Balanced vs Unbalanced DAC

SwissToni

Active Member
Hi

I am looking to purchase a DAC to partner with a integrated amp with balanced inputs ( Musical Fidelity M6si ). The amp is as dual mono design so I believe has true balanced internals.

Would I benefit from a DAC with balanced outputs to get the best from amp or would a DAC such as Chord 2qute, which only has RCA outputs but very good reviews, be a good option ?

Is the quality of the DAC more important than the type of connection especially as the interconnects will be 1 metre or less ?

I have read that unless a DAC has dual dac chips running separately for the left and right channels, then it can't have true balanced outputs anyway.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Matt
 

TomScrut

Well-known Member
Just because an amp is dual mono doesn't mean it is internally balanced.... And differential is actually the correct word for when you have hot and cold of opposite polarity at output IIRC

The quality of the DAC is more important than the connection. I used balanced connections everywhere I can but this is more to remove ground loops than anything else.

And as far as DAC chips go, not exactly true but the idea about right. For the DAC to have a true differential output it must use (at least) two DAC channels per speaker channel (ie hot and cold from each DAC channel). That is not the same as chips, a lot of DACs have 8 channels for example even if used in stereo DACs. And I say at least as some DACs combine outputs from multiple DAC channels (I think the Oppo 105 does this with 8 channels) to make a stereo pair which may be differential or not.
 
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SwissToni

Active Member
Just because an amp is dual mono doesn't mean it is internally balanced.... And differential is actually the correct word for when you have hot and cold of opposite polarity at output IIRC

The quality of the DAC is more important than the connection. I used balanced connections everywhere I can but this is more to remove ground loops than anything else.

And as far as DAC chips go, not exactly true but the idea about right. For the DAC to have a true differential output it must use (at least) two DAC channels per speaker channel (ie hot and cold from each DAC channel). That is not the same as chips, a lot of DACs have 8 channels for example even if used in stereo DACs. And I say at least as some DACs combine outputs from multiple DAC channels (I think the Oppo 105 does this with 8 channels) to make a stereo pair which may be differential or not.


OK, it appears that little knowledge is not necessarily a good thing I my case !

So just to confirm,

What I think you are saying is that even if the Musical Fidelity M6si with balanced inputs is truly differential, a good DAC such as the chord 2qute connected through RCA, would still be better option than a DAC connected through XLR if the dac chip implementation isn't as good ?

Matt
 

TomScrut

Well-known Member
Yes that's what I am saying. The connection is not as important as the dac itself. Even different DACs that use the same chip (such as the ESS chips) can be very different in terms of sound and quality. Chord don't use a DAC chip per se, they use a FPGA to do the conversion. Haven't heard the 2qute, Hugo etc but it's something that some people love and some can't see what the fuss is about
 

SwissToni

Active Member
Yes that's what I am saying. The connection is not as important as the dac itself. Even different DACs that use the same chip (such as the ESS chips) can be very different in terms of sound and quality. Chord don't use a DAC chip per se, they use a FPGA to do the conversion. Haven't heard the 2qute, Hugo etc but it's something that some people love and some can't see what the fuss is about


OK thanks Tom, i appreciate you coming back to me.

I'll obviously have to try one first but my AV cabinet is becoming rather full and I just about have enough room for the Chord 2qute.

My only experience with separate DAC's is a Eastern Electric Minimax plus which i still use in a headphone system in my bedroom and this uses the sabre 9018. This is about four years old and i guess that modern designs should be superior with better detail retrieval.

As to peoples differing opinions, isn't that true of most hi end equipment !

I have just purchased some Monitor Audio gold 300's and I think they are amazing. Some local dealers to me refused to stock them as they hated how they sounded !

Each to their own I guess.

Anyway thanks again.

Matt
 

lokyc

Well-known Member
Agree with @TomScrut, most amps may have the inputs but is not necessarily full differential. Very much a North American thing and maybe some esoteric European brands. Most high street brands in UK probably don't know much about differential signalling!

There are even fewer DACs with genuine differential signal paths. They may have an output. The main advantage will be noise suppression. But implementation is as important as design.

The Chord Hugo TT has balanced outputs, but that's at the preamp stage. An invertor is added to convert the single ended signal from the FPGA to balanced differential outputs.

My own experience and speaking to various ppl is that at the source level, it doesn't really matter unless the signal path is ridiculously long (like in pro audio, mics for example). The biggest difference is in the amplification stage.
 

SwissToni

Active Member
Agree with @TomScrut, most amps may have the inputs but is not necessarily full differential. Very much a North American thing and maybe some esoteric European brands. Most high street brands in UK probably don't know much about differential signalling!

There are even fewer DACs with genuine differential signal paths. They may have an output. The main advantage will be noise suppression. But implementation is as important as design.

The Chord Hugo TT has balanced outputs, but that's at the preamp stage. An invertor is added to convert the single ended signal from the FPGA to balanced differential outputs.

My own experience and speaking to various ppl is that at the source level, it doesn't really matter unless the signal path is ridiculously long (like in pro audio, mics for example). The biggest difference is in the amplification stage.

Thanks Lokyc,

Makes my choice of DAC a little easier.

As long as the 2qute performs better than my EE Minimax plus then my choice is made.

Matt
 

lokyc

Well-known Member
The 2qute will blow most DACs out of the water.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
How much money do you have to spend????

