>It was an opinion ... nothing more, nothing less.
errr.....as opposed to what? objective facts?
Let me rephrase that:Fateicon's opinion was really insightful.....so was yours.
Thanks for the feedback, Nathan. Did you look up the article Sansa clip+ measured? It's not purely the cost that garners it respect. What makes a source the end all be all? I've heard so many mega-expensive amps and sources at meets. Plugged my various phones into them and was not impressed at all. So much of it is this "light and bright" sound sig. Or in the case of a lot of tube amps, extremely rolled off and laid back. All I'm claiming is that the Sansa stuff gives objectively good audio performance and the O2's creator seems to think it has a pretty impressive dac as well. After I listen to expensive setups at meets, I don't go back to it and think "this sucks, if only I had a spare ten grand to buy something better". Most of these closed phones are designed to work good with portable sources. I don't think there's a big need for dacs and amps if you use easy to drive closed phones. Before I had the Sansa stuff I used my Arcam 73 cd player. I picked that one out after listening to probably 20 different players at an audio store. It had a particular sound sig that worked well with my RS-1. It was about the only source I liked with that headphone.
Guess it depends a lot on what you listen to as well. A lot of audiophile stuff is aimed at middle-aged men who listen to tons of classical and jazz, not teens and twenty somethings who might be more into metal and electronica.
I tried recabled and balanced versions of different phones. I'm sure there's some differences, but I didn't feel there was an immediate wow factor. It's really very difficult to accurately tell someone what they will and won't like. But I can give my experiences listening to the sorta music you're into on various types of gear and explain my own preferences.
The kind of things I'm looking for are largely contained in the Yamaha 400. Other people are looking for other things. Bass in headphones is one of the biggest problem areas, especially with open stuff. So many just don't have a rich, full sound that inspires dancing and head-banging, and pairing it with some bassy source or amp doesn't always fix the problem. A lot of people like the HD 650 but I always felt it was dull. There's probably flawed and colored amps that I might like more than the O2, depending on the headphone. But it would be extremely difficult for me to track them all down. Would be a lot of blind buys.
A high quality portable setup is nice because I can have very satisfying sound wherever I want it. It's up to you how you want to go about all this. There's always new sources, amps, and phones being produced. I'm not sure how much room for objective audio improvement there is, if transparency is the ultimate goal. Features get a lot better though. The new phones is where I focus on the most since there's a lot of physical construction stuff that impacts the presentation.
Some basic advice re your original post:
The CEntrance unit seems like a good choice. It has all the functionality you want in a single box, reviews suggest it performs at a satisfactory level, and it's easily transportable. That said, if you wanted more flexibility, you could probably put together a iPhone dock -> dac -> amp for a similar total cost. The general wisdom on this forum is that the HE-500 need at least 1 watt, which the CEntrance can deliver. I believe it can do 1.4 watts max.
If you're getting over-budget, I'd strongly recommend ditching the cable. I'm not going to say that aftermarket cables are totally useless, but for the money, they are a very bad deal. That said amount of money would make a much bigger difference in sound quality if applied to the headphones, dac, or amp. Or you could just keep the money. The Hifimans already come with a very competent cable.
I have the HE-400 and I'm very pleased with it. I was considering the HE-500 as well, but after reading enough reviews I realized that the HE-400 probably had a sound signature more in line with my preferences (powerful but precise bass, speed and warmth, excellent imaging, decent soundstage) than the HE-500. The HE-500 are supposedly more neutral, but this only means better if you actually like a neutral sound better. I listen to a lot of electronic music. If you like NIN, you might be in the same boat. Neutral is for things like classical and Diana Krall. I read a few comments from people who had heard both, and they said the differences in "objective" sound quality between the two (detail retrieval on the same songs, for example), was maybe 5-10%. Not worth a 43% increase in price IMO.
