Balanced or single ended phono cable to Aesthetix Io?


I wonder, what is the user experience - what sounds best, with this phono preamp, using balanced (xlr) or single ended (rca) cables from the tone arm to the preamp.

I know this has been debated before - in 2012 here: https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/aesthetix-io-eclipse
but the conclusion was not quite clear. Since the first gain stage of the Io is unbalanced, there should not be much difference, some people argued. Yet several users reported that balanced sounded best. So what is the experience, today?


o_holter
I have used both - for me I really was not able to resolve much difference with this phono stage.

Admittedly, the balance connections were made with Hovland Music groove cable and the unbalanced everything from home brew silver and cotton to Cardas and Nordost types, so not like for like.

I have landed on the homebrew silver right now and I will try the balanced connectors on those for a definitive a-b.

The Io is phenomenal  phono stage -even today- after all these years after its introduction.

I found that there are other more obvious things that could make a difference than the balanced connectors: tube choices, isolation , dual supplies and interconnect quality between the supplies and the Io.

Good luck with it an feel free to give it a try for yourself.




















As I don't have a tonearm with XLR termination, I can't attest to the difference in connection.


However, I have found a convenient use of the XLR input! Since the two connectors are connected in parallel internally, I am using the RCA as the main input and the XLR as the loading port, so I don’t need to fiddle with the tiny dip switches to change loading.

Dear NKJ and thekong
NKJ - your observations line up with mine. +1 for the world best phono stage, or close to it.
I have worked with most of the other things you mention - tube choices, isolation , and I have dual power supplies. although not interconnect quality between the supplies and the Io.
thekong, agree the loading at the back is fiddly, didnt get it, how you adjust this with another cable.

Hi o_holter, sorry that I wasn’t clear on my description! Actually, there was no cable needed, I just got a pair of male XLR plugs, soldered a resistor of the required value to pin 2 and 3, then simply plugged them into the XLR phono input for loading. With this, you set the loading of the internal dip switch to 47K ohm, and use the XLR plug to adjust loading.


I also have another pair of male XLR plugs, to which I soldered alligator clips to pin 2 and 3, so I can easily change resistors for testing.

 

I hope this helps!

thekong - that was innovative! what load did you end up with (and for what cartridge)?

o_holter, I just got the idea from the Wavestream Deluxe Phono, which had similar arrangement, only that both input and loading jacks are RCA.

 

In my system, I prefer 200 ohm with the Ortofon A90.

Since the Io has a single-ended input, using a balanced interconnect will still result in a single-ended connection.

The benefit of a balanced connection is that the interconnect cable will cease to have an influence on the sound of the system. It seems to me that the phono input is the best place for this sort of immunity.
Apparantly - and I stress apparently, because it is just something I have heard - so don't shoot the messenger.

Balanced (XLR) cables are significantly better where the cable is longer than 30+ feet. However, there is an opinion that the balanced circuitry that processes the balanced signal can vary greatly from one component to another so you can never be certain of whether the signal is not being coloured by that circuitry.

Single ended is much better suited to shorter runs and with the right cable architecture/geometry can out perform XLR and there is no processing of the signal - other than amplification

I have observed improved performance when using a 1 meter single ended cable vs. a 2 meter XLR cable, but how much of that was due to the Balanced circuitry as opposed to the cable materials and architecture I have no idea.

Something to investigate ? - maybe :-)


Balanced (XLR) cables are significantly better where the cable is longer than 30+ feet. However, there is an opinion that the balanced circuitry that processes the balanced signal can vary greatly from one component to another so you can never be certain of whether the signal is not being coloured by that circuitry.

Single ended is much better suited to shorter runs and with the right cable architecture/geometry can out perform XLR and there is no processing of the signal - other than amplification
I'm not shooting- but I am correcting. Balanced operation offers advantages even in short runs. You know how with a single-ended cable you have to audition it to make sure it works in your system? If the balanced line is set up according to the balanced standard (which is very easy with phono, since its a balanced source to begin with) then the interconnect cable will not impose an artifact. I've seen audiophiles spend upwards of $2000 on a 1 meter cable, while you can get a $200 balanced cable of the same length to sound better.

