Can an unbalanced-to-balanced adaptor damage an amplifier?

I just purchased an amplifier that has a 4.4mm balanced (Pentacon) headphone jack.  My Audeze headphone's cables terminate in unbalanced 1/4-inch and minipin plugs.

I don't want to replace my expensive 5-6m cables, so my best option seems to be to pick up some adaptors.  Audeze, however, tells me that using an adaptor to connect an unbalanced plug to an amplifier's balanced jack can damage the amp.

I'm sure that Audeze knows what it's talking about, but I see that the amp's manufacturer (T+A) sells its own quarter-inch-to-Pentacon adaptors, presumably for amplifiers like the one I just bought.  So I want to confirm.

I know that there are two different ways to wire XLR connectors, so I wonder if that's the real issue.

Any opinions?


I didn't encounter any issues when I used the adapter XLR => RCA on Conrad Johnson GAT preamplifier and RCA => XLR on a Pass Labs amplifier. I don't think you have any issues but safe to confirm with T+A. 

I use a set of 4 XLR/RCA adapters for a piece with only XLR in/out, then I use my existing RCA/RCA cable to the Preamp.

I don’t hear any change/problems in the sound,

and I cannot imagine how they could damage anything.


I bought cables XLR 6' long to RCA. Not much listening: medical testing period, in hospital 13 days, home at last: short time later, concentrated listening: what's this, an imbalance in my system? checked this and that, who would suspect the new cables. In the end, the guilty party was one of the new XLR cables. That's when I decided to use adapters with my existing nice/proven cables. Problem gone!

Another time I tried 25' long XLR to XLR to get audio out of an Oppo from Video system over to my music system. Added hum that didn't exist prior. Returned them. Used a crappy radio shack 25 foot rca/rca cable I had from long long ago: no hum.

I do like the positive hold of XLR connectors, but the majority of us don't need them in our Audio System. A slight increase of volume is possible using XLR, but not enough to use them.

Yeah, my dealer has had a question in to T+A but no reply so far from Germany.

The issue, I’m finding out, is that XLR connectors can have two different pin outs. If an adaptor, or a cable with a balanced connector, is wired to the wrong standard, then it would short the output of most home-audio amplifiers.

Some amps can survive a direct short for at least a few seconds. And the majority of audio-targeted adaptors are wired correctly these days. But when you buy an adaptor online, you may not have any idea if it’s designed for home audio, pro audio or some other application, how old it is, etc, nor how robust your amplifier is in the face of a direct short.

Depending on what T+A tells me, I guess, I’ll consider buying the company’s own TRS-to-Pentaconn adaptor for $200. But it would be nice if I could get away with something cheaper.

Anyway, this took a bit of digging, since it’s obviously not an issue on many people’s radar. But I think what I outlined above is accurate.



The issue for any amplifier, headphone or speaker, is whether the (-) side is active or grounded.

99% of all amplifiers out there only drive the (+) terminal and leave the (-) attached to the signal ground.  Sometimes those amps can be bridged so that you use the (+) of channel A for the red and the (+) of channel B as the black wire.

In the case of grounded negative terminals, there’s no difference between the two speaker (-) terminals and they can be safely jumpered together. The (+) terminal however cannot be jumpered together. Even small differences in voltage can cause massive current flows.

The problem is when the (-), like the (+) side is driven, and the same problem applies. Even a small (0.5V) voltage difference can cause very large current flows to occur. A simple 4 conductor to 3 conductor adapter likely shorts the two (-) together which would be bad.

Thanks, Erik. That’s good input -- although your last paragraph, I think, highlights the problem: Unless a manufacturer publishes a pinout, buying an adaptor can be a crap shoot until you have it in hand & can check it out with a multimeter.


Just got a reply from T+A.  Guess this answers the question:

"The balanced Pentaconn headphone output transmits the audio grounds of the right and left channels separately. This is also the principle of balanced transmission. The two audio grounds can easily be bridged using an adapter (e.g. from Pentaconn to unbalanced 6.3 mm stereo jack plug). This will not cause any damage to the R2500R! For this case (Pentaconn to 6.3mm jack plug) we also have an adapter with the article number 4683-99101 in our accessories program."


I plugged in the headphones with the Amazon adaptor & they work fine. The T+A hasn’t been reviewed yet, but I can confirm that it drives my 22-ohm Audeze phones quite nicely. Can’t comment on SQ b/c nothing is broken in yet, but even now, I don’t hear any red flags, not even in the bass.

If the sonics ultimately are not clearly superior to my Class-A Audeze HP amp, I may spring for the T+A adaptor, which seems to be much better made. But for now, I’ll sit tight.

Thanks everybody for your contributions to this discussion.