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What Is The Point?

post #1 of 43
Thread Starter 
Regarding portable headphone amps, I'm a bit lost as to their primary function. Is it:
1. to drive cans that are tough to drive because of their impedance, or
2. to improve the sound quality of one's system (DAP + cans/IEMs) regardless of its combined specs.

I have a Cowon iAudio 7 (95dB SNR from 26mW + 26mW across 16 ohms) outputting its signal to Klipsch Image IEMs (50 ohms of nominal impedance). Simply put, with FLAC files my setup sounds great to me.

So, I'm already happy. Should I anticipate any improvement in sound quality by adding a high-end portable headphone amp (e.g. Pico, 2MOVE, Predator, iQube) to my signal chain?
post #2 of 43
Originally Posted by MWA View Post
So, I'm already happy. Should I anticipate any improvement in sound quality by adding a high-end portable headphone amp (e.g. Pico, 2MOVE, Predator, iQube) to my signal chain?
If you are already happy, then perhaps "if it ain't broke.......don't try to fix it".

Personally, my new 2MOVE is another good piece of audio gear I get to mix and match with what I already have. Sound wise (though there is no sound-source upgrade) I am happier, for instance I can now use the line out on my ipod.

If I were you I woud stay happy

You might find some wisdom in this similar thread; http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f105/c...w-amps-343457/

cheers stephen
post #3 of 43
for me it would be #2, but I see people amping already amped sources, I honestly don't see the point of that, you're amping an already amplified source :X but then people will argue that if you set the DAP's volume to a certain volume it will act sort of like a line out, which in theory still shouldn't be as clean as a proper line out, which defeats the whole purpose of amping in the first place.
post #4 of 43
My bet is that point #2 are the main factor for those who go for an external headphone amplifier. At least that was my main factor when I went that route...
post #5 of 43
Originally Posted by krmathis View Post
My bet is that point #2 are the main factor for those who go for an external headphone amplifier. At least that was my main factor when I went that route...
I kind of agree, but IMHO the sound quality improvement comes for feeding the phones with the right amount of voltage and current needed to get their full potential. Using amps to "colour" the sound, or expecting them to fix the source's faults, IMHO is plainly wrong.

If a device (DAP, CDP, computer...) can drive some specific phones right for user's taste, then no amp is needed.

post #6 of 43
Just because it sounds good does not mean it cannot be made better, and kind of defeats the point of this site, so nix that one response (sorry, mate).

Why do I use a portable amp? A little background: my only dynamic (and therefore portable in this case) can is low impedance, and happens to be easy to drive. This means it would sound decent powered by my computer's headphone jack. But would an audiophile accept that? No! So I use a portable amp to improve my easy to drive can's performance. Furthermore, my portable amp has a built-in DAC, the quality of which greatly exceeds that of my computer's sound. Another plus.
post #7 of 43
^ Aaron, you're a bit wrong. Low impedance doesn't equal easy to drive. Just the contrary, low impedance asks more current from the output which is something many DAPs and budget portable amps can't deliver. The cause which makes many low impedance phones quite easy to drive and DAP friendly is that they're very high sensivity (above 100dB/mW) so this can overcome the current required.

Regarding your first comment... I think that when a source is right sounding an amplifier won't make it any better, you just can get better drive on your cans. Using an amp to make a crappy source sounding acceptable with some given cans is IMHO as pointless as adding more sauce to cover the putrid taste of the meat. It will be still putrid.

post #8 of 43
I use portable amps as otherwise I would have too much space in my pockets LOL
Sriously tho I feel that it adds something to the equation especially as it allows me to line out my iPod!
Is also good source for any disposal income LOL
post #9 of 43
If you're truly happy with what you have, then stop now. Escape the forum while you still can .

But......you asked, and you asked about specific amps. Seems to me you've already been bit by the head-fi bug. Nothing wrong with chasing better SQ. You'll find both the Meier amps and the Ray Samuel amps are especially nice with Cowon players. If you're able to make a mini meet, then by all means please do. It would give you a chance to try some different equipment, including portable amps.
post #10 of 43
Thread Starter 
Thank you for the replies. Fortunately my source is surprisingly good. And I have no desire to set money ablaze just to have the coolest get-up on the block. Alternately, I am quite happy to invest money (more so than most people) in anything that can enhance my listening experience. Some people dig cars. Others airplanes. A handful get off on heroin. For me, it is experiencing music. Experience. I guess that is the key word here - in a different context. I need to experience different amps. Unfortunately, that is difficult to do. There is no "store" to visit and I won't be able to hit up one of the conventions. So, I'm left with the opinions of you folks. I'm left with this forum and others like it to focus my purchases. I have no other intelligent alternatives.

