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Looking for help in choosing a portable amp (w/ DAC) for use with Westone 3's

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hello there, I'm quite new to this forum although I lurked quite a bit looking for info on Grado GR8's, Westones and now headphone amps. Please bear with me as this is a pretty long post; I want to give a good idea of my situation.

I understand there are many threads that compare amps w/ DACs (such as the Predator and Pico, etc.) but I would like to get a little help in deciding what to purchase based on my personal preferences and you guys seem to know what you are talking about. Unfortunately I have no way of trying / listening to any of the discussed amps since I am not very active in any audio communities and don't know anyone who has a portable amp or any experience in audio. There is also no shop I know of near my residence where they have those kinds of products in stock. In essence I'm trying to decide what to buy based on other's opinions and descriptions I find on the Internet, and this strategy served me well to date. I know everything is subjective in this domain but if I can get many opinions I should be able to make an enlightened decision.

I hope this thread can help people with similar musical tastes as me!

First a little intro on my situation:

I was looking for new earphones because the cables on my Shure E2C's split near the earpieces. In addition, I find the Shures quite muffled compared to my other audio components (which of course cost way more than the E2C's). I finally settled on the Westone 3's (I actually considered the GR8, but there is a severe lack of reviews, I can't believe no one has those, anywhere!). I should receive the W3's next week

I plan to use those with my iPod Touch (2G) and I'm wondering what portable amp to use (and if I need one) to get the most out of the W3's.

Factors I consider important for the amp I'll choose:

- The amp should not be too big (something like the Predator seems great).
- It must have a DAC for use on my MacBook Pro and home PC.
- It should have reasonable battery life (at least as much as my iPod Touch 2G).
- It should mate well with the Westone 3's sound signature, i.e. it shouldn't boost whatever frequencies the W3's emphasize if any; I don't want to be overwhelmed with certain frequencies although more bass is good as long as it's well-defined and "dynamic" if I may use that term.
- I want the best I can get for my money (which seems logical doesn't it?). I mean by that that if I can get 50% more sound quality by spending 50$ more I'll be glad to do so, but if it costs 50% more for sound which is only a tiny bit better I'll pass. Obviously I'm exaggerating but you get the idea.
- Of course it should also have a good build quality, and additional accessories such as an interconnect cable and/or a pouch are a nice plus.
- I'll be listening to the Westone 3's and this amp all day in many cases, so I want to avoid listener's fatigue as much as possible.
- Must be able to be powered by the USB port (and ideally charge from there too if applicable).

Amps w/ DACs I might consider :
iBasso 3Move, RSA Predator, Headamp Pico w/ DAC, etc.

The price of the iBasso 3Move is very interesting considering it's been rated better than the Predator in this thread: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f105/r...mpared-214588/ but 9hrs battery life seems a bit limited to me… any hints?

My stuff:

I have a couple of hi-fi audio components already (although not the most costly, I am certainly happy with those). Here's what I think about each, just to give you an idea of what sound signature I am looking for:

Home System : NAD C325BEE amplifier + NAD C525BEE CD player, with Monitor Audio RS1 bookshelf speakers and an Energy S8.3 subwoofer. I love this sound system, it has a very clear & crisp sound signature and plenty of very dynamic bass (dynamic as in not boomy; you can ear notes in the bass instead of just a big heavy thump like so many car subwoofers out there). Maybe the mids are a bit lacking on this system, but it does sound very musical to me.

Headphones : Grado SR325i. I love the sound of the Grados, it is very clear and crisp, even more than my NAD/Monitor Audio system, with a satisfying amount of very precise bass. Although I love the detailed sound of the Grados, I find that listening to them can become a bit fatiguing after a while because of the pronounced highs (and I must say the Grados are not the most comfortable headphones I've tried, too). Still I must say I'm pretty much a Grado fan as far as sound signature is concerned.

