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Connecting Headphones to Balanced Headphones Out

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Jul 13, 2018
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#1
Hi everyone,

I'm looking for advice on something that is probably going to make most of you roll your eyes because of how simple it is; But I am a complete novice when it comes to audio so please bear with me.

First up let me give you some background on my situation.
These past 5 years or so, I've been using fairly low-end headphones connected to an Asus Xonar soundcard that's plugged into my PC's mainboard. It's served me reliably, but now I'm planning to significantly upgrade my audio equipment in hopes of increasing the quality of the sound I'm getting and maybe even increasing my enjoyment of music.

So after doing some research over the last few days, I've decided to replace my soundcard with an external DAC and amp, and my aging headphones with higher quality ones. My choice fell on the FME-ADI 2 Pro as a 2-in-1 DAC/amp solution and the Sennheiser HD800 as my new headphones. Both of these seem to be highly recommended online, with the ADI 2 having been recommended by people on this forum even.

The reason I went for the more expensive Pro version over the DAC version is that the latter doesn't feature a balanced headphones out mode which I've read can make a big difference in the amount of power it delivers to the headphones and supposedly help drive the HD800 better.

This brings me to my questions (thanks for sticking with me this far):

I understand that the Sennheiser only come with a regular SE cable that can't be used for balanced operation. Now I've read a bit about balanced cables and that you have to replace the SE one with one or two of those, but this is where I get completely lost. Apparently there are different types of cables, XLR and cinch, 2 x 3Pin XLR and 1 x 4Pin XLR or something along those lines?
I think XLR is what I need, but I'm not sure whether to use 3Pin cables or 4Pin cables and why you have to use 2 of one type, but only 1 of the other if that assumption is even correct.
Also, will I need to use a special adapter or can I just plug the cable(s) straight into the HD800 and the ADI 2 Pro?
And lastly, does cable quality make any discernible difference and if so, what should I look for?
I don't want to compromise on quality so I'm looking for an optimal solution if possible.

If anyone has made it to the end of this terrible and uninformed post then thank you for taking the time out of your day; And if you have an answer that could shed some light on any or all of my questions I'd be very grateful for that.


Tldr: What is the best way of connecting the HD800 to the RME ADI 2's balanced headphones out jacks, what cable(s) should I use and is there anything else I need to look out for?


Best Regards,

GreenZeldo
 
Last edited:

Grave

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#2
FWIR balanced is pointless.
 
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#3
Thank you for your reply! I've definitely heard some conflicting statements about the quality of balanced vs. single-ended, but as I understand there is a measurable difference in that they deliver twice the voltage from the amp which helps with harder to drive headphones.
 

pkane

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#4
I understand that the Sennheiser only come with a regular SE cable that can't be used for balanced operation. Now I've read a bit about balanced cables and that you have to replace the SE one with one or two of those, but this is where I get completely lost. Apparently there are different types of cables, XLR and cinch, 2 x 3Pin XLR and 1 x 4Pin XLR or something along those lines?
I think XLR is what I need, but I'm not sure whether to use 3Pin cables or 4Pin cables and why you have to use 2 of one type, but only 1 of the other if that assumption is even correct.
If you are going to connect your phones to RME-2 pro, you'll need a four conductor cable (two to each can) and terminated with two standard 1/4" stereo connectors. If you are somewhat handy with a soldering iron, you could easily build a cable with a modest investment into two HD800 connectors and a couple of 1/4" stereo connectors, along with some balanced cable. I use Canare star-quad 4E6S. But I suspect you could find this kind of cable pre-made, though it may cost a bit more this way.

And yes, you'll get greater level out of a balanced output, which is something I find useful with a long headphone cable of 5m, and a not very powerful head amp. RME-2 Pro is powerful enough to easily overcome any losses over a long cable, so there may not be much benefit to using a balanced one in your case.
 

derp1n

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#5
The reason I went for the more expensive Pro version over the DAC version is that the latter doesn't feature a balanced headphones out mode which I've read can make a big difference in the amount of power it delivers to the headphones and supposedly help drive the HD800 better.
The amplifier in the ADI-2 Pro (and DAC) in single-ended mode has way more power than necessary to drive HD800s. They're not particularly hard to drive headphones. There's absolutely zero need for a balanced connection and it will have no audible benefit.
 
