If your phono preamp (or phonostage in your main preamp) accepts balanced inputs, then by all means use them. Not so much for hum and RFI resistance (good cable shielding and proper grounding should take care of that) but because a MC cartridge is a balanced output device anyway (as you noted) and will basically produce more (effective) output into a balanced phono preamp circuit. The net effect of this increased efficiency is a lower noise floor (or better signal-to-noise ratio.)
As for the idea that a balanced IC in this application will allow the use of longer tonearm cables to the head amp, I'd be careful making that assumption. You need to be more concerned with increased resistance, inductance, and time smear that accumulates as even the best cables get longer. Remember, we're talking here about the tiny currents produced by phono cartridges, not the ones coming out of your preamp to drive your amp, so the difference between a one meter tonearm cable and a three meter tonearm cable can be significant. That's why the audio industry standard for tonearm cables has, for a long time, been 1.2 meters or about 4 feet.
Most phono preamps/stages I know of that are balanced input design are quite expensive. Remember also that they will (if they're stand-alone phono preamps) have balanced outputs, so you better have a main preamp with balanced inputs!
The Aesthetix Io phono stage has balanced (and RCA) input jacks so I rewired my Walker Proscenium with cryo treated XLR's in place of factory RCA's to take advantage. The result was a nice improvement.
Even if a phono does not offer full balanced input, if the XLR jacks are provided the superior contact area and connection is worthy of consideration.
Personally I prefer the Swiss XLR's constructed with gold over copper pins and finished in black. The brand is Neutrik (same as provided on the Io and Callisto).
This can be a bit tricky, as a phono cartridge is not a true-balanced source(this would require +/- phases referenced separately to ground, or a total of five pins instead of the four found in a cartridge). My BAT P10 phono stage has both RCA & XLR inputs, and a fully balanced internal design. Nevertheless, BAT recommended using RCA inputs into the phono stage, and let the phono stage derive a balanced signal at the input and process balanced through to the XLR outputs. There is a reduction in signal-to-noise ratio when dividing the output of the cartridge coils for an XLR connection. Also Hovland recommended that I terminate their phono cable RCA rather than XLR. They preferred the sound of low-mass RCA plugs to heavier-mass XLRs. So your results may vary depending upon cable & phono stage designs.
What you prefer Swiss cables over the Purist? Blasphemy!:-)
Hi, I really can't add any more input to the above posters other than I have had very similar experiences. My BAT VKP10SE Superpak has both RCA and XLR inputs. The XLR's yield a little more gain, lower noise floor. The result is that the imaging and detail is better. It's pretty noticable, not small imo.
My experience has been that RFI can be significantly reduced by going with balanced cables from the table to the phono stage. In my case, 1000ft. from a large radio tower, RFI is a significant issue, that led me to abandoning many a single-ended preamp. Balanced cables was the single best way to eliminate my RFI problem.
FWIW, any VPI owners out there, you can buy a balanced junction box for $150 directly from VPI that replaces the box on any JMW arm. Yes, a high price for a little metal box with two output jacks, but well worth it for the sanity it provides.
The Neutriks that Albert mentions are by far the pro audio standard, they're cheap & easy to find.
RFI issues aside, I agree w/the other posters that balanced will provide an overall lower noise floor. Go for it! Cheers,
Dear Ken: Speaking of an IC phono cable of 1m, balanced vs unbalanced, and using Eichman or Nextgen RCA against Neutrik XLR connectors, with the same cable and in the same phonolinepreamp you could not hear any difference, even in worst cases like Spencer's RFI ( here was a shield problem of the RCA cable. A well shielded cable has no problems at all, at least in 1m cables. ). If you hear differences that ones will be for the different connector but not for the cable it-self or the balanced/unbalanced subject.
Albert I can't be sure but I think that you take advantage of the cryo tratment ( different sound ) and that the Aesthetix has two balanced stages by design.
Now, the most important subject about balanced or unbalanced issue is not at the cables but at the phonolinepreamp design: in any well designed fully ( input to output )balanced phonolinepreamp we take a paramount advantage against an unbalanced design: in a balanced circuit the noise and distortions are canceled and the signal is degraded the less against an unbalanced design. So, the best way to go with a phonolinepreamp is with fully balanced designs, no question about.
Btw, I agree with Dgarretson about that the phono cartridge is not a true balanced source and the BAT recomendation maybe has to be with their own circuit design because there is no reason to take ( input ) a unbalanced signal in a balanced circuit.
I agree too with Neil on the long run IC phono subject: no more than 1.5m.
Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul, agree with you and others here. Good solid sharing of info on hooking up our phono cartridges.
What you prefer Swiss cables over the Purist? Blasphemy!:-)
I can't tell if your teasing me with the smiley face or wondering why I changed cables. I still love Purist, my balanced connections from cartridge to phono is Purist Anniversary. The comment was a rave for Neutrik connectors (Swiss made), I love their construction and finish and as stated by others here, VERY reasonably priced.
