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to amp or not? advice needed

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

some help/advice would be appreciated...

 

 

with my setup (Macbook Pro, Grado SR225's, ATH M30's, with all genre's of music)
and about $150 to spend,
 

would I benefit the most from buying the EF2a DAC/AMP

OR

from buying a new pair of headphones (like the ATH M50's for example)?

post #2 of 16

I would go headphone amp/DAC because the amp section of your Macbook pro just does not do most headphones any justice.  Your SR-225's will response well to a good amp by increasing both the deep and and highs a tad.  I do not have experience with the EF2a, but I do use a Bithead when my home rig is not available.  It is a highly reliable amp/DAC that can easily drive any of your listed headphones.

 

I vote amp/DAC, but really suggest saving up for a drastic increase to the $450 range.  This moves you closer to a much better amp like the Headroom Micro / Micro Portable.  It also gives you the option to drastically improve on your headphones such as going to an AH-D2000 or DT990 ( 25 or 250 Ohm ).

 

Heck in the $150 range an IEM would probably improve your sound the most.  There are some really nice IEM's in that price range like the UE700's from Ultimate Ears.  If you are like me and simply prefer headphones due to comfort, listening volume levels, and soundstage then the amp/DAC remains your best bet.  Just be sure to fully research / compare the specs on the device you settle on so you receive the most quality for your hard earned money.

post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

I would go headphone amp/DAC because the amp section of your Macbook pro just does not do most headphones any justice.  Your SR-225's will response well to a good amp by increasing both the deep and and highs a tad.  I do not have experience with the EF2a, but I do use a Bithead when my home rig is not available.  It is a highly reliable amp/DAC that can easily drive any of your listed headphones.

 

I vote amp/DAC, but really suggest saving up for a drastic increase to the $450 range.  This moves you closer to a much better amp like the Headroom Micro / Micro Portable.  It also gives you the option to drastically improve on your headphones such as going to an AH-D2000 or DT990 ( 25 or 250 Ohm ).

 

Heck in the $150 range an IEM would probably improve your sound the most.  There are some really nice IEM's in that price range like the UE700's from Ultimate Ears.  If you are like me and simply prefer headphones due to comfort, listening volume levels, and soundstage then the amp/DAC remains your best bet.  Just be sure to fully research / compare the specs on the device you settle on so you receive the most quality for your hard earned money.

thanks NA Blur!

 

at this point in my listening experience, i can't justify paying $450 for something that *might* make my music sound better.

i'm just looking for something entry level to play all genres of (not such high quality) music and DVD's.

 

i;ve done plenty of research, but the problem is I don't really know how to make sense of it all (ie, what all the specs mean). i've narrowed it down to the EF2a, and the Fiio e10 (soon to be released). any thoughts on which would be better for me??

 

also, i'll probably get a new pair of cans in a few months. any suggestions on a real COMFORTABLE pair (that stays comfortable after 2+ hours), that sounds real good for music and dvd?? in the $100-$140 range?

 

thanks for your help/advice!

post #4 of 16

As I mentioned in the other thread, the Hifiman EF2A is a very good entry-level amp that is detailed and transparent. It pairs well with Grados, and the SR225 definitely improves with amping. It improves with tube-rolling (I bought a matched pair of Raytheon tubes on eBay for $40, I'll let you know my impressions once they arrive and I've burned them in).

 

Don't want to beat the dead horse here deadhorse.gif but I thought I'd post in this thread for anyone else who might have the same questions.

post #5 of 16

For the specs, look for:

  • Low rated THD, though it's rarely if ever measured as worst case. You want to aim for 0.05% THD as worst case, so look for 0.01% rated or thereabouts to be safe
  • Low noise level (a high negative number, preferably -90dB or lower)
  • High SNR, preferably around or above the noise level
  • Output impedance less than 2 ohms. If it's not published and you can't find it elsewhere, ask here. If no one knows, don't buy the amp. Your headphones have low impedance, so this can be important.
  • Output power into various loads. Not too important for the headphones you have, but if the output impedance isn't published the output power will often come in handy to try to determine it. It may also be important in the future, when you buy new headphones, but it's really not at all as important as everyone thinks it is.

 

You're probably going to want to avoid the EF2A. It uses tubes in its input stage, and they're inherently high in THD (though it's a pretty good kind to THD). I don't think Hifiman publishes much in the way of specs, either. The ones they do publish aren't very promising. 95dB SNR isn't great but not bad. The drop from 6.2V at 150 ohms down to 3V at 32 ohms suggests that its output impedance is quite high.

