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audio newbie looking for headphone-purchasing advice

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

So, I've never owned anything fancy audio-wise, and I basically have no clue about any of this. But I do listen to a lot of music, so I've tentatively decided that it's worth shelling out for a relatively nice set of headphones. I'll listen to nearly any genre of music, some of the time, but my main interest is in classical, so that's what I'm looking to optimize. I'm hoping to spend no more than $300-350, and I'd be happy to spend less.

 

I've found tons of recommendations in my price range, but right now the problem for me is this: although I'd be happy to eventually become an audiophile, I don't really have time at the moment to figure out things like headphone amps, sound cards, equalization, and all the other stuff I keep hearing that I'm supposed to figure out.

 

So my question is this: Am I wasting my money, above a certain point, if I don't figure some or all of those things out (e.g. buy a headphone amp, upgrade my sound card), or can I get something good that can be relatively low-effort, at least at the outset, until whenever I'm able to invest the time in becoming more audiophilic? What I'd really like is a pair of headphones that I can just take out of the box, plug into the headphone jack of my very ordinary desktop computer, burn in for a while (that's the one thing I think I can grasp right now), and then listen to and not have to worry *too* much about what I'm missing out on. I also travel pretty frequently, so I'd like something that I can play directly from my present laptop, without having to lug anything extra around with me. From what I've seen, there's significant variation in that regard, even among higher-end headphones, so guidance would be useful.

 

If all this makes me sound like a philistine, I'll just point out in my defense that that's exactly what I am. I doubt that I have the capacity, at the moment, to notice or appreciate subtle differences in audio quality, so what I'd like is to own something nice enough that I can start to pay attention to those things, without a prohibitively steep learning curve.

 

Apart from that, I should say that I'm probably looking for over-the-ear/circumaural headphones, and for open rather than closed (which I understand gives better audio quality, at the expense of leakage, which is not a major concern for me atm). I'd also obvious like something durable enough to last a few years.

 

Anyway, that's the situation, and any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

post #2 of 6

The reason why amps are so popular is that you need them to get the most out of the higher end headphones, like the ones in your price range. One of the things that makes a headphone sound good is how quickly the driver can return back after playing a note. If a driver has fast decay, more details can come out without being smoothed over. But drivers like that require more power to get them moving in the first place, and that's where an amp comes in. You can get some portable amps that will work on the go and do a pretty good job. A Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro paired with a Fiio E12, for an example, would be under your budget and should work pretty well for what you're looking for.

 

Also, it's not that open headphones give better audio quality. The main strength of open headphones is that it's easier to produce a wide and natural sounding soundstage with open headphones than with closed ones. But there are closed headphones with decent soundstage, and that's only one component of the overall sound anyway.

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Okay, thx much for the reply. I take it with something like that, I just plug it into my computer and then plug the headphones into an audio jack? Is there a lot of complicated fiddling I'd have to do with settings, and if so is there a place you'd suggest going to learn about that?

post #4 of 6

Let's consider that you have got a decent pair of headphones to begin with.

 

From my experience, I was not able to get the "wow" experience out of my ordinary laptop sound card.

This is true of every headphone I've tried on my laptop. Although you can perceive noticeable difference between different headphones, there was no depth and clarity in the music.

 

Of course, I didn't come to this conclusion at first, as I believed that was the best sound quality available.

However, after using my new smartphone to drive the headphones, there was a huge increase in sound quality.

I suspect this is due to a better sound card (aka "DAC" - Digital to analog converter), which is not to be confused with pure "Amplifiers" which sometimes does increase sound quality, but mainly increases volume for headphones that are difficult to drive. 

 

So, in conclusion, I would definitely try out different "sources" for music playback and see which one you like the most. Your Desktop is more than likely to have a below-average sound card which will represent your music poorly. If you are serious about audio, I would first invest in headphones, then look into Fiio's line of DAC/Amplifier combos, which are incredibly easy to use and well worth noting

post #5 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by ctarsney View Post

Okay, thx much for the reply. I take it with something like that, I just plug it into my computer and then plug the headphones into an audio jack? Is there a lot of complicated fiddling I'd have to do with settings, and if so is there a place you'd suggest going to learn about that?


For a portable amp like that, you just plug the 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable from the amp to the source, and the headphone plug into the jack in the amp. You'll probably want to select the high gain for harder to drive headphones, but other than that, that's about all there is to it.

post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Okay, thx to everyone for the advice! I think you have me convinced to start thinking about amps. :-)

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