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3 Headphone DACs: Listening Challenge Sequel

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

First, a quick thank you to everyone who's provided input so far on the previous listening test:




Please keep the comments coming on that one if you want. But, based on the suggestions from several of you, there's now also a sequel--this time with real headphones instead of line outputs, some different music, a new DAC (sort of), and a few other new twists.


Will there be a clear winner? This time I'm asking those who are up for the challenge to please pick a favorite or runner up in your comments. That will allow a somewhat more objective score to determine 1st, 2nd and 3rd (last) place among the three DACs. Here's the new headphone challenge:











post #2 of 9

Tis of Thee Pine is clearly different. 10/10 in ABX with all the other samples with a crappy integrated sound card and Denon AH-C351 phones. It has distinctively less high frequency extension. Which DAC or headphones? My guess is SuperFi with unmodified Behringer.

The other samples are too similar to my ears (low end gear might be to blame) to pick a favourite. They sound equally good.

Just to add my 2 cents - comparing and picking winners and losers without ABXing is pretty much worthless, when differences are small. It's easy to pick out Pine without ABXing, but the others are way more difficult and I suggest everyone should first ABX to make sure there really is a difference to your ears.

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the input. I agree with you on ABX and I just worded the "instructions" in the article a bit differently to hopefully guide more people in that direction. Without ABX people can just imagine differences and will be more biased by previous comments they've read from others. I'm curious if anyone else can confirm Cer's observation with the Pine recording?
post #4 of 9

You come up with tests faster than I can find the time to do them!

Maybe you can put a 'closing date' on the tests. Then I know what to aim for!


Interesting move to be connecting an ear/headphone to the output. It makes for a much more lifelike test.


BTW I'm not a big fan of ABX. The method assumes that you can recognise differences by instant comparison. I always need to listen to particular sequences in a track several times, and then switch to another track/piece of equipment listening to same sequences. I try to find particular clues like a bass line with a particular punch on a particular note or a sound moving to a particular position in the soundstage. If I can find the time I will try to write down how I have come to an evaluation based on the tracks you provided. Likely not any sooner then this weekend!

I know that a lot of people consider the ABX method the only valid method because it is 'double blind'. I think that its almost impossible to hear the differences (at least those of the first test, I havn't listen to this one yet). And at least the way you organise it, its 'single blind'.


Thanks again for putting all the effort into these tests!beerchug.gif



post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 

@middachten thanks for your feedback. I have put a lot of time into this and I agree ABX isn't for everyone. But it's the easiest (and many would argue best) way the average person can make an unbiased comparison given the limitations.


Even though the files have arbitrary names, the comments of others (and even potentially from me this being a single-blind test) can bias the results when people know which file they're listening to. The Foobar ABX comparator can remove that bias.


I should also point out Foobar ABX can be used two different ways. It can either jump back and forth between the tracks keeping the same place in the song. Or you can select your favorite part of the track and it can repeat that segment each time you switch. For those who don't have it installed, this YouTube video (not done by me) has examples of both methods in use:




I also wish it were legal (and more practical from a download time/bandwidth perspective) to share the entire tracks. That would allow more extended listening for those who prefer it. But that's not realistic here so I tried to do the best I could. And some have already identified solid differences with their ABX testing of the tracks--so, at least for them, the short clips are still a revealing test.


As for an end date, that's a good point. It really depends on the number of "votes". Ideally I'd like to get enough responses to help avoid accusations the sample size is too small. So the more people that respond, the sooner the end date will be. I'm kind of hoping for next week sometime but we'll have to see?

post #6 of 9

Pine sounded the worst with Hawthorn being almost as bad. Other 3 sounded about the same.

post #7 of 9

in theory, you might be able to find creative commons tracks off jamendo or something similar.


Considering the whole scenario, i'm fairly suprised there isn't already a free to use test suite of music... Its one of the sort of questions one would considering polling slashdot or one of the free culture friendly blogs like boingboing.


I've not listened to any of these (yet) but here's a few links that might get you started

NIN has a free album includin 24/96 wav formats http://theslip.nin.com/


Jamendo is a repository of CC licenced music http://www.jamendo.com/en/


for classical music, this might be a possibility - they're mp3 only, but have a massive selection of tracks http://musopen.com/music.php



Edited by faileas - 3/9/11 at 7:56pm
post #8 of 9


Hawthorne and Pine have massive distortion so I am putting them a the bottom regardless of how the non-distorted parts sound.  The other 3 sound different but all bad in different ways.  None of them sound good to me but each in different ways.  I tried to rank it but I gave up because the ranking would differ depending on which part of the song I was listening to.

post #9 of 9

Interesting turn of events on multiple levels!

Regarding Monroe/the CD reference, I agree that this appears to be a good example of collective bias creeping in. In my opinion, you should have only accepted ABX results from the start, but this measure would probably have reduced the number of willing participants even further.

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