Is there a simple explanation of the difference
between single-ended and balanced operation?
In this context, the terms "single-ended" and "balanced" describe the type of electrical interface between components: i.e. preamplifiers and power amplifiers. Single-ended interfaces use a "common" conductor (shield, ground or instrument chassis) as a signal return path. Balanced lines, on the other hand, use two dedicated conductors to provide forward and return paths for signal. The ground connection in balanced configurations is accomplished by means of a third, dedicated, ground conductor. Any two components in your system will, most likely, have a measurable voltage difference between their chassis. When a single-ended cable is connected between these two components, this voltage difference will appear along the common conductor (shield) of the interconnect. As a result, the shield will now carry the parasitic ground noise current between the two chassis. Since the shield is directly in the signal path, the voltage drop along the ground conductor will be combined with the signal that the interconnect carries. The result will be added noise and distortion introduced directly into the signal path. In a balanced system, a separate shield or ground conductor will be used to connect the two chassis together, reducing the voltage difference between them. But the voltage drop across the shield will not add to the signal, because this third conductor does not carry the signal. What flows through the balanced interconnect is a clean signal, separated from extraneous ground current and noise. Additional benefits are derived from the fact that balanced circuits are inherently symmetrical. The balanced nature of the internal circuit greatly reduces transient demand on the component power supply, further improving signal integrity and noise immunity.
What makes the balanced interface superior to a single-ended interface?
The superiority of the balanced interface comes from at least four areas:
Why should I consider buying a balanced component if I have a single-ended system?
There is a growing volume of evidence that a balanced interface offers superior sound quality. More and more companies are adapting it. The balanced interface is becoming the de facto standard for high-end electronics (witness the proliferation of XLR connections on digital converters, power amplifiers, etc.). Today, Balanced Audio Technology's equipment is perfectly compatible with your single-ended system and will most likely yield higher performance than a corresponding single-ended alternative. Tomorrow, if you add a balanced source, preamplifier or power amplifier, your system can take advantage of the benefits of fully balanced signal handling.
Can I easily hook up my single-ended components (i.e. ones with RCA jacks) to Balanced Audio Technology's electronics?
Yes. All Balanced Audio Technology products are designed to work flawlessly with any mix of balanced and single-ended components. Balanced Audio Technology manufactures custom high-quality balanced-to-single-ended adapters for just this purpose. Each adapter is made with a machined virgin Teflon mating shell that connects an XLR front half to a Teflon-insulated RCA jack. Just plug the adapter into the back-panel XLR connection on BAT electronics and you can use the high quality single-ended cable of your choice. No external active converter is required to make this connection. In addition, products such as our VK-3i, VK-20, VK-30, VK-40 and VK-D5 already offer RCA jacks on the back-panel for a direct connection to any single-ended component.
Is there going to be any performance degradation in using a mixed balanced/single-ended system?
No. All BAT electronics will work perfectly with any mix of components. However, moving to a fully balanced system will bring additional musical enjoyment.
I've heard that not all units that have XLR jacks are truly balanced components? Can you explain this?
Yes. There are many products on the market that add XLR connectors to an internal single-ended circuit. Such designs, while sporting XLR connectors, don't process the signal in balanced form. It is fair to call such units "pseudo-balanced". Unfortunately, this fact is usually not stated accurately in the company literature for these products.
What differences are heard when moving to a balanced system from a single-ended system?
We have conducted an extensive comparison of Balanced Audio Technology systems operating in both balanced and single-ended modes. The same external components were used as well as the same manufacturer's cables. Consistently, the balanced connection yielded a superior sense of air, more three-dimensional images, and a more clearly defined soundstage. The music was infused with greater life and energy.