There may be a way out of this dilemma. If the pre-amp supports the full balanced standard, the cables should make very little difference, and you could use much less expensive cables. If you do a search here you will references to pro cables and the 600 ohm balanced standard. Using the adapters does not give you a poor man balanced cable. You would be using single-ended cables with an adapter.
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As you may already know, balanced cables have two conductors plus a shield and single-ended cables have one conductor and use the shield as the negative conductor. RCA to XLR adapters with your single ended cables will not allow your differentially balanced components to work in differential mode.
I have used differentially balanced equipment (Ayre/Krell/Classe' Audio) with the properly configured XLR cables for many years and can attest to the superior sonic performance over using single ended cables with the same equipment. Additionally, I can definitely hear differences between different XLR cables with my equipment. It is possible that a lower-priced XLR cable would sound as good or better than a more expensive single ended cable with your differentially balanced equipment.
Make sure that whatever XLR cables that you end up with have the shield connected at both ends to optimize the noise cancellation benefits of the differentially balanced circuitry. For some reason (lack of proper understanding?), some cable makers only connect the shield at one end and leave it open at the other.
There are some high end interconnect cables that differ between XLR and RCA versions only by virtue of the connectors that are used. In those cases the cable usually contains two conductors that are symmetrically placed within a shield, with one of those conductors serving as the return (ground) conductor in the RCA configuration. I suspect that in most of those cases the shield (if present) is just connected at one end in the RCA version (there are technical reasons for that, in cases where the shield is not serving as the return conductor), and at both ends in the XLR version.
Looking at the photos provided at the Darwin site, my guess is that is not the case with your particular cables, and the wires used for the two versions are different, but I can't tell conclusively. So it might be worth checking with Darwin to see if it would be possible, and make sense technically, for them to reterminate your existing cables with XLR connectors.
Also, I would particularly emphasize this point which Dave made in his post:
It is possible that a lower-priced XLR cable would sound as good or better than a more expensive single ended cable with your differentially balanced equipment.I would not assume that the sonic attributes you have found to be preferable with the RCA-version Darwin cables as used with your previous components, relative to other cables you may have tried, would occur similarly with XLR-version Darwin cables with your new components. Even if the components were the same (which apparently they are not in this case), balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA interconnections operate on different principles, and involve interface circuitry in the components that are being connected that is not the same.
If you would prefer not to make your own cables, as Elizabeth suggested, you might want to consider trying relatively inexpensive Mogami Gold Studio. It is the interconnect cable of choice in pro audio applications, and if you research past threads here at Audiogon you'll find a number of audiophiles reporting its performance as being comparable to or exceeding that of much more expensive audiophile-oriented cables in their systems. Although as might be expected that finding is not unanimous.
Good luck as you proceed. Regards,
I also have a fully balanced tube preamp (Calypso). I use the RCA preamp outputs to my amps as it preserves the tube character of my preamp. As said in other thread, the balanced outputs remove the even harmonics of the tubes which make the sound more flat and less tube like. For the input, the sound of the RCA and XLR is closer and it is not as clear cut. What I would recommend is that you buy some cheap balanced cables and try them on the inputs and outputs. Listen to the difference between them and your fine RCA cables. You should be able to tell if you like XLR on outputs and inputs with your own ears. After that you can decide if spending the money for one or more sets of fine XLR cables are worth your effort.
Great discussion folks. Hope I am not too late to the party. Tony from Darwin Cables, here. Almarg is correct that Balanced and Unbalanced are by their very nature different animals. I take a lead role in voicing Darwin Cables and have specific reference systems set up for unbalanced and balanced cables. I have even tested a few RCA to XLR adapters. I can explain in great detail the attributes of each. Fsmithjack, feel free to call us or message me. Ours is a very low key, personal approach and we look for every opportunity reward our many repeat customers. We do a good deal of R&D and often have prototypes and demo cables as well as sales we advertise on this website. Thanks!
I have tried a couple inexpensive versions of the XLR and neither comes even close to the RCA Darwin's. The Darwin's are just so good I was hoping to be able to cheat and maybe just use an adapter but after all of the great advice and feedback here it looks like there is really no work around other buying all new XLR cables. I really appreciate all of the feedback guys. Thanks so much!!!