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Advice (as in blunt truths) for confused (ex?)-"audiophile"

post #1 of 195
Thread Starter 
I have never believed in cables and the other "total snakeoil" products, but lately I've been starting to wonder are there really any differences even between things like amps (other than their output strength) and dacs. Currently I'm using HD-650 with questionable amp (Tandberg preamp) and poor dac/source(sb audigy), and I would like to hear a honest truth from the skeptics, would there be ANY Difference on the sound if I bought 2000 euro DAC and some mega amp like B22 (My current amp has more than enough raw power to drive the HD650) Or is my set now finished and I can feel happy to know that I get the best sound there is?
post #2 of 195
No, you can not ever be happy with your current setup. Buy, buy, buy and when you're good and broke, buy some more.
post #3 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oedipus Rex View Post
I would like to hear a honest truth from the skeptics, would there be ANY Difference on the sound if I bought 2000 euro DAC and some mega amp like B22 (My current amp has more than enough raw power to drive the HD650) Or is my set now finished and I can feel happy to know that I get the best sound there is?
If the HD650 are your final headphones, your current setup is extremely close to its final version.

I don't know these amps, and this soundcard have been released in several versions. Keep in mind that an external DAC will only decrease sound quality, in the unlikely possibility that it changes anything at all. The one in the Audigy does not use tubes, and oversamples properly, unlike some external DACs, that introduce distorsion this way.

The problem is that the limitations of the Audigy (permanent reasampling in some cases) are in the digital realm. So a good external DAC will only faithfully respect these limitations.

The difference between an average resampling and no resampling at all is very difficult to hear, but it may be audible. The difference between a good resampling and no resampling is not audible.

I can't tell if your Audigy resamples and if it does it well. And if it does, it depends on the drivers configuration. It may resample in WDM (default DirectSound) and not in ASIO, for exemple.

The amp of another soundcard, the Marian Marc 2, that we tested and measured recently with Nitri, was as good as we could whish. Headphone outputs of external power amplifiers for speakers may not be as good as a soundcard output.

Dedicated headphones amplifier should be better than speaker amplifiers, but should not change sound quality at all compared to the headphone output of the soundcard.
Use one if you have limited playback level, audible background noise, or lack of precision in the use of the volume setting.

Note : I am both skeptic and inquiring.
post #4 of 195
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pio2001 View Post
If the HD650 are your final headphones, your current setup is extremely close to its final version.


The problem is that the limitations of the Audigy (permanent reasampling in some cases) are in the digital realm. So a good external DAC will only faithfully respect these limitations.

The amp of another soundcard, the Marian Marc 2, that we tested and measured recently with Nitri, was as good as we could whish. Headphone outputs of external power amplifiers for speakers may not be as good as a soundcard output.

Dedicated headphones amplifier should be better than speaker amplifiers, but should not change sound quality at all compared to the headphone output of the soundcard.
Use one if you have limited playback level, audible background noise, or lack of precision in the use of the volume setting.

Note : I am both skeptic and inquiring.
Thanks a lot for the info! I actually went and bought a better soundcard as I happened to find a used Audiotrak Prodigy HD2 for a reasonable prize. For what I have read in the forums, that card should have good enough DAC and it also comes with a headphone output. Once I get the card, I'll post whether I hear any differences between It (both through my preamp and its own headphone out) and the current SB Audigy.

When you say that "Headphone outputs of external power amplifiers for speakers may not be as good as a soundcard output." what exactly do you mean? Could the amp somehow disturb the signal? This is a vintage hifi preamp that goes for something like 900 dollars (Tandberg TCA 3002, Control Amplifier) so the build quality should be reasonably good.
post #5 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oedipus Rex View Post
I have never believed in cables and the other "total snakeoil" products, but lately I've been starting to wonder are there really any differences even between things like amps (other than their output strength) and dacs. Currently I'm using HD-650 with questionable amp (Tandberg preamp) and poor dac/source(sb audigy), and I would like to hear a honest truth from the skeptics, would there be ANY Difference on the sound if I bought 2000 euro DAC and some mega amp like B22 (My current amp has more than enough raw power to drive the HD650) Or is my set now finished and I can feel happy to know that I get the best sound there is?
The way I look at it, if audiophiles have to argue about whether something makes a difference in sound or not (for example cable debate), then its not worth worrying/bothering about. Even if there really is a difference, its too small and most likely not worth the $$$.

