balanced is inherently flawed

A recent post asking for opinions on balanced vs. single ended got me thinking once again about the inherent flaws in a balanced scheme.

A balanced signal has 2 parts called plus (+) and minus (-) that are equal in voltage but opposite in polarity. Therefore a balanced amp is really 2 single ended amps in one package, one for the + singal and the other for the - signal. So a balanced amp using the same quality parts as a single ended amp will be twice as expensive. Strike one.

That brings us to the "equal but opposite" notion. In order for this to work as planned, all of the + stages and cables connecting them must be exactly equal to all of the - stages all the way through the source, preamp, and power amp. Any deviation from the + stage being the exact mirror image of the - stage will result in an imbalance. Since perfect symmetry cannot be achieved, especially with tubes, distortions are introduced. Strike two.

Some think that balanced has to be better for various reasons that include:

1. If they hook up a balanced device using single ended cables they loose some gain.
2. They think a balanced system can achieve a lower noise floor.
3. They have balanced equipment and it sounds better when they hook it up with balanced cables vs. single ended cables.
4. It's used in recording studios by the pros so it must be better.

These arguments are flawed for the following reasons:

1. More gain does not equal better sound. Of course you need enough gain to drive your speakers to satisfactory levels, but the fact that one connection has higher gain than another has really nothing to do with sound quality.

2. This is the most misunderstood of all. A balanced amp CAN reject noise that is coming in through the interconnects. However, it can do nothing to reject or cancel the random electrical noise that comes from within the devices inside the amp. A balanced amp has no advantage over a single ended one when it comes to the major contributor of noise in the system, that which is generated inside the amp. The rejection of noise from cables relies on the fact that it is generally equal to both the + and - inputs and is therefore cancelled, but since the noise voltages generated by the devices inside the + and - stages in the amp are random and unrelated, they do not cancel and are passed on to the next stage.

Furthermore, since well designed, shielded interconnects of any type are very good at rejecting electrical noise from the outside, balanced has no advantage except in very noisy enviroments or when using very long runs, both of which apply to recording studios, not to typical home systems.

3. Since a truly balanced amp was built from the ground up to operate in a balanced mode, it makes sense that it will sound worse when fed a single ended signal. That doesn't mean that balanced is better, just that that particular amp sounds better when fed a balanced signal.

If you subscribe to the theory that more money can get you better performance, and since a single ended amp has 1/2 as many components as an equivalent balanced amp, it stands to reason that if the designer put as much money and effort into designing a single ended amp, it would sound better.

4. See 2 above.

And this brings us to our last point. ALL sound sources are single ended. Whether from a plucked string, blowing air through a horn, the human voice, or anything else; the resulting increses and decreases in air pressure that we perceive as sound are single ended. There is no "equal but opposite" waves of pressure. This is also true when the signal finally gets to a loudspeaker. There are no "equal but opposite" pressure waves coming from the speaker. It is a single ended device.

In a balanced system these pressure variations are picked up by a microphone and then some where along the line converted to balanced. A phonograph record is encoded single ended as is a digital disc. Your CD player may have a balanced output but the data that is read from the disc is single ended and then converted. In order not to introduce ditortions, this conversion from single ended to balanced has to be done perfectly. And since it can't be, strike three.
Sorry for the spelling and grammar mistakes. I intended to hit "preview first" but hit "submit as-is" by mistake so I couldn't edit.
Well, you sold me. I guess I'll be taking out ads to sell all of my gear. Good job, I hope you're happy.
Although I think that balanced lines are unnecessary in the home audio situation, it is wrong to say that they are "inherently flawed". Balanced lines will do no harm, except to your pocketbook. My main complaint is that home audio manufacturers charge exorbitant prices for the little bit of extra circuitry involved, and make exaggerated performance claims to justify the price. Pro sound manufacturers routinely provide balanced interfaces at no great cost.
Herman: All i can say is "great minds think alike" : )

I just posted or emailed someone stating much the same thing. Sometimes i do so much typing that i get confused whether what i sent was public or private.

The part that stuck out in my mind about balanced operation was primarily the fact that you have four amps ( or four circuits ) doing the work of two ( for stereo ). Most manufacturers have a hard enough time building two channels that match, let alone four that perfectly match. Not only does this increase the potential for a channel to channel ( left to right ) imbalance, but also that of inter-channel imbalance ( positive to neutral vs negative to neutral ). It is hard to achieve cancellation of spurious external noises when the amplifier circuit itself may not be properly "nulling" the offsets. Then again, some of these problems would show up in S/N ratio measurements if they were severe.

If the amplifier were not properly nulling the differenctial signal, the distortions produced from such a mismatch could be corrected relatively easily though by using more negative feedback. As many of us have heard though, this can make for a product that measures better but sounds worse.

What got me to thinking about this was the fact that i purchased an old amp to run the subwoofer i just finished modifying for my Father. This amp is internally bridged, which means that there are actually four mono amps making up the two stereo channels. This provides twice the voltage potential, making for a pretty potent amp in what is a pretty compact chassis. This type of approach shares similar design strategy to balanced operation, which is what got me thinking about the potential for internal imbalances.

As to El's comments, most of the Pro Sound reinforcement gear that accepts / works with balanced gear are simply using quad op-amps running in complimentary fashion. These cost next to nothing and one of these IC's can do both stereo channels. Most high end audio gear are using discrete components of ( hopefully )higher quality, making the parts count and cost of production measurably higher.

My thoughts are that balanced operation has the potential to work better, but like anything else, it has to be properly designed and implimented with good quality control. Otherwise, there's just more to go wrong. Sean

PS... Lower grade circuitry may benefit more from balanced operation than state of the art single ended designs. At least with balanced operation, you've got some form of internal "checks and balances" without having to resort to GOBS of negative feedback.
I prefer single ended interconnect for my 38 foot run between my balanced preamp to amplifiers.

My turntable looks to be running balanced from the appearance of the cable. I had a custom built balanced cable terminated as single ended. The purpose of this was to obtain the superior cryo treated balanced locking connectors for use in a tight, high stress situation.

Between the two (true balanced) Aesthetix pieces, there was some sonic gain with balanced runs, provided identical quality cable was used in each test. I concluded that cable design, shielding and termination were at least as important as the differences between SE and balanced.

