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TheOneInYellow
24
Jun 13, 2017
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Well, this purchase is part of my personal audiophile budget reference home desktop solution.
Bought 2x HA-200's as a base for my reference; powerful fully differential balanced monoblock amplifiers. To even get close to the power, and sonics, I would have to increase my budget massively. It is true to say that having actual four amp's powering each phase of each channel is insane, and at this price unheard of.
The Schiit Audio Jotunheim was what I was going to pay for at £420, but that is not differential (yet still incredible for what it can do). It has 4-Pin XLR, one volume pot, one power wall plug, and one box design. Its topology is also very, very cool (circlotron). You can add a DAC (or phono) too for a bit extra, but I do have some records at DSD, and my digital audio player (DAP) has a superior DAC to the Jot (though not the full output Voltage). The 2x HA-200's has more power, fully differential, and much cheaper: via Massdrop it is around £370 (including shipping and customs to the UK; approx customs cost worked out using a duty calculator).
Will use my current Onkyo DP-X1 DAP's balanced out (Double Helix Cables 2.5mm to 2x 3-Pin XLR cable) as a DAC for the short term; I am getting the Oppo Sonica DAC with it's latest fully balanced ESS DAC chip and higher Voltage output later this year. I already have most of the cables necessary (three all pure silver DHC cables), just waiting on a few adapters (4-Pin to 2x 3-Pin XLR DHC Comp4 adapter, and an Audeze EL-8 Zync adapter for a certain DHC cable I have). Will get some single DHC 3-Pin XLR silver cables (x2) down the line too when I get the Sonica DAC. (I am not upgrading my iFi Audio iUSBPower 1st Gen to iUSBPower 3.0, or iPurifier to iPurifer 2, as the originals are still very good, but that might happen near the end of the year. My iFi Audio Gemini dual-headed USB cable will be used however).
Even with the extra adapters (some of which was already incoming), I am still paying less than the Jot, and I would have, from a technical standpoint, a much more sophisticated system due to fully differential design topology. Sure, the Jot may or may not sound better, but the 2x HA-200's will be more resolving power wise with different sources, and allows me to play with more headphones of varying power requirements. I would have to deal with volume matching but I could max out the 2x HA-200 volume pots and use a DAC as volume. Having two power wall plugs would also be annoying (a third with a proper DAC down the line). No 4-Pin XLR output is itself annoying too but the adapter I am getting takes care of that.
My current actively used headphones are: - Audeze EL-8 Titanium (2016 drivers as standard) - Meze Audio 99 Classics Walnut Silver
Both have uncommon DHC Molecule Elite 22AWG 4-Wire pure silver cables with 2.5mm Eidolic terminations, intended for DAP use. However, I have a special, one-off DHC 4-Pin cable too, originally to be used with a balanced 4-Pin XLR amp. (That's why I am getting the 4-Pin to 2x 3-Pin XLR adapter, and Audeze Zync adapter, for this special cable, to use with the 2x HA-200's). I am also trying to score a Focal Elear at a cheaper deal (refurbished), and save up for the Sony MDR-Z1R in the distant future (or whatever else dethrones it whilst I wait).
Essentially, I was slowly building up a framework to get to this point (invested over years in great cables from the get go so that I would not need to upgrade soon, got two of three headphones sorted, and pour the rest of my investment into desktop amp and DAC this year); after years of planning and watching out on new products, my proposed system should last me a long time ^^ 2x Optoma NuForce HA-200's + Oppo Sonica DAC, running pure silver cables, should be a mighty system d^^b
Once I have the desktop side sorted, I can just sit back and invest in any cans I like over the upcoming years.
Can't wait!!!
Jun 13, 2017
jonafern
5
Jun 14, 2017
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Wow that was intense. I haven't got far enough to know what balanced and mono blocks mean. Anyway I bought one of these and then dac 80, looking forward to getting them.
Jun 14, 2017
TheOneInYellow
24
Jun 14, 2017
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Thank you! I am actually in the middle of writing an article on a blog, which will include the NuForce HA-200's (x2).
However, here is a sort of extract/some info about balanced audio from my article (this is very much condensed and not meant to be in-depth).
First, when we talk about stereo, we mean Left and Right channels. Specifically: Left Negative, Left Positive, Right Negative, and Right Positive. This is known as polarity, and each channel has a phase, positive and negative. (For sake of clarity lets define each polarity as L+, L-, R+, and R-). To make a stereo amplifier, you need to address each phase. Without going into all of the numerous topologies on how this is done, lets just assume that a stereo amplifier will amplify each phase of each signal.
