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HT Receiver better than DAC?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Just to try something out, I took my Denon AH-D5000's to the living room to watch Breaking Bad on tv. I plugged the headphones into my roommate's Onkyo TX-SR606 and was pretty surprised at how great everything sounded.

 

I normally use an Audioengine D1 to drive my headphones, but the Onkyo (oddly enough) sounds much better. There is so much more dynamic range compared to the D1, that I actually had that movie theatre feeling. I could hear very crisp and crunchy sounds like glasses bumping each other, people's voices had really organic and detailed timbre and the soundstage, if there is such a thing in headphones, was much more open.

 

I don't usually like to use descriptors like "much better, miles apart" etc. when describing audio, because things are subtle to begin with in the audio world - but the difference really was that dramatic.

 

Is there any reason why a $175 (probably went for $300-400 something back in '08) home theatre receiver would sound so much better than my D1? This has me wondering if I should just hook up a home theatre receiver to my imac instead of the D1...

post #2 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by whereas View Post

Just to try something out, I took my Denon AH-D5000's to the living room to watch Breaking Bad on tv. I plugged the headphones into my roommate's Onkyo TX-SR606 and was pretty surprised at how great everything sounded.

 

I normally use an Audioengine D1 to drive my headphones, but the Onkyo (oddly enough) sounds much better. There is so much more dynamic range compared to the D1, that I actually had that movie theatre feeling. I could hear very crisp and crunchy sounds like glasses bumping each other, people's voices had really organic and detailed timbre and the soundstage, if there is such a thing in headphones, was much more open.

 

I don't usually like to use descriptors like "much better, miles apart" etc. when describing audio, because things are subtle to begin with in the audio world - but the difference really was that dramatic.

 

Is there any reason why a $175 (probably went for $300-400 something back in '08) home theatre receiver would sound so much better than my D1? This has me wondering if I should just hook up a home theatre receiver to my imac instead of the D1...

Receivers use their "speaker" amplifier to drive the headphone jack, so lots of juice.

but the AH-D5000 is only 25-Ohms, so needs very little voltage.

 

Maybe the receiver puts out more current then the Audioengine D1?

 

So yea, hook your iMac up to the Onkyo, try using S/PDIF Toslink optical connection first, maybe also test an analog RCA cable connection, but I'm guessing optical is going to be better.

post #3 of 8
Most receivers will, as PurpleAngel explained, use their amplifiers to drive through some resistors to power headphones. Some models use opamps though. My guess is that your device fits into the former category, in which case it will likely surpass all but the most insane dedicated headphone amplifier devices. Out of the ~$500 that went into the SRP of that Onkyo, maybe $10 of that was profit. Compared to most headphone amplifiers that break 95% profit. It's not hard to figure out that when you spend the money on better components, put a legitimate R&D department behind them (and Onkyo is the biggest in the game, and one of the best), and so on, you get a better device. cool.gif

Regarding the equipment to connect to your setup, if you aren't doing surround sound or otherwise don't need those features, I'd go with a stereo receiver - less "junk" in the box that you don't need, and an even more robust amplifier (although the higher up Onkyos do have fairly robust amplifiers). HK should still make the 3490, which would be worth a look. There's also the old stand-by, the RX-797 from Yamaha (R-S700 is identical, but newer). Or whatever old/vintage thing you can dig up from the bowels of eBay/Craigslist/etc that may be even more substantial. smily_headphones1.gif
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the great advice (and for not calling me crazy to have suggested that a HT receiver sounds better than a dedicated DAC/headphone amp).

 

Would it make sense to use my D1 as the DAC and then just use either an HK or another Onkyo as a headphone amp? Would be overkill, sure, but if the sound is there and it's physically possible...?

 

Also, if such receivers sound this much better than headphone amps, I have to ask a natural question: why do people buy headphone amps? Is it just the culture and novelty of it, the smaller formfactor...?

