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What is your chain?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 

For the headphone enthusiasts/users the chain has four components: source, cable, amplifier and headphones.


It is known that the whole chain is as good as the weakest link.


So, what is your chain? What components do you use and what do you think it's the most important link?

post #2 of 20
Mac Mini media server > optical > Yamaha AV Receiver > custom studio monitors / JBL towers / Klipsch bookshelves / Sunfire top of the line sub (5:1)

The part of the chain that makes my system sound as good as it does is the quality of the recordings I play and the speakers. The middle just has to do its job.
post #3 of 20
JoLida JD100 CDP, Kimber Tonic interconnects, Stax SRM-007tII hot rodded by Spritzer, and Stax SR-007mk2 SZ3. I also find the music matters more than any of this, and the cable matters not at all, unless it is some colored expensive brand. That makes things worse.

Speaker rig, since Bigshot mentioned it, is the same CDP, similar cable, First Watt B-1 buffer preamp, First Watt F2JFET power amp, magnet wire and Hammer Dynamics Super 12s with no network, straight in.
Edited by Clarkmc2 - 9/22/12 at 8:50am
post #4 of 20

X-fi xtreme music digital coax out -> Schiit Bifrost -> Mapletree Ear Purist HD+ with NOS preamp tubes -> Vintage Grado RS-1


I say the source is the most important part.  Junk In - > Junk Out

post #5 of 20

Xonar Essence STX > Schiit Asgard > HE-400

Asgard and STX are connected via RCA to RCA for music, or Headphone out to RCA for games due to Asus's stupid control panel.

post #6 of 20

Sony BDP-S485 -> $1 RCA -> Govibe Peak -> Stock Cable T70 (250 Ohm)


Does it look like the $1 RCA is the missing link? LOL.


I believe as much in source and headphones as the greater factor in sound quality. Same as the others, the rest are merely there to fulfill their specific roles. As long as they are decent, they're good to go.


Oh ya, environment too. Bad, noisy surrounding and also physical condition do affect perceived sound quality.

post #7 of 20

MacBook Pro (ALAC and 320K mp3 via Fidelia/AHP/Redline) 96khz -> optical -> yulong d100 (Dac) -> Bottlehead Crack (with good tubes) -> Sennheiser HD600/Beyer DT880/600


recording/source and headphones are the biggest contributors to overall sound quality. There is no particularly weak link.  

post #8 of 20

ipod -> headphones 99% of time


otherwise, it is macbook pro -> emu 0404 ->  headphones or onkyo stereo receiver

Edited by Eisenhower - 10/12/12 at 11:46pm
post #9 of 20

Titanium HD/Xbox360 > UMC-1 > UPA-500/RS621's + NU3000DSP/custom subwoofer. Currently building some Eton S7's to replace the RS621's as well. Then I hope to move up to 5.1/7.1 at some point. 


I'm using Monoprice or other equivalent cables. I splurged a little and spent $10 on a 3' Hosa XLR cable, as the cheaper ones had some reviews of hiss or other problems with poor build quality. redface.gif

Edited by Rebel975 - 10/13/12 at 12:16pm
post #10 of 20

Foobar 2000 running on Windows 7 playing compressed mp3 ( 256kbps to 160 kbps ).  This goes into a Grace Design m903 via USB cable and USB 2.0 port ( added bandwidth ).  I have both single ended ( Kimber PBJ ) and some cheap Seismic Audio balanced TRS to XLR interconnects.  I have not had good luck with cheap RCA cables so I went with something a little better built.  As for the balanced interconnects I have had much better luck with them and I really have not heard much difference between cheap and more expensive ones.  The DAC then feeds a Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp ( Headroom ).  The amp powers either a single ended Denon AH-D2000 or JH Audio 10 x3 Pro depending on what I am listening to and what mode I am in.


I never upgrade a component unless I test it directly against something else.  This goes for audio compression all the way up to the amp.  I figure if I improve each piece then in the end I will have something even better sounding than what I had in the beginning.


The biggest improvements in sound quality for me go in this order:


1.)  Music and how it is mastered

2.)  Headphone

3.)  DAC

4.)  Amp


I always like to quote this about DAC units:

"Now, here's the exception to our rule about sources being so critical: when constructing a front-end for your stereo system, it is much less important where the digital signal is coming from when a very high-quality DAC is used. We've even found, in fact, that sometimes very expensive CD transports sound only slightly better than the digital output of inexpensive CD players or USB audio outputs from computers when using a good DAC. So, keep that in mind when putting together your rig!"