Earphones : Shure E2C (replaced by Westone 3 next week). I like the E2C's, but they are lacking in the highs department to me. They sound muffled and a bit lifeless compared to my Grados and home system. In general there is much less detail in all frequencies compared to the Grados & Monitor Audio / NAD sound system, which I think is normal considering they are not in the same league.

Kinds of music I listen to and some bands & artists:

Everything from Heavy Metal (and very intense, "treble-y", "layered" metal like Strapping Young Lad & Devin Townsend, which can be *almost* ear-piercing at times with the Grados), to jazz, classical, world music, trance, ambient, etc.

Mr. Bungle (experimental)
Estradasphere (jazzy-experimental-metal-...)
Strapping Young Lad (heavy metal, with lots of layered sounds, choruses and echoes)
Devin Townsend, Devin Townsend Band, Devin Townsend Project (has much of the same characteristics as Strapping Young Lad sound-wise, but more mellow)
Amon Tobin (drum & bass)
Alamaailman Vasarat (experimental-klezmer)
Infected Mushroom (techno-trance)
Porcupine Tree (rock)
John Zorn (jazzy-experimental)
Stuff by Mike Patton (experimental)
The Prodigy (techno-pop)
Robert Rich & Brian Lustmord (ambient)
Various classical, orchestras & jazz albums,
etc.

So what amp/DAC(s) should I consider?

I've looked into RSA's The Predator and it seems like a great little amp / DAC combo, but I'd like to get more opinions. Is its price reasonable compared to similar offerings? The iBasso seems like an interesting (and more affordable) alternative, but the 9V battery and 9hrs runtime are not very appealing to me…

In addition if you've got some advice on a good interconnect to use with the amps you'll suggest I'm also interested in knowing about those. I'm not too inclined on paying 125$ for a 6 inch interconnect like the one sold on RSA's website, although it must be of very high quality.

Thanks in advance for your expertise and opinions!
post #2 of 8
Thread Starter 
Well I guess the long post deterred people from reading it and posting some answers… but for those of you who face a similar dilemma, in the end I decided to purchase the iBasso D10.

In essence the Pico and Predator cost about 2x more than the iBasso, and according to a review by HeadphoneAddict I can't seem to be able to find anymore, in his opinion the D10's sound is a cross between the Predator and Pico, and is globally "better" than both (keep in mind this is still subjective).

A cross between the two would suit my needs pretty well (considering the Pico is generally reviewed as being more clear and airy, while the Predator is reviewed as being more punchy in the low end and maybe more musical and less analytic in its sound signature). If I'm not completely happy with the D10's sound the included opamp rolling kit will be useful to get the exact sound I'm looking for. Personally I would never (ever) attempt to solder some chips in something that cost me that much so the DIY kit is perfect in this situation .

There are also some nice accessories bundled with the amp/DAC such as a USB cable, optical cable and a small pouch for carrying the D10 around, which the Predator does not include (the Pico does if I remember well).

Pretty nice specs and glowing reviews, I'm looking forward to receive and listen to it!
post #3 of 8

The included cables

Hi. Sorry you didn't get any responses here. I hope the iBasso D10 arrived safely and you are enjoying it now! I'm thinking of buying one to use with my Edirol R09 portable recorder / SD card player via its 3.5mm optical out. I have searched for a few hours(!) but nobody seems interested in saying anything about the iBasso's included cables!

With so many good reviews I think the iBasso is going to be a good buy, although I am always interested in peoples' opinions - like you I have no store anywhere near me and depend on the reviews I can find on the internet.

So, my main question regards the included optical cable, and whether you think it will fit into my setup. My Edirol R09 is about 10cm long, quite chunky, and the optical out socket is located 3/4 of the way along its longest side. Is the optical cable long enough to go from there to the end of the iBasso, and does it have straight or right-angle ends - or one of each?

Thanks for any help you can give
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
Yes you won't have any problems with the cable being too short… in fact you may have problems with it being too long! The cable is 1 metre long approximately, and has two straight full-size TOSLINK connectors. So it's not meant for portable use, rather to plug into a home receiver or a computer.

