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[Advice needed] L30 vs. A50s + Custom cables - Pros/Cons ?

Jose Hidalgo

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#1
Hi everybody :) This is more complicated than it seems, so I've split this post into several parts (everything is correlated). Thanks in advance to ASR experts for their precious help !

----------

As some of you know, I have two L30 that I'd like to replace because of the potential risk for my beloved headphones (Thank you Topping for reacting quickly about that issue, much appreciated). The obvious way is to have my reseller (Aoshida) send me two L30 of the newest batch and get rid of the two old L30.

I could also pay a bit more and get two A50s instead (price difference vs. the L30 : 60-70 € per amp, so 120-140 € total). Not for performance (I'm quite sure both sound the same to the human ear) but for peace of mind, as the A50s don't seem to have any problems.

----------

The A50s has two main differences vs. the L30 :
  1. It's a balanced amp, so it has a 6.35 plug and a 4.4 pentaconn plug which can deliver 4 times the power of the 6.35
  2. It's about half as powerful as the L30 in unbalanced mode, whereas in balanced mode it's about twice as powerful (see L30 review and A50s review).
I wonder if in unbalanced mode the A50s could be loud enough for my HD600 (EQed by Oratory, so preamp gain = -5dB). My L30 certainly is, I just need to put it at 0dB and max volume, so, 9dB less than its maximum power. Would somebody be able to do the math here ? @solderdude maybe ? ;)

Also, I have a pair of Sundara and so far I've been a little disappointed with their subjective performance on my L30. Maybe it's simply because my ears don't fall in love with the Sundara. But could it be that being planars they don't give their full potential in unbalanced mode ? :oops: (just asking, it may be a stupid question, sorry). Would it have something to do with the slew rate being faster in balanced mode ? Or is the L30 slew rate beyond human ear capabilities anyway ?

Until now I didn't see a reason to go balanced with devices like Topping E30/L30 that are already excellent, but Amir himself has recently hinted that balanced is noticeably better in his A50s listening tests, so I'm confused now. o_O

----------

It may be worth mentioning that in any case my DACs will remain unbalanced. I have two E30, I don't intend to replace them, and if I did someday, it would be for a multi-channel DAC like the ESI Gigaport EX which is also unbalanced. Is it really worth having a balanced amp like the A50s when your DAC is unbalanced like the E30 ? (for the record the D50 and the D50s are unbalanced too - balanced DACs are much more expensive).

----------

Last but not least, I'm about to order a set of modular custom-made headphone cables, for all my headphones.

Since I wasn't interested in balanced, I was about to order this :
  • Interconnects : 3.5 mm to mini-XLR 3P
  • Headphone cables : mini-XLR 3P to 2 x headphone connectors

If I wanted to go balanced with the A50s, I should instead order this :
  • Interconnects : 4.4 mm to mini-XLR 4P
  • Headphone cables : mini-XLR 4P to 2 x headphone connectors
  • Unbalanced adapters (for smartphones & co.) : 3.5mm male to 4.4mm female
----------

TO SUM IT UP :

Solution 1 :
  • Wait a couple of months for peace of mind
  • Order two L30 from the newest batch (2102 or later)
  • Order custom unbalanced cables (which means that I will never be able to go balanced in the future unless I change everything)
Solution 2 :
  • Don't wait
  • Order two A50s now, paying the price difference
  • Order custom balanced cables (which will be more expensive too)
Solution 3 :
  • Don't wait
  • Order two A50s now, paying the price difference (about 80 € per amp, so 160 € total)
  • Order custom unbalanced cables
Could you guys please help me make up my mind ?

These decisions will shape my listening experiences for the upcoming years. I'm currently half-afraid (that a L30, past or future, could blow my headphones) and half-confused. Thanks ! :)
 
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Jose Hidalgo

Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #2
Wow, nearly 100 views and 0 replies ? :oops: Come on guys, I know it's a long post, but please help me here. It's a difficult matter after all. :confused:
 
OP
Jose Hidalgo

Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #4
you start talking about custom cables, you don't catch the attention here like that... xD
I'll change the title to make people understand that I'm making custom cables for EASE OF USE ONLY, and certainly not for performance reasons ! All cables sound equal. I just want a single connector (Mini-XLR) for all my headphones, that's all. :)
Edit - Can't change the title anymore, that's too bad.
 