So, this then brings us to two ideas of amplification, single-ended (SE) and balanced:
Single-ended: In the most general cases, most stereo amps amplify by bridging the incoming L+ and L- phases together, amplifying both phases simultaneously, and ditto R+ and R-. The connections, input and output, share a ground signal (wire) in the cables itself and in the circuitry. (That is to say that the L and R channels share the same ground wire). This means that most stereo amps will have a design that amplifies the left and right channels almost simultaneously, but technically are internally split as L+/L- and R+/R-. In the audio world, this is collectively known as a single-ended design, and is often a one-box solution. Now, you can have SE designs in which there is one amplifier powering left and right channels together, two amps for each channel, or, uncommon, one amplifier per phase of per channel. However, due to the grounding of these amp designs, they are still single-ended. The latter two, more extreme, designs are considered to be the more superior but it is not often seen in SE amps. It is, however, popular in balanced designs.
Balanced: The next up from SE designs in stereo amplifiers is, first, that the circuitry design has grounding per each channel, not combined. That is true of the I/O, and the balanced cabling, where the left and right channels have completely separate ground wire per channel, all the way to the termination (2.5mm TRRS, 4-Pin XLR, 2x 3-Pin XLR, 4.4mm TRRS Pentacon, etc). This is the first BIG difference between SE and balanced amps, and why special cabling is needed*.
From here, you have two popular balanced amp topologies:
- Bridge-Tied Load/Bridged Transformerless: Here you have two amplifiers, where one amp is fed L+ and R+ but receive the phases completely separately. Ditto the second amp which receives the alternative signals, L- and R-, again, having the incoming inverted phases separately. This is, technically, a superior design as each amp has a job to do and crosstalk and noise between channels is lowered. This design typically has the advantage of doubling voltage and swing (electrically), meaning more power which should be read as 'this amplifier has more headroom to play music at different loads'; ie better at playing the nuances, varying volume differences, and changes in a piece of music. These designs are usually found in one-box solutions.
- Fully differential balanced: This is the cool balanced design, and is what 2x HA-200's can do. Similar to BTL, but here there are four amps dedicated to each phase of each channel. Each amp receives each phase separately too. Thus: One box for Left channel: 1x amp for L+, 1x amp for L- One box for Right channel: 1x amp for R+, 1x amp for R- Though technically this is also doubling voltage and swing, it can be seen as quadrupling depending on amp design. However the magic here is that because each phase is being treated individually, even more noise and channel crosstalk is reduced, more so than BTL (again, depends on the design). Such amps can also be found in one-box solutions but they are very large, but it is more common to see them in two-box designs, the latter being referred to as monoblock amps (one box is for L, the other R). (Some crazy amp designs will have a four box solution too).
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*WARNING! Do NOT modify or use adpaters on SE cables into balanced; you WILL damage or short your equipment. That is because SE wires share a ground wire. Balanced cables do not, so can be used in balanced gear, and with adapters SE gear too, without worry.
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Lets relate this to the HA-200. One HA-200 has two internal amps inside. In SE mode, each amp is bridged, hence normal stereo mode. However, the amp circuitry allows SE ground cables and balanced cables (how is too much for writing here, but is itself an interesting read and topic). When you get two HA-200's and use balanced inputs and output cables, the two internal amps per box are no longer bridged; they are treated as each individual amp, dedicated to each phase of each channel.
What makes the HA-200's special is that it includes two design topologies per box, and when you have two boxes you have the only monoblock, fully differential amp system that is cheaper than any alternative on the market, with loads of power. It is this that makes the NuForce HA-200 interesting.
Hope that this makes sense and helps ^^
Jun 14, 2017
jonafern
5
Jun 14, 2017
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Thanks for making the effort to explain that. I think I have a decent understanding of how it works now.
Jun 14, 2017
TheOneInYellow
24
Jun 14, 2017
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No problem! ^^
Jun 14, 2017
Jackula
1653
Aug 27, 2017
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I know I'm 11 weeks late to this conversation but can you please clarify something?
I've understood how fully balanced and bridges transformerless work, but don't understand how fully balanced is advantageous over bridged. You said in fully balanced there is even less noise in each individual channels, but in a bridged design wouldn't the noise cancel each other out anyway?
EDIT: Oh nevermind, I see you said "2x" the amp, which would reduce noise since there are two ground channels all the way back to AC. Ideally, you'll need a power conditioner at the AC wall plug for balanced setups to truly shine (or just a really good power supply).
Just note that putting volume on max may not give you channel matching, just because each amp uses the same components does not mean they have exactly the same resistance for every component. A balanced amp may have "close enough" tolerances within the individual amp, but two of the same amps could yield far different results in comparison.
Btw, the Schiit Jot is not a circlotron. It's a bridged transformerless that uses half the signal path for single ended via a switch.
Aug 27, 2017
TheOneInYellow
24
Aug 28, 2017
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Hi dude, been working at the massive UK gaming Insomnia #61 event (at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham) for the last few days, so I haven't had the time to reply. https://twitter.com/theoneinyellow/status/901450497995018241
So, you have pointed out (including in your edit) correctly many points that are good; it's really awesome to have someone understand balanced topologies!
