Overnight success

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It takes about ten years of hard work to become an overnight success. In the case of balanced audio, it took many more than ten. Balanced audio has been around as long as there have been audio transformers in use—and that's a long, long time. I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the subject of balanced audio and we'll start with common myths. Common myths Boy, we Audiophiles sure have a lot of myths. Right? Everything from conspiracies to misunderstandings becoming fact. Let's look at just a few of the Audiophile myths concerning balanced audio.
  • It takes twice the circuitry to make a balanced input
  • If you feed a balanced amplifier a single ended signal it defeats its balanced benefits
  • Only a handful of devices actually enjoy the benefits of a balanced input, the majority are fakes
  • Single ended circuits sound better because they are simpler
Twice the circuitry This first one is pure bunk in the most practical sense. A balanced input can be designed with a single op amp, or a single tube, or a simple diff pair. Yes, in its dumbest form one could accurately suggest that you cannot make a balanced input with but one transistor - but then you cannot make any form of good sounding amplifier with but one transistor - so the argument is nonsensical. Only balanced signals get balanced treatment This is true for the input to an amplifier, but false everywhere else. A properly designed balanced amplifier takes single ended or balanced signals in and they become balanced for the rest of their journey. The simplest example of this is an audio transformer. Regardless of its input, balanced or single ended, its output is always balanced. Same with a purpose designed tube, or diff pair. It is true most designers don't follow through with balanced designs, but that is their choice, not a limitation of the art. Most XLR inputs are fake Bullshit. It is true that there are some in the world of cheap amplification devices, even some pro applications offering "courtesy" XLR ins without purpose, but the vast majority of high end audio equipment offering XLR inputs are balanced. Where this myth started I can only guess. For years there were those companies in our industry that claimed to be balanced amplifiers when all they did was flip the output phase at the last moment. But when we look strictly at inputs where balanced biggest benefits are to be enjoyed, I've never seen a high end audio company that played such games. Single ended sounds better because it's simpler Give me a break. Properly designed, it is neither simpler nor better. I won't get into a pissing match over designs—single ended vs. balanced—because there are simply too many variables to contend with. But the notion that simpler is better, while true, does not here apply in the strictest sense of its meaning.
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Paul McGowan

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