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Leaving portable hifi - it's too silly

post #1 of 935
Thread Starter 
The purpose of this post is to be educational

Let's get to the summit of my portable (if it can even be called that anymore) hifi experience -

An iMod with an External v-cap dock (higher grade than the ALO portable v-cap) powered by either iQube or SR-71A, with a pair of APS V3 recabled Ultrasone Edition 9s (or HD600s for testing). The LOD(Line-out Dock) and mini-to-mini are a 22g jena / silver configuration.

(The Monster)

(Forgive my ugly mug - my displeasure with the rig results has distorted it horribly)

I have listened to several portable amps aside from these, as well, and normal iPod sound vs iMod and such, just about every variation you can concoct.

It all sounds really lame.

Let me move into the conclusions I've made in understanding the virility of the current portable hifi craze

How it is sustained:

Firstly, you have a lot of new people coming into hifi audio at all. They don't know anything. It's evident that there is a whole community out there revolving around this stuff and there must be something to it - and they are music lovers, curious about better sound (as the pursuit of a nice headphone likely drove them here to begin with). Chances are, it's someone younger than not, and someone with an iPod or Zune (or some pdap)

So the portable hifi possibility immediately appeals. It's way more convenient.. the size.. and the entry-level pricing is cheap! Plenty of popular sub $100 portable headphone amps. And LODs or Mini-to-Minis can be had for nearly scratch.

I think it's common that people see threads *like the "post your portable rig" and the idea of a portable rig seems less crazy.

Add in the reviews and raves from people that are often ignorant (lack of experience with much else gear, especially home gear) and/or are some of the token mega-reviewers here with a gigantic post count and tons of articulated impressions that leave a newb feeling like the person knows what they are talking about. A lot of these reviewers I think have a gap-filling addiction with some of this stuff and quite enjoy their position as reknowned reviewer of this or that. They're often off in their impressions, just outright crazy. And almost always fail to explain just how tiny any of the differences or aspects of portable components are (though this trend is not limited to portable hifi)

However, with portable hi-fi, you have a much fresher set of people with interest and I think they are more susceptable to all of these things.

I don't think it should be excluded that people also like to fit in. Just find the number of "______ owners unite!" kinds of threads or witness the ongoing interactions between people in long-running review threads for individual products.

We all, well, some people, tell us that everyone hears differently etc. It gets taken to such a baby-coddling degree that really anytime a person is displeased people on both sides are ready to write it off as not being their personal taste. It's like people aren't even thinking to question the integrity of the component, or any other possibilities outside of the idea of it just not being their taste. This kind of neutralizing should technically rule out every single impression we have here, then, as they are all personal experiences from people with varying personal tastes. Now how silly would that be?

Last thing to mention for this segment is that there is a very widespread distrust or outright phobia of anything "DIY". This is mostly fueled by not understanding what's in play - how it all works and is assembled. The reality is, most of the vendors we have here are just 1-2 man outfits who are DIYing but with a website and a proclaimed business entity. If it's not being streamlined like an iPod, it's DIY. Get over it. DIY is value. Your ears and your wallet will love you simultaneously for the first time since you got into this


Now, let's factor in some things pertaining to the products themselves

Pretty much every portable amp out there is a really really basic design. If the community here had any idea what the mark-up ratio was I think we'd start seeing better bang for our buck as the next manufacturers start becoming people competing with each other (or just knowing they can't get away with bs anymore) as opposed to being the next in line to offer a box full of 10% of what you're spending on it.

The portable amp boom from so many people - and so many units, let's you know just how lucrative an arena it is. And the ever-expanding portable amp price tags. Not that simply monitoring the level of activity and headcount in the portable forums won't do the job.

Oh, and the boom of LODs and their makers as well. You can see just how simple and cheap it is by the number of consistently-in-business DIYers we have here offering these things, often using the same materials

What's impractical about all of this is, well, where do I start:

The size? They are actually smaller than you would think from photos - often times. And yet, you suddenly realize how impractical the idea of taking this thing with you everywhere in addition to your PDAP is.

