All of my equipment is fully balanced (XLR connections) but also has RCA terminals. Musically I have compared the two and choose to stay with RCA ICs. To each his own. Craig
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Balanced connections theoretically will povide a tad more intertransient silence, but often you will discern no difference between the two, if your setup is low on noise anyway. I happily use both types in my system, but prefer XLRs for practical rather than sonic reasons. Your sense, that it will sound fine either way is probably right on the dot. Besides, as Craig rightly says: To each his own.
There is more sonic difference's between XLR vs RCA, take for example the single box CD/Players with Digitial or Analog Volume, The out-put on the single ended out of the units use (in most cases) 1 dac per channel where as the balanced outs (if they have it) use 2-6. In the case of preamps, most preamps have a higher voltage output with XLR vs RCA, witch in turn giveing you a higher gain at lower volumes. I have a balanced & single ended preamp that in balanced gives out 4x12db gain and in single mode only gives out 2X6db. I am a XLR guy, Its dead quiet and hassle free when I am doing any cable switching, those locking WBT's can be a pain in the A#$, if you know what I mean.
If your equipment have both outs/ins XLR and RCA more-likely it's not balanced. The true-balanced equipment has only balanced outs and that where it makse the point and sence. There has to be an output transformer present that separates positive and negative signals onto different signal wires. If you open up the cover you will realize whether the equipment balanced or not.
I always prefere the equipment that has either one of... instead of having both.
See the similar thread in the cables area, but XLR is a connector, it is not the same as "balanced." You can use an XLR connector for a balanced signal connection.
The benefit to a balanced send and receive is a very high imunity to noise and hum from sources external to the cable. This is due to the CMRR (common mode rejection ratio) being high for most balanced input circuits (including transformers). If you do NOT have a true balanced input circuit you get little benefit from a balanced cable.
The other part potential benefit of the typical (not all) balanced line is that it is set up for low Z (600ohm nominal), which makes it much easier to have long runs of signal without degredation. The actual cable plays *less* of a role than with high Z single ended runs.
The kicker is that equipment that has both "RCA" and "XLR" outputs *often* use different circuits as the output/input driver(s) for each - so the sound is not identical due to the differences in circuitry. It is impossible to predict which circuit will be superior sonically - of course there is physically more complexity to the balanced output design when implemented with active circuits (as opposed to a simple transformer, but then you get a transformer!). Some folks prefer simplicity over complexity for the sonic results. Ymmv.
the number of dacs in a cd player for balanced is purely to reproduce the same signal inverted for the noise reduction.
This may lower the noise floor, but does not enhance the dac conversion, it's simply duplicity of effort to get balanced (not a chain of dac chips working in tandem)
yes xlr is better for longer lengths
but one can get great results with rca
my preamp takes all xlr inouts
but I use single ended with cheater plugs on almost all pieces with good results
I've got to admit that Bear spells things the right way.
Having two sets of output circuitry is rather irrational for high fidelity reproduction since
a)they both have a common ground
b)the air acts in this case like a load too and there certainly will be a loss; sometimes the switch is designed to use only one output (something like output-selector) and the last
c)is actual resonant impact of one part to another in terms of transfering microphonics and induced noise from other components(especially if RCA are used and XLR is unused).
So the real truth is that if the component DOES have the true balanced output and RCA together, than you'd better of with XLR.
Also in true balanced connection the per/unit resistance is halved compared to the same RCA. Now that brings something more than noise immunity.