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So on Reddit in the headphone sub-reddit I said this. "On the 789 I found the SE to sound dull and boring compared to the balanced output. The balanced out really opened up my HD6XX. Perhaps the noticeable difference depends on the headphones being used." Someone replied with this. "Turn your system volume down to 80%, and the single-ended output will sound just as good as the balanced output. It seems like 100% volume output causes the SDAC-B to struggle in a way that affects the single-ended output more significantly than the balanced output." Is it just a placebo effect to say that balanced is better than single ended?
The balanced output has ~4x the output power of the single ended output. Might be a volume bias. If you match the volume exactly and A/B test the same headphones from both outputs, there should be no difference.
I just tested with my LCD-X using both the balanced and single ended cables, and they both sound exactly the same.
It's literally just volume difference, which is the usual case when people think A. is better than B. in audio.
As veegee said, single ended power is much less, especially over a balanced source. There's no difference in quality. The extra power could matter in certain cases however, depending on a headphone's needs.
So then what is the point in having a "balanced" headphone connector? Why not just make the SE more powerful to accommodate hard to drive headphones? If "balanced" has no real benefit then it's all just marketing and getting people to pay more money for nothing.
Balanced is typically more powerful if you use a balanced source, since RCA tends to run 2 - 2.5 volts while XLR is generally 4. But that's not the primary benefit. XLR also eliminates ground loop noise, which can be very beneficial to your sound if you live in a badly wired location.
On a balanced amplifier the benefits of the XLR3 on the input is noise rejection, on the headphone XLR4 the benefit is way more power.
i think there are 4 amplifiers in the 789 to be able to run bridged stereo for balanced output. So using SE you are using half the amplifier.