38 responses Add your response
Yes a lot of preamps are made without balance controls.Less
parts,less noise.A volume or balance potentiometer can ad
noise,distortion,and may need other parts in the signal path
that might degrade the signal.It may be a purist thing,but
the no-balance control idea has been around for years.If you
need a balance control,use a preamp with one.The no-balance
preamps is not a guarantee that it is going to sound better
than the ones with a balance control.
adding the balance control adds another device between you and the music, preamps are that much more transparent without them... My Klyne uses two input "gain" type pots ant then a volume pot, so you raise the gain on each channel so that acts like a balance function. the Klyne series 7 sounds great to me. My Passive unit has just one volume control and is just a bit more transparent and closer to the music than the Klyne, but the Passive's with two volume controls, one for each channel, should solve that balance issue also... The Audible Illusions tube preamps use two volume controls, one for each channel, also to that effect.
Yeah, it is a slight compromise, (for convenience sake), to be without one, to be honest. But it is the best way sonically to make a preamp, IMHO. (My Ayre K-1xe preamp does not have one either.) It basically means that those recordings that are slightly off center, (or that you think are slightly off center), have to be listened to in that way regardless. Occasionally I do wish I had one. But, my preamp sounds so good, that when the soundstage and imaging are centered, (which is almost all of the time), I don't even notice that I am lacking a balance control. Of course this means you have to put in a lot of effort to get your room setup to truly present a centered image and soundstage, or else it will bug the heck out of you. (And I will be completely honest, that it took me awhile to get to that point, but now that I am, man am I happy!)
And I agree with those that don't like dual volume controls, (which can act as a sort of balance control), as they are kind of a pain in the butt. (And, I have found that most of those preamps with dual volume controls don't have a remote because having dual volume controls, while the best way to put in a volume control, usually prohibits the use of a remote control, which means either constantly getting up to fiddle with the volume control until you get it perfectly balanced, or just living with it being very close to perfect. (Which is pretty much like living without a balance control in the first place.)
One of the only true dual volume control preamps with a remote, (that controls the volume), that I know of, is my Ayre K-1xe. And, admittedly, the control mechanism for said remote's volume control is a true Rube Goldberg device. (An amazing piece of machinery, but very complex, due to its use of dual stepper motors, and hence why it was only used in two preamps, the top of the line Ayre K-1xe and the now out of production Ayre K-3xe. And one of the reasons for the K-3xe being out of production is that it was very expensive to make the volume control, when it was only used in a mid-level preamp.)
As a side note, Charles Hansen, owner and designer of Ayre, gave a couple of the remote control mechanisms to his friend and fellow audio designer, Ken Stevens, (of CAT fame), to use in his preamp, (as Ken never uses remotes due to their sonic impact), and while Ken said they worked great, he also said that he reluctantly decided against using them as they were both too complex and too costly to put into his units.)
So basically, it is one of those "You pay your money, and you take your choice" kind of things.
My two cents worth.
Before long, you will be asking for a 'loudness' control. Remember those? I am often amazed that the hi-end thinks convience controls takes away from the 'purity' of the sound. How silly. I have a tube pre-amp with separate channel controls. I seldom use that feature, in that I have a remote that has a balance control.
Most but not in all recordings the singer or main instrument is in the center. If you have a mono switch in your preamp set it to mono, if everything is in the center switch back to stereo and if the singer or instrument is not center thats way the record was recorded. If everything is not in the center with mono then you definitely have a problem. I have more than a few albums that seem out of balance but that is normal again because they were recorded that way. BTW this seems to be more evident the better the system gets, probably because there is better channel separation especially with vinyl.
Ther are a few threads on this subject here on audiogon.
Balance controls are really tricky to implement, but valuable if done right. Tricky as they can cause degradation of the sound the way a volume control can (loss of detail and bandwidth are the 2 big issues).
OTOH if you don't have one, recordings that are poorly mastered or any weird imbalances in your system including room anomalies will not image right. Generally you only need a few db, but IME those that have really highly resolved systems may only need 1/4 of a db of adjustment, while those with poorly set up systems might need considerably more. So the balance control has to be continuously variable and have a little range, yet somehow not affect the sound.
Our solution was to create a control that varies the *gain* of the circuit rather than the level of the signal going to it. This keeps the control out of the signal path. It also limits the range of the control to about 8db, but allows for the micro adjustments that can really make the difference.
I could not do without a balance control. Many recordings are not balanced properly and most rooms benefit from some adjustment. All of the high end preamps that I've had through the years have had this feature. I also believe that most systems would sound better if premium level componets would include some form of transparent equalization along the lines of the TACT unit. Control is a good thing as long as it doesn't subtract from performance.
I think that most people do not have symetrical dedicated listening rooms so balance controls are necessary for many.
I don't think that fewer parts = better preamp. You don't want unnecessary parts in the signal path but I'm sure there are many preamps with balance controls that sound better than many preamps without them.
