Balanced XLR cables

I am purchasing a preamp with balanced xlr connections.  some of my other gear has xlr terminals but never used them for lack of source input until now with the preamp.  is there a big difference in xlr's?  not trying to start a cable war discussion, just dont want to spend an arm / leg. is $50 for a 3 ft cable on the cheap side?  i havr always found Mogami cables good value.  recommendations please
@atmasphere is the oracle on this topic. If you’re not aware of Ralph Karsten (@atmasphere), he designs and builds Atma-Sphere balanced preamplifiers and amplifiers:


9,836 posts

03-22-2013 9:05am

A good reason to go balanced is the advantage of being able to run really long interconnects, so you can place the amps close to the speakers and avoid sonic degradation on account of the speaker cables.

The balanced line system was created to get rid of interconnect cable colorations. It works really well! However in order for that to happen, The preamp must support the balanced line standards (which have been in place for decades).

Most high end audio balanced preamps do not support the standard! As a result with such preamps you will encounter variable results as far as interconnects are concerned.

Here is the standard:

1) pins are: pin 1 ground, pin 2 and 3 are signal.
2) Ground is ignored- the signal occurs only between pin 2 and 3 (this is where most high end audio preamps have a problem- as soon as there are signal currents in the shield of the cable, the construction of the cable becomes critical).
3) the cable will be a twisted pair for the signal with a shield (tied to pin one only)
4) the output of the preamp should be capable of driving a low impedance load (2000 ohms or less) without loss of voltage, without increase in distortion and without loss of bass (this is the other big area where high end audio preamps have a problem, and also results in cable sensitivity).

Note: this does not mean that the output impedance of the preamp is this value, it means that it can *drive* this value. If there is a question, both the 1KHz output impedance and the 20Hz output impedance should be well below 300 ohms!

The actual standard is 600 ohms and you will have a lot of manufacturers of balanced products tell you that since the amps being driven have a much higher input impedance, that this does not matter. Such is incorrect if you want cable immunity! It is the higher impedance nature of single-ended preamps and amps that spawned the interconnect cable industry. Such is not needed for balanced as long as the standards are used.

Now some people want proof of this sort of thing- after all what I am saying here is that the interconnect should not have an audible quality in the system. So here is the proof. The first manufacturer of high end cables was FMI in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Robert Fulton, the proprietor, created the first cables in which in was claimed that they made an improvement when installed in a system. That was the late 1970s.

However in the late 1950s, the record labels were turning out recordings that are revered to this day (the better your system gets, the better these recordings sound). In many cases the microphone signal had to go over 200 feet to get to the input of the tape recorder- how did they do that without an exotic cable? The answer is the low impedance balanced line system.

So- if you want that same cable immunity that the recording and broadcast industry has enjoyed for the last 60 years, then your preamp should support the same standard. This takes the cable out of the system equation, and also its cost.

BTW, phono cartridges are a balanced source and should enjoy the same cable immunity if set up properly. If you have ever wondered why the phono system has that extra ground wire that no other single-ended source seems to have, that is why- its actually a balanced source that is being treated as if it is single-ended, but you have to do something with that ground...

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+1 on PM'ing Ralph. You can also call him (phone number on Atmasphere website). If you don't get him, you'll get one of his able assistants.
I bought a long run (25 ft.) from Ralph, when I bought his amps.
I was encouraged by my dealer (a very knowledgable fellow), to buy some AQ XLR's, as he felt it would be an improvement.
To my ears, there wasn't much difference.
{I think Ralph uses Mogami, but I am not sure. In any case, I would buy the cables from Ralph}.And, they probably won't cost $50 for 3ft lengths.- And, at such short distances, I doubt you'd be able to hear any differences between manufactors.
Ralph can elucidate more than I, but when equipment utilizes AES 47 standards, the effect of cables (soundwise), is minimized. Which is probably why recording studios use them.
Another important question would be:
- Are the circuits in your components actually balanced? It is not unusual for manufacturers to install XLR connectors that are simply internally wired to the RCA connectors. In other words, they are fake balanced connectors. The circuits themselves are not truly balanced.

Both components - transmitting & receiving - need to be balanced to benefit.
Just because you have balance inputs and outputs does not mean you have a balanced system. If your gear is truly balanced from input to out put, then yes a good balance cable can sound better.
Mogami quad cables are balanced only ruined by how you wire them.
You can get (balanced) cables made to order, using Mogami W2549 and gold Neutrik XLRs, by many pro audio shops. This is NOT expensive, certainly not by audiophile standards. I have had very good service from ProAudioLA.

Because of the length of interconnects in my system (25 ft), it’s been difficult to compare to many other cables. Another Mogami cable (W2534) and Gotham GAC-4/1 sounded very similar to W2549, with W2549 the most open by just a hair. A well-known audiophile brand costing 15x as much was superior in no way and was noticeably colored in the treble.
I prefer VaDamme XKE balanced cable.
designcable lists 12 colors and 18 sizes.
Or go all custom.

 I compared single ended premium cables against $60 balanced cables. I preferred the balanced cables. The difference was subtle, but noticeable. Pre, power, and cd were all "fully balanced".

I will have to disagree on one aspec of atmosphere’s discussion:

The balanced line system was created to get rid of interconnect cable colorations. It works really well!

I have tested many different XLR cables and they all will contribute a certain sonic signature based on the wire and terminations used.  Just like any other cable.





Balanced is quiter  $50,00 are you joking cant get much.

I would agree with Ralph and would like to build on his point.  One of the major benefits of XLRs is "common mode noise rejection."  In a fully balanced system, you get this when using balanced interconnects.  The signal is sent twice. The second transmission is the inverse of the primary signal.  If there are any commonalities between these two signals, it is rejected as noise. This requires every part of the circuit to be doubled though and drives up the cost of equipment.  

If you have a system that is not fully balanced and they have simply added XLRs (very common) which require a transformer to convert the signal from single ended to XLR.  If thisr is the case, there is a good chance the XLRs will not be the best sounding interconnects and you may gain some noise benefits between components over long runs (20+ Feet), but it will not deliver the kind of benefits you would get from fully balanced gear. 

Over short runs, if the gear that is connected is not fully balanced, there is rarely a benefit in using XLRs over Single Ended cables.  And in many cases, if the transformers used to convert the signal from SE to Balanced are cheap, it will sound worse.  

Get some lamp cord SPORT!!