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Is it my ears?! :-p (amp differences)

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

Hello.

 

Intro:

 

So I'm delving little by little into the world of audio. For a bit of background, I've always loved music,

played the piano when I was a child, started with guitar later in College and have always been

surrounded by music and musicians. I have always had Ok headphones but it wasn't until a few years

ago that I started buying more "expensive" headphones.

 

Broadening Horizons:

 

Now, I've always had good speakers and/or monitors to listen to music so I usually can catch the

differences between them (I find it more difficult catching coloration or changes with receivers, preamps,

cables, etc.). And it seems the same thing is happening with headphone amps. I mean, I can "catch" the

differences between cans (i.e. the "grado" sound, the "shure" sound (my favorite as of now), cheaper

Sennheisers, a couple of Ultrasones, etc.) but the differences between amps has been more difficult.

 

This past weekend I spoke to an acquaintance of mine about this and he told me to bring what I'm using

at home to his house. Now, he doesn't have a bunch of equipment but some goods that I could test and

since I'm thinking of buying the Sennheisers HD650s as my "last" headphones (at least for this year ;-))

I wanted to have a few other choices.

 

So there I went with my Shure 440s, 940s, and the Icon HDP which I use as my amp. There he had the HD600,

DT990, a couple of others I don't remember (and did not try) and for amps he had:

 

  1. RSA SR-71B
  2. Audio GD FUN
  3. Woo Audio 3 (his "baby")

 

All of these I guess are in the same price range (he wants something better and he was talking about

another version of Woo... don't know which...)

 

Testing:

 

Anyway, to my point.

I took out my 940s since I'm spending more time with those. They have the "Shure" flavor meaning they

favor high and mids and are quite balanced. I know how they sound on my Icon HDP (i.e. brighter, a BIT

of an extended soundstage, etc.). Tested these guys on the FUN amp and the Woo Audio 3... I heard ALMOST

the same sound. Bass extended a bit more and I noticed that the high-end region wasn't as bright (a bit "warm"

maybe) but other than that I didn't notice a whole lot more difference in soundstage nor clarity.

 

Tried his HD600s for about half an hour or a bit more using the tracks I usually test on any speaker/headphone,

making notes, marking the track time for specific effects, etc... connected these cans to my Icon HDP and I

actually LIKED them better on the HDP (I guess the HDP accentuates the high-end and it is my belief that the

cans performed with more clarity!)

 

He did the same using my headphones (he told me he didn't like them! LOL! ;-)) but he basically noted the same

thing, changes were VERY minimal.

 

So my questions:

 

Is it my ears that they suck and cannot pick up a lot of differences?!?

 

Or, since all of these "amps" are in the same price range, they sound as good as they cost (meaning they sound the same, basically!?).

 

Or do all of them sound similar because that's how the music SHOULD sound!?

 

 

Conclusion:

 

I'm not sure now whether I should buy any more headphones such as the HD650 or any other med/hi-end

can nor if I should my any other amp for a "different" signature since I really didn't notice a whole lot of difference

even with the tube Woo (meaning, that what I noticed doesn't convince me of spending more money...)... and my friend is now wondering whether he should also spend on a better amp...

 

Should I, maybe, jump spending regions and check out the Bursons, Woo's, Apex, etc. or will I

experience a similar effect of NOT finding too many differences.?

 

 

Thanks a bunch!

 

 

P.S. It is not my intention to start a placebo/blind test/etc. thread, these are legitimate questions. I'm ALMOST

quite happy with my set-up and was going for the HD650s because I read that they went great with the Icon HDP

(and maybe I could give my ears a break from bright/balanced cans).

 

 

P.S. part 2: Sorry for the wall of text... I got carried away it seems! biggrin.gif

post #2 of 15

Well my very limited experience with headphone amps and the research I've done here in the forum, most of the people say that the diferences are in fact minimal.  

 

Without being too analytic I happen to coincide with some people who state that sometimes the biggest change is how you feel the music, I really feel better the music when I plug my HP to the amp and compare it with the line out from the MacBookPro, of course now I understand that I get fuller mid bass and a LOT clearer sound and many other things.