You are indeed correct about channel matching. First, on this, there is not much I can do with my Plan A setup (using my DP-X1 as source), but so far I have not heard a discernable channel imbalance. It is much harder to keep adjusting both volume knobs for accurate channel matching on both HA-200's each time I volume adjust, so I highly recommend to use a source as the master attenuator (if it has one). I guess monoblock amplifier setups that do not share attenuation can be seen as potential negative in this respect. My Plan B is to get the Oppo Sonica DAC (unless I can afford the upcoming iFi Audio iDSD Pro), which I feel will have better overall volume control as it has much higher balanced VRMS output, thus greater headroom and potentially more accurate volume matching overall. However, that does not take away your well put forth potential amp channel imbalances between each amp. When I get the chance I'll check check serial numbers on each amp; if they are one digit different between each one, I have a better hope that both will have near identical measurements, though this is not a guarantee either. Just to reiterate, I so far cannot detect much, if any, channel imbalances in my Plan A setup, so I am thus far confident that each amp has very good/close tolerances.
Next, power supply is definitely key, but applies to both single-ended and balanced topologies. I am working on this if I execute my Plan B setup. However, even with my current Plan A setup (with 2x well shielded UK mains cables), and my all pure silver/high gauge cabling, my system is performing admirably and greater than my DP-X1 DAP alone (itself having 2x DAC's and 2x Amps).
Finally, thank you for the Schiit Jot correction ^^
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Aug 28, 2017
SStas
64
Dec 1, 2017
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Can I ask you a question so that I can understand a bit better what the HA-200 is cable of?
I have 1 x Ha-200 at home, and I'd like to buy a second at some point. In the meantime, is there any way to use a single amp as a balanced headphone amp with balanced headphones? I have the Noble K10s coming with the balanced TRRS cable, and I was assuming I could run that to the 4-pin XLR with a TRRS->XLR adapter. Is this possible? Same with the HD6XX of the HiFiMan 4XX?
Thank you in advance!
S.
Dec 1, 2017
TheOneInYellow
24
Dec 2, 2017
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Absolutely NOT! Never do that!
So, a true balanced amp will have either 2x 3-Pin XLR inputs and outputs, or inputs and a 4-Pin XLR output (or any TRRS output, such as 2.5mm, 3.5mm, 2x 3.5mm, 4.4mm). You can also have single-ended amps with XLR output, but this is not balanced, only for convenience of connections; such amps have that XLR wired in single-ended mode, not for balanced output.
In the case of the HA-200, it is strictly: - 1x HA-200 = Single-ended only. There is no 4-Pin output, just a single 3-Pin input and output. You need two amps for balanced audio. Only the single-ended 3.5mm TRS output will work with single-ended cables. Do NOT plug a balanced 4-Pin cable into the device via an adapter, lest you wish to burn out/cause an electrical fire/damage the amp and headphones.
- 2x HA-200's can be used in balanced, as long as you have left and right input and output 3-Pin XLR's (or a 4-Pin XLR adapter).
The real thing you need to do is research what is balanced audio, specifically how a cable is balanced. In summary, single-ended cables have left and right channels together, with a grounding wire shared too. Balanced cables have separate grounding wire per channel in a cable. THIS is important, because: - Single-ended cables should not be used with a balanced adapter due to no separation of grounding wire. - Balanced cables can be run in both balanced systems and single-ended (with an adapter) without issue. - You should not connect a balanced cable into a single channel balanced output from an amp.
Remember that the HA-200 has two amps inside, but they are bridged when a single-ended input is used. If you plug a left and right 3-Pin XLR into two HA-200's from a balanced source, then each dual amp inside each HA-200 (thus four amps) will run separately for each channel: 1x HA-200 = L+ and L-, whilst another 1x HA-200 = R+ & R-.
I can see that you're eager to use your cool headphones for balanced, but you need to be careful, respect the audio topology of sources and amps, and adhere to how balanced works. The last thing you want is damaged equipment.
Hope that helps ^^
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Dec 2, 2017
SStas
64
Dec 2, 2017
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Your response and caution helps me a lot! Thank you! I am trying to learn as mich as i can, as quickly as i can, but i’m realizing i may not understand the equipment. The xlr output on the ha-200 is a 3-pin SE output that creates a bridged connection between the two internal op-amps? Therefore you only have a single channel being output? What if you have L and R input into the amp? I guess my main confusion surrounds why you cant input L and R channel and output L and R channel theough the xlr output... so much to learn, so little time 😎 thanks man!
Dec 2, 2017
TheOneInYellow
24
Dec 2, 2017
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That's ok, but I recommend serious reading into what balanced is and how it works. Hit up Computer Audiophile, Head-Fi, etc, for guides.
