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POLL: What Component (To You) Has The Biggest Impact On The Sound Of A System?

post #1 of 57
Thread Starter 
POLL: Which physical component of a headphone rig has the biggest impact on sound? Is it the headphone, the amp, or the source? Or even cables?

I expected this to be a poll several time before but I can't find any (this year) so here it goes. There has been a discussion but that's not a poll right.

Notes:
I used the title and intro from the discussion.
Let's don't discuss again, just answer the poll. :-)
post #2 of 57
for me its;
  1. source
  2. headphones
  3. amp
  4. cables
post #3 of 57
yeah but source and cheap earbuds is different than an average to cheap source like mp3 player and a nice headphone - the sound ultimately comes out of the headphone.

a nice source will make that experience so much better but, the average source around now will still sound great even paired with notoriously hard to drive phones like hd650.

for instance, assuming that no one is using a portable cassette recorder or gameboy as their main source and the pitch was level in that it was mp3 players (portable) or cd players (hifi), ultimately, hooking up a good or cheap source to a pair of 8$ speakers or stock earbuds will make the entire system shrink in mortification.

however, plug in any headphone of nice quality to the dear humble creative stone or ipod shuffle and (viola!) you have maybe an underpowered system with heaps of sky to travel yet, but it sounds much much better than the stock earbuds.

there should be no contest here.
post #4 of 57
The transducers themselves, followed by the enclosure, followed by the damping materials used, and whether it's an open or closed design, dynamic or electrostatic, and of course how well all of this is implemented. After those 10 factors or so for the headphones themselves, the 11th and 12th most important things are the source and amp (in that order, at least in my experience).

While I can understand what people mean when they say "source first", I do think it's a bit of euphemism for saying that the source is a very important consideration. A great pair of headphones with a crappy source won't sound nearly as good as they can/should. But a great source with a crappy pair of headphones will still sound absolutely horrible no matter how great that source is.

The arguments are obviously circular because the impact of the amp can also be fairly important, and even cables can make a difference (naysayers notwithstanding). But since the sound that is delivered to your ears comes out of those headphone thingies that you're wearing, they really do have the biggest impact. They're the core, while everything else plays a supporting role.

I know, I know. Someone is going to come along and quote me, saying "I agree with everything he's saying except that it's the source that matters most and everything else is supportive," but that just doesn't play out (at all) in my experience. Here's why: Switch back and forth between sources or amps while listening to the same headphones and you'll notice some differences. At times, those differences can be quite dramatic. But change headphones while listening to the same source/amp combo and the difference (after volume matching for impedance issues and such) is almost always transforming. In other words, with different sources and amps, it will sound like the same system (usually) but with a different tone. With different headphones, it will sound like a completely different system (usually), although some headphones (by chance) do happen to sound fairly similar to each other.

The same thing is true with speaker-based systems, by the way. You can swap in and out amps, preamps, sources, cables and tubes all day long and have a lot of fun doing so, but the minute you put a different pair of speakers into a settled system, it's suddenly a whole new system (for better or for worse, depending on all of the things that depends on).

All of that being said, when it comes to putting together an A-Class headphones based system, if I were starting all over I'd put most of my time, effort, and money into the source and amp! Why? Because once I've got those things right (for my ears), then I can flip through all sorts of headphones and every last pair will benefit from my A-Class source and amp. I'm not saying that this same logic would apply to a budget system, but it definitely makes sense for a high end system.

Think of it this way: if you're going to spend $10k on your system (in total), you can get a really great source and amp for $3k each and still have $4k left over for headphones. Phones, not phone. You can get at least 4 or 5 excellent pairs of headphones for that kind of money, and maybe even more! Although the headphones themselves matter the most in terms of my listening satisfaction, I wouldn't allocate the buik of my budget to them.

It's just too much fun to play the theme and variation games for me to give up that flexibility by spending a big chunk of money on just one pair! Some people (most probably) go for that one perfect system, but not me. I value the ability to alter the sound by switching headphones in and out (the "process of becoming" or journey) more so than I value the end result ("achievement of goal" or destination). When you know you've got great electronics behind your headphones, you're free (of mind) to just kick back and enjoy each pair for what they do best, and even match them up with different genres of music to get the most out of them.

