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Can the Creative ZXR sound card's headphone amp drive the Hifiman He-500?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello all, and thanks in advance for the help. I recently ordered the HE-500's, and am trying to decide whether I should keep them or not. The card's specs are here: http://www.soundblaster.com/products/sound-blaster-zxr.aspx#specs

 

In short, the card has a 600 ohm 80mw headphone amp, the TPA6120. I have looked extensively, but can find literally no information as to how well (if at all) this card can drive high-end headphones. The HE-500's (http://www.head-direct.com/Products/?act=detail&id=102) are 38 ohms and, although I'm familiarized myself with the math of relating ohms to watts, I can't find anything that suggests how much power the headphones actually want. I am new to the audiophile world, and I don't have any other amps or DAC's or anything so I will have no way of knowing if my headphones sound underpowered or not.

 

I would really prefer to not have to buy another separate headphone amp since I just splurged on this brand new sound card which supposedly features a great amp, but this answer will help me decide whether to just get the HE-400's instead, keep the HE-500's as-is, or get a different headphone amp (probably the Schiit Magni or something). Even if I WAS to opt for the last solution, however, I'm not even sure that my sound card will accept having a different external amp connected to it.

 

Basically, I suppose I'm just wondering if anyone has knowledge of this hardware or can do some math that is evading me and tell me whether or not the ZXR can adequately drive the HE-500's. Thanks again!

post #2 of 16
Thread Starter 

Bump

post #3 of 16
TPA6120 (in stand-alone devices, at least) is good for around 1-ish W/ch into 32R, and the HE-500 (from measurement data: http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/HiFiMANHE500.pdf) want around 2 mW/ch for 90 dB continuous. On paper it should work, but a lot of people talk about the HE-500/HE-6 needing substantially larger amplifiers (whether or not this is true, I have no idea).

I'd be curious what "underpowered" is meant to sound like though...rolleyes.gif If it isn't clipping, and if it isn't whisper quiet, I think you're pretty much good to go (especially with a purely resistive load).
post #4 of 16

Get a separate DAC/amp combo as the sound card will struggle and there wont be enough headroom.

 

A $200 Amp/DAC combo like the Aune T1 (tube-based) or the Schiit Magni/Modi (Solid state) combo will do justice to the headphones.

post #5 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by gikigill View Post

Get a separate DAC/amp combo as the sound card will struggle and there wont be enough headroom.

Can you provide some more information/data to support this - I'm honestly curious about this. The chip here is the same thing as the Fiio E9, CI VHP2, Music Hall PH25.2, and so on - are those also all entirely incapable of driving the HE-500? (again, serious question)

Even if Creative were running the thing at 12V it should still put up around 1W with no problem; which is in-line with a number of stand-alone amplifiers (including the Magni; I'm also curious why you'd suggest a USB DAC when the ZXR is already available as a line driver...). So I don't "get it" I guess; unless the point is just "audiophile street cred" or something similar. redface.gif
post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by obobskivich View Post


Can you provide some more information/data to support this - I'm honestly curious about this. The chip here is the same thing as the Fiio E9, CI VHP2, Music Hall PH25.2, and so on - are those also all entirely incapable of driving the HE-500? (again, serious question)

Even if Creative were running the thing at 12V it should still put up around 1W with no problem; which is in-line with a number of stand-alone amplifiers (including the Magni; I'm also curious why you'd suggest a USB DAC when the ZXR is already available as a line driver...). So I don't "get it" I guess; unless the point is just "audiophile street cred" or something similar. redface.gif

Thanks for your replies obobskivich; very helpful thus far. I've seen several posts telling people with similar headphones to get an amp and DAC combo, but so far I am inclined to think that even if the amp in the ZxR isn't strong enough, the DAC is perfectly fine and on-par with what I would be getting out of the Magni/Modi combo or Aune T1 or something similar. If I was to be getting anything, it would probably just be the amp because the ZxR's DAC is specficially designed to be good for games in addition to music (I doubt the Schiit DAC can say the same) and I am about 50/50 when it comes to gaming and music.

 

With my computer volume turned up to full I need to turn the volume dial on the ZxR's module to about 60-70% to find an adequate volume; that seems pretty high to me, especially when I consider that I plug my Apple earbuds into the module and they are still producing sound even when I turn the volume dial to 0. They can definitely get loud enough, but they could also get much louder I think with more power. My concern is that I might be missing out on a lot of detail of my audio (as I've seen people saying is possible) due to a potential  "underpowering" issue, and the problem is that I have no way to know for sure unless I go out and buy an amp. That's why I wanted to check the math with someone here.

