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post #16 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by AtomikPi View Post
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.
Or pop down to the local Walmart/Ratshack and buy one that has good build quality and shielding like I did.
US $7 for a 2 RCA to 2 RCA. I bought mine for 'The Warehouse' here in NZ. Supported a local business as well as it was locally made. 'The Warehouse' = what Walmart is like in the US.
post #17 of 195
Uncle Erik speaks the truth. Excellent post.

I agree with most of what has been stated. Build quality is of the utmost importance in determining whether or not a component is high quality. Even cheap (relatively speaking) sources and amps from some vendors have a lot of effort and time put into their construction. That should be as good as the audio component can possibly get.

Of course, headphones are way different. You will get diminishing returns of course, but those returns will be real, and if you have the cash, well worth it.

"Keep in mind that an external DAC will only decrease sound quality, in the unlikely possibility that it changes anything at all."

Can anyone back that up? I've never heard that before, but I'm curious how that would be so. Could anyone explain it to me? Thank you.
post #18 of 195
I absolutely hear differences in amps, and less often, in cables. Sometimes the differences are small, sometimes they are significant. Design, parts quality and build quality does bear fruit. The challenge I have is to avoid the hype and trust my ears. The only suggestion that I have is for each of us to trust our own ears. While an experienced listener can suggest aspects of the sound that we might listen for, I think that it is a mistake for us to use the experience of these listeners as a substitute for our own.

I know people who don't hear differences that are apparent to me and sometimes I don't appreciate differences that others hear readily. I hope this helps. If you hear of a meet near you, I suggest that you join the meet and reach your own conclusions.

Barry
post #19 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Berlioz View Post
"Keep in mind that an external DAC will only decrease sound quality, in the unlikely possibility that it changes anything at all."

Can anyone back that up? I've never heard that before, but I'm curious how that would be so. Could anyone explain it to me? Thank you.
I think that's false. While it may be that an external DAC is no better than internal, there may be slight benefits due to a decent DAC chip, lack of interference because it's a separate enclosure, etc. For example, feeding a cheap mp3 player's out to your amp is probably not a great idea, similarly feeding the out of your laptop or motherboard or maybe even cheap soundcard would probably not be ideal, but even a cheap DAC is probably going to sound as good as a pricey one.
post #20 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by AtomikPi View Post
I think that's false. While it may be that an external DAC is no better than internal, there may be slight benefits due to a decent DAC chip, lack of interference because it's a separate enclosure, etc. For example, feeding a cheap mp3 player's out to your amp is probably not a great idea, similarly feeding the out of your laptop or motherboard or maybe even cheap soundcard would probably not be ideal, but even a cheap DAC is probably going to sound as good as a pricey one.
Thanks. That's what I thought. I wish I had read Uncle Eriks post before I bought my CD player. It's probably going to die on me in a few years and a commercial one would sound exactly the same anyways, as well as being built like a tank.
post #21 of 195
mmm...makes me think...

If there was a way to have PCI and PCI-E x1 slots in a separate enclosure away from the other parts of the computer, this will have a severe impact on the lower-end DAC market.
post #22 of 195
Thread Starter 
Thanks all for the great advice! Just woke up and was delighted with the amount of replies. Really appreciate it. To contribute to the discussion a little. First of all, my Shanling cd-player has a nice option of enabling and disabling upsampling on the fly, and even when listening to it with my Stax (Which as far as I know, are about as revealing as headphones get) I am hard pressed to hear any difference. I have not tried it with any "difficult" passages, like some weird recording of domino figures with 200 hundred cymbal players but on normal recordings the difference, if there is one, is so small as to be safely ignored.

Also, I have read, that in order to have a real AB test, you must make sure that the output level is balanced with an actual meter, if the difference is say 0.5 desibels, the ear might hear them as having the same volume, but different, and then give fancy names to these differences. Just my 2 cents.