In extremely long runs such as microphone cable the results would likely be very different. In some situations microphone cable is over a hundred feet and in proximity to electrical connections, sound reinforcement equipment, other signal cables and possibly television and computer gear. In this difficult situation, a true 600 ohm balanced has advantages and is the reason pro gear is set up this way.
Herman, I'm glad you took the time to write this post. I have made numerous short comments on the Single-Ended vs. Balanced issue, and I generally agree with you.

However, I think it is more of an issue of what people think, that is flawed, than the flaw of the cables themselves. Balanced cables are what they are, which is a design borrowed from pro audio to keep external noise lower on long runs of cable. The problem is that consumers have begun to get the notion that balanced is the better technology because it has "pro" applications, and looks "heavy duty". It strikes me as rather ironic, since most "pro audio" gear is generally not considered fit for home audiophile use.

And as far as the often quoted 6db gain increase is concerned, it is the result of the step-up transformers on each end of the line driver circuit that is providing this, and not the balanced cable. These line drivers are there to provide the extra "kick" needed for long cable runs that are expected with balanced lines. But these transformers also place additional parts in the circuit path that have signal losses and phase-shift associated with them. These are not present in the Single-Ended connections.

Just like with anything else, you have to use technologies where they are most applicable, and not generalize. For home use, my opinion is that Single-Ended is most often the right choice, unless the entire topology of the amplification chain is true balanced.
Like Dejan V. Veselinovic (European audio reviewer) has said, with *proper* filtration of the ground, single ended will outperform balanced in most real world scenarios...

My system uses filtration of the ground plane and the noise floor is so quiet it's spooky.

circuit balancing not neccessarily can be achieved through so not favorable larger negative feedback, but electronically by the diode blocks between a complementary pairs of amplification (that's how it's usually done on SS amps) involving no extra negative feedback. The same could be applied to tube amps and it won't be a "violation of a tube purity". In terms of distortions, noise, bandwidth it's always dealing with gains and losses in any of the above said cases.
Marakanetz: Diodes in themselves are "dirty" creatures and they too would require matching. Every diode has a different turn-on and recovery rate. Once again, you end up with more parts and more matching. Sean

Thank you for a detailed report on this subject. However, I am not convinced of a few issues made here.

Issue 1: I wired a phono cable in both SE and Balanced configuration to feed an Aesthetix Io phono stage. This was a SilverAudio SilverBreeze cable. There was indeed a gain difference which I compensated for to get the same level. In some cases, at this stage in a system, this extra gain can be very valuable. But there was also more low-level detail with the balanced cable. I do not know if this was due to the nature of the cable in this configuration or the Io's inherent design but in my case, it was very clear of the sonic improvements. I have been eager to try this with the Manley DAC into my line stage but I do not have RCA and XLR cables of the same brand/model to do a fair test.

Issue 2: The situation where noise rejection from within the interconnects is achieved, I find this valuable in itself. My system is in a very noisy environment, sump pumps, cable company transformers, furnace, etc., and any kind of rejection simply has to be of value. My pre-to-power length is 20' and so perhaps is not a big issue, but again, until I can compare an RCA vs. XLR cable of the same brand/model, the jury is still out for me on the benefits or not here. Perhaps the issue of "filtration" is something I need to attend to, but why do I need to go through so much effort to condition my power? Should not components be designed to resolve this for me?

Issue 3: I am unsure of your conclusion here. You point out that in theory the two phases of a balanced circuit can not be equal. So if a product has been designed to its best ability to have two "matched" phases, I would think that grounding out one of these and running single-ended should be an improvement. Afterall, one of the compromised phases is out of the loop and the power supply should ultimately have more headroom as well. It most likely is not as good as another product of the same price that was a single-ended design, but the balanced product with one phase grounded should be better than with both phases if there is indeed no benefit to the 2-phase implementation. And yet, I suspect the engineers at ARC, BAT, Aesthetix would not think so of their products or they would have dismissed the balanced implementation and focused their attention to putting all their money into single-phase designs. Of course this is what CJ, Lamm, CAT and others have done. What we all would need here is to hear the comparisons of these company's designs throughout their R&D efforts when they made these balanced vs single-ended decisions at those times.

Issue 4:
You award balanced designs 3-strikes because the conversion from single-ended is not perfect. I think we all can agree that the world of audio electronics and music reproduction is not even close to perfect. But we are also in an analog world. So do we assign 3 strikes to digital recordings because the analog to digital conversion is not perfect? As a long time phono fan, I have come to like the sound of much digitally recorded music.

I understand that many products have XLR connectors, step-up transformers, etc., to give the user a false claim of balanced benefits. But I simply have to believe that there are benefits of truly balanced designs for home audio or a number of talented audio engineers would have abandoned this by now. And in the few limited comparison tests I have made, there is indeed benefit.

To my ears having had a completely balanced home audio system sounded wonderful with XLR cables. For grins I switched to RCA cables & although still nice, it didn't have the fullness as before. This particular gear sounded better balanced & that's how I ran it.

I also do pro audio sound & of course all our gear is balanced for the simple reason of noise reduction. Also there's the bennie that the connections are more solid & although one is not likely to go running past the back of their rack, there's comfort in knowing the connection is secure.

I also wouldn't use pro audio gear in a home stereo because it's not the best amp for the job, although it will work. Don't take this the wrong way but if someone wants to buy a balanced piece of home audio equipment, there's not much you can say that will dissuade them.

As an aside, I've used both types with very good results over the years & using XLR connections has proven to me that apart from the topology, XLR is the way to go. Why does somebody prefer SS to tubes or analog over digital? It's a matter of preference because even though you've heard it a thousand times, it bears repeating-if everybody did the same thing, audio (as well as anything else) would be very boring.

Sean, it was me that you were emailing a few days ago about why I was selling my Ayre & I did enjoy our "talk".
Sean...I know how you feel about Op amps. I halfway agree with you on this subject, but only because Op amps are so often used in unsuitable applications. However, a unity gain buffer (which you need two of for a balanced line output) is an application wheren the Op amp is entirely satisfactory, and use of discrete circuitry would be a waste of money, and probably yield inferior performance.

I have done a lot of amplifier "bridging" before that term was coined, in particular as a way to drive a center speaker from a stereo amp by inverting one channel's signal. It seems to me that an amp in bridged mode would exhibit many of the advantages cited for balanced lines, yet it is commonly reported that amps in bridged mode don't sound so hot.

