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What makes one portable player better than the other?

post #1 of 129
Thread Starter 

Based purely on sound quality, what is it that makes one portable player better than another? For example, why would an 800 Hifiman sound better than an ipod nano? Or even, why do people say the Sansa clip+ sounds better than the ipod? Get technical if you can please.

post #2 of 129
Thread Starter 

links to tech info would also be appreciated! im trying to explain to someone why it sounds better but the only evidence i have are my ears! why are some players better than ipods?

post #3 of 129

Why are ipods better than some players?

post #4 of 129

Good sound requires quite a bit of clean power. That's one reason why a separate amp improves the sound quality of a DAP. There's also the DSP and the digital-analogue decoder. The former processes the digital sound, the latter converts the resulting signal. The problem is trying to fit all that into a small player with a battery that'll run it for hours on end at a price many can afford.

 

The Ipod is one very successful compromise. Portable audiophile equipment are usually bulkier than their counterparts, precisely because they're trying to improve the sound by sacrificing other aspects of the design. The other extreme is hi-fi. Unconstrained by space and power requirements, home systems sound so much better.

 

post #5 of 129
Thread Starter 

it sounds like the ipod bashing is unwarranted! no technical evidence to suggest it gives out worse quality than other products. i guess i lose my argument against my friend :(

post #6 of 129

No no, current iPods have a cheaper and arguably worse DAC (The Cirrus) compared to most other DAP counterparts which mostly use Wolfson DAC's.

That's the main technical argument but I can't stress enough a DAC does not break or make the player, it's the mixture of all components that counts.

post #7 of 129

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hero Kid View Post

No no, current iPods have a cheaper and arguably worse DAC (The Cirrus) compared to most other DAP counterparts which mostly use Wolfson DAC's.

And now you should explain why the Cirrus DAC is inferior.  
 


Edited by High_Q - 6/20/10 at 11:45pm
post #8 of 129
Thread Starter 

yes p lease

post #9 of 129

There are a few variables that keep cropping up, and they seem to be an indicator to me of what makes one player better than another. They include:

 

Signal/Noise (S/N) ratio. The Cowon J3 has a 95dB rating. I can't find that value for most other players, but rarely is their number that high.

 

Output power.  You want the player to move your headphones.  Cowon J3: 29mW/channel.  Again, this is a hard value to find for many players.  The Samsung P3 is rated for 20mW/CH. Mine P3 doesn't drive my large over-ear headphones as well as my J3 does.

 

Battery life.  You don't want to find the battery dead when you're in the mood for tunes.  Cowon J3: 64 hours. iPod Touch: 30 hours. Samsung P3:also 30 hours.

 

Loss-free codec support.  My J3 will play FLAC, WAV, and WMA lossless. The Touch does Apple Lossless and WAV. Windows media player will rip to WMA lossless.  

 

Construction.  You don't want your player failing.  Samsung P2s had a high frequency of headphone jack failures. I've had two Touch seize up (White Screen-Of-Death) and require replacements. My Cowons keep on ticking, despite naive critiques associating their light weight with low quality.

 

Control.  Nothing is worse than a player that makes you jump through hoops to change songs or simply pause the current one.  Most will shut off the screen to save battery power. Once that happens with a Touch you have to at least double tap Home then tap the Pause/play icon. With the J3 you simply press the external pause/play button.  Two extra aggravating steps for the Touch.

 

Settings. A Touch forces you to exit the music app, open settings, then swipe until you've found audio settings. Change what you want, then exit Settings and re-enter the music app.  Almost every other player has audio settings accessible directly from their music app.

 

These are (a few of)  the reasons I don't care for Apple products as music providers.   

post #10 of 129
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by 4DThinker View Post

There are a few variables that keep cropping up, and they seem to be an indicator to me of what makes one player better than another. They include:

 

Signal/Noise (S/N) ratio. The Cowon J3 has a 95dB rating. I can't find that value for most other players, but rarely is their number that high.

 

Output power.  You want the player to move your headphones.  Cowon J3: 29mW/channel.  Again, this is a hard value to find for many players.  The Samsung P3 is rated for 20mW/CH. Mine P3 doesn't drive my large over-ear headphones as well as my J3 does.

 

Battery life.  You don't want to find the battery dead when you're in the mood for tunes.  Cowon J3: 64 hours. iPod Touch: 30 hours. Samsung P3:also 30 hours.

 

Loss-free codec support.  My J3 will play FLAC, WAV, and WMA lossless. The Touch does Apple Lossless and WAV. Windows media player will rip to WMA lossless.  

 

Construction.  You don't want your player failing.  Samsung P2s had a high frequency of headphone jack failures. I've had two Touch seize up (White Screen-Of-Death) and require replacements. My Cowons keep on ticking, despite naive critiques associating their light weight with low quality.