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#6
If you are going to connect your phones to RME-2 pro, you'll need a four conductor cable (two to each can) and terminated with two standard 1/4" stereo connectors. If you are somewhat handy with a soldering iron, you could easily build a cable with a modest investment into two HD800 connectors and a couple of 1/4" stereo connectors, along with some balanced cable. I use Canare star-quad 4E6S. But I suspect you could find this kind of cable pre-made, though it may cost a bit more this way.
Thanks for the reply. Let's assume that I have two left hands and just want to buy a cable outright withour having to modify it in anyway.
Do I understand it correctly that I need to buy a single four conductor cable which is split into two conductors each that each go into one side of the headphones as well as into the ADI's headphones out jack?

When searching for this type of cable on Amazon, the only thing I can find is this:

https://www.amazon.com/LyxPro-4-Conductor-Balanced-Microphone-Quality/dp/B00KWINB5Q/

But this cable doesn't seem to be divided or split in the way that you described so this wouldn't work I assume.
Is this type of cable something that is produced on an assembly line, or do I need someone to custom build it so it has the right connectors for both the headphones and the amp?
If you could send me a link to a pre-assembled product that is exactly what I need it would really help me because I'm still not entirely sure how to find it. Sorry for being a complete noob at this.

The amplifier in the ADI-2 Pro (and DAC) in single-ended mode has way more power than necessary to drive HD800s. They're not particularly hard to drive headphones. There's absolutely zero need for a balanced connection and it will have no audible benefit.
Thank you for your input. I will take your statement into consideration, but what I have heard from owners of both of these devices is that the SE connection with the built in amp is a little lacking and they actually found it necessary to use a more powerful stand alone amp or switch to balanced mode. What I am going to do is buy the Pro version, then connect it through an SE connection to the HD800 and if it's enough then I will simply exchange the Pro version for the dac and call it a day. And if it's inadequate then I will connect it via balanced cables and increase the power that way.
 

BE718

Major Contributor
forum experimenter
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#7
Hi everyone,

I'm looking for advice on something that is probably going to make most of you roll your eyes because of how simple it is; But I am a complete novice when it comes to audio so please bear with me.

First up let me give you some background on my situation.
These past 5 years or so, I've been using fairly low-end headphones connected to an Asus Xonar soundcard that's plugged into my PC's mainboard. It's served me reliably, but now I'm planning to significantly upgrade my audio equipment in hopes of increasing the quality of the sound I'm getting and maybe even increasing my enjoyment of music.

So after doing some research over the last few days, I've decided to replace my soundcard with an external DAC and amp, and my aging headphones with higher quality ones. My choice fell on the FME-ADI 2 Pro as a 2-in-1 DAC/amp solution and the Sennheiser HD800 as my new headphones. Both of these seem to be highly recommended online, with the ADI 2 having been recommended by people on this forum even.

The reason I went for the more expensive Pro version over the DAC version is that the latter doesn't feature a balanced headphones out mode which I've read can make a big difference in the amount of power it delivers to the headphones and supposedly help drive the HD800 better.

This brings me to my questions (thanks for sticking with me this far):

I understand that the Sennheiser only come with a regular SE cable that can't be used for balanced operation. Now I've read a bit about balanced cables and that you have to replace the SE one with one or two of those, but this is where I get completely lost. Apparently there are different types of cables, XLR and cinch, 2 x 3Pin XLR and 1 x 4Pin XLR or something along those lines?
I think XLR is what I need, but I'm not sure whether to use 3Pin cables or 4Pin cables and why you have to use 2 of one type, but only 1 of the other if that assumption is even correct.
Also, will I need to use a special adapter or can I just plug the cable(s) straight into the HD800 and the ADI 2 Pro?
And lastly, does cable quality make any discernible difference and if so, what should I look for?
I don't want to compromise on quality so I'm looking for an optimal solution if possible.

If anyone has made it to the end of this terrible and uninformed post then thank you for taking the time out of your day; And if you have an answer that could shed some light on any or all of my questions I'd be very grateful for that.


Tldr: What is the best way of connecting the HD800 to the RME ADI 2's balanced headphones out jacks, what cable(s) should I use and is there anything else I need to look out for?


Best Regards,

GreenZeldo
My concern would be have you actually listened to the 800s? They are not universally liked and many find them bright, me included.