EDIT: One question I forgot to ask in my original post: what about these balanced cables/balanced amps. Are there a real benefits for doing that?
post #23 of 195
I think Uncle Erik makes a lot of sense.
post #24 of 195
I remember noticing a HUGE difference when hooking my ultra micro amp to the ipod (lod and apple lossless) and the ultra micro dac. when i first got the ultra micro dac i was really impressed by the sound. in more highend gear it is probably more difficult to distinguish.
I personally think(from my not very big experience) that some parts like amps and dacs have more effect on the sound and other parts like cables make less different, but still has some effect as i heard it myself. it is also depends on the ears of the listener ofcourse...not everyone WANT to hear the difference.
post #25 of 195
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by plonter View Post
I remember noticing a HUGE difference when hooking my ultra micro amp to the ipod (lod and apple lossless) and the ultra micro dac. when i first got the ultra micro dac i was really impressed by the sound. in more highend gear it is probably more difficult to distinguish.
I personally think(from my not very big experience) that some parts like amps and dacs have more effect on the sound and other parts like cables make less different, but still has some effect as i heard it myself. it is also depends on the ears of the listener ofcourse...not everyone WANT to hear the difference.
Can you describe the difference without any "winetasting terminology", I mean, were there some errors/distortions when you didn't use the dac, or did you hear something concretely new when you used the micro dac?
post #26 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oedipus Rex View Post
Can you describe the difference without any "winetasting terminology", I mean, were there some errors/distortions when you didn't use the dac, or did you hear something concretely new when you used the micro dac?
resolution and dynamics improved dramatically. but like i said in my earlier post, comparing my ultra micro dac to another high end dac can be more difficult(i guess). but the ipod internal dac cannot compete with a 600-700$ dac(equiped with an 120$ astrodyne power supply).
I would also like to mention that my cardas interconnect cable(from the dac to the amp) is much more better than the LOD cable i used for my ipod so it also may been related.

to say it more simple..the difference between low end gear and mid level is very significance, and i can't speak for high end as i never owned nor listened to high end gear. my guess is that the difference is more subtle.
and i think the reason for it is that mid level equipment can get really good sounding that it is more dificult for the human ear to tell the differences between mid and high level equipment. but i believe it's there.
it also ironic that the price differences between mid level gear and high end is much more big.
post #27 of 195
i would also like to say that i do believe in everything that related to cables and high end stuff. as for all the dealers out there, there is no lies.
IMO, if you pay for a 1000 or 2000$ dollar headphone amp or dac,expect to hear some difference. but the one thing i don't agree with (and there is nothing to do about this) is the over high prices for high end gear. the dealer take advantage of this and overpricing the products because they knoe that people will do anything to get better sound.(at least people like me) I don't want to make an argument or something..just to tell my opinion about this, that i am not totally against buying an expensive gear cables and stuff. it depends on everybody's satisfaction from his/her own gear.

once i called to a high-fi dealer in my country and asked him about a wadia cd transport. he told me that it can go up to 10,000$. I laughed and was amazed at the same time and I said thank you and goodbye. instead i settled for a cheap pioneer dvd as a transport. i wonder how much difference there is between the wadia transport and mine.

i am pretty satisfied with my mid level gear at the moment, and probably the only chance that i will upgrade it someday is only when i get the chance to listen to some really high-end gear and be impressed by it.
boy..I wish i can get to a meet someday.
post #28 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
If you are unfamiliar with high-end gear, how can you make the first statement?
I am not unfamiliar with high end gear. I am just unfamiliar with Tandberg preamps, and the B22 amp.

I have listened to high end gear several times : Electrocompaniet, Etalon, Air Tight, Accuphase amps, Forsell, Roksan drives, Counterpoint, Audio Note DACs...

I also experimented with a lot of tweaks : DIY cables of all kind (including power cables)... no more than 10 years ago, I used to play CDs in a drive that I had taken away from its case, and installed on a 40 kg piece of granit, itself isolated from its concrete stands.

