Hello! My name's Cody; I work for TARA Labs. Not here to promote anything, this is just a disclaimer.

It seems that the majority of termination requests we receive at TARA Labs are for balanced (XLR) lines. Personally, I use unbalanced (RCA) interconnects with my Cary system setup, which seems to work quite well. I would be interested in hearing other opinions regarding XLR vs RCA?

(Please note that I have posted this on a few forums. I am not spamming, but rather would like to hear a wider range of opinions. I will make an effort to respond to all appropriate posts.)
What Cary items are you using? I use the Cad 120's amp and the SLP98P pre with Linn IC's. I've used Nordost rca's and really don't know what XLR's would do to improve sound. I even tried xlr's to rca amp to pre and never heard a difference. I love tube sound and Cary really can produce, no matter what speakers I,ve used. Klipsch, Lipinski, Kef, B&W or Wilson. I will never go back to SS unless it is a second system. Nordost Odin full loom? Not for my money, wire just can't be that good no matter what anyone says. Happy Holidays to all.
"It seems that the majority of termination requests we receive at TARA Labs are for balanced (XLR) lines."

Are all of your cables balanced or are you just putting XLR connectors on single ended cables?
Balanced cables offer better noise rejection, are locking and have pins protected from touching. On the other hand they require additional circuitry on both ends. I use balanced interconnect because my amplifier doesn't even have RCA input.
I tried RCA and XLR on my Oppo and the XLR won out easy.
All my interconnects are XLR. What Kijanki said PLUS it's easier to take off and put on so preserves the connectors.
IMO, there is no real benefit of using XLR ICs, unless you require 10m long ICs or your components do not have RCA sockets.

For me it depends on the RCA or XLR electronics and the quality of the RCA or XLR ICs not whether it is RCA or XLR, which is how I hear it.

With RCA ICs, if the noise is well controlled then RCAs can/should sound better than XLR ICs

Unfortunately, XLR electronics remove 2nd order harmonics as part of the XLR noise filtering/cancelling process, which our ears like, but leaves the 3rd order harmonics in place including the noise, which our ears do not like... :)

Even more so, if the Hot and Cold XLR electronics is not well matched then the noise filtering/cancelling process can be even stronger where even more 2nd, and even 3rd, order harmonics are removed. I guess that will provide a smoother, maybe warmer, sound :)
It's driven by what electronic you use. If they are truly balanced designs, then you're better off with balanced cables.
Welcome to Audiogon Codytara. Oh boy, are you ever in for a treat when Audiolabyrinth finds out that you are here! Get ready for a new BFF.

I agree with Onhwy61, it depends on what electronics you use. I've been down both roads, but I'm currently using RCA's.
Welcome Codytara
I tried both Rca and Xlr (Nordost Frey) when I had a Meridian G08 for a source. I would say the sound stage was a little wider with the Xlr. But what I didn't care for was the output was louder with Xlr when the volume wasn't changed. For that reason I chose Rca and that was a good thing when I changed my source to a Naim Unitiserve and dac (no Xlr).

That said I did really like the fact the Xlr's lock in place
Those who concern themselves with the direction in which their cables are connected don't have to worry about that with XLRs, as they only connect in one direction :-)

More seriously, see my comments dated 12-7-14 here, in which I cited many reasons why the performance of the two interfaces may differ, regardless of whether or not the internal signal paths in the components are balanced. The bottom line: "If the components provide both choices, and are not fully balanced, the only way to determine which interface will perform best in your particular setup is probably to try both of them."

-- Al
Most gear today comes with XLR jacks and most audiophiles prefer this type of cable. Unless you have older equipment or tube gear, the choice appears to be XLR. IMO, RCA is fine for shorter lengths but for longer runs XLRs are better for CMRR.
Make and use almost only fully balanced equipment, always use XLR. Our preamps do offer RCA inputs, however when a RCA input is selected it is converted to fully balanced right after the volume control.

On our larger Olympia models we use 75 Ohm BNC connections between the preamps and the power amps.

On a mechanical note the XLR connector is a much superior connector to the RCA connector. Which in my opinion is of MUCH greater importance than the type of wire between the two connection points.

