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Anyone want to play devil's advocate?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Hi, all~

 

Fairly raw newbie here... first post, first real foray in to the hifi headphone world. Be gentle! (Or not. I suppose it's all up to you.)

 

To set the stage for the questions that come next: for better or worse I am an iOS user and am generally pretty happy with iTunes. I have a fairly sizable library built up, which started growing exponentially when I began replacing mp3 encodes with FLAC-converted-to-ALAC lossless encodes.

 

Acknowledging the limitations of iOS playback ( http://cypherlabs.com/blog/post/bit-rate-frequency ) as well as the fact that 16/44.1 or 16/48 don't really represent "limitations" as far as the human ear is concerned ( http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html ), I think I'm ok sticking with my iPhone as my primary playback source. I currently have a 4s and will likely move to a 5s in the next couple months.

 

Given this starting state, I've been focusing on DAC/Amp units that allow direct digital extraction from the iPhone.

 

One last bit of background information: while I've not yet truly ventured in to the hifi world, I'd rather skip the tentative "baby steps" and jump straight to a point where I can be happy for a good long while to come.

 

So, my proposed combo is:

   HiFiMan HE-500

   CEntrance HiFi-M8 XL4

   Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3 (with Neutrik single 4-pin male XLR)

 

This combination is actually over what my budget ought to be, but even a newbie like me is familiar with the "sorry about your wallet" tagline associated with this place. :-)

 

 

At any rate, on to the actual questions:

 

   1) I guess the main thing I'm looking for is general feedback about the selections - am I on a good track? Given a hard budget limit of $2000 (it should really be more like $1000, but *eh*), is this combination getting close to the best a person can do? (Or, phrased another way, is there a reason I shouldn't go with this combo?)

 

   2) Can anyone speak to the build quality / warranty / expected life of this equipment? Can I reasonably expect to get 10 years out of them?

 

   3) While I kinda like the idea of a portable DAC/Amp, the reality is it likely won't leave my desk very often. Are there desktop DAC/Amps with digital audio extraction from iOS that are competitive/better in terms of price/quality to the HiFi-M8? (I do a lot of my listening at work, where I'm not supposed to store music files, so even if it's a desktop DAC/Amp I'll still be using the iPhone for playback.) 

 

   4) With regards to listening using an iPhone... has anyone been able to establish a "minimum safe distance" between the iPhone and a DAC/Amp to prevent cellular/wifi interference (assuming that's an issue)?

 

 

Thanks in advance for any feedback you can offer, and feel free to answer any of these questions with a link to another place where the question has already been covered in detail.

 

   - Nathan

 

 

P.S. The posting guidelines suggest mentioning something about the sort of music you listen to. I struggle with proper genre labels, but for whatever it's worth my listening tends to focus on the hard rock / industrial / electronic spectrum. If I had to pick a favorite all-time artist it would probably have to be Nine Inch Nails (which, when you include all the Halos, cover that entire range of music).

 

My just-right-now favorite would probably be Celldweller, who has a couple tracks that blend electronic and orchestral material that I really like (such as "Elara"; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p5paopfZ6E ). Saltillo has some good tracks in this vein also (e.g., "A Necessary End"; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEvby-c1WnI [I could do without the voice-overs, but love the rest]).

 

I just remembered: when it comes to describing musical tastes, Pandora (which I only very infrequently use) can do a decent job if you ask it "Why was this track selected?" a couple times and combine the responses: "Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features hard rock/electronica roots, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, varying tempo and time signatures, extensive vamping and intricate melodic phrasing."


Edited by nhelder - 9/19/13 at 9:35am
post #2 of 22

I cant address all your questions but I can address and a few thoughts that you didnt mention...

 

I have an Ipod touch 3g currently(as well as a Galaxy s3)and have demo'd numerous HPs and amp/dac combos....

Firstly my Ipod 3g bleeds battery power profusely when playing ALAC files and coupled with the HiFi M8 and the Alo International..
That coupled with the ALAC sonic limitations Ive decided to invest in a dedicated DAP..most likely the x3 to start and the AK120 when I can afford it.

The HE 500 is a good HP but I find it very uncomfortable to wear....In addition while both the International and HiFi M8 can drive the HE500 it,at least for me wasnt nearly loud enough to consider it as a viable option esp. when other headphones like the KEF500s,HD600,HD650s,Beyer 990 (250 ohms) and the Mad Dogs w/ Alpha Pads at least match the performance(and in all cases,out perform IMO)the HE500 and also all have a lot more volume headroom than the HE500.The comfort level was also a factor,all 5 were much more comfortable to wear,esp the Mad Dogs,which was eargasmic to wear.