I used to clearly hear differences between all that. But the first thing that bothered me was that high end gear did not sound better than low end one. Often worse, to my ears, and that my perception was usually the opposite of what was commonly accepted : I prefered optical Toslink fiber to coaxial, I prefered the internal DAC of my DAT deck over an external one...
Then I began to notice changes completely unrelated to the system. One day the sound was marvellous, the next day awful. This phenomenon is experienced by most audiophiles. The culrpit is often said to be the mains quality. However, sometimes I had the occasion to compare the sound of my system to the one of my father, 1 km away in the same town. I found one day where my system sounded much better than his, and another day where it was the opposite. I didn't think that the mains quality could vary that much across a short distance in the same town. On top of that, the quality variations from one day to the next were bigger than all the cumulated improvements that I had done on my system.

I also had the occasion to realize that some of these differences were psychological. Sometimes the sound of my neighbour small boombox seemed to play at very different paces. Not different speed, because I would have immediately noticed the timbre modification, just a different psychological feeling of tempo.
I also realized one day that the color that I had mentally attributed to the sound of some albums, dark, light, grey, colorful, according to the mood of the music, was actually exactly the color of the sleeve.
I first thought the sleeve artist were right on the spot, because they always use the graphic mood that goes with the music of the band. But the accuracy of the matching was too good to be honest. I realized then that I had never attributed any color to the music that I only had on cassette tapes copied from vinyl ! I understood that I had unconciously put the color of the sleeve to the sound, while I thought not having done so.

Then, with Internet, I began to perform ABX tests, in order to test mp3 quality. I quickly applied this method to anything I could : recordings of the input of my amplifier vs the output, of the same record played in the analog input, and through the ADC/DAC of my DAT...

The result was clear : I knew what differences there were between all these signals. The fact that it was not there on the recordings that I was ABXing in the computer could not be explained by poor performances. Differences had just vanished both from the recording and from the original gear at the same time.
Listening more carefully, I could also rule out the possibility that the gear did loose its difference over time (bad day for it, not hot for a long time enough, too well burned-in etc), because I was not able anymore to match the memory I had of the sonic characteristics with the actual sound.
I knew the original sound of A and the original sound of B. But listening to A, B, or X, I could not tell at all if they sounded like the old sound of A, the old sound of B, or somewhere in between.
The difference that I had in mind was clear as night and day. Muddy sound vs sharp sound. But frustratingly, I was unable to tell, listening to the sound if it was muddy or if it was sharp.
It was the same sound as ever. Very familiar, the sound of my old stereo system. But it was like if the part of my brain that was able to process "muddiness" had eventually stopped functionning. Instead, the sound was neutral.

And this was not the first time. I could remember these moments when I used to demonstrate the superiority of a tweak, like the addition of an external DAC to a CD Player, to someone who was not into hifi at all, with the puzzled face on him, who seemed to think "poor guy, completely nuts", while the tweak willingly stopped improving the sound (I could not hear the difference either), just at this moment, just to make a fool of me.

All these moments suddenly took a completely different meaning in my mind, as I was experiencing them at will under the ABX protocol.

I even caught a sonic difference during its very disappearance from my brain. It was the difference between a 24 bits / 96 kHz recording of an LP, vs a 44.1 kHz 16 bits one.
The two short wav files were completely different. The ABX would be a piece of cake.
As soon as I hit X for the first time, it was like another part of my brain fell off ! The difference vanished immediately from X, from A, from B, from the original wav of A played outside the ABX software and from the other original
wave file.
The worse is that all these samples sounded exactly like before to my ears. That's what I refer to with a "part of my brain". It is not at all like if there was listening fatigue, too short samples, or too fast repetition. In this case, I would have clearly heard that the rich details and beautiful timbre of the 96 kHz 24 bits recording had gone away, that I could not hear them anymore. But this was not the case. They were still there. On both recordings. Not especially more on one or the other. I just had not paid enough attention to their exact location. I was discovering that, changing my way of listening, I could hear all these qualities on the 44.1 kHz 16 bits files, but also all the defects on the 96 kHz 24 bits files. It was just a matter of attention.

It took quite some time until I got used to appreciate all the qualities and problems of a given system, without unconciously filtering out the ones that didn't seem to fit with my preconception. Some times, I was still mistaken with strong feelings about sound quality, that were just not there.

