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Beginner headphone advice

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Hello, I'm a real beginner to all audiophilic things and I'm in the process of purchasing my first 'real' headphone setup. I'm ready to spend about 300 € (about $430) and possibly a bit more. As I said, I'm a total newbie, and though I know a bit about this stuff, I don't really know what the hell I'm doing.

 

I listen to a very wide range of musical genres as well as watch movies, mostly on my PC, preferably in lossless formats and DVDs, so I'm looking for a neutral sounding, affordable quality setup. I've read a bit about DACs, amps and headphones and related things, but I'd like some tips and advice from more experienced people. What kind of headphones do I need? What's the meaning of the DAC and the amp, and what pieces should I use?

 

Here's some of the equipment I've been looking at:

 

Sennheiser HD518

http://www.headphone.com/headphones/sennheiser-hd-518.php

 

Sennheiser HD558

http://www.headphone.com/headphones/sennheiser-hd-558.php

 

HeadRoom Total BitHead

http://www.headphone.com/headphone-amps/headroom-total-bithead.php

 

Maverick Audio TubeMagic D1

http://www.head-fi.org/products/maverick-audio-tubemagic-d1

 

Thanks in advance for any of your kind help and suggestions.

post #2 of 8

You can buy PC sound card like Asus Essence ST and it has line out level RCA out to hook up with external AMPs for later use and headphones are here like Dt990(600 Ohm), DT 880(600 Ohm), HD650, HD600, HFi 2400/2500, AD900 and AKG K701.

post #3 of 8

Heya,

 

A couple of quick notes to get you off on a good start, at least, in my opinion:

 

1. Your budget should mostly be put towards the headphone. The DAC/Source is your second priority. The amp is the least priority.

2. Source is imperative. Lossless quality, or highest compressed quality you can do, and make sure your DAC is good. It's the soul of your whole system because it generates the sound you're going to hear. Focus on having a good DAC before worrying about amplifiers. You don't want to use soundcards from computers.

 

On to simple definitions:

 

DAC - Digital to Analog Converter. This is what takes your digital signal and turns it into an electric signal that can be rendered by a driver (speaker). An amplifier has to amplify this signal. If this signal is poor quality, it will amplify it as poor quality. This is why I stress source over amplification in importance.

 

Amplifier (Amp) - Simply takes a signal and boosts it. In general, a good amp should sound a lot like another amp since they're just boosting a singal so long as the source is the same. There are solid state amps, which basically are bricks and are the most common that you're used to seeing in modern electronics. There are also tube amplifiers, which focus on very old technology of vacuum tubes, but are extremely powerful and have a distinct sound. Tube amps are often sought because of the sound difference and because often times these amps allow for tube rolling (tube rolling is the ability to swap tubes to change the sound signature). All of this is pretty subtle in my opinion and really shouldn't be your priority until you're very comfortable with hifi in general, you should listen to music, not technicality. So that's your call there. This is the least important part of the whole rig in my opinion. A good amp will go far. But you don't need much of an amp to perform what's needed. Focus on the headphone and then the DAC. This is just my opinion, mind you.

 

Now for the big part of the puzzle, we need information from you:

 

1. What kind of music do you primarily listen to?

2. Do you prefer bass heavy? Bass light? Forward treble/mids? Neutral? What's your sound signature?

3. Do you need isolation? Or do you want the biggest sound stage you can get?

4. Do you need portability?

5. Do you have a style preference?

 

Now, I bring all of this up because in your list of equipment you posted, you've already listed a $200 DAC setup, plus a DAC, and then your headphones. With a budget of $430, I would spend most of that on headphones. Then focus on DAC. Then focus on amp. In which case, get a DAC/AMP combination.

 

We can recommend headphones forever, but without knowing what kind of sound you want, it won't help much. I will however give you some blanket suggestions:

 

BeyerDyanmic DT880 - Neutralish headphone, good sound stage, good bass presence. Great for everything you throw at it, including movies. Beyer comfort. Good detail and clarity. Not overly bassy like some other Beyers. Go DT990 if you want more bass response and brighter treble.

 

Sennheiser HD600 - Neutralish headphone, great sound stage. Very laid back sound, not quite as engaging, as Sennheiser tends to sound. The only thing below this I would recommend spending money on is the HD598 which has a more forward/bright and engaging sound. So if you want laidback quality, HD600. If you want forward engaging quality, get the HD598.

 

These are open headphones and are generally neutral sounding headphones that I suggested for a reason. They're generally good pleasers because they tend to do everything relatively well. Some people want more bass. Some want more detail/clarity. This is where we help you, by you telling us what you like.

 

As for your DAC/AMP option, the Maverick Audio TubeMagic D1 is a great way to start. It will give you a good source signal and has a built in amplifier. Good price point. Leaves you $230 roughly for the headphones. You can do that, especially if you nab some used headphones.

 

Welcome to head-fi. Sorry about your wallet.

 

Very best,

 

 

 


Edited by MalVeauX - 7/29/11 at 9:45am
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 

Many, many thanks to the both of you, especially MalVeauX and his very helpful reply. I will look deeper into it later when I have some time, but as for now I'll try to provide as much detail on my part as I can.

 

Quote:

1. What kind of music do you primarily listen to?
2. Do you prefer bass heavy? Bass light? Forward treble/mids? Neutral? What's your sound signature?

