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AMP 4 a MP3 player - is it even worth it?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 
For a while I would use my Panisonic portable CD play. The quality was pretty good for me anyways. Just recently I purchases the Archos Jukebox Studio 20 MP3 player. I encoded most of my CD albums to Uberstandard quality rips. I'm told and from the sounds of it, the MP3's are in fact CD quality.

I quickly realised that the CD's that where riped and put on my MP3 player sound alot better on the MP3 player then they did on my portable CD player. I expected it to be the other way around.

I almost never use my portable CD player any more. I been thinking about buying a META42 amp. I even got some good price quotes from some DIY'ers.

All of a sudden all these things started comming up, the stock cable for my HD 590 headphones got damaged and now they need to be replaced. My computer is going on the fritz, etc.

Still, I kinda want a headphone amp, but I'm now starting to wonder if it will even do me any good. I'm thinking of getting a maxed out, tweaked out, on crack, META42. Thinking around $280-$320 or so will be the price I'll be spending. Also I'm using the Sennheiser HD 590 headphones.

So... is it even worth it?
post #2 of 28
FWIW, I think you're best off saving a little more and plowing into a stand-alone CDP. Join the CD clubs and get your CD collection going. Listen directly to your CDs, too of course, don't listen to ripped versions no matter how good the ripping. That's probably how you'll get most bang for your buck at this stage. You may have to use the CDPs jack for your amp, as it sounds like you're currently using your computer sound card (probably not the best amp). I'd ask to find out what budget source has a decent headphone jack. Get the amp later.

Mark
post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 

"it sounds like you're currently using your computer sound card"

What I'm doing is, using my computer to rip the CD's at 192 VBR using the best Lame codec and using the Exact Audio Copy software to rip at Uberstandard quality.

I'll either listen unamped, simply pluging my headphones to the MP3 player's headphone jack directly or I'll plug in the RCA to Mini cables to the Archos MP3 player's output jack and use my stereo reciever as an amp.

I don't really listen to music on my computer because it's nowhere near as good as my MP3 player. My CD's sometimes get scratched and I don't like to have to keep switching CD after CD. The MP3 player just makes things a whole lot easier. It's 20GB and it's upgradeable to 60GB, maybe even more.

I listened to the song Lose Yourself by Eminem on the 8 Mile Soundtrack. I have the CD and I riped it to Uberstandard and put it on my MP3 player. Pluging my headphones into my stereo reciever, and pluged the RCA to mini cable into the CD player's lineout. I listened and listened, and then I put the same RCA to mini cable to the MP3 player's lineout, listen some more. I kept doing this, back and forth.

Both songs were started at the same time, only about 1-2 seconds apart. Quality wise, I couldn't tell which was better. The CD player was sounded lighter, mostly with the highs. The MP3 player sounded a tad bit darker and the bass more defined.

The difference was very small, and with the HD 590 headphones which are light as it is. I think the song sounded better with the MP3 player. All players have a unique sound to them as it is. Some are just more clearer and defined then others.

My wish lish would have to be:a good META42; A good pair of RCA to Mini cable; and maybe evetually getting the equniox 590 replacment cable, but the price is a bit high for my wallot so I don't know about that one.

Also I want to get a good DVD player, maybe in a year or so, rather then just a stand alone CD player.

For now I'm debating either to buy a META42 headphone amp with a decent pair of RCA cables or new bare bones budget Dell Computer to replace my constently crashing pieace of **** computer.

And I just need to figure out if the amp is really worth getting if it's just going to be hooked up to a MP3 player for now. Later on a dvd player but not till way later.

Thanks for your input Markl, anyone else have oppinions to share?

EDIT: I fixed some major boo boos and stupid typos.
post #4 of 28
Quote:
I listened to the song Lose Yourself by Eminem on the 8 Mile Soundtrack. I have the CD and I riped it to Uberstandard and put it on my MP3 player. Pluging my headphones into my stereo reciever, and pluging the RCA to mini cable into the CD players output, I listened and listened, and then I put the same RCA to mini cable to the MP3 player, listen some more. I kepted doing this, back and forth.
No matter what way you are ripping your CDs, you are still running the signal through a soundcard in a noisy computer, and using a software program to process and spit out the data in a new format. Then it goes back into another device for further processing/storage and playback. There's no way that it should sound better than listening to that CD directly, especially on a stand-alone player. Your experience speaks to the abilities of the equipment you're using to listen with and the CD Rom/soundcard in your computer. All I can tell you is that you clearly have much room for improvement on the source end. I bet you'd be blown away by the sound of a well-recorded modern CD on a decent budget CDP.