But one day, I found that one of these difference (between recordings of a vinyl made with two different stylii) was coming back again and again.
ABX : no difference.
Regular listening, the difference comes back.
ABX : no difference.
Regular listening, the difference comes back.

Imaginary difference do not use to come back like this. So I analyzed more carefully the sample, and finally found the obvious. There was actually some crackling on the left channel. And then I could ABX them at last.

Sorry for the off topic

Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
Everyone to date has failed abx tests between an mp3 player vs. a supposedly hi-end system.
Gbo and I ABXed a discman against a CD player : homecinema-fr.com • Voir le sujet - Tentative de mise en évidence de difference entre DVD et DAC

Gbo found that the discman was not playing at the same speed.
I didn't hear that, I heard the distorsion introduced by the compression algorithm of the anti-shock buffer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
I can't hear a difference between $500 headphones and apple ibuds.
I can, and according to the measurments of headphone.com, they are way bigger that the audible threshold.

Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
No difference between 192kb mp3 and cd-quality.
I can ABX some hard-to-encode samples at 320 kbps with the last version of the Lame encoder, and no internal clipping : homecinema-fr.com • Voir le sujet - ABX de matériels bas de gamme. Mais pas seulement .)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Berlioz View Post
"Keep in mind that an external DAC will only decrease sound quality, in the unlikely possibility that it changes anything at all."

Can anyone back that up? I've never heard that before, but I'm curious how that would be so. Could anyone explain it to me? Thank you.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AtomikPi View Post
I think that's false. While it may be that an external DAC is no better than internal, there may be slight benefits due to a decent DAC chip, lack of interference because it's a separate enclosure, etc. For example, feeding a cheap mp3 player's out to your amp is probably not a great idea, similarly feeding the out of your laptop or motherboard or maybe even cheap soundcard would probably not be ideal, but even a cheap DAC is probably going to sound as good as a pricey one.
That's right. Motherboard integrated chips often have a lot of background noise, and are unable to playback properly the udial test sample, because of aliasing.
But soundcards like the Audigy have good signal-to-noise ratio. Sometimes even better than CD players !

I was referring to non-oversampling DACs, that are not uncommon in the high end.
The effect of not oversampling introduces distorsion (treble roll-off), and this is audible in ABX : homecinema-fr.com • Voir le sujet - FAQ sur le suréchantillonnage

Jazz also says here that a treble roll-off is visible on every Wadia CD Player : http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f133/i...ml#post5501442
Depending on its amplitude, it might be audible, while on good computer soundcards (is the Audigy in the "good" category, I'm not sure), there is no such roll-off.
And in blind tests, treble roll-off is audible, while the claimed transient improvement is not.

Also, the only successful ABX of Matrix-hifi between DACs was the Sony Discman against the Audio Note DAC 3, and all the listeners agreed that the discman sounded better !
This is consistent with the fact that the Audio Note uses valves, that introduce distorsion. And the same discman could not be differenciated from other high end solid state DACs.

There are many examples of very high end gear, in DACs and amplifiers, that are so badly designed that they introduce a lot of distorsion, sometimes audible, while it is seldom the case with low end gear.
Douglas Self found some examples in amplifiers : Douglas Self Site

Recently, in a french magazine, a tube amp was reviewed. One of the most expensive in the world (somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 euros). The measured THD was 10 % !!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oedipus Rex View Post
First of all, my Shanling cd-player has a nice option of enabling and disabling upsampling on the fly,
There is a difference between oversampling (if your DAC doesn't, you get rolled-off treble), and resampling (a cheap tweak to mix different sounds inside a soundcard). Upsampling is yet another thing. It's reasampling from 44.1 kHz to 96 or 192 kHz.
The process is lossy and should only decrease quality, though it is unlikely to be audible (unless it is badly done)... unless the DAC is badly made too, and performs well only at 96 or 192 kHz.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oedipus Rex View Post
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?
Not the amp, but the attenuation circuitry that feeds the jack output from the seaker output.

