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How Much Do Headphones Scale?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Greetings head-fiers, I've spent some time browsing the Audeze LCD 2 and the Sennheiser HD 800 thread lately, and from what I gather, the LCD 2 seems to be the more forgiving headphones while the latter are more revealing and tends to scale better with better setups. And I've also seen posts such as "If you only use X setup with the HD 800, you're only going to get about Y% of what its capable off.",  "The HD800 scales much better then the LCD2 with better equipment" and "The HD 800 really reveals minute flaws in your audio setup" That said, I believe headphones have the biggest effect on sound quality, so if I had a budget of under $1500, I'd spend most on headphones and use the remainder for something like an O2, ODAC.

 

So my questions are,

Is it worth getting the HD 800 if I'm only going to use them through an O2, ODAC?

How much does the HD 800 scale with better equipment?

Is there really a drastic sonic improvement, if the HD 800 is played through a setup like a Violectric V200 + V800 (or similar)? And if so, how big an improvement is it really?

 

This is my first post as a tread starter, so hopefully I've posted this in the right place.

 

Cheers!

post #2 of 10

Well this is a difficult topic since it's so subjective. For example, person A might prefer amp X over Y with the HD800 while person B might prefer amp Y for whatever personal, unique reasons.

 

Anyway, in that "league" of headphones the biggest difference in sound quality is due to differences in frequency response. The HD800 has quite a bit more energy in the treble compared to the LCD2. This is what makes it more revealing.

 

Regarding scaling, I don't really see a reason for a difference. Well, there's output impedance. The LCD2 will be largely unaffected by it, but the dynamic HD800's frequency response will definitely change. Maybe not if you go from 0.1 to 0.5 Ohm but definitely if you plug it into a receiver's headphone jack with several hundred Ohm output impedance.

Maybe there are also psychological factors at play, such as the idea that "high impedance headphones are hard to drive". The HD800 has a nominal impedance of 300 Ohm, LCD just 60 Ohm so that HD has to scale better with "beefier" amps. (Of course this makes no sense since there's also sensitivity...)

 

The O2 should be fine if you get the gain right. 7 V (max) / 2 V (DAC) = 3.5x gain ideally.

But if you listen to classical music, which usually has a very low average level, and want to really crank the volume you could run out of gain. By the specs, the V amps output a bit more than double that, so maybe +7 dB which is not much .. so I think an O2 should do.

An ODAC as source is fine.


Edited by xnor - 5/18/13 at 4:51pm
post #3 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post

Well this is a difficult topic since it's so subjective. For example, person A might prefer amp X over Y with the HD800 while person B might prefer amp Y for whatever personal, unique reasons.

 

Anyway, in that "league" of headphones the biggest difference in sound quality is due to differences in frequency response. The HD800 has quite a bit more energy in the treble compared to the LCD2. This is what makes it more revealing.

 

Regarding scaling, I don't really see a reason for a difference. Well, there's output impedance. The LCD2 will be largely unaffected by it, but the dynamic HD800's frequency response will definitely change. Maybe not if you go from 0.1 to 0.5 Ohm but definitely if you plug it into a receiver's headphone jack with several hundred Ohm output impedance.

Maybe there are also psychological factors at play, such as the idea that "high impedance headphones are hard to drive". The HD800 has a nominal impedance of 300 Ohm, LCD just 60 Ohm so that HD has to scale better with "beefier" amps. (Of course this makes no sense since there's also sensitivity...)

 

The O2 should be fine if you get the gain right. 7 V (max) / 2 V (DAC) = 3.5x gain ideally.

But if you listen to classical music, which usually has a very low average level, and want to really crank the volume you could run out of gain. By the specs, the V amps output a bit more than double that, so maybe +7 dB which is not much .. so I think an O2 should do.

An ODAC as source is fine.

Is the ODAC the NWAVGUY's dac made by JDs?

post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post

Well this is a difficult topic since it's so subjective. For example, person A might prefer amp X over Y with the HD800 while person B might prefer amp Y for whatever personal, unique reasons.

 

Anyway, in that "league" of headphones the biggest difference in sound quality is due to differences in frequency response. The HD800 has quite a bit more energy in the treble compared to the LCD2. This is what makes it more revealing.

 

Regarding scaling, I don't really see a reason for a difference. Well, there's output impedance. The LCD2 will be largely unaffected by it, but the dynamic HD800's frequency response will definitely change. Maybe not if you go from 0.1 to 0.5 Ohm but definitely if you plug it into a receiver's headphone jack with several hundred Ohm output impedance.

Maybe there are also psychological factors at play, such as the idea that "high impedance headphones are hard to drive". The HD800 has a nominal impedance of 300 Ohm, LCD just 60 Ohm so that HD has to scale better with "beefier" amps. (Of course this makes no sense since there's also sensitivity...)

