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Headphones + Amp Upgrade?

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hello I know you probably get this a lot but here it goes.

 

     Right now I have AKG K240 headphones running from the front headphone port in my computer. I want to to upgrade a bit, with a budget around $200. Thing is next year I am going to college so I will not have my desktop with me and I not sure off any way I would get a quality sound card for a laptop. So I'm thinking that leaves me with getting an amp that I can use with a laptop and ipod or just a laptop. I have been looking at the AKG K550. I like the look of them and I have heard they aren't bad w/o an amp. If that's true I might just wait a bit and shed the extra cash for them. Some other headphones I like the look of are, Fostex T50RP, AKG Q 701(amp?), Audio-Technica ATH-A900X. Also love the look of Denon-AHD2000, but those seem to be harder and more expensive to come by now.

    So Basically Headphone/Amp? suggestions for closed back running off of a Laptop or ipod (touch 4G) in the $200-$300 range. Also I don't quite understand how amps and the like effect the sound of a headphone so if you can explain that too.


Edited by unpimpauto - 2/10/13 at 4:16pm
post #2 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by unpimpauto View Post

Hello I know you probably get this a lot but here it goes.

 

     Right now I have AKG K240 headphones running from the front headphone port in my computer. I want to to upgrade a bit, with a budget around $200. Thing is next year I am going to college so I will not have my desktop with me and I not sure off any way I would get a quality sound card for a laptop. So I'm thinking that leaves me with getting an amp that I can use with a laptop and ipod or just a laptop. I have been looking at the AKG K550. I like the look of them and I have heard they aren't bad w/o an amp. If that's true I might just wait a bit and shed the extra cash for them. Some other headphones I like the look of are, Fostex T50RP, AKG Q 701(amp?), Audio-Technica ATH-A900X. Also love the look of Denon-AHD2000, but those seem to be harder and more expensive to come by now.

    So Basically Headphone/Amp? suggestions for closed back running off of a Laptop or ipod (touch 4G) in the $200-$300 range. Also I don't quite understand how amps and the like effect the sound of a headphone so if you can explain that too.

hmmm... well you'll need a DAC (digital to analog converter). Only reason to get a sound card would probably be that, but a dedicated amp/dac would be better. What a DAC does is convert the digital signal into an analog signal so that we can hear it. 

 

As for how an amp affects the sound, it depends. They can make it warmer (tubes) by using a vacuum instead of circuitry. There's also the total harmonic distortion and all the noises/jitter that the amp/dac will add to the signal, which will change the signal depending. If I remember the quote correctly, how well an amp does is how well it reveals what is there. Amps can also be used b/c of impedance (IEMs). IEM's will hiss depending on the impedance/gain.  But the things that make the biggest difference in sound are your headphones (assuming you have sufficient power and uncompressed audio).

 

Is the $200 the total upgrade amount, or just for the DAC/amp? As for the D2000, fostex will be releasing the TH300 sometime soon (Fostex was the former OEM for Denon). You might want to wait for it. Or I know a person who might be selling his d2000 soon since he might be getting the TH600. The Q701's don't really have sufficient bass if you're looking for bass compared to the d2000. As for the K550 and the a900x, I'm not sure. 

 

For an amp and DAC combo, maybe the schiit stack (modi and magni) $200. Objective combo in the same box would be ~$250 from JDS labs. Separate would be ~$300. Though the performance is really similar and you can carry the schiit stack around if you're using a laptop. Though depend on what phone you'll get, the schiit stack might be too strong at a gain of 5x (gain is amplification of the signal which will make things louder).

post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 

     Now that I know the TH300 will be out soon, maybe get the Fostex T50RP first, then mod those a bit and then get a schiit stack and when the TH300 drops in price snag those. Does that sound like a decent upgrade plan? I want to move more toward closed headphones because so in the dorms I wont have to hear everything around me.

 

     So, would an DAC/amp combo bring out, say the fingers muffling a guitar string or a song that has the sound "move" around your head? or is that just the DAC and the amp would just send more power to the headphones than a phone could?

 

    What sort of cables/connectors would I need to run the schiit modi and magni from the laptop to the stack and to the headphones?

post #4 of 12
I have the A900X. Sound great. But if you are going to college, the A900X might not be a good choice because they are not very portable with the wings on them. In fact, most headphones will be more portable than them. LOL

And you are on the right track. Closed headphones also make sense. You want to be able to use them when others expect quiet, and plus it's a little weird to be the person in college walking around with headphones where everyone else can hear your music.

Same with the Schiit stack. If you want to take your DAC/amp with you to the library or for use between classes, that is not a good choice. Too bulky. Has to be plugged in to be used. Neither would I go with the O2/ODAC combo since you lose the battery option when the ODAC is installed inside the O2 case.

The O2 and ODAC as separates are better with a four or five hours of battery life, although the O2 is not something you can carry in your pocket. Little too big for that. Maybe a good combination with portability in mind would be the ODAC and the FiiO E12. Here's a discussion thread for the E12: http://www.head-fi.org/t/620339/fiio-flagship-portable-amp-mont-blanc-e12-discussing-thread-the-pre-order-unit-arrives. JDS Labs is also coming out with the C5 portable amplifier. That might be another one to look at once people finally start getting it.
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 

I think I would just leave the DAC/amp stack on my desk if I were to get one. I think an E11 with the T50RP would be a nice combo for me. Then when I move up to TH600, get a schiit modi/magni if necessary.

post #6 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by unpimpauto View Post

     Now that I know the TH300 will be out soon, maybe get the Fostex T50RP first, then mod those a bit and then get a schiit stack and when the TH300 drops in price snag those. Does that sound like a decent upgrade plan? I want to move more toward closed headphones because so in the dorms I wont have to hear everything around me.