That said, I'm sure you'd be immensely happy with the HE-500. I'm only trying to suggest that it might not be worth the extra money. If you ditched the cable and got the HE-400, you'd save around $500-600 dollars, which could go to a different headphone in a few years. It's easy to forget that this hobby is more about discovering your preferences than getting the absolute "best." Instead of expecting to keep your headphones for 10 years, it could be more satisfying to get the HE-400, listen to it for a few years, then when the novelty wears off and you're completely used to it, you'll start having ideas about what you might want in your next headphone. You really have to listen for a while before you start realizing things like "I want a bigger soundstage," "I want a clearer midrange," "I want a brighter sound," "I want a smoother sound," etc. And then you'll have that $500-600 to try something different. Audio is really much more about equipment being different than being better. X might do some things better than Y, but Y will invariably do other things better than X, so which one is better for you will ultimately depend on your preferences.
If you don't want to overwhelm yourself with equipment choices, the CEntrance would be practical. If I were spending that same money, though, I'd get a dock that can let you plug your iPhone into any DAC, a DAC, and then a solid state amp and/or a tube amp. Getting both would give you more variety and let you better discover your preferences.
Some DAC possibilities:
$100-200 range: JDS labs ODAC, Schiit Modi, HRT Music Streamer II
$200-500 range: Schiit Bifrost, Parasound ZDAC, lots of stuff from Audio-GD, including DACs with great built-in amps
Some amp possibilities:
For the HE-500, the Emotiva Mini-X A-100 would be a great choice. This is a 50W speaker amp that costs $219 and that will drive the HE-500 like no other. There is a whole thread dedicated to this combo (just search for the amp name), and many seem to prefer it over much more expensive amps. You will need to get some kind of adapter cable to connect the HE-500 to the outputs on this amp, but this adapter needn't be too expensive.
For the HE-400, lots of people are happy with either the Schiit Magni ($100) or the JDS O2 ($130ish I think). These are solid state amps.
The Schiit Lyr is generally considered a fantastic tube amp for orthos, including the HE-500. Tons of juice. A Lyr and one of the less expensive DACs above would cost less than your CEntrance.
For my HE-400s, I use a Little Dot MK3. I've read some doubts about its ability to deliver enough current, but I think it's great. Tubes for it are very cheap and I can noticeably change the sound of the amp for better (or sometimes worse) for around $20. This is great, I can switch between a smooth warm sound or a bright and aggressive sound in a matter of minutes.
I did take a look at the Sansa Clip+ review you mentioned, as well as the O2 amp and my initial impressions were that they were certainly worth considering. I like the idea of at least trying to put some objectivity (measurements) around the gear that's being used and the notion of a "transparent" amp strikes me as a good one (at least until a person knows the sort of sound they want; at that point, going with specific DAC/amp/headphone combos to achieve that specific sound would only make sense).
One of my questions that I'd still like an answer to related to the Sansa is:
...am I interpreting things correctly in the above?
manbear, thanks for your reply and suggestions. One question: you wrote...
If I were spending that same money, though, I'd get a dock that can let you plug your iPhone into any DAC, a DAC, and then a solid state amp and/or a tube amp.
About that "dock that can let me plug my iPhone in to any DAC"... what would one of those be?
I had been looking at the O2+ODAC combo, but based on what I was reading, for PC use a driver is needed to output digital audio over USB to the ODAC. How would that work for something like an iPhone, where such a driver (presumably) can't be installed?
...I ask because the whole reason I was initially interested in the HiFi-M8 was the direct iPhone integration - digital audio right in to the DAC and then out through the amp (with of course the 16/44.1 or 16/48 iOS limitation).
If there's a connector that would allow the iPhone to output digital to any DAC, that would make it all the easier to ignore the HiFi-M8 as an option.
And lastly, TomB - you offer a useful counterpoint to fateicon's observations, but don't seem to provide any alternative suggestions. What would you suggest for a person just getting started in the hi-fi arena?
