Are balanced headphone amplifiers really better? (Benchmark)

more_vert
I'm new to the headphone world, have been considering balanced headphone setup, assumed it would be superior to single-ended. Yet this company argues they're worse! I'd be interested to hear what folks with more experience on this topic think? AUDIO MYTH - BALANCED HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS ARE BETTER

[...] a voltage-balanced interface serves no useful purpose when driving headphones. The truth is that a conventional single-ended headphone drive is technically superior to a balanced drive. This paper explains why single-ended headphone amplifiers are inherently more transparent than balanced headphone amplifiers.
100% upvoted
2
5
remove_red_eye
68
ChrisPDX
14

search
close
praxis22
25
Apr 22, 2021
From personal experience, (my ES100 Mk2 DAC/AMP is balanced so is my Little Bear B4-x Portable tube amp, and my THX AAA 789 which has a balanced connector, but is electrically dual single ended) I reckon the only reason to buy Balanced is you can drive more power to whatever needs it. Some gear is high impedance or hard to drive, for that the greater power can make a difference in what you hear, at volume. Whether it sounds better is going to depend on taste.
(Edited)
RayF
21966
Mar 14, 2021
Other than as discussed below (for interconnects) the benefits of a balanced headphone amplifier go mainly to the seller (ie: they reap greater profits). The drawback from the purchasers perspective it that one must learn to lie about hearing a difference when asked. Suggested further reading: "The Emperor's New Clothes" by Danish audio expert, Hans Christian Andersen.
racheski
202
Mar 10, 2021
The main benefit of a "balanced" set-up are balanced line-level inputs into amps, e.g. XLR-inputs from DAC to Amp, because they reject noise and prevent ground loops via Common Mode Rejection (CMR). Even Benchmark mentions this in your link: Please understand that Benchmark strongly encourages the use of balanced line-level interfaces between audio products. .. a balanced interface can provide substantial performance improvements. Balanced line-level interfaces reject hum and noise while providing a higher voltage level. The higher signal levels can improve the SNR (signal to noise ratio) of the audio system If you have ever had to deal with a hum/buzz between an audio source and a headphone amp it is really annoying. The other benefit is increased power output from the balanced headphone jacks, which basically let's you get your headphones louder with more ease. The increased noise/distortion that Benchmark mentions from balanced jacks is negligible 99% of the time because the difference is far smaller than what the human ear can detect. However, if you have low impedance planar magnetic headphones, you should pay attention to the input impedance of balanced jacks, but most recent SS amps are < 1 ohm.
(Edited)
ChrisPDX
14
Mar 11, 2021
Thank you. Yes ... I'm a big believer in balanced interconnects and use them as much as possible. I was really curious about Benchmark's claim that "single-ended headphone amplifiers are inherently more transparent than balanced headphone amplifiers." You're saying that Benchmark's conclusion and advice is wrong in this case, though I was under the impression that they were a fairly credible company.
racheski
202
Mar 11, 2021
Well technically they are more “transparent” if you go strictly by the numbers, but the difference is so small that it doesn’t matter for all practical purposes.