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What component's do you believe make a difference?

post #1 of 122
Thread Starter 
There seems to be some measure of disagreement as to what the most important components in an audio system are. Thought it might be interesting to take a little survey as to what people believe in and what they don't. Feel free to add any necessary explanation.

I will go first:

Make No Difference:

Power Cables
Digital Cables (i.e. TOSlink, USB)
FLAC vs. CD

IMO, spending money/time on the above is a complete waste.

Make An Extremely Minor Difference:

Analog Cables
320kb MP3 vs. FLAC

The differences in the above are so minor that most won't hear the difference even if listening extremely closely, but a few might hear it.

Make a Minor Difference:

Sources/DACs
192kb MP3 vs. FLAC

I will probably get flamed by the "source is the most importaint" people, I've found the vast majority of sources sound basically the same barring extreme outliers (like straight out of a laptop with horrible interference issues). Would you really rather listen to ibuds out of a $2,000 DAC than HD800s out of an ipod?

Make Some Difference:

Amps

I find the difference in amps declines greatly once you have hit the threshold of ability to properly power the speaker/headphone

Make a Large Difference

Headphones
Quality of recording




These are only my opinions, and not really grounded in any particular science. Just what I've heard out of components, and the scientific evidence I have seen. What does everyone else think?
post #2 of 122
I think I agree completely with you, at least for digital.
post #3 of 122
I agree apart from analogue cables.
post #4 of 122
I generally agree.

Although I would place amps/dacs/sources in your - make an extremely minor difference, provided they they are implemented properly.

And move analogue cables to make no difference, again providing suitable implementation.
post #5 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
There seems to be some measure of disagreement as to what the most important components in an audio system are.
LOL Nothing like a substantial understatement to set the tone for this thread - well done.

So we start out knowing there is no established conclusion, that there is ongoing, endless, debate on this, and has been, in all aspects of HiFi, for as long as I can recall. But that's partly what keeps the industry and the hobby going, eh?

However, that said, I'll bite...

Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
Make No Difference:
Power Cables
Can't really comment - have never tried a range of them out for myself but have watched the reported efforts of others. I'm personally more on the skeptical side on this one but am willing to give a few a go to see what I can percieve with my various equipment - but that's well down the order for me: I suspect the whole 'improving SQ via improved power' path is worth experimenting with but it's a lot more than just the power cables aspect so I'd need to invest in much more than just the range of power cables to really assess the degree of improvement possible.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
Digital Cables (i.e. TOSlink, USB)
Another area I'm more skeptical in, though I' have tried glass versus other optical cables and found a slight difference on the very best equipment rigs I have - best DAC, best amp, best headphones. But I haven't repeated this sufficiently over time to have a firm opinion on it. So maybe I'll look at it but, again, quite low on the consideration list ATM.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
FLAC vs. CD
Agree (obviously provided it is a 100% accurate rip)
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
Make An Extremely Minor Difference:
Analog Cables
Disagree. IMHO the higher the resolution of your system (overall synergy), the more noticeable the difference you can experience with these, including noticeable improvements in all aspects of SQ. That said, though, there is IMHO a point of diminishing returns - though that could simply be the limits of my overall system. Overall, I think they're worth investing in, but to a matching level with your system's maximum level of performance - no easy way to determine that than by trying, though.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
320kb MP3 vs. FLAC
Definitely disagree. Again, the higher the resolution of the overall system, the more obvious this becomes. For a long time my portable systems did not display the difference sufficiently but eventually it got to a point where I discontinued usage of 320kb MP3s. The other aspect, though, again fairly well documented, is that the differences are more noticeable with the higher quality recordings than not - which is supportive of your comment on the importance of 'Quality of recording'
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
Make a Minor Difference:
Sources/DACs
Again, disagree. There are some very average sources out there and a range of improvements up from them. Apart from the differences between, for instance, Vinyl and CD/Digital, I've experienced average/good/very good CD players (heard truly great ones but not invested (read - 'had') the money for them). Similarly, with DACs. I've heard a number of average, and seen the mods to improve them beyond that, as well as both portable and non-portable DACs with varying SQ. If you really want to hear a range of differences in one DAC try the Meier StageDAC, as it allows you to 'tailor' so many aspects that in other DACs are just already set. In doing this though realise the differences within the Meier unit are, overall, relatively subtle but the differences between a range of DACs can be more than subtle. IMHO with my equipment, as usual, of course. Also, you could look at the http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/dac...-check-454955/ for how some Head-Fiers categorise DAC differences.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
192kb MP3 vs. FLAC
Definitely disagree. See '320kb MP3 vs. FLAC' above. I retired 192kb MP3 fairly early in my HeadFi journey.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
Make Some Difference:
Amps
I find the difference in amps declines greatly once you have hit the threshold of ability to properly power the speaker/headphone.
As with my other comments, I think there can be considerable difference, but on this one I agree it has a lot to do with the synergy with your speakers/headphones as well as the signal being fed into the amp. I think there is more than 'some' difference to be had here, basically because of the wide variety of amp designs/approaches, the use of opamps or not, the size and quality of the capacitors involved, etc. Look at the http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/amp...-check-457235/ for how some Head-Fiers categorise Amp differences.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
Make a Large Difference
Headphones
Agree - can make a large difference.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
Quality of recording
Absolutely agree.
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
These are only my opinions, and not really grounded in any particular science. Just what I've heard out of components, and the scientific evidence I have seen. What does everyone else think?
Absolutely agree that 'These are only my opinions, and not really grounded in any particular science. Just what I've heard out of components' over time in this HiFi hobby
post #6 of 122
I agree for the most part.

