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Audiophile hi-fi market and balanced connections
Brand
post Aug 26 2012, 14:38
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Even many cheap-ish $100 sound cards have balanced connections.
Yet, for a $4,295 "audiophile" amp, it's somehow normal to have unbalanced analog only. (But hey, you get a "Digital Filter Slope" switch..)

Am I missing something or is this just regular audiofoolery at work?

I was doing some RMAA tests and the cables were very susceptible to outside interference. Place them next to some other (power) cables and you easily see 20dB of extra noise in the measurements.
Sure, it's not really a problem with short cables that you keep away from interference, but for premium/audiophile equipment I'd still expect balanced connections to be the standard by now.

This post has been edited by Brand: Aug 26 2012, 14:39
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dumdidum
post Aug 27 2012, 09:23
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QUOTE (Brand @ Aug 26 2012, 15:38) *
I was doing some RMAA tests and the cables were very susceptible to outside interference. Place them next to some other (power) cables and you easily see 20dB of extra noise in the measurements.

i haven't done any tests myself but lots of anecdotal evidence says otherwise. better noise rejection of balanced doesn't seem to make a difference for your typical hifi usage scenario.

QUOTE (Brand @ Aug 26 2012, 20:29) *
But I don't see any technical or cost-associated reason for this to be restricted to premium priced models.

i can think of two:

(i) balanced cables do not sound better, they just reject noise better. once again, lots of anecdotal evidence suggests noise rejection by the cables rarely becomes an issue in consumer applications. it's different in pro-audio applications where you may have to run very long cables, you may have to run cables by sources of noise (e.g., fog machines, strobes and other lighting, some other PA equipment, appliances, etc.), you have long chains (where the chance of ground loops is higher). it's not cost-effective to included balanced connectors if they're not needed.

(ii) balanced TRS and balanced XLR are quite uncommon in consumer audio. what good does a consumer amp with balanced inputs if consumer don't have other devices with balanced outputs? inclusion of features that go unused doesn't make sense (well, unless we're serving "check-box" customers that pay a premium for incredibly long feature lists).

This post has been edited by dumdidum: Aug 27 2012, 09:29
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Brand
post Aug 27 2012, 15:18
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QUOTE (dumdidum @ Aug 27 2012, 10:23) *
(i) balanced cables do not sound better, they just reject noise better. once again, lots of anecdotal evidence suggests noise rejection by the cables rarely becomes an issue in consumer applications. it's different in pro-audio applications where you may have to run very long cables, you may have to run cables by sources of noise (e.g., fog machines, strobes and other lighting, some other PA equipment, appliances, etc.), you have long chains (where the chance of ground loops is higher). it's not cost-effective to included balanced connectors if they're not needed.

Here are my measurements: LEFT with the random placing of the cable, for the RIGHT one I placed the cable carefully, to avoid some power cords (which you could get in a typical hi-fi setup, no strobes etc.).


Maybe the noise is audible, maybe not.
But I believe a balanced connection would handle noise rejection better.
Unfortunately I don't have a soundcard with balanced I/O here to test it. If someone does, some tests would be welcome.


QUOTE (dumdidum @ Aug 27 2012, 10:23) *
(ii) balanced TRS and balanced XLR are quite uncommon in consumer audio. what good does a consumer amp with balanced inputs if consumer don't have other devices with balanced outputs? inclusion of features that go unused doesn't make sense (well, unless we're serving "check-box" customers that pay a premium for incredibly long feature lists).

Of course, you need the whole chain to be balanced, if not it doesn't make sense. This not being common in hi-fi is exactly what I'm complaining about. It's a chicken and egg situation.

My point is not that balanced connections would necessarily offer audible improvements (although I think they would in some cases), it's that the audiophile hi-fi market priorities are twisted.
If you're into audiophile stuff and you care about little details, balanced connections is one of the first things you should use (assuming you're using analog interconnects).
More important than stuff like expensive speaker wires and 32bit 192khz DACs and whatnot.
And the extra cost of balanced I/O doesn't seem to be a good excuse either, if not you wouldn't have balanced I/O in cheap gear.
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