Hope this helps!
post #5 of 8
Thank you very much for the info. It's good to know what comes with the amp - now I know I'll have to budget for a new optical cable, and find a source for one.

How are you finding the D10? I hope it has added to your enjoyment of music.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 
Np.

Yeah the D10 sounds great, but I must say in all honesty that while it seems like a very good amplifier (based on no experience with portable amps at all), with my Westone 3s it did not make such a drastic difference at all compared to the headphone out on my iPod Touch. In fact the earphones made the biggest difference by far. I find that the hassle to carry the D10 around is not completely worth it since it doesn't make a great difference in sound quality with my little earphones and it's a lot more trouble to carry than an iPod Touch alone which fits in my pocket.

In fact, I'm very glad I didn't go for the Predator; for the price difference I wouldn't expect less than a revolution in sound between the two and if the D10 sounds similar to the Predator to a certain extent, then I'd never pay 300$ more for the Predator. But I guess you are limited by your source (and your earphones/headphones Ohm rating), as well as the deepness of your pockets...

When I use the iBasso with my computer though the difference can be heard much more clearly; onboard computer sound cards truly suck and the iBasso sounds great in comparison. It also sounds better than my M-Audio Firewire Solo audio interface (which does not sound bad at all).

Hope this helps with your purchase!
post #7 of 8
D10 is a good solution! A little big though.

I have a Predator haha... got one used that had already been burned in for over 500 hours. Sounds great!

Can't go wrong with either one.
post #8 of 8

@Form:  Thanks for your input which helped me choose the D10 a few weeks ago when I could finally afford it, and I must say I am thrilled with the results! Because I'm using a hand-portable audio recorder in which the headphone amp is there by necessity, not a priority, the difference in sound quality was enormous - once I had found appropriate cable and right-angled optical TOSLINK -to-mini-jack adapter! Incidentally, if anyone else reading this is looking for right-angle optical adapters, I found them on the Studiospares website.

 

I have mated the D10 and R-09 with a strong elastic band which came from a SonyEricsson phone charger and it does the job perfectly - especially as I needed something to hold an extra coil of cable but not interfere with the Edirol R-09's controls. Together the two units make quite a large and bulky package which requires a large jacket pocket to become truly portable, but in my case that's not much of an issue. Nature sound recording is one of my hobbies, and it is the reason I carry the R-09 around with me wherever I go in my rural home environment. It takes standard SD and High Capacity SD cards of up to 32GB which is plenty for a reasonable selection of my favourite CD's (ripped using the uLilith audio player which is discussed elsewhere on Head-Fi) and enough space left for a couple of hours of recording time at 24bit 44.1kHz.

 

Using the optical output from my Edirol R-09 has transformed it from a utilitarian recording device into a high quality audio source component, with the iBasso D10 doing all the DAC and amp tasks. In fact it really shocked me how vast the difference is comparing the R-09 > Senn IE8's, with the R-09 > D10 > IE8 combination. I will have to do some testing to compare this combination against my high-end music computer > iBasso D10 or Yamaha n12 mixer, and/or Temple Audio Bantam XC2 (both the Bantam and n12 possess pretty good headphone amps) as I seem to be hearing parts of my favourite music in crystal clarity for the first time!

 

The only negative to be drawn from purchasing the iBasso D10 is the realisation that although IE8's were a step up from my other headphones, the new R-09 > D10 > IE8combination is showing up its weaknesses, especially in the bass and mid-range, which sound a touch bloated and lacking definition. So, I now have to find the money for a serious IEM upgrade (possibly Westone's?) as I have become a total convert to IEM's from the old Beyer circum-aural's which I used to love, but now lie dormant, unloved and unused! Well, at least the old Beyers get used by friends jamming in my little home studio.

 

Thanks again @Form for all the information and insights into the D10, I am very pleased to have bought it.beerchug.gif

 

PS. Apologies for going off-topic...eek.gif


Edited by MusiCol - 12/7/10 at 12:51pm
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