 

     So, would an DAC/amp combo bring out, say the fingers muffling a guitar string or a song that has the sound "move" around your head? or is that just the DAC and the amp would just send more power to the headphones than a phone could?

 

    What sort of cables/connectors would I need to run the schiit modi and magni from the laptop to the stack and to the headphones?

2nd paragraph: That depends solely on the producers and their mastering/editing. The job of the amp and dac is to reveal what is there, amplify the signal, give enough power, and/or slightly color your phone (tube vs solid-state, as for money-related, that's another matter). The power is what the all amps have, but how neutral/revealing they are is where they differ in price. The amp has more purpose than just sending power, and the job of the dac is to convert the digital signal to an analog signal. How well the DAC does this can affect what you hear, but the most important for sound characteristics is the phone. 

 

USB a to b from the laptop to the modi, then coaxial (can get them from schiit, but they're rather meant for the asgard and bifrost since they're a bit unflexable/not the right length (for the MM). Though you can fix it by stack a book on them/wrapping in something loosely to make it so that the stack is perfect. For the USB and coaxial, you can just buy something from amazon. Cables are minimal when it comes to sound improvement compared to everything else.

 

As for the th300's, I'm not sure of the isolation on those. I know for a fact that the th900 and th600 does not isolate well (along w/ other phones that are closed (audio-technica w5000, w1000x, w3000anv, etc). Might want to check later in the future since there will be a thread for it.

post #7 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by unpimpauto View Post

I think I would just leave the DAC/amp stack on my desk if I were to get one. I think an E11 with the T50RP would be a nice combo for me. Then when I move up to TH600, get a schiit modi/magni if necessary.

If you go with something like the E12, O2, or C5 now, you have something portable with such good quality that you wouldn't need the Magni later on. Or, since you would already have a good solid state amp to pair with the Modi, you could get a desktop tube amp. Have the best of both worlds biggrin.gif
post #8 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by unpimpauto View Post

Hello I know you probably get this a lot but here it goes.

 

     Right now I have AKG K240 headphones running from the front headphone port in my computer. I want to to upgrade a bit, with a budget around $200. Thing is next year I am going to college so I will not have my desktop with me and I not sure off any way I would get a quality sound card for a laptop. So I'm thinking that leaves me with getting an amp that I can use with a laptop and ipod or just a laptop. I have been looking at the AKG K550. I like the look of them and I have heard they aren't bad w/o an amp. If that's true I might just wait a bit and shed the extra cash for them. Some other headphones I like the look of are, Fostex T50RP, AKG Q 701(amp?), Audio-Technica ATH-A900X. Also love the look of Denon-AHD2000, but those seem to be harder and more expensive to come by now.

    So Basically Headphone/Amp? suggestions for closed back running off of a Laptop or ipod (touch 4G) in the $200-$300 range. Also I don't quite understand how amps and the like effect the sound of a headphone so if you can explain that too.

For something that will work with the desktop, laptop and iPod, the Fiio E07K ($89) might be a good choice.

The desktop and laptop can use the E07K's DAC and amplifier feature.

With the iPod, only the E07K's amp feature.

 

Or save a few dollars and buy the Xonar DG sound card ($27) for use with the desktop only.

Then buy an external DAC/amp when you head off the college.

post #9 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

For something that will work with the desktop, laptop and iPod, the Fiio E07K ($89) might be a good choice.

The desktop and laptop can use the E07K's DAC and amplifier feature.

With the iPod, only the E07K's amp feature.

An excellent recommendation that would most definitely cater to your needs. :-)

 

On the topic of headphones and the need for amplification, both can be difficult subjects. For one thing, don't judge a book by it's cover (or headphone in this case) as it will not always please you.  If you are in the States, visit a Magnolia Center (often in a Best Buy) and demo what they have. Also find if a local meet is taking place in your area in the "Meets, Get-Togethers, Factory Tours" forum as it will introduce you to fellow Head-fi'ers and their gear. 

 

For the necessity of amplification topic, it is rather subjective. Most people believe that amplification can dramatically alter your sound, but dramatic is a strong word. In my opinion, amplification helps narrow the sound you will hear.  The main purpose for amplification is power. Like loudspeakers, headphones need power to operate (in most cases). Of course, this does not rule out the fact that amplifiers do help shape/color sound.  It's just that it isn't to a certain degree as some may like to think it is.

 

Destroysall

post #10 of 12
What's your onboard? Does it have some obvious problems like noise, no bass below 200Hz, etc.?

I doubt that any cheap amp would drive T50RP or K550 much better than a decent onboard. Both of these cans have well-behaved drivers (flat impedance vs. frequency, pretty much no reactance) so they don't pose much problem to amps. And good onboards are good enough to not mess the sound under easy load.

FWIW, with my modded T50RP I don't hear much difference between onboard Realtek ALC883 and Xonar STX, which has a single-chip amp similar to Fiio's. And certainly there is nothing ugly immediately standing out in the ALC883 nor anything particularly exceptional standing out in the STX.

If I had $200, I'd rather buy better cans than spend half on an amp.
post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 

Okay, so I think I have a Realtek ALC 887 or something like that. What reasons would a headphone need an amp (amp only, not a sound card or seperate DAC)? 

post #12 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by unpimpauto View Post

Okay, so I think I have a Realtek ALC 887 or something like that. What reasons would a headphone need an amp (amp only, not a sound card or seperate DAC)? 

impedance (low ohm phones), voltage/juice for higher ohm phones, bring out the best of the phones, reveal everything in the music (signal), etc.

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