New DAC or new cable?

My EE Minimax DAC doesn't have balanced output to connect my Ayre AX-7e. Should I get a new DAC with balanced output or a RCA to XLR cable? Thanks.
Your AX-7e provides rca inputs, as well as xlr inputs, and presumably it converts the unbalanced rca inputs into balanced signal pairs, since it has balanced internal signal paths. So why do either? Just use an rca-to-rca cable.

Doing that would result in some increase in the possibility of ground loop issues, compared to having a balanced interface, but chances are that won't be an issue anyway, especially if the cable lengths are not especially long, and you use good quality (not necessarily expensive) shielded cables. (Susceptibility to ground loop problems is dependent in part on the resistance of the shield or other return conductor in the cables).

And more importantly, I would expect that using an rca-to-xlr cable would result in an unbalanced signal being put through the balanced internal signal path, which is definitely undesirable for many reasons, including sacrificing much of the power capability of the amp.

-- Al
Just go RCA at both ends. That what I did and it sounded great.
11-29-11: Almarg
... including sacrificing much of the power capability of the amp.
Correction: I should have included the word "possibly" in front of this phrase, as it depends on how the design is implemented.

-- Al
Thanks Meiwan and Al. The reason I asked is because many people said the Ayre AX7-e sounds best using balanced input.
Yes, I have read that too, that the AX7e doesn't reach its potential with the RCA inputs. That has to do, in part, with the fact it is a balanced design. Using rca to xlr cable from the Minimax will not change anything-as the Minmax DAC is NOT a balanced design. So, addressing your question in direct terms, you will need a new DAC with true balanced output if you want you AX7e to receive a balanced signal- and make it sound its best (based on what reviewers have said).
I AM FULLY AWAKE NOW! (Inside joke) ;)

This is actually a very good/pertinent question, one which is not nearly as simply answered as one might think. You do not want to do the conversion between RCA/XLR in a cable; you will lose tons of information/sound quality. Even with a good quality RCA/XLR converter you will lose substantially, imo more than if you simply went with the RCA connections. A converter cable/adapter would be my last recommendation.

Do not over-worry about simply going with an RCA interconnect. True, an XLR connection in a situation where all things are otherwise equal would be preferable. I have experienced slight to somewhat significant improvements with XLR over RCA of the same model cables on rigs $30-40K and up.

However, the quality of the interconnect cable itself varies brand to brand far more than many people would expect. Continuously I compare RCA to XLR of differening brands and consistently the superior design of the cable trumps the termination; that is, a better designed cable of an RCA will outperform an XLR of a different brand. Going with a balanced (XLR) cable is no guarantee of the best sound from your component despite the balanced design of the preamp with XLR inputs. You very well may have gotten better sound from a different brand of interconnect with RCA termination. It is also possible that you could switch to a DAC with XLR connections and get much poorer sound.

Thus, unless you actually conducted comparisions between more than one brand of cables - and included an alternative DAC - with RCA/XLR terminations you would not know the outcome of your query, "...switch DAC or cables". I concur with the decision for the time being to go with RCA connections on both ends, the Minimax and the Ayre. I would not throw in the towel immediately if it is less than spectacular; try no less than three or four different interconnects. If you are using a mix of different brands of interconnects try them in different locations in the system; you should hear changes to the sound as you do so. The power cords and digital cable will also play a huge part in the overall sound. This may be more than you wanted in terms of work to achieve your sound, but the effort in the end has the potential to surpass your expectations.

Though I have applied these principles to the components in this particular discussion in my experience they hold true for (virtually) all systems.

I would not recommend switching to a DAC with only 24 bit processing assuming that because it has XLR outs it will be superior to the Minimax's RCA outs!

Well said, Doug, including the inside joke :-)

BTW, I should add that my earlier reference to ground loop effects that are more likely to arise with unbalanced interconnections, which as I indicated can be sensitive to cable differences, pertains not just to the possibility of hum problems, but also to the possibility of low level grunge at higher frequencies, which can result in effects such as reduced "background blackness." Most likely that will not be an issue, as I indicated, but it could be in some systems, and perhaps is one reason that some people have reported better results when providing balanced inputs to the amp.

-- Al
Thanks guys. I've just bought the PS audio digital link iii and will be comparing this using xlr vs mini max dac using rca.