Balanced XLR to RCA Adapters: Good or Bad?


I’m thinking of buying a Clearaudio Ambient turntable with a Satisfy tonearm which has Balanced XLR cable plugs. My old NAD 3155 integrated amp (http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?ramps&1027213706&openusid&zz02pete&4&5) does not have XLR inputs jacks. They make adapters ( http://www.parts-express.com/pe/showdetl.cfm?Partnumber=240-430) which would allow me to connect the TT to my amp. [The amp works fine; it has been recently serviced.] But is it worthwhile to do this? That is, on the assumption that Balanced XLR cables are superior to RCA cables, would I, by using such adapters, undo the good quality of the XLR cables?

Should I go to the expense of buying a preamp with XLR input jacks and RCA output jacks, like the PS Audio GCPH phono stage? I listen to classical music and jazz.
franz456
Does the turntable also offer RCA outputs? If so, I would stick with the RCAs and not use XLR-to-RCA. XLRs are not to be presumed superior to RCA for such a short connection. OTOH, cartridge output is inherently differential and can benefit from a balanced connection but only if there is balanced input phono stage as well.

Kal
The seller tells me that "Regarding the XLR connection, you can just re-terminate it to RCA, nothing complicated. The arm is the satisfy carbon direct-wire."
Most (all?) Clearaudio tonearms are direct-wired. The TT is being sold here:
http://cgi.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cl.pl?anlgtabl&1328203877

So, no, the turntable does not offer RCA outputs.

I'm not sure what you mean by "cartridge output is inherently differential"; but if you are right that "[it] can benefit from a balanced connection but only if there is balanced input phono stage as well," then I would get better sound by buying a preamp with XLR inputs, but it would probably work well enough without one.

In any case, thanks, Kal.
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If you feel the table is a good deal go for it and get the adapters.

The seller is correct, any tonearm cable can be terminated either way but cheaper and easier to get the adapter unless you can do it yourself. I bet you any amount you want that you couldn't tell whether it was reterminated or had the adapter.

.
I wouldn't take that bet, Herman, but I would always wonder if I could have won it....
I WOULD take that bet, at least if I could do the comparison in my system. I know from experience that we'd hear the difference easily.

I've used RCA/XLR adaptors. The commercially available ones all sounded like mud. My preamp designer then built me a custom pair from higher quality components and they were much better. However, best of all was when I got suitably terminated interconnects and dumped the adaptors altogether. No small improvement.

The Seller's advice was wise. Have the TT outputs reterminated to single ended and skip the adaptors.

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Come on Doug, you have more invested in a single cable than he has in his entire system. There is no way he can hear a change with an inch or so of metal between the end of a cable and the input to his old NAD integrated.

Not knocking his system, it just isn't in the same league as yours.

.
I disagree on re-terminating from balanced to single ended. As someone stated above, phono cartridges are inherently balanced. I don't see why you would want to take a real, fully balanced, piece of audio equipment and modify to single ended just for a connection. In the context of this system you are better off getting some of the cheap adapters from a music store. The reason for this is that even though your old NAD is good equipment, it just doesn't have kind of resolution to make the upgrade or expensive xlr adapters worth while. Also, by mentioning the PS Audio, it seems like you might updating your system anyway. If, in fact, you do upgrade, keep a couple of things in mind. Not all equipment and not all cables that have balanced connections are really balanced. With equipment, it is expensive to make a component fully balanced because they have to double up on all the internal parts in the signal path. A lot of companies put xlr connectors and lable the connection balanced, but it is not really balanced. If you are not sure, there should be 2 sets of specs (balanced and non balanced) listed for the piece. If only 1 set of specs, it probably is not balanced. Cables need to be balanced as well, not just have xlr's. The cable should have 3 seperate conductors or, at the very least, 2 conductors and 1 shield. I hope this info can help you with your decision.
True enough, Herman...