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Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #6
Now let's just hope this topic gains traction and somebody can actually help me lean towards one of the proposed solutions.

 

raif71

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#7
My cans hd600, hd660s, hd6xx and Sundara are using cables that end with balanced pentaconn 4.4mm. Whenever I encounter amps with 6.35mm jacks only, I use the 6.35mm jack to 4.4mm pentaconn female adapter (I also have adapter for 3.5mm to 4.4mm) . I try to avoid buying amps that only have xlr jacks for balanced which is easy as most modern amps now have the 4.4mm pentaconn jacks for headphones.
 
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#8
The A50s has two main differences vs. the L30 :
It's about half as powerful as the L30 in unbalanced mode
I wonder if in unbalanced mode the A50s could be loud enough for my HD600 (EQed by Oratory, so preamp gain = -5dB). My L30 certainly is, I just need to put it at 0dB and max volume, so, 9dB less than its maximum power. Would somebody be able to do the math here ?
From Amir's graphs, the L30 in medium (0 dB) gain and max volume delivers just over 100 mW into 33 ohms, whereas the A50s delivers 92 mW into 33 ohms in unbalanced low gain (so almost as powerful as the L30 in medium gain), but delivers 465 mW into 33 ohms in unbalanced high gain. The EQ pre-amp gain of -5dB is the same penalty for both L30 and A50s, so it factors out of the comparison. Your Sundara's nominal impedance is 37 ohms, so the 33 ohm numbers are relevant for comparison. Conclusion: The A50s maxed out in unbalanced low gain may be just shy (about 1 dB less) of your "loud enough" level for HD600 using L30 maxed out in medium gain, but the unbalanced high gain of A50s will be overwhelmingly capable of driving HD600 to loud enough for you and well beyond.

Also, I have a pair of Sundara and so far I've been a little disappointed with their subjective performance on my L30. Maybe it's simply because my ears don't fall in love with the Sundara.
Yes. No headphone exists that is guaranteed to please everyone's ears. Give it some more time for evaluation, but not beyond the return window. If by then it does not thrill you or your wife as compared with your other headphones, even with Oratory's EQ or other EQ, return it or sell it off.

But could it be that being planars they don't give their full potential in unbalanced mode ?
No.

Would it have something to do with the slew rate being faster in balanced mode ? Or is the L30 slew rate beyond human ear capabilities anyway ?
No. Yes.

Until now I didn't see a reason to go balanced with devices like Topping E30/L30 that are already excellent, but Amir himself has recently hinted that balanced is noticeably better in his A50s listening tests, so I'm confused now.
Amir's comment was made in connection with driving his Ether CX which are quite difficult to drive, being low-impedance and low-sensitivity, and requiring a great deal of power to provide taut controlled powerful bass sound. This has nothing to do with any illusory "balanced sound" versus "unbalanced sound" per se, just that the balanced output can deliver the needed power while the unbalanced cannot quite achieve it. None of your current headphones are difficult to drive; in particular the Sundara was designed to be easy to drive. If you think you may in the future acquire such difficult to drive headphones that would require the power delivered by the balanced output of an HP amp, assign a probability to the event and do a risk assessment (along the lines of what I had previously suggested) to choose between Solutions 2 and 3. The risk of Solution 1 is too large (if you decide to go balanced later, additional cost of replacing L30 with A50s).

Solution 3 :
  • Don't wait
  • Order two A50s now, paying the price difference (about 80 € per amp, so 160 € total)
  • Order custom unbalanced cables
Could you guys please help me make up my mind ?
This.

P.S. I am no expert in audio, just a lay person like you. But the above is my two cents, a little less when converted to Euros.
 