 I got essentially very similar volume headroom out of the HiFi M8 with the T1 as I did with the HE500s,so at least for me Id much rather go for the above mentioned 5 headphones before the HE500s and if volume wasnt an issue the T1 or Audeze LCD2 out performs the HE500 by more than a small margin...

Of course the way any headphone sounds is a subjective matter,and what sounds good to me might not appeal to you,but the volume limitations cannot be denied nor can the comfort factor.

post #3 of 22

Hi monsterzero,

 

Do you think GS3 paired with Fiio E17 will sound better than Fiio X3? Thank you.

 

nhelder,

 

WIth that money you can get the AK120.

post #4 of 22

Heya,

 

I take it this is for home use only? Correct? Not going to ever walk around with it, right?

 

Very best,

post #5 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by zamorin View Post
 

Hi monsterzero,

 

Do you think GS3 paired with Fiio E17 will sound better than Fiio X3? Thank you.

 

nhelder,

 

WIth that money you can get the AK120.

I havent demo'd the Fiio E17 ....

GS3?Do you mean Galaxy S3? If so I decided long ago to abandon my S3 as a primary music player...no heaphones sounds good straight out of it and the number of amp/DAC choices are limited as well.Even amp/DACs that are "meant" for Android devices are hit and miss,and in my experience are a real hassle to get to work together without alot of plugging/unplugging,turning off/on etc before the 2 devices finally reach a digital handshake.

Apparently the international S3 have a better dac than the American version,dunno if thats true,but thats what Ive read...
But the amount of volume I can get out of my S3 is a bad joke,so at least for me Id rather keep my battery life intact on my phone and use a better DAP/amp or amp/dac combo for dedicated music playing.
 


Edited by monsterzero - 9/19/13 at 3:21am
post #6 of 22

Yes, I meant the Galaxy S3. I too didn't find the S3 SQ good, that's why I got the E17 but I've no problem connecting the S3 and E17. I connect via audio-out port. Mine is the international version. The volume on most android phones are set to 80% of the volume even if the volume is turned on full. You can get 100% of volume by manually inserting some codes on the dialpad. XDA-developers have more information on that.

post #7 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quoting monsterzero:
Firstly my Ipod 3g bleeds battery power profusely when playing ALAC files and coupled with the HiFi M8 and the Alo International..
That coupled with the ALAC sonic limitations Ive decided to invest in a dedicated DAP..most likely the x3 to start and the AK120 when I can afford it.
 
As far as the battery drain, if this hardware were to mostly live on my desk (plugged in), the HiFi M8 should actually serve as a charging station, correct?
 
I hadn't come across any discussions of ALAC sonic limitations... could you point me to place where I could get up to speed on that?
 
 
Quoting monsterzero:
The HE 500 is a good HP but... the volume limitations cannot be denied nor can the comfort factor.
 
Thanks for that feedback.
 
The Audeze LCD2's definitely caught my eye, but once you include an amp/DAC and some good cables the total price starts getting uncomfortable (I mentioned a $2000 as hard limit, but the closer to $1,000 the less-angry my wife is likely about to be).
 
The Sennheiser HD 650's are on the shortlist based on the reviews/price. I had been wanting to get in to the planar magnetics, but to be honest I don't know if my ears would be able to tell the difference. If the HE-500's have enough negatives to cross off the list and I can't convince myself to spend the money to get the LCD2's, maybe the HD 650's are the way to go...
 
 
Quoting zamorin:
WIth that money you can get the AK120.

 

monsterzero also mentioned the AK120. My hesitation in going with a dedicated DAP is the lack of flexibility. Right now, I'm focused on headphone playback, but a couple years down the road my situation might be different I want to reuse the amp/DAC as part of a starter hi-fi home computer/speaker setup. Something like a Hi-Fi M8 would allow me to do that, but the AK120 would not.

 

...maybe I'm trying to factor in too many variables and need to narrow my focus, but that's at least my initial response to the notion of a dedicated DAP. (I'm open to being swayed though - perhaps I'm not giving the "pros" of a DAP their proper weight?)

 

 

 

Quoting MalVeauX:

I take it this is for home use only? Correct? Not going to ever walk around with it, right?

 
My initial response is no, I'm not planning to walk around with it. Of course, it's a little bit of a choose-your-own-adventure: if I buy a portable amp/DAC, I might walk around / travel with it. If I buy a desktop one, well, then I probably won't.
 
...maybe a better response (more to the point) is to say that portability is not a requirement in my mind.
 