For some reason I clicked on YOUR system and was responding with that in mind, which of course isn't relevant to the OP either. Pre-new year's lack of sobriety?
Dear R1g audio, A phono cartridge is an inherently balanced transducer that can potentially drive a phono stage in balanced mode. However, if said phono stage is not also a true balanced device, then there is no way to take advantage of the potential of a cartridge to drive it in balanced mode. No matter how you connect that cartridge to that single-ended preamp, the signal will be processed in SE mode. XLRs on the end of the phono cable and XLRs on the phono input of the phono stage will not do squat to change these facts. Ergo, the OP loses nothing by re-terminating his phono cable with RCAs. Further, while I agree that the OP's system is not likely to be terribly sensitive to the non-purist approach of using XLR to RCA adapters, I would side with Doug; why put a totally unnecessary kludge in the signal path when it can so easily be avoided? (Adapters suck, IMO._

I would guess that the OP could find a tech who can re-terminate his phono cables for about the same cost as that of an XLR to RCA adaptor.
Im using Cardas xlr to rca very good none is better.
Those do look nice, but I found a price of $120 from Handmade Audio (hopefully, that is price per pair). Which supports my point that the OP could have his cables converted for less, I think. Also, I don't see where Cardas makes male XLR to male RCA adapter. The ones I found all terminate in female RCA, so I think they are for persons who want to mate a male RCA to a female (or male) XLR. Would not work for OP. Probably I did not do enough searching. I have a hangover anyway.
Go with the adapters. They'll give you the flexibility that you may need for upgrading to a balanced system later, w/o much of a dropoff in performance now.

Cardas can be found many places for under $75.

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?accstwek&1330313307&/Cardas-Adapters-XLR-to-Rca---t
When I used adapters, it was clearly evident that the sound suffered...your system may be different.
Lewn.
"If, in fact, you do upgrade, keep a couple of things in mind. Not all equipment and not all cables that have balanced connections are really balanced. With equipment, it is expensive to make a component fully balanced because they have to double up on all the internal parts in the signal path. A lot of companies put xlr connectors and lable the connection balanced, but it is not really balanced. If you are not sure, there should be 2 sets of specs (balanced and non balanced) listed for the piece. If only 1 set of specs, it probably is not balanced. Cables need to be balanced as well, not just have xlr's. The cable should have 3 seperate conductors or, at the very least, 2 conductors and 1 shield. I hope this info can help you with your decision."

The above quote is from my response above. It looks like we are both in agreement. Your post basically says the same exact thing mine does, just in your own words. As far as buying the better connectors, I still have to disagree. It just doesn't make sense. I'm guessing that the used NAD is worth a few hundred dollars. By the time you get done reterminating the cables and/or buying the expensive XLR you will have a good portion of the total value of the NAD invested. The money can be used, instead, for better equipment. So when the OP wants an opinion on choosing either cables/connectors or equipment, I say why spend money to make a small difference when you can put it toward something that will make a big one. Also, if and when the equipment eventually gets upgraded, there is a very good chance that he will probably be going with balanced equipment anyway and will need everything just as it is now. Anyway, thats just my honest opinion on how I see it. Everyone does things their own way but as long as you end up where you need to be and are happy, that's all that matters.
If that is what you wrote, I apologize if I misinterpreted your post and then hung you out to dry for it. As to the advice you are giving the OP in the post just above this one, you are entitled to your opinion. But I don't know where "buying the expensive XLR" enters into it. The OP was wondering about re-terminating his phono cables, which as I understand it already are terminated in XLRs. So he would need to purchase a pair of male RCA jacks. There are many good choices that do not cost very much (e.g., Eichmann Bullet plugs for about $30 for a set of 4); the major cost would be in the labor to remove the XLRs and solder in the RCAs. It would take me 15 minutes to do that, but I am sure there are rip-off artists who might charge as much as $100 for the work. OP will by now be able to make up his own mind. Peace. Out.
I glanced quickly through some of the above posts where recommending adapters in the $75-$120. Given prices like that, I just felt the money can be put to better use. The main reason for this post is to include something I forgot yesterday. There is a better way than just taking chances and hoping for the best outcome. I have been dealing with a company for the last 15+ years. The Cable Company/Ultra Systems www.fatwyre.com (I'm sure most people on this site has heard of them) is the most reputable audio company I have ever dealt with - by far. They have a lending library of cables, accessories, components etc. that they lend out. At first it sounded like too much of a big deal but they do make it very easy and cost effective. All you have to pay is shipping and you can use the stuff for about 2 weeks (they are not picky if you need them for a little longer.) They do charge you 5% of the total cost of the equipment they send out but you can use it to purchase anything you want at any time. I use them all of the time even for small stuff like this. Aside from all of the valuable experience I have gained over the years from making some bad upgrade decisions, they are my most valuable resource. Again, just my own personal opinions but I think it may be helpful for the OP to just try all these solutions at no risk. I do have to admit, though, after all the varying recommendations, I am very curious to see the turnout of all this.
I very much appreciate the help of all of you who have responded, although I still don’t know what I want to do. I would like to respond in particular to Herman’s remark: “Come on Doug, you have more invested in a single cable than he has in his entire system” because curiously my speaker cables are probably the best part of my whole system. I have two 12’ Mark Levinson speaker cables bought in 1982 @$5 per foot (= $120). Similar cables (Mark Levinson 10 gauge) are being sold on Ebay now for about $1450 per pair. My speakers, bought in 1982 along with the cables, have also, I believe, stood the test of time better than the rest of my system (NAD amp and a 1996 Sota Comet with a Jelco LMT III tonearm): I have two 5’ Magnaplanar 1 speakers for which I paid $700-750. I tell you this not to impress you, but rather to give you a clearer perspective on the potential of my system for upgrading. I might also mention that I have 40’ of shelf space taken up by LP’s (3000 records I estimate) and that the alternative to the Clearaudio Ambient for me is the Clearaudio Ovation. I was thinking of getting before I saw the ad for the Ambient.
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In the link you provided in the original post you list

