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How much to spend to get really good headphone reproduction - my take

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

First up, no headphone setup will sound any good with poor source input.  GIGO applies with a vengeance.  The setup here is balanced digital feed out of an Meridian MS600 as part of a Meridian MDMS (used to be more sensibly called "Sooloos") system.  It is apodised and upsampled to 88.2 kHz output.

 

So, one would anticipate a following DAC would have little left to do.  Wrong.  My experience with the much praised (justifiably so and excellent value) Yulong D100 II showed that.  It was very good but lacked the finesse of other DACs here with the M2Tech Vaughan heading the list and a Woo-1  not too far behind.  I sold the NuForce DAC9 before I had a chance to compare it so cannot really comment on it except to say it was a very satisfying stand alone DAC/headamp combo.

 

But my experience has shown that balanced is by far the best option.  A SOLO headamp was only here briefly as its unbalanced output, although very clean, was uninspiring compared to the other units here.  Of these the now deleted from production Headroom Blockhead Balanced headamp heads the list with a Headroom BUDA not far behind.  Obviously there are other highly regarded balanced headamps many have used here al;so giving excellent results.

 

So then we come to the headphones.  The ones used here are AKG 702, Sennheiser HD650 (both unbalanced and balanced) and Sennheiser HD800 (balanced).  Of these the HD800 are outstanding but they have an Achilles heel - they faithfully reproduce what is fed in, so if that is at all skewed, the AQ will be similarly compromised.

 

So my take is that with careful research on used items it is possible to set up an outstanding headphone system (excluding source) for around $3,500.  For that you get AQ which will blow away $3,500 spend on an amp/speaker system.

 

But that is just my opinion based on limited exposure to items owned but after extensive research.  You can get better for more than $3,500 but the law of diminishing returns sets in with a vengeance as I have found.

 

John

post #2 of 4

At first I too thought there were significant advantages in sound quality going from single ended / unblanced to balanced.  In the end after many honest tests I found no audible differences between going from balanced interconnects to unblanaced or going from balanced headphones to single ended.  I blame my initial reaction to a psychological response.

 

I did hear audible and signficant differences in loudness levels as the fully balanced setup gave about 1/5th of a turn more loudness on the BUDA compared to the single ended variant.

 

In your post you did not compare your headphone setup of choice to a speaker setup and still managed to claim

"

So my take is that with careful research on used items it is possible to set up an outstanding headphone system (excluding source) for around $3,500.  For that you get AQ which will blow away $3,500 spend on an amp/speaker system."

 

Without supplying specific examples how can you make this claim?  I have heard some pretty darn fantastic speaker systems well within this price point.  Focal and Martin Logan come to mind as it is not hard to find used speaker systems from those companies that still sound awesome.

 

In the future would you be able to supply examples of comparisons between what balanced and single ended / unbalanced tests you have done and what specific differences you hear?

 

--My Setup

Source:  PC vis USB 2.0 and 256kbps or better mp3 files

DAC:  Grace Design m903 running both balanced and unbalanced interconnects to the BUDA

AMP:  HeadRoom's Balanaced Ultra Desktop Amp ( BUDA )

Headphones:  Denon AH-D5000 ( balanced / single ended )

post #3 of 4
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

At first I too thought there were significant advantages in sound quality going from single ended / unblanced to balanced.  In the end after many honest tests I found no audible differences between going from balanced interconnects to unblanaced or going from balanced headphones to single ended.  I blame my initial reaction to a psychological response.

 

I did hear audible and signficant differences in loudness levels as the fully balanced setup gave about 1/5th of a turn more loudness on the BUDA compared to the single ended variant.

 

In your post you did not compare your headphone setup of choice to a speaker setup and still managed to claim

"

So my take is that with careful research on used items it is possible to set up an outstanding headphone system (excluding source) for around $3,500.  For that you get AQ which will blow away $3,500 spend on an amp/speaker system."

 

Without supplying specific examples how can you make this claim?  I have heard some pretty darn fantastic speaker systems well within this price point.  Focal and Martin Logan come to mind as it is not hard to find used speaker systems from those companies that still sound awesome.

 

In the future would you be able to supply examples of comparisons between what balanced and single ended / unbalanced tests you have done and what specific differences you hear?

 

--My Setup

Source:  PC vis USB 2.0 and 256kbps or better mp3 files

DAC:  Grace Design m903 running both balanced and unbalanced interconnects to the BUDA

AMP:  HeadRoom's Balanaced Ultra Desktop Amp ( BUDA )

Headphones:  Denon AH-D5000 ( balanced / single ended )

Seems my comments irritated you - not the intention.

 

I have spent well into 6 figures on amps and speakers here but I'm hearing better AQ from the far less expensive headphone setup and that was the basis for my comments.

 

So I'll throw it back on you - give a specific example of amps and speaker systems (and to be fair, include a quality external DAC) that you would put together for $3,500.

 

FYI the amps in the main 7.1 system here here are Plinius, Halcro + others & speakers Majestic electrostatic + other electrostats & 4 subs, players a modded Esoteric UX-1, Oppo 85, .... so I think I can speak about quality amp/speaker reproduction with some authority.  And BTW the house here was constructed 20 years ago around a specially designed (by me) pentagonal lounge/entertainment room with no two opposing surfaces parallel  -> excellent acoustics. There are other less expensive systems in the house but I will not go on and on.

 

Bottom line to all this is quality audio input to whatever - a headphone system or amps and speakers. Possibly some audio inputs would not benefit from balanced.  I can only respond to what has been heard here and balanced was definitely better.

 

Obviously your experience differs to mine.  So be it.  We all have different brains with ears attached and different brain conditioning to audio over the years. So you are neither right nor wrong and the same applies to me.  There is no absolute right or wrong in listening for audio quality for reproduced music. The important item is enjoying the music via the system be it via headphones or speakers.  But I'll vote for a headphone system every time now.

post #4 of 4

My initial response was a bit harsh.  I am glad you gave a few examples in your reply and I will try to do so soon.

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