I found that the quality of the interconnect matters more than if it has a XLR or RCA connection. I couldn't hear a difference using the same exact cable from my phono stage to my preamp via XLR or RCA. I did hear a huge improvement using a better cable (like Acoustic Zen Absolute Copper) over something like Blue Jeans cable XLR. Over longer distances you may hear more of a difference. I do use XLR interconnects for the positive click connection and that subliminally I feel it should sound better.
32 responses Add your response
This is an oft-repeated question. XLR inputs and outputs generally are associated with balanced operation, but for balanced operation, you need a balanced circuit or, second best, a single-ended circuit that presents a balanced output or input, via the use of transformers or active devices. I doubt that your units both contain true balanced circuits, but you need to find this out. In some (worst) cases, the XLR is feeding a single-ended circuit, which is no different from using the RCA connection. (It's no trick to wire the XLR to output or to drive single-ended.) Some people come away therefore with the possibly false impression that XLR, i.e., balanced mode, makes no difference.
Thank you for reply. I haven't used Acoustic Zen, but will check it out.
I've tried to look on the specs in both the manuals of the Cambridge, and PS Audio. Not sure if either use "true balanced circuits" or not, it is not stated. The Cambridge manual just states for the "best" connection, to use the balanced inputs.
@robelvick - I’ve compared a copper based RCA IC to a Silver based XLR IC and found the RCA cables were superior to silver XLR across the board - and that was on on a $50k Ayre based system - my friend who owns the system also agreed - strange but true - but that’s just one case.
The RCA was from KLE Innovations and was the gZero3 model
- the Silver XLR was from Kimber - I think they were comparable price wise - around $400us/pair
The entire gZero Line is superb and very good "bang for the buck" - even at those prices.
I've owned the gZero20 and it was an excellent single ended cable.
If your IC’s are really long (over 20 ft) XLR will provide better quality sound than single ended designs - in "noisy environments" i.e. lots of RFI/EMI XLR will sound better regardless of length - but that’s in someting like a recording studio where cables lie all over the floor - in the home environment it’s much quieter
If you are looking for more affordable cables then an XLR IC will probably provide better sound than a similarly price single ended IC.
Take a look at what DH Labs has to offer - their Silver Sonics are good and very affordable
Also Signal Cable has some great XLR products like this...
Anticables also has some really nice single ended and Balanced cables that look really different and are good performers
There are many other to choose from - have fun
Hope that helps
Canare L4E6S microphone wire is about the best you can find for analog. Neutrik connectors are good. Many places sell that combo. The wire won't necessarily sound better in most situations but it may pick up less hum in a challenged application (close to mains power or transformers) due to the design.
Thank you for all the suggestions, everyone!
I'm still curious to whether or not the two components in question have true balanced circuits as @lewm mentioned.
Is anyone familiar with the PS Audion NuWave phono converter and/or Cambridge CXA80? I've looked at everything I could find online, with no luck.
Just based on their respective price categories, I would guess that neither is true balanced, but either one or both may use one or another way of converting its input or output to balanced mode. The fact that Cambridge recommends the XLRs sort of suggests it is built that way.
As to the idea that XLR is inherently superior to RCA, regardless of the circuitry, there is some reason to suggest that an XLR is in fact just a better connector. However, I have to take issue with Shadorne; in a single-ended circuit using RCA interconnection, there is one "hot" lead and one ground lead; the ground side generally carries both audio ground and chassis ground, if the two are intermixed because of circuit design. If you run a single-ended circuit using XLR connection, I suppose you could run the audio ground on one pin and chassis ground on the other, with one pin left over for "hot". (That would typically be pin2.) That might be advantageous, but it likely would require some internal re-wiring of the two pieces of equipment being connected, because chassis ground and audio ground are usually one and the same in SE gear. Could be done, I guess.
I'm still curious to whether or not the two components in question have true balanced circuits as @lewm mentioned.The reputation of both these companies is stellar, so I would have to believe they are true Balanced implementations.
But - to avoid the guessing - contact each company and ask them !
XLR is no longer just for the high-end esoteric builds - Lots of companies are using them
With the IC’s available these days it costs just pennies to include XLR. Yet another reason to believe they are true balanced implementation.
FYI - my Simaudio Moon phono stage is a true balanced implementation and cost only a little more than the PS Audio unit.
Dear Willie, It costs more than "pennies" to render a circuit in true balanced topology. Compared to an identical circuit in SE topology, the parts count may be doubled or very nearly doubled in order to build that same circuit for true balanced operation. Then, you end up needing a larger chassis and a more elaborate power supply, all of which can also add to costs. To say that the OP's gear may not be true balanced internally is meant as no insult to the companies that make the gear; it's just simple economics vs the retail prices of those components. When you mention IC's, yes, it's possible to stick an IC on the output of an otherwise SE circuit and convert its output to balanced mode. That strategy can sometimes result in the situation where the SE output sounds better than the balanced output. (I am not saying this is always the case.)
I've got two complete audio systems in my house, both of which are fairly elaborate. One uses true balanced components (Atma-sphere preamplifier and amplifiers), and the other is completely single-ended (Manley Steelhead driving Beveridge direct-drive speakers). I love them both.
From the PS Audio website on the Nuwave Phono: "..the phono preamplifier built into the NPC is a balanced, class A phono stage from input to output."