Polk Monitor Jr 5
B&W DM 605 s2
Sony cd player
PC sound card

which is what I based my comment on

In any case, if it were me I would try some adapters you can get from a music store for around $10. I'm not going to get an argument with anybody about what they do and don't hear but my feeling is that people often hear what they want to hear, and if they believe the adapters degrade the sound they will no matter what is actually happening.

adapter

Good luck in your quest.
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Herman, that link is to a post about the NAD 3155 by "Badman" in 2002. The system described there is his, not mine, but I understand your confusion. In any case, I should have described my whole system at the start. It is thanks to the internet and sites like this that I have learned that parts of my system are still highly valued, and others are not. That is the reason why I felt I should go for an upgrade. At the start I merely wanted to upgrade my tonearm. But the Comet would need to be modified to take another tonearm. It is designed to be used only with the LMT tonearm (so Sota told me). And I concluded it would not be worthwhile to modify the Comet; I should invest in another TT altogether. I read about other turntables, Thorens, Gerrard, Linn, etc., but with these bought second-hand I would not be sure of what I was getting, and I concluded that, if I was going to get a new one, it should be something really new and different from what I had. The Clearaudio TT’s with the CMB offered at least that.
The discussion that my post has started has alerted me to the XLR-RCA issue, and Rlg_audio’s comments about fake XLR equipment has convinced me to check with you people before investing in any upgrade involving XLR equipment. I’d be interested in hearing what you all think about the Ovation in comparison with the Ambient. The acrylic platter seems now to be outmoded, and POM is in…but for how long?
Ebm wrote:
Im using Cardas xlr to rca very good none is better.
Compared to what? No one's in a position to state that "none is better" because no one's heard everything out there.

I've also used the Cardas adaptors. Compared with my Doshi-built ones or with no adaptors at all they sounded sludgy. I might say, "none is worse" but I'm not so bold... something may be.
I'd just like to offer some clarifications with respect to the references that have been made to "fake xlr equipment." Three different situations need to be distinguished:

1)The phono stage provides an xlr input, and has a fully balanced internal signal path.