The weight? Often more than your PDAP itself - especially once you jam two 9volts or four AAAs in there. Oh, and they're too weighty for shirt pockets really - better not bend forward more than 45 degrees.

The shape? Hard corners and edges made out of metal. Be nice to your thighs.

Batteries? Having to buy some rechargables and a charger can get real pricy, real fast. At least half of the popular portable amps need AAs / AAAs or 9Vs. Let's mention how quickly these discharge and that they only last for so many cycles. And if you want the low discharge ones, you're paying even more. Hopefully I don't need to point out the impracticality of running through non-rechargables constantly.

The sound itself? Portable amps do not sound good. The closest thing to a portable amp that really begins getting the job done is the Lisa III. And the Lisa III weighs a lot, is huge, and takes one hour to charge for one hour to play. And it's also among the very top of the price range (though it dramatically slaughters all the portable amps in the price range around it) These amps are really basic designs that deliver really basic sound.

The price? You're mostly paying for a chassis and their profit. The components themselves are cheap. The R&D is often inexistent. The designing is far from complex. And with LODs, oh boy, the pricing on some of these for the near irrelevance of their role to the sound is staggering. Copper and silver are cheap. Real cheap. Especially 5-6 inches of it.

The price in relation to the sound?
A portable amp is an amp that runs on batteries. But portable amps sound like poop. The size is relevant, and yet, most of them aren't even coming close to having their design maximized, or the space fully used. The level at which these are stomped by good home amp choices in the same price range is horrifying.

The fragility / wear & tear liability? Expensive stuff to be lugging around, in a pocket or elsewise. More than a few are accidentally pulled off of a surface top or dropped. Sometimes they break from this, too. Components like the jacks come loose. LODs are just begging to be destroyed in any kind of pocket or backpack environment. Especially if you have silver content - which plenty LODs do. They are also often very rigid - in the case of the 18g Jena cabling it's become frequent that the constant stress of the LOD reverting to a tension-free shape will break the jacks on these things.

The financial liability?
Oops, you just lost your $500 portable rig. Oops, someone stole your $500 portable rig. Oops, your $500 portable rig just broke because it's made out of poop.

Is hifi sound even practical for a portable application? I'd actually readily say that it definitely can be. I myself love to go to a park and lay in the grass and really listen.. or zone out while on a car or train ride (headphone isolation can make things like trains relevantly practical for this kind of litsening). It is still worth mentioning, though, that probably most portable applications are not fit for hifi listening! Things like black background and microdetails (and the general idea of truly being immersed in the music to an extent that hearing it this well doesn't happen) are decimated by outside noise. Chances are you'd see a bigger boost in performance by getting better isolating headphones / IEMs. Are you actually going to be in a focused enough state while in portable application to where you won't be interrupted or taking your headphones off every 5-10 minutes, thus keeping immersion pretty absent?

A few other notes on some of the misleading or misunderstood things relevant to all of this fiasco. Spending $100, let alone $200 on an LOD is sillier than silly.

The iPod is really not a revealing enough of a source to be fretting over your interconnects. Nor is the rest of most any iPod rig going to be revealing enough for that.

And the difference would be so incredibly minimal, at best. To a point where you're MUCH better off spending that overpriced LOD money on a basic LOD and sinking the rest into a better pair of headphones - way more performance gain to be had in going that route.

The idea of spending that much money on nearly irrelevant parts of portable rig instead of upgrading the other components is nuts. Hell, you'd be better off spending that kind of money on a headphone recable - and that would still be pretty silly to do for a portable application. The difference is just so negligible to begin with, on the best of home setups - let alone on a comparatively incompetent portable setup. Also, if you think "cryo" means anything at all, or costs anything at all, you need to fix this.

Another point to mention - specifically with IEM recables ( and things like the koss ksc75) is that they often add significantly more weight to the cable, which can be a nuisance if not something to constantly loosen your fit.

