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Recommendations for future audio upgrade.

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Hello everybody, this is my first post here and I'm fairly excited to be a part of a community dealing with technology I know nothing about. I've been looking around this website for a little while and now that I have a few questions that I can't very easily find the answers to I figured I might as well make an account and actually stop lurking. 

 

After having accrued enough money to upgrade my audio I decided that it would be best to defer to the experts, you all. I am somewhat new to the audiophile world and have some questions regarding an upgrade. I am currently using Sennheiser PC350's with a Asus Xonar STX soundcard. I figured that since I could notice a huge improvement over my previous $80 headset that now I have some more money an even better setup would be in order. While I do use my headset for gaming I also like to listen to music, and so it would be nice (especially having ripped my entire library as .wav a while ago) to get the most, or at least more, out of my music. 

 

The budget I am working under is about $1000. That is the upper limit and I would definitely like to fit within that. I have been looking around already at equipment, mostly on this site and comparing prices on amazon, and this is where the questions come in.

 

What exactly is the general setup for a higher end system? From what I gathered with high impedance headphones one would need a dac and then an amp after that and would either use some sort of coaxial/spdif or usb output to the dac, and connect their headset to the amp, and similarly the output from the dac to the amp. Am I missing anything here? (From a purely physics point of view I don't think so, you take the raw digital data from the spdif or usb I guess and convert that to analog and then take that analog wave form and boost it from it's small, possibly millivolt, amplitude signal to something useful for driving a speaker) 

 

In addition to this while looking for a dedicated dac and amp I've run into this issue of what is more important? Is it best to get similar quality? Or if I am within a budget is a high quality dac more important than a high quality amp? And of course there is the question of vacuum tubes. For a novice audiophile is the difference between vacuum tubes and solid state really noticeable and worth sinking a little more money into?

 

This is also only half of the problem, I also am looking for new headphones and I think the same question applies. Should I spend more on the headphone side of the rig or more on the dac/amp? Is this also just a matter of buying similar quality components so as to not bottleneck anything?

 

Any answers to these questions as well as any recommendations on products that you like that fit within this budget and need would be very much appreciated, thanks in advance!

post #2 of 7

Hm. Actually I'd see it more as getting an amp before the dac in most cases (most people start w/ onboard dac's or a soundcard's dac). As for which ones more important- both are equally important. What you here is the weakest link in the chain. A dac by itself is useless because there is no amplification done to the signal. Even then, you don't seen people plugging their phones into dac's because there usually isn't a TRS output for the phones. 

 

Tube vs SS is personal preference. Tubes tend to have a warmer sig, and SS' tend to be faster/accurate. Maybe cold (or uncolored), if you will. But everything is dependent on the design (there can be fast tubes and slow SS'). 

 

Now with the budget. Given you have $1000 to spend, you can go into electrostatic headphones. The koss esp950 is usually discounted to somewhere around $700 (I've heard it go lower, but each time I check it's somewhere ~ $700). Since the phone comes with its own energizer (amp), the problem of finding a decent amp is gone. This leaves you with at least $250 (in most cases) to upgrade your dac. You can go for an ODAC or HRT music streamer ii. However, if you're a bass head, the phones aren't for you.

 

You can also go into orthos such has the he-400 or the mad dogs with a schiit stack or objective combo. Orthos do have bass if it's what you need.

 

There're also more options (open dynamic phones such as the ma900, ad900x (and the rest of its family), beyer xx0 series, k70x from akg, etc. You can get into tubes and tube roll.

 

Hope this helped!

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 

It did help very much! I had read about electrostatic headphones a while back I just never really thought about them... 

 

Of course I had never heard of orthos before and after a cursory glance at what they are proved very helpful.

 

Most of my looking around done before revolved around a few different headphones by beyer (the DT 880 and 990 both 600 ohm) and the Sennheiser HD 650's. I was also looking at some of the stuff from schiit, the asgard + bifrost and the HD 650's actually fit quite well with my budget.

