First Foray into XLR

I know this is a topic like ‘oil’ or ‘tires’ on a car forum, but I have to ask...

Marantz AV8802a to Odyssey Stratos amp to Aerial 7T’s. Looking for advice on 1M XLR’s from pre/pro to power amp.

I’m skeptical of cables and snake oil claims, but I’m trying to be open minded. I’ve not used XLR before, so I’m not replacing anything, and not looking to spend a fortune, but would like input from others who’ve been where I am.

Best super low priced XLR cable- Mogami 

I’m quite pleased with Acoustic Zen XLR cables 
Clear Day Cables balanced IC are very good for the money. They compete very well with cables 2-3X their price. I don’t recall what I paid but I think they’re around $380 for a 1M pair. Good luck finding them used.
Belden 1800f from Blue Jeans Cable. Check out their site and their cable information. Many pro studios use this combo because of its quality and price.
For me the XLR was better than a RCA cable. First tried a XLR on a Oppo 95 and have never gone back to RCA. Lots of good XLR cables out there. Not sure what your budget is, but i would give High Fidelity Cables a try. They offer a 30 day trial period.
I’m not sure of the budget myself. I don’t want to spend so little there’s no chance of getting a benefit, and/or restricting the performance that’s available with the equipment I have. Somewhere comfortably below ‘diminishing returns’, if that’s possible?
thanks for the responses so far...
+1 re Mogami, specifically Mogami Gold Studio, which is the de facto cable of choice in many professional applications. And like a number of others here I’ve had fine results with it in various home applications at various lengths. And the price is certainly reasonable.

However, while I suspect that using XLR rather than RCA interconnections will make a difference, I suspect that the major contributor to the difference will not be the cable itself, but rather differences between the configurations of the XLR and RCA interface circuits in the two components. And the only way to know which one will sound better is to try them both.

Also, assuming you are using the stereo version of the amp I think it would be a good idea to contact Klaus at Odyssey and ask him what is meant by the word "bridged" in the website’s reference to the XLR input of the amp. Usually that term refers to a technique for configuring a stereo amp such that it can be used as a more powerful mono amp, which processes an input for just one channel. Evidently that is not what is meant here, but it would be good to know just what is meant, or if it is simply a mistake in the description.

Good luck. Regards,
Good point on the ‘bridged’ term. I suspect it’s supposed to read ‘balanced’, but that’s a guess. It was recommended to me by someone who doesn’t sell Odyssey (obviously), but is familiar, that i use the balanced connections as it’s a ‘true’ balanced design. FWIW
Use Mogami, Canare, and Belden cables in my small studio and all are quality XLRs. Prefer Belden for audiophile interconnects as it sounds brighter and more transparent. Mogami will suffice as well.
Again, if you visit Blue Jeans Cable you can read about the relative merits of various XLR types. Canare, for example, has more effective noise shielding than other cables -- but at a frequency cost. Gearslutz has threads devoted to cable topics and there you can find the pro studio perspective.
Have compared XLR to RCA connections in my systems and XLR wins handily -- you can distinguish the difference easily if the surrounding equipment (and especially the speakers) are high enough quality.
@english210 ………………..

Your Odyssey Stratos amp is NOT a balanced amp.  Klaus put the balanced connectors on the amp because there was a demand for it.  If you look inside the amp, you will see they are connected to the RCA inputs.  You are wasting your money going to XLR cables with that amp.  I know because I owned one for 7 years and tried it.  Single ended sounded better!
Thanks for providing that info, Stereo5. So I would think that in this case the word "bridged" in the amp’s description refers to internal jumpers (i.e., connections) between the RCA and XLR connectors, as I’ve occasionally seen the term "bridged" being used to mean "jumpered."

Therefore the signal pin on the RCA connector is presumably jumpered to one of the two signal pins on the XLR connector, most likely pin 2, and the ground shell of the RCA connector is presumably jumpered to the ground pin (pin 1) of the XLR connector. But a significant concern I would have is that since the amp apparently doesn’t provide a switch to select between the XLR and RCA inputs, the other signal pin on the XLR connector, pin 3, might also be connected to the ground pin, or to another ground point within the amp.

If that is the case, connecting the amp to the A/V Processor via XLR cables would short the signal provided on pin 3 by the A/V P to ground. While some components can tolerate that (and there are a few designs that would require it), some cannot (see this thread for example), and in some cases damage to the component providing the signal could conceivably even result, eventually if not sooner.