 
Thanks to all for the feedback to date - I appreciate the help as I hover on the edge of diving in to hi-fi.
 
   - Nathan
post #8 of 22

If youre not going portable then why not just buy a 1TB harddrive for your music,get some computer software that supports 24/96 and 24/192 FLAC files,a desktop amp/dac that is strong enough to make the Audeze LCD2 sing?!

Apple lossless is 16/44.1,and doesnt support higher resolutions like 24/96 and 192.Theres a lot of threads here debating whether or not there is an audible difference.I can say that I do indeed hear a difference,especially in soundstage and detail with the higher files.

If youre not going mobile theres really no need for the M8 nor a dedicated DAP,leaving you more $ for upper end phones and a desktop amp/DAC.

post #9 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quoting monsterzero:
If youre not going portable then why not just buy a 1TB harddrive for your music,get some computer software that supports 24/96 and 24/192 FLAC files,a desktop amp/dac that is strong enough to make the Audeze LCD2 sing?!

 

That would be a possibility... a limitation there would be that, at work (where I do most of my listening these days), the only output option would be 3/8" or USB.

 

...what would be some good amp/DACs with USB input to target for pairing with the LCD2s?

 

Quoting monsterzero:

Apple lossless is 16/44.1,and doesnt support higher resolutions like 24/96 and 192.

 

As a new member, I don't want to be too presumptuous, but I don't believe that's correct. My understanding is that the difference between FLAC and ALAC is simply a header change, which is why a whole FLAC CD can be converted to ALAC in ~1 minute. As such, anything FLAC can do ALAC can do. (I have ALAC encodes that range across the possibilities, up to and including 24/96 and 24/192.)

 

The 16/44.1 and 16/48 limitations come in in terms of what iOS devices are able to output (as per the link I mentioned above,  http://cypherlabs.com/blog/post/bit-rate-frequency ).

 

iTunes on a PC/Mac does not have the same output limitations as iOS and as of version 11 iTunes can be configured to output 24/192 (and as long as your sound card supports [and your OS is configured to use] 24/192, you can actually get that output).

 

 

Now, whether that output could be directed to a USB-connected amp/DAC, I guess I'm not sure... assuming the amp/DAC presents itself as an audio output source to the OS, I suppose it wouldn't be an issue.

 

...is that how USB amp/DACs work?

 

Thanks again,

 

   - Nathan


Edited by nhelder - 9/22/13 at 7:42pm
post #10 of 22

Okay I was under the impression you were going to use your Ipod as a source....

you can read here on this thread...I do know that the software I use to convert FLAC to ALAC wont go above 16/44.1

http://forum.dbpoweramp.com/showthread.php?24175-24-bit-192-kHz-FLAC-to-Apple-Lossless

post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quoting monsterzero:

Okay I was under the impression you were going to use your Ipod as a source....

 

Well, that was a reasonable impression to have - initially, I was planning to do that! But, your suggestion to abandon the mobile approach and go desktop has me considering that option.

 

...it seems I've got more reading to do as far as a good desktop amp/DAC combo with USB support - any suggestions as to where to start on that?

 

Thanks again,

 

   - Nathan

 

P.S. Also, for whatever it's worth, I can attest that dbPowerAmp, as of at least R14.1, doesn't have any issue converting 24/192 FLAC to ALAC.


Edited by nhelder - 9/22/13 at 8:24pm
post #12 of 22

after going to a Can Jam, chiunifi, and trying many things at stores, I would advise you to not take too many gambles. My initial reaction to the majority of the really high-priced stuff was a feeling of being underwhelmed, if not disappointed. People spend a lot of money gambling that they'll get better sound by buying more things they haven't heard. For the amount of money so much of this stuff costs, I feel like the performance should be a lot better. Even headphones that cost several grand can have significant limitations. I don't consider myself an authority or a hardcore objectivist, but I've learned a few things being here for 7 years. 

 

If you're looking to define best, that does imply you're looking for some kind of objectivity. Thing is, this hobby is not really about objectivity. It's more about finding what suits a person's subjective preferences. But there are certain things that can be objectively measured. Problem is, is that a good amount of this stuff isn't objectively evaluated to the fullest extent possible. The headphones themselves are not so much about objectivity. There are some with completely flat frequency responses, but if the Mad Dog was one, it wasn't my cup of tea.

 

I don't recall if I've heard those Hifiman phones or not. I heard everything they had at Can Jam 2010 and wasn't into it. But I'm not into the LCD 2 or 3 or HD800 either. It's difficult to determine your taste in this stuff unless you've been to a meet and tried every table.