For speaker rigs, the room, the placement and the speakers themselves are paramount.

Amps, sources, transports, cables need to be "good enough" and then they don't make much difference, and being "good enough" isn't some esoteric ideal, it's a few basic principles.
post #7 of 122
For speaker rigs, amps make a pretty huge difference IMO. I just went from an Adcom 5400 (125wpc, ~$700 new) to a Simaudio W-5 (190wpc, ~$5K new), and there was gigantic improvement. I would say the difference was almost as dramatic as upgrading my speakers from NHT 1.5's to my current Focal 1027Be's.

So, at least for speaker rigs, I would say amps "make a large difference." The only other thing I would change is put "192kb MP3 vs. FLAC" under "Make some difference."

Just my opinions...
post #8 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by nealric View Post
[
Make a Minor Difference:

Sources/DACs
192kb MP3 vs. FLAC

I will probably get flamed by the "source is the most importaint" people, I've found the vast majority of sources sound basically the same barring extreme outliers (like straight out of a laptop with horrible interference issues). Would you really rather listen to ibuds out of a $2,000 DAC than HD800s out of an ipod?
Wait until you get the chance to upgrade your source...it will change your mind
post #9 of 122
My list is similar to nealric's, just slightly shifted here and there.

Makes no dfference to me:
FLAC vs. CD

Made no dfference to my ears so far:
power conditioners
power cables (but I haven't tried «high-end» PCs yet)

Believed to hear a difference in the past with...
digital cables
...and experimented a lot with homemade cables – but with my now equipment and my older (tinnitus-affected) ears I can't reproduce it anymore

Make a very minor difference:
CD vs. DVD-A
320 kb MP3 vs. FLAC

Make a minor difference:
analog cables
CD vs. SACD (but note that I prefer DVD-A to SACD in terms of sonic characteristic)
192 kb MP3 vs. FLAC

Make a not so minor difference:
sources/DACs
amps

Make a large difference:
headphones, speakers, room acoustics
.
post #10 of 122
I can't recall who said it, but the quote that always occurs to me as an appropriate reflection of how I feel: "Nothing is unimportant."
post #11 of 122