 

As I said, my musical taste is very broad, from classical music, jazz, blues to pop, rock, heavy metal, some hip hop to electronic music, ambient as well as movies. So that's why I imagine I'd like a neutralish sound, with maybe just a little bit more focus on the lows. As for the formats, I use lossless formats whenever I can, ripped from CDs or vinyl records and DVDs.

Quote:
3. Do you need isolation? Or do you want the biggest sound stage you can get?

 

Well, to be frank, I don't think I can readily answer that question. I haven't got much experience regarding this, so could you clarify the question a bit?

 

Quote:

4. Do you need portability?

 

No, I don't think portability will be important to me, as I prefer to listen to my music at home, but I think some degree of portability would be good.

 

Quote:
5. Do you have a style preference?

 

I'm sorry, but honestly I don't really understand your question. What do you mean by style?

 

Thanks again for helping a newcomer out.

post #5 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by blackwhitered View Post

Well, to be frank, I don't think I can readily answer that question. I haven't got much experience regarding this, so could you clarify the question a bit?

 

No, I don't think portability will be important to me, as I prefer to listen to my music at home, but I think some degree of portability would be good.

 

I'm sorry, but honestly I don't really understand your question. What do you mean by style?


Heya,

 

Isolation, as in, does it matter if sound leaks out of the headphones--as in, others will hear it. Vise verse, you will hear others is there is no isolation. A closed back headphone is the most common headphone most people see. If isolated well, someone would have to take off their headphone to hear someone speaking to them. In an open-headphone, the back is open. So you can hear everything around you and everything around you can hear you too. Someone can talk to you and you'll hear them, assuming the sound isn't so loud that it drowns it out. The differences are variable. A closed back headphone tends to have a more intimate sound stage, more potential bass, and doesn't leak as much (as in, sound coming in and sound going out). An open back headphone tends to have more open sound stage, less bass impact, and leaks completely (so everything is heard, someone in the room is listening to your music too). Sound stage is separation, setting. Do you want to feel like you're in a recording room with an artist, or do you want to sound like you're in an open bar with instruments all around you. Sound stage is great for music, it is incredible in acoustic, jazz, etc. It seems to do nothing for electronic and metal by contrast. Separation of instrument/voice is where sound stage (in my opinion) really shines. In music that it's not important to have that, it doesn't really matter (electronic, metal). That's just my take on it though. Closed headphones are better for portable setups, because you will not hear everything as you travel and people won't hear you as much. Open headphones are not great for portable setups, because the sound comes in and goes out, you won't hear your headphones correctly with all the noise leaking in and likewise, everyone will hear you loud and clear what's going on in those headphones. Open tends to be better for overall sound stage and use at home. I like both open and closed depending on the music/movie.

 

Portability will essentially involve the headphone's isolation level, or ability, and it's ability to fold or have swivel cups so you can easily slide them down around your neck, or simply plop them in a bag folded up without taking up a huge amount of space.

 

Style is style. Do you like the look of some headpones? Look at the AKG look. Look at the Ultrasone look. Look at the Shure look. Look at the Sennheiser look. Some people don't care, but some people do care very much what their headphone looks like. Personally I won't buy an ugly headphone. I want my headphones to look classy, sleek, sexy and really stand out if I'm wearing them in public that says, "These clearly are not apple ibuds." I have one ugly pair of headphones (XB500's) and I would never wear them in public. I feel weird just wearing them around someone at home. It's just another thing to consider when spending hundreds of dollars on something you wear for hours. I tend to like things to look nice. So I figure someone else might too.

 

-- Based on what you said, I'll still suggest something like the BeyerDynamic DT880, or the HD600. It will cover everything you just mentioned well. Combine with something like the FiiOE7+E9 or Maverick TubeMagic D1.

 

Very best,

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your reply.

 

Yes, I think the open design is more to my preference for now, since I tend to favor headphones that don't cut out all the outer noise. I like to hear what's going around me - makes me feel more comfortable not having to take off the headphones every thirty seconds (hehe, paranoid schizophrenia?). I don't travel a lot, so that won't be a problem either. A big sound stage, I think, is much to my liking. In my opinion and experience, you just can't compare even the best live album to a real concert.

 

As far as headphones go, style doesn't matter to me at all - no matter what headphones (excluding in-ear) I wear publicly, I feel dorky. So I just figure it doesn't matter.

 

E: Will go to sleep now. Will reply back Saturday morning or evening or Sunday.


Edited by blackwhitered - 7/29/11 at 11:49pm
post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by blackwhitered View Post

Thanks for your reply.

 

Yes, I think the open design is more to my preference for now, since I tend to favor headphones that don't cut out all the outer noise. I like to hear what's going around me - makes me feel more comfortable not having to take off the headphones every thirty seconds (hehe, paranoid schizophrenia?). I don't travel a lot, so that won't be a problem either. A big sound stage, I think, is much to my liking. In my opinion and experience, you just can't compare even the best live album to a real concert.

 

As far as headphones go, style doesn't matter to me at all - no matter what headphones (excluding in-ear) I wear publicly, I feel dorky. So I just figure it doesn't matter.


Heya,

 

Check out the Ultrasone HFI 2400 with the Maveric TubeMagic D1. That fits your budget and basically does what you're looking for.

 

Alternatives: HD600 for laidback neutral headphone. AKG701 for mid/high detailed but bass lite headphone. BeyerDynamic DT880 for a neutral headphone with some bass impact and detail.

 

Very best,

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks, I think I'll get what you recommended. The HFI-2400 seem like suitable for me, as well as the D1, and they fit in my budget nicely. MalVeauX, you have my greatest thanks.

 

Take care.

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