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Is it my phones or my source?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I've been enjoying my HD448s (driven by my macbook pro, no amp), but when I listen to some music I perceive real limits: during big moments of big symphonies (like the 4th movement of Beethoven 9), or big moments of rock, like some of the louder, boomier parts of U2's Achtung Baby. It doesn't sound bad, but it feels like I'm pressing up against a limit. And it's where I'm most aware that I'm not listening to live music. I note that quieter parts of Beethoven 9, or even the solo voices in the 4th movement, sound terrific. It's just that once the full chorus and symphony go at it, I lose detail. Things sound compressed or crowded.

So: source or headphones? Would an amp help?

By the way, the Beethoven at least is Apple Lossless, from a Deutsche Gramaphone recording of Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. I don't know it it's the best recording, but it's certainly a better one.
post #2 of 10
probably both. The U2 issue is likely just source, as U2's music is pretty compressed meaning that those big crescendos have some of their edge lost. No pun intended.

With the Beethoven, it's likely a combo of your gear and the recording, but mostly just the gear. The thing with the big choruses is that generally a lot more instruments are playing, and if a headphone doesn't have great imaging, things start to get blurred together and you quickly lose detail. An amp won't really help with imaging, this is mostly due to driver matching and relatively flat frequency response. The second culprit could be transient response. That is, although the headphone runs loud enough on the power you have, it needs more current to get through complicated intense parts. An amp could definitely help with that.

Your best bet if you want to try to isolate the problem is to get an album that is universally agreed to be very well recorded and has those big "sell out" choruses, put it in lossless and see what happens. Likely you'll notice it sounds better, but not quite 100%. Which is because with these things, it's almost always a combination of many factors rather than just one.
post #3 of 10
Could be the phones, I get the same impression sometimes from my pair of 448s. Maybe because of the agressive midrange? I find it grating sometimes, on loud and clean (non-distorted) guitar solos, where they leave the bass behind.
OTOH, could also be your source. From my now-replaced Audigy SE these things souned very brittle and somewhat unpleasant with any song.
post #4 of 10
If the headphones are burned in it could be a limit. My HD428 had some trouble of parts of Miles Davis' 'Bitches' Brew.' Although it could be the effects of the recording itself which somehow 'confuse' the sound stage.
post #5 of 10
Amps most always help! =]
post #6 of 10
Quote:
although the headphone runs loud enough on the power you have, it needs more current to get through complicated intense parts. An amp could definitely help with that.
X2

You can experience those kind of issues with some recordings but seems like you need an amp. I had the same problem with my Xonar D2 and the K271
post #7 of 10
It could be a whole bunch of things, and probably all of them contribute to some extent. Your source is not the highest in resolution, you don't have as much power as you could have with a proper amp, and your headphones could simply not be fast enough to keep up with the demands of the music. A lot of dynamic headphones struggle with speed, and when you start to overload them with complex music, they start losing detail and definition; layers blend into one another, spatial cues get lost and everything becomes congested and confused. Electrostatics are, as a rule, very good at speed, you can load them up with brutally dense and complex music, and they resolve everything down to the last detail and ask for more. Orthodynamics do this too, and you can use them from dynamic amps, whereas 'stats need their own specialized amplification.

Honestly, to improve it, I think you're going to have to step up to a higher level of gear altogether.

I'd say try an orthodynamic like the Hifiman HE-5 (you'll need an amp for sure), or an electrostatic like the Stax SR-202 (you'll also need an amp but one is included as part of the 2050 system).
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

I'd like to revive this thread by repeating a post I've made on the sound science forum:

 

 

Increasingly I am of the opinion that my 448s are fine but that the biggest issue is my music.

 

An example: I own two versions of Bach's Goldberg Variations.  One is a digital recording of Glen Gould ripped at 256 kbps from a CD. THe other is a recent record by Simone Dinnerstein that I bought off of the iTunes store, which is 128kbps.  There is a clear difference to my ears, and I much prefer listening to Gould's version because of the sound quality.  Generally speaking, the classical music that I've ripped from CDs sounds better than the stuff I bought from iTunes.  I notice no difference, however, from my non-classical music, although perhaps there I simply havnt been paying as much attention.

 

On the other hand, one of the pieces of music that I feel is lacking something is my 1962 Karajan recording of Beethoven's 9th, which I ripped using Apple lossless.  But there, perhaps what I'm missing--detailing and clarity--comes from the fact that it's ADD vice DDD?

 

1. Is the consensus among head-fiers that I absolutely should not buy music (or at least music I care about) from iTunes?

2. Can anyone point me to a recording of Beethoven's 9th that is regarded as high-quality in terms of sound (setting aside the quality of the perfomance), so that I can compare with my 1962 Karajan version (regarded as one of the best, performance wise)?  This was recommended to me by one of the posts above. I figure that way I can figure out if my phones have an issue with the big symphonic sound or if it's the recording.

 

By the way, if any one wants to hear some stupendous music--and a great recording--try the Tokyo String Quartet's Late Beethoven String Quarters. The word is "sublime." And my humble 448s deliver the goods.

post #9 of 10

Absolutely, don't buy music from iTunes or anywhere else at 128kbps.  The paltry bitrate is not sufficient for critical listening.  Many people, myself included, buy music on cd and rip to flac or high-bitrate mp3.

post #10 of 10

LBJ x2. Even MP3s at 320kpbs don't cut it compared to Apple lossless  or CD's in your drive once you get a great DAC, a great AMP, and great Phones. If you love the music, buy the CD and rip it lossless.

 

Unfortunately iTunes is a great librarian and incredibly useful for syncing with iPhones & iPods, but a HORRIBLE player on Mac thru audiophile equipment. It sounds grainy and dark compared to almost everything else available. The development of iTunes has (apparently) been centered on getting you to buy stuff at the iTunes store instead of audio quality. Check out Play or Audirvana (both free, Audirvana is my current fave). Basically, you can continue to use iTunes as your librarian, but you dragndrop what you want to hear into Play or Audirvana and you will find a world of details that iTunes does not deliver. 

 

As far as DACs, as Mac folks, we do still have the option of using usb, optical, or firewire without buying a PCI card.

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