That issue would not arise, of course, if the design leaves pin 3 unconnected. But in that case it would seem unlikely that going to XLR cables would provide any benefit, as Stereo5 indicated. Unless, that is, the sonics of the A/V P’s XLR outputs are superior to those of its RCA outputs, which I suspect is unlikely in this particular case.

In any event, it sounds like an inquiry to Klaus would be in order before connecting these components via XLR, to clarify how pin 3 is handled.

-- Al
Thanks for the info. I will see what I can out. Thanks...

should I amend the question to ‘what cables of either configuration would people here recommend to someone who’s sceptical but willing to try something more than freebie cables’?

I’m impressed with the 2 channel performance given my current receiver. Imaging is wide and relatively deep, and high. Music as a whole is involving, with pace, rhythm, and no fatigue, individual notes well defined. I’m curious as to what else might be there.....
Listen to Al.

I say Mogami 2534 or Canare 4E6S with ETI connectors. Both are star quad configurations, which suppresses RF. I have come to prefer Mogami because the shield is easier to unravel and terminate, and also because Canare uses teflon dielectric, which releases toxic fumes when heated above 460F.

Both are very high class microphone cables. Terminate the shield on one end only, usually the amplifier end. I use these cables on a high end system and have never been convinced of a reason to change.
If you go XLR make sure you get a "star quad" cable to get the real benefit of the noise rejection. I’m running the Canare and think they are great.

Aside from Studio or large facility applications, balanced XLR interconnects are of little use. They are designed for rejection of electromagnetic interference over long runs in a studio environment with equipment specificly designed for low impedance operation.
In my opinion, balanced XLR connections are useless for Home Audio.
[I deleted the unecessary snark. :-) ]
Anyone who says LRs are of little use is ignorant, or just plain stupid. Sorry

I upgraded my system over a decade ago from rca to fully balanced, but that IS the key. Many manufacturers pay lip service to balanced by providing XLR I/Os BUT their component/s are not actually differentially balanced. In those cases XLRs will not matter. I have my doubts that the OPs kit are
I have a fully balanced Vitus amp and yet still found the rca version of my Townsend F1 Fractal cable sounded better than the XLR equivalent, and better than other XLRs I tried including Transparent cables.
Reasons why XLR interconnections can make a difference in a home audio system, compared to RCA interconnections (although depending on the specific designs that difference may or may not be for the better):

1)The configuration of the output circuit providing the signal is different, or at least should be different.

2)The configuration of the input circuit receiving the signal is different, or at least should be different (apparently it is not in the case of the OP's amp).

3)The impedance relationship between those circuits may be different.

4)Depending on the specific designs of the interface circuits in the two components susceptibility to ground loop-related high frequency noise and low frequency hum may be less in the case of XLR.

5)Depending on the specific designs of the interface circuits in the two components sensitivity to cable differences may be less in the case of XLR. See the post by Atmasphere dated 3-22-2013 near the beginning of this thread, and his answer to my follow-up question later in the thread.

6)And of course the cable and connectors are different.

7)Note that none of the previous factors relate to whether or not the components are "fully balanced," i.e., to whether or not they have balanced internal signal paths. As alluded to in one of the previous posts, XLR interconnections are especially likely to be beneficial if the components are fully balanced.

-- Al
@stereo5 +1

@english210 Since the amp is not balanced, you are probably wasting your time and money. I previously owned an AV preamp and amp which were not truly balanced and there was no significant difference. If you do compare XLR and RCA cables, make sure you adjust the volume to the same level since the balance output is greater which appears to sound better.

Not to open another can of worms, I highly recommend trying Total Contact on your connections. This is by far the best improvement to my system over any cable change. Please no rebuttals. :-)
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tweak 1
"ignorant, or just plain stupid." - Really?

I had a thirty year professional carear in the television broadcasting and audio recording industries!
What, might I ask, are your technical credentials?
I am also very interested in these questions. I have recently moved to all-PS Audio electronics (Directstream DAC to BHK Signature preamp to Stellar M700 monoblock amps). PS Audio says that all these pieces are fully balanced and that balanced interconnects will be better. I do need to run about three meters from the preamp to the amps. I don’t think that’s really long enough to run into noise issues with an RCA-terminated cable, but it is long enough to greatly increase the price of any of the audiophile-type cables.