Finally (?) why do the two sides of a balanced line need to be matched? The whole idea is that the signal is floating, and can be received with a differential input amp that rejects common mode noise. If you ground one side of a balanced line (the extereme case), I think that you just revert to single ended.
the SMARTEST post ever...thank-you Herman!!!!!!
My system doubles for both stereo and multi-channel playback and I have enough cables in the back of my rack that without balanced interconnects I do get common-mode noise. Maybe with better cable routing I would eleminate the problems but I just don't have the room.

Jjwinterberg...Try grounding and ungrounding the various pieces of equipment. Ground loops are more likely to cause hum than pickup in interconnects. If your interconnects don't run alongside 115vac power lines, thay probably are not your problem.
Herman- I read your post several times but I fail to see what point you are (attempting) to make. Plus, you make many wrong assumptions. For example:

1- A balanced amp will not necessarily be twice as expensive as a single ended amp, and typically will be far from twice as expensive, as the cost of a typical high-end balanced amp (Jeff Rowland, Krell, Mark Levinson, BAT, etc.) is driven by the cost of the mechanical parts (the solidly damped chassis, the fancy front panel machining, the front panel display and controls, etc.) and not the parts on the circuit boards or the output devices.

2- The two halves of the amplifier can be close too or exactly perfectly matched using many techniques (local feedback, resistor trimming, potentiometer adjustment, etc.). I’ll admit though, this does add expense.

3- A balanced amp may, or may not reduce the noise floor, but in general will provide an increase in S/N ratio, as the noise remains constant while the output signal doubles in amplitude. Higher S/N ratio is always better.

4- A balanced amp in some instances CAN reject spurious noise within the amplifier. For instance, the input power transformer is radiating EMI throughout the chassis. An equal amount, or almost amount of noise will get into both halves of the amp and thus be cancelled, or almost completely cancelled-out at the output of the amp.

5- Lastly, and this is my input, a COMPLETELY balanced system, from the source through the power amp, effectively does away with all the various problems that can arise from the difference in ground potential from box to box. That's exactly why Naim (their stated reason) uses DIN connectors for box-to-box connections. And of course, a DIN connector is just another form of a balanced connector.

If you do not wish to use balanced components (your point?) that is your prerogative. However, balanced components, particularly a fully balanced system, can afford many advantages over a single ended system. That does not mean the balanced system will sound better but that it has the ability to do so, particularly in a system where the units are plugged in all over the place.

And, as always, IMHO.

What a strange coincidence Herman. That's exactly what this designer said.

And this designer.

And this engineer.

And this prosound company.

I don't know Herman. I respect your opinion, although almost all of what you wrote, even though beautifully articulated, is opinion. I would very much enjoy seeing, reading and evaluating the contrary to what information I provided above. If you could substantiate what you stated with some scientific facts, I would enjoy discussing this further.

Until that time, we all have our opinions. I respect yours, and I hope that you will reciprocate.

Great post Herman, Regards, Ed.
As I recall, Ayre literature refers to single-ended connections as "legacy" technology, as in we provide RCA for your legacy components. Charles Hansen is smart guy. Wouldn't it be great if we could get him to join this conversation?
Thanks for all of the considered responses. The points about ground loops, rejecting internal EMI, cost of common components such as cases, systems in a noisy enviroment, the ability to closely match stages if willing to spend the money, everything is imperfect anyway, and several others are all well taken. If you are having hum problems from ground loops and going balanced gets rid of it then it is hard to make a case against it.

I read the links from Buscis and they make good arguments but since they come from manufacturers of balanced equipment I would expect no less. BTW, the first link tried to load some stuff on my computer and locked it up, but I appreciate you taking the time to create the links.

I did not mean to imply that balanced systems can't sound good. I've heard some that are among the finest. They were also among the most expensive.

I guess my main hypothesis is that since sound is inherently a single ended phenomenom, it's reproduction should be also. Of course, I am in the "simpler is better" camp also.

Although there are some strong arguments for going balanced, I'm sticking with the basic idea that taking a single ended source, inverting it and then trying to take both the original and the inverted and treating them exactly the same through a long chain of cables and amplification is going to cause more problems than it solves.

As for noise and hum, I have a single ended system hooked up to 103 dB speakers and the only noise is a very faint hiss that you have to put your ear to the tweeter to hear. It uses Naim electronics and they are not balanced as someone suggested above even though they do use din connectors. Everything plugs into the same outlet strip so I'm sure this is one reason the noise/hum is so low.

BTW, I'm listening to $19,000 Avantgarde Duos connected with a few hundred dollars of Naim speaker cable to a $1,350 Naim integrated so I may not be exactly mainstream with my audiophile preferences, but it is the best sound I've ever had in my room. If you haven't heard the latest generation of Naim stuff you should check it out.
Ed, that is SO COOL that you have that info on Bob Heil. I got my start in St. Louis running sound & made the trek over to Marissa many times, both for equipment repair & to get in on some seminars on running sound. The main thing I learned almost 30 years ago was that AC could give you more problems than you can imagine. Seems to hold true still.
El: I'm not nearly as opposed to IC based circuitry as one might think. One of my favourite preamps is IC based. So long as good quality parts are used and the engineer / designer knows what they are doing, an IC based component can sound quite good. Problem here is that many products are based on the "sample circuit" that the manufacturer of the IC provided. Most of those circuits are designed to demonstrate the basic functionality of the IC, not exploit it to its' fullest potential.

Driver: Thanks for reminding me who i was talking to about what : ) I'm not even 40 years old yet and my memory is going. What's the next thing to fail??? : ) Sean
Herman. I really apologize for your computer mishap. I should of stated that the first link is an Adobe PDF file. My bad. I have provided the actual web link below in hopes that you may read the white paper contained within. It is some fascinating and extremely insightful reading.

I agree that we all tend to experience a "slant " or "bias" when absorbing information being provided by manufacturers. I try to negate the sales portion of the information and concentrate on the rational scientific or factually supported portion of the information.

Remember. Remove the sales portion, and in most cases the information is still being provided by brilliant and very well acomplished designers and engineers. Let's mentally remove the corporate logo's, and give them the credit and respect that they deserve.