 

So as far as your recommendation goes, should I grab the Magni and see if that helps? Or I am just over-reacting and actually in a good spot?


Edited by dwthewhiteness - 3/23/13 at 10:33pm
post #7 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by dwthewhiteness View Post

Thanks for your replies obobskivich; very helpful thus far. I've seen several posts telling people with similar headphones to get an amp and DAC combo, but so far I am inclined to think that even if the amp in the ZxR isn't strong enough, the DAC is perfectly fine and on-par with what I would be getting out of the Magni/Modi combo or Aune T1 or something similar. If I was to be getting anything, it would probably just be the amp because the ZxR's DAC is specficially designed to be good for games in addition to music (I doubt the Schiit DAC can say the same) and I am about 50/50 when it comes to gaming and music.

Welp, I'm gonna tell you that even at the $10,000 mark I'm not really sold on the whole "DACs make a really big difference and change the entire listening experience" thing - and let's not even start on "DACs by genre" or anything of the sort (the D/A on the Creative is no better or worse suited to a specific genre/type of media than the Magni; but what the Creative DOES have is a very sophisticated DSP that lets it do all sorts of nifty stuff with games and movies (things like surround simulation)).

I'd absolutely agree that if you get anything, just get an amp. The whole "anything inside your computer is evil, and you should be afraid of opening your computer" thing has been played out too long imho. Soundcards are generally a fantastic value in terms of the features/quality they offer, and unless you have a laptop I'd really suggest the soundcard route over a USB audio solution (just from a price/feature perspective more than anything else). Since you already have the thing, I'd leave well enough alone. smily_headphones1.gif
Quote:
With my computer volume turned up to full I need to turn the volume dial on the ZxR's module to about 60-70% to find an adequate volume; that seems pretty high to me, especially when I consider that I plug my Apple earbuds into the module and they are still producing sound even when I turn the volume dial to 0. They can definitely get loud enough, but they could also get much louder I think with more power. My concern is that I might be missing out on a lot of detail of my audio (as I've seen people saying is possible) due to a potential  "underpowering" issue, and the problem is that I have no way to know for sure unless I go out and buy an amp. That's why I wanted to check the math with someone here.

Relative volume dial positions mean nothing, because they aren't calibrated/pegged to any specific standard. Basically it's just the relationship between gain and sensitivity (which are both more or less arbitrary here). If they're getting loud enough to be listenable, that's basically what "amped" is going to do for you. Especially with a stable load. If you're hearing clipping that's a problem, and if you have everything turned up to 11 and can't hear anything clearly, that's also a problem, but otherwise it sounds like the amp is doing what it's supposed to be doing. However...
Quote:
So as far as your recommendation goes, should I grab the Magni and see if that helps? Or I am just over-reacting and actually in a good spot?

If you're really that curious, and it's gonna bug you (and we've all been there), I'd say go ahead and try it out. Magni seems to be the "in" thing this month (which obviously means it's better than any other amplifier ever made tongue.gif (in all seriousness, I have nothing against Schiit, and I'm just being ornery)), but there's a few other amplifiers around that price point like the Fiio E9 (I think it's called "E09K" now - the real kicker is if you go with this one, and find it to be dramatically different sounding ph34r.gif (it either means Creative screwed up, or God knows whats going on - they're built on the same chip)), and the less expensive of the HiFiMan amps ("EF2A" iirc). I think they should all be good for 1W/ch (which is beyond more than any sane person would ever need with any headphone ever made).

Basically, pick one that looks good, and go for it - if it does something for you, that's great, if it doesn't, that's what we have RMAs for. Either way, I wouldn't obsess about it.
Edited by obobskivich - 3/23/13 at 11:02pm
post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 

Awesome. I might just do the smart-person thing and take my headphones down to an audio retailer, stick them in a small amp, see if anything different happens, and then go from there. Thanks for your help!

post #9 of 16

The reason is that the VHP/PH25.2 are more expensive than my suggestion and being an ortho, the HE-500, like any other ortho needs heaps of power to sing its best.

 

Even the MadDog needs a lot of power and can easily chew up 1.5w/ch without as much as a burp!

 

The separate amp/dac combo would bring the best out without a stratospheric price tag and still be cheaper than the Creative ZXR.

