Headphones & Amps: Balanced vs Unbalanced

@Hellenback

Now that you are good and motivated :wink: I think it is time for some impressions :wink:

Also the Audeze Mobius is a fun headphone with a lot of the Nx tech built into it… I should bring it to the next meet for you to check out @Torq

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There are certainly other factors, but this statement is largely my guide, both in audio and in most other areas of life when a new toy tempts me.

To give a (rather long-winded) example:

It was around 2910-11 and there were not too many $1000 headphones you could buy off the shelf at your local hi-fi store.
The AKG1000 comes to mind, but I don’t remember other specific models. I think there may have been a Grado @ close to a grand but am not certain.

At the time, “the site that shall not be named” was really beginning to take off, CanJam and Headroom were making waves and headphone gear was beginning to take a big chunk of the audio $ pie.

Sennheiser had to notice the dramatically increased interest in headphone gear.
The HD650 had been a huge hit (even if a bit divisive with “purist audiophiles” re the HD600) and has since attained sales numbers that are likely unmatched in the headphone world.

I remember the praise heaped on the HD800 on its release but also the outcry at the cost by many.
I’m pretty sure much of the complaining came from many who couldn’t afford the new headphone. But I also remember some respected reviewers complaining that it looked “plasticky” and too futuristic.

Anyway, a good friend bought a pair and loved them. We got together so I could hear them and I also loved them. What I loved most was their comfort. They also sounded phenomenal…except for the bass.
I won’t go over everything that’s been attempted, both by Sennheiser and individual “modders” to address the lack of fullness of the bottom end on the HD800 to some ears.

Whether it was people not being used to a “linear” headphone, or any one of a hundred other reasons given for why the sound was either perfect or lacking in some way, I simply couldn’t understand why a headphone costing $1000 at that time was lacking in any way.
But to my ears and to those of some others with far more experience, the bass emitted from the HD800 just didn’t cut it.

And that’s where the law of diminishing returns kicked in harder than I think I’d ever noticed before.
I loved these cans. But I’d paid $250 for a pair of pristine HD650s and I loved those too. And I’d solved the “purist” debate over the HD600/650s by owning both…and at half the cost of the new HD800s.
Were the 800s better? In many ways, yes. Were they worth more than twice what 'd paid for the 600/650 twins? Not IMHO.

I’ve never had a ton of money. But neither was I ever afraid to spend what I had on something I wanted that was clearly worth the cost.

Different personalities come into play with many things. And I think I’m very much a “stick to what I know and like” kind of person.
Money is certainly a factor. But to better illustrate my point, I’ll use an example where money isn’t an issue.
I love coffee. But I love coffee that has a particular taste. I believe anticipation is a large part of enjoying anything, so if I’m about to enjoy a cup of coffee and it doesn’t match with what I’ve anticipated, I’m disappointed. Could I learn to enjoy the new taste? Probably, and occasionally I do. But if I’m honest, in the end I very rarely enjoy the new flavour any more than the one I’d already grown to love.
They say "variety is the spice of life’ and in many cases I suppose it’s true.

But “they” say a lot of things. And perhaps I’m more tuned into it what they say about something being “as comfortable as an old pair of slippers”.

I think I just have a hard time buying new slippers, especially if they cost a fortune. And if I have to
break them in or sell the ones I love to find out if I enjoy the new ones as much as the ones I’m wearing? It’s a tough sell.

I hope this made at least some sense. It did while I was thinking about it but I’m not too sure now that it’s written down.

Oh well, it’s written and I’m not going to trash it. So I hope someone gets my point (and I apologize to those who don’t).

PS
This may say little as to the quality of any review I might write. But it should also dispel any doubts about my willingness to express my thoughts on things :wink:

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And where would that meet be happening? :thinking:

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Seattle.

That’s one long haul from London Ontario :wink:
I think I’m going to have to find some gear (perhaps on the used market) a bit closer to home!

I’m curious myself as to how some of the older stuff stacks up to the new, especially when it comes to pure SQ.
You’d think sound engineers/manufacturers would have gotten that “wire with gain” thing down a long time ago!
After all, any colouration can be added a hundred different ways (at least).

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Anticipation of new headphones or related gear is a great part of the experience. Sometimes I don’t open a delivery straight away, I just bask in its glow as it stokes up my excitement. I live getting gear. It doesn’t happen enough.

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@mshenay,
I am also looking forward to your review.

I am generally wary of unclear distinction between DIFFERENTIAL and BALANCED for this kind of topic, particularly for amps.

Differential circuits can be implemented in several different ways with different sets of advantages and disadvantages. Balanced connection is – at least for me – another story. For example, two identical single-ended amp circuits (typically viewed as “balanced amps”) can accept and handle balanced signal, but do not benefit in the same way how differential operations are suggested to do.

For meaningful discussion (bottom line, we need to talk about the same thing among discussion participants…), I’d like to distinguish at least balanced signal (+ and - phases) and differential operations (gain as a function of phase delta).

