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My experience with Head-Fi, containing enjoyment, disappointment, curiosity, and a rant.

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

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.

 

Nope, nothing.

 

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 atEven 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.

 

Nope, nothing.

 

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
post #2 of 13

Don't worry - you're not the only one.

 

I actually started a thread on how to ABX (http://www.head-fi.org/t/655879/setting-up-an-abx-test-simple-guide-to-ripping-tagging-transcoding) so that I wouldn't have to continually retype the suggestion to test yourself (rather than following the same old myth over and over).  Yep - some people with trained ears and good hearing can tell the difference (lossless vs lossy) - but it's usually an extremely small percentage - and mainly with a select few tracks where a difference is actually audible.  I know a guy with higher end Stax gear and fantastic hearing (who's participated in ABX tests many times) - that finds aac256 pretty much completely transparent.  FTR - my limit seems to be about aac 200 vbr.  I'm completely OK with that - more room on my portable :)

 

As far as the headphones go - people are built differently, have different preferences - so kind of hard to pick among the reviews unless you know the past history of the reviewer.  Your SRH840 comment cracked me up.  I wear glasses, yet they still remain extremely comfortable for me.  My advice is to trial a few well known (and discussed) headphones - then you can use these as a reference.  Make notes.  Then when you read reviews - research the reviewer.  Have they heard same gear you have.  What did they like, and what didn't they like.  Are their notes similar to yours.  Do they listen to similar music.  Once you've done that and built up a 'profile' of opinions you can trust - then it's easier to work out whether the reviewers thoughts will match your own.

 

Oh - and NEVER trust anyone who talks about a night and day difference.  Most of the time they don't exist ;)

 

On amps and dacs - my limited experience also matches yours.  Differences are often tiny.  I noticed a real difference between my old set-up (Fiio E7+E9) and my current (Audio-gd NFB-12), but far less between portable amps.  Comparing my LD MKIV to the NFB-12 (OTL tube vs SS) - with same DAC, and even they aren't that far apart when volume matched.  It's often about minor differences - and although I haven't reached summit-fi (and not likely to), already I have found that the higher you go, the smaller the incremental gains.  For some if us - it's not worth it.  I'd rather buy more music.

 

So don't get disheartened - just be skeptical with every review unless you trust the reviewer.  Avoid the hype where you can and either get to meets (unfortunately not an option for me) - or look to buy/sell on the forums.  Make notes.  Know your limitations.

 

Above all - don't forget what it's ultimately all about (the music).

post #3 of 13

relax...have a glass of Pinot Noir from NZ...

i use this to clean my ears  :P

 

 

headfi is like a snake n ladder game, 

some gears when put together, are ladders to higher pleasures,

then the next add-on can slip u down two levels.

 

Almost like life itself...

is the new job promotion a good thing?

every dept/colleague in-sync with u...life gets better in the new city?

 

Its a path of self discovery n growing too..

i get a better feel of what i do like n what i dun,

just discovered that i might just like COUNTRY music..

a genre i avoided for a longggggtime...its crazy.

 

listening to hiphop now...something i avoid too..LOL.

:deadhorse:

post #4 of 13

Be thankful that your hearing acuity is not critical.

 

Remember, just because you can't hear a difference does not mean others can't.

 

Some people obsess over different aspects of hearing such as soundstage, treble rolloff. treble etch, bass rolloff, bass control, midrange purity, linearity, coloration, etc.

 

Some can't hear some of these things.

Some can, but it's not an issue with them.

Some can, and it's a deal breaker for them.

 

Then you have headphone fit and weight.

 

Find out where you fit and don't forget to enjoy the music

 

 

 

 

If you have a chance to get to hear live instruments (not electronic) and singers (not miked), remember what it sounds like.

 

Only then can you train your ears to hear what sounds like real, and not be deluded into thinking what sounds nice is what real sounds like.


Edited by wink - 10/9/13 at 6:44pm
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorspeaker View Post
 

relax...have a glass of Pinot Noir from NZ...

i use this to clean my ears  :P

 

headfi is like a snake n ladder game, 

Almost like life itself...