 

The USB would also be a one step setup whether its the Aune or the Schiit setup and a decent introduction to the audio world.

 

The HE-500 literally hoovers up power and lets not even discuss the HE-6.

 

 

 

"I think they should all be good for 1W/ch (which is beyond more than any sane person would ever need with any headphone ever made)" said no one ever to a HE-6 ownerbiggrin.gif.

 

I currently run the HE-6 out of a 65w/ch amp, own the MadDog and had the HE-500 previously.

 

Edited for paragraphs


Edited by gikigill - 3/24/13 at 1:54am
post #10 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by dwthewhiteness View Post

Awesome. I might just do the smart-person thing and take my headphones down to an audio retailer, stick them in a small amp, see if anything different happens, and then go from there. Thanks for your help!

 

This is probably your best bet. I think you'll end up getting a separate amp, connected to the pre out on the ZxR. Musically I think an equally priced separate DAC would have the ZxR beat *(by a fair margine, even), but for games and movies the ZxR would probably be the best choice. I also imagine the Creative software has many options for you to fine-tune the sound to your liking, including the virtual surround processing obobskivich mentioned.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by obobskivich View Post

I'd be curious what "underpowered" is meant to sound like though...rolleyes.gif If it isn't clipping, and if it isn't whisper quiet, I think you're pretty much good to go (especially with a purely resistive load).

 

It's very easy to hear if your headphone or speaker (or car stereo, for that matter) is underpowered. Listen to a track that starts with a bass-heavy beat (be it drums, electronic or other) with nothing on top, and where this beat continues on after the "rest of the song" begins. With an underpowered set-up the beat will sound good and bassy when it's all by itself, but when the other instruments start in the beat gets thin and loses its physical feel due to the amplifier powersupply being unable to provide enough juice. To me this is very off-putting because you get this awesome preview to how it should sound, and with the rest of the song it just falls flat.

Another way to hear if your set-up is underpowered is if you play a typical party song with a very heavy (but not fast) beat, and you can hear a drop in volume just after each beat. The volume will usually pick up in less than a second, but it is still very audible and to me annying (though I never ever listen to this type of music voluntarily).

An example of this is the song "Sexy Fitch" or whatever it is called. This song is made to be played on underpowered PA speakers in clubs, and they actually dropped the volume after each beat when they mixed it, on purpose. I suspect this is so the general listener will think it is supposed to sound like this, and won't notice that the club speakers are horribly underpowered.

If you didn't get what I ment about the drop in volume, look this song up and have a listen. Hopefully you'll se my point.

post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by gikigill View Post

The reason is that the VHP/PH25.2 are more expensive than my suggestion and being an ortho, the HE-500, like any other ortho needs heaps of power to sing its best.

But they're going to be the same amplifier...redface.gif

And "heaps of power" is so obtuse - I think you can go on any audiophile discussion board and find at least someone who is always demanding "more current" or "more power" even when it's so far beyond what their equipment can take, or what their ears can take, or so on. I'm still not seeing anything but mythos and conjecture here; really not trying to be an ass about it, but you'll have to forgive me if I'm more than skeptical when faced with claims that disagree with available data and theory.
Quote:
Even the MadDog needs a lot of power and can easily chew up 1.5w/ch without as much as a burp!

And they'll chew your ears up without so much as a burp either! ph34r.giftongue.gif
Quote:
The separate amp/dac combo would bring the best out without a stratospheric price tag and still be cheaper than the Creative ZXR.

He already has the ZxR...how is it cheaper to replace that with more hardware? redface.gif
Quote:
The USB would also be a one step setup whether its the Aune or the Schiit setup and a decent introduction to the audio world.

But again, he already has the ZxR....

I know, there's a big hoop-de-do about "audiophile grade" and "audio focused" gear, and a lot of feel-good vibes about having equipment that is "designed for music" and all that, but the equipment itself doesn't really know from Adam. Clean is clean. Unless the ZxR was/is so botched on Creative's part (which would be unexpected), I'm not seeing any benefit to spending more money on less features (which will be implemented at about the same quality level, because you're having to cover a third party's R&D costs, pay for a fancy enclosure, separate power supply, etc).
Quote:
The HE-500 literally hoovers up power and lets not even discuss the HE-6.

