XLR Balanced circuit/ second order harmonics

Does a balanced circuit cancel or affect second order harmonics?

It cancels 2nd order distortion potentially added in the balanced circuit. It doesn’t change the harmonic structure of your source material. (Both balanced and unbalanced circuits can potentially add odd order distortion but that’s a separate issue.)

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Interesting question. What are you thinking about?

Thanks Elk.
I’m thinking that, I like the sound of SE cables better than XLR. And I’m trying to figure out why.
My guess is that balanced might be cancelling or altering even order harmonics. Just a wag on my part.

Thanks Ted!

Here is what the folks at Stealth Cables think about xlr vs Single ended. I think it is similar to your thinking with shorter runs of cable. Technical Notes - Stealth Audio Cables

Very interesting. Thank you for that.

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RCA and XLR connections can sound different, but I do not accept the Stealth Audio Cables hypothesis that balanced gear and connections greatly reduces even harmonics, but leaves the odd harmonics. If this were true, essentially no one would use any balanced equipment.

This is nothing inherent in balanced gear or balanced cable connections which makes music sound bad, or good for that matter. It instead depends on the equipment, the environment in which it is used, and the like.

There is equipment with balanced connectors which are poorly designed. They may be single-ended inside with balanced connectors and single-ended connections. It may be balanced inside. but done so cheaply or haphazardly, These pieces of kit may well sound better using single-ended cables, and the “why” may indeed be damage to the musical input’s harmonics.

I have found PSA equipment to sound better balanced. This well may be because all PSA products are properly and fully balanced inside. My cabinets are also a bit of a mess and it is possible there is common mode noise being cancelled by use of balanced connections.

It is completely conceivable for single-ended connections to sound better than balanced in a given application. But the the Stealth Audio Cables hypothesis is bunk.

What are you listening to which sounds better single-ended? How does it sound better?


Appreciate the feedback. I don’t have anything connected in single end so I currently don’t have any first hand knowledge.

I don’t know enough to declare Stealth’s writings to be “bunk”–or not.
I have both types of Iconoclast OCC cable, so I have no investment in an argument in either direction.
I would just like to understand more than I do.
The connection I’m talking about is from my DSD to Pass amps.
And how does it sound better? Richer, more organic, textural to these old ears.

Thanks, Ron. Very interesting.

Yours strikes me as a good, fair test in your system.

It is an easy decision as to what to use, but I would also like to know why.

That’s interesting- when I tried singled ended - streamer, DAC, or preamp to my XA60.5s it did add a bit of “air” up top, but reduced the “weight” of the lower mids / midbass. It was subtle, and I could live with either. But ultimately returned the single ended and stuck with balanced.

But as you’ve mentioned, it is good to learn more and understand the foundations of why there are differences.

I’m sure it is system (and even room) dependent.

I enjoy visiting & listen to a friends system nearby with some nice 120W mono tube amps (or had until Covid) and I very much like his system with all single ended setup.

If I was asked for a recommendation with no intimate knowledge of that individual’s system, I would default to balanced. From the standpoint of the benefits of cmr, it just makes sense.

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I’m with Elk. The Stealth Audio Cables ‘technical note’ is frankly a disservice. While it is true that common mode noise rejection can be more of an advantage for longer cable runs (simply because the longer the cable run the more likely common mode noise pickup is), the advantage of that same design technique doesn’t vanish for shorter cables. Plenty of us have experience with suppression of noise (coupled hum in particular) in our systems with cable runs only of the order of a meter or so in length using balanced cables. It’s worth pointing out some (more than just a few, actually) manufacturers provide XLR inputs/outputs for convenience only but internally the electronics is single-ended. Stealth doesn’t mention that detail at all - the company implies the argument against balanced cables is settled with no caveats. Nonsense. Finally, internally the generation of even and odd harmonics has far more to do with the amplifier class and topology than it is dependent on use of balanced connections. I did want to add I’m not so convinced as RonP is that balanced operation is richer and more organic … as a general rule. Maybe he isn’t generalizing that much. There is a long list of manufacturers who argue that design and implementation is what matters most (e.g. Herron, VAC …) with SE topologies.

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An oft’ overlooked point…