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Confessions of a failing audiophile

post #1 of 168
Thread Starter 

Warning: personal experience and long/possibly boring narrative ahead.  Proceed at your own risk

 

I'll start by saying that I like to think of myself as an audiophile, but I am certainly not one.

 

I've been coming to these forums for a few years, mostly lurking.  My desire for better audio started in 2007 or so.  It began with the frustration that my music didn't sound any better no matter what $10 ear bud from Target I used.  My brother then spent $100 on some fantastic amazing superb bose triports (haha), which actually piqued my interest in higher audio.  I was on slickdeals when I saw a deal for some sennheiser cx300, which I picked up to start my hi-fi interest.  I then found head-fi, upgraded to some PL30s, got some ADDIEMs, and then splurged on a deal for TF10s.  I decided to call it good there with my new top-tier IEMs (aside from picking up budget meelec M9s), not expecting much improvement in further investment.  Cut to the present day, I have now become interested in a pair of cans, and bought some UR40s (KSC75 drivers) to hold me over.  

 

Now comes the sad part.  Lately I have come to realize that after this collecting, I'm really not rediscovering my music like I heard others and thought I would.  The TF10s do everything nice and I notice the better soundstage, but I really don't see a vast improvement in audio quality as I should from everyone on these forums.  I picked up some high quality chesky albums, and noticed the quality in the recordings, but don't quite grasp concepts such as visceral impact, transparency, rhythm and the likes.  I understand what they are and what I should be listening for, but I can't seem to actually notice the sonic qualities.  It's really quite sad.  I compared the high quality recordings in my UR40 and the TF10s, and I definitely hear the different sound signatures, but I don't seem to hear the improved quality of the TF10s, just a bit better soundstage and more open feeling. The same is about true for the Meelec m9s. 

 

So then I thought to test the differences in quality of recordings.  I took some fairly complex flac recordings and converted them down to MP3 quality at varying bitrates.  I tried 320 and 128kbps.  I did some abx testing with the flac, and was shocked at my results.  Not only could I not notice differences with 320kbps on my TF10s, I didn't notice any palpable differences between the 128kbps and the flac.  Only when I went down to 80kbps did I notice the differences.  

 

Now on this test here http://www.klippel.de/listeningtest/lt/, I was able to get down to -30db on the a/b comparison (it felt like I was guessing a lot of the time).  So it seems like I should at least be able to notice some differences.  When it comes to it though, I don't notice the sonic differences that everyone on these forums seems to find easy.  I can hear both extreme high and low frequencies fairly well, so I don't think my hearing is bad.  I've just lately become discouraged by my apparent lack of ability to see the nuances finer points of high quality audio.  I read reviews mentioning "clear highs" and "smooth mids" and I understand the ideas behind it, but I don't understand the translation into audio for my ears.

 

So now I was interested in getting a external DAC for my laptop, but I don't want to spend more money (I'm a college student haha) to not notice a difference.  (btw, my other source is an ipod nano 3g)

 

So I guess my question is, am I alone in this experience?  Has anybody else gone through this? And is there any way out of it for me? Or should I just give up on hi-fi and settle with my above average audio equipment?

 

Thanks for spending the time to read my wall of text! And also thanks for any input!

 

post #2 of 168

Don't worry, you are certainly not alone. If you look at the AB threads with samples of dacs, bitrates and players compared, you'll see that the success rate is very poor, and this is only counting those who admit to it. The information in those threads suggests that there is no statistical significance as far too many people cannot tell the difference, and it's really really funny when a test tricks people and uses duplicate tracks, and people say they hear a difference.

 

Let your own ears decide what you buy. If sample audio from a $2000 dac sounds the same as an iPod, what's wrong with the iPod? Until someone points out that the fourteenth second in your trial track contains some reverberation that sounds less defined on the iPod, there is no difference in your world.

 

A problem with the validity of these trials is that people have selective attention. If you were to stare at a picture looking for faces in nature (paredolia) and don't find any, does that mean there are no faces in the picture? What if someone points them out to you? Then you will see them every time you look at the picture. The difference between visual and aural tests like these is that audio requires a reference to compare to. A 150 vbr track sounds fine on its own, but next to flac you can hear the differences (my personal example). An iPod sounds fine on its own, but next to my home rig I can hear the differences.

 

The question is, how often do you think you will have a reference?

post #3 of 168

Yeah, don't worry. You are probably in the majority here. Head-fi'ers are a strange bunch. We like to think that a $300 IEM will sound far better than a $30 one, but that is simply not how it works. We are also an extremely gullible audience, with too much money on our hands. We will believe much of anything that comes out of an authoritative figure, whether it be a headphone company or a head-fi product review by someone with 12,000 posts. I hate to be so negative, but its the truth. After wetting my feet in the world of head-fi, I can safely say that my triple.fis are more than enough to satisfy my needs. probably overkill.

 

 

also, do not be intimidated by users who $50K worth of equipment. They are all trying to find that one magical product, but have yet to realize that the concept of a perfect headphone is rather elusive.