 

My cheap-liquor hamster agrees :D

post #6 of 13
It really depends on your preferences and goals. If you're pursuing an objective idea of perfection (ie transparency), you will find that a lot of equipment is disappointing for the money. If you're pursuing a sound signature that you personally enjoy, without being concerned about what's "better," you will have more success. Different gear, especially headphones, sounds different. The audiophile world does have a way of exaggerating differences though. They are often small, after you pass the initial amazement of your first quality setup. In that way, it's kind of like a drug -- audiophiles are often spending more and more money to regain the joy of that first experience. It can help to make yourself listen to crappy, cheap headphones for a while. Then you'll be amazed at your gear once again.
post #7 of 13

vodka is for detoxing earpads..n soaking that extra set of teeth...pure alcohol..no? :P

:beerchug:

I love the buysell section, its really a place to cut your teeth in wat works for u.

There is a kind of base price for a season, hard to lose too much money.

 

 

 

About REAL music...

i grew up sitting in a junior orchestra, 

bass drumming behind me, the brass blaring to my left n fore..

find myself cranking up the vol so that it feels REAL-ISTIC to my ears :P

Am perfectly happy with a pro900 for classical music..feeling snug closed to the percussion section.

:L3000:

 

If u are used to sitting as an audience, then your sense of what is REAL would be from that angle.

your pref would influence what gear suits u.

post #8 of 13

@ Lorspeaker can you get me a Pinot noir 2003? Not a joke, the best year I've tasted from these fine folks.
 

@ Xinze you are absolutely correct in all that you say. which is why the most important thing when making your way through these forums is to find people whom you think are much more level headed and more critical/skeptical of things presented to them.

 

In the end this is a public forum so use this information as a guide only and trust only yourself. If you can't hear a difference then no point in buying snake oil cables

post #9 of 13

i only have eye$$ for cheeep vino..

2003...what happened in that year..drought? this bottle should cost an amp?

where's Brooko...he is the guy on that paradise...he might hav a stash in a cave.

 

===

 

talking about snake oil, i jus bought someone else's snake oil for like 10bucks???

i swear this snake works...i apply it on the watevercanbeapplied :P

 


Edited by Lorspeaker - 10/9/13 at 10:22pm
post #10 of 13

is the japan made snake oil better than other countries?

Impressive, now you can get musical notes in a bottle

post #11 of 13

its supposed to cost more from what i seen on japanese websites..closer to 100bucks !*&^)&^^%&!!

shark oil with some carbon in it ..or something to that effect.

once, i opened up the earpads on Bowers P5..

found the wire connect beneath, oiled the contacts, 

n walah..the P5 sounded more alive.

 

maybe we can try the used rifle oil, it should have some carbon in it..?? LOL

 

==============

 

above is just a tease....forget about the oil.  just buy a monoprice 9927..or a Superlux 681 and be done with headfi. 

:beerchug:

post #12 of 13

Sacrilege.........

post #13 of 13

You're not the first to rant (though I'd say the main post of the thread I'm going to link to is out-of-date in terms of most of the gear mentioned):

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/374155/leaving-portable-hifi-its-too-silly

 

If I didn't appreciate high-quality recordings such as the binaural ones from Chesky Records, I wouldn't bother with half the stuff I have, especially the portable gear.

 

The important question many people miss when looking to upgrade gear is: What music do you listen to? The answer to that is the most important. A lot of what I like I can happily listen to from my iPhone using Sony XBA-30s. However, that only came about because, specifically, the Sonys fixed a problem I had with most IEMs -- that drums didn't sound like drums. It wasn't until I talked to Jerry Harvey that I understood that this was due to phase issues in the design.  So in that regard specifically, I had a goal in my search: Finding a pair of IEMs that didn't suck. That is point number 2: Think about what it is exactly you want from better gear.

 

I wouldn't say though that most of the high-end stuff is nonsense, just not useful for most people. I have $2k IEMs on loan here. Are they good? Yes, very good, to the point I could discern the difference between the modified output of an AK100 and the same with a Pico Power as the amp (BUT it took very fast music to do so). Do I like them? Yes, a lot. Would I buy them? No, because they don't fulfil a need I have.

 

Maybe if I have learned anything in the last 5 years it is common sense: Yeah I want things sometimes for the sake of just wanting something new, but as I have gotten better at knowing what I like and what is possible, I know that a lot of things I might be interested in probably wont be worth bothering with at all.

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