The difference a balanced connection makes is both measurable and audible. Our engineers measure a decline in noise of ≈10dB with balanced connection over unbalanced (in the turntable > phono preamp signal path). The reduction in distortion & noise yields more soundstage depth making way for heightened clarity, more micro detail, wider dynamics and overall, a significantly more ‘convincing’ and immersive listening experience. Have a look…

Pro-Ject Audio True Balanced Noise Suppression Graphs - MM vs. MC Cartridges

Graph 1: typical moving magnet (MM) phono cartridge connected with standard RCA/ground interconnects (noise identical in both channels)

Graph 2: typical MM cartridge connected with Mini XLR or XLR interconnects (higher noise level of -55dB in right channel vs. -61dB on left channel – not advisable!)

Graph 3: typical moving coil (MC) phono cartridge connected with standard RCA/ground interconnects (significantly quieter than MM but significantly noisier than balanced as shown in Graph 4)

Graph 4: typical MC cartridge connected with Mini XLR or XLR interconnects (no noise – clearly the best option!) 

These 4 things:

1. Any moving coil phono cartridge, or this MM exception!
2. A turntable with a balanced phono output
3. A phono preamp with a balanced phono input
4. A balanced phono cable (turntable > phono preamp)

Not only is our approach to balanced audio the most affordable on the market, you can upgrade one piece at a time as your enthusiasm grows and/or as your budget permits. Remember the 4 components needed: MC cartridge > balanced turntable output > balanced phono interconnect > balanced phono stage input. Let’s say you’ve got an X1 B which ships with a Sumiko Rainier (MM) and Connect it E RCA cables. You’d hear appreciable improvement by upgrading to just an MC cart or by starting with a phono preamp upgrade. The proper balanced cable can be added at any time.

The moving coil design type is inherently balanced, meaning the signal is isolated from the cartridge’s chassis ground. The configuration is as follows: red pin (right/positive), green pin (right/negative), the white pin (left/positive) & blue pin (left/negative), then the chassis is grounded to the arm or remains floating. This allows the balanced signal (with signal isolated from ground) to be perpetuated down the path. Moving magnet cartridges have one channel (usually the right) wired to the chassis for grounding, thus eliminating the potential for balanced operation. However, Pro-Ject has developed a moving magnet exception to this rule! Pick it PRO Balanced is significantly more affordable than most any MC cartridge on the market, and of course it’s got a user-replaceable stylus! It has been reconfigured specifically for use in a balanced signal chain.

Moving Magnet (unbalanced) vc Moving Coil (balanced) Grounding Configurations

Moving magnet cartridges are also inherently balanced transducers but the balanced signal ends at the cartridge output pins. For noise suppression in unbalanced systems, manufacturers usually tie the right channel grounding conductor to the cartridge’s chassis. This renders the signal unbalanced henceforth and consequently, balanced connection post-cartridge will introduce grounding issues that’ll generate more noise, but just in the unbalanced right channel. Here’s that graph again to show you just what we mean (hone in on Graph 2!)…

Pro-Ject Audio True Balanced Noise Suppression Graphs - MM vs. MC Cartridges

Graph 1: typical moving magnet (MM) phono cartridge connected with standard RCA/ground interconnects (noise identical in both channels)

Graph 2: typical MM cartridge connected with Mini XLR or XLR interconnects (higher noise level of -55dB in right channel vs. -61dB on left channel – not advisable!)

Graph 3: typical moving coil (MC) phono cartridge connected with standard RCA/ground interconnects (significantly quieter than MM but significantly noisier than balanced as shown in Graph 4)

Graph 4: typical MC cartridge connect

***Pro-Ject has developed a moving magnet exception to this rule! Pick it PRO Balanced is significantly more affordable than most any MC cartridge on the market, and of course it’s got a user-replaceable stylus! It has been reconfigured specifically for use in a balanced signal chain.

You’d still stand to benefit greatly from balanced transmission of the phono signal! The signal coming from your phono cartridge is extremely low-level (a tiny fraction of the ≈1V line-level standard) thus requiring the greatest degree of amplification of any source in your system. This makes it more susceptible to various types electrical interference (noise) that will wash out micro-detail if left unchecked. The balanced circuit rejects this sort of interference, allowing for greater amplitude with a lower noise floor. The results are immediately audible. The line-level & speaker-level signals sent & received elsewhere in your system are far less susceptible to interference. Balanced operation throughout your system is of course best, but the most dramatic improvement you’ll hear will be with balanced transmission of the phono signal from turntable to phono preamp.

Keep in mind that all of our balanced phono preamps also have single-ended RCA inputs & outputs for operation in unbalanced systems. They act entirely as conventional phono preamps would but have the added benefit of balanced capability.

Simply put, it’s because we don’t want to prevent anyone from being able to listen immediately. A turntable with a moving magnet cartridge and an unbalanced RCA output sent to an MM phono preamp easily remains the most popular configuration in this hobby. We want folks able to listen as-is immediately. Then by adding the components that achieve a balanced configuration, they’ll more readily notice and appreciate the improvements brought forth.

You thought right! …but this is where Pro-Ject sets ourselves apart. Any of our turntables (even the old ones!) that do not have a built-in phono preamp can be run balanced. Since the beginning, Pro-Ject has maintained signal/ground isolation in the turntable junction box design, meaning that if the rest of the necessary components are utilized (MC cartridge, balanced cable, balanced phono input), your phono signal will hit the balanced circuit properly.

We consider our True Balanced range to be those with balanced mini XLR or 5-pin DIN outputs: X1 B, X2 B, X8, Xtension 9, 10 and 12 Evolution, RPM 9 and 10 Carbon, Signature 10 and 12 are all capable of operating in True Balanced mode with the appropriate cable. As mentioned above, all other  Pro-Ject models sans built-in phono preamps can be adapted for balanced operation with our Connect it Phono cables (specifically RCA > mini XLR to Phono Box S3 B or DS3 B). Even the legendary Debut Carbon EVO can be run balanced. 

Please note that moving coil cartridges have much larger, stronger [fixed] magnets that’ll be drawn to steel platters like on Debut Carbon EVO. In such cases we advise an acrylic record platter upgrade (i.e., Acryl it) so you can use moving coil cartridges without issue.

Pro-Ject True Balanced Connection allows you to make this upgrade when the time is right and in whatever way best suits your audio system. Have a look at the the varying options…

Pro-Ject True Balanced Audio Phono Interconnect Connection Types