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beginner advice for HD800 - do i need an amp? does the cable really matter? - Page 3

post #31 of 45
Thread Starter 

 

having decided to upgrade my soundcard and skip cable upgrades, i'm focusing only on DAC and amp, and at my budget it's probably more feasible to get a good combination unit. so based on that here's what i have to consider so far:

 

(Cankin) Pico DAC/amp (specific to IEM's or suitable for HD800 also?) [uses batteries? no AC power]

(St3ve) apogee duet [i don't understand what this is. it has a serial connector? no digital input?]

(shabta) Audio-GD Compass [now obsolete, replaced by Sparrow or Fun, can't find prices, site is confusing]

(shabta), (baka1969) Schiit Asgard [amp only, $250]

(Bilavideo) AMB M3 aka MMM (with variable bass boost - is this an option or an upgrade?) [can't find one on sale anywhere]

(Bilavideo) STEPS PSU [what is this? power supply unit?]

(cj3209) Benchmark DAC1 [dac+amp, $1000, out of my price range]

(cj3209), (baka1969) Headroom Amp [$350+]

(cj3209) used Lavry DA10 (is the lavry just an amp, or is it DAC also?) [can't find one under $900]

(project86), (baka1969) Matrix M-Stage amp [amp only, $275]

(project86) Audinst HUD-mx1 [a DAC with no digital input? how does it interface with sound card?, $180]

(baka1969) Musical Fidelity V-Dac [DAC only, $300]

(baka1969) Cambridge Audio DacMagic [DAC only, $430]

(Shahrose) Musiland 02US [USB input only? how does it interface with sound card? $120 - $225]

(Uncle Erik) PreSonus Central Station [$500, large item for musicians]

from my own research:

firestone fubar IV/IVplus [$280/$350 but one report of hiss on amazon review]

aune [$140]

 

so from these suggestions i can narrow it down to:

Combo units: aune, fubar, audio-gd fun or sparrow

DAC only: V-Dac, DacMagic

amp only: Asgar, Headroo, M-Stage

 

any clarifications/additions?

 

another couple technical questions:

 

I've seen "opamps" mentioned everywhere. What is an opamp? (i'm going to look it up on this site when i finish typing this post

 

Does a PC media program (e.g. foobar or winamp) output digital sound to the sound card, which converts it? or does it output an analog wave at the OS level? does it matter if the source is wav or mp3 or flac?  I'm slightly confused by digital sound - in PC terms, every data stream has a protocol or format. do i need to worry about what format is going to the optical output on my soundcard or is there only 1 universal format? if the sound card converts it from analog back into digital for the digital output, wouldn't i be better off just using the analog output?


Edited by joe2 - 8/5/10 at 3:42pm
post #32 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by joe2 View Post

tons of good info in this thread, thanks very much to everyone taking the time to help me!

 

feel free to add more info, i plan to start buying stuff next week. but i wanted to say thanks :)

 

another problem i'm having is that all these parts are so esoteric, it's non-trivial just to track down where/how to buy them. when i want a computer part i just type it into any search engine and have 20 stores to choose from, but for things like "Audinst HUD-mx1" it takes quite a bit more work to find out. i guess that goes with the territory.

 

Yep, most of this stuff is only available online. Audinst is eBay only, many other items are only sold direct through the manufacturer's website.

 

The trade forum here is a great place to find used gear, or sell your gear if it didn't satisfy you.

 

post #33 of 45

The reason I spent over $1k on a headphone was to try and extract their full potential out of them. To me, it would be a waste to use them only out of an iPod. Why would I invest in something only to waste it's potential?

post #34 of 45

Quote:

Originally Posted by joe2 View Post

(St3ve) apogee duet [i don't understand what this is. it has a serial connector? no digital input?]

 

 


Sorry, I was quite unclear. To clarify, I was merely using the apogee duet (a mac-only combo dac/amp interface) as an example of a ~$500 device which produces more than satisfactory results with my HD800. The HD800 can sound great out of smaller rigs, and will scale nicely with any improvements you make along the way.

 

Knowing that you are on PC, I figured that there must be some equivalent amp+dac devices that you might consider (like some of those you have now listed).

 

Best of luck with your choices!

post #35 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by joe2 View Post


(Shahrose) Musiland 02US [USB input only? how does it interface with sound card? $120 - $225]


any clarifications/additions?

