Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphone Amps (full-size) › Confused on AMP/DAC with my new headphones (HD800)?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Confused on AMP/DAC with my new headphones (HD800)?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Hi I purchased a Sennheiser HD 800 and Beyerdynamic A1 AMP, recommended from a friend of mine. I pulled out a speaker male to female cable out of my BOSE speakers and I'm using that to connect my amp to my laptop.

 

I'm really new to this audio experience and I would really like your input.

 

Do I need a DAC if I already have a AMP? 

 

I also ordered a Aqudioquest king cobra cable to hook it up to my CD player. What would I need to have the best sound quality from my laptop to my headphones? 

post #2 of 7
The HD800 require pretty high voltage and current making them hard to drive. A dedicated amp is really the only way to get good control out of the headphone drivers and voice coils.

Here are a few things to look at:

What is a headphone amp and why you may need one

http://www.headphone.com/learning-center/what-is-a-headphone-amp.php

What the heck is a DAC anyway?

http://www.headphone.com/learning-center/what-is-a-dac.php
post #3 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewstoryline View Post
 

Hi I purchased a Sennheiser HD 800 and Beyerdynamic A1 AMP, recommended from a friend of mine. I pulled out a speaker male to female cable out of my BOSE speakers and I'm using that to connect my amp to my laptop.

 

Just to clarify, that's a "low-level"* connection cable - headphone out and lineout - while a true speaker cable is a "high-level"** connection. Note that in shared jacks, depending on the circuit design and cable quality, noise and even signal transmission quality can be compromised, but I'll get to more on that below.

*In simplest terms, unamplified
**In simplest terms, amplified

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by thenewstoryline View Post

 

Do I need a DAC if I already have a AMP?

 

Each has a different task. A Digital to Analogue Converter does exactly that - 1's and 0's of digitally encoded music get converted into an electronic signal that, when amplified, can move a transducer (headphone or speaker) and that's what produces what we hear. Technically, some boxes have both, so don't be surprised to see a DAC with a headphone output and what is normally referred to as an amp having a USB input, but depending on the design, there can be compromises to either circuit design* which is why some people may upgrade and add a dedicated component.

 

Also, technically, your laptop's soundcard circuit has both - it decodes the 1's and 0's and sends out a signal that's a compromise for driving a wide variety of ear/headphones, sending a signal to powered speakers, packaging and reliability (size, heat), and power (laptop battery life). So technically, you already have a DAC, but the question is how good it is at decoding those 1's and 0's, as well as whether its analog output stage transmits the signal faithfully to the intended amplifier, which has different specification requirements. A 300ohm headphone for example has different needs from a 10kohm input going into a preamp(stage), and your laptop output basically designed with too many compromises (not that it was even tested feeding the A1 and driving the HD800). In short - most likely yes - the trick is in choosing a DAC that does the job well in decoding and whether the output stage sends a faithful signal without coloring it, or has an extreme impedance mismatch with the next component, or the signal is too weak** or distorts.

 

 

*ie, an amp with not enough power or current (or both) in a DAC, or an amp with a basic USB DAC that serves to either make for a minimalist system, or as a back-up in case your other quality source - be it a DAC, CDP, or TT - that is usually (but not always) better than most laptops and mainstream portable music players

**2volts is CD standard, but that doesn't mean that a clean 1.5v output is "bad" for short connections (you aren't running the cable from one room to another, or that 2.2v output is automatically "best." In car audio receivers some Alpines have 4v, Pioneers and Eclipses used to have as high as 6.5v, and Denon/Nakamichi used 1.8V to 2V, but there is measurable distortion when you crank up the high-voltage outputs to that spec anyways, overall despite using a 4m long cable, you still end up setting up the gain roughly below 3v.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewstoryline View Post

 

I'm really new to this audio experience and I would really like your input.

 

----

 

I also ordered a Aqudioquest king cobra cable to hook it up to my CD player. What would I need to have the best sound quality from my laptop to my headphones? 

 

Don't take this the wrong way, and instead as the most useful advice I can give you : given all I had to write above on top of your own admission of being new in the hobby, don't be in a rush to blow your money, especially on accessories like cables. As much as I'd risk getting drawn into that endless cable debate, think about it: the artist and the studio that recorded whatever you're listening to may have spent thousands of dollars on the guitars (and violins, brass, etc) and amps alone plus the drums (and those wear out quicker than strings), then thousands more on the consoles and the monitor speakers, hundreds on each microphone - then they connect each of that with something like Belden  or Canare that you can buy a chunk off a spool of unterminated cable for the price of 1m of the King Cobra (you could probably buy all their plugs instead of the cable for that $250).

 

I mean, think about it - if you're buying your first guitar, would you get a $250 Fender or Ibanez that probably comes with a 10W amp, or would you jump straight to a $1,500 ESP? Sure, in your case appreciation and familiarity with the music is more important than skill in shredding* a few riffs, but part of that learning process comes with knowing how each equipment helps the system overall. Of course, that's not to mean you constantly buy stuff and repeatedly side-grading, but there's a fine line between side-grades, and an incremental upgrade for a lot more money, and lots of small losses while selling off other gear along that way.