 

I think there's nothing wrong with your ears, simply you're comparing amps in the same league, and it might require more ear training,  so you should maybe compare it with your line out, or a higher quality equipment to get a bigger change.

 

post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by paconavarro View Post

 

I think there's nothing wrong with your ears, simply you're comparing amps in the same league, and it might require more ear training,  so you should maybe compare it with your line out, or a higher quality equipment to get a bigger change.

 


Well, the tracks I selected are tracks that I use every time I test equipment so

trust me when I say I have made a lot of comparisons...

 

and still, the biggest changes I have heard haven't come from amps but from the headphones per se.

 

I guess I should get the HD650s but no other amps UNLESS someone comes in and tells me

that I will DEFINITELY hear differences from my current Icon HDP (i.e. getting a higher end Woo, the Burson, etc.) ;-)

 

Maybe the HDP is just that good as a headphone amp...

 

post #4 of 15

At this point you should start to get some electrical/audio engineering knowledge and educate yourself to the types of amps and headphones. Practical knowledge is often sufficient, without getting into deep circuit analysis and physics.

 

My K301 XTRA and K601 cans are both AKG, but have quite a different sound. One is low impedance and has more bass output for low powered devices. The K601 has the actual AKG 'house sound", is rather inefficient, and requires a gutsy headamp to make it strut its stuff....in other words, it is a classic AKG headphone. Do NOT assume all cans by a manufacturer will have a similar sound. When I drive the K601 from my HEARO 999 and then drive the K301 XTRA from my computer, I DO get a similar house sound (rich midrange put slightly forward).....but when you hook both into the same device one will sound good and the other will sound horrible.

 

The K601 driven by an AKG HEARO 999 is the best headphone sound I have ever heard, slightly better than the HEARO 999 wireless headphones, but still very close in character. One reason may be that the HEARO 999 is obviously voiced by AKG for their pro headphones. Those who say the HEARO 999 has a mediocre headamp have defintely NOT listened to them with AKG Pro line headphones. It DOES seem to be a colored amp, but it is complementary to the K601 but absolutely NOT to the K310 XTRA as it is not a pro audio headphone. The Beyerdynamic DT880 turns into a bit of a bass monster from a HEARO 999, but the K601 midrange forward sound is shelved down and the lows and mids are raised....just what you DON'T want with DT880 cans....unless you are a boom, sizzle, boom basshead.

 

One listen to the K601 driven by a HEARO 999 may have you throwing out the Grado cans as far a a rock/pop set of cans go. Michael Jackson's Thriller album was mixed by Quincy Jones using AKG pro headphones, the only brand he uses. Get some of his productions to judge AKG pro headphones. The K701 has the midrange shelved down so it departs from the AKG house sound. You will need midrange boost to get the pro sound. Pros use equalization to get the balance they need. They are worried more about QUALITY of sound across the spectrum and will then equalize to get the correct balance. This does not make the K701 or K601 superior over the other, it's just that you have to quit listening to a bunch of nerds suffering from audio nervosa that have to receive confirmation from an "expert golden-eared audio reviewer" before they can be (temporarily) satisfied with their gear.

 

FWIW, I listen to the IVA-Phones mode on the HEARO 999. Audiophiles will often use Direct mode, probably because they are using poorly matching cans. IVA is definitely better with a K601 or the supplied wireless cans. Use what AKG voiced the gear around. Duh!!!

 

THe K601 usually, but not always, sounds better with Surround off. Depends on recording. Usually sounds worse on the reverb delay settings. DT880 is completely the opposite. Club, hall or stadium reverb settings brings the midrange forward on the DT880, but makes the K601 too bright and forward. Of course, live events are often more bright and forward than what audiophiles listen to at home.

 

I use the inboard DAC on the HEARO 999, and that eliminates the need for expensive digital sources. Just as long as it reads the bits correctly, the 999 converts all digital inputs to a similar sound. A pro would like that, as he needs repeatabilty anywhere he goes, and the carrying case the 999 comes in is an indication as to how a lot of the customers were expected to use it.....on location.....movies, live concerts, studio, news location, etc.