 

another couple technical questions:

 

Does a PC media program (e.g. foobar or winamp) output digital sound to the sound card, which converts it? or does it output an analog wave at the OS level? does it matter if the source is wav or mp3 or flac?  I'm slightly confused by digital sound - in PC terms, every data stream has a protocol or format. do i need to worry about what format is going to the optical output on my soundcard or is there only 1 universal format? if the sound card converts it from analog back into digital for the digital output, wouldn't i be better off just using the analog output?


Hey Joe. The 02US can be bought here for $125 (not $225 or any other price): http://cgi.ebay.ca/USB-Digital-Sound-Card-Musiland-Monitor-02-US-/260437930872?cmd=ViewItem&pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3ca34f7378

 

It connects with USB to your PC, and it has a set of RCA outputs (to connect to an external amp if you have one) and it has (2) amped 3.5mm outputs, one for high impedance headphones like the HD650/HD800 and one for low-impedance headphones like the PX100/KSC75 etc.

 

It's about as simple to setup as it sounds. Direct USB connection, and it doesn't have the typical dry and "small" sound of USB DACs.

 

A soundcard has a built-in DAC and an amp (usually opamp-based), so it converts the digital signal into analog (function of the DAC) and amplifies it (function of the amp) before sending it to the headphones/speakers. I can tell you right now, having owned several X-Fi cards, that the 02US is very noticeably superior to them (or any soundcard I've tried for that matter).

 

BTW from your list, the Pico DAC/amp combo is excellent (about as good as the 02US, but different-sounding). Ofcourse, it costs a lot more, since it's designed for portability.

Also, the M^3 amp is among the best standalone amps one can find under a grand. It's certainly better than the built-in amp of the 02US, but, once again, costs a lot more and requires the use of an external DAC.


Edited by Shahrose - 8/5/10 at 4:12pm
post #36 of 45
Thread Starter 

a USB DAC replaces a soundcard, right? so how would i use a microphone? and wouldn't it suffer from being dependent largely on the driver software? if they stop making drivers for it or make a bad driver, i'm out of luck? i'm hesitant to do this because I like some of the features of a discrete soundcard (e.g. x-fi and EAX for gaming). i'd rather not go that route, especially since i just bought a new soundcard.

 

the M^3 doesn't seem to be on sale anywhere. at least my cursory searching couldn't find one. and i don't know how to solder so i definitely don't want to try to make one. do you know any place that sells them?

 

also why do some amps have a GAIN button? isn't high gain just the same thing as turning the volume knob a bit?

post #37 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by joe2 View Post

a USB DAC replaces a soundcard, right? so how would i use a microphone? and wouldn't it suffer from being dependent largely on the driver software? if they stop making drivers for it or make a bad driver, i'm out of luck? i'm hesitant to do this because I like some of the features of a discrete soundcard (e.g. x-fi and EAX for gaming). i'd rather not go that route, especially since i just bought a new soundcard.

 

the M^3 doesn't seem to be on sale anywhere. at least my cursory searching couldn't find one. and i don't know how to solder so i definitely don't want to try to make one. do you know any place that sells them?

 

also why do some amps have a GAIN button? isn't high gain just the same thing as turning the volume knob a bit?


Yes, a USB DAC replaces the DAC portion of the soundcard. It still needs an amp to amplify the analog signal. Remember, the soundcard has a built-in mini-amp that does this. The 02US is really just a high-quality external soundcard, without a microphone input. The drivers for the 02US have been released with far greater regularity than any Creative soundcard's (every few months), and they're readily available on a couple different websites (and a CD is provided anyways). The drivers are rock solid. I've never had an issue.

The seller I linked you to is also a Head-Fi member here and participates in the Computer Audio forums. He can be contacted through email and PM.

 

I don't know why you're worried about the mic-in. You can just use the X-Fi or the built-in mic-in of your motherboard. The sound output duties would be relegated to the 02US.

 

The M^3 is a DIY design, which is why it's so good for the price. You need to build one yourself or commission someone else to. They sometimes pop up on the FS section, but if you want a new one built by a professional, look here: http://www.rockhopperaudio.com/store/


Edited by Shahrose - 8/5/10 at 4:25pm
post #38 of 45

The HD800 will sound better than your HD600 on a low-end rig of course.

 

Do the people here chiming in and making recommendations actually own the HD800? I'd put more stock in the ones who do rather than the ones who repeat stuff they've read on other threads.

 

If you can go to a head-fi local meet (see if there's on in your area), try to visit. Odds are, someone will own the HD800. All you then need to do is to tote it around and plug it in different amps. The last meet in Melbourne (Australia)? There were at least two HD800s and a variety of amps/dacs.

 

Do you have a local store that stocks the HD800 and other amps? Try visiting them for an audition.