Under these conditions, is there likely to be an advantage to using balanced cables? If so, can one make a significant improvement to the sound by spending more for medium-priced cables (under $500) instead of using something like the Mogami Gold?

I happen to have, already, a couple of 1-meter, XLR-terminated cables I got years ago from ProAudioLA, made from Mogami 2549. ( This is not a quad cable. At least some of the folks on gearslutz prefer this (the 2549) to the 2534 quad cable used in the Mogami Gold IC’s saying that it sounds more ’open’. (See, for example, this thread: These still cost only about $36 for a pair, but they sound thin and bright to me (if I can trust my aging ears). So far, it seems to me that my medium-quality single ended cables (Morrow MA4) sound better than these cheap balanced cables betweeen DAC and preamp. So I am really wondering if it is worth exploring higher-priced alternatives.
Also, is it safe to assume that an XLR-terminated version of a given cable will sound like it’s RCA-terminated brother? Most cable reviews don’t seem to pay much attention to which version of the cable they are working with. If the design goals for the two sorts of cable are quite different, this seems a bit strange.
In my opinion, balanced XLR connections are useless for Home Audio.
The reason for going balanced is to eliminate cable artifacts.

There is a standard to which one must adhere to gain that benefit. It is often called 'AES File 48'. The point of it is not just long cables! That is a side benefit of the cables not imposing an artifact. Anyone that has auditioned single-ended cables to get the 'right sound' knows what I'm talking about.

The thing is, the equipment used has to support the standard. It sounds like the amp used in the opening post does not- it has a single-ended input and so there may be no benefit at all to using a balanced cable, since the cable will actually be operating single-ended.
I found a pic online that appeared to show a jumper from RCA input to XLR, and given other warnings here and elsewhere, I’m sticking to RCA.

so, for a first-timer stepping up from cheapie interconnnects, what do you need to know from me to make recs that are financially easy to swallow given my doubts, but good enough to be worth the step up. I know that’s throwing chum in the water, but I really have no idea where to star, and by default would just use what I already have...
FYI, RCA-terminated unbalanced cables constructed with the same Mogami 2534 wire that is used in the Gold Studio balanced cables can be obtained here:

Also, keep in mind that most cable parameters and consequently most cable effects are proportional to length.  So the relatively short length you require is likely to make your choice of cables less critical than it would be in many other circumstances.

Good luck.  Regards,
-- Al 
I think chum is an apt analogy. Good luck!
BTW: May I suggest The Cable Company lending library?
I had a thirty year professional carear in the television broadcasting and audio recording industries!
What, might I ask, are your technical credentials?

Impressive, what did you say your credentials are tweak1?
sisyphus, your background makes your lack of knowledge as to why one would use XLR over rca in a typical < 3m audio system (where all components in the signal path are tre balance/differentially balanced even more disturbing

maybe I have bat ears, but I can hear the difference in the same Eichmann XLR cable: 0.5m v 1.0m
Re. Pin 1: In studio facilities, XLR cables usually have the shield (gnd.) lifted at the receive end to prevent ground loops while still blocking EMI/RFI. This is very well known in professional audio circles. There is too much interconnected equipment in the studio to be dicking around with ground loop problems from one miswired cable or a non-standard I/O.
‘what cables of either configuration would people here recommend to someone who’s sceptical but willing to try something more than freebie cables’?
Specific recommendations are next worthless as it is highly improbable that any other listener has your system in your room, listens to the same music at the same levels and has your ears and predilections. Each of the aforementioned will change how one perceives cable sonics.

Any particular cable may make some or no difference depending on the aforementioned parameters and the system in which it is installed.

I am a Grammy nominated recording engineer, built electronics for the industry, installed studios and been an audiophile for more than 60 years.

I put this together to help educate about the fallacy of a magic bullet in cables.

It's really unfortunate that there is so much that is just plain wrong. For example, almost all electronics are unbalanced internally. To use balanced cables, invented by the telephone company to send signal over very long distances and cancel common mode noise at the receiving end, one must add an additional stage on the output to balance and another stage on the input to unbalance. NOTHING is inaudible. Two additional stages will add coloration and masking. Kind of pointless for a 1m run.