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

Thanks for the great advice (and for not calling me crazy to have suggested that a HT receiver sounds better than a dedicated DAC/headphone amp).

No problem.
Quote:
Would it make sense to use my D1 as the DAC and then just use either an HK or another Onkyo as a headphone amp? Would be overkill, sure, but if the sound is there and it's physically possible...?

It might, it might not. Depends on what the receiver can do. For example, the RX-797 doesn't take digital in, so if your option for DtoA is the D1, then I guess that's your answer. But in the case of something like the HK3490, which does take S/PDIF in, it's more up to your preference for having equipment sitting around, complexity, etc. You could argue that one sounds better than the other, and I'm not disinclined to buy that, but IME differences between DtoA converters (especially that are very similar) are extremely small - I "hear" a difference between my NOS, dual mono, etc CPD (from 1987) versus my very modern Blu-ray player, but it's nothing that makes one better than other, just very slightly different. I like the CDP because I restored it and it looks cool. But if I didn't have the space on the shelf, the Blu-ray player makes more sense because it can do more than just play CDs, and it has a remote. Those kinds of considerations.
Quote:
Also, if such receivers sound this much better than headphone amps, I have to ask a natural question: why do people buy headphone amps? Is it just the culture and novelty of it, the smaller formfactor...?

There's a historic advertising movement (We're talking back to the late 1990s) pushing that "the headphone jacks on hi-fi equipment are an afterthought and unsuitable for driving headphones" that contributed originally to the hype. But at that time, an expensive headphone amplifier was around $200 (and still a horrible value), and they'd usually be competing with receivers that cost $500-$1000 or better. So in a sick way, it was a better value for plugging in a pair of HD 580s or something. However with the rise of the "computer audiophile" things like form factor and so on are becoming relevant to consider, and there's plenty of those people who have absolutely no clue about "full-size" hi-fi equipment, and are scared off by it.

I'm not saying ALL full-size equipment is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but generally speaking, it's a cut above. For example the CDP I mentioned - it has a variable headphone out, and it's just as good as any dedicated amp I've played around with. But nobody builds CDPs anymore, let alone with that feature. You also can't lug that machine around with your laptop. There are some practical considerations, but for the most part, I think it's the result of some aggressive marketing in the 1990s that created a new "accessories" segment that has taken off.

And it's not even that all dedicated amps are "bad" - they just usually represent a godawful value (most of them are only a few bucks of parts and some of them can push up on a grand for that...it's like the worst possible price-to-performance equation ever), and you usually get better consistency with hi-fi stuff (because when Yamaha or Onkyo or Sony go through an design a product and it's manufacturing process, they figure out a way to build five million of them that are identical from start to finish, versus some guy putting things together in his garage on the weekends (not to disparage those guys, but it's like the difference between weekend hobbyist car modders and Williams or Ford SVT)).


My first suggestion would be to look for used gear, unless cost is no object, in which case I'd look at a stereo device (again, more robust amps and less crap you won't use (and with modern AVRs vs stereo components, this means it will use less power and get less hot)).
post #6 of 8

While I agree with Obob, for a lot of us it also has to do with the requirements. I'm up for a hi-fi, but I don't have the need for it, nor the space, I only use my headphones. So most of the extra features won't really be used.

I still remember I used to listen to a Panasonic Hi-Fi (this is about 15 years ago) back at my parents place. CDs weren't that popular, we all used to have cassettes.

 I don't remember the sound much (obviously, tapes have their own characteristic sound), but the soundstage was amazing, even with mediocre headphones. I never really got the same experience using my PC until i got a DAC + Amp. And the Hi-Fi wasn't really expensive either, definitely cheaper than what I have now.

So for your money's worth, a receiver is still better value.

 

I'll say the dedicated DAC + Amp kinda gels in with the whole iPod/Portable Computing movement, and 80% of the headphone amps come from the lowest 20% of the price range, i.e. upto $250.