I actually got mine from Aesthetix, Jim White is a good friend and I wanted the exact connector he builds Io and Callisto with. Turns out you can do a Google search and find Neutrik all over the net at a few bucks per connector.
Mine were cryo treated with a batch of Porter Ports I was getting done. Did a second set for backup in case I ever sell the Walker (not likely :^).
dgarretson: Are you sure BAT said that? Must have been a reason. I have a all BAT system and they recommended balanced into my BAT VKP10SE-ditto my dealer. Since I've upgraded to the Superpak version...
I heard it was a increase in signal by 6 db. Noise fell for me.
All I can say is mine did sound better running XLR's on the phono stage...just my experience...your's may vary.
Jfrech, here is a post that Victor Komenko of BAT made awhile back that sums up his view on the matter. The 6db advantage in SNR actually goes to the SE connection between the TT & the phono stage.
Interesting thread: Since there has been mention of balanced phono stage, I ran across this one a short while ago:Aqvox Phono
It is a current amplier with fully balanced layout. This one got excellent reviews in Europe. And it is not that expensive, only about Euro 750 shipped.
I did not have a chance to listen to it but it seemed to fit the topic...
I changed from using phono RCA into a ClearAudio Balance Phono with XLR balanced out to Balanced input on ARC pre-amp and rest of my system TO phono RCA in and out of an ARC Phono Ref. My findings are that the noise floor increased slightly but that was counteracted somewhat by the superior soundstage and resolution of the ARC Ref.
I know its not really a fair comparison going solid state to tube and ARC was about 4x higher in price and to be honest, also of course fully balanced lines decrease the attenuation, etc.
I am now actively researching either swopping the ARC Ref for a fully balanced phono or having the Ref modded to XLR in & out. Especially so since Harry has started offering an XLR junction box wired in Valhalla to match the arm rewires.
A London dealer told me that the new ARC phono PH7 can be built full balanced to special factory order for about £1k extra.
Bit of a 'head scratcher' decision so responses welcome - anybody gone from an ARC Ref Phono to a PH7?
Albert my comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. You will agree that your endosremnet of something other than Purist is an anomaly. Especialy since they cost less than the packaging Purist Cables probaly come in.
"Personally I prefer the..." All of us who know your system expected that sentence to end in Purist cables. I for one am glad you are not afraid to step outside the box.
re BAT balanced inputs:
When Viktor made that post in 2000 the VKP10's XLR inputs were not balanced and there was no advantage to using them. At the time Viktor did not think balanced from the cartridge was an advantage. I think the only balanced end to end phono stage was the FM.
Later on, maybe when the VKP10SE was introduced, the XLR inputs were balanced and Viktor recommended them over the RCA. I think now even the P10 is balanced end to end and maybe older P10s can be updated.
So somewhere along the line Viktor was able to overcome the disadvantage he stated in his AA post and make his phono stage balanced end to end.
I think Aesthetix may have undergone a similar evolution as I think they are now also balanced end to end.
One of the things Viktor's evolution means to me is that a balanced phono stage is not so easy to design and you might end up worse off.
George a: thanks for the update. I know when I went from a RCA input to XLR it improved-rather marked...not subtle. Anyway...thanks and good luck all.
George, I spoke with BAT today and Vladimir confirmed that because the original P10 is not balanced in the first gain stage, its does sound better and offers higher SNR using RCA inputs instead of XLR. As you mentioned, the P10SE has a fully-balanced first gain stage, and sounds better through its XLR input. It's $2K to belly up for the upgrade...
FYI, I wish my situation had been as simple as a poorly shielded cable. I tried numerous well-regarded and highly shielded single-ended cables and none of them eliminated the RFI. Balanced cables fixed the problem and improved the sound immediately.
So, perhaps my situation is rare, but it certainly doesn't hurt the argument to go with balanced cables when possible.
FWIW, I agree with your other comments about needing a well-designed phono stage to take advantage of balanced. I just wish I knew what reasonably priced pieces you think sound good. We all can't always "wait until we can spend more", as I've often seen you recommend. Regards,
Dear Spencer: When I make the reference to you I omit to write that a not very good circuit/lay-out design could give that kind of RFI problems. Of course that balanced cables help in your specific case.
+++++ " I just wish I knew what reasonably priced pieces you think sound good. " +++++
The word " reasonably " is not a stand alone one because it depends on many factors like: which kind of quality sound reproduction do you want?, what music sound reproduction priorities do you have?, which kind of trade-offs could you accept?, what importance has to you the phonolinepreamp in the analog chain? etc, etc.
There are " reasonably " priced units from: 3K to 50K ???
Btw, very good system you own, specially those Merlin's ( I really like it ) and your analog rig.
Regards and enjoy the music.