Driver. My background and formal education was mechanical engineering. Throughout the time I was attending school, I was an avid listener and musician. So, I had exposure to the prosound industry. Two of the most brilliant designer engineers I ever aspired to due to that exposure were Robert Heil and James B. Lansing.

These gentleman could be considered modern day pioneers of audio research and design. I hold tremendous respect for both of these individuals. If one was to read Robert Heil's white papers on sound reproduction, my feelings would be reinforced.

And now the absolute bottom line (for me at least). When I put together my last system I had initally hooked everything up with LAT IC-200 interconnects utilizing RCAs, as I had no balanced interconnects. I ordered new ICs (same exact cabling) in balanced configuration.

Upon switching all IC cabling to the balanced wires, (transport to dac, dac to amp, all TRUE balanced) the difference in quieting factor was astonishing. And my system was already extremely quiet from the start.

It's very simple.
More quiet.
Lower noise floor.
No impedance level mismatch. (TRUE balanced)

Wider dynamic range.
Higher level of detail (less noise).
Happy components. (VERY scientific)

These are MY results with MY system. Respectfully, Ed.
What's the next thing to fail??? : ) Sean

You don't want to know brother. hehe


Ed, I think you've found the secret, happy components, which to me means using your equipment the way it was designed to be used.

I checked out your system, very nice, especially those AMC Gremlins :>)

Thank you Herman. I often have a hard time deciding which sound is more pleasing to the ear, "Kind Of Blue" through the YBA, or 390 cubic inches rumping away on 110 octane Cam-2. The motors in both of those cars are being run "full balanced", but it doesn't make them any quieter.

The YBA is less octane sensitive. :>)
Hi folks,

Hate to bring this up but all of Herman's arguments are completely flawed! As you might expect me to say, but all I have to say is, if you've not tried it, you have no idea what you're missing.

I'll give you some examples (refer to the leading post above):

This is inherently wrong, as balanced does not have inherently more gain. It has the same gain, just with less noise.

2. This is the most misunderstood of all...

It appears that this in one of the things that Herman misunderstands the most. Internal noise generated in differential circuits tends to be less then that of the same circuits executed single-ended. In theory, about 6DB less, so in two stages of gain, this could be 12 db less! This is dramatic. Additionally, differential balanced circuits can also reject noise in power supplies. This is called Cross Mode rejection, and is a spec, in addition to Common Mode rejection, that all active balanced circuits have.

3> sheesh...

Balanced amps built from the ground up sound better with balanced inputs for the simple reason that balanced sources sound better! This is because of various things, but a good example is that balanced cables can deliver the signal better. If you don't believe me, look at the phone company. Before balanced lines existed, transcontinental phone service was impossible. That is because of all the losses that are are associated with single-ended systems. When balanced line came in, so did long distance. The same benefits work well in the home too, as balanced connections send the signal from one component to another with far less interference from the cables!

4> double sheesh and Geez...
Finally, here are some balanced sound sources: All phonograph cartridges (with the exception of certain ceramic cartridges and the old Decca cartridge). All tape heads. All decent microphones. All LPs are cut with balanced equipment. Most CDs are mastered this way too. In fact, 99% of everthing you listen to had balanced circuitry as part of the signal's makeup. Mercury Records could never have made all those recordings without balanced lines as in some cases they had to run the mic cables over 150 feet. Same for RCA, Decca, EMI, in fact nearly every record label in the world.

The bottom line is Herman is a leading source of misinformation. Sorry to say it, and if y'all want to look at my previous posts you'll see I try to not flame people, but this sort of blather can't go unchallenged. Forums like this should be about the truth for God's sake and ours.
1) A TRUE "balanced" design can swing twice the voltage potential of an identical single ended circuit. The gain of such a circuit is not necessarily twice as high ( a lot of other factors here ), but offers greater power potential with the associated increase in headroom. There are designs that operate on a differential mode, but aren't "truly" balanced as most engineers / designers think of them.

2) "Internal noise generated in differential circuits tends to be less then that of the same circuits executed single-ended. In theory, about 6DB less, so in two stages of gain, this could be 12 db less! This is dramatic."

Notice that Ralph says "in theory". In reality, these figures are typically not achieved. There are improvements, but not to the extent mentioned. Quieter and cleaner IS quieter and cleaner though. Whether or not the benefits will be noticeable is obviously dependent on how good the original single ended circuit was to begin with. Hence my previous comments about "poorer" single ended circuits benefitting most of the additional noise cancellation of balancing. When you've got a relatively high noise floor ( compared to a quieter design ), lowering that noise floor is always beneficial. Whether or not going into the added expense of balancing such a circuit is a worthwhile investment compared to designing a better single ended circuit ( with a drastically reduced parts count ) is a matter of personal preference / budget for the designer / manufacturer. As a general rule, balanced designs typically require appr twice the parts count as that of single ended designs. Many will argue that "simpler is better", but obviously, that is a subjective opinion.

3) I agree with you here Ralph, but that is IF the rest of the system is up to snuff. Since most gear / systems are compromised in design integrity, the benefits of "true" balancing are many times not achieved in lesser systems with lower grade components. As you mentioned though, "Balanced amps built from the ground up sound better with balanced inputs for the simple reason that balanced sources sound better!". This takes into account "proper design" from beginning to end, not trying to impliment a superior design into a system based on lesser design integrity.

As a side note, our AC systems are "balanced" as transmitted and DC is single ended. While Eldartford has commented on low loss DC transmission over extended distances, there is a reason why AC was selected over DC. That is, with twice the voltage swing and multiple phases, loss is drastically reduced and the signal is kept cleaner over a longer distance. DC is both lossier and more susceptable to interference. On top of that, RFI is very easily superimposed on top of a DC voltage. That's why even after the AC mains have been rectified in the components power supply, you can still have RFI being passed into the circuit. As such, the installation of some type of "trap" or even "snubber caps" in a typical power supply can really clean things up.

4) I didn't really read much into Herman's response here but I should have. All sound is created by displacing air, causing both a pressure front and pressure drop i.e. a positive and negative. Strings move fore and aft or side to side, percussion instruments are compressed and then rebound, etc...