I assume your goal is to upgrade sound. I'm not saying that an amp can't do that, it will. IMHO, you'll get far more improvement in sound quality if you buy a good budget CDP and some CDs instead of an amp. CDs may be "inconvenient" but if you are interested in sound quality, you're stuck with 'em. You can stick a $20K amp to follow your mp3 player, but there's going to be a serious limit to what it can do if the signal coming in is garbage. You'll get louder, clearer garbage, but why would you want that?

I won't hound you, I'll just leave it at that. Plenty of people here can reco a good amp for you. I hope in the end you feel you got something substantial out of it and don't come back with an "amps don't do anything" thread!

Mark
post #5 of 28
Quote:
Originally posted by markl
No matter what way you are ripping your CDs, you are still running the signal through a soundcard in a noisy computer, and using a software program to process and spit out the data in a new format. Then it goes back into another device for further processing/storage and playback. There's no way that it should sound better than listening to that CD directly, especially on a stand-alone player.

Mark
Someone more technical than me may correct me, but I don't believe the soundcard has anything whatsoever to do with the process of ripping from CD's and converting to mp3. It's all digital. There's no "noise" from the soundcard or any other part of the computer.

Also, while I'm sure many true "audiophiles" can tell the difference (including a lot of people who frequent this board I'm sure), the vast majority of people will not be able to tell the difference between a high quality mp3 (e.g. LAME alt preset extreme) played through a good player (like and iPod or Nomad 3) and a CD played through a portable CDplayer. And for whatever slight barely perceptible difference there may be, the convenience of carrying the equivalent of a couple hundred CD's in a machine the size of a deck of cards, clearly outweighs it. All IMHO of course.
post #6 of 28
Quote:
Originally posted by markl
No matter what way you are ripping your CDs, you are still running the signal through a soundcard in a noisy computer, and using a software program to process and spit out the data in a new format. Then it goes back into another device for further processing/storage and playback. There's no way that it should sound better than listening to that CD directly, especially on a stand-alone player.

Mark
Someone more technical than me may correct me, but I don't believe the soundcard has anything whatsoever to do with the process of ripping from CD's and converting to mp3. It's all digital. There's no "noise" from the soundcard or any other part of the computer.

Also, while I'm sure many true audiophiles can tell the difference (including a lot of people who frequent this board I'm sure), the vast majority of people will not be able to tell the difference between a high quality mp3 (e.g. LAME alt preset extreme) played through a good player (like and iPod or Nomad 3) and a CD played through a portable CDplayer. And for whatever slight barely perceptible difference there may be, the convenience of carrying the equivalent of a couple hundred CD's in a machine the size of a deck of cards, clearly outweighs it. All IMHO of course.
post #7 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
I don't believe the soundcard has anything whatsoever to do with the process of ripping from CD's and converting to mp3.
I was thinking the same thing. I didn't think the soundcard had anything to do with it. I bet if I riped a uberstandard (which is using the Lame --alt-presets standard) with my crummy intergrated sound card. Which is not very good at all... and someone ripped the same CD with whatever top of the line soundcard out there, you couldn't tell them apart.

I know the processor and ram play a role in how fast one can encode/rip but didn't think it made a difference in quality. It's like when you make a copy of a CD. Will a cheap cd burner make a crappy sounding copy? If it's all digital, 1's and 0's then it shouldn't matter. And MP3 and lame use mathimatical equations to compress the audio correct? Honestly, I couldn't tell the differnce in "quality" from the MP3 to the CD. Both were extreamly clear. Just one sounded darker and I belive that it was simply due to the source and or cables, etc.

You can even check out my rip of the 8 Mile soundtrack that was released on ShareLive or any of my rips for that matter... http://ClearYourMind.ShareLive.com
post #8 of 28
Quote:
Originally posted by markl
No matter what way you are ripping your CDs, you are still running the signal through a soundcard in a noisy computer, and using a software program to process and spit out the data in a new format. Then it goes back into another device for further processing/storage and playback. There's no way that it should sound better than listening to that CD directly, especially on a stand-alone player.
Umm, no. Soundcards have nothing to do with the creation of MP3s.

Good quality MP3s (--alt-preset extreme) are indistinguishable from their CD counterparts.