On the other hand, most audiophiles and enthusiasts do hear differences in better DACs and amps. You don't have to go to a highend $2000 DAC and $1000+ b22 amp to get a significant improvement from a non-audiophile or entry-level audiophile system. IMHO, midrange audiophile equipment like ~$500 DAC and ~$500 amp will give a greater improvement in sound quality, than going from midrange to highend. Its all about diminishing returns, your preferences, and budget.
post #6 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oedipus Rex View Post
I have never believed in cables and the other "total snakeoil" products, but lately I've been starting to wonder are there really any differences even between things like amps (other than their output strength) and dacs. Currently I'm using HD-650 with questionable amp (Tandberg preamp) and poor dac/source(sb audigy), and I would like to hear a honest truth from the skeptics, would there be ANY Difference on the sound if I bought 2000 euro DAC and some mega amp like B22 (My current amp has more than enough raw power to drive the HD650) Or is my set now finished and I can feel happy to know that I get the best sound there is?
I have read quite a lot of DBT between different DACs, AMPS and sources to tell you that there won't be any difference other than aesthetics or functionality when doing a proper comparison between both units.

If we are comparing a SS amplifier to a tube amplifier, then expect to hear some differences between both, but between different SS amplifiers don't.

You should use google translator to check on the articles you want to read.
If you can't see the url, right click on the test and choose open in a new tab, you will get the url that way.

EDIT: Forgot the link: http://www.matrixhifi.com/pruebasciegas.htm

EDIT2: If you are interested about their methodology: http://www.matrixhifi.com/ENG_metodologia.htm
post #7 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pio2001 View Post
If the HD650 are your final headphones, your current setup is extremely close to its final version.

I don't know these amps,
If you are unfamiliar with high-end gear, how can you make the first statement? It has to be noted that the skeptics are people who have not owned, nor, as far as can be seen, have any experience with high-end gear. Being satisfied with what one has does not equate to more expensive gear being not worth it. It is as subjective as it is objective.

The best idea would be to go to a meet and find out for yourself, if there were one nearby, or find another head-fi'er nearby with a high-end set-up and try for yourself. There's no point in me going into great detail about the differences between the different gear I've owned, but suffice to say, the difference with my HD-600s between a basic set-up (inexpensive DAC/amp combo) and one 10x its price is dramatic. It might be more worth it, if you're finding your system boring, to try different headphones, then make the most of what those headphones can do. Spending a lot of money on amps and DACs wont help if the sound signature of your headphones is not a good match to your music or your ears (brain). As well, a "good system" means different things for different people. Some people like to have more power, or more neutrality, or a less digital sound, or a certain colouration (such as a stronger and tighter bass). It really all depends on what you feel is lacking in your system. Some people don't really know as they don't know what's possible.
post #8 of 195
Everyone to date has failed abx tests between an mp3 player vs. a supposedly hi-end system. I can't hear a difference between $500 headphones and apple ibuds. No difference between 192kb mp3 and cd-quality. Only difference between 50 pounds of audio equipment and my mp3 player is 49 pounds and 10 ounces. High end headphones and dacs and amps is actually like the hobby of cultivating bonsai trees, except it is not the art of miniaturization, but of gargantuanization. It's like if you go to someone's house and see a 8 ft. tall marble statue of a phallus in the living room, that and gargantuan audio equipment is just the modern equivalent of art deco. I can't even hear the difference between high end speakers like bose vs. computer speakers.
post #9 of 195
phallus?
post #10 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
Everyone to date has failed abx tests between an mp3 player vs. a supposedly hi-end system. I can't hear a difference between $500 headphones and apple ibuds. No difference between 192kb mp3 and cd-quality. Only difference between 50 pounds of audio equipment and my mp3 player is 49 pounds and 10 ounces. High end headphones and dacs and amps is actually like the hobby of cultivating bonsai trees, except it is not the art of miniaturization, but of gargantuanization. It's like if you go to someone's house and see a 8 ft. tall marble statue of a phallus in the living room, that and gargantuan audio equipment is just the modern equivalent of art deco. I can't even hear the difference between high end speakers like bose vs. computer speakers.
Massive troll or



Btw, I'd like to see a link to the bolded.
Don't believe this guy tbh...extremely trolling tbh.
That said, I'm not a cable believer as in 'yes, there is difference but are the differences worth the price differences? No.'
post #11 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by chinesekiwi View Post
Btw, I'd like to see a link to the bolded.
I took part in the study, I am the guy second to the left.
post #12 of 195
looking nice
post #13 of 195
I agree with the OP on cables. The biggest problem with cables is that the field is crawling with scam artists.

