Originally Posted by Madmollusk
Sometimes, my friend, little differences (objectively speaking), can drastically change our perceptions (subjectively speaking) of sound. For example: anyone and everyone here would hear a dramatic difference even in blind conditions when comparing the he400 driven through my Barnes and Noble Nook tablet and then through my Zune hd. Even my father, who uses a hearing aid, could tell the difference, and let me quote him regarding that difference: "It ain't subtle, son."
I believe you Madmollusk - if we are talking about the difference between a Zune, a Clip+, and a $1000 amp/DAC combo. I know my cell phone isn't that good, I know my clip is better, I know I prefer the computer/amp combo for the power hungry HE-400s to a nook tablet (and would every time). But it is a dispassionate combination. Your subjective experience of each would very likely change under blind conditions also - rendering slight changes in hardware much less important than they seem. Case in point: I had to concede that the 400s sounded way better to me on a sh**ty clip than my very fancy cell phone! It was funny. Then again, why the hell would you invest in awesome headphones and not make sure you had a decent source?
Story: A guy at an audio shop was baffled that I wouldn't buy a JL Amp over an Alpine Class D because "class D is noisy" and "Alpine has no bass". But knowledge is power - the Alpine is under-rated, it is very efficient (and small), with very very low noise. From a technical standpoint, it was a good match for the speakers I wanted to power. The JL, at twice the price, would not come even close to being twice the sound (even though sure, I'd buy it if I could afford it). This is mainly because it put out approximately the same wattage.
The real problem between a lot of amps / equipment is the difference between RATED specs and ACTUAL. Too many companies B.S. their way past consumers, hence the notion that "JL's 300 watt" amp sounds amazing compared to "U.S. Acoustics junk". No, the real problem is that the JL is underrated at makes about 400 watts rms (easily driving your sub without distortion), while the U.S. acoustics does 300 watts MAX and provides 150 watts RMS, just barely meeting your speaker's requirement. But a watt is a watt and 99% of the time, you would NOT know the difference between a JL watt and a U.S. acoustic watt. Yet we stick to the "good brands" because we are assured of a more consistent quality experience. Also, I love my Kenwood deck, but despise its high impedance RCA pre-outs. It has been very hard to find the right gain settings to avoid noise / maximize volume. Today's AUX and USB outputs, offering subtle differences in source / amp matching add another layer of complication I find annoying.
Anyway, I am picking on you for your apparent dissatisfaction with a good piece of equipment (the O2) - I do not believe that it can add, nor take away from your subjective experience of a great pair of headphones. That is only something you can do. Technically, the O2 is nothing but a half-to-maybe-3/4 watt amplifier with good signal to noise. Technically, your "inferior" devices are either not music first, or not optimized for awesome planars. That they don't work as well as "dedicated" amps like the O2 is absolutely NO surprise to me. Yet I would not claim that the O2 was more / less clinical than my less powerful laptop amp was. All I concede is that, yes, the extra power seems to be appreciated by the headphones (in similar manner that I can "hear" the difference between my car subwoofer powered by 100 watts RMS and 200 watts RMS - provided the sub can handle it). I always seek to have enough power to achieve X-max, as that is the best you can really do.
I am quickly learning that, in the headphone world, one is subject to the same problems as every other audio space - too little ACTUAL ratings for equipment, and too much B.S. and market positioning. Considering the massive expense on some stuff, its ludicrous. Even the O2 exceeds the price of many-a-great car amplifier, which I find annoying.
Anyway, once more: Assuming a double blind test between relatively comparable pieces of audio equipment, you will likely fail to love the most expensive, and possibly even the technically "superior" equipment. I would put my sansa up against an iPhone any day. It would be fascinating to see the results. I would also put the O2 up against a $1500 dollar Harman-Kardon receiver. I am just trying to relieve you, brutha - if you aren't satisfied, don't blame the least-likely-to-affect-SQ equipment first (AMP DAC). You are smart enough to know you've selected the right equipment for your phones. Get pissed at the recording or the speakers first!
Edited by MrMateoHead - 11/7/12 at 9:11am