 

The O2 should be fine if you get the gain right. 7 V (max) / 2 V (DAC) = 3.5x gain ideally.

But if you listen to classical music, which usually has a very low average level, and want to really crank the volume you could run out of gain. By the specs, the V amps output a bit more than double that, so maybe +7 dB which is not much .. so I think an O2 should do.

An ODAC as source is fine.

Yes i figured this question fell in a rather grey area, and i could have posted this in a regular thread, but i didn't want responses like "this amp is way more expensive than so it powers the HD800 much better". And thus i really appreciate your feedback which is somewhat math-based :)

 

How do we determine if an amp has sufficient power to drive a pair of headphones?

HD 800: 102 db, 300 ohm,

LCDs : 90 db, 60 ohm

 

Can we determine, by calculations if the O2 is able to power the headphones to normal listening levels. I've read nwavguy's blog on "more power", buy i unfortunately I fell short of understanding what the calculations meant.

 

Lets take for example the Violectric V200, which has more output power than the O2. I chose this amp as an example since it measures well and has pretty much all the specs published here http://www.violectric.de/Pages/en/technical-data.php  How, and will the added power have any benefit towards SQ of the HD 800?

 

Thanks in advance

post #5 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by uchihaitachi View Post

Is the ODAC the NWAVGUY's dac made by JDs?

 

Uh, well, kinda.

 

NwAvGuy and Yoyodyne (the latter doing more with the digital / USB side I think) designed the ODAC.  Yoyodyne gets large batches of ODAC boards manufactured through some SMT line and sells them to middlemen like JDSLabs and others, who sell to consumers—sometimes in bare board format, but usually with their own enclosures, adding cost and price.  That's unlike O2, which uses all through-hole parts, and for which outfits like JDSLabs build by themselves.  

 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greenleaf7 View Post

Yes i figured this question fell in a rather grey area, and i could have posted this in a regular thread, but i didn't want responses like "this amp is way more expensive than so it powers the HD800 much better". And thus i really appreciate your feedback which is somewhat math-based :)

 

How do we determine if an amp has sufficient power to drive a pair of headphones?

HD 800: 102 db, 300 ohm,

LCDs : 90 db, 60 ohm

 

Can we determine, by calculations if the O2 is able to power the headphones to normal listening levels. I've read nwavguy's blog on "more power", buy i unfortunately I fell short of understanding what the calculations meant.

 

Lets take for example the Violectric V200, which has more output power than the O2. I chose this amp as an example since it measures well and has pretty much all the specs published here http://www.violectric.de/Pages/en/technical-data.php  How, and will the added power have any benefit towards SQ of the HD 800?

 

Thanks in advance

 

Well, all the information is there, and elsewhere, to do all the calculations and figure things out (sound quality notwithstanding, but that's more of a gray area, with a lot of argument there but not much evidence).  Which part in particular don't you understand?

 

That said, the most fundamental and basic thing to understand is this:

 

The power delivered by the amp depends on the volume you set.  The more power you deliver to the headphones, the louder they will sound.  Thus, how much power you need depends on (1) the impedance and sensitivity of the headphones and (2) how loud you want to listen.  

 

Most people aren't maxing out their amps.  For the majority of people and majority of music, if you actually were maxing out say the O2 driving the HD 800 and LCDs, they would be uncomfortably loud, and you definitely wouldn't want them on your head.  FiiO E9 would give you similar output levels but a bit more for lower-impedance headphones, and Schiit Magni at a similar cost is even more powerful, for reference.

 

 

 

edit: if you'll excuse some editorializing and guesswork in this forum ostensibly about science...

 

There are some differences in amps, places for improvements, sometimes significant changes that could be audible, definitely differences in build quality / aesthetics / features.  And for some headphones, a cheap amp really isn't going to have enough distortion-free power for a satisfying listening experience.

 

But the notion of headphones scaling with more expensive amps is largely hogwash.  I would guess that the "common knowledge" comes largely from two factors:

(1) Users' expectations and post-purchase rationalization scaling with the price tags

(2) Volume setting scaling up with expensive, high-output amps (which may have higher gain, more room in the volume rotation left); most causal A-B comparisons are not done with volumes carefully matched, so a powerful amp where you unintentionally set the volume higher (hey, it's only 10 o'clock) may sound better just because of the volume difference and would may not actually were the volume to be matched


Edited by mikeaj - 5/18/13 at 5:42pm
post #6 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by Greenleaf7 View Post

HD 800: 102 db, 300 ohm,

LCDs : 90 db, 60 ohm

These specs are based on different references.

HD800 = 102 dB SPL @ 1 V

LCD2 = 90 dB SPL @ 1 mW = 102 dB SPL @ 1 V

 

You're controlling the voltage with the volume control. The LCD2 just draws more current (I = V / R).


Edited by xnor - 5/18/13 at 5:51pm
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeaj View Post

 

Uh, well, kinda.

