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My dive into the world of head-fi...

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Well, I'm here.

 

I just ordered my "first set" of headphones---apart from the complementary pairs which accompany your everyday source.  Unfortunately, I'm so new that I'm not sure the appropriate questions to ask.  I've spent some time silently reading the forums and lurking in the background.  Here is my setup---basic to start

 

Macbook (nonpro, unibody)  ]

                                                    }  --- > Fiio E11 --- > Beyerdynamic DT770, 250Ω.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus        ]

 

?1.  Is there anything I should know about properly breaking in a new set of headphones and amp?

?2.  What about sources?  Are there any inexpensive sources that would really step up the game, at least to start?

?3.  What's the deal with DAC?  Especially important or is the difference somewhere between 320kbps MP3 and FLAC?  This might be a blasphemous question to ask.

 

Thanks!

ts

post #2 of 14
Thread Starter 

One more question:

 

?4. Should I be taking advantage of the optical out on my Macbook?  If so, what's the best approach?

post #3 of 14

1. No. Stick them on your head and enjoy. They will improve gradually over time up to around the 100 hour mark. You can just leave them playing while you're not listening. Up to you. 

 

2. From what i've read, the DAC in the macbook is pretty good. not brilliant, but not bad either. You could take a look at the FiiO E7 if you wanted. If I was in your shoes however, I would set aside a bit of money for a decent DAC such as the Bifrost if you are going to be in this hobby for a while. It will save you money in the long run. 

 

3. A DAC converts the ones and zeros in your digital music files to analog  signals, which your headphones can play, and you can hear. In terms of  "importance" there's no concrete answer here. Some hardened audiophiles will spend as much on a DAC as a sane person might spend on a car. The general rule of thumb is headphones>amplification>DAC/source in terms of budgeting, however I would still consider a quality DAC as a wise investment. 

 

4. I have no real idea, i'm not going to sit here a waffle at you. 

 

Hope that helps. 

post #4 of 14

Heya,

 

1. Don't worry about break in or burn in. Just enjoy them. Don't waste weeks of time of blasting pink noise sine waves or something. All you're achieving is a slightly increased electric bill and the psychology of expectation.

 

2. A good DAC is easy, they're not expensive. Your media is the true source of quality. After that, simply a clean DAC to keep it clean and render the sine wave. After that, the amp. Then your headphone. You don't need expensive stuff for this. I would keep it simple. I would however offload from the computer and get an external discreet setup. The reason simply being, to remove anything from a computer with moving parts attached can introduce noise and jitter (doesn't mean it does, just can).

 

3. Container file doesn't matter. Compression quality or lack of compression is what matters. 320kbps LAME MP3 or lossless FLAC is fine, most people can't tell the difference. Always strive for lossless if file size isn't an issue.

 

4. It's a computer with a hard drive and USB ports. That's all it needs to be to output a digital signal to an audio circuit. I would get an USB DAC or DAC/AMP combo unit. The E11 is portable and requires recharging and doesn't work while charging. Good portable. But not good for just using it while sitting around if the battery gets low. I would actually just get a Fiio E10. There's your USB DAC/AMP in one unit. Will handle your Beyers perfectly fine too. And it's cheap. The E10 also has line level output so you can output to a different amp in the future and use it as just a DAC too. This allows you to play with other things, like a tube amp or something in your future. If you think you're going to invest in something better, there's a lot of options in the $200~300 range that are going to be very good and easily end-game for most people. But unless you know you're going to be expanding to other headphones in the future, then a simple E10 will do all you need.

 

Very best,


Edited by MalVeauX - 1/7/13 at 4:15pm
post #5 of 14

Getting a cheap DAC to plug into your macbook will give you a more noticable improvement than the amp. I use a $50 Sabre USB DAC and it's clear improvement.

 

On burn in, I suspect it does almost nothing but I still do it anyway. If you want to, download a pink noise clip and put it on repeat.
 

post #6 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by tshearman View Post

One more question:

 

?4. Should I be taking advantage of the optical out on my Macbook?  If so, what's the best approach?

... Well, thats how I do it.  But thats only because I already have  a modded entech DAC that I use as a source selector with a vacant toslink input.  So I just plug the MAC into that.  I am not really a PC as source guy so I have not done any extensive A/B/C comparisons using the toslink out, versus any kind of outboard USB DAC, versus the built in MAC DAC with analog output.  So its more an issue of convenience really merging the macbook into my already multi-source existing setup, but its nice to have options.