 

Audiophiles usually misread the HEARO 999, and they failed to treat it the way a pro user would. That means use high end AKG pro cans or something else with a similar balance unless you have it running through a parametric equalizer. It is one of the most underrated pieces of headgear of all time.

post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by caol ila View Post

At this point you should start to get some electrical/audio engineering knowledge and educate yourself to the types of amps and headphones. Practical knowledge is often sufficient, without getting into deep circuit analysis and physics.

.....

 

I COULD get into all that but as you put in your words, none of what you said actually get into what type of amp,

impedance, gains, etc. your amp has or uses, you just talked about your experience with your cans and your amp.

Question is, have you tried those same cans with other high-end or comparable amps to the HEARO 999? And have you

noticed big enough differences?

 

Or is your point simply: "I've found the cans and amp I like and I'm sticking with it, screw every other offering out there!" ??? :-p

 

 

Thanks.

post #6 of 15

Differences in amps won't be as dramatic as differences between headphones, I think you've just discovered that for yourself. wink.gif

 

I suppose it's mighty misleading when reading other people's impressions and stuff, but maybe they just exaggerate the differences for purposes of clarity in communication.

 

When I first built my balanced b22 I was mega excited on hearing 'how my headphones are supposed to sound' because you see, I was just letting them play from my computer sound card at the time, so I was expecting some huge differences. Yeah I was pretty sadface after that, but maybe my ears are just crap.

post #7 of 15

Would you please amplify why you were "pretty sad faced after that, but maybe my ears are just crap."?

post #8 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by wae5 View Post

Would you please amplify why you were "pretty sad faced after that, but maybe my ears are just crap."?


Umm, to put it simply, I was not blown away, and maybe my hearing ain't good enough to appreciate the benefits of using what is arguably one of the best solid state amps you can build.

 

post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by deadlylover View Post

I suppose it's mighty misleading when reading other people's impressions and stuff, but maybe they just exaggerate the differences for purposes of clarity in communication.

 

And that's precisely what gets me.

I read these mega reviews 4/5 pages long and they (the reviewers) seem to notice sonic differences that

to me wouldn't probably warrant buying a $5000 amp over a $700 one. But of course, I haven't listened to a $5000 dollar

amp... (nor a $700 I guess ;-)). so maybe I will also notice differences...

post #10 of 15

You are correct, Gelocks. The differences in amps is absolutely minimal compared to the differences in headphones and you should plan your spending around that simple fact. So long as there is enough power available, one decently designed amp will sound much the same as another decently designed amp, and much of the claimed "huge" differences, with one amp "destroying" or "blowing away" other amps, is pure hyperbole.

post #11 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by pp312 View Post

You are correct, Gelocks. The differences in amps is absolutely minimal compared to the differences in headphones and you should plan your spending around that simple fact. So long as there is enough power available, one decently designed amp will sound much the same as another decently designed amp, and much of the claimed "huge" differences, with one amp "destroying" or "blowing away" other amps, is pure hyperbole.



Makes you wonder why anyone would want to pay $1000 for a headphone amp that wouldn't necessarily sound that much different than a $92 amp then.  Kind of how people pay $100 for a Monster brand cable that you can get off of Monoprice for $10 with nearly the same, if not equal performance.  That extra money spent just coloring perceptions?

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by caol ila

At this point you should start to get some electrical/audio engineering knowledge and educate yourself to the types of amps and headphones.

 

None of that will change the way you actually hear things, just like you don't need to be an engineer to know how to drive a car, or an actor to appreciate good acting in a movie.