RIGHT

Quote:
Originally Posted by jax View Post
I can't recall who said it, but the quote that always occurs to me as an appropriate reflection of how I feel: "Nothing is unimportant."
Your right with that statement, but I'll add:
Your SOURCE is the most important! THE END........"Garbage in Garbage out" Think about it......A wise old (85yrs) golden ear Audiophile proved this to me many yrs ago.......RIP RAY.....If you could have the "BEST EQUIP" out there tody and your source was a 150 buck record player with a 15 $ cart. or even a Older Portable CD player you would (I hope) hear their short comings, RIGHT!
post #12 of 122
my opinion from most to least:
1. Song format (losless vs compressed)
2. Headphone
3. Amp
4. Source (DAC)
3-4 is very very close. From here on, there's no difference or I cannot hear any difference:
5. Interconnects. So long its properly shielded, good build quality, I'm fine.
6. Power cables. Strange, I bought two of these bugger. Not expensive one but I spend around $300-ish for a Wireworld Stratus and recently Zu Mother cables. It doesnt make any difference but I guess I just like the looks of the cables. Make the rigs looks like a serious audiophile setup.
7. Power strip.
post #13 of 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by 9pintube View Post
Your right with that statement, but I'll add:
Your SOURCE is the most important! THE END........"Garbage in Garbage out" Think about it......A wise old (85yrs) golden ear Audiophile proved this to me many yrs ago.......RIP RAY.....If you could have the "BEST EQUIP" out there tody and your source was a 150 buck record player with a 15 $ cart. or even a Older Portable CD player you would (I hope) hear their short comings, RIGHT!
Audio hierarchy can, has and will be debated until the end of time, ad nauseum. You can search the (speaker-based) audiophile forums for arguments out the wazzoo from many as many standpoints as you care to imagine. I agree with you that the source is extremely important, and that you'll only succeed perhaps in masking the stench of the garbage with efforts down the line, but it'll still remain garbage. No place does that become more apparent than in listening with headphones. You hear everything. Can a pair of HD800's make an iPod sound great? How good is a pair of Realistic IEM's going to sound with a Berkley Alpha DAC? Imbalance can spoil a system as sure as just wagging your finger at one component. Great systems can happen at every pricepoint and the key to the success at any level is considering the entire system and how each piece relates with each other. I'd apply that to speakers or cans. With speakers there is at least one more vital element that comes into play: the room. Not just comes into play, it is critical and certainly has the potential to make or break any system (imagine, at the extreme, setting up your megabuck audiophile system in a tile-lined bathroom - it's not going to sound very good). You could look at it as a chicken/egg scenario (which comes first). No easy answers...balance is key for me. I agree with you though; garbage in = garbage out...though you may be able to tolerate it a bit better it will still be garbage. A low-rez mp3 will not be redeemed by a $50K system, but it might be more tolerable and entertaining than on an ipod and IEM's. Worth $50K? Not for me....balance...consider everything in the chain.
post #14 of 122

yep

Quote:
Originally Posted by jax View Post
Audio hierarchy can, has and will be debated until the end of time, ad nauseum. You can search the (speaker-based) audiophile forums for arguments out the wazzoo from many as many standpoints as you care to imagine. I agree with you that the source is extremely important, and that you'll only succeed perhaps in masking the stench of the garbage with efforts down the line, but it'll still remain garbage. No place does that become more apparent than in listening with headphones. You hear everything. Can a pair of HD800's make an iPod sound great? How good is a pair of Realistic IEM's going to sound with a Berkley Alpha DAC? Imbalance can spoil a system as sure as just wagging your finger at one component. Great systems can happen at every pricepoint and the key to the success at any level is considering the entire system and how each piece relates with each other. I'd apply that to speakers or cans. With speakers there is at least one more vital element that comes into play: the room. Not just comes into play, it is critical and certainly has the potential to make or break any system (imagine, at the extreme, setting up your megabuck audiophile system in a tile-lined bathroom - it's not going to sound very good). You could look at it as a chicken/egg scenario (which comes first). No easy answers...balance is key for me. I agree with you though; garbage in = garbage out...though you may be able to tolerate it a bit better it will still be garbage. A low-rez mp3 will not be redeemed by a $50K system, but it might be more tolerable and entertaining than on an ipod and IEM's. Worth $50K? Not for me....balance...consider everything in the chain.
Boy JAX, I hope it's ok with you to say, "I'm" from the same school of thought on Audio as YOU!!! You spelled this subject out to the T......bravo to you and lets hope others pay attention to your comments!!!!!!PS love the "Tile-Lined" bathroom example!!!
post #15 of 122
All components can be made to present an audible difference, even cables. Most shouldn't, aside from maybe speakers/headphones and tube amps. I subscribe to the weakest link theory for everything up to the transducer, with a disclaimer against extravagant cables or other passive components.

Specs I look for to make sure components don't make a difference:
44.1khz
20-20,000 +/- 1db
90 db SNR
THD less than .01%
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