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Upgrade home theater, 2 channel or headphone rig? Need help!!

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

I have some $ to upgrade my audio systems but can't decide where to spend it. My current systems:


Home theater/2 channel audio: Triangle Titus monitors, Infinity IL120s sub, Sony SA 9000es dvd/sacd, Creek 5350SE, PS Audio Power Plant Premier, Schiit Bifrost DAC for the digital out of the cable box.


Office headphone system: RA HR-2 amp, Audinst HUD MX-1 (Dac only), UE-18 Pro, connected to a PC running Win XP and Foobar.


Home computer: Creative X-Fi Titanium HD, ATH-M50 (or UE-18 pro), Audioengine A2, connected to PC running Win 7 and Foobar.


I spend most of my waking hours at work so my first thought is to upgrade my office system. However, my company has the PCs locked down tight so there's no way I could install the drivers needed to support truly upscale DACs and could never ever install  a nice soundcard. We also have an open floor plan so being that crazy guy with full-sized amplifiers on his desk or massive Stax headphones could be a poor career move.


At home, the headphone out from the Creek absolutely destroys the sound I get from my office system. The headphone out of the creek is pulled from the main amp stage with a large resistor in the path, so you get the full fidelity of one of the best $1500 amps ever made.


As for my home theater system, it's used maybe 75% tv/movies and 25% music. I have been unhappy with the sub/monitor integration for a long time, but am skeptical I have enough space for true full-range floorstanders to sound their best. I live in a Brooklyn brownstone which is long and narrow, with the speakers facing across the short side near the front windows. So, directly to the left of the tv/speakers are 3 angled bay windows and to the right is about 20+ feet of open space. Not ideal for hi-fi audio. Switching the system to aim the long  way down the apt has been vetoed by my "better half" as it would require moving the couch into the middle of the room and the tv/speakers in front of the windows.

 

I'm unhappy with my home system because the monitor/sub integration never sounds right. The sub can fill in the truly low frequencies but if I turn the low pass filter up to where the triangles drop off it sounds a bit boomy and is distracting with low-pitched vocals and other effects not being located correctly. I'm unhappy with my office system because the headphone out of the creek just spanks it. Same with my home computer system. I haven't switched my creative sound card for a true audiophile one because I use my desktop mostly for gaming.

 

I'm rambling, but my brain has been going in circles for months and I can't decide what to do. I would spend up to $3k for the right components.


I have been thinking about upgrading my home speakers to PSB Imagine T towers, Monitor Audio RX6 or even Paradigm Studio 20 v.5, and ditching the sub (which will be +points with my better half) or buying Audeze LCD 2 Rev2 for my home system. The problem there is that these speakers that are great for home theater have reviews that say they can be be harsh in the high frequencies for audio. I'm pretty sure buying larger full-range floorstanders would get my kicked out of the house (not really). Then I start thinking about buying speakers for audio that aren't great for home theater even though the system is used mostly for tv. I could go on forever...

 

I've also thought about upgrading my Titaium HD to a ZXR.  I've also thought about just spending serious $ on room treatments for my home theater system but the unbalanced space and wife disapproval factor makes me pause. I've also thought about upgrading my office system, but I don't want to bring gigantic headphones to work or keep a full-sized amp on my desk, and I can't install the drivers required for the truly hi-end DACs. I'm also skeptical that a headphone amp can match the fidelity I'm getting from my 5350SE. I don't want to spend any $ unless it will  be a big upgrade.


I just don't know what to do. The only sound I'm truly happy with is the headphone out of the 5350SE, but that's what I listen to the least. The only sound my better half cares about is what comes out of the home theater system but that's what I care about the least. Every upgrade option is a compromise because I don't have the $ to upgrade them all. What would you do? Thanks!

 

tl;dr - Aaaarrrgggg.


Edited by mrip541 - 10/13/13 at 9:28pm
post #2 of 5
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrip541 View Post
 

Home computer: Creative X-Fi Titanium HD, ATH-M50 (or UE-18 pro), Audioengine A2, connected to PC running Win 7 and Foobar.

 

I haven't switched my creative sound card for a true audiophile one because I use my desktop mostly for gaming.

 

I'm rambling, but my brain has been going in circles for months and I can't decide what to do. I would spend up to $3k for the right components.


I've also thought about upgrading my Titaium HD to a ZXR.  I've also thought about upgrading my office system, but I don't want to bring gigantic headphones to work or keep a full-sized amp on my desk, and I can't install the drivers required for the truly hi-end DACs. I'm also skeptical that a headphone amp can match the fidelity I'm getting from my 5350SE. I don't want to spend any $ unless it will  be a big upgrade.


I just don't know what to do. The only sound I'm truly happy with is the headphone out of the 5350SE, but that's what I listen to the least.

The T-HD (Titanium HD) and ZxR use the same DAC chip (PCM1794) and matching op-amps, so it's not really worth it to replace the T-HD for the ZxR for headphone audio quality.

But adding an external headphone amplifier and plugging into the T-HD's RCA outputs should improve quality, for headphones.

An external headphone amplifier with a separate line-out, would allow you to have both the headphone and speakers hooked up at the same time (Bravo Ocean tube head amp, $120).

But in fairness the ZxR ($250) does come with separate headphone and line-out connections.

 

Getting the cheaper Z OEM card ($60), you could add an external DAC & headphone amplifier.

I'm currently looking at getting the Audio-GD NFB 15.32 external DAC/Amp (with separate line-out), $275-$295

 

You should be able to get better headphones then the ATH-M50s, starting at $170 (Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro 250-Ohm).

post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 

Hey thanks for the help! I think my first step will be to upgrade the M50s and go from there. After reading your post I looked around and I read that the digital out of the Xfi passes on gaming effect processing so adding an external dac/amp might be in the cards as well.

post #4 of 5
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrip541 View Post
 

Hey thanks for the help! I think my first step will be to upgrade the M50s and go from there. After reading your post I looked around and I read that the digital out of the Xfi passes on gaming effect processing so adding an external dac/amp might be in the cards as well.


Headphones that might do the job without having to invest in any head amp or sound card.

AKG K612 Pro (120-Ohm), $180.

The Titanium HD and Creek 5350 headphone output should do better with a 120-Ohm headphone (K612) then a 50-Ohm (ATH-M50) headphone.

post #5 of 5

Heya,

 

Maybe a Hifiman HE-6 with a speaker tap cable, hooked into your Creek (not using headphone jack, using the speaker outputs!).

 

Otherwise, your weakest setup is the home computer setup. But if you're only using it for gaming, there's no need to invest heavily here of your $3k budget. But a few hundred will give you a solid setup easily. The SoundBlaster Zx and a Mr Speaker Mad dog (if you want to stay closed) or maybe a DT880 or something would give you a nicer all around setup when you're at the desk.

 

If you're unhappy with your sub, definitely look into either getting rid of it all, and getting full range towers, or maybe consider a different set of bookshelves that can drop lower so that your crossover isn't as high on the sub.

 

Very best,

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