I would never consider a linestage/preamp without a balance control, preferably operated by remote control. Once you have used a remotely controlled balance that allows for minute balance changes, you will appreciate what that does to locking in the sound. It is particularly important with a phono setup because cartridge channel balance can be quite a bit off.
If it is done with a resistor ladder, and a logic circuit to set each channel separately, there is only one control per channel in the circuit (the same as a volume control without balance control).
I don't use the one in my secondary system and don't miss the balance control in my main system. I really don't know why such a device would be necessary if the system is properly setup. I suppose there may be installations where symmetry or other obsticles interfere with staging that one might wish for a balance control but that doesn't apply to me.
I do have a preamp, designed by Ben Duncan and built by Audio Synthesis, that has a remote and uses an optical system to change balance between the channels but I have never used this feature. I just this minute realized that the preamp I currently use, an Audio Synthesis Passion Ultimate passive, also has the same system [using only one resistor total in the preamp] and also has a balance adjustment. I had totally forgotten about it. So it is either totally unnecessary or absolutely essential, you pays your money and makes your choice.
I bought my preamp, in part, because it offered a large, continuous range of balance adjustment. My room is asymmetrical, so that is one reason. But, seriously, are we to just assume that every recording ever made is perfectly balanced left-to-right? Heck no. Outside of classical recordings, I have heard crazy channel imbalances, which even differed from track to track and LP side to LP side. And are we also to assume that every component and pair of speakers is perfectly balanced internally? That's a big assumption. I bet there are many channel imbalances in audio gear, especially phono cartridges. So, why should we not be able to correct these imbalances and restore the true sound stage?
I think one of the reviewers at TAS refers to balance controls as "sound stage controls". 'nuff said!
Many of us have a slight hearing loss in one ear.Anyone in that boat correlate the difference with the ear exposed to many years of road noise and wind, i.e., the LHS - or RHS for brits? I have suspected for some time this could be the reason for mild HF loss in one ear, possibly exacerbated by the same side being preferred for cell phone use. Another cause for some is probably from shooting guns since hearing protection years ago was not as prevalent as it is today.
My SMc preamp has two or three notches of mild balance correction on each side of the center detent. I rarely use it but it is nice to have for a few recordings that are noticeably out of wack. I do not notice any loss of fidelity when it is correcting balance but my speakers are positioned for optimal balance from my typical chair and even though the effect of the control is mild, I rarely go beyond one notch over. I could probably live without it, and did with most of the 20-some preamps I owned before settling down with the excellent SMc unit.
Unless there is a gross imbalance, it is hard to know what one is missing without such a control until one gets to experiment with such controls. The best way to hear what happens when you change balance is with remote-controlled balance adjustment (instantaneous comparison). Even extraordinarily small changes can be heard, and better balance does improve the sound. I use to have a Mark Levinson No. 32 preamp in my system. This unit allowed for .1 db increments of change in balance and/or volume. I could not reliably hear even a 1.0 db change in volume with most music, but, a change in balance was another matter; I could easily hear a 0.2 db change in balance. When center images where perfectly placed, the sound was better to me. With the Mark Levinson, I could permanently program different channel balance for different sources, which helped with my phono setup because my cartridge had an imbalance of a little more than 1.0 db as compared to other sources.
I insist on some form of balance control, which is second only to remote control of volume level as a must-have feature on a linestage or preamp.
schubert - If your SS pre has a tape monitor output or some sort of home theater pass through, you can route your source components through the SS pre and then into the tube pre, adjusting the balance in the SS and volume in the tube pre. Hopefully, both are quiet enough that the elevated noise floor won't be an issue, or, at least, less of an issue than your current situation.
@wolf_garcia - Well, IMHO, there is more to it than that. When you move your seat, it changes more than just the relative loudness of the speakers. Each position in the room will have its own room response, so if you have dialed your system in for one spot, moving out of that spot has costs, like a change in bass response, or reflections in higher frequencies.
And, I am not ashamed to admit that I sometimes listen to random tracks on my server. Should I move my chair for every new track? Is that a better solution than tapping the balance control on my remote? I am not looking for an abdominal workout, wolf, but rather to relax and enjoy the music (directly centered) in front of me.
Moving an inch or so to the left or right doesn’t change my room response as I don’t live in an oil drum. Also, I don’t actually move around from my carefully calculated listening spot as even without a balance control nothing seems out of balance to any degree that I find an issue with. If my current preamp had a balance control, or my previous one did, I might have used ’em (as, after all, I’m a professional Knob Turner), but somehow I don’t find the need…mixing engineers balance things for me when they mix things (and they might have been told by the producer that everything should be coming out of the right speaker because they’re ARTISTS after all), and I don’t want to insult their skills by re-balancing anything as that could anger them…however, I do re-master their stuff from time to time with my EQ gizmo and can only hope they don’t find out since the last thing I need is angry engineers heaping scorn on me.