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Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #9
Wow @JustAnandaDourEyedDude , I can't thank you enough for this. It's exactly the kind of answer I was hoping for ! I believe you have answered all my questions. In particular, I was worried that balanced could be "better" than unbalanced for some obscure and yet scientific reason that I wouldn't know about o_O It was Amir's comment that frightened me a bit. Now you have comforted me : I was right from the beginning, balanced isn't "better" than unbalanced, slew rate will always be "fast enough" in unbalanced, and balanced just allows for more power.

Maybe I'm not in love with my Sundara yet, and maybe I will in the future. But I'm definitely in love with my HD600 and my Nighthawk, and that's already great. I can always sell my Sundara in a few months if I want to.

I don't know about my future headphones of course, but I would be surprised if they were incredibly hard to drive. My current plans are : a second Nighthawk for my home office (ah, you can never have enough Nighthawks :D:facepalm:) and a Meze 99 Classics for travelling purposes and because I love the design ;) After that I will definitely calm down for a long time, lol. Or will I ?... :eek:

The only thing I don't understand is your proposed solution. You see, if I order unbalanced cables I will never be able to benefit from the A50s balanced mode... so I would have no reason to order them... except getting them now, which is worth considering. But I already have two L30, and so far they work great (I'm extremely careful for the moment every time I touch them, hoping that they won't blow up my cans/ears, fingers crossed !).

So if I order unbalanced cables, I think I'd rather wait for two months and get two corrected L30. I already know that they are powerful enough for all my cans, so I don't really need two A50s for that. Do you agree ? :)
 
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#10
You see, if I order unbalanced cables I will never be able to benefit from the extra power from the A50s... so I would have no reason to order them, except getting them now.
With unbalanced cables, you would not be able to benefit from the power of the balanced output of the A50s. But for your HD600, you do not need the balanced power. As I said, the 465 mW that Amir measured out of unbalanced output at high gain of the A50s is far more than enough to make the HD600 loud enough per your standard.

But I already have two L30, and so far they work great
I have two L30 that I'd like to replace because of the potential risk for my beloved headphones
Well, the risk is in the end up to you to assess and base your decision on. I personally would choose the A50s over the L30. It is unclear to me whether ESD is indeed the (only) cause of the (very few) failures. The L30 channels a lot of power in a very compact form factor and a plastic case which conducts and radiates heat not that well. The A50s in unbalanced mode channels less power in a probably slightly larger form factor and a black metal case (I think) which conducts and radiates heat far better. The metal case may also minimize any risk of ESD affecting the internals. If I bought the A50s now, I pay a little more, but then I do not have to replace the amp if I decide to go balanced in the future.

Plus like you said, the A50s could be just a tiny bit short of power to drive my HD600 in unbalanced mode and in some cases (Classical for instance).
I did not say that. I said the unbalanced low gain of A50s may be 1dB short of the medium gain of L30, but the unbalanced high gain power of A50s far exceeds the medium gain of L30. So the A50s will drive your HD600 with ease to uncomfortably loud levels.

So if I order unbalanced cables, I think I'd rather wait for two months and get two corrected L30. At least I'd be sure that they have enough power for all my cans. Do you agree ?
Sorry, but I disagree. If the HD600 is the most power-hungry of your cans, the A50s available now will drive all of them easily to uncomfortably loud levels in unbalanced high gain mode. Amir's "Distortion vs Power @ 33 Ohm" chart for the A50s shows 465 mW max power for unbalanced high gain output from 1/4 inch jack.
 
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Jose Hidalgo

Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #11
Ah, you replied too fast. As you can see now, I was editing my previous post (I removed the A50s power part as it was wrong indeed :p).

I get what you say, so ultimately I'll be happy with either L30 or A50s.
I'm already happy with my two L30, but I'm very cautious and yes, I use them less often because I'm afraid right now. I have used them only once since the beginning of the year. :(

A50s = powerful enough for all my purposes = room for the future (balanced) = more expensive. Got it.
But don't forget that if I ever needed balanced in the future for power purposes, I'd also need to make new custom cables = even more expensive.
If I stay unbalanced, I can't find any good reason for the A50s... besides having it now of course.
 