Thanks again for the feedback everyone - this has been an incredibly useful discussion for me.
I think a dac is more something to use off a usb connection. The clip doesn't have a proper lineout(although you can use the headphone out just fine), although the original Sansa Fuze supposedly does. I did lots and lots of research on portable devices. Originally I was looking at some kind of expensive hifiman player for my K701, but I kept reading about how they were badly put together. I did hear a usb dac at Can Jam that you could directly plug your phones into that I decently liked. It was almost like a socket. The cost was like $500. I just never got around to buying it due to that.
I don't own an external dac. Eventually I will buy an Odac. Myself, I don't really have much interest in buying a bunch of random gear and using trial and error to see what combos I like. I've heard enough at Can Jam, meets, and stores to know it's very, very difficult. That's especially true if you're looking for warmth and bass. It's just not easy to pull off with headphones, especially open ones. With my RS-1 I was trying to find a way to give it warmth and bass for the longest time. I actually think it got better in those areas with my Sansa clip and either my Ibasso P2 or O2. But I prefer my other headphones nowadays. That Ibasso amp made some albums with my K550 unlistenable because of fatigue. Kiss Alive 2 original cd and Harlan Cage-Forbidden Colors come to mind. But it made the old Michael Jackson cds pretty enjoyable. That's the problem with a lot of amps. If they are too colored, I find that they make some albums impossible to tolerate.
I plugged my RS-1 into probably 20 different setups at Can Jam 2010. I didn't find one I liked better than my own. Maybe I could have if I had the time to mix and match everything there. The K701 has less bass than the RS-1, if I recall, but because it is much more spacious and neutral, it never ends up being a very fatiguing phone. I heard the 701 on a few setups at Can Jam. The amps could really change the sound. Some of the Woo Audio stuff really gave it a relaxing character. Left me with the impression that it was perfect for my Manilow collection and not much else. I didn't get that exact impression trying it in a few other rooms. Tube stuff can be fun even if there's drawbacks. But do I want to spend a grand or more for a Woo Audio tube amp? Probably not. For a hundred or two I would get one. I've also heard the HD800 on many setups. There was one in Todd the vinyl junkie's room that gave it more body and bass that I somewhat liked. The others I all found lacking. With a lot of Senn stuff it just feels like the music stays stuck in the driver(could be the fault of the amps and sources to a degree). It's not like when you buy or try amps and sources that there's all these measurements like you have with headphone.com for headphones.
For me, it's often difficult to find reviews where the reviewer uses something I listen to or have even heard of half the time. And even if they do, they rarely note the version of the album. It's also hard to know exactly how loud they were playing the phones. Same thing with soliciting advice on forums. There's often just a lack of context given to a person's opinion.
It might be easier to find phones that can handle acoustic stuff, jazz, or classical then it is to find stuff for metal, hard rock, industrial, and electronica. The lighter styles of music don't have anywhere as much loudness and harshness to balance out. Nor do they require as much bass to sound correct. Eventually I'll do a comprehensive pro 400 review. I notice that it doesn't add much to Seasons in the Abyss's original cd and gives it a similar presentation to the 701. That's a somewhat bass-lite and harsh album, so I would've welcomed more bass. That's not to say it's all that fatiguing on those phones. Then I tried the original japanese Testament-Souls of Black in flac. Face in The Sky had some very big and real sounding kick drums that I don't recall other phones giving it. Another album that the 400 really brought the big drums out of was the Intrada 2010 First Blood cd on It's A Long Road. Wish I knew how this worked from a technical perspective. Into the Night from Benny Mardones from the 89 cd sounds awesome here as well. It's sort of difficult to predict what's gonna sound like what on a certain phone. Neutrality may make compatibility with different music easier, but it won't have wow factors that very colored bass and treble gives.
One phone I want to hear is the v moda m-100. Look that up. Someday I may buy one. Supposedly a bass and soundstage king, but I've heard bad about it too.