Balanced XLR or Single-Ended RCA?

Posted by the dood on Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

A question often asked in audiophile circles is “Should I use XLR or RCA interconnects?”. This is a simple question if you have both available to you on all your equipment: Try both, and use the one that sounds better to you. However, when only one or two of your components has the ability to use balanced XLR interconnects, do you buy the other ones to complete the chain? There’s not always a clear cut answer.

The idea behind the XLR balanced cable is the signal is divided among 2 wires, one positive and one negative. Any interference they pick up will be added to both signals, so when they subtract the signals from each other they are always left with the same. So say this is a balanced signal: +1v and -1v. When subtracted it is +1v – (-1v) = 2v. Introduce .5v of interference to both.. they become +1.5v and -.5v. When subtracted they still equal 2v. That is a drastic simplification, but it encompasses the theory.

You can see how balanced configuration is more complicated and requires an additional channel of amplification per channel for the negative signal. More parts = more room for error, which is what some people say. Some say Balanced is only good for long runs, and short runs do not benefit from them. What is your experience?

I personally like the sound i’ve gotten from balanced components. They’ve always outperformed their RCA counterparts in my system.

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