Other than that, i don't think that Herman has been a "great source of misinformation". I think that Herman has contributed many factors along the way that were both valuable and factual along with quite a few personal observations. Obviously, nobody is going to agree with someone else ALL the time. Rather than making a generic and cumulative statement such as "The bottom line is Herman is a leading source of misinformation", one should jump in and present rebuttal at the time that the statements are made or when first "stumbled across". This keeps everyone on the same path in the same time-frame without offering much time between the "misinformation" being presented and / or the possibility of it being futher distributed. In effect, "rebuttal" acts as a form of "damage control".

I'm not getting down on you Ralph as i surely appreciate your input. I wish folks like you came around more often. If you've read any of my previous posts making mention of you or your designs / gear, i think that you know that i have the utmost respect for you and what you offer us as audiophiles. Other than that, feel free to put your boot in my ass as needed : ) Sean
Thanks for the input Sean, one always needs to know that there is sanity out there.

As you pointed out about the noise thing, I did use on purpose 'in theory'. In practice unless your circuit is way extra bad, 5db is easy. That means 10 db less noise in two stages is too. Often the noise rejection is more like 5.9-someodd- pretty close to 6 for most people.

Parts count in a fully differential circuit is not really all that bad, being slightly less then double the parts (although most are resistors which are not a big deal in the overall cost of an amp or preamp). Our preamps (and I make no bones about the fact that I walk what I talk) are fully differential and balanced and yet are less expensive then a lot of preamps that sound markedly inferior (if I do say so myself...).

3) I guess in the scheme of things, one would hope that what is strived for is the experience of recorded music sounding real. I would certainly hope then that the balanced source has its ducks in a row. If it is to be flawed for this discussion though, to be on the same ground the single-ended source must accept the same flaw(s). Given that the case, balanced sources would still tend to be better, if that flawed source is still considered to be balanced.

I've worked with this stuff for over 32 years now and I had often wondered why audiophiles did not take advantage of the benefits that balanced operation offerred. I am sorry for this, but if the best explanation is really no more then misinformation (or perhaps its own kind of damage control), -well, I don't buy it.

Having said that, I do believe there may be a different issue: some manufacturers got on the balanced bandwagon as they seemed to think is was a new trend. Most of those that I might put in that category do not seem to understand what the technology is about and have produced inferior products. Some of these are well-known. Held up to single-end products that are better thought out, I think such manufacturers have done the field of balanced operation in high-end audio a dis-service. My soapbox... -but since we were talking theory or that's how Herman made it sound, well, I reject on the basis of fact and experience just about everything he said in his opening post. What is disturbing is that it looks like people just ate it up. There's just too much of a mountain of evidence to the contrary; I just had to point it out.
Sean, good response, as was Ralphs. You have acknowledged many of the positive aspects of balanced circuitry noting the absolute most important point. Most notably, your point #3.

There are MAJOR differences between "quasi" balanced circuits and "true" balanced circuits. This factor MUST be recognized when evaluating. Installing XLR connectors on a component does not a balanced circuit make.

I provided the Jensen link (Bill Whitlock), in hopes that persons would familiarize themselves (if not already familiar) with the actual differences defining "balanced" vs. "true balanced" circuits. It clarifies with a high degree of accuracy and very little sales "slant".

Herman had mentioned the additional expense of manufacturing components with provisions for balanced interconnection and throughput. Well? This is partially accurate. Many quality manufacturers incorporate "true balanced" configuration as "standard equipment". I didn't "option" any of my components with "true balanced" configuration. It was already there. Maybe that could be considered an added benefit of a $5000 integrated? Along with chassis dampening, airborne and structure borne vibration control, high quality close tolerance components, short signal paths, etc, etc, etc. In short? Sound engineering practices.

Bottom line? If balanced configuration is utilized "true to form"? It has many benefits over single ended. Once again the key words being "true to form".

"True to form" is NOT a Ferrari with a Chevy motor in it.

Dang! Spot on!

I can't tell you how often I have people call me thinking they have a 'balanced' input on what is clearly a single-ended amp! Just 'cause you have that connector- don't let that fool ya.

I would think that it goes without saying that a 'balanced' amplifier or preamp was built that way from that ground up, but it isn't always that way.

Also, we probably ought to discern the difference between balanced differential and plain old balanced. Balanced differential is usually the simpler of the two, and generally quieter. Some of the ARC amps from the late 70s were balanced but they were not differential and they were also extremely complex. Complexity is definately not a prerequisite of balanced operation as differential circuits can be quite simple.
My McIntosh 2102 has balanced inputs but then it converts the signal to unbalanced which means there is just more adjustment before amplification.

Thus, using the unbalanced inputs in this case is better which is the opposite of my Audio Aero Capitole Makr II CD player's connections to my matching Audio Aero Capitole Amp which makes for perfect bi-amping in my home: unbalanced to the McIntosh and balanced to the Audio Aero....all from the same Cd player.
Atmasphere, welcome to the discussion

Ouch! I’m glad you decided not to flame me. It would have been reduced to tears. At first I was going to just walk away with my tail between my legs utterly defeated until I realized:

A: you misrepresented what I said about gain
B: other than the noise issue, you offer no reason why balanced is better
C: you cloud the issue with facts that have nothing to do with this issue, who cares what the phone company uses, we’re talking home stereos
D. You chastise me on the issue of balanced sources but don’t provide any. Remember, this is home stereo, not a recording studio
E: you completely ignore the heart of my position i.e. truly balanced and/or differential amplifiers introduce distortions due to the impossibility of creating perfectly balanced and/or differential circuits, especially with tubes.

Let me elaborate.

1. I never said that a balanced amp has more gain than single ended. I was attempting to refute the commonly held belief that balanced is better since the output of a balanced stage is typically louder when using the balanced vs. the single ended inputs, which most people incorrectly describe as an increase in gain instead of an increase in loudness. If I didn’t clearly articulate this then I apologize for the confusion. Just as most people confuse phase and polarity, I was attempting to minimize confusion for the vast majority of people who would describe this as an increase in gain. I know as well as you that it is not a matter of gain, but I’ll stand behind my contention that louder does not equate to better.

2. I never said that balanced doesn't have some design benefits like you mentioned, and I do understand the types of noise that you describe, but if my 103 dB speakers are dead quiet with single ended gear, how much quieter can they be with balanced? Granted, dead quiet without a signal applied is not a test of its ability to reject noise generated in the supply while under load, but it’s not that hard to build a well regulated supply. I’ll give you the fact that there is a theoretical advantage in regards to noise performance. I just don’t think there is any real advantage in practical use. If your system produces 12 dB less than nothing, who cares?

