Should I switch to a preamp with balanced outputs


Hello all,
I'm just looking for opinions here. I recently acquired a Belles 350a power amplifier from my dad. I am currently running a Conrad Johnson PV-7 preamp. I wondering if it would be a huge benefit to switch my preamp to one with balanced outputs. I really love the CJ's sound with the tubes I am running in it plus it has a killer phono stage. My budget for a new preamp would be around $700.00. Any recommendations? The amp/preamp combo sounds great to me (which I know is the most important thing). Would the sound be dramatically improved with balanced interconnects?
I've never used balanced IC's so I'm not sure if I'm missing anything.
Thanks for any input.
Skipper320
skipper320
I have experimented with all single-ended vs. all balanced. There are many factors that would influence the outcome, but in my test I actually preferred the single-ended option. As a result, I had a fairly lengthy talk with the cable manufacturer, who said that results can be system dependent and it is not unusual for single-ended arrangements to outperform balanced. This was unexpected given the emphasis on balanced from many high-end equipment companies.
You would be wasting your time and money. Nothing for $700
would come close to what you have. BTW,where can you get a new
preamp with a phono stage for $700?
For audio I prefer single ended if I can get it. That being said, there is so much more to sound quality than if the piece is balanced and single ended. I think the hype on balanced for home audio is just that in most cases. I would stay where you are at.
I wasn't looking at something new. I was leaning towards something like a classe dr-5
Well excuse me you did mention new in your thread. I owned a classe preamp years ago and it was real nice but it still is not better than what you have now. But if you want to make a change go ahead and do it. You might regret the musicality of tubes. Good luck!
+1, Yogiboy.
I would stay with the equipment you have because you like the sound and thats the most important factor as far as I'm concern. You don't have to spend a fricking fortune to create great sound.
Over 30+ years I have experimented with single ended vs. balanced and in my opinion unless tou have a really long run for your interconnects you are fine with single ended. I agree with Brauser's comment.
I have a new preamp, VTL 7.5iii, with balanced and RCA options. I switched to balanced because the mfr prefers it. I cannot say I notice any improvement, to be candid.

BTW, I have a Belles 150A Hot Rod in my 2d system and I LOVE that amp. Paired with a CJ PF-R SS preamp (top of the line, its time) and I am very happy.
The reason why I originally went balanced way back "when" was because I saw that I could get 'better' interconnects at a lower cost if I went with balanced. (Pro Audio Gear). I ended up staying with balanced. The old addage is that balanced cables fare better on long runs, but thats from the live music where youre running cables from trailers over 50 meters, etc., and my understanding is that some of those uber long runs had some sort of voltage line amps or repeaters of some sort. In any event, to continue, just because your gear has a balanced conector doesn't necessarilly mean that the circuit is a balanced desgin and takes advantage of that design. Some balanced connections are only to facilitate connection and do not implement a balanced design.
Some manufacturers put balanced connections on their equipment to advance their "higher quality" aspects of the piece. There are many XLR equipped components that aren't really differentially balanced...have two complete circuits one each for the + portion, and one for the - side. I have Ayre components that does do this... and using balanced operation sounds way better than single ended.
Years ago when I had a Threshold T2 preamp and a Threshold T400 amp, both had XLR and RCA outputs. I had two dealers willing send me VERY expensive cables of both types. I experimented with every cable until I was blue in the face.
In short, I could here no difference in the best RCA cables verses the inexpensive RCA cables. The Transparent Reference XLR cables made the biggest difference. Instruments had more air and separation around them. More meat on the bone too with deeper bass. I had settled on the transparent reference as the cables I thought I'd die with. After a divorce, I sold most of it to buy a house. I now see transparent selling cables for STUPID amounts of money. I'm using Transparent Super XL balanced these days. I do see that the older transparent cables hold their value rather well. If you can be happy with what you have, then good for you. Try not to let it drive you crazy. Good Luck. Joe
SE versus balanced is largely a matter of taste and layout. If you have long cables from amp to pre-amp, you're probably better off using balanced. If not, SE works fine. For me, SE sounds consistently better--more liquid and dimensional; balanced sounds more detailed and articulated but flatter and less engaging. This is ture for me over a variety of very good amps using a fully balanced pre-amp. Maybe a different pre-amp (mine's a VAC) would tilt the balance toward balanced, as it were, I don't know. I have identical sets of cables terminated RCA and XLR, and I keep trying balanced but always go back to SE. That's just me. Others consistently prefer the opposite.
Keep what you currently have. You are very happy and enjoy the sound, that is the most important criteria. I see no reason to pursue balanced.
If you already have all the gear and it sounds good the way it is, leave it alone. Just because you change to a balanced preamp doesn't mean the only changes you will hear are from the balanced operation. It will still be a different preamp and will most likely sound completely different than you CJ, balanced or no. Also, its not very likely that you will be able to get a preamp that sounds at least as good, if not better than your CJ for $700.
I've used balanced mic cables in pro audio for centuries but for hifi isn't it a gear specific thing? I read reviews where the reviewer finds the balanced output (or input) sounds better sometimes, but others show no difference. Long cables...balanced of course...I use short balanced cables mostly because I like the "canon plug" connectors, but my power amp input ties two pins together anyway thus somewhat obviating the benefit of the balanced cable from my ACTUALLY balanced preamp, so I guess you gotta try variations. If there's no noise I figure you're doing fine.

Skipper320 hi, I believe you want to know is there an advantage using balanced (xlr) over single ended (rca)?

The short answer is NO, if the interconnects are around 5mt or under, and not passing next to any heavy noise noise generating equipment EG: a switchmode transformer.

The only time (xlr) can have an advantage over rca is "noise" if the interconnects are >10mt long

Even then, sadly many poweramps and preamps I've seen, use an opamp to create a balanced inputs or outputs, only to be really a single ended in design, these definitely sound better via their single ended inputs or outputs because all you are hearing via the balanced, is an opamp in the single path before the discrete rca circuit.
And I've seen this on some high end equipment!!!!!!

Cheers George
Most great sounding pre amps do not even have Balanced connections. I'm not sure what the Question is? XLR connections are really meant for long cable runs, that's why its used in professional studio and stage environments. All balanced does is provide a third wire as a complete separate ground as well as providing 2 lanes for Positive and Negative to travel. Un balanced design is simpler and that's why many tube preamp designers avoid the more complex design of balanced. I have used both and I have heard no significant sonic benefit from one over the other. SO if you love the sound of your CJ ...I would KEEP it! at this point things get different not always better.
If your current combination sounds great to you, $700 certainly will not bring a huge benefit that you are seeking.
Just enjoy what you have, and don't worry about RCA/XLR.
Agreed, keep what you have!
Thanks for all of the replies! I think my question has been answered.
The only reason to use XLR is if there is no other option. I have switched to ARC, which only has XLR inputs on a power amp, so no choice. What you have to avoid is RCA to XLR conversion cables, that will degrade the sound
I have a CJ pre and a amp that takes both RCA and XLR. One of the amps had the RCA go out. I was told to get a switching controller. Went to Ebay and found a used Henry Engineering Matchbox HD for under a $100 that allowed a interface from CJ RCA to the amp XLR inputs. What a difference it made I could hear the skins of the drums vibrate. (Read my forum on How do you like the Parasound P5) That one experience was a huge eye opener and has me asking the same question. You may want to try just getting a separate controller that allows the cables to be interfaced.