 

Control.  Nothing is worse than a player that makes you jump through hoops to change songs or simply pause the current one.  Most will shut off the screen to save battery power. Once that happens with a Touch you have to at least double tap Home then tap the Pause/play icon. With the J3 you simply press the external pause/play button.  Two extra aggravating steps for the Touch.

 

Settings. A Touch forces you to exit the music app, open settings, then swipe until you've found audio settings. Change what you want, then exit Settings and re-enter the music app.  Almost every other player has audio settings accessible directly from their music app.

 

These are (a few of)  the reasons I don't care for Apple products as music providers.   


Thanks for the reply. Most of the things you listed dont have anything to do with sound quality tho (see OP). I was expecting to see big differences in SNR, explanations why ipod DAC is inferior, soundcard differences, etc. Its surprising that so many people complain about ipod sound when really no one can come up with why the sound is bad. oh well. ill just pretend that my conversation with my friend never happened lol

post #11 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by JosephKim View Post
I was expecting to see big differences in SNR, explanations why ipod DAC is inferior, soundcard differences, etc. Its surprising that so many people complain about ipod sound when really no one can come up with why the sound is bad.

Sorry for bumping this old thread, but I really want to comment on this.  No one can come up with a technical explanation, because there is no technical explanation.  Measurements of things like signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response, dynamic range, total harmonic distortion, intermodulation distortion,  channel separation, etc., predict that all high-quality MP3 players should, with their signal processing off, sound about the same.

 

So the explanation for why they sound different is not technical, but psychological—placebo effect, confirmation bias, post-purchase rationalization.  A more thorough explanation is not allowed by Head-Fi, because discussion of double-blind listening tests—ABX tests--is banned here.  Pity.  But the truth is out there.  Google is your friend.

post #12 of 129

The differences are difficult to quantify because Apple, and other portable player makers, provide nearly no usable technical data.

 

For example:

 

http://www.apple.com/ipodclassic/specs.html

 

Listing frequency response without also listing the +/- dB tolerances is pointless.  (They do the same for their earbuds.)

 

Heck, they don't even bother to mention which codecs they use to decompress the audio before it hits the DACs.

 

But hey, the display glass is arsenic free.

 

*chuckles*

post #13 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lee Fox View Post

The differences are difficult to quantify because Apple, and other portable player makers, provide nearly no usable technical data.

 

For example:

 

http://www.apple.com/ipodclassic/specs.html

 

Listing frequency response without also listing the +/- dB tolerances is pointless.

There is a way around that.  For example:

 

http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/foster/index.htm,

http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/490698/hifiman-hm-801-rmaa-tests.

post #14 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anomaly2 View Post


So the explanation for why they sound different is not technical, but psychological—placebo effect, confirmation bias, post-purchase rationalization.  A more thorough explanation is not allowed by Head-Fi, because discussion of double-blind listening tests—ABX tests--is banned here.  Pity.  But the truth is out there.  Google is your friend.


Bullshit.

 

I will happily take any set of tests you care to devise. We arent talking about 15k CDPs here - we are talking about consumer audio and I have heard enough to know that some sound like pus, pure and simple, while others sound good, at least to my ears. I have been buying and listening to DAPs since the cassette Walkman days, but I'm a long way from the zealots who hold on to their 10 year old portable CDPs hoping Sony or Phillips will 'come to their senses' ....

 

The 'secret' is the same 'secret' behind any good component, be it audio or whatever - implementation. Yes, you need good components, but I'd rather have the much maligned Cirrus DAC installed by someone who knew how to massage the raw materials than the 'best DAC chip in the world' installed by someone who lacked the same flair. Chinese-made audio is littered with spec sheets that look stunning in terms of the ingredients that went into the pie, but the end result is often found lacking when human beings get their hands on the end result.

 

They ran an 'expose' shortly after the iPhone came out that tallied the parts prices to a small fraction of the RRP, yet the Chinese havent swamped the Western market with $80 'iClones'. As cheap and throwaway as the humble DAP might be, I'd like to think that someone put a little time and effort into making the thing sound better than the headphone out on my laptop. YMMV.

post #15 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lee Fox View Post

The differences are difficult to quantify because Apple, and other portable player makers, provide nearly no usable technical data.

 

For example:

 

http://www.apple.com/ipodclassic/specs.html

 

Listing frequency response without also listing the +/- dB tolerances is pointless.  (They do the same for their earbuds.)

 

Heck, they don't even bother to mention which codecs they use to decompress the audio before it hits the DACs.

 

But hey, the display glass is arsenic free.

 

*chuckles*


Agree 100%, but it makes sense from the POV of a large corporation which only cares about production numbers. The guys in Shenzhen run low on DAC chip 'xyz' and start using a new chip (presumably with the OK of Apple's engineering team ..), the production lines keep rolling and 12 year olds all over the world are happy. I suspect that the above matters more to Apple shareholders than whether they are using a DAC from Wolfson or Walmart.

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