And if you have a good soundcard and a good outboard DAC, you've got yourself a wonderful computer-based audio setup.

- Chris
post #9 of 28
You're right, I'm not 100% on the details of how the data is converted from Redbook CD to the mp3 format. But that's not my basic point. I'm saying that the mere fact of conversion, the fact that *something* transforms and processes the data, and transferrs that data somewhere else causes some data to be lost or mis-interpreted somwhere in the chain. What you are putting in is not what you are getting out-- it's different. Same thing in audio-every time you stick something else in the signal path, you are reducing fidelity.
I guess I can't convince you that mp3 in any form is a lossy format, you can't convince me it isn't. I can't convince you a good budget stand-alone CDP is superior to your sound card, you can't convince me your sound card is better.

Anyway, it seems Clearyourmind is going with an amp anyway, so it's all academic anyway.

Mark
post #10 of 28
Quote:
Originally posted by markl
I guess I can't convince you that mp3 in any form is a lossy format, you can't convince me it isn't. I can't convince you a good budget stand-alone CDP is superior to your sound card, you can't convince me your sound card is better.
It is lossy. I sincerely doubt you could hear the information that's lost, though.

Or you could just do like me - skip MP3 altogether and go to Monkey's Audio - lossless, baby! Yeehaw!

- Chris
post #11 of 28
Thread Starter 
Sidetracking here a little:
I been thinking about trying Monkey Audio... just wish my MP3 player supported it. I'm surprised monkey audio hasn't been the rage. After all you can't really get better then a non lossy format. I hear alot of good things about the monkey audio format.

Getting back on track, kinda:
Even if riped MP3's were 100% just like the original CD album, some MP3 players would no doubt sound better then others just like how some CD players sound better then others.

My question is...is spending around $300 dollars on a META42 headphone amp for my particular mp3 player which happens to be the Archos Jukebox Studio 20 with the most current RockBoxx opensource firmware, even worth it? Would I seen a good amount of improvment, or just a tiny tad improvment that isn't really worth it. Also, how much do you (all Hi-Fi'ers) think is worth spending on a amp for use with my MP3 player?

The main reason why I want an amp is so my music sounds fuller and so I get the better soundstage. Mostly I'm trying to get ride of the headphone feeling as much as possible within my budget and trying to create a smoother airier sound. I was thinking about getting the best META42 I can afford that was all tweaked out, with crossfade and the works. Even with some quality loss in MP3's, wouldn't a headphone amp improve the sound regardless? Clear it up a bit perhaps and would it still be worth it.

Don't get me wrong, I won't just be using the META with my MP3 player, just for now, that is what I'll be using it for. Later on when I get a better DVD player I'll use it with that, and perhaps even with my computer and a better standalone or portable cd player (whichever I get). I'll no doubt hook up my amp to damn near everything. But I'm focused right now on my MP3 player.

I'm not trying to turn this into some kind of debate, just asking for honest oppinons.

I agree with you Mark that a stand alone CD player will no doubt sound better then my soundcard, I stated many times my soundcard sucks.

I'll take your overall statements as such, mark... you feel that an amp will provide some improvement correct?, but you also feel that more improvement would be seen by getting a stand alone CD player and building a large CD collection...and thats all your saying, correct?... I hope I got that right. If thats all your saying then I read you loud and clear.

I think rather then getting a CD player it would be better to just get a SACD player and start a SACD collection. That would in effect be a far more improvement over a MP3 player as well and also a stand alone CD player. And I'm looking into that, but thats way later on.

Right now I'm thinking about my MP3 player. I like it, it's easy to use, sounds great, just wanted to spice it up if even possible.

Things would be so much easier if I could just buy a META42 and return it if I didn't like it, or If I knew I could resell it for it's original price tag. Getting my money back if I didn't like it. Need to get my ass to a Head-Fi meet.
post #12 of 28
Quote:
Would I seen a good amount of improvment, or just a tiny tad improvment that isn't really worth it.
One man's *tiny tad* is another man's *good amount*, a basic problem that we've uncovered is that we have no standard unit of measure for "better".
Quote:
I'll take your overall statements as such, mark... you feel that an amp will provide some improvement correct?, but you also feel that more improvement would be seen by getting a stand alone CD player and building a large CD collection...and thats all your saying, correct?
Yes, that's really all I was tring to convey!
Quote:
Right now I'm thinking about my MP3 player.
Got it! Later.