The headphone and DAC are interchangeable if you do a lot of PC listening because the audio on most PC soundcards is just plain horrid.  In the end a good amp should be something that controls the drivers well on a given headphone and be extremely quiet as well as having a low output impedance.  I did notice a benefit going from single ended to balanced between the DAC and the amp.  I hear tighter control of the bass and a larger soundstage.  I thought my original setup sounded good, but now the AH-D2000 is even more tame.


My limits are my headphones being closes.  I really like the sound of the latest LCD-3 headphones which are open, but they are just monstrously heavy and clunky.  I had the opportunity to listen to a bunch of E-stat gear a while ago and the STAX 009 headphone paired with the Blue Hawaii SE is the best setup I have heard to date, but at that cost I could custom design my own gear.


My only advice is to stick with what sounds good to you and always do comparisons when possible so you always know you are improving and not just guessing.

Edited by NA Blur - 1/22/13 at 12:01pm
post #11 of 20

Macbook Pro serves as a multi-media + www. "transport" via its toslink optical out .  various data streams from DVD movies, to lossy youtube & itunes radio to CDs copied over to FLAC.  Also good for Hulu movies.  The only thing I dont play on the macbook are audio CDs.


Panasonic DVD carousel is my other "transport" for playing original CDs.  I just load up 5 disks and let it play into the evening.  I am old fashioned in this sense, I like my music on a piece of "something" I can hold in my hand... shrug.


DAC is an Entech number cruncher.  Analog stage modded with an OPA 2107, my favorite OP amp.  Not the cleanest DAC, but warm & groovy, anti-analytical if you will.  I know there are better DACs out there but I have a hard time letting it go.... shrug #2


From there the signal is split into 3 different amps... Larocco-PPA discrete buffer / OPA627, Earmax OTL, millet hybrid.  3 distinctly different sounding amps.  I turn them all on and plug-unplug into whichever sounds the best for my mood at the moment.


Cans are K701 (bass-shy era), RS1, HF1, Koss A250.  I also have an HD580 and K240s-55 that I seldomly listen to.


Assuming "some degree" and some attention to fidelity by the musician/engineer... the headphones are the most significant factor.  but as others have said they can't make up for a bad recording.

post #12 of 20

Home Office

PC----USB cable---------Fire Phoenix DAC-02/Tianyun Zero (DAC/Headphone Amps)------------Beyer DT880-250 ohms,  Senn HD580s, 

Laptop/Marantz CD Changer-------Optical-----Anonymous eBay HK DAC-------Mister X M^3 headphone amp--------ATH AD700, ATH A500



PC----USB cable---------Fire Phoenix DAC-02 ------Rotel RA930AX-----------Wharfedale Delta 70 speakers 

PC----USB cable---------Fire Phoenix DAC-02 -------Senn HD535 



Home Media room 

Rotel CD Changer/DVD/Blu ray/Cable---------Zero (a different one) ----------Rotel RA970BX-------------Kef Coda 9



Recording----------transducers---------------ROOM (speakers) : I recently moved office and the Delta 70s went from pretty decent to rather boomy but I have limited options for placement now frown.gif


the biggest difference I've found between amps is noise - my M^3 fed by an Elpac 24V supply is quite noisy as (to a lesser extent) are the HP sockets on the Rotels - my cheapo Zero/Fire Phoenix by comparison are silent - shrug




DAC is an Entech number cruncher.  Analog stage modded with an OPA 2107, my favorite OP amp.  Not the cleanest DAC, but warm & groovy, anti-analytical if you will.   


I also have an old Entech (I only stopped using it as it started flaking out (opt/coax) switch cannot decide which state it is in) but mine






measures as flat as a pancake and has noise/distortion almost certainly below audible limits. Viz mine is  neutral, yours must be broken wink.gif

Edited by nick_charles - 1/22/13 at 12:34pm
post #13 of 20

I have more than one chain. 6 or 7, and probably more.


I have 2 PCs that I listen to, and a couple of laptops that I don't listen to any more, 'cause I don't go to work any more. I have an M-audio 2496 and a Behringer UCA-202 USB codec. I have a couple of DAPs (Sony) and a phone, sometimes I feed them through an amp. I have at least 4 different headphone amps that get use, 1 tube, 1 LME49600, 1 TPA6120, and 1 with 16*NE5532s (8 P/C), all of which I designed and built (actually I have multiple copies of the SS amps, because of development prototyping). And some cmoys. And some in the pipeline. 


4 principal sets of phones, 1 entry-level Behringer studio, 1 Koss K/20, 1 Shure E2c, 1 Klipsch Image S4 and about half-a-dozen other in-ear sets collected over the years, mostly used for testing new builds. 


