends of course on the specific environments and how much your willing to spend and how discerning your ears and brain are. 

Thank you for the most detailed post. Your last paragraph captures what it should be most domestic duties..

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On 08/08/2019 at 5:41 PM, Gregory13 said:

 

Anyone know whether it's worth upgrading from RCA to XLR? I am looking to upgrade from my previous headphone & DAC and was wondering whether anyone has done an A-B test between an RCA and XLR with equivalent quality with the same unit to know the difference.

 

Go to the OAD Audio site and read the white paper on this subject it may put you at reast, single ended (RCA) plug is the best. Balanced cable is of benefitonly  if running long cable lengths like over three metres, I have tried both using the same cable, Siltech from the mid eighties and still my favourite interface.

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And there is no audio benefit of using a cable with RCA on one end and XLR at the other.

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51 minutes ago, audiofeline said:

And there is no audio benefit of using a cable with RCA on one end and XLR at the other.

No audio benefit but of course in some situations you need that “adapter”

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Well, sure does depend.

 

If the source AND the receiver have three pins on the AC, and the RCA interconnect has the shield lifted at one end, this will work, since the shield won't draw any current. When the RCA shield is connected at both ends, shield current will flow, depending on the voltage difference of the two earths from source and receiver. Shield current will be heard as hum. In this case the AC cables should be the same length and plugged into adjacent power outlets.

 

If using XLR interconnects, the shield is connected to the chassis' at both receiver and source. Shield current and hum won't apply, since the XLR has a balanced outputs and inputs and any assymetrical noise won't be transmitted.

 

For the pedants : The pin 1 to chassis needs to be connected as short as possible, and NOT connected to the 0V of the internal power supply or the amp rails.

 

Exceptions : RCA leads from phono cartridges and use the separate earth lead to the phono pre-amp. Don't tie the shield to either of the 'low' sides of the cartridge outputs.

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On 22/08/2019 at 2:42 PM, Sir Sanders Zingmore said:

No audio benefit but of course in some situations you need that “adapter”

Well, while it is possible to connect balanced and unbalanced gear with such a cable, it has to be wired so the XLR inverted line connects with the RCA shield pin and the cable shield connects to the XLR ground but left floating at the other end so the 2 devices do not share ground.  However, it means the connection is unbalanced through it's whole length.   Also, there are about 3 different ways in which inversion is achieved and it doesn't work for all of them and when it does work, it isn't exactly the cleanest solution.  For these reasons, the cable solution is considered an emergency measure so a gig can proceed.   If you care about sound quality, an audio transformer or DI box is the way to go.  The transformer is the simpler and cheaper way to go and many DI's are based on that anyway.  This has no direct connection between devices but the signal is transferred by induction.

Edited by kenwstr

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On 08/08/2019 at 5:41 PM, Gregory13 said:

wondering whether anyone has done an A-B test between an RCA and XLR with equivalent quality with the same unit to know the difference.

When you do this test, often the XLR connection is louder.... and so sounds "better" .... so you must be careful to correct the volumes to be equivalent if needed.

 

Balanced signalling can solve some problems with interference, but if you don't have those issues, then there's nothing to fix.

 

Balanced signalling can avoid some fundamental problems in electronics design (grounding) .... but it can also create its own problems if done poorly.

 

In theory, balanced is a really much more sensible way to approach it .....  but anyone who thinks there's a general answer to the question of "which sounds better"....  is unlikely to be worth listening to  ;);) 

Edited by davewantsmoore

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I think it really depends on the gear and if a true differential balanced design has been implemented.  For example, chord and a lot of musical fidelity stuff don't do balanced, as they think it's unnecessary.  I run Electrocompaniet and the difference is night and day! as they run true balanced circuits.  

 

Anyone know where I can get a good RCA to XLR (male) adaptor or interconnect? I need to run a single ended valve pre into a balanced solid state power amp until I upgrade the pre at some point.  I can get cheap ones from any music store or online, but I'm worried they'll degrade the sound quality.  I've found some Cardas ones, but they're pretty expensive.  Something in between would be nice if anyone has any ideas? Thanks

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2 hours ago, punkterfuge said:

I think it really depends on the gear and if a true differential balanced design has been implemented.  For example, chord and a lot of musical fidelity stuff don't do balanced, as they think it's unnecessary.  I run Electrocompaniet and the difference is night and day! as they run true balanced circuits.  

 

Anyone know where I can get a good RCA to XLR (male) adaptor or interconnect? I need to run a single ended valve pre into a balanced solid state power amp until I upgrade the pre at some point.  I can get cheap ones from any music store or online, but I'm worried they'll degrade the sound quality.  I've found some Cardas ones, but they're pretty expensive.  Something in between would be nice if anyone has any ideas? Thanks

neutrik make them I am sure they would be better than the elcheapo ones

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