 

The Fiio E7 is a quality product, and you might want to consider it alongside the E10. The same blog that showed how good the E7 is might review the E10 later in the year. You have time to wait, the Macbook's headphone jack is probably decent at the least and unless you're running out of volume there's no need to panic. I don't see why a new DAC or amp will be a significant upgrade for you.

post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Head Injury View Post

For the specs, look for:

  • Low rated THD, though it's rarely if ever measured as worst case. You want to aim for 0.05% THD as worst case, so look for 0.01% rated or thereabouts to be safe
  • Low noise level (a high negative number, preferably -90dB or lower)
  • High SNR, preferably around or above the noise level
  • Output impedance less than 2 ohms. If it's not published and you can't find it elsewhere, ask here. If no one knows, don't buy the amp. Your headphones have low impedance, so this can be important.
  • Output power into various loads. Not too important for the headphones you have, but if the output impedance isn't published the output power will often come in handy to try to determine it. It may also be important in the future, when you buy new headphones, but it's really not at all as important as everyone thinks it is.

 

You're probably going to want to avoid the EF2A. It uses tubes in its input stage, and they're inherently high in THD (though it's a pretty good kind to THD). I don't think Hifiman publishes much in the way of specs, either. The ones they do publish aren't very promising. 95dB SNR isn't great but not bad. The drop from 6.2V at 150 ohms down to 3V at 32 ohms suggests that its output impedance is quite high.

 

The Fiio E7 is a quality product, and you might want to consider it alongside the E10. The same blog that showed how good the E7 is might review the E10 later in the year. You have time to wait, the Macbook's headphone jack is probably decent at the least and unless you're running out of volume there's no need to panic. I don't see why a new DAC or amp will be a significant upgrade for you.


thanks for the info.

 

i bought and returned the Fiio e7, as I didn't notice any real sound improvement (other then the added base which was nice).

Other people suggested the EF2a, and said it paired well with my Grado 225's, and would make them sound better.

 

I was heavily leaning toward getting the EF2a until YOU entered with your opinion :)

Why don't you think the EF2a would be good for me. Would a new set of cans serve me better for $150? (if so, what ya recommend?)

 

post #7 of 16

The EF2a has several issues that I do not like.  It is tubed which means there are perishable parts in there.  Some people mention that you can "tube roll" to find the sound you like, but finding a solid state amp that sounds the way you want it to will simply be easier and cheaper plus there are not parts to replace in a solid state amp.  If I remember correctly the EF2a has a tube on the input stage that is hard wired into the board making it very hard to fix / replace.

 

As I mentioned before and as Head Injury stated I do not think you are going to see any major improvement in the $150 range be it headphones or Amp/DAC.  I mean you could purchase the EF2a or Bithead and hear about a 5% increase in quality/quantity in audio with your current headphones.  You already mentioned that you tried the Fii0 E7 and returned it hinting that you have a glimpse into just how much improvement you are going to get.  Not to say there is not an amp out there that will give you slightly better performance with your current equipment, but it is certainly going to be marginal.  I am making the suggestion to wait and save up because I know from experience and thousands of dollars of upgrades and headphones that your biggest jump in noticeable improvement is going to be both with a great amp and a much better pair of cans.  I mention this because I have done the jump from the Grado 60/80/225/RS-1 and just feel that Grados do not give the best bang for buck as far as upgrading goes.  I, like you, went from unamped to a Bithead, and finally rested on an m903.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that using a pair of AH-D2000's or DT990's through an m903 is an amazing experience.  Of course I am not recommending you spend thousands of dollars, but being patient with audio equipment will reward you with the best experience possible.

 

If you buy a headphone amp now say a Bithead you will notice about a 5%-10% increase in quality/quantity with your current setup.  It is not going to be a ridiculous change and there is no guarantee you will hear the change as being better.  The $150 range is a really tough area to improve upon when you already have the Grado 225.  They are already a nice sounding can, too bright for me, that can be improved upon via an amp.  Another headphone in this range will simply change the signature of the audio you hear and not necessarily improve upon it.

 

I guess in the end I am saying that you should try several things if you can.  If you have to purchase one amp at a time and return it if you do not like it and then do the same with headphones you will probably maximize you price for performance.

 

Perhaps you could describe what you do not like with your current setup?  Are the Grados too bright and harsh?  Are they too uncomfortable?  Are you missing the deep impactful bass?  Is the soundstage too small and does most of your music sound bland with your current gear?  These are all reasons I upgrade.  I typically test great sounding equipment and try to mimic that sound with my budget.  This way I always receive not only improvement, but something that satisfied my musical tastes.

 

Here is what you can do.

 

1.)  Purchase a Bithead from Headroom so you will have their 90-day return policy.  If you end up hating it you can get a refund.

