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noob question: why do headphones sound different when being played from different players?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
I know a lot of you guys think this is a stupid question, but please do understand that I am new to this area and this question merely is to expand my knowledge.

I'm going to share my experience today:
So my friend brought this Monster Beats Solo HD to campus and I tried them on with my Asus Padfone 2. I dare say the sound is quite crappy, and I'm not even an audiophile to tell you that. It sounds flat, almost no bass, I began to think that the in-ear headphone which came with my Padfone is better than this $200 piece of ****, and I can't believe he spent almost twice the price I have mentioned in an authorized apple store.

But then I tried them on again, this time with his iPhone 5, and the difference was... Wow.
It became loud, clear, and when the bass comes out it feels like it's going to fall off my ears any second. And I start to wonder? Why does it sounds better with his iPhone than my android phone?

Was it because Beats Solo HD demands more power in which my android phone cannot afford? Then how come without the headphone plugged in, speaker on my Padfone 2 sounds twice as clear and loud as his iPhone 5? Are apple products always a better choice as a music player? I bought an extra space on my android phone with the hope that it may replace my iPod, but now it seems like a terrible idea.

This is so frustrating, I was going to buy ATH-M50 at the end of this week to pair with my android phone. What could I do to "refine" my android phone's audio? Should I experience more on which headphones will sound good with my phone and which won't? Will a portable headphone amp help at all?
post #2 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anggrian View Post
Was it because Beats Solo HD demands more power in which my android phone cannot afford? 

Probably.

 
Originally Posted by Anggrian View Post
 Will a portable headphone amp help at all?
If it's a power issue then most likely yes.

 

post #3 of 6

Headphones can sound different from alternative setups because of three major factors:

1.)  Output impedance is Ohms of the player

2.)  Amp circuitry in the player

3.)  DAC used in the player

 

These factors play major rolls in delivering a clean signal, that represents what the artists intends, to the headphones.  Many portable players out there have terrible DAC implementations meaning the chip changing all of those ones and zeroes in your MP3s to an actual analog signal your headphone can utilize is not doing a good job.  DAC chips can add distortion, jitter, and have other adverse effects if not implemented well.

 

The amp is supposed to be a wire with gain meaning that in an ideal technical world a perfect amp would simply amplify the signal without introducing any artifacts, noise, or distortion.  Portables have limited space and voltage ( battery ) so the amp sections will wildly vary from player to player.  This brings us to output impedance.  This is how the amp couples its energy to the headphones.  If done poorly the bass can be distorted and the player may not have enough voltage or current to properly drive the headphone.

 

For me the biggest problem with portable players is the DAC.  Most of the time the volume will get loud enough and the output impedance is below 10 Ohms for most players.  The DAC on the other hand in a bad player directly contributes to bad audio.  There is of course digital processing that goes into the signal further adding complexity and possible problem areas.

 

You can read more about the sound from an Android phone / player here:

 

http://evolver.fm/2012/07/10/5-apps-to-improve-androids-sound-quality/

 

Some people find that Noozxoide EIZO-rewire™ PRO is a great way to improve Android listening.

 

You want to make sure that you have some high quality music on the device so you know that your reference material is not the limit.  Dig around here on Head-fi and find some tracks that people know to be hi-res or high quality.  Be sure when you are installing these tracks onto your device that you use the least amount of compression for example try not to use 128kbps MP3 format.  If you can use something like AAC or a lossless format.  This will remove the fact that there is a loss in quality right from the beginning due to the compression process.  I typically have 256kbps or better MP3s when I have to use an MP3 so try to stick with the that or better.

 

Now that you can trust your music you can start moving onto the gear.

 

The last thing I am going to mention is that some players have built in EQ settings and volume limits that should be turned off when trying to determine how a headphone may sound.

post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the useful information, now if you could kindly spend a minute or two, I'd like to know more about DAC smily_headphones1.gif

External DAC, as explained by you, are not mandatory device since most portable players have them built-in installed, though the performance isn't the focus of the players' manufacturer. Now the question is how does external DAC works? Does it work together with the device's on-board DAC in converting those digitals to analog? Or does it replace the player's internal DAC and leave the hard work to the external? If so, then is it safe to say that with an external DAC, a crappy phone would sound just about equal as high-end phones like iPhone? Because technically their internals won't matter anymore.