Edited by proton007 - 8/6/12 at 8:46pm
post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by whereas View Post

Would it make sense to use my D1 as the DAC and then just use either an HK or another Onkyo as a headphone amp? Would be overkill, sure, but if the sound is there and it's physically possible...?

 

Also, if such receivers sound this much better than headphone amps, I have to ask a natural question: why do people buy headphone amps? Is it just the culture and novelty of it, the smaller formfactor...?

 

As a basic response to the first question, "it depends." If you have a speaker system, well and good, get a powerful integrated amp/receiver with a good headphone amp.

As for the second, the form factor for me is the primary selling point. I sold my speakers out of frustration that my car's audio processor works out time alignment kinks well enough to make it sound a hell of a lot better than my home audio set-up, but kept the amp for headphones - until I needed space for a laser printer (then). Here's my current set-up and it occupies less space than my old CDP and amplifier, and this headphone amp drives my headphones better.

 

 700

 

But even if my integrated amp used to drive headphones well enough, most dedicated headphone amps drive headphones a lot better than these. Why? Because speaker amps are primarily designed to drive nominal 8ohm loads, and resistors are still not enough to even just compensate completely for the wide variety of headphone and IEM impedance ranges (they are usually designed for 120ohms - one reason why many brands used to use this, and the K601 is still at that impedance). Even headphone amps aren't typically as great with a 16ohm IEM as they are with a 600ohm headphone, for example.

 

With that in mind, consider your own needs - are your speakers your primary listening transducers with the headphones for "polite/considerate night listening," or the headphones primarily and then the speakers occasionally (room-fill for company, or ambiance/non-critical listening, HT, etc)? If it's the first, I'd definitely say get an integrated amp or receiver that works best with the speakers and headphones you want/have. If it's the latter, or you want them both to perform at their best (or have the confidence that they are nearer to that), try a DAC-amplifier powerful enough to drive your headphones, but has a fixed line ouput from the DAC or a preamp output to feed either an integrated amp or poweramp, respectively, even if it's "just" an affordable T-amp. Best of both worlds,

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post

 

As a basic response to the first question, "it depends." If you have a speaker system, well and good, get a powerful integrated amp/receiver with a good headphone amp.

As for the second, the form factor for me is the primary selling point. I sold my speakers out of frustration that my car's audio processor works out time alignment kinks well enough to make it sound a hell of a lot better than my home audio set-up, but kept the amp for headphones - until I needed space for a laser printer (then). Here's my current set-up and it occupies less space than my old CDP and amplifier, and this headphone amp drives my headphones better.

 

 700

 

But even if my integrated amp used to drive headphones well enough, most dedicated headphone amps drive headphones a lot better than these. Why? Because speaker amps are primarily designed to drive nominal 8ohm loads, and resistors are still not enough to even just compensate completely for the wide variety of headphone and IEM impedance ranges (they are usually designed for 120ohms - one reason why many brands used to use this, and the K601 is still at that impedance). Even headphone amps aren't typically as great with a 16ohm IEM as they are with a 600ohm headphone, for example.

 

With that in mind, consider your own needs - are your speakers your primary listening transducers with the headphones for "polite/considerate night listening," or the headphones primarily and then the speakers occasionally (room-fill for company, or ambiance/non-critical listening, HT, etc)? If it's the first, I'd definitely say get an integrated amp or receiver that works best with the speakers and headphones you want/have. If it's the latter, or you want them both to perform at their best (or have the confidence that they are nearer to that), try a DAC-amplifier powerful enough to drive your headphones, but has a fixed line ouput from the DAC or a preamp output to feed either an integrated amp or poweramp, respectively, even if it's "just" an affordable T-amp. Best of both worlds,

Thanks for all the great advice guys. It seems like I could get a used Onkyo for about $150 or so on ebay and it would basically be the equivalent of a high-end DAC/Amp. That's how good my roommate's receiver sounded. So it seems like a no-brainer to me.

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