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    Wire Wednesday — interconnect cables

    Balanced vs Single Ended Interconnect Audio Cables

    Is it better to use balanced (XLR) interconnects if the components offer the opportunity? In theory balanced operation offers less noise and a purer signal,  while single ended may induce noise in your system.

    The right answer is far from obvious and depends on several factors. Confusion abounds.

    1. Are both components truly balanced, i.e., they both contain the needed circuitry required for balanced operation? If the answer is yes, then XLR is the way to go.
    2. XLR inputs and outputs are common these days. Unfortunately some are there for show only and often are wired in series with the RCA jacks. If this is the case, RCA might sound better, or maybe not.
    3. One component is truly balanced and the other single ended. In this case, there will be no definitive answer to which type of cable to use since the advantages of balanced operation will be negated by the single ended component.
    I have set up many audio systems at audio shows in the last ten years, and I've often been surprised that sometimes RCA cables sound better than XLR regardless of 1, 2, or 3 above. Sometimes there is no audible difference. Sometimes XLR clearly is better.
    So how does this help you? If you are experiencing ground loop hum with RCA and your gear has XLR's, a balanced cable may solve your problem. Other than that, it's best to experiment and also to contact the manufacturer of your gear and ask them.
    Regarding cables, WyWires offers both RCA and XLR. We can easily convert one to the other and back for a small labor charge and the cost of the new connectors. This will allow you to try for yourself without breaking the bank.