Thanks for app recommendations for android devices, I find it extremely useful and significantly boost my audio experience, now I have to wait until tomorrow to borrow my friend's Beats Solo HD again for a retest.

Thanks. I mean really.. Thanks.
Edited by Anggrian - 10/9/13 at 12:25pm
post #5 of 6

Ideally an external DAC will bypass the internal DAC.  A DAC takes the digital signal and turns it into analog.  If the signal is already analog the DAC should just pass it straight through.

 

You can read a bit more here:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/581800/is-there-really-a-need-for-a-dac-for-analog-signals

 

Let us know how the retest goes.

post #6 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anggrian View Post

why do headphones sound different when being played from different players?

 

It may not necessarily be the headphone that sounds different, rather a reasonably transparent headphone (and speakers for that matter) and also amps will show you that each source sounds different. If no separate amp is involved, it's also likely that the 5mW rms x 2 @ 16ohm output (or thereabouts) at 0.1% distortion of the portable player may not provide enough current (headphone sounds lame/lacks energy), or it may lack voltage or clean higher output power (ie, meaning you may already be hearing distortion at listening levels on some headphones, even if you can get there).

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anggrian View Post

I'm going to share my experience today:
So my friend brought this Monster Beats Solo HD to campus and I tried them on with my Asus Padfone 2. I dare say the sound is quite crappy, and I'm not even an audiophile to tell you that. It sounds flat, almost no bass, I began to think that the in-ear headphone which came with my Padfone is better than this $200 piece of ****, and I can't believe he spent almost twice the price I have mentioned in an authorized apple store.

But then I tried them on again, this time with his iPhone 5, and the difference was... Wow.
It became loud, clear, and when the bass comes out it feels like it's going to fall off my ears any second. And I start to wonder? Why does it sounds better with his iPhone than my android phone?
Was it because Beats Solo HD demands more power in which my android phone cannot afford? Then how come without the headphone plugged in, speaker on my Padfone 2 sounds twice as clear and loud as his iPhone 5? Are apple products always a better choice as a music player? I bought an extra space on my android phone with the hope that it may replace my iPod, but now it seems like a terrible idea.

 

From a technical standpoint one of the best smartphones for playing music on the go is the iPhone (starting with the 4 onwards anyway). Of course, that's for driving earphones and some headphones - there are other reasons why audiophiles would still go for Android. For example, some would question the logic of paying that much for the 64gb model when you can pay for a 16gb (for apps) Android+64gb microSD (purely for audio files)? Or how a $2 OTG adapter plus a $10 sync dock is cheaper than a $39 CCK and a $21 Apple dock? Or maybe you also need a phone where you can swap out the batteries?

 

It really depends on the Android model though, given iPhone is just a monolithic iOS7 smartphone line compared to the plethora of smartphones using Android. Personally, Samsung's the safest choice - USB Audio enabled in most models (Note II and S3 had it, some report that certain S4's don't work with some DACs, etc) and docks are available from Samsung (if you're willing to splurge, or don't need another feature like spare battery charger) or other manufacturers, if you really need that to keep your desktop set-up neater.

 

400

 

 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anggrian View Post

This is so frustrating, I was going to buy ATH-M50 at the end of this week to pair with my android phone. What could I do to "refine" my android phone's audio? Should I experience more on which headphones will sound good with my phone and which won't? Will a portable headphone amp help at all?

 

The problem with adding an amp is that we're less sure how much it can help given multi-purpsoe Androids don't have a lineout that bypasses amplifier hardware,* since such devices use a chip with integrated DAC, headphone driver, and controlled by a digital volume control. Depending on other bits in the circuit, the output may or may not do well as a lineout into an amp. Also, if the signal from the DAC isn't that good to begin with, you're just amping that same signal.

Check the Android-USB DAC thread here and see if the Padfone works with USB DACs, then you can get maybe a portable unit with its own battery  and headphone amp circuit that works with it. This is a b*tch to use on the go unless you missed the times when you would walk around with an amp (plus maybe an iDevice DAC too) strapped to an iPod, but of course if used as  a transportable, you can just bring out the DAC-Amp when you get to a fixed location, like your office.


*A dedicated music player using Android has a line out - the DX100 - but that's going to break the bank

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