 

Since you have a friend who recommended the equipment to you, can you try out his gear too? Borrow some spare cables and compare those with the kind you probably got free with a BluRay player (heck, maybe the A1 came with those), to know for yourself if you can hear a difference.

 



*and of course scratching up the learner guitar and learning to maintain it - changing strings, keeping it free of oil after use, not knocking it around, etc

post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 

I'm not entirely sure how good my laptop DAC is (macbook pro retina). 

 

Unfortunately the beyerdynamic a1 only came with the amp itself and the power cable :( ! However, it does support up to 600ohms so that's something! But for $659 they couldn't throw in a cable, sheesh!

 

I totally get the guitar reference! I have a habit of jumping into conclusions and a strong desire to have top quality stuff. Practice makes perfect. It's the little things that count like cable management or learning how to maintain the product. Also, it is the little things that can ***** things up (learned this the HARD way when I decided to go water cooling with my computer altogether and skipped a step... long story short I had to RMA almost every part).

 

Thanks for being super descriptive ProtegeManiac! Do you recommend any decent cables that can be plugged into my laptop jack from an amp? OR is the Laptop --> DAC (USB) --> Cable --> AMP --> Headphone a more tactful solution?

 

What's your name btw? Mines drew :-)

post #5 of 7
Hi Drew,

You already have an CD player, right? This way you just connect your CD player to the amp with an pair of interconnects, but...
If you like to use your comp as an source, you need an DAC, so, whats your budget for that one, as it must be really nice one, I think.
post #6 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewstoryline View Post
 

I'm not entirely sure how good my laptop DAC is (macbook pro retina). 

 

 

Assume that it might be better than most people give it credit for, but that doesn't mean there aren't better-designed dedicated (or combo DAC-amps) that can be had for not a lot more money. Even my 2012 Acer laptop sounds a lot better than what it replaced - a 2007 Vaio C-series (bought mid-2008) - which at the time of barely any 720p content had a decent display and (compared to the 2004 HP it replaced) a headphone output I would actually listen to. Yep, I don't replace my laptop until I can't do office work on it, even if it has stopped having any worthwhile gaming capability.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewstoryline View Post
 

Unfortunately the beyerdynamic a1 only came with the amp itself and the power cable :( ! However, it does support up to 600ohms so that's something! But for $659 they couldn't throw in a cable, sheesh!

 

They probably assumed people who can afford that amp will blow half that money on cables anyway, to replace the hardware store quality generic cables that come as freebies.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewstoryline View Post

 

I totally get the guitar reference! I have a habit of jumping into conclusions and a strong desire to have top quality stuff. Practice makes perfect. It's the little things that count like cable management or learning how to maintain the product. Also, it is the little things that can ***** things up (learned this the HARD way when I decided to go water cooling with my computer altogether and skipped a step... long story short I had to RMA almost every part).

 

It's alright to have top quality stuff, the question is how it can best be appreciated. When Pierce Brosnan's kid crashed his F355 on a freshly-minted driver's license, did he have an idea how much more fun (and because of the power, tranny, and suspension, more demanding of driver skill) that car is compared to a family sedan most people get from their Dads?

 

In any case, this won't be skipping a step, at least not destructive - just taking a long look before another leap. Just to start you off, look into the ODAC, and the HRT line of DACs.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewstoryline View Post
 

Thanks for being super descriptive ProtegeManiac! Do you recommend any decent cables that can be plugged into my laptop jack from an amp? OR is the Laptop --> DAC (USB) --> Cable --> AMP --> Headphone a more tactful solution?

 

You know, there was a thread here before where a guy hooked up his Macbook (Air?) to $249 Audioengine speakers using $1200+ AQ cables. I'd say save the money (even if you're just thinking of a fraction of that) for a "decent" 3.5mm to RCA cable to hook up the laptop, unless you're sure about getting a DAC that can utilize that cable (ie, it has a 3.5mm output port; read up on the ODAC, use the search function here). Otherwise, keep looking into DACs, then get a USB cable of decent build quality and USB-standard compliance* (Monoprice and Amazon's in-house brand feel solid, I use these for everything), and  analog cables with the proper termination to connect it to your amp.

 

 

By the way, what are you using your CDP with right now? I'd just "borrow" the cables from there unless you're still using that system often enough to make connecting and disconnecting a pain.

 




*I've heard of "audiophile" USB cables screwing up the signal precisely because their being overbuilt can't outdo the fact that they aren't USB compliant (many audiophile cables experiment on geometry, and while that's a nice experiment for analogue if cheap, it can screw up USB), and that goes beyond not having a power conductor


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 9/9/13 at 3:32am
post #7 of 7
What a great write up from ProtegeManiac cool.gif
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Headphone Amps (full-size)
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphone Amps (full-size) › Confused on AMP/DAC with my new headphones (HD800)?