Does using XLR cables (double voltage output) mean I can use lower powered amplifiers?


Does using XLR cables (at 4V output from most dacs) vs RCA cables (with 2V output) mean that I have doubled the gain hence I only need half the power from amplifiers?

Just as a background I am looking for tube amplifers which typically are less powerful compared to solid state amplifiers. So I was wondering if using XLR connection rather than RCA mean that I can venture into lower powered amplifiers?

Or does the voltage input from the dac not matter/affect the power that a amplifier needs to drive the speakers?


While I am not an expert the electrical aspects. I have tested and converted to XLR. Also have a lot of experience in high end audio. The simple answer is no not really. If you switch from single ended to XLR and don’t change the volume control it will get a little louder. So, technically you are using less amplification to achieve a higher sound level. First it is not a huge difference. And secondly how good an amp sounds is based on many factors, current available and how quickly it can increase output… etc. There is also the old adage that tube watts sound more powerful than solid state watts (I think this is because of midrange bloom of tubes). If you put all factors into the mix, you are not going to be able to buy say a 30 watt tube amp instead of a 60 watt… maybe a 58w instead of a 60w. Unless you are powering an incredibly efficient speakers… at the very fringes of what is possible it just will not matter. Good question though.

What is your other equipment?

All my components are tube except my streamer. Tube components tend to be more musical. Over the last fifty years tube stuff has gotten more detailed as solid state has gotten warmer and more musical converging on accuracy. To me the best tube stuff is captivating and intimate in a way other equipment is not. But it depends on what you are looking for.
Fascinating. If you wear lifts in your shoes (at twice the gas pedal travel) does that mean you have double the horsepower?
To your question: no you cannot use a lower powered amplifier.The amplifier’s maximum power rating is fixed, regardless of the interconnects used. Regards

thanks for your reply! yeah thinking of going SET from my current amp haha. like you I completely believe in tubes! love their magical/musical kind of presentation that imparts a soul into music.

using a primaluna EL34 x8 tubes, means 70W. thinking of trying out 845 SETs that output 25-30W. the 50-60W ones are more expensive so trying to think out of the box!

use a denafrips terminator dac with kef ref 5 speakers. how abt you? :)

hi @gregm 

Oh I see. Thanks for your reply! I'm still new in this hobby.

 Since the output voltage is double, that of RCA, would using XLR to RCA converter plugs, at the amp end, give more volume for a given volume-control position? Inquiring minds want to know...
Does using XLR cables (double voltage output) mean I can use lower powered amplifiers?



I dont think so. From what I understand the dac must be able to be fully balanced to produce a proper 4v output, and the integrated amp must be fully balanced as well to accept the 4v output. If you connect a 4v input to a 2v only rca wouldnt work well from what I understand.

Please correct me if im wrong!

You can see my systems by clicking on my ID.

You have great speakers. It strikes me as you have great opportunities over time to improve your overall system to achieve greater SQ. I mean, I always look for the “best” component and then look at it’s potential if all components were upgraded to be of an equal and synergistic level. I don’t think you mentioned your sources. I’m assuming the Primaluna is an integrated amp.
Of course the power is more than about just loudness, but given the sensitivity of your speakers the more powerful amp you are looking at is likely to sound much better.


Given what you have said, have you looked at the Audio Research VT80se? You get warm tube… and really detailed. Now, this is my philosophy… but I try not to spread my money out and try always to step up… and never less than a 2x step up… since that creates some aspects of a sideways move. Anyway, if this strikes you as an interesting idea, go find a dealer and sit down and listen to one. If there isn’t one locally, take a little trip. I have actually flown across the country to audition stuff.
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Well first of all Tube amps have much higher current than SS, so watts are not directly comparable. A 50 Watt Tube amp is really as powerful, if not more so than a 100 SS amp. The output of a balanced preamp is considerably louder than single ended, so in a way, perhaps you could get a way with a less powerful amp, but I don't think that's the best way to design a system, or should be prioritized. Best to buy components that have the sonic characteristics that you like and believe in, regardless of whether bal or se. Also its best to run thru and thru - balanced pre to balanced amp, se to se ...  The more important consideration when seeing if an amp is powerful enough is the efficiency of your speakers, and how hard or easy they are to drive.
@thegreenman    Amplifiers have both gain (usually fixed for a given amp) and a power output measured in watts.  It's important to understand the difference.  Check on-line for some articles.