Musical Fidelity makes some nice DACs, worth checking out.

Musical Fidelity | V90-DAC DAC

Musical Fidelity | M1DAC DAC

Musical Fidelity | MX-DAC DAC

Musical Fidelity | M6DAC DAC

The M1DAC is discontinued but you can still find them.

The MX-DAC is about £600. V-DAC about £200. M6DAC about £2000.

At to Balanaced and UnBalanced, as other have implied, only the Input and Outputs are Balanced or Differential lines, in a vast majority of cases, internally, amp are single ended or unbalanced. Balanced is primarily used for noise reduction for long wire runs such as you might find in a studio. Generally, they are not necessary, but if you have them certainly use them.

Balanced lines have two signal lines rather than Signal and Ground. The signal line are Signal(+) and Signal(-) plus a common shield/earth Ground, because they are opposite polarity, any noise picked up in the transmission of the signal will be canceled out (+2-2=0).

However for common shorter runs typical of Signal/Ground RCA cables, good cables are sufficiently shielded that they pick up virtually no noise.

So, on one hand, no need to go out of your way to get Balanced lines, but on the other hand, if you have them, you might as well use them.

Steve/bluewizard
 

SwissToni

Active Member
How much money do you have to spend????

Musical Fidelity makes some nice DACs, worth checking out
Musical Fidelity | V90-DAC DAC

Musical Fidelity | M1DAC DAC

Musical Fidelity | MX-DAC DAC

Musical Fidelity | M6DAC DAC

The M1DAC is discontinued but you can still find them.

The MX-DAC is about £600. V-DAC about £200. M6DAC about £2000.

At to Balanaced and UnBalanced, as other have implied, only the Input and Outputs are Balanced or Differential lines, in a vast majority of cases, internally, amp are single ended or unbalanced. Balanced is primarily used for noise reduction for long wire runs such as you might find in a studio. Generally, they are not necessary, but if you have them certainly use them.

Balanced lines have two signal lines rather than Signal and Ground. The signal line are Signal(+) and Signal(-) plus a common shield/earth Ground, because they are opposite polarity, any noise picked up in the transmission of the signal will be canceled out (+2-2=0).

However for common shorter runs typical of Signal/Ground RCA cables, good cables are sufficiently shielded that they pick up virtually no noise.

So, on one hand, no need to go out of your way to get Balanced lines, but on the other hand, if you have them, you might as well use them.

Steve/bluewizard

Hi Steve.

My understanding is that the DAC built into the M6si is basically a V DAC with a better power supply. I am looking to get something better for about £1000.

The £2000 M6 is over 3 years old and I assume that DACS especially have improved over the last few years. The MX seems OK and has balanced outputs but from what I have heard about the 2qute would suggest it's one of the best out there and fit within my budget.

Having matching gear is of no importance and to me one of the benefits of separates.

I appreciate your suggestions but I think I have made up my mind on the 2qute. That is unless the new Audiolab Mdac plus is something amazing !

Matt
 

lokyc

Well-known Member
U may want to consider the Hugo itself. you should be able to get some ex demo ones around 1.2k. There's some talk it sounds marginally better than the 2qute because it uses battery power or something. not sure if there is is a significant enough difference, but worth testing out.
 

SwissToni

Active Member
Go with the 2qute buddy you wont be disapointed, great piece of kit


The used one on the gadget show this week with some PMC speakers and a parasound amp to compare mp3 with flac music. The basically said that flac was pointless !

The way it was set up with rubbish. Mobile phone with headphones or the kit mentioned above in an auditorium with about 50 people and no positioning of the speakers to give a stereo image !

Still going to buy the Chord

Matt
 

stevey boy

Active Member
The whole set up was a joke mate I was having a chat with my hifi dealer today about it all.

They were making a comparison between Spotify and Tidal streaming services and basically said that there is no difference, I have personally used both and Tidal blows Spotify away for sure.

I actually listened to Tidal via the Chordette 2qute this evening for about 4 hours and as far as I'm concerned you wont go wrong wether using it from pc or as an upgrade to an internal DAC within an existing component!
This of course depends on the component in question but with your MF amp a worthy upgrade for sure.

Happy listening and enjoy if and when you do grab a 2qute.

Steve
 

lokyc

Well-known Member
I won't say its pointless, but I think what they're trying to point out is how the interpolation of the Hugo FPGA helps fill in the gaps in mp3s. The timing information is somewhat reconstructed, but frequency extensions still could be fuller. But that's equipment specific (ie amp and speakers). I would say it comes close to 16/44 lossless.

but proper HD mastered stuff still sounds awesome. All in all, the FPGA brings an upgrade to everything you listen to. Makes it more analogue. Which from my conversation with Rob Watts, is what he enjoys and try to recreate.
 

stevey boy

Active Member
Yes I agree very analogue/organic sound, the FPGA is a great chip and offers a much more open and informative sound than your off the shelf chips so to speak - ess,wolfson,burrbrown etc

Rob watts is a very clever man
 

lokyc

Well-known Member
Thing about RW is he enjoys music. He enjoys audio, broadcast. He wants to enjoy the final product. Analogue.

So his puts his efforts into understanding what analogue is to the human ear. Other mainstream manufacturers design DACs on a computer. but not listening to them.

I so don't want to come near DAVE...
 

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