Some balanced stages are 'capable' of driving unbalanced loads but can suffer audibly when asked to do so. Often one does as well driving an unbalanced load with just the +phase. Others tie -ve and 0v at the source, leaving the shield unterminated at the destination. Each piece can be unique and can be difficult to integrate. Studios like balanced because it minimizes the aforementioned problems when connection many tens of pieces of outboard gear to many tens of music channels for tens of thousands of possible combination. Home systems are trivial by comparison as they are largely static. 

Sadly, Hi End Audio has largely devolved into "If it don't go, chrome it." See Come Admire My Hi-Fi Jewelry Roger Skoff writes about what things cost, and why.

As far as lifting the shield on balanced cables, either end is fine. Some prefer source and some prefer destination. In decades of exposure to both, no preference was discovered.

ANY and ALL cable auditions should be over a period of a week and 100% refundable. ALWAYS replug existing cables before auditioning new ones. New cables often have manufacturing 'goo' that takes several insertions to remove. Adding contact enhancers is not recommended. 

Your ears and your system change continuously with environmental conditions. Make haste slowly. 99.99% of online audio is fan boy noise!

@almarg ++  one of the saner heads with solid recommendations

I’m a huge fan of Silnote’s Morpheus II XLR interconnects. They only sell direct and that keeps the cost to us much lower for what you get. I’ve got very sensitive Apogee Duetta Signature Series II magnetostatic dipole speaker’s, solid state BAT VK-600 w/ BAT pack connected XLR to my BAT VK-5i tube preamp and XLR to “native” RCA on my Node2 streamer. The interconnects were only $200 a pair and sound phenomenal on this system. XLR does make a difference if you truly have “balanced” components. BAT (Balanced Audio Technology) optimizes XLR capabilities. Give Silnote a call in Roanoke and they will be happy to walk you through all of your questions.


Very clear and incisive, ieales. BTW, most of the better Emotiva equipment is completely balanced internally and you can easily hear the difference/improvement between XLR and RCA cables when connecting this gear.

Think your main point that cables are system dependent should be better recognized on threads everywhere.

Thanks Al and ieales et al. So the moral is, ‘who knows, keep trying til you find what you like’, or alternatively, ‘plug the rabbit hole!’

it does make sense, cables would be another component that can add or detract, to varying degrees, what is ultimately heard. 

I do think, in my application, XLR makes no sense - the amp isn’t a true balanced design, so I’d be converting anyway, and that does seem to be detrimental. 

Everything works as-is, so I’ll pick one pair of interconnects at a time and experiment. 

english210 - This is a lot of discussion, considering that there is usually not much price difference between the RCA & XLR versions of the same cables.

1. If your amp isn't a balanced circuit, it makes no difference.

2. With balanced circuits, you may get a slightly better signal-to-noise ratio with XLR... with the emphasis on SLIGHTLY.  This can be a much bigger difference with very long runs of cable.

3.The Cable Company's lending library is an excellent suggestion. As always, best to hear (anything) in your own system before buying.

My suggestion for a bargain XLR (or RCA) interconnect is UIT (about $800/pr).  Just discovered them and I'm very impressed, esp. at that price-point.

I hope that helps.

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Why replug all cables in a system before auditioning new ones?
-To make sure the connection is sound in the first place, maybe?
Ha ha, "sound", I made a pun! ;-)
I run a Pass preamp and a Pass amp- using this gear, XLR interconnects proved to be noticeably quieter than RCA interconnects. In my book, quieter is better. 

Why replug all cables in a system before auditioning new ones?  
To establish a baseline fresh connection. Unless a connection is gas tight, contaminants in the air can degrade the sound. 

Replugging should abrade these contaminants and restore fresh connections.

New connectors can have manufacturing 'goo' / lubricants, so it's always a good idea to polish well with a clean cloth before plugging into your gear.

