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Laptop at work with headphones - how to improve sound quality

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

Hello Dear Head-Fi community.

 

I am a total hifi noob that enjoys good quality music. At home I just upgraded my old Sound Blaster X-Fi Extreme Music to the latest ZXR and the quality difference is staggering to me. I am using it with Sennheiser HD 555 phones. I thought I will add this info about me to at least allow you guys to profile my hearing capabilities at least somewhat J.

 

I must admit I am not smart enough to learn enough about HiFi to know how to choose appropriate equipment for myself. Which is why I turn to the experts for advice.

 

At work I sit all day long in front of a laptop. Not a great one and a fairly old one. I am using its built in sound card as my audio source as it is convenient to have winamp on the screen to quickly pick what I want to listen to. The obvious problem is – sound quality is terrible.

 

I am using in-ear headphones Sennheiser CX 550 which are fairly average but will do for the time being.

 

I am looking at improving the sound quality as much as possible, as cheaply as possible. I thought about purchasing a pcimcia sound blaster card, but going through the reviews I concluded that none of them (old or new) will improve the situation to any noticeable degree.

 

Then I found a few bits of information about DAC’s and headphone amps and it appears to me this is what I will require.

 

The problem I have is all this knowledge is way beyond my understanding and I really would appreciate if someone who knows this stuff could help me out.

 

So again – I am looking for as simple as possible solution, that will not break the bank.

 

Looking around I found this Fiio E9K DAC/amp - no idea if this is the sort of thing I should be looking for ? Also seems a bit expensive for what I need (£100). If halving the price is a possibility that would be great. So I guess the budget is around £50? However I am open to be educated.

 

If you could also recommend me a good replacement for both mentioned Sennheisers I would appreciate it. For home use I was looking to treat myself with Hifiman HE-400. Cannot find them anywhere to listen to as I must admit I need to bring my old HD555's and compare them in q shop as I have no clue what to expect from very expensive headphones (are they worth it? or should I just buys something sagnificanly cheaper) ?

 

Many thanks for your time in advance.

 

 Tom.

post #2 of 5

My recommendation for your workplace is to get an external USB Amp/DAC.  The DAC will help clean up the digital signal by removing jitter and other unwanted noise from the audio train while the amp will give you better control of the headphone drivers by having a better damping factor and most likely extending the frequency response compared to your on-board sound.

 

Whatever item you choose make sure the output impedance is less than 10 Ohms or it may have issues with noise and power when driving an IEM.

 

You can take a look here for some $200 and under pieces of gear:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/620775/the-sub-200-portable-amps-shootout-13-11-amps-compared/15

 

For your home system, depending on budget, I would recommend the Sennheiser HD600 over the HE-400.  There are a few issues with the HE-400 which keep me from recommending it.  First, it is a pretty heavy headphone making it uncomfortable at times.  Second, with the stock pads the sound is extremely tinny and distorts easily.  The Velour pads are much better so I suggest if you go the route of the HE-400 purchase some Velour pads.  Lastly, because of the low sensitivity ( just 93 dB ) an am is a must.  Not only an amp, but one that can deliver a decent amount of power to the HE-400.

 

The HD600 is the same price, but does not have any of the issues that the HE-400 presents.

 

Here are some inexpensive headphone recommendations that you may like:

 

Philips Cityscape Downtown ( bassy, comfortable, measure and sound great )

Sennheiser HD449 ( more bass than the HD555, some noise reduction, easy to drive )

post #3 of 5

For your work setup I suggest taking a look at the Fiio E10, which is a USB powered DAC + amp.

You might also consider the E07K which is battery powered, giving you some more flexibility in how you use it.

post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 

Many thanks for the replies.

 

Based on both suggestions I did some research. Now I am thinking I can spend a little bit more.

 

Rightly or wrongly I have narrowed it all down to Fiio E10, Fiio E17 and Audioengine D1. I would kindly like to ask for your opinions and advice which to pick.

 

My (current) perspective is:

 

1) Fiio E10 seems like a good option. Especially as an entry unit.  The community seems divided on it however. Some love it, others say not worth the hassle as it will not upgrade laptops audio a great deal. 

My concerns are: reported EMI interference, useless bass boost function, reported audio delay when device goes from silent to active.

 

2) Fiio E17. Has lots of great reviews. I am almost inclined to go for it. One of the biggest points for me is the EQ. I like lots of bass in my music. If my headphones will not provide me with that when paired with whichever DAC/amp I will purchase, having an EQ will be a great feature to have, will it not?

My only concern is: I do not need the portability at all. And for no reason at all, the picture I have in my head of a DAC/amp device is a box with a knob. Having a screen on the top side of it, and buttons alongside of it to control volume seem a little .. off to me. If however it is the device to get due to its SQ, I guess I will get used to it.

Also, I guess there is a price tag attached to the portability and the screen. Will taking it away leave me with basically what E10 is ? In which case the E10 will be better for my needs ? Of is E17 superior to it?

 

3) D1 Seems like the one to pick of the three, however will I be able to tell the difference between D1 and E17 ? If not, then perhaps having the EQ on E17 will be a better idea ? I don’t know … please help.

 

 

Also, I am planning on replacing my Sennheisers CX550 with Shure E215. I never really owned other phones than Sennheisers – is Shure a safe bet to go for?

 

As for the home setup, and the recommended Sennheisers HD600 – a quick question: How do they fare in the bass department. I was going to go for HE400 for that reason exactly (and me liking low frequencies in general). My current Senns 555 are very weak and I am using lots of boost in the low range to get them to more likable level.  


Edited by suchy101 - 8/30/13 at 4:05am
post #5 of 5
Quote:
Originally Posted by suchy101 View Post

...

1) Fiio E10 seems like a good option. Especially as an entry unit.  The community seems divided on it however. Some love it, others say not worth the hassle as it will not upgrade laptops audio a great deal. 

My concerns are: reported EMI interference, useless bass boost function, reported audio delay when device goes from silent to active.

...

 

 

I bought a FiiO E10, which I keep in my bag and use it significantly for work.

I found it a cheap entry level device which produces (subjectively) significantly better response than what is available from standard on board motherboard DAC.

I haven't experienced any EMI or note-worthy audio delays, I don't use bass boost at all. I've read that is typically used for higher impedance drivers and there are reports of audio connectors in older models caving in. 

Good review by ClieOS; http://www.head-fi.org/t/575084/impression-fiio-e10 

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