3. It is hard to disagree with your claim that “balanced lines can deliver the signal better” since “better” isn’t exactly a quantifiable parameter. Surely you can produce a more convincing argument than it is better because it is better. I’m also at a loss trying to understand your statement about balanced systems having “far less interference from the cables!” What type of interference are you talking about? Your information about transcontinental phone transmission may be accurate, but we’re discussing stereos here, not transmission of signals over thousands of miles of cables. Just because a 747 may be a good choice to get me from NY to LA doesn’t mean I would use one to go across the street. Please allow me to throw in my own “sheesh” at this point.

4. What you say about studios is true. As I stated in my original post, studios use balanced gear to good advantage, but once again, I must point out that we are talking about sound reproduction in the home, not studio recording or transcontinental phone transmissions. I don’t use any microphones or tape heads, and cutting an LP with balanced gear does not make the information on it balanced. A CD or LP or tape mastered in a balanced studio is still encoded single ended onto the CD/LP/tape.

Where are the balanced sources in a home system? A phono cartridge perhaps, but how many phono stages process it as a balanced from input to output? Even the mighty Aesthetix IO takes the balanced input and feeds it to a single ended stage before converting it to balanced. Besides, I’m not sure a phono cartridge is really balanced since used it in that fashion it is a floating source with no reference to ground. I could be wrong about that and I would enjoy hearing an explanation to the contrary.

I see nothing in your post that gives any reason why balanced gear will sound better than single ended other than the potential for better noise performance, and since my system doesn’t have any noise issues, I’ll stand behind the blather in my original post.

From your website I see you have devoted many years to your passion and I applaud you for that. After the Futterman fiasco you were either very brave or very foolish to continue down that path. I'm sure your stuff sounds swell. However, my contention is that you could have made a system just as swell or better with a single ended design and done so at a reduction in cost.

Now take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and if you can offer something besides noise rejection, better is better, studios do it, and the phone company does it, then I will be happy to consider your response.

p.s. Sean, I’m not sure if you were agreeing or disagreeing with my contention that sound is single ended to begin with. You hear because your eardrum moves in and out in response to the increases and decreases in air pressure from some vibrating source. There is no equal but opposite pressure wave arriving at the same point in time like there are two equal but opposite electrical voltages in a balanced amp. Perhaps I’m not making myself clear or it may be totally unrelated to what we’re talking about, but I thought it illustrated my point that single ended was the natural order of things.
Herman: A cymbal moves up and down to displace the air. The rate that it displaces air is called the frequency and the volume of air displaced is the loudness or amplitude.

Just as the cymbal is pushed down and displaces air in that direction, the other side of the cymbal swings up and displaces air in the opposite direction. It is an equal and opposing force. If we didn't maintain the equal and opposing force, we wouldn't mantain consistent air pressure. If we don't maintain consistent air pressure, we start to develop a state of vacuum. The greater the vacuum that we develop, the less air that we have to displace. When we don't have air to displace or air to replace what has been displaced, we have total vacuum. If we have total vacuum, we don't have sound. Therefore, sound is generated by moving air in a balanced format.

Our ears work the same way. That's why our ears "pop" as we change altitudes rapidly. The pressure inside our ear is not equal to the pressure outside due to the varying densities of air, creating an imbalance. Once the pressure is fully balanced inside and out, our hearing returns to normal and we no longer have "popping" taking place. Sean
Herman, right or wrong..great thread. Atmasphere, Sean, Buscis2 and Eldartford, great input for future revisit and reading!!

One thing i'd like to add here. If Ralph wasn't wearing his affiliations on his shirt pocket ( Atma Sphere products ), nobody would have known who he was or why he might have the very strong point of view on the subject that he does. Due to the fact that he designs / manufactures audio gear that is balanced, an intelligent person would realize that he has a vested interest in protecting / promoting those interests. As such, comments made by someone in that position may be viewed in a slightly different light. This is not to attack or belittle the input from Ralph or any other manufacturer / designer / retailer / distributor, etc.. on any given subject, only to demonstrate how important disclosure of affiliations is. There is nothing wrong with sharing an opinion / point of view, regardless of who agrees or disagrees, so long as it is truly honest and not designed to manipulate others for one's own personal gain. Given the mess that we have going on in another thread about this subject, i thought that this was a perfect time to point out why i did / said what i did over there and why this thread hasn't turned into much the same mess. Those with ethics have nothing to fear when contributing to this or any other forum and i hope that they will continue to do so, both on a regular and long term basis.

Now, back to our normal program. Sean
Sean, it is a common myth that sound is air "moving" balanced or not. Sound is produced by a vibrating object causing the air pressure in its immediate vicinity to vary according to the frequency and amplitude of the vibrating object. This air pressure variation is propagated as a wave of varying pressure - the air does not move - that would be wind!

To use your cymbals as an example, it is not the movement of the cymbal up and down that causes the sound - a single unstruck cymbal moving does not make a sound - but the vibration of the metal cymbal as it is struck that causes the air pressure to vary as described before. In fact, if we move the 2 cymbals towards each other but stop their movement before they touch, we will move a lot of air but there won't be any sound.

The ear responds to varying pressure, not air flow or movement, after all if the air is moving, where is it going in the ear?
Bob: I understand that sound doesn't move air, the air simply "transports" the energy of the sounds created. Most people don't understand that, so i tried to word it in a way that was easier to follow. It is good that you mentioned this though, because my "simple analogy" could be considered "misinformation" if one were to take it word for word. Thanks for the clarification.

"To use your cymbals as an example, it is not the movement of the cymbal up and down that causes the sound - a single unstruck cymbal moving does not make a sound:

This is incorrect. Anything moving is creating sound because that movement imparts energy into the air. Whether or not that energy / sound is of high enough amplitude or at a frequency that we can hear is another matter.

" but the vibration of the metal cymbal as it is struck that causes the air pressure to vary as described before"

This supports my comments above. The only variance between the unstruck yet moving cymbal and the cymbal that was struck is the intensity of the movement generated and the frequency of excitation. Add the resonant and transient ( rise and fall ) characteristics of the cymbal to this movement and you have a specific sonic trait.