Let's put that another way. There is no dispute that profit margins on cables is astronomical. Further, there is no scientific way to prove whether or not cables "work." Therefore, startup costs are almost nothing. If you advertise and hire a few shills to hit the message boards (everyone knows sales are generated in discussion forums - it's not exactly a secret) you stand to make huge amounts of money.

Easy money and scam artists go hand-in-hand. For the sake of argument, suppose there's an honest manufacturer and a scam manufacturer and you're buying a cable. How would you tell the real cable from the fake cable? There is no way since, alledegly, standard bench test equipment will not reveal the "magic" of cables. And with money this easy, you can be sure that scammers outnumber anyone honest. Further, the honest sellers might be unknowingly selling you something that doesn't do a bit of good.

Until scientific evidence emerges, the only safe assumption is that anyone selling cables is running a scam. There's no way to know either way, so it's safer to go with cables that make no claims.

Amps are not quite that simple. Output power is only at a given frequency - it varies over the spectrum. Same goes with output impedance. Impedance affects power delivery to a transducer, so power sent and played is not a cut and dry numbers game. Keep in mind that headphones have an impedance curve, too, so there is a complicated electrical dance going on to determine how much power gets across. This is where the sound signature of various amps comes from.

However, it's not a huge difference. Solid state all sounds similar, though tubes vary a lot and so do output caps and transformers. If you enjoy playing with this stuff, great. It isn't snake oil - you can actually make spectral decays of amp characteristics and point out differences on an oscilloscope and standard test gear.

But is all this necessary? Not that much. I love them and find amps interesting, but if you get sufficient power across, good headphones will sound good.

One other point about amps, however. That is that build quality is important. There's a lot of cheaply made crap out there with power transformers that get sweaty after awhile. There are poor designs that run tubes incorrectly and too hard, poorly designed casework, and I could go on. If you want to do this right, spend a few bucks on a reliable amp made by someone who is good at it. You don't want a piece of crap that burns out tubes every few months or has to be sent in for regular repairs because of poor design. It's better to buy a quality unit and use it for years.

I also don't believe in the entire "source first" thing. I think that got started by Linn back in the 1960s or 1970s. Yeah, back then there was a monstrous difference in source quality. Some of it really sucked.

The problem is that audio made huge strides over the past 20 years and is nothing like it was in 1970. Yet audiophiles keep chanting the same mantra over and over. Look at the test results - even the $19 DVD players have distortion below the threshold of human audibility. Same with more expensive players. The "difference" people "hear" is the output voltage of the source. That varies across manufacturers and, yes, you can hear that. But that's not the quality of output, it only describes the sound that comes from the section that amplifies it a little. If you level match digital sources, they all sound almost exactly the same.

Like amps, however, you don't want to buy a crap quality source. Personally, I like the commercial CD players meant for broadcast. They have a heavy build quality and should hold up for years of service.
post #14 of 195
You will not hear a difference between SS amps except in a few circumstances:
1) It doesn't have enough power - this is rare and only happens with soundcards, mp3 players, laptops, and super highly inefficient hp's (k1000 etc)
2) Your phones are highly efficient and your amp has a high output impedance - something like a v-can or a m3 is a relatively inexpensive option that would provide essentially 100% of something higher end (like my beta 22) (for example the m3 has something like .05 ohm and my beta is .001 - you can't tell the difference)
3) Your amp is colored in some way - most SS amps and even some tube amps aren't, this generally isn't an issue

DAC is much more questionable than even amps. In the tests that bullseye linked to, which I read recently, people are unable to abx a walkman from a $10k cd player. If you buy a relatively cheap (no more than a few hundred dollar) dac you're highly unlikely to see increases in performance from moving up to the $1k region (think dac1/da10/etc) or especially from the $1k region to Berkeley Alpha/Emm Labs/Esoteric etc.

Cables don't do much (if anything). Use some blue jeans cable if you want to be sure than you have (1) good build quality (2) good shielding - that's all that matters.

I now realize that the only real way I can move "up" is by sidegrading to flavors I like more. So buying a colored tube amp can change the flavor. Also headphones are very easily ABXed and you shouldn't hesitate to buy hyper expensive hp's if you have the money as they aren't snake oil.

edit: also very good post by uncle erik
post #15 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post
However, it's not a huge difference. Solid state all sounds similar, though tubes vary a lot and so do output caps and transformers.
I disagree that SS amps all sound similar. Yes, probably bigger differences between tube amps but SS amps don't sound similar.
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