 

For $2000 you could probably buy almost everything I own. Look up reviews on the Sansa clip zip player and O2 headphone amp. Both measure real well, pretty neutral/transparent stuff. I'll most likely be selling off my other amps at some point. I don't see much of a need for them. I think the Sansa player holds up well against any cd player or dac I've heard. A $3000 Ayre cd player didn't blow my mind like the salesman claimed. In most cases the sound just seems different, not so much better. When I heard the $5000 SR-009 on what I'm sure was an expensive setup, I thought it excelled at clarity more than anything else but that was it. It lacked a full sound, it wasn't an all-arounder. You'd think if you spent 5 grand on a headphone that it would solve everything. 

 

If you're going to spend 2 grand, I'd recommend:

 

Sansa clip $30-do a web search for an article titled sansa clip+ measured

 

O2 amp $150. Can drive K701 and 600 ohm phones very well. not a colored amp so it shouldn't be changing sound. Designed to work with just about any headphone. Portable size too. I think it lives up to the claims. If you start buying colored amps and players, then you're going to end up with a lot of gear that only sounds good with specific phones.

 

some kind of dac that has been measured. The Odac is made by the same guy who made the O2, but I don't have it. Probably a little over $150

 

AKG K701-seems to be very neutral, huge soundstage, enough urgency to be exciting on songs that should be exciting, Very big sound. A pretty non-offensive phone. Can be had for around $150 sometimes

 

Yamaha Pro 400-my fav phone. Closed back. pretty good soundstage. very real sounding drums and percussion. kick drums don't sound like clicks finally. warmish sound that's somewhat neutral. capable of reproducing subwoofer type bass when a song has it(this really adds a new dimension to the listening experience), excellent wood, brass, and string instrument timbre, can be exciting without fatiguing highs, good all-arounder. Gets real loud without an amp. I might be about 85% satisfied with this phone and that's the highest % I can give anything I've heard. If there was a phone I was 100% satisfied that I'd heard, I would own it. This works great for stuff like Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper's Dragontown. I find that industrial type stuff similar to NIN can sound grating on phones that don't have a strong bass. This phone does well with stuff I've heard with similar production to the celldweller you posted. I don't think you'd want to play that on a bright phone or on an open phone that leaks out all the bass. This one also comes with an awesome carrying case you can attach to your belt. case also fits my two sansa players and my microsd card case. Can be had for $150 on amazon. might still be.

 

AKG K550-another closed phone that's a good all-arounder. less bass than the pro 400 and more comfortable to wear. I imagine you can get this for under $200

 

Grado RS-1-wooden headphone. very fast and exciting. Seems a lot less fatiguing with my sansa/O2 combo than previous setups. Pretty bright but has an ok bass. I imagine it's probably around $500. I rarely use mine anymore. Overpriced IMO.

 

Sennheiser Amperior-out of production but still available closed headphone with a unique sound that's quite good. gorgeous tonality. can be airy. exciting. fatigue is not as obvious as with a Grado. percussion has good weight behind it. I paid $180.

 

Sennheiser HD650-I don't like this one much, but it is considered a classic. Used to be able to find it for around $200 something. Don't know if that's the case anymore. Probably should be in the collection of any serious headphone collector.

 

If you got all that stuff you'd have an awesome variety. I wouldn't bother with anything over $500 unless you've actually heard it. So many things sounded way different than I thought they would. I have also heard that a lot of people just drop off after they attend a meet or Can Jam. No one really knows why. I speculate that they sampled what they wanted and didn't feel a need to discuss more. I still liked my RS-1 better on my old setup than on any of the setups I plugged it into at Can Jam 2010. I didn't like any of the phones there more than my RS-1 at the time, but I did like the 701 and Beyer stuff. I later bought a K701 and decided I liked that better. My activity slowed here for years until companies started releasing top notch closed phones. I hadn't been able to find an amp and source that would allow me to take my 701 with me on trips. So I got a K550. I stumbled onto the sansa clip and O2 stuff somehow. I tried an HD25-1 at guitar center. I gambled on an Amperior. Tried a UE6000 and bought that. Tried Senn 558 and got one. Tried a Yamaha 400 and got that. These closed phones can usually be had for under $200 each if you play your cards right. good luck

post #13 of 22

That was really insightful. Thanks you.

post #14 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the reply, fateicon. Exactly the sort of "devil's advocate" viewpoint I was hoping to hear. :-)

 

 

I've been reflecting on your post, and if I'm understanding things right, I believe these are the key takeaways (well, key takeaways for me at least):

 

1) Premium headphones are like varieties of beer (or, perhaps a better analogy: scotch) in that they all offer different flavors and characteristics. In the end, which one is "best" all comes down to the consumer's tastes.

