Should I upgrade to XLR interconnects?


I recently purchased a Marantz SA-11S3 SACD player to pair with my Marantz PM-11S3 integrated amp.   The SA-11S3 has balanced outs and the PM-11S3 has balanced ins.  Currently I am using RCA interconnects.  Is there any benefit to upgrading to balanced for these particular units? I do not want to drop big bucks on new cables if the benefits are minimal.
sjtm
YES!  There is a big benefit - solid connection - lower noise - better sound quality.

They need not be expensive - get pro XLR cables - they are as good as audiophile cables IMO.

http://www.markertek.com/product/sc100xxj/canare-star-quad-microphone-cable-3-pin-xlr-male-to-female...


OP,  

In theory, balanced cables makes sense over longer runs. As you may know this, the XLR connection carries a balanced signal. The signal through XLR cable at the receiving equipment, any noise that is common to both the hot and cold pins is cancelled out. This makes a lot of sense in recording studios where long runs of cable are often needed to carry the small voltage signal generated by a microphone (in terms of hi-fi) over very long runs of cable. In a home based system, the longest interconnect is 1 or 2 meter and the signal is up to 4 volts, the need for XLR connections is more questionable. The most important thing is sound quality, and this is harder to be certain about as this very much system dependent. In some systems XLR connection sounds better than the RCA and vice versa. 

I would strongly recommend that you try both connections and decide for yourself which is the better sounding connection for you. Try good quality IC's from The Cable Company as they have a huge lending library and generous return policy. 
Get some Mogami xlr's from guitar center and check out the sound. I doubt any benefit to be had. Much gear with xlr inputs then converts to single ended. It depends if the gear is truly balanced
Alan
I checked your integrated. It is not a balanced design. It is single ended and probably will not benefit from xlr cables. Stick with what you have
Alan
No brainer. XLR should be equivalent sounding but in addition XLR negates a whole host of ground loop and other issues - so performance will always be at least as good but can often be better in many instances.
What RCA style interconnects are you using?  Both you amp and SACD player are fully balanced designs and are intended to be linked via the balanced (XLR) input/outputs.  Whether or not you will hear a meaningful sonic improvement is a question that only you can answer after trying and comparing both.  There are retailers that lend cables for you to evaluate.  Going that path will minimize the initial financial impact of comparing.
The devil is in the details here. Manufacturers call XLR inputs "balanced" in their literature, whether or not the circuitry design is truly differentially balanced or not.

If your gear is not differentially balanced, it probably uses an opamp in the input/output stage of the XLR circuit which is almost always detrimental to sound quality, and many times significantly so.

If your gear is differentially balanced, then using XLR cables is advantageous, not only because it cancels incoming noise from upstream, but usually provides +6db of additional gain.

Marantz states "Line level inputs feature unbalanced (RCA) and fully balanced XLR options for maximum connection flexibility." in the literature of the PM-11S3. The use of the word, "fully" should mean that it is differentially balanced. Their literature for the SA-11S3 states, "The sophisticated fully differential analog output stages feature our exclusive HDAM SA2 and HDAM technologies,"

I would recommend using XLR cabling in this case. Whether the sonic differences are significant to you and worth the investment will only be known after some experimentation.

Dave
SJTM - Just an FYI - a friend that had an Ayre system with balanced IC’s throughout.

As an experiment, he replaced the Kimber Kable silver XLR's between the DAC and the amp with my my KLE Innovations gZero3 single ended IC’s .

He found the the single ended IC's provided
- a bigger more precise and detailed image
- deeper bass with better control
- smoother top end
- more clarity

The Kimber IC’s were 2 meter silver IC’s, while the gZero3’s were 1 meter copper.

It can really depend on your components also.

Some argue that...
- single ended designs are simpler (i.e. no XLR circuitry) and therefore reproduce music more faithfully.
- some components with balanced I/O’s may be single ended designs under the covers and therefore do not capitalize on the balanced approach.
- the various balanced circuitry implemented in some components may not be of the best quality, resulting in signal degradation.

The best approach in this hobby is to try some cables and see how they react to YOUR components.

Try to get some loaners from hi-fi stores - or go through the process of purchasing and returning them.