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I never used balanced for many years until I built a Bottlehead Mainline amp that has a 4 pin XLR headphone jack…and the Focal Clears come with a nice balanced cable…so I had to try both SE and XLR to see for myself…

In my case zip, zero, nada…both sonically the same with this amp. That said I have not issue with either interface, technically the separate grounds seems very desirable as an old engineer…but in reality in a really well designed and laid out amplifier to me its really a “dont care”.

One thing in many designs, to get more power the balanced side provides more…so if thats an issue for you then thats your answer. To me this would be more important than any discerable reduction on crosstalk or isolation…

Alex

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To begin with I would like to use an older A/V Yamaha receiver , convert the headphone output to balanced for a balanced headphones . I tried to use older V- Moda M-100 cross fade’s because of a port on each can and someone on line said it could be balanced if I cut the wire connecting the cans which I didn’t do just yet .
If I cut that wire and I unhook one side and can still hear music I’m gonna feel foolish. Also I tried the Art CleanBox nonpassive converter with the v moda 100s without cutting wire and I was left with a short bout of tinnitus AFTER listening for a couple minutes

I’m not sure I understand what you are trying to achieve here.

The output of your AVR is unbalanced (as in, a TRS) correct?

If this is the case, then no matter what you do to the headphones, it will still be unbalanced.

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If you are just trying to plug a pair of headphones with only an XLR balanced connector to your AVR that only has a single ended TRS output, you can simply use an adapter. My Hifiman HE6se V2 came with one.

Thanks , but the headphones I ordered come with a pair of 4 pin mini XLRS to a Y and TRS which I believe means they could be balanced with the right cables and a balanced amplifier or hopefully in my case a “ unbalanced to balance converter “

I guess all I really need to know is has anyone ever tried on of these reasonably priced unbalanced to balanced converter with A/V receiver ? This Yamaha receiver has a built in DAC and obviously an amp so I don’t need that stuff . It’s going to be a dedicated source for my headphones I hope . I think these converters are common amongst musicians and used for microphones for long distances . I read on line a good pair of headphones and a balanced signal will get the best sound.
I assume what I’m trying is probably the cheapest way to do this.

I think you are confusing line level and amplified signal.

The converters you refer to that are used on stage (i.e: DI boxes) are commonly used to convert things like an unbalanced output (from a DJ mixer for example) to a balanced signal for longer runs that help avoid interferences and signal loss etc. (BTW, 99% of mics used on stage are actually balanced and the DI boxes you see are usually just to increase the level for a longer runs, converting mic level to line level).

What you are wanting to do is convert the output of an amplifier, which is a totally different subject (the converters you refer to will not work in this case).

The amplifier is single ended, or unbalanced, so no matter what you do to the headphones, the amplifier will still be SE.

Also, have a read through this thread to try and grasp what the real benefits of balanced are (increased power, lower crosstalk, etc.). It is not that balanced is better just because it is balanced, it is more about how the amplifier has been designed.

Edit to add: don’t get too caught up in the balanced thing, SE can sound just as good if the amp is decently built. Sit back and enjoy the music!

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On top of this, the odds are that the headphone output of a typical A/V receiver will compare unfavorably to a $100 to $200 dedicated balanced or SE headphone amplifier anyway. I’d personally spend $200 on an iFi ZenDAC V2 with an integrated balanced amp.

As an aside, I’d be surprised if you hear any difference whatsoever with a V-Moda M-100 on SE versus balanced out of the same amp. These are modestly priced closed back headphones – and closed headphones are absolutely not the place to start if you seek quality sound.

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Ok thanks , I guess what caught my eye was I thought balanced was just the left and right driver not sharing the same ground like in a TRS and generally used on headphones.

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I know I’m confused and that’s ok , I just thought going from a shared ground or neutral to a dedicated one for each driver wouldn’t be that complicated and would be clearer sound , anyway thanks for your help.

No problem. To be honest, I was very confused by the terminology “balanced” used for the output of an amplifier when I got into the headphone world.

After working in live and studio sound for most of my life, what is referred to as a balanced amplifier in the headphone world, we would just call a 2 channel amp, or a dual mono amp.

And it is. Again, think of it like using a separate amplifier for each channel (like dual mono I mentioned above), where each amplifier is totally separate from the other (not sharing a common reference to ground as you said).

However, in the case of your AVR (or an unbalanced amp in general), no matter how you divide the signal after it leaves the amplifier, it still shares that common reference to ground inside the amp.

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“They just get downright aggressive. I don’t go online to get hassle. I come online to talk to likeminded people who discuss their different opinions in a civilised manner. I have stopped posting as much on a certain forum for this very reason. It’s a shame really. I don’t mind anyone’s opinion. We’re all different people but some folks see it one way and shout loudly when their product or opinion is challenged. Oh well nevermind. Rant over.:slightly_smiling_face:
AMEN!

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