2)The phono stage provides an xlr input, which is routed into a circuit stage that has a balanced input and an unbalanced output, the rest of the signal path in the unit being unbalanced. That retains the noise rejection benefits of the fully balanced approach, and in so doing takes advantage of the fact that the cartridge is a balanced source. "Noise" in this context refers mainly to noise that is picked up in the cabling between the cartridge and the phono stage input, which may include ultrasonic and rf noise that may not be audible in itself but may have audible consequences. This approach obviously does not provide the potential benefits of a fully balanced internal signal path, but is likely to be less expensive for comparable quality.

3)The phono stage does not have a balanced input stage, and utilizes only one of the two signals in the balanced signal pair, with the other one being connected to ground. That would merit the word "fake" that has been used, as there would be nothing balanced about the balanced input. FWIW, I am not specifically aware of any such phono stages, but it wouldn't surprise me if some existed.

The tradeoff between the first two approaches should, IMO, revolve primarily around the quality of the particular designs, as well as cost, and not primarily on theoretical considerations of balanced vs. unbalanced. Whether or not the rest of the components in the system have balanced internal signal paths is also a relevant factor.

Regards,
-- Al
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The highly respected Aetshetix IO converts balanced to single ended at the input and then back to balanced after the equalization. I don't recall if it just grounds one leg or does some other conversion like a diff amp to SE but it is not balanced all the way through.

In fact for a phono stage it kind of makes sense as you don't have to spend the money to build 2 perfectly balanced RIAA equalization networks for each channel.

The Pass Xono uses number 3, SE inputs but creates an inverted output at the end of the chain to create a balanced output. It is not really "fake" in that it doesn't have the illusion of balanced in with XLR jacks, it has RCA inputs.

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Thanks, Herman. To clarify, my no. 3 was just intended to refer to xlr input connectors, not rca's, which of course are single-ended but make no bones about it :-)

Best regards,
-- Al
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actually, a phono stage could use RCAs as balanced inputs if they float the ground. That assumes that it's not grounded at the turntable but I think that would be unusual.

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The manual for the Aesthetix IO indicates on page 8 that its front-end stage is single-ended, with the second stage converting to balanced, and the rest of the signal path, apparently including a passive equalization circuit, being balanced.

So a "fake" xlr input does not necessarily equate with low quality, and may be provided simply as a convenience feature.
A phono stage could use RCAs as balanced inputs if they float the ground.
True enough.

Best regards,
-- Al
I'm going to leave the part about whether balanced is better than single ended at the tonearm for those who enjoy mental masturbation.

As for using the adapters, Doug is right on. You will hear the degradation even if you use Rat Shack lamp cord. Even the good ones build for Doug have a sonic impact. Don't think so? Cut the connectors off your cables and direct wire them, then come back and tell me that short piece of metal can't possible make a difference.
Right on, Dan_ed. The only good connector is no connector. But sometimes they are unavoidable. I for one wonder why the SE standard is not BNC instead of RCA. BNC would seem to have the potential to sound better.
My experience is that adpators are not a good idea- they will rob the system of life and impact. So my vote is to change the connectors on the end of the cable.

The advantage of running balanced in the phono is (especially if you run LOMC) that the cable will have no audible effect on the sound (and also the Common Mode Rejection Ratio of noise that occurs at the input if the phono section is balanced). I've seen a lot of audiophile search for just the right-sounding cable in the phono rig; with balanced the only thing to do is make sure the cable is wired right. If so you will hear no difference between a cheap cable and an expensive one.

You would think that this is a major boon but I am constantly surprised at how many audiophiles would rather have the talking points of using a more expensive cable.
I for one wonder why the SE standard is not BNC instead of RCA. BNC would seem to have the potential to sound better.
Yes, RCA's leave a lot to be desired, including the fact that during insertion the signal pin makes contact before the ground sleeve, and during extraction breaks contact after the ground sleeve. Which means that a very large transient might be put into the system if the cable is accidentally yanked out while everything is powered up. But the superior impedance control that BNC's provide is irrelevant at analog audio frequencies, and I suppose they cost a bit more. The main reason BNC's are not used for single-ended phono signals, though, is probably just that RCA's became the de facto standard many moons ago, and no one wants to step out of line. My vintage Mark Levinson ML-1 uses Camac Lemo connectors, which are far superior to RCA's, but forces the use of unconventional cables having Lemo's on one end and RCA's on the other end, or else (gasp) Lemo to RCA adapters, which is what I use.