 

I am going to plug my HD800s into the Lehmann Rhinelander (it's a baby Black Cube Linear aka M-Stage). I'll let you know it sounds. Running out Gigawork Dac (aka Zendac). ALAC files.

post #39 of 45

The point is that the OP can grow with them.  They may distort out of an iPod.  But a new listener might not be bothered by that at first.  When more funds are available, he/she can go for a full blown amp and realize what the 800s can really do.

 

Don't hate on "work in progress" headphone rigs.  Nobody who has the HD800s would stay content for very long when listening to them from a crappy source.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by baka1969 View Post

The reason I spent over $1k on a headphone was to try and extract their full potential out of them. To me, it would be a waste to use them only out of an iPod. Why would I invest in something only to waste it's potential?

post #40 of 45

No, you do not need an amplifier for the HD-800: They run just fine off of an AM crystal radio.

 

There are many who argue that cables are the most important part of the system. Some would say they are actually more important than the speakers (or in this case headphones) and you would be in company with many others by spending more on your cables than your headphones are worth.

post #41 of 45

Quote:
Originally Posted by nnotis  
" The point is that the OP can grow with them.  They may distort out of an iPod.  But a new listener might not be bothered by that at first.  When more funds are available, he/she can go for a full blown amp and realize what the 800s can really do.
Don't hate on "work in progress" headphone rigs.   Nobody who has the HD800s would stay content for very long when listening to them from a crappy source."



I disagree. For someone spending the kind of money on the HD800, they shouldn't be on a tight budget and barely able to feed themselves. At this level, buying a headphone is an investment. It's also part of a system. Source, amp and headphone. If you can't afford that, you can't really afford the headphone. To get the HD800 and play it out of an iPod is kind of ridiculous. To say to someone it's ok if it's only performing at 60% of it's potential is acceptable but it'll grow with you is also silly.


For the price of the HD800 someone can pick up one HELL of a nice rig. The DacMagic and Gilmore Lite make a great DAC/amp combo. Add a headphone like the K-70x, HD650, DT880/600, HF-2 or RS1and you'll have a rig that is quite impressive that will perform at it's FULL potential. And once the OP gathers the funds for a proper HD800 setup, he can sell the other rig and buy the HD800. That's what countless Head-Fi'ers do. Plus it will give the OP experience with what to expect and not expect from costly headphones.


Running the HD800 out of an iPod because someone can't afford the rest of the system is kind of silly to me.


As always I offer a grain of sand. .


Peace,

Ross

post #42 of 45

A couple of cool combos. Behringer DEQ2496 http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/DEQ2496.aspx (can be bough shipped of amazon for 220) or the ULTRAMATCH PRO SRC2496 http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/SRC2496.aspx (around 170) and the Matrix M-Stage or Schit Asgard.  Both Behringers have great sounding DACS and the Ultramatch has an OK headphone out. Both amps are pretty cheap and sound great. These products in any combo would probably having you grinng from ear to ear. I love everything else the DEQ2496 can do beside a DAC, especially stereo width. It also has a great display , that does neat stuff such as VU meters and such. Not that a cool display is actually needed but I love little things like that. 

 

If the 800 is what you have your heart set on, I say GO FOR IT! I do not think you will regret it. If you don't get it, you will always be lusting fr it, so jump on it..........

post #43 of 45

I'm currently burning in my HD800s (TWag X recabled) using a HiSound Studio 1.  It looks a bit odd, given the size of the player, but the sound quality coming out of that little box is simply outstanding with both the HD650s and the HD800s.  If one can find one of these babies (there is one currently in the F/S forum), it can certainly work as a bridge/portable solution until the rest of the rig can be acquired over time.

post #44 of 45

How about a minimax?  there is one in the for sale forum for 250 http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/506196/fs-millet-hybrid-minimax-w-5-tube-sets-and-black-gates

post #45 of 45

My 2 cents:

 

I have HD800 and plug them into a Headroom Desktop Ultra ($1,599). I also have plugged the HD800 directly into a Mac Mini. Yes, there is a difference. You get more resolution and separation. But it's subtle. I would say that for me personally the no-amp setup is about 90% as good as the expensive amp setup. And the 10% difference is mainly due to the fact that I have to max the volume out without an amp, so that non-linearities kick in. There are many sub $500 dollar amps that will take you to 98% and possibly beyond.

 

The people who claim fervently that you are wasting your HD800 if you use it without a $5,000 amp on top of a $5,000 DAC most likely suffer from a placebo effect.

 

The difference between HD600 and HD800, on the other hand is painfully obvious. You must be deaf to fail to notice the difference in the soundstage.

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