The whole concept is also silly if you're neglecting the entirely free and quite substantial upgrade of using files with the absolute least or absolutely no compression (I'm a lossless guy myself - but PDAP space is very limited). Getting your ears cleaned is probably a significantly better value than most components in a portable setup, too.

Audio hifi is especially bad with the reality of diminishing returns. Portable hifi is the absolute worst with it.

My advice? act sensibly in accordance with the points I've made I hardly am telling people to stop pursuing portable hifi. Chances are, though, you're better off with a pair of easily driven headphones ( if you're an IEM user, just get some UE11s and drop the amp and LOD) that cost your normal headphone price plus the added funds of skipping or selling the amp and LOD (or mini-to-mini).

I support the pursuit of the portable hifi, always will, but it needs to make the leap to where there is actually an audiophile dap with an audiophile amp all in a single unit. iBasso has a project of this going on right now but I'm not holding my breath - I imagine they will still compromise battery life / storage space - and it's far off, for those ready to take immediate interest, cool your horses

But it's progress, and tip of the hat to them for it.

Me? I'm reverting to a normal iPod with a pair of sennheiser PX 100s and/or a pair of sennheiser HD280 pros. I've been so content with the px 100s out of my ipod headphone out lately. I may go for a pair of Livewires or even UE11s someday. I'll save the real listening for a nice home rig. I'm going to be able to afford a rig that just indescribably destroys what my full-on iMod rig can do at current, for the same or less than what I've spent on it. I'll fund it all with the sale of this.

A lot of people are happy with the sound of their portable rig - I'm saying you could be a lot happier, and for even less price if you play the cards right.

I need to make a mention for PCDPs. There it is. Too many PCDPs, mostly older ones, outright destroy the audio quality of our PDAPs - whether by their headphone out or their line-out.

(PX 100s - these things just sound way too good for $30)

I would hope that more newcomers consider skipping the portable hifi sinkhole and getting to experience what headphone hifi is really about. Go to meets and experience gear, it's priceless and money-saving. And be careful about the hype on head-fi. We see several popular items of the month here and they're almost always a huge let-down, with what I've experienced so far.

I'm hardly a spoiled audiophile - I've not got any grand rigs or anything. What I've got is in the photos up there. I fund my audio quest with a measley $8.60 an hour - and I think a lot of other portable hifi consumers are also going with this option in the idea that it's the more affordable route to put your foot in the door with hearing some good sound. It's just not true. And even if you're a billionaire, why waste a cent of it?

If anyone has any questions, I'm here to help - feel free to PM me or get ahold of me via any of the messengers listed under my name at the top of the post

Thanks for reading

Quick infos:

PDAP = Portable Digital Audio Player
PCDP = Portable CD Player
LOD = Line-out Dock

Also, this thread has evolved a good amount now - please read through it before diving in!
post #2 of 935
What is a LOD? And what fairly-priced Hi-Fi gear do you recommend? I'm drooling over the Pico because I want a USB DAC with a headphone amplifier, but I'm pretty sure it's way overpriced. I don't much care about the size though (I wouldn't mind a much larger, non-portable unit if the price is right).
post #3 of 935
Nice write-up man, seriously....
post #4 of 935
yup i almost agree but this is like a passion and passions make ppl happy. Who care if you spend 100$ on a LOD? that's ok if you are happy with it, even if i agree is silly.

man, ppl waste so many $$$ to psychologist just because they are not happy. Most of the times they dont even know why.

Btw since you are leaving....can i have all your stuffs ?=D

take it easy!
post #5 of 935
while i agree with your points, i'm afraid your movement attempt will be in vain as i'm pretty sure the typical demographic is going to just end up with the desktop equivalent meaning cheap and hardly an upgrade...
post #6 of 935
Thread Starter 
Haha, I'm not leaving hifi. I'm here because I love music and I am so not leaving music And I am definitely keeping the Ed 9s

I'm just not going to neglect a nice home experience over a super diminishing returns super impractical super... well, you read the post

As for the "movement" - I'm just putting out some feedback and maybe steering a few people straighter for their dollar