 

Although I was wondering what the advantages there are to electrostatics and orthos are? It's just sort of off-putting that they aren't nearly as common as dynamics :).

post #4 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by inkonspicuous View Post

It did help very much! I had read about electrostatic headphones a while back I just never really thought about them... 

 

Of course I had never heard of orthos before and after a cursory glance at what they are proved very helpful.

 

Most of my looking around done before revolved around a few different headphones by beyer (the DT 880 and 990 both 600 ohm) and the Sennheiser HD 650's. I was also looking at some of the stuff from schiit, the asgard + bifrost and the HD 650's actually fit quite well with my budget.

 

Although I was wondering what the advantages there are to electrostatics and orthos are? It's just sort of off-putting that they aren't nearly as common as dynamics :).

You're welcome, and that's a fine start at your research. 

 

Orthos are rather better bang for buck generally (he-400/500//lff paradox/mad dog/other t50rp variant) and have all the needed bass while tending to be darker (or warmer ). 

 

Electrostats excel at detail retrieval, accuracy, speed, and imaging. Though this comes with the drawback of losing bass impact/quantity in most cases. As for the esp950, if you ever go with a and get a higher stax phone/amp in general, then you can go about a stax adapter. Though the stock cord for the esp950 is 4ft.

 

As for why they're not as common, the cost/ease of manufacture for each method varies. 

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 

Hmm okay thank you. I'll have to look into orthos further. I don't particularly need bass, but seeing as though my current setup is rather light on and bass and I tend to listen to a lot of heavy metal, better bass would be nice. One thing it seems in kind of common is in the dynamic market a lot of headphones tend to be light on the bass with more influence on treble until you get into the $500+ range. Of course this isn't that much of an issue but it is also what is kind of keeping me from really considering the beyer DT 770 and 880. Of course if this is incorrect and I've just found too small a sample size please correct me :).

post #6 of 7
Quote:

Hmm okay thank you. I'll have to look into orthos further. I don't particularly need bass, but seeing as though my current setup is rather light on and bass and I tend to listen to a lot of heavy metal, better bass would be nice. One thing it seems in kind of common is in the dynamic market a lot of headphones tend to be light on the bass with more influence on treble until you get into the $500+ range. Of course this isn't that much of an issue but it is also what is kind of keeping me from really considering the beyer DT 770 and 880. Of course if this is incorrect and I've just found too small a sample size please correct me :).

Welcome.

And it depends for the treble emphasis. There are quite a few phones sub $500 that aren't treble. Beyer tends to be treble-tipped/brighter though.

post #7 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by inkonspicuous View Post

Hmm okay thank you. I'll have to look into orthos further. I don't particularly need bass, but seeing as though my current setup is rather light on and bass and I tend to listen to a lot of heavy metal, better bass would be nice. One thing it seems in kind of common is in the dynamic market a lot of headphones tend to be light on the bass with more influence on treble until you get into the $500+ range. Of course this isn't that much of an issue but it is also what is kind of keeping me from really considering the beyer DT 770 and 880. Of course if this is incorrect and I've just found too small a sample size please correct me smily_headphones1.gif.

If you like listening to metal, you should look into some Grado headphones. Well known for being very good for rock and metal. They have excellent transient response with strong mids and treble that really bring out guitar. Grados can be a love 'em or hate 'em kind of thing, so be sure to buy from some place you can return them.

Have you considered instead using your budget to get two mid-fi headphones? Many of us have more than one pair of headphones because

a) some types of headphones excel at some music more than others
b) nice to change up to a different sound
c) open headphones have a big soundstage, which most people like. But at times, it's more convenient to have a set of closed cans for isolation.

For further research, you might try looking at headphones in the Battle of the Flagships. Also, I understand that the Senn PC350 have a corresponding Senn that doesn't have the mic (not sure which model) sold as a regular headphone. Might be helpful to find out which one in case others are comparing it to headphones you are interested.
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