Good Listening all and Happy Holidays

I'd always used RCA connections until my current rig, which has a very long (4 meter) run between the preamps and amplification set. After finding a long pair of balanced cables here for a price I was willing to pay, I gave them a shot between my C50 and MC302, neither of which are balanced. They immediately dropped the noise floor very audibly. My stereo output now floats on a backdrop of complete silence. Nice.

I also tried balanced in a half-meter run between my MVP881BR and C50 to no audible difference I can discern. I left them in place because the balanced cables do have a much more secure connection as noted by others above.

Accordingly, I agree with Al - you simply have to do an empirical evaluation in your rig and decide for yourself.

Welcome aboard and happy listening!
I would not buy any audio equipment or cable without XLRs.
In a nut shell a Balanced signal means better, stronger and cleaner signal between devices.
I prefer XLR connectors. They always fit, never get loose, Sound great, have less metal mass to pass a signal than an RCA typically, although WBT and Furrutech make some good RCA's, I have never had to repair or replace an XLR. I have replaced numerous RCA connectors. I use both, but prefer XLR if so equipped. This is not saying I prefer a balanced circuit, just the connector. The circuit is a different topic. PT
I will repeat again and again, from my experience.
XLR will provide the "gain" that you need when used with a system that has passive preamp. My amp came alive when fed with XLR compared to RCA. Don't know if that was the designer's preference for the amp to sound optimal using XLR input.
"12-24-14: Milpai
I will repeat again and again, from my experience.
XLR will provide the "gain" that you need when used with a system that has passive preamp."

I don't see how that's true. Gain varies from component to component. Also, you can get good results using a passive preamp with single ended gear. The vast majority of passives are not balanced.
Codytara, Given all the different personalities, each with their own individual systems and the many variables, I don't see how you're going to collect any kind of meaningful data here. These days balanced and pseudo balanced electronics seem to be in vogue, not my taste but that's the market. Personally I don't like nor buy into the balanced argument and find SE designs much more musical an natural sounding; but has no effect on your market.


Disclaimer- Dealer
I believe the positive and negative bring in twice the voltage compared to the RCA?
Milpai: 6 dB voltage gain for balanced compared to RCA.
"12-26-14: Sonic_genius
Milpai: 6 dB voltage gain for balanced compared to RCA."

He's right. Its a difference of 6db, not double. The way you worded your other post, you made it sound like using a passive preamp with non balanced gear wouldn't work because there isn't enough gain. Its possible that you may run into that problem given the equipment you have, but its not the norm. In most cases, SE equipment will work fine with a passive.
A voltage difference of 6 db (or to be more precise 6.02 db) = a voltage difference of a factor of 2 = "double" (assuming impedance remains the same).

A balanced interface will usually/more often than not provide 6 db more gain than an unbalanced interface (everything else being the same), but not always. It depends on the particular designs.

I concur with the rest of ZD's post.

-- Al
This voltage gain is furthre reduced in power amp to achieve the same overall game. The only difference is better noise immunity.
Kijanki, in some (and I suspect many) preamps which provide both XLR and RCA outputs the signal provided to the RCA output is the same signal that is provided to one of the two signal pins on the XLR connector. And some power amps which accept both XLR and RCA inputs receive both of those inputs through the same differential receiver stage, connecting one of the two inputs to that stage to ground when the RCA input is used.

If the preamp and the power amp are designed in that manner, when an XLR interconnection is used the differential receiver stage will be provided with twice the voltage differential at its inputs compared to when an RCA interconnection is used. The output of that stage will therefore be twice as great when an XLR interconnection is used, and hence the overall gain will be 6 db greater when an XLR interconnection is used.

Best regards,
-- Al
P.S: For examples of what I described in my post just above, see the output circuit of the Bryston BP4 preamp, schematic here, and the input circuit of the Audio Research VT100 power amp, schematic near the bottom of the page here (click on the image to expand it).

Best regards,
-- Al
... The output of that stage will therefore be twice as great when an XLR interconnection is used, and hence the overall gain will be 6 db greater when an XLR interconnection is used.
Sounds sort of reasonable...
Al, overall gain might be 6dB higher making it uncomfortable to adjust volume. Poor design for no reason.
Hi CodyTara, I talked to devon Scott, welcome to Audiogon, question's like the one's you are asking would be accomadated on the Tara Lab's thread here on audiogon, I am the op on that thread, good to see you around, cheer's.