So professional gear uses XLR / balanced cables because it is highly immune to noise. When you are running a cable hundred feet or more from the mic to the mixing board with a variety of big AC noise sources this matters.
The truth is that in homes, with "normal" noises this may not matter or may not make a difference. I have run cheap 20 feet RCA cables without a problem.
I have also had horrible noise problems due to a nearby FM station with very short cables and wished I had XLR cables instead!
Some equipment with XLR connectors is faux. That is, it is really unbalanced as soon as it enters the chasis. Old Yamaha pro amps, as well as some Parasound amps fall into this category. The XLR cable won't make a lick of difference vs. RCA.
" I read that XLR interconnects can maintain the signal over longer distances therefore it is ideal to use an XLR interconnect over rca unbalanced cables."
XLR connectors on a cable does not mean its balanced. It's just a 3 conductor that can be used in other applications. I agree with initforthemusic. Unless you have fully balanced components, its not worth the effort.
So the trick is to ensure your components are fully balanced in order to hear any differences at all even with shorter run cables. This is what I'm gathering from the comments above here. Reason I ask is that I will be getting a preamp that has XLR outputs and would consider using them if it truly makes a difference in sound over unbalanced. If not, then I'll stick with unbalanced cables and just enjoy the music.
i noticed a difference in XLR's ... lowered the noise floor, quieter background noise.... can't hear a thing in my system... my components are balanced as well though... even if your components isn't balanced, XLR still helps... not all XLR interconnects are true balance design... if it doesn't say they are in the description then you better ask the manufacturer ....
(https://www.presonus.com/news/articles/balanced-unbalanced) Some fully balanced devices(like my BAT VK-D5) will output twice the voltage with their balanced connection, and will also vary impedances, which may sound much different than their single-ended connection, depending on things like whether the device being fed’s input is truly differential, it’s impedance, etc. Here’s an article that notes some of the variables, in it’s measurements/comments: (http://www.stereophile.com/content/balanced-audio-technology-vk-d5-cd-player-measurements#MxCpgkJ7CX...) Keep in mind, if both devices are fully differential, more voltage/headroom=louder=sounds better to the ear, and may actually measure better(freq response), in some cases.
" Reason I ask is that I will be getting a preamp that has XLR outputs and would consider using them if it truly makes a difference in sound over unbalanced. If not, then I'll stick with unbalanced cables and just enjoy the music."
Again, having components with xlr inputs and outputs, does not mean its balanced. Its not a small percentage either. Over 50% of xlr components fall into the single ended category. List some of the preamps you're looking at and I'll show you how to tell the difference.
Hi sfall..the only preamp I'm looking at right now is the Rotel RSP 1582. I'm waiting for the new boards to be installed at the factory so its just a simple plug and play when I do pull the trigger. Is Rotel gear truly balanced from their preamps to power amps? The RSP 1582 has balanced XLR inputs on it as well.
" The Rotel RSP 1582 has XLR inputs and outputs but it's not really balanced unless you have very "noisy" environment I really don't think the XLR cable will make any difference. "
Having a noisy environment doesn't determine if a component is balanced or not, but I think I know what you are trying to say. I've had several Rotel components over the years and they all had xlr connectors but were single ended. I was kind of surprised when I checked the specs on the 1582, because it looks like it is, in fact, truly balanced, but not fully balanced. I got this info from Rotel's website.
Input SensitivityLine Level Inputs (RCA): 250mVLine Level Inputs (XLR): 500mVPhono Input (MM): 3.2mV
Preout LevelUnbalanced (RCA): 1VBalanced (XLR): 2V
Input ImpedanceLine Level Inputs (RCA): 100kΩLine Level Inputs (XLR): 100kΩPhono Input (MM): 47kΩ
NOTE: Do not connect both the RCA and XLR to the same amplifier at the same time.
2 different specs for input sensitivity and output level, but none for input impedance, along with the note about the outputs, would suggest the 1582 balances the signal on the output.
It looks like the Rotel is truly balanced on the output. What that means is the signal is converted to balanced right before it gets sent to the amp. For a component to be fully balanced/differential, they have to double up on all the components in the signal path, and its very costly to do so. Even more so because its a HT preamp with a bunch of extra channels. Also, a component can't be run balanced and SE at the same time. There has to be some type of switch.