This is why people end up with something like a G08 and an SDS-XLR. That way, they can play around with all sorts of headphones all day long and they will all sound great! Can't do this with speaker rigs. There you need to focus on the speakers themselves, and then build around them.
post #5 of 57
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wmcmanus View Post
While I can understand what people mean when they say "source first", I do think it's a bit of euphemism for saying that the source is a very important consideration. A great pair of headphones with a crappy source won't sound nearly as good as they can/should. But a great source with a crappy pair of headphones will still sound absolutely horrible no matter how great that source is.
+1
post #6 of 57
60% fon, 30% source, 8% amp, 2% gearitis, 0% cables
post #7 of 57
In this order: source, headphones, amp, cables
post #8 of 57
Quote:
Originally Posted by AS1 View Post
Notes:
I used the title and intro from the discussion.
Let's don't discuss again, just answer the poll. :-)
Boo! The fun is always in the discussion! I could get my dog (if I had one) to vote in the poll, but that opinion wouldn't matter much.

But as I read into what you're saying, there is obviously a reference being made to another (recent, I suppose) thread where everyone was discussing this issue, but it wasn't set up as a poll?

Correct? I'm just trying to read into what your underlying assumption is. Maybe that people who took part in that other thread (whatever it might have been) will tag along over here? Maybe you should edit your opening post to link to whichever thread you're referring to (if you are indeed referring to another thread).

Otherwise, this posture smacks me as a bit of a turnoff to those who might want to discuss the reasons for their vote (like I've just taken the time to do since I skimmed over these rules when reading the poll initially).

In any case, I hope what I've said makes some sense, and if not, I hope people will take issue with the points I've made in support of my vote (i.e., I'm hoping for some discussion!).
post #9 of 57
In my opinion that would be the source. **** in = **** out.
A great amplifier, headphone, etc. can't fix a bad audio signal
post #10 of 57
Stole this from mikeliao, but absolutely believe it.

In order of importance on final sound quality for a computer setup (assuming the components are not absolute crap):
1. Quality of recording
2. Headphones
3. DAC
4. Amp
5. Soundcard/computer digital output
6. Interconnect Cables (IC) - analog
6. IC - digital
6. Power Cables
post #11 of 57
I voted for headphones but I can't help but think that things would sound different if I did not have that power cable.
post #12 of 57
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wmcmanus View Post
Boo! The fun is always in the discussion! I could get my dog (if I had one) to vote in the poll, but that opinion wouldn't matter much.
*LOL*

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wmcmanus View Post
But as I read into what you're saying, there is obviously a reference being made to another (recent, I suppose) thread where everyone was discussing this issue, but it wasn't set up as a poll?
Correct?
Yep, that's right. That discussion doesn't give us an overal result.
I encourage people who participated there, to vote here.
That's also why I suggested not to discuss again. But we can discuss about that...
post #13 of 57
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quaddy View Post
for me its;
  1. source
  2. headphones
  3. amp
  4. cables
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wmcmanus View Post
A great pair of headphones with a crappy source won't sound nearly as good as they can/should. But a great source with a crappy pair of headphones will still sound absolutely horrible no matter how great that source is.

The arguments are obviously circular ...
Quote:
Originally Posted by krmathis View Post
In my opinion that would be the source. **** in = **** out.
A great amplifier, headphone, etc. can't fix a bad audio signal
Quote:
Originally Posted by manaox2 View Post
Stole this from mikeliao, but absolutely believe it.

In order of importance on final sound quality for a computer setup (assuming the components are not absolute crap):
1. Quality of recording
2. Headphones
3. DAC
4. Amp
5. Soundcard/computer digital output
6. Interconnect Cables (IC) - analog
6. IC - digital
6. Power Cables
Yes, agreed to all. Manaox2, though, (like Wmcmanus with his tranducers suggestion) is thinking broadly and well outside the limited choices of the poll.

The ears are the most important component: irreplaceable; uniquely individual; to be looked after like no other component in your overall 'system'.

The quality of the recording does come next. **** in = **** out all the way up the chain of equipment (as well indicated by Wmcmanus 'arguments are obviously circular' example). Any weakpoint in the chain defeats the end result: "can't fix a bad audio signal".

But look after those ears as your highest priority. They take a long while to deteriorate (for most of us) but they do have a component lifespan. Look after them and use them well/wisely.

Cheers.

Ian.
post #14 of 57
To me, it's pretty obvious. The headphones make the real work.
post #15 of 57
Quote:
Originally Posted by progo View Post
To me, it's pretty obvious. The headphones make the real work.
And I thought it was the electricity.
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