What I'm interested in is a simply different but related question.  If you are using a high-gain preamp into a lower gain amp (e.g. the Benchmark on its medium or low settings), will the preamp impart more of its signature to the signal than with a more conventional set-up?  Or will that make no difference?
The amplifier gains the voltage difference between the xlr positive and negative signals, not the voltage magnitude. Since the gain is the same whether RCA or XLR, the power drawn by the speakers does not change, even though the balanced input is a higher voltage. An amplifier has two transistors on the input: one gets the positive XLR signal (or the RCA signal) and the second gets the negative XLR signal (nothing from an RCA input). The output signal is fed back at a fraction of its voltage to the second transistor and the difference between the two is amplified.

No, it does not work like that.

All XLR systems do is provide DIFFERENTIAL signals. This reduces noise considerably but does not change the gain and/or power transfer.

Below is a VERY simplistic explanation. The detail is much more complex but this is to give a very basic idea:

In an RCA cable (or any NON differential system), if you were to feed 2 volts of signal, typically it would be 2 volts on one cable and 0 volts on the other. If there was some noise of say 200 mV, then you may get 2.2 volts and still 0 volts, hence totally passing the noise to the amplifier.

In a differential amplifier, the same voltage will appear in both the cables as 3 volts and 5 volts (difference of 2 volts). With the noise, BOTH the terminals would be raised to 3.2 volts and 5.2 volts. Since the system works on the DIFFERENCE of the voltages, ie, 5.2 - 3.2 = 2 volts, your noise gets eliminated to a negligible amount.

Hence the much better noise rejection of an XLR differential system

MC, you should change your avatar to a little knitted black and white bear with pins stuck in it…
Please match your amp to your speakers regardless of your sources. It should be a slight benefit to have XLR as a volume increase. Put it this way. Regardless to whatever you input into your iPhone it’s not going to power your speakers. I just don’t want you to damage your speakers. I have been having fun demoing the Hegel V10 phono preamp through using XLR to the preamp. I am still happy I have 100 watts A/B to push the speakers. It make the music sound live. The headroom is incredible. For $1500 MM/MC XLR phono stage it’s really good. I am also demoing the Sutherland Little LOCO phono stage. Due to the input being current driven and 0 input voltage you can hook up two MC turntables at the same time. Imagine; two tables and one phono stage. Stereo only, no mono unless you buy the mono version. I actually called Sutherland and received this information last night. 
If you reside in the Chicagoland area you should try them out.
You should call and ask about their hours or the amount of time you can have something out on demo. I just like that they let you try before you buy. No more buyers remorse. Plus, If you can’t demo stuff how do you know how it sounds in your system and even more important your room. Sorry for being long winded. I just don’t want you to damage your equipment. 
Hello thegreenman!  All it means is than you can turn the volume knob on your amp or pre amp down a bit. The output power of your amp is not affected. It could be that you will have less hum/noise in the signal because of the balanced connection. Enjoy the music!
MC, you should change your avatar to a little knitted black and white bear with pins stuck in it…

A Panda would be China. The creature you are trying to evoke is Xi, aka Winnie the Pooh. Get your insults straight please, or don't bother.


thanks for the reply! yeah agreed about the 2 step up approach! that's why I'm saving up for a amp upgrade! sadly they are so expensive!

haha will check out your audio reserach! my PL is an integrated with 8 tubes, so outputs 70W. but I'm looking at SET stuff like 845s. 300b have too low wattage, and maybe I will need 4x 845 tubes

ooh thanks! i always thought the gain is related to the power output! I guess you are right its different! was thinking if the power output is how much power you need to amplify the gain, and if the gain is higher, the final sound pressure for the fixed power amplification would be more.

I better go read up!

thanks for the enthusiastic input! :)) you sure are enjoying your system! :))

If you use  balanced connection on a low powered amplifier you will run out of power very quickly due to the fact that the preamplifier also usually has 6 decibels of extra gain also meaning that the low powered amp will run out o power usually before ten o clock on the volume knob.