Objectively measured data: 2 mW/ch - 90 dB (which is LOUD, if you aren't familiar with the dB scale). Throw in 20 dB of headroom to make the guys at Dolby happy, and we're talking 200 mW/ch on the top-end (and that's not continuous, thats peak). Lots of headphone amplifiers can do that with no problem. The TPA6120 is putting out about five times that (at least in a reference design). Sure, you can strap them to a 5kW QSC amp and go nuts (and there's a few guys over in Summit-Fi that run 300W/ch amplifiers for their headphones), but their measured power demand is marginally more than the AKG K701 (and you will not use more than they demand no matter how much is on tap, unless you hate your ears). So like I said, I'm still not seeing the rationale behind "no you need to spend more" - especially when the amplifier you've suggested puts out around 1W/ch as well. How is it going to be magically different? What are you expecting?
Quote:
"I think they should all be good for 1W/ch (which is beyond more than any sane person would ever need with any headphone ever made)" said no one ever to a HE-6 owner:D .

I currently run the HE-6 out of a 65w/ch amp, own the MadDog and had the HE-500 previously.

Edited for paragraphs

Why are we talking about the MadDog and HE-6 now? The HE-6 are about a tenth as sensitive as the HE-500 (but I'll give you that the HE-6 and K1000 probably tend to be mated with >1W/ch amplifiers), and I've not really followed the MadDog. redface.gif
Edited by obobskivich - 3/24/13 at 12:02pm
post #12 of 16
The ZXR is more expensive than my suggestion, I couldn't find it cheaper than $250.

The Maddogs do need a lot of power. 600 mw per channel and they lack bass slam. Powered, yes but not properly powered and that might happen with the HE 500 too.
Better to go with a dedicated set up as sound cards rarely, if ever have decent implementation of a headphone amp.
post #13 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by gikigill View Post

The ZXR is more expensive than my suggestion, I couldn't find it cheaper than $250.

For the third time (on my part; it was also stated in the OP a few times): he already owns the ZxR. So how again is it cheaper to throw that out, and then buy ADDITIONAL hardware on top of it? confused_face_2.gifdeadhorse.gif
Quote:
The Maddogs do need a lot of power. 600 mw per channel and they lack bass slam. Powered, yes but not properly powered and that might happen with the HE 500 too.

So now its "might" or "maybe" based on an unrelated model...blink.gif
Quote:
Better to go with a dedicated set up as sound cards rarely, if ever have decent implementation of a headphone amp.

Ok, so because *some* soundcards are bad, all are bad? blink.gif

Again, the chipamp on the ZxR is going to be putting out almost 1:1 what the Schiit amp can do - why is the Schiit expected to be magically better? Is this simply a question of gain (as opposed to power)? Or what?
post #14 of 16
I realise he has the ZXR and selling it might not be a bad idea.
There's no might or maybe, just facts based on actual experience against your statement that they will bust your ears.
Even at 1.5 w/ch , the Maddogs don't get overpowered. The HE 500 can handle a lot of power easily. A dedicated amp again might be a better idea.

I am out of this thread. No point arguing unless you have actual experience with equipment.
post #15 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by gikigill View Post

I realise he has the ZXR and selling it might not be a bad idea.
There's no might or maybe, just facts based on actual experience against your statement that they will bust your ears.
Even at 1.5 w/ch , the Maddogs don't get overpowered. The HE 500 can handle a lot of power easily. A dedicated amp again might be a better idea.

I am out of this thread. No point arguing unless you have actual experience with equipment.

I'm reading quite a bit of "might" or "maybe" in your posts, and you still haven't provided a reason why the 1-2W/ch amplifier in the ZXR is somehow inferior to the 1-2W/ch Schiit (really, address this with anything and I'll be content). You've compared to other (unrelated) headphones, and made some vague claims about equipment (e.g. "I have a 65W amplifier" (okay, 65W into what, under what circumstances, etc)); I'm not trying to argue or fuss (as I've said), I'm trying to understand your argument (which thus far you've done nothing but repeat, with less and less detail). I've really yet to see any "facts" from you...

As far as hearing damage - it's simple, anything over 85 dB is dangerous (and that's more or less universally accepted - OSHA, CCOHS, CEA, heck, even Beats By Dre acknowledges that >85 dB is dangerous). 60-80 dB is a comfortable listening range, and it doesn't matter what headphones you're using. Sensitivity/power will let you figure out theoretical output levels (both for figuring out power demands, and safe thresholds). You're saying 1.5W into the Mad Dogs, but is that continuous? Or just an amplifier that can provide 1.5W peak? There's a *huge* difference. Just because an amplifier can put out X doesn't mean it ALWAYS puts out X.
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