 

 

And most importantly, ENJOY YOUR MUSIC.

post #4 of 168

After 8 years here I have GENERALLY found a $200 IEM surely better than a $100 IEM.  Have also found that approx 4 years ago when the $300-$400 triple drivers came out, they were definitely a step up again.  All very good but slightly different sigs. Tweaks have been made to the triple drivers (SE535) and even a quad driver (W4) now exists but I don't consider them definitive upgrades.

 

Having then gone the custom route, to my ears the JH5 is as good as the $400 universals but not necessarily better.  The 8,10, 12 driver custom IEM's were a bit better but not shaking heaven and earth or anything.

 

If you can get a great fit with universals, unless you have money to piss away, the top-end universals should satisfy anybody.  Depending on your ear anatomy, customs aren't necesarily the "be all end all" either.  This is just my experience though as a basic music lover that likes good sounding stuff.  Another person that loves cable upgrades and amping will probably totally disagree with my view.

 

But yes, enjoying the music can often get lost in all of this journey.

post #5 of 168

We're actually all just pretending.

post #6 of 168

My friend, consider yourself blessed that you can't hear differences!

 

For me, anything under ~256K mp3 is easy to tell (and trust me I will countlessly spot the worse one in A/B tests)

 

As far as headphones, it's not that the higher priced one always sounds better. That's just placebo effect. But I have always had a preference towards one when comparing two. I have never found two headphones that I could say "I could use either one because they sound exactly the same". No, there is always one that I like better, and that difference sometimes leads you spend way more money than the difference might is actually worth.

 

But that's exactly what sets head-fiers apart from the common listener. To us, it is irrelevant how much the difference is worth.

post #7 of 168
I think quite a few people here often can't hear a difference, but will parrot "common" wisdom on a particular product, pretending to hear the differences themselves. Contributing the "lore" of the product, which in turn leads yet more people to supposedly hear the same things.

I have quite a few IEMs (by sane person's standards, anyway), and I can hear differences between them. But many of those differences are very quickly forgotten while listening, unless I'm purposely A/B'ing them. And even then, I might hear a difference, but I can't exactly quantify what it is, or which is better. I might have an idea which I personally like more, but I know that many people like things which are technically inferior, by supposed audiophile standards.

I think most people can hear differences in extension pretty easily, and can hear gross tonal differences, but beyond that, it takes a very practiced ear to truly hear much else. IMHO, of course. But, as I said, many more people will claim to hear such differences.

Someone above said we're all making it up. We most certainly aren't all, but I think enough people are to make it a very telling comment (despite it's intent).
Edited by AngryBaconGod - 6/10/11 at 9:17am
post #8 of 168

Audiophile jargon is freely flung around a bit too much, and differences between bit-rates are heavily exaggerated. However, the difference between good earphones and worse earphones is so obvious to me, that there's no mistaking it. And the differences in quality should still be easily distinguished no matter the music, bit-rate, or DAC. Maybe you are hearing differences, but your expectations are too high from reading reviews. Also, the KSC-75 is unbelievably good for the price. That I would say I can get maybe 70% HD600 in my KSC-75 using a decent source. UR-40 and TF10 may sound similar in quality to you, but the TF10 should definitely still be much better. Keep listening.

post #9 of 168


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Foie View Post

 

So I guess my question is, am I alone in this experience?  Has anybody else gone through this? And is there any way out of it for me? Or should I just give up on hi-fi and settle with my above average audio equipment?

 

Thanks for spending the time to read my wall of text! And also thanks for any input!

 



 

No, you're definitely not alone. A lot of what's written in these forums is mere regurgitating, ie emulating other people's online behaviour, some of whom regard themselves as audiophiles, a term, I have to admit, I have more and more serious issues with.
 
Here's something I've observed which I believe bears an uncanny resemblance to what I've often seen happening on HF: 
 
I happen like football (soccer in the US). I have a nine-year-old nephew who's absolutely mad about football and is quite good for his age. He knows I know about football, and it's very interesting to see - and very sweet, too - how he adopts the role of the football 'connoisseur' - I suppose most of us do that when we're children - and even the tone of his voice and his overall attitude changes when we talk about football! He sometimes sounds as if he really knew what he's talking about, but I know he (still) doesn't understand some of the more complex aspects of the game. He knows some things, has some experience, yes, but quite a few things he just repeats from things I've said to him in the past, things he's heard on TV or from other friends and teammates/classmates.
 
I sense the same thing happening here, and pretty often some people will start using terms (audio jargon) they don't really understand. It's as if by the simple act of reading one understands and becomes knowledgeable, when in actual fact it often means one becomes a more proficient reader and 'regurgitator'. This is akin to those who are well-read and think that for this reason they know more about life. Would I be able to drive a car merely  by reading about it?
 
