About High-End Audiophile Balanced Headphone Systems
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The high-end of precise musical resolution is best achieved with top 'balanced' headphones. Room speakers will always image the soundstage and deliver the physical presence of sound better. But, conversely, headphones can offer immersive privacy and perfect detail clarity when doing critical listening. With high-end headphones this can be an an intensely immediate, emotional experience discovering new subtle details hidden in all your favorite music -- and balanced-drive will make it all beautifully clear.
In standard headphones, the signal from the amplifier or audio source drives one side of the voice coil within the headphone driver; the other side of the coil is connected to a ground plane via the ring of the headphone plug. But in 'balanced' headphones, one side of the voice coil is driven by the normal audio signal, and the other side of the coil is driven by a perfectly inverted replica of the normal signal. Hence, this requires four signals from the amplifier (L+, L-, R+, R-) and therefore needs a special headphone amplifier with four channels, and a special re-wiring of the headphones. Learn more in our HeadRoom Balanced Drive Article Series.
Technically, a number of audio performance factors are improved (slew rate, linearity, common mode rejection), but the important result is a significant improvement in musical clarity, coherence, and the ability to hear the sound as more natural and life-like.
HeadRoom Reviews the Very Best Balanced Headphones
Because the cost of a balanced headphone system is substantial, it doesn't make much sense to run anything but the very best headphones in balanced mode. Conveniently, both the Sennheiser HD600 and HD650 have detachable cords so it's easy to upgrade these headphones using Cardas Balanced cable. Both are smooth sounding, laid-back headphones that are a true joy to hear and encourage long luxuriant listening sessions. A brighter, slightly more cleanly detailed sound is the AKG K701, recabled at HeadRoom with Cardas 'Fat Pipe' Balanced cable. We can also balance most DENON headphones, all possessing wonderful bass and treble extension with a liquid and coherent mid-range response that's about tops in closed-back cans. The DENON AH-D7000 is a big headphone capable of reaching the lowest lows with tight, controlled bass texture; midranges stay lush with clearly wonderful highs. The most supreme level of headphone audio performance is likely achieved with the Sennheiser HD800 which is astonishingly neutral and provides the best imaging on headphones we've ever heard. Similar to the equally stellar (but hard-wired) Beyerdynamic T1, the HD800 can be inexpensively balanced by snipping the very high-quality "stock" factory cable and modifying for balanced operation. You can also get a superior Cardas GOLD XLR cord for the Balanced Sennheiser HD800 model. The recent upscale planar-magnetic 'Orthodynamic' headphone designs by makers Audez'e and HIFIMAN also all offer quick-detach cables allowing for easy owner conversion to balanced-drive upon demand.
Balanced XLR Headphone Amplifiers
Of course, a killer balanced headphone amplifier is required for balanced drive. HeadRoom makes the Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp -- aka "THE BUDA" -- a true pinnacle achievement in high-performance, high-definition balanced audio fidelity and direct descendant of the world's first balanced headphone amp, the infamous HeadRoom BlockHead Amp first released by us back in 1999 to an astonished headphone world.
For more technical information and diagrams, see our HeadRoom Balanced Drive Article Series.
We've listed our top HeadRoom balanced picks below but you can click here to see all balanced headphones.