Mark
post #13 of 28
Quote:
Originally posted by ClearYourMind
My question is...is spending around $300 dollars on a META42 headphone amp for my particular mp3 player which happens to be the Archos Jukebox Studio 20 with the most current RockBoxx opensource firmware, even worth it? Would I seen a good amount of improvment, or just a tiny tad improvment that isn't really worth it. Also, how much do you (all Hi-Fi'ers) think is worth spending on a amp for use with my MP3 player?

The main reason why I want an amp is so my music sounds fuller and so I get the better soundstage. Mostly I'm trying to get ride of the headphone feeling as much as possible within my budget and trying to create a smoother airier sound. I was thinking about getting the best META42 I can afford that was all tweaked out, with crossfade and the works. Even with some quality loss in MP3's, wouldn't a headphone amp improve the sound regardless? Clear it up a bit perhaps and would it still be worth it.
Tough questions to answer, ClearYourMind, without much of a baseline to work with. As MarkL aptly pointed out, there is no standard accepted unit for "better". That said, here are a few thoughts that may help clarify things:

1) I'll have to side with Minya on the mp3 / CD thing. While most audiophiles believe they can hear a difference between redbook audio and mp3s, tests have shown quite the opposite. However, since good DBTs can performed ("good" in this case meaning a relatively high degree of agreement about acceptable methodology) with audio compression codecs, you can download some free tools, listen, and decide for yourself.

2) I have the Archos Mutimedia 20 for travel on the road. One important thing you should be aware of (and I believe the Studio 20 is the same) is that it does NOT have a line out jack, only a headphone out jack. I believe, and I think most people would agree, that this reduces the likelihood of you seeing any substantial improvement from using an amp with it. Why? Because a lot of the benefit of a dedicated headphone amp is derived from the fact that it allows you to skip the (often crappy) amplification stage at the headphone jack of your source/receiver, by using the line-out and removing the headphone jack's componentry from your signal path. However, with the Archos, you can't do that, because you don't have a line-out. So even if you were to buy, say, a Gilmore V2, your signal is still going through the opamp inside the Archos first, it just doesn't need to source as much current.

3) Now we're venturing further into the realm of opinion....but you asked for them, so here it is. If you're really trading getting a META 42 for your Archos versus buying a much-needed upgrade for a flaky computer, in my opinion that's no choice at all. Even to the most die-hard audiophiles, I don't think inserting a META between a headphone jack of a portable mp3 player would make "unlistenable" music "listenable" (or, conversely, that by not buying it, you're music that could have been "listenable" is now going to be "unlistenable"). You're talking about tuning your engine, or adding an aftermarket muffler / wheels....not about transforming your Chevy Tahoe into a Chevy Corvette... While, on the other hand, going from a flaky, crash-prone computer to one that works properly IS CLEARLY a "night and day" kind of difference. If you get frustrated like I do at crappy machines, we're actually talking about tangible health benefits here, from stress reduction. Just my $0.00002.
post #14 of 28
256k+ mp3's aren't generally distinguishable from CDs, but as with lots of audiophilia, knowing that it isn't perfect detracts from the effect. The RA-1 got acclaim from all circles, until someone broke it open and took out the modified CMOY innards. I think the lack of a line-out is gonna be the biggest tangible factor.

Skipping mp3 and switching to MonkeyAudio is a viable choice on your computer, but not with the Archos.

Now that WMA has a lossless mode, though, you can have your anti-loss vendettas and eat them too.
post #15 of 28
Personally I find you can barely tell the difference from lame --alt standard encoding over cd's unless you pay lots of money for a really good cd player (I now own the 963SA and it sounds pretty good). I have the archos jukebox recorder, which is great and a lot better when the firmware is ungrade with the free 3rd party software at http://rockbox.haxx.se/ . I also use the archos alot but sadly mine doesn't have a line out but does have a digital out so I have bought a portable DAC + amp. This hopefully should make the mp3's sound pretty good as the archos only has to decode the mp3's. I will post comments once it has arrived.

As my archos has poorish sound (though considerably better since the upgrade of firmware) from the headphone out I do recommend trying the line out to see if there are any improvements. The obvious way to do this is at a head-fi meet. Though maybe someone else on here owns or has owned a studio model and can shead light on the improvements made using the line out with an amp.

If you were looking for a cheaper option than a $300 meta42 to try out you could build a cmoy amp or buy a $99 amp from fixup.net.

my $0.02 anyway.

Wordsworth
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