I say it's actually a very good thing you're noticing/realising this. It'll likely save you (a lot of) money and time. That's not to say that everything in Hi-Fi is snake oil or hype, but no doubt there's plenty of exaggeration, hype and plenty of misconceptions. In most cases people come to Head-fi through their 'love'/enjoyment of music. Suddenly some will find themselves spending more time (AND money) looking for, and trying, new gear than enjoying music, which is what brought them here in the first place.
post #10 of 168

I just made another post a bit ago about this same thing.  Regardless of what headphones I use, I can hear some quality difference and some basic things, but overall I just get no real impact in a way i had hoped I would get.  It is just "Well, yes.  These do indeed sound better... good." in the sort of voice you'd use to go over a tag-line you have to read daily.

 

I invested overall just about 160$ all said into headphones, having tried a variety and returning and replacing them.  I haven't "burned" any in.  I don't even know if I'm the kind of person who'd notice a difference.  It's depressing really, that it seems like my music is at it's peak already.  I had hoped for more.

post #11 of 168
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tinari View Post

I just made another post a bit ago about this same thing.  Regardless of what headphones I use, I can hear some quality difference and some basic things, but overall I just get no real impact in a way i had hoped I would get.  It is just "Well, yes.  These do indeed sound better... good." in the sort of voice you'd use to go over a tag-line you have to read daily.

 

I invested overall just about 160$ all said into headphones, having tried a variety and returning and replacing them.  I haven't "burned" any in.  I don't even know if I'm the kind of person who'd notice a difference.  It's depressing really, that it seems like my music is at it's peak already.  I had hoped for more.


i am kind of in the same boat. my shure srh840 is amazing but i sill feel it isn't worth $200. good thing i only paid $129.99 for them. i have some pioneer se m390 headphones and i actually find the shures price over the pioneers is not worth it. i love my shures but i was blissfully happy with my pioneers until i got the shures. although my opinion on this has changed since having my shures for as long as i have. now when ever i go back to my pioneers i find the pioneers are horrible and sound muffled and congested. things like that i never noticed at first and i think we just need to get used to our new gear. the shures haven't improved but i feel the pioneers got worse after getting used to the shure sound signature. personally i am a metal head so i am trying some grado sr60i's when i get the money. they will be my second pair of decent headphones and i have the feeling i will like them more then my shures. but i won't know until i try them. i agree with whats said in this forum. everyone just repeats what everyone else says. how many people actually know muddy, dark, bright, harsh etc. i personally know what harsh is as it gives a grating sound to my music. and the common consensus is that the shures are very smooth (not harsh) yet i beg to differ. they are harsh. but it all depends on the recording. i might just have big criteria but this is an expensive hobby. i still find it hard to swallow spending more then $150 on headphones. i would never have paid full price on mine. but as my experience grows and i learn more my opinions might change.

 

post #12 of 168
I found that it's the sound signature, not sound quality, that makes one headphone more enjoyable than another. If you can find the one with signature that suits you, then you are set.
post #13 of 168



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Foie View Post

 

So I guess my question is, am I alone in this experience?  Has anybody else gone through this? And is there any way out of it for me? Or should I just give up on hi-fi and settle with my above average audio equipment?

 


Personally I have had the opposite experience from you with both portable music and my home hifi setup.  I started with the cheapest MP3 player available with 48kbps MP3's and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to music like this for many years.

 

My first upgrade was some cheap Philips ear buds.

Then a Creative Zen MP3 player.

Then I started using 320kbps MP3's.

Then Sennheiser CX300.

Then Westone UM1's.

Then a Sony A-series Walkman.

And finally I've bought the Westone UM3x.

 

With each step there was a good and worthwhile improvement in sound quality to the point where I now feel it's close to perfection and I don't think I'll ever want to upgrade again.

 

So, after spending all that money do I enjoy listening to music more than I did before?  Well no, but it does sound much better and I do appreciate it much more.  For me listening to the details of quality hifi equipment is a very enjoyable pass time.  But it's still the music not the equipment that's most important for me.  At work we often listen to low quality YouTube music through tinny PC speakers and I still get the same abount of enjoyment and emotion as I do from my expensive hifi at home, it just doesn't sound as good.

 


Edited by steve1979 - 6/11/11 at 12:28pm
post #14 of 168



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gothamm View Post

 

 

And most importantly, ENJOY YOUR MUSIC.



You've sumed it up perfectly there Gothamn.  I think alot of people forget this part and it's the most important bit.

 


Edited by steve1979 - 6/11/11 at 3:34pm
post #15 of 168

I've had some of the same thoughts.  In another part of my life I worked as an audio engineer in a recording studio and spent the majority of my time focusing on the quality of the sound.  Once I left that world I carried that with my into my "audiophile" days.  I would listen to various components and compare the this vs that.  For a while I really enjoyed that aspect of the hobby, but at the same time I was always unsatisfied.  Sort of a grass is always greener sort of thing I suppose.

 

Finally a year or so I came to the realization that all of the audiophile elements I was focusing on had taken a priority over what my real love was, what had actually gotten me into all of this.  That was a love of music.  For me, I became much happier and really began enjoying the hobby again when I dropped all of the analysis and comparison of the sound and just started enjoying and listening to the music.

 

My advice is if it sounds good to you....  Go with it.  Don't worry about if you can't tell any difference between mp3 and flac, this DAC vs. that DAC.  Just enjoy you music library no matter what form it's in.

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