Oh, and Skamp - The Pico DAC is actually pretty nice - and many people enjoy it as an amp as well (I don't - I find the mids too forward and dominant). I don't have particular suggestions for you right now (my area of research with the home setup has been in a price range just above the Pico budget). After a year I finally feel like I know how to shop this stuff (after the typical blunders). If footprint isn't an issue to you, I think you can easily find a better dac and amp solution for the same pricing - especially for the amp chunk.
post #7 of 935
who care if you can have both home and portable setuo?
post #8 of 935
Guys, could someone please tell me what LOD stands for? I keep seeing that acronym but I haven't found a definition.
post #9 of 935
maibe use the search button?

LOD line out dock
post #10 of 935
Originally Posted by skamp View Post
Guys, could someone please tell me what LOD stands for? I keep seeing that acronym but I haven't found a definition.
LOD = Line Out Dock and it how you connect an amp to your iPod via the dock connector.

As for leaving portable-fi... I don't think my ears are good enough to be able to tell the difference between a good portable setup and a home one.

post #11 of 935
Line out Dock. It goes usually from an iPod's proprietary connector to an amp, as that bypasses the iPod's inbuilt volume control, which doesn't sound as good.

Luminette: Nice rant. I have been contemplating selling my SF10s for this reason. I might give them one last shot with a replacement cable though. The only way I could carry around an iPod and amp would be if I strapped both onto my belt in some way or used a bag of some kind.
post #12 of 935
i just started getting into portable amps, but have not gone higher than the pa2v2. i was originally planning on getting a $150-200 portable but i realized that a home setup is probably a better bang for my buck, especially since i don't wear my headphones out that much.

i have never thought about getting iem's, but lately i've been contemplating whether i should invest in a pair. i think the fiio e5 will be my last portable amp because i just can't justify paying so much for a portable setup.

i will probably be spending my money on a home amp/dac and possibly a pair of iem's. a small-sized sound isolation seems very appealing since outside noise is pretty loud.

after using the pa2v2, i began to wonder if when people say an amp sounds "good" maybe they really mean "better"
post #13 of 935
Originally Posted by yukihiro View Post
i just started getting into portable amps, but have not gone higher than the pa2v2. i was originally planning on getting a $150-200 portable but i realized that a home setup is probably a better bang for my buck, especially since i don't wear my headphones out that much.

i have never thought about getting iem's, but lately i've been contemplating whether i should invest in a pair. i think the fiio e5 will be my last portable amp because i just can't justify paying so much for a portable setup.

i will probably be spending my money on a home amp/dac and possibly a pair of iem's. a small-sized sound isolation seems very appealing since outside noise is pretty loud.

after using the pa2v2, i began to wonder if when people say an amp sounds "good" maybe they really mean "better"
The FiiOs just a bass boost. Get a good sounding DAP and some IEMs with enough bass already. FiiO is a last ditch attempt to save bassless phones.
post #14 of 935
Excellent write-up! I recently ditched the Move and was happy with just the iPod out into the Er-6i. Sadly the jack on the ipod broke and I have to revert back to using the Move (line-out dock). The moment I fix that jack is the moment the Move gets retired once again. Carrying around a metal "sandwich" (interconnected by a funny-looking short cable, no less!) makes me feel self-conscious, not to mention all the pluggin' I have to do every time. Not easily done when not sitting, especially on the bus. Easier to just whip out the player and earphone and blast away!
post #15 of 935
It's hard to disagree with a lot of what you have said there.

All I can say is that the bits I have bought have definitely increased my listening pleasure - so much so that at times I find myself literally grinning due to the SQ I now have (IMHO of course).

Portable suits me - I wouldn't have chance to listen to a home specific set up
too much, I need to have my gear with me when I am mobile.

I totally accept that a home rig will trounce a portable for SQ, as a general rule, - but then they aren't as compromised as a quality portable rig has to be (power source/size/weight/durability etc).

Most quality portable equipment retains its value pretty well - when you sell it, compare what you paid for it and the length of time you have enjoyed it and I believe in this sense it's not all that expensive.
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