Apologies in advance for incorrect grammar and poor styling; It's why I'm studying engineering instead of English.
There are headphone reviews everywhere on the internet. Online reviewers, Youtube videos, and other 'audiophile' websites. I inevitably stumbled across Head-Fi: The largest and most active community of headphone enthusiasts. With $200 to make my first purchase, I spent hours reviewing reviews on various entry level headphones. Digging through hundreds of pages of suggestions, receiving dozens of tips to first invest in lossless, I took the plunge for the Shure 840 (If you wear glasses, stay away from this at all costs), and thus began my journey through Head-Fi, experiencing many 'wow's, disappointments, and cases of instant upgraditis.
The chain of buying, using, loving, and upgrading, continued for months, mostly within the head-fi FS/FT forums. A little over a year later, I ended up buying the UM Miracles, consensus exists that it's pretty much top of the ladder in the IEM world, along with a handful of others that can only be separated by preference instead of technicality. It was a great journey, stopping by various levels of over ear and IEMs before finally deciding that I liked the latter more. I followed the advice of veteran head-fiers without thought.
It was a few months in before I actually questioned myself.. Why am I upgrading all the time? Yes, this pair that costs an extra $100 sounds better, but how do they actually compare? As a student, I have a very limited budget and could only afford to have 1-2 pairs of headphones at once. That usually meant an over-ear and in-ear, so I always sold the lower-leveled pair before upgrading. At first, the improvements were instantly noticeable. The sq from my iBeats to the Monster Turbine awed me enough to instantly return the Turbines to get the Copper. That move marked the beginning of diminishing marginal returns, to the point where now I'm up against a more or less vertical wall.
Over the whole time, I browsed Head-Fi posts daily, looking at pictures of more expensive setups, reading about goons arguing over FLAC vs WAV (I'm not even kidding), reading new recommendations, and discussion of whatever items I happened to own at the time. As all of you definitely have read, the posts of "Upgrade your source!! Get a better player!! Improve your MP3, only use flac! Get silver cables! Get this furniture that prevents interference!" are everywhere. You can't get away from them. Naturally, I tried to see if I could hear the differences of MP3 vs FLAC, and trying to find all the magical detail and lack of distortion that it's been rumored to behold.
Hours gone of Foobar ABX, using all kinds of genres, compression methods and etc., done with a small group of friends using the critically acclaimed HE-400:
320 vs Flac: 50% accuracy
256 vs Flac: Slightly more than 50%
192 vs Flac: Yep I think I'm hearing it
128 vs Flac: There it is.
Assuming we're all law-abiding citizens paying for our music legally, even the music on your MP3 shouldn't be below 192/256 kbps. It was incredibly hard to tell the difference, my friends and I took turns putting on my HE-400, comparing the difference between FLAC and their MP3 counterparts. By the end, we all came to the conclusion that the difference between lossless and mp3 is almost nonexistant. NOWHERE near what this community is getting at. Even though all of us wanted to believe otherwise.
Disappointed, but I went for a UM miracle anyways. Even if I haven't had much luck with better quality files, upgrading the actual headphones always brought a pleasant upgrade. Months later, when I was mixed up in high school finals, prom, and various social activities/stress, the Miracles finally arrived on my doorstep.
First impression was that they sounded clean. Nothing more, nothing less, just clean. I owned a Westone 4 before, and was completely satisfied with it. I had high expectations for Miracles, and it wasn't fulfilled. It was my first upgrade (at over double the cost too) that didn't bring a large improvement to SQ. I was tired at the time, being up for 20 hours straight. After resting and retrying, listening to it for months, I came to a conclusion. It's cleaner, more controlled, and only slightly better, with a different sound signature. I saved up a bit more money for the Leckerton UHA-6S amp which had some rave reviews, and checked again for differences between lossless and lossy.
Maybe upgrading an amp will help. I Upgraded to a Pico DAC/Amp which I got yesterday. Have done testing again.
Nope, nothing. Can barely tell a difference between the two.
Seriously? I am younger with better hearing and better equipment than 80+% of head-fi; Yet I can't utilize one of the "Must-Dos" suggested by this community of people who's ears have certainly taken much more abuse from time and sound? Yes, I'm talking to you TF-10 with a cable that costs just as much claiming how much better it sounds.
I know all of you have heard this entire industry being called snake oil. I am partially in agreement and partially not. It's fairly obvious that upgrading headphones and getting well compressed (not necessarily higher bitrate) music will improve sound. But the not-so-obvious that is completely littered throughout head-fi? Multi-hundred dollar cable upgrades, interconnects, and even freaking software.
I love this community to death, it's much more mature and friendly than many others that I'm in. But the amount of blatant snake oil products is just too much for me to handle, and people talking about improvements based just on their placebo effect is just too irritating for me to handle. I know a kid in my hall who's probably read head-fi once and got suggested to get lossless telling me that the music sounds better on his $30 logitech speakers. Really? No, it doesn't. Your equipment is clearly incapable of showing that minute difference. Anyone who listens to the 'difference' between lossless and mp3 (By removing everything the mp3 file contains from the flac, then playing the remainder), can agree that it's certainly minute, and saying it's non-existant with 320kbps wouldn't be too inaccurate.
It's strongly evident in the thread 'Pictures of your portable rig'. There's all these people dumping buckets of money on $200 LODs, $400 IEM cables, and pretty 'stacks' of high end DAP,DAC, and amps in this so called portable setup, with an even more expensive rig at home.
Don't take me wrong, but what are they thinking? If the quality difference tested by high end equipment is tiny, do they seriously think they notice can hear an improvement while walking around on the streets, with cars, buses, and all noises of life about them? Whats the point of getting that $300+ digital player just to use it's digital out to hook it up to a $200+ DAC leading to another $200 amp which finally sends the signal to the headphone which often costs less than any of those gear? Yes, they're pretty, but why, people?
I'm no one to judge, and sorry if it comes out wrong, but as a hobby with a general audience of smarter people, I'm surprised by the lack of people actually ABXing music, or looking at the practicality. Instead just getting the best rated equipment like sheep.
However, curiosity still gets the best of me and I still plan on continuing to get high end over-ears with money I save up throughout college, and then getting great speakers after a legitimate job. I'm fearful of the amount of snake oil in the speaker industry, and even scared of the people here with thousands of posts, a great setup, and seemingly great reputation full-heartedly throwing their confidence behind these $100/meter speaker wire that somehow conducts electrons differently to improve sound and $2000 audiophile furniture.
It's to the point where I would love to continue my Head-Fi adventure, moving higher up in speaker and over-ear branches, but the amount of unreliable sources from the best source just repels me away. I'm leaning against the vertical wall of diminishing returns. Beyond it lies all the reviewers, with their top of the line equipment raving about everything I've tested and can't tell apart. I question the reliability of their judgement, and question the actual ability of my hearing which have been praised by doctors for being great. The barrier to getting there is a large price tag which I can't really afford to pay.
Do high end audiophile reviews have superhuman hearing? Maybe my equipment still isn't good enough? Not listening hard enough? Or are all these lossless files, high quality cables, interconnects, dacs, daps, amps just bogus?
Sorry for the increasingly mess of my post, I'm just so tired and busy with schoolwork to edit it out and etc.
Should I continue my hunt for high quality sound, in other branches as well as IEMs? I'm definitely very interested, but my recent experience has not been too pleasing.
What are your opinions on this community? What are your gripes with this place? Is there actually that much snake oil on head-fi, or am I somehow just unable to tell the difference?
Edited by Xinze - 10/9/13 at 4:47pm