 

One thing I have noticed is that there are a lot more affordable USB-DAC options, than the more traditional hi-fi TOSLINK / COAX DACs.  I think the latter tend to cater to the home hi-fi market which (generally) accepts a higher $$$ entry ticket.

 

I'll be watching this thread though to hear others opinions though.


Edited by kramer5150 - 1/7/13 at 5:44pm
post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the advice.

 

Glad to hear that ``burn-in'' is psychological at best.

 

From what I've gathered about DACs is that they effectively become your source?  Therefore, the media files + DAC determine source quality?  This doesn't seem to make sense to me though.  Certainly my Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which presumably has a built in DAC, will send a specific signal, with a specific lossy-ness.  No matter what how awesome the DAC, it can't do magic (and reconstruct a destroyed signal).

 

On the E10, it does look like a nice option, but doesn't align with my intentions.  My setup will incorporate my Galaxy Nexus regularly, which won't be supported by the E10.  So while I'm getting started, I think the E11 is the right choice.  Perhaps I should have upgraded to the E17---optical in, DAC+AMP.  But my budget wouldn't allow it.

 

Redrich2000. perhaps you can expand on your comment.  This seems hard for me to believe also.  Considering I purchased the DT770 250Ω, I expect the amp to be necessary as my phone couldn't possibly drive them.  Of course, I could be wrong.

 

ts

post #8 of 14

You have to remember that lossy encoding is done using psycho-acoustic rendering. The difference between a 320 kbps MP3 and a FLAC file is negotiable because the file is compressed in a way that psychological your brain fills in the missing details. Not to mention such a high bit-rate file isn't all that much different from the original CD audio in the first place.

post #9 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by tshearman View Post

 

 

From what I've gathered about DACs is that they effectively become your source?  Therefore, the media files + DAC determine source quality?  This doesn't seem to make sense to me though.  Certainly my Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which presumably has a built in DAC, will send a specific signal, with a specific lossy-ness.  No matter what how awesome the DAC, it can't do magic (and reconstruct a destroyed signal).

 

 

If you use an external DAC, you would be bypassing your Samsung's DAC. You'd be getting a digital signal from it, and that would be converted to an analog signal using the external DAC.

post #10 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by tshearman View Post

Thanks for all the advice.

 

Glad to hear that ``burn-in'' is psychological at best.

 

From what I've gathered about DACs is that they effectively become your source?  Therefore, the media files + DAC determine source quality?  This doesn't seem to make sense to me though.  Certainly my Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which presumably has a built in DAC, will send a specific signal, with a specific lossy-ness.  No matter what how awesome the DAC, it can't do magic (and reconstruct a destroyed signal).

 

ts

 

Kind of.  Although I look at it more like this.  In my eyes the digital bit-stream and transport device is the data source, its the raw source of the data-stream be it CD, FLAC, MP3 or some other file source.  In the case of a macbook, the optical (or USB) output contains the digital data stream.  So in that light the macbook could be seen as a type of "transport device", feeding its bit-stream outboard to a DAC (dedicated component).  The advantages of using an outboard DAC is that YOU (end listener) get to chose what you want the digital-analog conversion process to sound like.  Its all a big synnergy equation.  It starts with the digital data through the transport, into the DAC process, into the amplification / attenuation process, and out the headphone.

 

So yes your samsung phone has a built in DAC.  EVERY digital music source HAS TO be converted from the digital bit stream to an analog wave form, so in the case of phones and music players they have internal DAC chips to do this.  I dont think a smart phone exists (yet) with an optical bit-stream output.  EDIT - You know what I take that back... with over half a million APs it would not surprise me if someone out there has an iPhone AP that takes the digital data-stream out the USB cable (or bluetooth transmitter) to be fed into an outboard DAC device of some sort.


Edited by kramer5150 - 1/8/13 at 11:53am
post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 

Ah great.  This makes a lot of sense.  I think the piece that was staring me in the face, but I didn't recognize, is the difference between the bit-stream and the analog audio signal.  Yes, I understood that they were different, but I was confusing which outputs were sources of which signal type.