"In fact, if we move the 2 cymbals towards each other but stop their movement before they touch, we will move a lot of air but there won't be any sound."

False. There is sound, but it may not be of high enough amplitude or high enough in frequency for us to easily hear. If you doubt this, take a large yet solid lightweight item and move it back and forth in the air making long and slow excursions. You might not hear anything even though air is moving. Moving the item back and forth at a faster rate ( like "fanning" yourself ) will produce sound that is more audible and centered at a higher frequency. Same thing is taking place in both examples, the only variances are amplitude and frequency.

"The ear responds to varying pressure, not air flow or movement, after all if the air is moving, where is it going in the ear?"

Herman and i discussed this somewhat privately via email. Neither of us will argue this point. Sean
Ralph Atmasphere, so my friend Dejan Veselinovic does have a point: under most circumstances single ended system with ground filtration will sound better. Doing a properly balanced setup takes some real $$$.
Filtering of the ground can be beneficial if properly implimented, but it also increases the potential for reduced safety. By placing filter circuitry in the path to ground, you limit current capacity. In the event of component failure or an electrical problem ( severe surge or spike ), the filter circuitry could become damaged, opening the safety path to ground. Obviously, this is not good and i don't think that you'll ever see any design using such an approach obtaining UL approval. That's because something like this could literally be a matter of life or death. No manufacturer with any brains wants to risk something like this.

Having said that, providing the shortest, lowest series resistance path to ground that you can is the next best thing that you can do short of creating the above mentioned safety hazard. As i've mentioned in other posts, having someone that knows what they are doing clean and weatherproof your ground connections can sometimes make a world of difference. Most ground connections that i've seen from the AC mains to Earth were severely corroded, offering very poor conductivity. If conductivity to ground is reduced, any noise / RFI that was shunted to ground elsewhere in the house can now find its' way into your audio system. As such, maintaining your ground connection would not only be safer, it could reduce grain and glare while lowering your noise floor.

By the way, wasn't Dejan the guy that was shilling some specific PLC's that he was associated with over at Audio Circle? Sean
Sean, of course you are correct in saying that there is sound present when moving an unstruck cymbal and that we just don't hear it.

I am heartened to see that you realise the danger of using analogies. The problem with using "incorrect" analogies is that the model used might then be applied to many other phenomena and even less comprhension ensues.

I am in the training of technical subjects business and I have seen the pitfalls of using incorrect or misleading analogies. A good analogy, however, is an extremely powerful training tool.

Salut, Bob P.
If a tree fell in the woods, and there was nobody there to hear a cymbal......I mean........If a cymbal fell in the woods........I mean........No. If a tree fell on a cymbal.......Would it vibrate like a.........If........

What were we talking about?
Or if a tree fell on the person with the cymbal, would we have an audiophile?
Unbalanced trees fall more easily. All audiophiles are unbalanced, some more than others.
Hence, back to my "quasi" balanced theory.

I think it's pretty safe to say this thread has run it's course.

I'm gettin' my chain saw. I gots some theories to prove.


Did you hear that?
Hear What?
Hi all, sorry it took a while to get back to this.

Herman thought I did not present some balanced sources, so I will repeat myself. Nearly all phono cartridges made today are balanced sources: the Shure M-95 from 30 years ago was a balanced source, as is a Titan or a Ruby made today. Ever wonder why mag phono is the only source that requires a grounding wire? Most balanced sources that you try to run single-ended behave this way unless you ground loop the signal with the ground. Or have a grounding wire...

Microphones such as the Neumann U-67 are balanced. So are RCA DX77 ribbon mics. If you wonder why I bring up recording equipment, its because we all listen to this stuff in our recordings: Nearly all LPs and CDs are mastered using balanced connections and equipment.

When you think about it, there really aren't any true single-ended sources. I suppose a tuner might be, but the radio station makes the signal in the balanced domain, so really the tuner is a signal filter of sorts... A CD player might be, but the laser beam is picked up by an optical device, which has an output that is balanced (although its not always used that way). Certain lo-fi devices are single-ended- cheap ceramic microphones for example. No-one in high end audio uses them though :)

I was also chastised about mentioning the phone company. Its not as obtuse as you might think, but you do have to know some history. I'll try to explain it better. Before balanced lines existed, there was no such thing as long distance more then a couple hundred miles as definition was lost very qucikly. You had to yell at the top of your voice to be heard. Balanced lines were developed as a solution, and due to the increase in definition and improved signal transmission, continental and intercontinental phone calls became possible.

The recording industry quickly realized the benefit: lower noise, much lower loss of signal detail, lower distortion and dramatically increased immunity to interconnect cables (does this sound like anythihg audiophiles might be interested in too?). By the early 50's, balanced lines were in place throughout the recording industry and ushered in the age of HiFi and the Golden Age of Stereo.

There was an important point there. These are things that audiophiles find important! Increased definition? Lower noise? Lower distortion? Immunity to cable weaknesses? Yes. We find these things to be important as they bring us closer to the musical experience.

For some reason (mostly cost), balanced line remained the domain of the professional market until the 1980s, when the first balanced gear for the home appeared (FWIW the first balanced tube preamp was made by us in 1989). It took 30 years, but finally balanced line was available for the home with the same benefits to audiophiles that brought them HiFi in the first place.

These days it is hardly more expensive to build balanced stuff as it is to build single-ended. Look at the tube preamps that are out in the marketplace and you see what I mean. Most of them are single-ended. The few that are balanced do not cost any more then the competition. With semiconductors, OpAmps all have balanced inputs. If you are running semiconductors its almost harder to make single-ended. For the record.

The gain thing:
Balanced allows for the same gain with less noise, close to 6 DB less noise, easily achieved. Despite imperfections caused by mismatches, tube issues and the like this remains true. When people say otherwise its because they have not played with these circuits- if they had then they would know!

Another interesting fact about balanced differential circuits is that there is a distortion-cancelling feature. This effect works even if the circuit is not perfectly balanced. Again, if you work with this stuff, you find these things out.

It is possible to operate things like EQ for LPs in the differential domain, and never have to worry about how well balanced your circuit is: the EQ will always be correct.