2.)  Purchase a pair of KRK KNS 8400's from Headroom for the same reason.  The KNS 8400 will have a completely different sound signature so your ears will be presented with something totally new and unlike what you currently have.  This way you will certainly hear something different and you can decide if you like it or not.

3.)  If you do not like the KNS 8400's try the ATH-AD700's from Audio Technica.  They are an open can that are wonderfully detailed, have a very wide soundstage, and amazingly comfortable.


Edited by NA Blur - 10/7/11 at 10:28am
post #8 of 16

I agree, the drastic differences will come at about 300 dollars, unless you had a really bad source before.

post #9 of 16
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

The EF2a has several issues that I do not like.  It is tubed which means there are perishable parts in there.  Some people mention that you can "tube roll" to find the sound you like, but finding a solid state amp that sounds the way you want it to will simply be easier and cheaper plus there are not parts to replace in a solid state amp.  If I remember correctly the EF2a has a tube on the input stage that is hard wired into the board making it very hard to fix / replace.

 

As I mentioned before and as Head Injury stated I do not think you are going to see any major improvement in the $150 range be it headphones or Amp/DAC.  I mean you could purchase the EF2a or Bithead and hear about a 5% increase in quality/quantity in audio with your current headphones.  You already mentioned that you tried the Fii0 E7 and returned it hinting that you have a glimpse into just how much improvement you are going to get.  Not to say there is not an amp out there that will give you slightly better performance with your current equipment, but it is certainly going to be marginal.  I am making the suggestion to wait and save up because I know from experience and thousands of dollars of upgrades and headphones that your biggest jump in noticeable improvement is going to be both with a great amp and a much better pair of cans.  I mention this because I have done the jump from the Grado 60/80/225/RS-1 and just feel that Grados do not give the best bang for buck as far as upgrading goes.  I, like you, went from unamped to a Bithead, and finally rested on an m903.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that using a pair of AH-D2000's or DT990's through an m903 is an amazing experience.  Of course I am not recommending you spend thousands of dollars, but being patient with audio equipment will reward you with the best experience possible.

 

If you buy a headphone amp now say a Bithead you will notice about a 5%-10% increase in quality/quantity with your current setup.  It is not going to be a ridiculous change and there is no guarantee you will hear the change as being better.  The $150 range is a really tough area to improve upon when you already have the Grado 225.  They are already a nice sounding can, too bright for me, that can be improved upon via an amp.  Another headphone in this range will simply change the signature of the audio you hear and not necessarily improve upon it.

 

I guess in the end I am saying that you should try several things if you can.  If you have to purchase one amp at a time and return it if you do not like it and then do the same with headphones you will probably maximize you price for performance.

 

Perhaps you could describe what you do not like with your current setup?  Are the Grados too bright and harsh?  Are they too uncomfortable?  Are you missing the deep impactful bass?  Is the soundstage too small and does most of your music sound bland with your current gear?  These are all reasons I upgrade.  I typically test great sounding equipment and try to mimic that sound with my budget.  This way I always receive not only improvement, but something that satisfied my musical tastes.

 

Here is what you can do.

 

1.)  Purchase a Bithead from Headroom so you will have their 90-day return policy.  If you end up hating it you can get a refund.

2.)  Purchase a pair of KRK KNS 8400's from Headroom for the same reason.  The KNS 8400 will have a completely different sound signature so your ears will be presented with something totally new and unlike what you currently have.  This way you will certainly hear something different and you can decide if you like it or not.

3.)  If you do not like the KNS 8400's try the ATH-AD700's from Audio Technica.  They are an open can that are wonderfully detailed, have a very wide soundstage, and amazingly comfortable.


NA Blur, thanks for taking the time to write all that. You've realllllly helped me out.

 

With my setup, if a 5%-10% increase is all that I might notice with a $150 AMP/DAC, I will definitely pass on that option. The Fiio e7 did litle for me, and I understand that any big difference in sound quality will only come from a more pricey investment. I'll pass on the AMP/DAC and get another set of cans.

 

While the Grado's sound amazing to me (the best set of phones I've had before them were the ATH M30's), they become uncomfortable on my ears after an hour or so. I sometimes keep them on for 2-3 hours in a row. So a new pair that is ULTRA comfortable, that has better base (has a little more "thump" and deepness), can be used for all genres of music (including watching DVD's) are ideal.

 

1) i really like the ATH-AD700, but amazon reviews state that they are made for really big heads, and that they are otherwise uncomfortable. I'd go with these if they are super comfy.

2) the KNS 8400 look pretty good, but i've read that open cans sound "better".