DITTO fuse holders! and any other unsoldered internal connection e.g. crimped jumpers so popular today. Once the warranty is up, I solder them!
I always did and still do, only to a point, believe that the main reason to choose XLRs over RCAs is to reduce noise, when long cable runs are necessary.
Recently, while doing some A/B comparisons, with a friend, between a PrimaLuna, Dialogue, Premium HP, tubed power amp and a VAC, Phi-200, tubed power amp, I had a mind changing experience. We intensely listened and compared both amps through a pr. of Wilson Audio, Sophia-II speakers. We listened to the PrimaLuna, using the EL-34 tubes and the KT-88 and KT120 tubes. While the EL-34s sounded smooth and warm, the PrimaLuma needed the KT-88s or KT120s to come close to the overall, dynamics, power and presentation of the VAC. While the PrimaLuna, sounded very nice, indeed, it was not quite on par, in terms of dynamics, detail and overall scope of the stage, with the much more expensive VAC. Then we decided to run the VAC through it’s XLR, balanced circuit. I thought nothing could be better than what we had already heard, but WOW! Switching the VAC to XLR was mind blowing. We switched back and forth several times, ea. time concurring what we heard.
As mentioned by others - running XLRs, if your amp’s XLR posts simply tie into the RCA circuit and the amp doesn’t have a dedicated, fully balanced circuit - will net no gain. I’m now convinced, however, that with a very good amp, having a true, fully balanced circuit - I would choose the XLRs...IMO...Jim
From my observations many people mistake the 6db boost you get from xlr to be "better sound".
I know I did to start
You would need to level match the rca and xlr inputs ( if possible) to draw a more realistic comparison.
Switching the VAC to XLR was mind blowing. We switched back and forth...

Unless the output signal is verified within 0.1db across the whole spectrum, back and forth switching is rather pointless.

If the cables are not identical, then cable deltas could swamp the electronic.

Different connectors of the same type with identical cables can be audible.

Uncontrolled variables have been skewing results since time immemorial.
@ieales We did not simply do A/B switching (I am not a fan of simple A/B switching). We extensively listened to both amps and to the VAC in both RCA and XLR inputs, at various volumes, and assorted genres of music, experimenting with two different, quality RCA ICs - a .5m pair of CablePlex Silvers and a 1m set of low capt. high res 99.9% copper. The result (even when compensating for volume) was consistently, a wider, deeper stage, with more air around individual vocals and instruments, when the Vac was running through it’s balanced circuit.
With your logic, nothing is, or sounds, any different than anything else - it’s just a matter of volume.
Even when adjusting for volume, we did not expect to hear an improvement on the VAC’s already incredible performance, but we did...Jim
I don’t doubt differences were heard.

when compensating for volume
Since you adjusted volume, then you concur that matching volume has merit. Exactly how did you compensate?

With your logic, nothing is, or sounds, any different than anything else - it’s just a matter of volume
Not so. I did not say that. Never have, never will.

I’m not trying to be obtuse, but I’ve endured far too many "night and day" / "blows the doors off" claims only to find that levels were not matched and when they were, deltas diminished drastically.

No mention is made of the driving device.

The effects ascribed to the XLR input could be impedance mis-matching. The VAC Phi200 does not list bal/unbal impedances.

The Phi200 manual states there are switches for bal/unbal. What was the power setup and is there a possibility of a ground loop with the unbalanced that is mitigated in the balanced mode?

When properly implemented, there should be extremely little difference between balanced and unbalanced at home HiFi distances. I spent a couple of decades designing electronics [not power amps] and made sure there were none.
Looking back, I've got to laugh a bit at my own statement, as mind blowing and blows away aren't terms I usually use when describing, what are usually quite subtle differences, when comparing A and B, very nice components. I would not say that the difference was mind blowing, just the fact that it could possibly sound any better than it already did, along with the overall engagement of the performance.
As far as the driving device - not really sure which of John's collection of players and DACs he was using, certainly one far and above anything I have. Our original quest was to compare the The PrimaLuna to the Vac. We did not switch around any components - other than the two amps and cables, along with a bit of tub rolling with the PrimaLuna.
All of my equipment is single ended and in all, have been quite happy with what I have, including my silver RCAs...Jim

The first thing to be skeptical of is manufacturers who install XLR I/Os, but their component/s ae not balanced internally. How is one to tell anything in tht case? 

Reviewers who are tasked with reviewing actual XLR kit seldom have differentially balanced systems. How many times have I read them say "I hear no difference" Meaning Editors should be shot, then hanged, then shot again for such stupidity, and yet, it has gne on this way fo decades. I used to send nasty letters to such editors, but finally gave up. You can't fi stupid. 
"Reviewers who are tasked with reviewing actual XLR kit seldom have differentially balanced systems. How many times have I read them say "I hear no difference" Meaning Editors should be shot, then hanged, then shot again..."

...then disemboweled and hanged too? How Medieval!