Getting the right cable is a little like pin the tale on the donkey - now and again you’ll get it spot on, but more often it’s a pain in the ASS!

Regards...

"Some argue that...
- single ended designs are simpler (i.e. no XLR circuitry) and therefore reproduce music more faithfully.
- some components with balanced I/O’s may be single ended designs under the covers and therefore do not capitalize on the balanced approach.
- the various balanced circuitry implemented in some components may not be of the best quality, resulting in signal degradation."

willie,

Did you read the OP or my prior thread? The OP is not selecting components, but cables. If the gear is differentially balanced, using XLR cables will provide a "simpler" circuitry path than SE.

Dave
I like and use XLR balanced cables and like them over RCA. But just because you use XLR cables does not mean you are a truce balance system from input to out put. A lot of equipment offer XLR hook ups but are not true balanced units. They are single ended inside.
enjoy Pete

Again to be clear, your integrated is a single ended design. It is not balanced
Alan
Hi Alan,

Where do you derive your certainty that this is the case? Marantz’s literature indicates otherwise, but does fall short of stating that the preamp is fully differentially balanced as they do for the disc player. Were I the OP, I would check with Marantz to confirm this for certain.

Dave
I appreciate so many willing to weigh in on this topic.  It appears I have to resolve the question of whether my amp is a fully balanced design or not as this seems to be a significant determinant in choosing to change my cables.  BTW - I am currently using Acoustic Zen Wow interconnects as well as Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables. If I go XLR, I would likely stay with this brand unless there is a far superior choice for the same cost.
Hi sjtm,

Some manufacturers (atmasphere?) posit that when using XLR cabling in truly differentially balanced systems, different brands/models of XLR cables make much less (none?) sonic difference because the differential circuitry inherently cancels noise, thus making the differing noise rejection characteristics of different cable designs insignificant.

My experience is that I do hear differences between brands of XLR cabling in my differentially balanced system, FWIW.

Sorry, no personal experience with your preferred brand of cable.

Dave


In a world of thousands of cable choices who can say? My own experience (40+ years) has been that single ended cables sound better in my reference system.
I think the benefits of balanced cables are clear and should be used, regardless of distance, whenever possible. Some might argue that with data networking (Ethernet) becoming increasingly common in homes and possibly near audio systems that balanced cables are becoming more of a requirement.

There's no reason to buy expensive balanced cables.
http://www.bluejeanscable.com/store/balancedaudio/index.htm

I've used the Belden 1800F cable throughout my system for many years. I like the flexibility and ease of handling.

However, I recommend watching the star quad cable video from Benchmark.
http://www.bluejeanscable.com/store/balancedaudio/index.htm

 It appears I have to resolve the question of whether my amp is a fully balanced design or not as this seems to be a significant determinant in choosing to change my cables.

I don't think "fully balanced" is the question. The important point is whether or not the amp's input is differential. What happens after the differential input is another question and IMO much less important. The common mode noise rejection happens at the differential input.



If your gear is not differentially balanced, it probably uses an opamp in the input/output stage of the XLR circuit which is almost always detrimental to sound quality, and many times significantly so.

Dave, are you saying that an active differential input only uses discrete components, i.e., not op amps? I'd be surprised if that's the case in practice.

Balanced all the way!  
Hi Bob,

What I intended to say is that non-differentially balanced equipment adds a conversion circuit, often using a cheap opamp, to convert the incoming "balanced" signal to single ended at the input stage and then again at the output stage to convert the SE signal to a "balanced" output. This additional circuitry is detrimental to sound quality IME.

Thanks for the correction.

Dave
Hi Dave,

Gotcha, thanks for the clarification.
I tried calling Marantz but tech support has not called back yet.  In the meantime, I ordered a pair of BJC Canare Quad Star XLR balanced cables.  At $65 / pair delivered, I thought I can experiment without spending big bucks.  WE will see if there is any noticable difference.
Most players/DAC´s have double output voltage via XLR. It means more gain and usually better sound. Also more class A if you have class AB amp.
As for my own experience, sound quality is always  improved by the replacement of RCA cable with XLR cable.