 


Edited by Sanctuary - 7/30/11 at 2:35am
post #12 of 15

@gelocks,

 

Given the same source unit, two reasonably comparable amps (price range, transparency, power supply capacity, etc) won't sound too different, especially at that price range. The whole point in an amp is to provide the power to drive the headphone or speaker, and if it "adds" anything, it shouldn't be through a skewed response curve but because the source (assuming you can plug your cans in to it) can't drive the headphone properly to begin with. Really cheap amps may be colored (lacking the level of transparency) or won't have enough power, gain, current or voltage (PSU capacity.) Now, if two amps that are usually said to be transparent and have the power to drive the headphones used for testing still sound different, it might be due to some variance in the analog input and headphone output impedance. What I'm driving at here is system synergy: most people equate that to mixing "bright/analytical" components with some "warm/musical" components, but really it's more complicated than that. You can have the same combination of warm and bright in the same parts of the chain but if the impedance changes somewhere or the PSU is considerably lacking on any of the electronics, but most often on the amp, they can sound different on the same headphone. That's why one frequency response graph doesn't sound like what you actually hear; it's just an indicator that may need other measurements. You can produce comparable curves on electronics or headphones, then one note demands more current out of one headphone more than the other and it's on the weaker amp, and you'll come out saying it has less impact on the bass and midrange or it sounds flabby.

 

My HD600 initially sounds the same on a single ended, single 9V CMOY vs my Toucan, with an S9 as source, but after a few seconds on really fast music the balanced amp has better drive. Epica's The Classical Conspiracy live recording has really fast and hard-hitting drums, for example, and back to back the CMOY sometimes skips over some of the notes and has a narrow soundstage. On my Little Dot MkII before with a Marantz CD60 vs just the CDplayer's headphone out, the MkII sounds like it's just aritficially smoother, but on the same recording, the tube amp has the same driving advantage over the built-in TPA6120 amp, which needs to be set louder (not just the dial travel, but louder for my ears) and still not get the same percussion detail as the separate amp. And that says a lot because Marantz puts in respectable headphone drivers into their CDplayers.

The kind of music you listen to (assuming of course you have them all in lossless or original CD) will also have an impact on whether gear will sound different. CDs (from fullsize or car audio processor-receivers) and lossless files (out of my portable players and PC) have symphonic and prog metal showing how some amps lack drive, as well as some audiophile jazz and blues recordings. More mainstream rock doesn't make much of a difference between the 3ch active ground, single 9v batt amp I had before and a good solid state with an AC PSU, save for some interesting details in some recording and more solid bass drums (most of these were recorded with the guitars just mashed together anyway.) If your music doesn't show considerable difference, silence the gearhead in you that's curious about finding the difference in more expensive gear and is willing to spend for, consider your wallet lucky, then kick back and enjoy the music. You don't have to buy gear to satisfy curiosity, attend meets - more so when you're near someone who has a lot of them.

post #13 of 15

gelocks,

 

All my older amps - Headmaster, CamAmp, HP8 - all certainly had there own character but it was difficult to determine which was really better. When I started building my b22 I was kind of in the same boat as you. I did tell my self at the time that there is a possibility it may not be that much of an improvement over the M3, so kept my expectations in check.

But it's really in a different league, even when I first hooked it up with a portable CDP as source it sounded great. Now I have it set up with the UX-3 and humble HD600, it outshines everything I've heard before. So much so that my SR-404LEs have been boxed up and put away. Admittedly, this moves towards my subjective preference for a more "speaker like" presentation, unfortunately my Fostex T40RPs still sound crap out of it though.

Agree with the other posters regarding going to meets/learning how this stuff works.

 


Edited by meme - 7/31/11 at 4:01am
post #14 of 15



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sanctuary View Post


Makes you wonder why anyone would want to pay $1000 for a headphone amp that wouldn't necessarily sound that much different than a $92 amp then. 

 

They pay the extra for a small improvement which neverthless is important to them, which they then describe as a huge improvement. In terms of the tiny incremental improvements available at that diminishing returns level, I guess those small improvements are relatively huge, if that makes any sense.   

post #15 of 15
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all your input!

I guess, being new to all of this gear stuff, I was going to notice hearing a lot of differences

but it seems every change will be subtle so my wallet should be pretty safe for a while!

 

I'm not aware of a strong/decent audio community here in P.R. but I do have

a couple of friends that love spending $ in music gear! ;-)

 

So I guess I'll order the HD650s, spend a couple of months with it on the HDP and

see where I go from there IF there's a need!

 

 

Thanks.

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