The difference, if any, with balanced drive is trivial compared to that between different cans. Auditioning cans is essential imo. Ear canal resonances are different from individual to individual. If the headphones frequency response doesn't match your personal anotomy it won't sound right.

images (1).jpeg


FWIW I also find the 700s horrible but 650s and 600s excellent. I currently use magnetic planar Oppo PM1s.

Just look how the two cans I like dip at 5 to 6 kHz where the ones I dont well....... Dont

graphCompare.png
 
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#8
My concern would be have you actually listened to the 800s? They are not universally liked and many find them bright, me included.

The difference, if any, with balanced drive is trivial compared to that between different cans. Auditioning cans is essential imo. FWIW I also find the 700s horrible but 650s and 600s excellent. I currently use magnetic planar Oppo PM1s.
I haven't tried any headphones yet since I'm not buying this chain until the end of this year when I also overhaul my PC so there's still plenty of time for me to do so. For now, I'm just planning ahead and trying to gather as much information as I can.
There are a few stores around me where I can listen to different headphones for free so I'll drive up there in the next weeks and give the HD800 a listen to see if it suits my tastes. I'll give the 650s, 600s and Oppos a listen too to see if I prefer them. I was also thinking of trying the Audezer LCD3s if they have them in the store.
 

BE718

Major Contributor
forum experimenter
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#9
I haven't tried any headphones yet since I'm not buying this chain until the end of this year when I also overhaul my PC so there's still plenty of time for me to do so. For now, I'm just planning ahead and trying to gather as much information as I can.
There are a few stores around me where I can listen to different headphones for free so I'll drive up there in the next weeks and give the HD800 a listen to see if it suits my tastes. I'll give the 650s, 600s and Oppos a listen too to see if I prefer them. I was also thinking of trying the Audezer LCD3s if they have them in the store.
I do find magnetic planar cans generally better than standard dynamics, so yes look at the audeze range.

As you can see the LCDs will sound very different to the 800s

graphCompare (1).png



http://graphs.headphone.com/index.p...e=30&graphType=0&buttonSelection=Update+Graph
 
Last edited:

derp1n

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#10
Thank you for your input. I will take your statement into consideration, but what I have heard from owners of both of these devices is that the SE connection with the built in amp is a little lacking and they actually found it necessary to use a more powerful stand alone amp or switch to balanced mode. What I am going to do is buy the Pro version, then connect it through an SE connection to the HD800 and if it's enough then I will simply exchange the Pro version for the dac and call it a day. And if it's inadequate then I will connect it via balanced cables and increase the power that way.
The ADI-2 DAC headphone output in high-power mode will output 10 V. The HD800 has a sensitivity of 102 dB/V. So it will easily drive them to 122 dB SPL. The balanced output of the ADI-2 Pro will output 19.5 V, giving you 127 dB SPL. Are you seriously telling me you need to drive the HD800s beyond 122 dB SPL?
 
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#11
I do find magnetic planar cans generally better than standard dynamics, so yes look at the audeze range.

As you can see the LCDs will sound very different to the 800s

View attachment 13879


http://graphs.headphone.com/index.p...e=30&graphType=0&buttonSelection=Update+Graph
Wow the difference is really immense especially between the HD800 and the LCD3. This really surprises me as I wouldn't have thought there'd be as much of a difference in sound between higher end headphones so thanks for putting things into perspective for me. I will choose whichever headphones sound subjectively best/most pleasant to my ears after I get a chance to try them.
The ADI-2 DAC headphone output in high-power mode will output 10 V. The HD800 has a sensitivity of 102 dB/V. So it will easily drive them to 122 dB SPL. The balanced output of the ADI-2 Pro will output 19.5 V, giving you 127 dB SPL. Are you seriously telling me you need to drive the HD800s beyond 122 dB SPL?
I didn't mean to cause any offense, I'm sure your data is valid, but the problem is that without any experience on my part on how to translate this data into a real life experience, I would rather try both options myself and then come to a conclusion than immediately settle on one choice without having experienced the other.

Like I said in one of my posts above, it's not a problem if I end up returning the Pro for the DAC and switch back to an SE connection. I might order the audio equipment a week or so before I upgrade my PC so I can test it and then exchange the equipment in time so that it coincides with the arrival of my PC hardware. I don't plan on using my PC much before that anyway.
 
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