 

NwAvGuy and Yoyodyne (the latter doing more with the digital / USB side I think) designed the ODAC.  Yoyodyne gets large batches of ODAC boards manufactured through some SMT line and sells them to middlemen like JDSLabs and others, who sell to consumers—sometimes in bare board format, but usually with their own enclosures, adding cost and price.  That's unlike O2, which uses all through-hole parts, and for which outfits like JDSLabs build by themselves.  

 

 

 

 

Well, all the information is there, and elsewhere, to do all the calculations and figure things out (sound quality notwithstanding, but that's more of a gray area, with a lot of argument there but not much evidence).  Which part in particular don't you understand?

 

That said, the most fundamental and basic thing to understand is this:

 

The power delivered by the amp depends on the volume you set.  The more power you deliver to the headphones, the louder they will sound.  Thus, how much power you need depends on (1) the impedance and sensitivity of the headphones and (2) how loud you want to listen.  

 

Most people aren't maxing out their amps.  For the majority of people and majority of music, if you actually were maxing out say the O2 driving the HD 800 and LCDs, they would be uncomfortably loud, and you definitely wouldn't want them on your head.  FiiO E9 would give you similar output levels but a bit more for lower-impedance headphones, and Schiit Magni at a similar cost is even more powerful, for reference.

 

dB/mW  105 110 115 < Peak SPL
85 100.0 316.2 1000.0  
88 50.1 158.5 501.2  
91 25.1 79.4 251.2  
94 12.6 39.8 125.9  
97 6.3 20.0 63.1  
100 3.2 10.0 31.6  
103 1.6 5.0 15.8  
106 0.8 2.5 7.9  
109 0.4 1.3 4.0  
112 0.2 0.6 2.0  
115 0.1 0.3 1.0  
118 0.1 0.2 0.5  

 

This is chart that i pulled off his blog. So lets say, i want to listen to the LCD2 at 105db, I would need 25mW. Am I right?

 

While I don't know precisely how loud i listen. Here's a rough estimate. I have the volume on my iDevice at 50% when using a pair of Shure SE 315s. I do go all the way up to 60% sometimes but never higher.

post #8 of 10

I'd take the dB SPL @ 1 V sensitivity values and go from there.

 

102 dB @ 1 V, you want 105 dB, so +3 dB: 10^(3/20) = 1.41 V

 

Power P = V*V/R = 1.41*1.41/60 = 0.0333 W = 33.3 mW

 

 

edit: Assuming 50% is -30 dB and max output is 1 V and SE315 sensitivity is 128 dB @ 1 V you listen at approx. 98 dB peak.


Edited by xnor - 5/18/13 at 5:59pm
post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeaj View Post

edit: if you'll excuse some editorializing and guesswork in this forum ostensibly about science...

 

There are some differences in amps, places for improvements, sometimes significant changes that could be audible, definitely differences in build quality / aesthetics / features.  And for some headphones, a cheap amp really isn't going to have enough distortion-free power for a satisfying listening experience.

 

But the notion of headphones scaling with more expensive amps is largely hogwash.  I would guess that the "common knowledge" comes largely from two factors:

(1) Users' expectations and post-purchase rationalization scaling with the price tags

(2) Volume setting scaling up with expensive, high-output amps (which may have higher gain, more room in the volume rotation left); most causal A-B comparisons are not done with volumes carefully matched, so a powerful amp where you unintentionally set the volume higher (hey, it's only 10 o'clock) may sound better just because of the volume difference and would may not actually were the volume to be matched

That's why i posted this here and not in the general thread :) If you also look at the amp recommendation for HD 800 thread, most of the amps that are recommended costs over $1k. Now while I'm not saying that those more expensive amps do not equate to audible improvements of the HD 800 whatsoever since i haven't tried them, I'm questioning if the improved sound quality, if any, justifies the $1k or over price tag. And yes, i do agree with the part about expectation bias, but again, subjective reviewers wouldn't admit to that now, won't they? 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post

These specs are based on different references.

HD800 = 102 dB SPL @ 1 V

LCD2 = 90 dB SPL @ 1 mW = 102 dB SPL @ 1 V

 

You're controlling the voltage with the volume control. The LCD2 just draws more current (I = V / R).

That's what i was't sure about, thanks for clearing it up, it makes more sense now.

post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post

I'd take the dB SPL @ 1 V sensitivity values and go from there.

 

102 dB @ 1 V, you want 105 dB, so +3 dB: 10^(3/20) = 1.41 V

 

Power P = V*V/R = 1.41*1.41/60 = 0.0333 W = 33.3 mW

 

 

edit: Assuming 50% is -30 dB and max output is 1 V and SE315 sensitivity is 128 dB @ 1 V you listen at approx. 98 dB peak.

Thanks, that was helpful. I'm starting to get a hang of the calculations now. cheers

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