Volume controls and switches when executed in the balanced domain tend to be more accurate and less noisy then when the same types of switches and volume controls are single-ended. To give you an example, let's say there is a defect causing a volume control to drop out at a certain level. With single-ended, the signal is gone! With balanced, the signal drops only 6 db. In the case where a stereo volume control had poor tracking from channel to channel, with the balanced version the tracking problem would probably not even manifest until things got a lot worse (to the point where the SE version would be unusable rather then inconvenient).

I can offer a ton more of things like this, so again I have to state: Herman is wrong on every point offered. So Herman, contact me off line (or call me) and I'd be happy to fill you in. There are also a number of fabulous texts on the subject if you are interested. This is not about anyone taking a drubbing, I'm happy to help out.

And finally, I appreciate being allowed to try to set the record straight. Again, if you don't believe me, there is a mountain of evidence out there that shows how balanced lines perform better and there is no evidence to the contrary (although there is a lot of hearsay). There is a lot of myth, and in general audiophiles (myself included) tend to let go of these myths slowly if at all. We have to be constantly vigilent about this sort of myth if we are to advance the state of the art.
Thanks for taking the time to more clearly state your case. It was much better than the "it is better because it is better" post you put up earlier.

You seem to miss the big point here.

We are talking about home stereo, nothing else. Not recording studios, not the phone company, nothing but home stereo. I don't care if NASA used balanced circuits to cut down on noise. I'm not going to the moon.

I concede that balanced has advantages in the noise arena, but I'll repeat myself. If my 103 dB speakers are dead quiet with a relatively inexpensive ($1,350) integrated, who cares how much quieter balanced will be?

I concede the point, I just don't see any advantage for my home stereo.

As far as being wrong on every point, you don't seem to understand what it means to be a balanced source. I'll explain. It means you have two signals of equal amplitude but opposite polarity.

There is absolutely no commercial media available today that stores data in a balanced format. The ability to output a balanced signal means that a conversion has to be done somewhere. Even if you use a phono cartridge in a balanced mode, the data on the disc is single ended. Once again, I don't care what they use in a studio, I don't use microphones at my house.

Balanced output from a laser diode? You made that up, right? The sensor reading the reflections from the disc either outputs a high or a low depending on whether or not the laser hits a spot where light is reflected: a high or a low, a one or a zero, a true or a false. The information on the CD is stored in a digital format as data representing a certain amplitude at a certain point in time. The next data point is either, higher, lower, or the same as the data point before it. There is absolutely nothing at all balanced about any of that.

In twenty plus years I have yet to hit a dead spot on a volume control. I'll take my chances.

I see nothing in the information you presented that leads me to believe that balanced will sound better than single ended. Please note I said "sound better," not that everything else being equal it can achieve a lower noise floor.

I know we are beating a dead horse here so I'll let it go.

Good luck selling your inherently flawed balanced stuff :>)
I'll continue to enjoy my inherently flawed single ended.
If all you had said was that you didn't see any advantages for balanced equipment in your own home system, then who but you would be in a better position than you to make such a statement. However, you grossly extrapolated your position and stated that balanced is inherently flawed. While some of your observations may be valid your conclusion is not particularly logical.
Onhwy61, if you only read my last post then I can see where you come to your conclusion, but if you followed from the beginning you will see that one of my main reasons for taking the inherently flawed position has to do with the problem of first taking data that is single ended and creating an inverted copy, and then maintaining equal but opposite signals through the system.

I'll stand by that even though I did get pulled off track a bit with the noise and source issue.
Hi Herman,

Its obvious to me that you're not getting what I am talking about else you would not be responding this way. I'll try it another way, maybe you'll see.

One of the things balanced does for you is it helps get rid of cable problems. That is how come Mercury was able to park their recording truck behind Northrup Hall in Minneapolis in 1958 and then ran their mic cables over 150 feet from the hall to the truck, and got a recording that is still considered state of the art today. If there were the cable problems that audiophiles see routinely today, this would simply not have been possible. Mercury did this in 1958 when no exotic cable industry existed at all. How did they do this? Balanced Line connections.

You can't say that this has no effect on you as an audiophile- Mercury's recordings are legendary. Now, if you could have a cable system in the home that eliminated cable problems, so you could run 30 or 50 feet of cable without any high frequency loss, without any loss of low level detail, for that matter sounded excellent regardless of the cable you used, would you be interested? If you say no, you will not be in agreement with most of the audio community. These are very real benefits of balanced lines, and they have very real benefits for audiophiles who use them in the home.

I used the other industry examples to make a point, which was that these industries benefited from this technology for the same reasons that audiophiles can:

Lower noise
Lower distortion
cable immunity
wider bandwidth

These are very real benefits and are readily audible.

Yes, a light sensor (from a CD pickup) is a balanced device. It has two leads, neither of which has to be tied to ground to work properly. That's how most balanced sources work. How a designer chooses to use the device is a different story, just like a phono cartridge, which is another inherently balanced source. Sure, you can use it SE, most people do, but at the end of the day the cartridge will not care how it terminals are connected, as neither side of the inductor is tied to ground. That's how balanced sources work. If you let both sides of the cartridge float, and just use the tonearm as a shield, along with the shield of the tonearm interconnect, you have a very elegent and simple balanced setup. Nothing to it. Its actually *harder* to run the cartridge SE, as noise, hum and RF interference are harder to get rid of and you have three connections to make instead of two.

I'll revisit the noise thing for a moment. Its possile to build a phono section with less stages of gain then ba single ended phono section, using a differential topology, one that can work directly with low output moving coil and yet be quiet. Now, if you can eliminate a whole stage of gain, you have less distortion, wider bandwidth and greater definition all at once. Audiophiles like that sort of thing. Sounds better. That's a very real benefit, its already in service in the field, and it connot be denied.

It would be nice if this was a case where we could agree to disagree, where this was all opinion. But this is not about opinion, which is why I feel compelled to set the record straight. There's a lot that I don't know, like, for example, anything much about saxopones. Kenny G kinda wrecked that for me. But I have been working with balanced circuitry for the better part of 30 years, and seen repeatedly how much better it performs then single-ended approaches to audio. Not that I'm saying that SE is bad, just that balanced (done right, which is not that hard) is better and *any* audiophile can hear it. I had a girlfriend who was deaf in one ear, and half deaf in the other, and *she* could hear it, so I am confident you can too if it give it a straight shot. You know, just the facts.