There. A mini-defense of my original question: is there a chance that introducing a high-end portable headphone amp will enhance my listening pleasure with a rig I am already happy with? This rig BTW has no direct line out - just a headphone out. I suffer from a lack of knowledge and a lack of experience to answer my own question definitively. Or even obliquely.

Do I stand a chance of being happier with my sound or am I simply and ignorantly throwing away money on an amp? Or, is it the middle of the road: a roll of the dice, a hope and a prayer that my gear will synergize well (at least in my imagination)?

Integral, related question: how do I approximate a line-out? I've read with the iAudio 7 to keep the EQ settings flat and all other jeteffect psychoacoustic utilities set at zero. Regarding volume, I have read all sorts of things, many of which confuse the D2 with the iAudio 7. The Cowon iAudio 7 has a unit-less volume range from 0 to 40. Where are iAudio 7 users putting their volume to approximate a line out for their portable amps? Or is this unanswerable, i.e. dependent upon the amp one is using?
post #11 of 43

An analogy, perhaps

I don't know if it is absolutely appropriate, but think of driving two different cars, one having twice as much horsepower. The lower powered car can drive 55 MPH down the highway just fine, as can the more powerful car. But, when you really need to give it a kick to either pass or just to have fun, the more powerful car is "better".

In music listening, recordings have a dynamic range. Sometimes the power requirements are low, but when that bass drum kicks, or the organ belches out a powerful and loud low note, the horsepower requirements go up dramatically. The recording quality and amount of compression it received during production have influence on this dynamic range.

For the cost of more power (money, size, energy), my opinion is that is almost always a better experience.

post #12 of 43
There is a mini meet on Long Island today http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f24/ny...y-19th-342867/ & one in New Jersey on 7/26 http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f24/of...y-26th-336777/

I did check over on iaudiophile.net and there did not seem to be a definitive answer regarding lineout. The best thread I read suggested that volume of 30 would be best with a range of 30-35 seeming to make the most sense. Yes, EQ & Jet Effects as you said.

There will be an definite improvement in SQ with the use of a portable amp. I can't speak for your wallet but the difference is certainly worth it to me.
post #13 of 43
Originally Posted by MWA View Post
So, I'm left with the opinions of you folks.
Boy are you screwed!

Just kidding!
An example of low impedance cans that are harder to drive are my D2000; they sound kind of flat right out of my Meizu m6, and somewhat rolled off in the bass. Add an amp (mine is a mini^3) and the instruments have more separation and the bass is back. One explanation of this effect is that an amplifier presents a much higher impedance to the player, which requires much less current to drive. Bass frequencies require much more power, so that's why the bass is a little rolled off when driving the headphones, but returns when driving the amp. The amp has plenty of power, so the bass is back! The effect is much less noticeable when driving my C551 ear phones, but still improved slightly by the amp.
As far as what volume setting to use when amping...use your ears to decide. Start with the player with max volume, then turn up the amp to get your preferred volume. On my Meizu + mini^3 combo, the player is too strong turned all the way up, so I barely have the amp on at all, so I lower the player volume slightly to get more into the lower middle range of the amp volume adjustment. For those of you who are thinking that the player will distort at full volume setting (that's what I used to think), that's not true. The high impedance input of the amp is very different to drive, and the player at full volume is not putting out nearly as much power into that impedance as it would if it were driving headphones. Lower power output gives less distortion.

post #14 of 43
I can definitely hear an improvement when using my 595's amped. Its like the sound is fuller. Even though my cans don't need an amp, with an amp they're singing with gusto. Corny, I know, but it's the only way I can describe it.

post #15 of 43
Low impedance headphones are likely to pick up hiss via the headphone output. (or rather, they will play it loudly) By going from a line out into an amp, you are using the amp as a kind of buffer, turning the sound DOWN. This means that the hiss level also goes down so you get a cleaner sounding signal to your headphones.

You can also use some nice posh headphones with your Ipod or Cowon with an amp attached and so achieve a better sound. (It is possible to use headphones with higher impedances so your choice is wider)

You have a bit of clout behind the sound so in theory, transient attacks should be cleaner but it is debateable how much of the 'clipping' type of distortion is audible.

Personally, I always use an amp if I can. Mobile, I stick in some canal phones with very low impedance so that the player will deliver a decent volume and put up with hiss.

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