3) i've also looked at Shure SRH 840's, Beyerdynamic DT 770-pro, Sennheiser HD555's, Audio-Technica ATH M50S's, and the Sony MDR 7506's.

 

I don't really have any place to go to test all these out. I simply read Amazon reviews and take my chances. Based on what I'm looking for, which would you recommend?

post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 

ps: it would be great if these "perfect" cans that i'm searching for would allow me to keep my glasses on while i wear them.

post #11 of 16

The ATH-AD700's fit me just fine and I have a smallish noggin.  They are just about the most comfortable can I have ever listened to.  I think only my SBC HP910's feel more comfy.  The AD700 is not the most bassy of cans, but it will surely be a huge relief for your poor ears and still sound quite good.  You could do what I did and sell your 225's and be able to afford you next pair of phones.  In fact, if you already have a $150 budget, add in $130 for your 225's being sold, then you are dangerously close to say the D2000 or DT990 ( 25 Ohm Level ).  At that level you receive and incredible sounding can.

 

If you really do not want to spend more than the $280 I would go with a pair of Sennheiser HD598's.  They are open, have good bass response, and are a definite improvement for you.  They are super comfortable to boot.

 

Like I said you can buy each can from Headroom, one at a time, and return those you do not like.  This way you will end up with the one you like the most at no extra cost to you.

post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

The ATH-AD700's fit me just fine and I have a smallish noggin.  They are just about the most comfortable can I have ever listened to.  I think only my SBC HP910's feel more comfy.  The AD700 is not the most bassy of cans, but it will surely be a huge relief for your poor ears and still sound quite good.  You could do what I did and sell your 225's and be able to afford you next pair of phones.  In fact, if you already have a $150 budget, add in $130 for your 225's being sold, then you are dangerously close to say the D2000 or DT990 ( 25 Ohm Level ).  At that level you receive and incredible sounding can.

 

If you really do not want to spend more than the $280 I would go with a pair of Sennheiser HD598's.  They are open, have good bass response, and are a definite improvement for you.  They are super comfortable to boot.

 

Like I said you can buy each can from Headroom, one at a time, and return those you do not like.  This way you will end up with the one you like the most at no extra cost to you.




 It would be so hard to sell a pair of Grados frown.gif But if you could go that long without headphones, I would work up to the Denons (D2000s), and after that work up for some J-money pads. Then get an amp. It would take a while but be SO worth it.

post #13 of 16
Thread Starter 

Though I'm still open to changing my mind, I've decided on the Beyerdynamic DT 770-PRO (80 Ohm).

There is also a 32 Ohm version -- Which would be better for Macbook listening without an amp (i'll also use these to listen to vinyl through a receiver)?

 

For this pair, my priorities are comfort (for extended listening, 2-6 consecutive hours), deep bass, and overall great sound quality across all genres.

Other recommendations here are the DT 990 (32 Ohm), and the Denon AH D2000.

Are these two going to be such a considerable upgrade that I should wait a few months for either of those, or will the DT 770-Pro's be great?

 

 


Edited by Bee inthe Attic - 10/8/11 at 1:26pm
post #14 of 16

Yes, they will. At least the DT990. Know nothing about the Denons. 

post #15 of 16

Either one will be an upgrade for sure whether your gear drives them well enough to really hear a HUGE difference is dependant on of course...your gear.  The D2000's are one of those headphones that have been on Headroom's Top 10 list for years.  I think you will like the DT770 ( 32 Ohm ) the 80 Ohm version will work fine with your gear, but why chance it.  Get the 32 Ohm version and you will be set unless you have a convincing argument why the 80 Ohm version is better.

 

If you are going to be able to save up for a few months and you really want to go open vs closed the DT990 ( 32 Ohm ) will be a very nice upgrade.  Patience always pays off when it comes to just about anything and audio gear is no exception.

 

Both the DT990, DT770, and D2000 are incredibly comfortable headphones and when you try them on and give them a listen you will probably say "why have I not done this earlier?"  I have no doubts on the comfort improvement.  Just be sure to make a good long term decision.  The DT990 and D2000 are going to be your best improvement headphones in the long run, but we can only take the horse to water.  You are going to be the one drinking from the water.

 

So put your hands in your pockets for a few months and decide what type of sound you like:

1.)  Do you want an incredibly smooth, warm, and closed headphone?  It will also have nice bass and very clear mids to highs.  If so, then go with the D2000.

2.)  Do you want an incredibly clear sounding from bass to highs headphone?  It will also respond really well to amping eliminating the need to upgrade for months possibly years.  It is also an open can giving you that super tight bass response.  If so, go with the DT990 ( 32 Ohm )

 

You really cannot go wrong between those two.  I bet you will like either.

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