Helicopter

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#12
I wouldn't mess around with adapter cables myself. I would just get or make the cables I wanted for each headphone. I have not had great luck with jacks for 1/4" after my toddler tugged on some cables. I would rather not add an additional connection like that to a system.

Fixed low serial number L30 or high serial number L30 should be fine and excellent.

I use XLR-4 cables for everything that is detatchable with a Schiit Modius, Magnius, and Heresy (for better 1/4" performance with fixed cables). So far, so good. I just wish my Audeze headphones were Dan Clarks now that I have seen the latest review.
 

Harmonie

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#13
@Jose Hidalgo
You shared all your pics of special nested 2 L30 devices aso.
Why do you bother changing everything again.
Just relax and wait to send your 2 amps for a new version , as @solderdude hinted, you may even keep the boards for future replacement parts aso.

You make things way too complicated.
 
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Jose Hidalgo

Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #15
@Harmonie , maybe I like complicated. It's my choice. ;)
That being said, I'm currently leaning towards two new L30 and unbalanced cables (unless somebody gives me more reasons for A50s).

Why you take 2 devices each time?
Check my signature links.
 
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Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #16
@PSO just replied this (I got an email notif), but I can't see the post here (maybe he deleted it) :

Probably it is more power or my ears, but i love it when I listen to Meze over balanced cables, or Senn 6xx over balanced. The cables cost more, though.
Also, John's comment (106) in A50s thread (FWIW):
'Balanced output has 4 separated amplifiers drive each end of each side of the headphones. You get much higher output voltage and power as well as much lower distortion because of no shared power ground and return current.'
Well yes, those are facts. But "much lower distortion" is meaningless when the amp is already capable of incredibly low distortion in unbalanced mode. I guess it's the same as the "slew rate" that was mentioned early in this thread. :) If the L30 is capable of this, then I guess I can stick with it.
 

Jimbob54

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#17
Not going to go into the whole balanced vs unbalanced debate. Only thing I would say if you go down the balanced cable route is to use XLR connectors right up until the amp rather than 4.4 terminations and use a very short 4.4 to xlr adapter into the a50s. In my experience , the 4.4 connections are more prone to contact breaking when used in cable runs that snake about. The XLR are heavier but a far more solid connection. Also , far more prevalent should you ever get a new amp which will likely have an XLR than a 4.4mm.
 

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#18
The extremely solid connection to the amp is also an advantage of XLR over 1/4. Its importance depends on who is in your house, etc. The socket is less likely to get damaged when a toddler yanks the cable.
 
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acbarn

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#19
Hi everybody :) This is more complicated than it seems, so I've split this post into several parts (everything is correlated). Thanks in advance to ASR experts for their precious help !

----------

As some of you know, I have two L30 that I'd like to replace because of the potential risk for my beloved headphones (Thank you Topping for reacting quickly about that issue, much appreciated). The obvious way is to have my reseller (Aoshida) send me two L30 of the newest batch and get rid of the two old L30.

I could also pay a bit more and get two A50s instead (price difference vs. the L30 : 60-70 € per amp, so 120-140 € total). Not for performance (I'm quite sure both sound the same to the human ear) but for peace of mind, as the A50s don't seem to have any problems.

----------

The A50s has two main differences vs. the L30 :
  1. It's a balanced amp, so it has a 6.35 plug and a 4.4 pentaconn plug which can deliver 4 times the power of the 6.35
  2. It's about half as powerful as the L30 in unbalanced mode, whereas in balanced mode it's about twice as powerful (see L30 review and A50s review).
I wonder if in unbalanced mode the A50s could be loud enough for my HD600 (EQed by Oratory, so preamp gain = -5dB). My L30 certainly is, I just need to put it at 0dB and max volume, so, 9dB less than its maximum power. Would somebody be able to do the math here ? @solderdude maybe ? ;)

Also, I have a pair of Sundara and so far I've been a little disappointed with their subjective performance on my L30. Maybe it's simply because my ears don't fall in love with the Sundara. But could it be that being planars they don't give their full potential in unbalanced mode ? :oops: (just asking, it may be a stupid question, sorry). Would it have something to do with the slew rate being faster in balanced mode ? Or is the L30 slew rate beyond human ear capabilities anyway ?