 

2) Like developing a palate for scotch, the only way to understand what your own particular tastes are is to try different options.

 

3) Just because a pair of headphones are uber-expensive doesn't mean they're going to mesh with your tastes - and in fact, it might take a highly refined palate to even be able to recognize and appreciate what that uber-expensive option brings to the table.

 

4) I hadn't given much thought to the difference between open and closed 'phones: because I do most of my listening at work, in cube land, a closed design with good isolation is going to be the path for me.

 

 

Now for a couple questions...

 

If I were to go with the Sansa Clip+ and the O2 amp, there wouldn't be any need for a DAC, right? Just something like the FiiO L2 to take the output of the Sansa and route it in to the O2?

 

The O2 doesn't appear to offer balanced output - only a 1/8" jack. I take it this is something you'd argue isn't really worth worrying about?

 

 

Thanks again for your feedback - and be sure to let me know if I'm off base on any of the "lessons learned" above.

 

   - Nathan

 

P.S. My efforts at developing a taste for Scotch largely failed, but I did discover that Basil Hayden's (while technically a bourbon) is quite good... too bad it seems to want to burn off the bottom of my esophagus every time I drink it. :-/


Edited by nhelder - 9/22/13 at 8:25pm
post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by zamorin View Post
 

That was really insightful. Thanks you.

It was an opinion ... nothing more, nothing less.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhelder View Post
 

Thanks for the reply, fateicon. Exactly the sort of "devil's advocate" viewpoint I was hoping to hear. :-)

 

 

I've been reflecting on your post, and if I'm understanding things right, I believe these are the key takeaways (well, key takeaways for me at least):

 

1) Premium headphones are like varieties of beer (or, perhaps a better analogy: scotch) in that they all offer different flavors and characteristics. In the end, which one is "best" all comes down to the consumer's tastes.

Like varieties of beer, you have to be certain that you're really at the level you will like.  Someone may be in a quandary about Bud Light or Miller Light, when they don't even realize that a Torpedo or Hop Stoopid is on the same aisle.  FYI - Head-Fi is the Torpedo/Hop Stoopid aisle.

 

 

2) Like developing a palate for scotch, the only way to understand what your own particular tastes are is to try different options.

Yes, but remember what you said - "developing a palate" is the fundamental requirement.  People often try different headphones early on and state simply, "I don't hear the difference."

 

3) Just because a pair of headphones are uber-expensive doesn't mean they're going to mesh with your tastes - and in fact, it might take a highly refined palate to even be able to recognize and appreciate what that uber-expensive option brings to the table.

Or, it could just be that the "uber-expensive" doesn't at all mean that they're quality: buyer-beware.

 

4) I hadn't given much thought to the difference between open and closed 'phones: because I do most of my listening at work, in cube land, a closed design with good isolation is going to be the path for me.

Things have gotten better in the last few years with closed phones.  However, the best listening is still going to be obtained with open phones.  If you're really in a situation as you suggest, where totally closed headphones are preferred - perhaps IEMs might be a better choice.

 

 

Now for a couple questions...

 

If I were to go with the Sansa Clip+ and the O2 amp, there wouldn't be any need for a DAC, right? Just something like the FiiO L2 to take the output of the Sansa and route it in to the O2?

 

The O2 doesn't appear to offer balanced output - only a 3/8" jack. I take it this is something you'd argue isn't really worth worrying about?

That was only one suggestion - I don't happen to agree with it.  The Sansa Clip+ is an amazing portable player, but as far as a be-all/end-all, it's far from it.  If you are considering portable devices, it's perhaps only in the mid-level among portable players or smart-phones.  One reason it garners a bit of respect is because it's cheap as h*ll.  That doesn't mean it's what you need for a home setup.

 

Same with the O2.  You rightly question the 1/8" jack (I think that's what you meant, because 3/8" is bigger than the standard industry phone jack (1/4") ).  It's used as the input and output on the O2 and the only question is when they'll fail, not whether.  The typical 1/8" jack has far too little metal contact and substance in the spring action to last very long.

 

 

Thanks again for your feedback - and be sure to let me know if I'm off base on any of the "lessons learned" above.

 

   - Nathan

 

P.S. My efforts at developing a taste for Scotch largely failed, but I did discover that Basil Hayden's (while technically a bourbon) is quite good... too bad it seems to want to burn off the bottom of my esophagus every time I drink it. :-/

Just my personal opinion, but I would've stuck with the beer - analogy or for real, either one. ;)

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