Many times manufacturers use ambiguous language to avoid telling you that their product is not "really" balanced. Not in this case. I think we can assume that the Nuwave is a true balanced design. I did not realize that its original retail price was nearly $2000, which does allow for such elaborate design. Too bad it does not offer balanced (XLR) inputs from the cartridge (based on photos of the rear of the unit posted on the PS Audio website), unless those RCA input jacks are wired in balanced mode, which is not impossible.
If the input is an RCA connector, even if its used with a balanced circuit inside, the problem right away is that the user will be tempted to plug in a conventional RCA cable into the connection. The result will be hum, as the shield of the cable will pick up noise.
So if you see RCAs at the input, the only safe assumption is that the unit is employing single-ended operation. If its balanced, it will have XLR connections!
Thanks, Atma. It is indeed puzzling that PS Audio makes a clear statement indicating the unit is truly balanced from input to output, and then provides only RCA inputs. I would guess that what they do is to drive the input end of their balanced circuit in SE mode. I further would guess that they made this choice knowing that most vinylistas have a long history with SE connection between cartridge and phono stage, and perhaps they assumed that many would be put off, if faced with XLR inputs from the cartridge. Note that this model is now discontinued; perhaps its replacement will offer XLR phono inputs.
So, if one side of the balanced circuit is grounded at the input in order to facilitate SE operation, I don't think there would be an inevitable problem with hum. Do you?
@lewm - my apologies I was not really making my point very well - I was referring to the Balun circuitry that removes the noise. There are a few different methods available to the circuit designer, but in today’s world IC’s are a very cost effective method of addressing this particular aspect.
I have asked this question of several audio dealers as well as a Nordost tech support rep. They all said basically the same thing. If you need a long run of cables (4 meters or more), XLR would be better as they can reject induced electronic noise better. But for short runs, they offer no real benefit although they certainly will do no harm.
I second Macnut5 above and other sentiments. Balanced offer better connection, noise rejection, less likely to hum but on short runs (less than 5ft) good quality single ended cables should be fine if it isn't close to anything that can generate noise. . . All my reading and research states that true balanced connections are far superior in all cases and especially long runs, chiefly those with star quad construction. Here is a great article and video that demos a twisted pair of single ended cable and a cable with star quad construction and their noise rejection of commen noise producing things we have in our homes and studios (just a power cord running parallel can add noise).
So even if the balanced connection isn't truly a balanced circuit you can use balanced cables with star quad construction and you can pretty much guarantee a noise free solid connection.
Scroll down the article for the video.
The AQ XLR cables arrived today. They’re plugged in, and I’m on the second go-to LP I use whenever switching cables, components, etc.
Right off the bat, I notice that between tracks there is zero noise, absolutely silent. There is a bit deeper soundstage, and the bass sounds full and rich.
I bought these XLRs used, so I don’t think they need any break in time, but perhaps the CXA80 and PS Audio Phono stage need a little warming up since their balanced input/outputs have never been used. Shouldn’t be a problem, since I’m not leaving the room for a while. :)
Thank you everyone for your help & suggestions.
If you need a long run of cables (4 meters or more), XLR would be better as they can reject induced electronic noise better.That will only be the case if the source output is balanced ( equal source impedance on each half of the balanced output) and the same holds for the load. If these impedances are not equal the CMRR (common mode rejection ratio) will be be degraded. The CMRR determines how well the system (source/cable/load) rejects noise. Quality transformers have a high CMRR. Some OP amp implementations that convert single ended to balanced have lower (sometimes much lower) CMRR. As always the devil is in the details.
Quick questions for anyone who knows:
I also have replaced the RCA ICs from the TT to Phono Stage. They are single cables, and each have attached grounding wires on each end (Left and Right).
The TT and Phono each have one grounding post. Do I connect both of the RCA’s ground wires to the single posts respectively?
You replaced RCA-terminated ICs with XLR-terminated ICs or with new RCA-terminated ICs? The short answer is to do whatever does not give you hum. Nothing will break or blow up, no matter how you hook up those extra dangling ground wires. If you're still using RCA terminations, and if we are correct in the assumption that the balanced input of your phono is configured to accept an SE signal (one end grounded), then audio ground is taken care of by the RCA jack; the collar is attached to audio ground coming from one side of the coil in the phono cartridge to signal ground in the phono stage. In most cases, the shield on the RCA-terminated cable is also connected to the collar of the RCA male plug. The dangling extra ground wire is usually providing a connection to the tonearm body, which may or may not make any difference at all.
Sorry, my questions was a bit confusing. I did get new XLR ICs for the output of my phono stage to my integrated. Those are working great.
Then...I purchased new RCAs from my TT to my phono stage inputs. I have played records with two ground wires connected to the TT and two to the phono stage, and without the grounds connected at all.
No hum, no difference in sound either way I go.
I have asked this question of several audio dealers as well as a Nordost tech support rep. They all said basically the same thing. If you need a long run of cables (4 meters or more), XLR would be better as they can reject induced electronic noise better. But for short runs, they offer no real benefit although they certainly will do no harm.The final sentence in this paragraph is problematic. Balanced connections are useful not just because you can run longer lengths but because they have less sonic artifact.
Put another way, if you have ever had to audition a cable for sound, that is the sonic artifact I'm talking about. Balanced has less of it, even if the run is only 6 inches. So this also means that you don't have to spend a lot of money on the interconnect for it to sound right. It simply has to be built correctly. Usually this means a twisted pair of conductors inside a shield, where the shield is pin 1 of the XLRs and also the tone arm ground.