Until now I didn't see a reason to go balanced with devices like Topping E30/L30 that are already excellent, but Amir himself has recently hinted that balanced is noticeably better in his A50s listening tests, so I'm confused now. o_O

----------

It may be worth mentioning that in any case my DACs will remain unbalanced. I have two E30, I don't intend to replace them, and if I did someday, it would be for a multi-channel DAC like the ESI Gigaport EX which is also unbalanced. Is it really worth having a balanced amp like the A50s when your DAC is unbalanced like the E30 ? (for the record the D50 and the D50s are unbalanced too - balanced DACs are much more expensive).

----------

Last but not least, I'm about to order a set of modular custom-made headphone cables, for all my headphones.

Since I wasn't interested in balanced, I was about to order this :
  • Interconnects : 3.5 mm to mini-XLR 3P
  • Headphone cables : mini-XLR 3P to 2 x headphone connectors

If I wanted to go balanced with the A50s, I should instead order this :
  • Interconnects : 4.4 mm to mini-XLR 4P
  • Headphone cables : mini-XLR 4P to 2 x headphone connectors
  • Unbalanced adapters (for smartphones & co.) : 3.5mm male to 4.4mm female
----------

TO SUM IT UP :

Solution 1 :
  • Wait a couple of months for peace of mind
  • Order two L30 from the newest batch (2102 or later)
  • Order custom unbalanced cables (which means that I will never be able to go balanced in the future unless I change everything)
Solution 2 :
  • Don't wait
  • Order two A50s now, paying the price difference
  • Order custom balanced cables (which will be more expensive too)
Solution 3 :
  • Don't wait
  • Order two A50s now, paying the price difference (about 80 € per amp, so 160 € total)
  • Order custom unbalanced cables
Could you guys please help me make up my mind ?

These decisions will shape my listening experiences for the upcoming years. I'm currently half-afraid (that a L30, past or future, could blow my headphones) and half-confused. Thanks ! :)
It seems pretty straightforward. You have a pair of L30’s and like them, so just have those replaced. There are no issues with the updated design. Introducing the A50s into the equation will provide no benefit for you and is only clouding the decision making process.
 
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Jose Hidalgo

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Thread Starter #20
Jimbo and Helicopter, I agree with both of you guys. Thankfully, no toddlers here, and none intended. We take great care of our HiFi gear. So even if someday we had amps with 4.4mm ports, it would still be OK. Why ? Because we intend to leave the interconnects permanently plugged to the amps (and never on the floor of course). Only the headphone cables will be plugged/unplugged every time. That is where we need the sturdy connectors... hence the mini-XLR. ;)

I also want the connectors that are permanently plugged into the amps to be angled, to avoid accidents. That's why interconnects like these ones look great to me :

41e2TURAAhL._AC_2.jpg


Last but not least, I have discovered that there are now modular multi-connector systems that would solve all the typical issues. Unfortunately they're really expensive, even in AliExpress.

Take a look at this one : https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005001463529250.html . It looks nice because you can easily switch from balanced 4.4mm to balanced 3.5mm or to unbalanced 3.5mm, but... 41 € for three connectors ? :eek:

There's also this one : https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32839690851.html . Pretty much the same... and even more expensive. :rolleyes:

And there's also nice adapters like this one (DJ44C - 3.5mm unbalanced male to 4.4mm balanced female) : https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4000672404478.html . "Only 24 €" for a damn adapter :facepalm: And we would need two of them if we decided to go A50s. So, even more money : more expensive amps, more expensive balanced cables, plus adapters. It's not reasonable.
 
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