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Headphone Amps: How to match your cans with different balanced outputs standards?


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Ave to the headphones specialists ...
While I was looking into different headphone amps this weekend I recognized that  "Balanced Outputs" looks like the new standard feature,
However it seem not clear, if 2.5mm, 3.5mm, 4.4mm , 3-Pin XLR or 4-Pin XLR should be the standard. Looks like a great chance for cable manufactures, though.
Which is the best practise to have your cans suiting to the standard of your new HP amp?
New cables with fitting connectors ? Adapter cables ?
Not talking about STAX or RAAL ...
Curious, Tom

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Having been headphone shopping the other day it seems to me that the standard balanced option is the stereo single cable 4-pin XLR. Dual mono 3 pin XLR still  seems more rare. And the other options are more niche from individual manufacturers.

 

By the way I upgraded my HD800 to the Sennheiser 4 pin XLR balanced cables from the original 6.3 unbalanced cable and at least I believe I hear a difference on my HDVA600 fully balanced amp. 

 

Here's a nice article on the topic: 

 

https://www.headphonesty.com/2019/05/balanced-vs-unbalanced-audio-connections/

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My Bryston BHA-1 which I have had for years, has the normal jack,  2 3 pin XLR's balanced, a 4 pin Stereo XLR for headphone connections.  My HD-650, HD 800s, LCD-3 and Focal Clear all work great.  There is a noticeable improvement in clarity, when I go to a 4 pin xlr connection. 

The Truth Is Out There

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2 hours ago, Musicophile said:

t seems to me that the standard balanced option is the stereo single cable 4-pin XLR. Dual mono 3 pin XLR still  seems more rare.

Thank you @Musicophile,
yes saw your thread recently. I suppose, you talk about the standard balanced cables in the +1000$ segment.
AFAIK, these are mostly pretty standard, imho at the amplifier side they use these more different options, depending on design and price.

 

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the 2.5, 3.5, and 4.4 jacks seem to be more for portable amps/DAPs.  In fact, I do not recall any portable amp/DAP using XLR.

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8 hours ago, AudioDoctor said:

The best connection is probably always going to be a cable without adapters. Beyond that, it comes down to the amps implementation.

Thank you for your opinion, my friend!

Do you suggest going rather for a fitting cable than for an adapter ??

For example, my HD650s do come with the pretty standard SE 6,5mm plug, if I would want to use them with the balanced out from i.e. the new iFi micro iDSD signature I'd need a 4,4mm balanced cable, for the SCHIIT Magnius an XLR 4-Pin balanced cable. Shedding out another 100-150$ for the correct connector/cable seems to beam me straight into the cable universe, where I could find suitable cables for the triple price of the HP amp. The original 6,5mm replacement cable at Sennheiser is about 12,50$ or so.

In your opionion/experience, do adapter denigrate the signal, thus the audiophile experience and the advantage of balanced outputs ?

I was actually considering the following solution: one good balanced cable and working with adapter for different connectors. i.e.2,5mm balanced cable, and adapters to 4,4mm and 4-pin XLR

 

12 hours ago, jcbenten said:

the 2.5, 3.5, and 4.4 jacks seem to be more for portable amps/DAPs.  In fact, I do not recall any portable amp/DAP using XLR.

 

That's correct JC,
however I have had over the last two years the portable iFi micro iDSD BL predominantly as main DAC in my system and gave portable duties about 95% of the time to the Topping NX4.

Cheers, Tom

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14 minutes ago, jp11801 said:

The future of balanced cables are coalesceing around 4pin balanced and 4.4 Pentacon. I wouldn't be surprised to see 4.4 on home amps in the future. 

 

I like the 4.4 Pentacon - have both that and the 4-pin XLR on my Topping A90 - they sound the same, of course, but really like the form factor of the Pentacon :)

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Headphone - MacMini running Roon Server > Netgear Orbi wireless > Blue Jeans Cable Ethernet > mRendu Roon endpoint > iFi Audio xDSD + iFi Audio xCAN > Focal Elegia

Home Theater - Mac Mini running Roon Server > Blue Jeans Cable HDMI > Pioneer Elite SC-81 > MartinLogan Motion series home theater speakers + M&K subwoofer

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1 hour ago, jhwalker said:

I like the 4.4 Pentacon - have both that and the 4-pin XLR on my Topping A90 - they sound the same, of course, but really like the form factor of the Pentacon :)

Thank you for your reply, that meets exactly the question, unfortunately without answering it ;-)
The pentacon is as well the form factor offered with the new iFi micro iDSD Signature. The 4.4mm seems to be more for iems, afaik?

How did you manage the task, I haven't seen a lot of cans with Pentacon cables as original outfit?
- You bought a fitting cable from your can manufacturer? 
- You bought a fitting cable in the aftermarket?
- You bought a balanced cable with adapter for both, 4.4mm Penatcon and 4-pin XLR?
- You bought only an adapter?

Curious, Tom

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3 hours ago, DuckToller said:

Thank you for your reply, that meets exactly the question, unfortunately without answering it ;-)
The pentacon is as well the form factor offered with the new iFi micro iDSD Signature. The 4.4mm seems to be more for iems, afaik?

How did you manage the task, I haven't seen a lot of cans with Pentacon cables as original outfit?
- You bought a fitting cable from your can manufacturer? 
- You bought a fitting cable in the aftermarket?
- You bought a balanced cable with adapter for both, 4.4mm Penatcon and 4-pin XLR?
- You bought only an adapter?

Curious, Tom

 

Well, I use the Pentacon cable with my Focal Elegia - definitely not an IEM ;)

 

I just ordered a custom cable (i.e., with Focal connectors on the headphone end and the 4.4 on the other).  I believe I used LQi Cables, but you can find LOTS of boutique cable shops online, from anywhere from around $50 to ... sky's the limit.  I wouldn't spend more than about $150 on replacement headphone cables.

John Walker - IT Executive

Headphone - MacMini running Roon Server > Netgear Orbi wireless > Blue Jeans Cable Ethernet > mRendu Roon endpoint > iFi Audio xDSD + iFi Audio xCAN > Focal Elegia

Home Theater - Mac Mini running Roon Server > Blue Jeans Cable HDMI > Pioneer Elite SC-81 > MartinLogan Motion series home theater speakers + M&K subwoofer

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20 hours ago, jhwalker said:

Well, I use the Pentacon cable with my Focal Elegia - definitely not an IEM ;)

Thank you for your response!
That's correct, I used myself the Elegia single ended for about a year.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Small update:
I have ordered a Hifiman 400i 2020 yesterday and plan to enhance it's usability by attaching some balanced cables with Pentaconn 4.4 connector - espially out of curiosity.
Possible next step, having an adapter from 4.4 to 4pin XLR (balanced).
Thrilled to find out if there will be audible differences between iFi's S-Balanced on single ended and the Pentaconn connection when getting the next iFi iDSD signature on hand.

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