The 3-Pin XLR input and output of the HA-200 is for one channel (either left or right, depends on which balanced output channel from source you use). Though the 3-Pin output is active when using a single HA-200, it is related to the 3-Pin XLR input, so you will not gain a benefit from one channel output if you use single-ended input.
Furthermore, using a single-ended input and expecting L & R output from the 3-Pin XLR is not happening, ever. That is because of the following paragraphs: All 3-Pin XLR's are wired and designed to carry a single channel, and only work as a pair with another 3-Pin XLR. Few exceptions exist but it is certainly NOT the norm.
The two internal amps inside a single HA-200 act in one of two ways. When a single-ended input is used, each amp inside becomes this: - 1x internal amp = L- & L+ - 1x internal amp = R- & R+ Here both phases of each channel work together on one internal amp, and each channel is separated by both internal amps. The two internal amps are in a bridged state. There is no balanced topology in this setup because each phase is shared, not separated, which defeats the use of a single 3-Pin XLR input and output. Remember my previous post about separate grounding in cabling? This is why a single HA-200 will not work as a single-ended L & R input and 3-Pin output: the channels via cabling are not separated from the input side, but combined, so no balanced benefit can be achieved.
In balanced mode, with two HA-200's, each internal amp now works solely on each phase of each channel, taking assumption that good balanced cables have individual grounding with L & R channels separated, either internally via a 4-Pin XLR cable (with a 2x 3-Pin XLR adapter for use with 2x HA-200's), or completely separate 2x 3-Pin cables, one for each channel. Thus: 1st HA-200 (left channel via 3-Pin XLR L cable input): - 1x internal amp L- phase - 1x internal amp L+ phase
2nd HA-200 (right channel via 3-Pin XLR R cable input): - 1x internal amp R- phase - 1x internal amp R+ phase Here, as you can see, each internal amp works separately on one single phase of each channel, with no bridging. This is only possible with 2x 3-Pin left and right balanced cables from a source, into the back of a HA-200.
In summary, the HA-200 works depending on what connections are input, but can only be either single-ended (single amp) or balanced (two amps). There is no shortcut or another way around for these amps. My biggest gripe of the Optoma NuForce HA-200 is that the 3-Pin XLR output is still live however you use the amp, which is dangerous; other manufacturers deactivate a balanced output if the amp detects a single-ended input.
This may be a tad tech heavy, but this is the best I can do to summarise this huge topic.
Please be very careful with how you use these amps, and get good cables.
Just as a friendly reminder and for your safety and that of your gear, NEVER use a single-ended cable with a balanced adapter; will never work. However, a balanced cable can be used with as balanced, or single-ended via an adapter. This is, again, to do with separate grounding wire per channel, rather than combined.
Good luck medude!
Dec 2, 2017
SStas
64
Dec 2, 2017
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Thank you, thank you! I’ve read this three times now, and it is so much cleared to me. I steared clear of electrical engineering (I took Process/chemical), but I understand enough of the concepts to make sense of this HiFi journey I’m currently on, and can’t express my gratitude enough for you taking the time to lay this out in terms that are Understandable for the layman. If your interested in the refining and hydrocarbon logistics global market place, i’d be happy to return the favour. Haha. Thanks again!
scott.
Dec 2, 2017
TheOneInYellow
24
Dec 3, 2017
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Ha ha ha, thank you @SStas!
I think I could have made this even clearer, but I'm glad that you understand it. For me, these kind of topologies seem simple, but I understand that everyone has a different concept of complicated or simple ideas (I actually suck at simply stuff sometimes because I think too hard 😂).
Should I ever be interested in your niche area of expertise (which, by the way, sounds cool af!), I'll defo hit ya up!
By the way, I'm not electrically trained or studied electrical engineering ha ha ha ha! I just studied different audio topologies before I made subjective and informed decisions, and spending hard earned cash, because, if I'm going in, I'll go all in. My desktop system is an example of this 😉
Take care dude, and enjoy your audio cans and setup! 🎧🔊
Dec 3, 2017
SStas
64
Jun 7, 2018
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OK, so I've finally got a second HA200 procured.. After some time searching, I can't seem to find a list of which cans have balanced drivers, and which ones do not. I have some cheaper cans that I assume are not balanced drivers, and don't really want to buy custom cables, if I'll ultimately just be buying better cans with balanced drivers. Do you know of a list of which one are and which one are not balanced?
Also, if I do buy 2 x 3pin XLR cables for the HA200s, any issues with SE cans? For example, pretty sure my HE4xx are single ended, based on the mono 2.5mm plugs into the cans. Everyone keeps mentioning that they use these cans with balanced amps, but I am hesitant after our previous discussions. Appreciate the help, as always. ~S
Jun 7, 2018
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