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Dumb question here, but when a company refers to "Balanced" inputs/cables...etc. and 4 pin, is there a difference, or are they one in the same?
There are several different kinds of balanced connector. 4-pin XLR is one (usually used for output). Balanced amps often have dual 3-pin XLR as input.
Note that this amp DOES NOT have balanced inputs, despite the description text.
So if you have an amp with a headphone output of 4 pin xlr, but not dual 3 pin xlr balanced inputs, the sound couldn't be properly construed as being balanced?
You can, but you also need two DAC chips for each left and right channels, which is why some DACs can be fed an individual channel and feed into a balanced amp's inputs, but you need two of the same DAC to do so, so it's much more expensive.
Balanced is essentially trying to eliminate cross-talk between channels which might create harmonic distortion into next or both channels. Typically the noticeability is rare until you get high-end headphones (HD 800 level/price competitors and up) and amps and DACs, so it's a lot of diminishing returns. If you're at an HD650 or even a Denon D2000 you probably won't notice as much between a balanced and unbalanced setup.
The biggest thing is noticing that the XLR 4-pin output is more efficient so you get more power (usually) than from the 1/4 or 1/8 plug on the amp. Of course, you need balanced headphone cables for the headphones as well, which from what I've heard for the HD650 run around $70? Not all headphones are set up for balanced cables, and typically higher end headphones and grados headphones are set to take balanced cables (ones that fork into a Y split, single ended headphones like beyerdynamics 880 250 ohms and the Sennheiser HD598 take some wiring expertise in comparison) so truly fully balanced costs a lot more than a unit that's balanced at least from processing to amp and out, which will cost more than just unbalanced DAC and amp, like the Topping D30 DAC I have is unbalanced out to my Magni 3 amp which is also unblanaced/single end out (1/4 inch jack). I don't have anything more than a Fidelio X2 and a PSB M4U 1 and beyerdynamics 880 250 ohm currently, but I'm going to try out some X00 ebony and I'm on the drop for the HD6XX so the Magni will be tested more then, and against the Xduoo x5 which will struggle with the 6XX more since it likely will only put out about half the power needed for the 6XX on average (bass supposedly runs peaks of 4-5 times what the x5 will likely output) so balanced isn't a huge issue to me currently, but maybe down the road if I pick up an HD800 or other top tier headphones then I might look into a balanced setup.
This will power just about any set of headphones, but be aware that planar magnetic headphones and IEMs might be too sensitive for this.
Good info. Thanks for the help.