 

Using USB and optical (which is built into the 3.5mm jack in the Macbook---probably stemming my confusion) I can output a bitstream (digital signal) describing my music (of course at some level of accuracy).  This is then fed into a DAC, converted to an analog signal which feeds into an amplifier or directly to the headphones via an 3.5mm jack.

 

If I output using a 3.5mm jack, this is an analog signal carrier, meaning at some point in the past the signal had already been converted from digital to analog (likely by a built-in DAC of questionable quality).  This gets to the point about the smartphone and external DACs.  I would somehow have to use the mini-USB to feed a digital signal to a third-party DAC, and as far as I can tell people are still working on this with the Samsung Galaxy (if anyone knows otherwise let me know).

 

This relates to chewy4's comment: basically the path Digital -> DAC -> DAC -> Amp doesn't make any damn sense...  Everything is seeming clearer now, and if they would ship my headphones already they would be sounding clearer too!

ts

post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ToddTheMetalGod View Post

You have to remember that lossy encoding is done using psycho-acoustic rendering. The difference between a 320 kbps MP3 and a FLAC file is negotiable because the file is compressed in a way that psychological your brain fills in the missing details. Not to mention such a high bit-rate file isn't all that much different from the original CD audio in the first place.

 

Todd, do you have any references for this?  This seems like a tall order.  I'm certain that there have been studies show that your brain does this... references... not sure.  I'd be quite surprised if there is a widely accepted theory and implementation of this.

 

Some argue that "wavelets" somehow "speak" natural.  That is, when performing a wavelet transform of an natural image, the resulting transform is sparse; the analogy may extend into natural sounds.  This is all heuristics, since it's difficult to mathematically categorize "natural," and as a result difficult to prove theorems.

post #13 of 14
USB and S/PDIF (don't care optical or coax) need to be conceptualized differently - USB is acting in the same manner as PCI, PCI Express, FireWire, or any other PC interface to connect additional hardware to the computer. That hardware may be an audio controller with analog or digital outputs, or some other kind of device. S/PDIF by contrast is actually carrying a digital audio signal. The recent hysteria surrounding USB audio has mostly been fueled by the popularity of non-standard and non-upgradable laptops, and plays on people's fears of opening their computers as well (I've seen devices marketed specifically along these lines).

Yes, a DAC is needed with any kind of digital audio file, and most devices these days include them. More expensive options always exist, with varying degrees of improvement or additional features that you will need to weigh against your budget and personal goals appropriately.

As far as digital compression - depending on the container format (and this does matter to some extent), varying degrees of psychoacoustic research have gone into how the encoder will handle the music. Most containers used for music are relatively linear and produce fairly large files in order to retain quality - 320k being a good compromise of space and fidelity compared to lossless packaging (e.g. flac, WMA-L, or just taking the raw WAVE); as far as whether or not you can tell a difference, it's highly unlikely that you can consistently pick 320k WMA or mp3 apart from WMA-L or the CD itself, but it depends on the material being encoded and the quality of the encoder. Smarter encoders, like those used for cinema content, will apply more frequency shaping and other tricks to achieve better compression ratios relative to their quality, mostly due to space or bandwidth restrictions (a good example here is AC-3).
post #14 of 14

I've read this in a few places but didn't save the links. Well I hope that I'm right, I'm young and can't hear a difference between a high-quality MP3 and a FLAC file (unless editing such as dynamic compression has been done or the container is terrible). My system lacks a high-end DAC in the first place so I haven't really researched file quality much. I use 16-bit 44.1 khz flac files wherever possible and leave it at that. I have read an article here on Head-Fi about 24-bit files though, apparently they don't make enough of a difference in the waveform for a human to hear. All that happens with a higher bit size is a lower noise floor which without really sensitive equipment (IEMs) you could never hear anyway. You've probably researched more than I have on these sorts of topics. Anyway, good luck with achieving the best audio quality. gs1000.gif

 

Edit: I think with some parts of songs that have bit rate peaks that quality may be audible. I've started using my phone from time to time since I can use an SD card to get more space and sometimes the data throughput of the card isn't fast enough and I get playback jitter. I think that small quality loss can be concluded for the loss of data during compression since the bit rate is supposed to be a lot higher than usual at certain points in a song.


Edited by ToddTheMetalGod - 1/21/13 at 7:10pm
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