What all this means for you, is that you really don't need to be concerned with any of your source components. There should be no difference between rca and xlr. Going from your preamp to power amps, maybe. If you need to run long cables to your amps, you may hear a bit of improvement with balanced cables. (But only if your amps are truly or fully balanced as well). My personal view on this is you should buy the Rotel even though its not fully balanced. If I was looking for a HT preamp in that price range, I would buy it without hesitation.
Thanks for your comments and looking up the specs on the RSP 1582. I will be picking up the RSP 1582 in the near future. I have no plans on adding Dolby Atmos and DTS: X at this time and will just build a 7.1 setup instead. I may wait to decide which cable I should get although my dealer is offering me a nice deal for the unbalanced Audioquest Water rca interconnect cables. The comments on here from other members is much appreciated for sure. I'm still on the fence about it but may just stick with unbalanced interconnects. One thing is I always have the option of converting these to XLR interconnects at anytime.
" cable I should get although my dealer is offering me a nice deal for the unbalanced Audioquest Water rca interconnect cables. "
That's a good choice. It's pretty hard to screw up with AQ. They sound good in just about any system. And like your dealer said, they can be converted to balanced at any time. AQ puts 3 discreet solid core conductors in they're IC's, so it's easy to convert.
I hear you both on the locking portion of XLR connectors. I had some rca interconnects that were loose fitting. Although they didn’t’t come out I would question the build quality of the interconnect. Of course I could’ve just returned it, but felt as long as it doesn’t come loose I was willing to take that chance and live with it. Its all good and no problems even now.
As several people have commented, if components have fully balanced connections, the balanced XLR connection does present an improvement over single-ended connections. I connect my fully balanced PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Classe AMP2 using a Pangea balanced XLR. As much as I did not want to eliminate my Absolute Sound Class A preamp...the sound difference was just to much better by directly linking the balanced components.
I was using AQ Water XLR's from my DAC to my amp, both balanced. I replaced my 3k DAC with a 12k DAC. Before I removed my old DAC, I tried a pair of High Fidelity Reveal RCA cables. They sounded much better & bigger cleaner sound stage. If I would of done this first, I would of never bought the 12k DAC.
Musicfx..so did you regret your purchase? I use AQ King Cobras right now and they sound fine for me and my Rotel gear. From all I’ve read cables are system dependent and subjective in terms of what one hears and is happy with what they hear as well(but lets not start that debate as the focus is on XLR's and the differences between unbalanced and balanced). I’m looking forward to AQ Water interconnects balanced for now. I’ll go that route until I can see if my dealer will let me borrow a pair of AQ XLR Water interconnects and make a comparison for myself. Also it is the best I can afford right now anyways is the Water interconnects plus I like AQ products and have them in my current system and am happy with them.
2007audioman, I am now happy with the new DAC, just been switching cables around. It is quite amazing. The AQ XLR's are very good with my new DAC although the Reveals are even better, but twice the price. I did order a pair of Reveal XLR's and will use them & use the Reveal interconnects with my phono stage. I kept one pair of AQ Water XLR's to use just for MQA with my music servers DAC. As far as AQ, I use their Diamond USB, Vodka optical and Comet speaker cables and am very happy with all of these.
Experimentation with Single Ended RCA interconnects and XLR interconnects may prove enlightening.
Many preamplifiers have no issue driving single ended interconnects for a fair distance. My interconnects are 5' long and I have no issues. It can also help to use shielded cable in your interconnects if you happen to find some artifact or noise with single ended. Belden 9259 is inexpensive and a wonderful sounding interconnect.
In general terms XLR interconnects have the most benefit in home theater configurations. Home audio rarely benefits unless your circumstances are unusual.
I have not seen a locking RCA. Could you enlighten me?
The reason I like the way XLR's lock in place, is primarily when I am swapping out one piece of gear or cables from my pre-amp. I have to push my pre to the back of it's shelf, disconnect IC's, reconnect IC's, and then pull the pre-amp back to the front of it's shelf. As carful as I am, there is always the risk of an RCA slipping out(It's happened to me before). Not so with the XLR's. I'm sure that many members can relate to this issue. Again, I am NOT referring to any sonic differences between the two. That's a whole other can of worms.
I have not seen a locking RCA. Could you enlighten me?Sorry, offering enlightenment is above my pay grade. ;|
But if you're interested in locking RCA connectors, look into WBT and DH Labs. There are probably other vendors as well.