Best regards,
-- Al
"As for using the adapters, Doug is right on. You will hear the degradation even if you use Rat Shack lamp cord."

Agree, but the question IMO is not only whether there will be some loss of fidelity now, but how the OP can best get to his next levels of performance. The OP is adding an analog source that retails for >$5000 and has not yet decided what amplification upgrades to consider, if any.
As good as the NAD is for $200 gear, I would bet good money that he will very soon be in the market for a comparable phono pre-amp, etc. Since he hasn't ruled out balanced amplification as an option, why perform a modification that you may want reversed in the near future?
Having owned the NAD amplifiers, and also having used XLR-RCA adapters with Ayre and Jeff Rowland amps from time to time (JRDG actually supplies them), I can assert that the adapters may not be the weakest link and are worth a try, even if you just borrow a pair.
Franz456, my one experience with adapters is negative. In my case I just purchased a Triplanar VII arm terminated with RCAs and I had an Ayre P-5X which is a true balanced phono preamp (Cart was/is a ZYX Universe X .24mv). I had been using an XLR terminated phono cable with the JWM 10.5 (VPI Aries 2) before the Tri. I got the "Cardas" adapters the same time I got the Tri and in my case I needed an RCA female to XLR unit.

With the Tri and adapters in place I was disappointed. The P-5X has XLR and RCA inputs so I switched between adapters and the reg RCAs and after putting them in the adapters a second time it was clear to me the they were bad. Just as Doug and Atmosphere said, it zapped life from the sound. Yes I am being a bit dramatic but it was more than I would have thought and it was easy to tell the difference.

I do agree with the above post, if you want to go that way, try some cheap ones first.

TD
TD, I don't know about the Cardas adapters, but the RCA-female to XLR-male adapters that I have seen connect the ground sleeve of the RCA connector to XLR pin 3, and to XLR pin 1, and to the XLR shell. If the adapter you were using was similar, it would mean that one end of the cartridge coils would have been connected through the adapter to both the circuit ground and the chassis ground of the Ayre phono stage. That would certainly figure to have adverse sonic consequences, in part because it would amount to putting an unbalanced signal into the Ayre's balanced signal path. But as I see it those consequences have no relevance to adapting an XLR output to an RCA input, as the OP is considering doing.

Perhaps some of the negative experiences with adapters that were cited by the others had similar causes?

Regards,
-- Al
Al, good point. I have an ohm meeter and I should be able to test that in the next day or two.

Thinking about it an adapter should have a tiny effect.

Just before the Triplanar here is what I had. A VPI Aries 2 with JWM 10.5 with the standard RCA output block. Having the Ayre balanced P-5X phono pre I special ordered an Audioquest Cheeta half meter (I could go that short) cable that had RCA plug goiing to the VPI rig with XLR for the phono pre. That cable is a balanced cable and keept the +/- phase signals floating even in that confiiguration. This is nothing more than a long atapter! It worked great. So I have a hard time expaining what I experienced with the Triplanar continous cable from cart clips to RCA plugs and the RCA/XLR adapters. But taking them out made clear difference.

TD
Al, I have used these adapters from several well respected audio names. I don't wish to list them cuz I don't want to imply that their products are defective. The adapters made for Doug are the best I've heard against the marketed products. The use of an adapter does add to the circuit. I am not against doing so but some methods do work better than others. Then again, no extra component sounds even better. Well, to me anyway. :-)
No i meant no Adapters at all are better.HELLO!!
It's only $12 for the pair of adapters. Just get them and get the system working for now and decide later if you want to reterminate your connectors to conventional RCA plugs. In the meantime think about buying a soldering iron and learn to solder and it will save you a lot of money in the future.

Of course no adapter sounds better than having adapter, but sometimes people just don't want the hassle. And that's okay, too.

_______
Hiho, This hobby is ABOUT hassle. No-hassle solutions are barred. It's not ok to avoid hassle.