Then I have some TVs with USB ports, some on the TV itself, one on the digital terrestrial box/DVD recorder, that I have full of MP3s. I'm looking at an Android stick to stream the MP3s from the NAS. There are 2 wired Ethernet channels in every room and a WAP. 


There are 3 satellite receivers, a standalone S/PDIF ebay kit DAC that I move around but mostly don't use, a BluRay player, a 5.1 DVD receiver with its own speakers and a couple of DVD players.


3 sets of stereo speakers, 1 Wharfedale (Dalesman, 50-year-old. A good sound but a bit gramophone-like), 1 Celestion (Ditton 15), and 1 homebuilt with Audio Nirvana 'Super 8's.


3 speaker amplifiers in use, 1 Cambridge Audio, 1 Sonic Impact T-amp, an ebay T-amp and a Rogers Ravensbrook that I can't find.


A Fostex 8-track 44k1 HD digital recorder and a Behringer 4-channel mixer, 2 studio condenser mics (one Samson USB), a few dynamic mics, some DI boxes, acoustic and electric guitars, Yamaha keyboard w/MIDI, Cubase, some tube and SS instrument amps. So you can select these into the Cambridge Amp.


I regard the sources and amps as more-or-less interchangeable, the only thing that makes much difference is the speakers or phones. I like the Audio Nirvana FRs best, they have good imaging. The T-amps are a bit quiet to drive the Dalesmans. If you took everything away except 1 complete system, I'd still be OK with that. Except maybe the Behringer studio phones, which are a bit.... dull and heavy. The IEMs are good for critical listening, but mostly I wear the old Koss over-ears.


I've got a Mordant-Short sub I'm fixing.


I'm 62. I started guitar @ ~15. I can still hear 15k one ear and 16k the other.


What am I going to buy next? A Sansa Clip+ and some Porta-pros. And some components.



post #14 of 20
STX->Beyer DT880 (600ohm)/Grado SR80... STX->RCA->LittleDotMKIV->DT880s... STX or Mac Pro->Optical->Denon AVR-591->Pioneer SP-C21, 2xSP-FS51, and 2xSP-BS41 speakers + HSU VTF-1 MK II subwoofer
It's a very modest, budget-oriented setup, but it delivers great sound and a wallop of emotion every single time I use it. I got into the headphone aspect of the hobby recently, and was surprised how much depth, value, and variety it offered. I feel that I am blessed to have access to such listening experiences on a daily basis.      
post #15 of 20

I keep thinking of that Fleetwood Mac song on the Rumours album :)


Almost all of my audio stuff is in my study which doubles up as my listening room. I live in a very expensive part of the south of England so I have a very small house, it is the only way I could afford to live here.


I have very little electronic gear in my living room. In fact there is just a single Internet radio there, a rather excellent Roberts WM201 in fact. Having a living room without a TV and speakers etc. is lovely imho. There is something very relaxing and pleasant about it. It is great having people over as the living room lends itself to such good conversation.


Ah yes, the chain. Well the simplest chain is that I can take my MacBook Pro into the living room and plug it into the aux input of my Roberts WM201 Internet radio. Then I can listen to music from that. This is what I do if I am reading and I want background music rather than just silence.


In my study I do have a futon (as well as the chair at my desk) and I love to sit or lounge on the futon and listen to music coming via the following chain:


Sugden CDMaster CD player -> Meier Audio StageDAC DAC, Sugden Headmaster amplifier -> AKG K702 headphones


There are alternatives. Instead of the CD player I can use my Mac Pro which goes into one of the inputs of the DAC, or I can use my MacBook Pro as a source. Sometimes I use the Sugden CDMaster's own DAC and not the StageDAC. The HeadMaster amp has three analogue inputs allowing me to have the CDMaster plugged directly into it, as well as the StageDAC, as the CDMaster digital out goes to the StageDAC I can just switch from the Sugden DAC to the StageDAC with the input selector on the HeadMaster.


As well as my AKG K702s I will use my AKG K550s sometimes. These are softer sounding headphones and in some situations I prefer this. I also have my venerable Sennheiser HD540 Ref Golds which I bought new many years ago.


I also have a budget headphone amplifier on my actual desk, this is a Pro-Ject one, the name I can't remember, but its in my profile. This is a solid state class A/B and is quite respectable.


Sugden HeadMaster has an output to my Sugden AmpMaster power amplifier which drives my Rogers db101 speakers. These are on either side of my main monitor (for my Mac Pro) on my desk. They are actually wall mounted on the wall behind the desk on monitor stands so that they are at ear height when I am sitting at the desk. As near field speakers I have to say they are really quite superb and better by miles than say one of those 2.1 speaker systems.

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