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Ultra Hi-Fi, Part 3: The Difference Made by a Balanced Signal Path

The quickest path to great sound isn’t necessarily a straight line.

Just as in music, the secret to creating a great-sounding audio system is balance. If two singers are harmonizing a melody but one is louder than the other, the balance is off — and it’s noticeable. Creating the ultimate Hi-Fi system requires that same kind of attention to detail.

Yamaha C-5000 preamplifier front panel.

The new Yamaha 5000 Series of flagship high fidelity audio components are designed to allow you to listen to music as the artist intended. They include the GT-5000 turntable, C-5000 preamplifier and M-5000 amplifier, which utilize an end-to-end balanced signal chain to deliver pristine audio to your loudspeakers — especially when used with our advanced NS-5000 speakers. In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of a balanced signal path.

C-5000 preamplifier rear panel.

A balanced signal path is established when an audio signal travels from its source (such as a turntable or CD player) to its final destination (your ears) while being isolated from potential noise in the audio ground circuit.

Photo of two RCA cables.

RCA cables.

Unbalanced signal paths are susceptible to signal noise caused by electrical and magnetic interference because they offer only a single audio connection, encased in an outer conductor ground shield. RCA cables are widely considered the industry standard for unbalanced audio connections. They are used in many Hi-Fi systems, as well as by many gaming systems, turntables, sound bars and AV receivers. These kinds of interconnections generally offer satisfactory sound quality. However, when striving for the purest sound possible, a balanced signal path is a better way to go.

This requires that all audio stages be balanced, from source to preamplifier to amplifier, as well as the speakers themselves. Balanced circuitry requires twice the electronics, with hot (plus) and cold (minus) paths that mirror each other to completely isolate the audio signal from the ground.

Accordingly, you’ll need to use cables with XLR (External Line Return) connectors to route signal between your audio components. These are the same types of cables used in live sound and recording to connect microphones, effects processors, audio interfaces and other line-level devices to mixing boards — and to connect output signal from the mixing board to power amplifiers. When used for home audio, they typically connect a source to a preamplifier and amplifier — for example, the GT-5000 turntable into a C-5000 preamp and then an M-5000 amp.

Close-up photo of male and female XLR connectors.As shown in the illustration on the right, XLR connectors come in two varieties: male and female, with the male type used when sending signal, and the female type used when receiving signal. Regardless of the “gender” of the connector, each contains three contact points (“pins”). One pin carries hot (plus) signal, while the other carries cold (minus) signal. These are mirror images of each other (which results in greatly reduced noise), and both are electrically isolated from the ground reference on the third pin. As with most interconnecting cables, thicker conductors provide greater shielding of the audio signal to establish lower noise along a greater distance. For added reliability, the connectors are often equipped with locks to keep them in position for a more reliable connection.

Establishing a balanced signal path is not a guaranteed route to the perfect high fidelity audio system – but it’ll definitely get you in the ballpark. By using balanced interconnections and high end components (like the Yamaha 5000 Series), you’ll be entering a world of True Sound in no time.

 

Check out our first two Ultra Hi-Fi blog articles:

Part 1: The Difference a Tonearm Makes

Part 2: The Difference Made by Speaker Driver Materials

For more information about balanced and unbalanced cables and connectors, read ourInterconnections 101” blog posting.

Click here for more information about the Yamaha 5000 Flagship Hi-Fi Series.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ted Goslin
Ted Goslin is a content marketing specialist for the Yamaha Consumer Audio group who has dedicated his career to learning and writing about music and sound technology. His time as senior editor of Mobile Electronics magazine resulted in his being nominated twice for the Western Publishing Association MAGGIE Awards. Ted’s work at Mobile Electronics included small business best practices and exploring the emergence of new audio technology in blogs and feature articles. His music background includes over 20 years playing, teaching, and composing music for steel drums. He is also the editor and publisher of the popular online publication, PAN Magazine. Ted loves showing people the benefits of having quality audio in their home and helping them overcome common problems they experience while exploring various ...

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