With Nitri, a french forumer, we measured the effect on the frequency response, and could ABX the difference successfully between a Marantz integrated amplifier, and a dedicated headphone amplifier on an AKG K-400.
I recorded samples taken from the headphone output while the cans were working and disturbing the attenuation circuitry. You can listen to them here, at the bottom of the first post :
http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f133/h...ne-abx-429619/
post #29 of 195
Pio2001: Thanks for the detailed reply. I agree that there's a huge psychological effect. I've woken up in the morning and really enjoyed listening, yet less so in the afternoon. I've over-listened until everything sounded the same. The brain is a funny thing. Unusually, my life focus is self-awareness, so I consider as much myself as being the result of my feeling as I would the gear I listen with or the music I listen to.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AtomikPi View Post
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
I have 3 grades of amp here, and have owned others. With, say, Sennheiser HD-600's, if I listen to Jeff Buckley singing live, using the cheapest, it distinctly sounds like I'm at the back of the audience. As I switch to the mid-range amp, it sounds like I'm in the middle. With the high-end amp more detail is apparent in music, such as background sounds in the studio where the music was recorded. That's certainly not "not hear[ing] a difference between SS amp[s]", so I beg to differ.

Quote:
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.
This depends what kind of differences one hopes to get by buying a more expensive DAC. A basic example: The Compass DAC/amp has the option for changing the amplification circuit of the DAC section. Changing the circuit changes the tone slightly, so there is a difference.

Another example: To use my current DAC, I have to use an adaptor that goes from optical from my computer to the coax input of the DAC. My adaptor broke soon after I bought it, so I switched back to my old DAC. However, going back to the old DAC, with its audibly much lower ability at resolving detail, was unbearable for me when using electrostats. I like my current DAC a lot.

Quote:
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
For me, I wasn't interested in playing around with flavours so much as finding gear that was as resolving as possible. I am not interested in listening to equipment, but listening to music. I'm happy to have achieved that, I feel. Until I had, I was always feeling like I was hearing the imperfections of the equipment - my amp not driving my headphones well enough; my DAC giving the sound an unpleasant digital edge and so on.

Various thoughts:

You can have gear that has excellent THD but still sounds crap. The ability of a piece of equipment to reproduce a sine wave does not relate to its ability to reproduce a complex audio signal.

What some people consider a big difference between equipment may, for others, be a small difference that, on casual listening, may not be apparent.

What is good for some people is not good for others. I had certain aims in my choice of gear, aims which may not be that of others. Sometimes very coloured-sounding gear is quite fun to listen to. For example, Skylab recently reviewed a cheap tube amp that he thought was a lot of fun to listen with, if not very detailed.

You can't project what you like and dislike or feel is good or bad on others. That goes for cable opinions as much as ideas about what headphones are good or bad. I have "good quality, well shielded" cables here, and I have expensive cables here. With the former in use, some of the details I paid thousands of dollars for in gear to be able to hear can't be heard as they can if the expensive cables are used. That doesn't mean there isn't an epic amount of BS regarding cables (nor other gear for that matter) but means that you can't just generalise something as good or bad, except for you.

Finally, I think what is forgotten most often is that our purpose is to enjoy listening to music (with some community involvement, experimentation and DIY thrown in, if applicable).
post #30 of 195
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
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.
I agree totally on the part that people will often comment on gear they've never experienced based on what they've read. I can point out at least 500 headfiers who indulge in this and to be honest it's super annoying.

When I ask a question about hardware, the last thing I need is to be misled into buying something suitable for me by someone who has never tried it himself but is going on heresay.

I also agree on the part about the HD650 not being the alpha and the omega of head gear. Personally I find I love some music on them and find myself reaching for the SR225s with other music. Nothing is perfect, after all aren't we the creators imperfect creatures ourselves?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
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).
Couldn't have put it better, you've penned my thoughts. Its like someone building an HTPC for movies and putting a GeForce GTX 295 into it :P

What I've learnt is that music is emotive therefore what's right doesn't always sound better. It's best to stick with whichever cans move your soul more and then build to making those better with amp and DAC.
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