Balanced operation is only amplification- there is no further processing of the signal.  You are actually doing more processing of the signal when you go single-ended, as you are taking a balanced source (the phono cartridge) and then converting its output to single-ended. Why not just run it balanced all the way? Its cheaper as far as the interconnect is concerned and it sounds better.
I am much - but not fully - in line with Atmasphere on this, since his experience agrees with mine. Balanced is usually better. I also agree with Williewonka, and nkj. I think the quality of the cable plays a role, though, even in balanced mode. Balanced cables also perform differently in my system, although the variation in single ended cables is even greater. I am using a rather "naked" classical well-rated cable, the Kimber KCAG (single ended), in a DIY mod to make a phono cable (soldered to the mini-DIN plug at the tonearm side). I did this because I always liked the KCAG compared to various other single ended IC’s. The cable needs dressing, but even then, I can sometimes hear phones etc.it is a bit like an antenna. But aside of this it makes music in a light (should I say silvery) and airy way that I like. Nkj - I also tried a Hovland cable (single ended), yes it was nice, better tuned to the task I think, but it did not totally outperform the KCAG. I was a bit disappointed. - My experience with balanced / xlr is that there may be a price to pay, also, for the shielding, a less open and immediate sound. Not at all sure about this, just my two cent reflection.
"Why not just run balanced all the way" - my thought also - even if, in my case, the effect will be diminished by the (SE) first gain stage of the Io. - Thanks for all advice. I will certainly try both options, as soon as I get the Io back from repair. Tell you more then. In the meantime, more experiences from users of similar systems are welcome.


Balanced in - on phono for this design is over-rated

I like the new KLE phono RCA connectors on some braided silver and cotton sheathed wire I am using now for the Io on the Kuzma 4 point and Brinkmann 12.1 arms I have currently.I have experimented with heavy metal connectors and the KLE and the advantage goes to the KLE in my experience. Heavy balanced neutrik connectors were the other choice.

 I don't nearly have the most sophisticated table on the market but it would cost many tens of thousands of dollars for me to buy all over again. So, I think I have good perspective based on what I have and what I have heard.

On a fully  balanced design there may or may not be a difference -you have to try.

I listened to the MP 3 from time to time with unbalanced connectors at al local dealer- funny they have never- had balanced phono cable on that unit ever in my experience and it sounds good.  Very infrequently the same dealer would have an MP-1 but that was never run with balanced phono either - its a much nicer preamp for the extra $$$.

I wouldn't make my phono pre amp decision on true balanced phono input capability. There are plenty of high quality good sounding designs without it. The engineering science says it irrefutably should be better.... but try to find an opportunity to compare and see for yourself.

So Jim White would explain his design as some sort of quasi balanced and Atamasphere will correctly indicate that balanced is balanced and any trickery to use a balanced connector is incorrect. Proof is in the sound - even the theoretical advantage of balanced may not prove to be worthwhile in a home environment despite the fundamental balanced operation of a phono cartridge.

Good luck
+1 on the KLE RCA's - I use them everywhere and they are much better than all other RCA's I have tried - including WBT

KLE IC's and speaker cables also rock and worth every penny


I think the quality of the cable plays a role, though, even in balanced mode.
What plays a much larger role in the sound of the cable is how its constructed (as opposed to quality), which is to say that if done correctly it will be a twisted pair within a shield.

Beyond that, the shield is ignored both at the input and output of the cable. If this is not the case, then the construction of the cable will become audible. This is why the balanced standard specifies that the shield connection is for shielding only and not signal return.

This fact if often ignored in both high end audio and also in some studio gear! It is also why there are high end uber expensive balanced cables now.