Balanced or single ended phono stage?

I'm currently researching phono stages but may not have the opportunity to demo them at home. I've taken a look at the Parasound JC 3 and the Ayre P-5xe which both have balanced outputs. I've also read great feedback about the Manley Chinook and the Audio Research PH-6 which can be found used for similar pricing used but are single ended.

My question is whether the balanced option should tilt me in favor of one type vs. another. I'm not too familiar with how important it is to consider balanced outputs when it comes to phono stages.

Current system is running balanced currently with a McIntosh C220 tube preamp, MC 402 amplifier and Ayre C-5xeMP SACD player, all hooked up balanced. I'm most likely going with one of the VPI tables in the classic line but haven't decided yet. Any good advice as to whether a balanced phono stage should make or break the decision since all the stages I've mentioned have great reputations?
^^Its not a matter of tube vs solid state! A balanced solid state unit has a better chance of sounding like music than a single-ended circuit, the same is true of balanced tube preamps.

Balanced line operation is simply a better way of handling cables, and if the circuit is balanced differential, then its a better way of processing the signal as well.

The signal path of a balanced differential circuit can be as simple as single-ended circuits. For example our preamps have only three stages of gain between the LOMC input and the line state output (in the case of our MP-1 that line stage can drive headphones directly, yet we are still talking about only three stages of gain from the stylus on the LP). Now it is true that there are more parts but it is not true that there are double the parts- that depends on the design.
Tdaudio: " The Ayre P-5xe is nice in that you can use the RCA single ended input and still take advantage of the balanced input. Just flip the bal/single ended switch to balanced. There is a slight difference in signal path but I verified with Ayre that both sides of the signal get to the diff input though there is a slight difference in signal path length which should not matter for practical purpose.

I used it as I described and also with the proper xlr input with the same tone arm, a Tri planar VII, which I had converted from RCA to XLR. Did not notice a difference!"

Interesting! I would think that you would, at a minimum, sacrifice the 6db of noise reduction by using single ended interconnects in the signal path.

From the K-1xe owners manual:

"As the phono cartridge is an inherently balanced device, the phono stage is also balanced, using XLR jacks at the input. This configuration yields maximum sonic performance with minimum noise and hum. Since most tone arms and/or turntables are not equipped with XLR connectors, there are two choices for making the proper connection:
1) Use an RCA-to-XLR adapter. This often may be the easiest solution to implement, but introduces an extra set of contacts into the signal path. In addition, this converts the balanced input into an unbalanced input and causes a slight loss of sound quality.
2) Use dedicated cables with XLR connectors at the preamplifier end and the appropriate connector (RCA or DIN, depending on the particular installation) at the turntable end. This is the preferred solution and offers the highest level of sound quality."

Tdaudio, I am not challenging your experience, but genuinely curious: was your XLR cable configured per one of the schematics on this link from the Ayre website:

Perhaps the balanced/single ended switching function on the P-5xe that you describe explains your results since there is no such feature on the K-1xe?

To concur, support Peter's response. I initially purchased one Liberty B2B-1 than shifted my phono setup to balanced operation. The use of two B2B-1s, in mono configuration, is quite something. I was able to compare this to much more expensive gear (ASR, Boulder, Audio Research) and the Liberty remains my reference - for what is a relatively expenditure. No risk, contact Peter at PBN and demo these.
Dear Audioguy3107: IMHO maybe the subject could be not if is balanced or not but to understand the critical role that a phono stage has in the analog quality performance level where you need an item/unit where the sensible cartridge signal lost and added the less, this is that we need to preserve through the POS the cartridge signal integrity. Balanced or not a good PS design can do it, we need at the PS accuracy, very low noise, very low distortions and neutral unit.

A good SS design normally does " things " in a better way. Other subject you have to take in count is: with which cartridges will you run that phono stage?, this is very important before you can choose the unit.

Regards and enjoy the music,
Another balanced phono stage advocate here.

I started off using the Ayre K-1xe's phono boards, which are setup for balanced inputs only, (i.e. XLR terminations). Originally, I used adapters, (RCA -> XLR), as my tonearm cables, (Rega RB900 tonearm), were setup for RCAs. The sound was very, very good, (near reference in fact), and much better than the ARC PH-3 that I had been using, (using the standard RCA inputs of course).

However, when I upgraded to the Basis Vector M3 tonearm, I had AJ Conti upgrade the tonearm cables to XLRs. This upgrade, (combined with my upgrade to the turntable itself), really made a huge difference in the sonics. The background became even darker, and the bass response was even tighter.
Some (most?) of this sonic improvement is probably due to the change in turntable and tonearm, but nonetheless, I think some of it was due to the use of balanced inputs, and the elimination of the adapters.

FYI: I recently upgraded my Ayre K-1xe, (after nine happy years with it). A friend offered me his Basis Exclusive, model 2010, phono stage for a great price, (a price I just could not turn down). I plugged this into the Ayre to compare the Basis Exclusive to the Ayre K-1xe's phono boards, and while the Ayre's phono boards were very good, they just were not the equal of the Basis Exclusive. (And nor should they have been, given the large difference in price!) I will also point out that the VTL TL-6.5 line stage preamp that I bought to replace the Ayre K-1xe was better as a line stage also, albeit only slightly better. (No where near the upgrade that the phono stage upgrade was.) The Ayre K-1xe, with its phono boards is a true bargain, especially on the used market, IMHO.