Originally Posted by 7Sevin
I'm new here, but I've been a tight-budget audiophile for about a year now. I don't really feel qualified to say that though since the only reason why I say that I am an audiophile is because I love music and like to hear it the way it was made to hear. That being said, I've only had 3 pieces of equipment since I became an audiophile: a pair of Denon AH-D1100's (broke recently, terrible build quality [comment if you want more info on that]), a cMoy BB, and since my Denons broke, an interim pair of Sennheiser HD202's.
Now that an introduction is out of the way, on to the real question: I have some spending money and through some research (I've been lurking Head-Fi and Headfonia for a few months) I've found that the LCD-2's sound like the perfect headphone for me. Good bass for an open-back, gorgeous looking, and a warm sound signature. I want to know what kind of amp and DAC I might invest in to drive the cans. I've learned that a little bit of electrical engineering know-how goes a long way in understanding headphones, of which I have none. Along with your recommendations, can someone explain in as simplest terms you can what the reason/importance of having a DAC/amp is for making headphones perform? Also, what are other accessories that improve SQ? I've seen a lot of people who change out cables for better ones, different pads etc. More specific to Audez'e, the vegan pads vs. leather. Can someone explain how much these mods actually affect SQ?
Quite a big leap going from very entry level straight to high-end. That's ok though. It's probably the cheapest route, rather than climbing through mid-tier and eventually landing on high-end later on, having spent more money on the way. The difficult part is that you really have to make sure you love every bit of the $1500 setup you're basically getting ready to buy. That means you really need to audition. Or, you have to gamble, and make sure you buy from some where that allows no-question-asked returns. Also, always remember that for every glowing review, there's someone who doesn't care for something. This is a huge preference game. There's very technical aspects, but they result in diminishing returns early on in mid-tier as far as I'm concerned.
That said, I'll try and provide some info to either spur more questions, or answer a few maybe.
1. The LCD2 is not a "bassy" headphone. I just don't get where this comes from, other than people maybe listening to an ortho for the first time coming from a bass shy dynamic (like K701 for reference). I found the LCD2 to be simply a warm neutral, quite flat, and with a rolled off treble, so it was a darker, warmer sound. Less treble resulting in less piercing fatigue, but also to me, a little less emotion and excitement from things that are supposed to sting, like a high key strike on a piano, or a guitar solo that rips and shreds, or a voice that's meant to resonate. The mids are butter. Orthos just do mids right. The ortho bass, and the LCD2 bass specifically, is flat. It drops very low, and maintains a similar level of volume the whole way down to 25~30hz. That's impressive for an open back headphone, but it's not bassy. That's just it being technically flat, and performing as it should. A response graph shows it's bass pronounced a little more, but graphs and what you hear are two different things, and honestly, the LCD2 just doesn't sound bassy to me. It sounds right. Listen to a slightly bassy headphone, and you'll immediately notice that the LCD2 doesn't have overly emphasized mid-bass nor sub-bass. And when I compare the LCD2 and HE500 side by side, I don't hear a big difference in bass quantity, and the HE500 is not heralded at all as "bassy" yet the LCD2 is. Just goes to show, if the right people say it's bassy early on, the idea sticks, even if it's just not accurate. So this information is meant as someone with both those headphones, letting you know you're not looking at a "bassy" headphone in the LCD2. I think the more defining feature of the LCD2 is actually it's rolled off treble, making it a darker, more mellow sounding ortho out of the popular orthos out there, along with it's very stereo-like sound staging. Feel free to read my thoughts on all of this in more depth with images here.
2. The importance of a dedicated high quality DAC and a powerful and steady amplifier is that you have to give the headphone something to render. Almost all your music is just a bunch of 0's and 1's these days, unless you have a pure analog setup using Vinyl. The DAC is simply an engine that takes 0's and 1's and turns them into a sine wave, that is an analog signal. The analog sine wave is then sent, at a level signal strength, to an amplifier which then increases the signal strength to a degree for use with a driver (speaker or headphone, they're the same thing really). You do not need a high end DAC nor a high end amplifier to do this. Frankly, having been all over with $65~$1,000 setups, I found this to be the biggest plateau of all in the headphone game, when you start thinking you need a "new dac" or a different colored sounding "amp" and that things are so "amp picky." I find that to be pretty much extreme exaggeration (and will likely be disagreed with on that). This is the least of the difference in sound you'll notice. The primary two things that really influence the end product you're listening to, is the headphone itself and the music quality you're listening to. So long as the interface that bridges the two is of decent quality and has sufficient power to drive the headphone, you will not notice night & differences between the equipment unless you're just being uber picky and reading technical reviews, instead of just using your own ears. That said, you're looking at an ortho, you need a significant power source in terms of your amplifier. A cellphone just won't cut it, and if you're going all in on a high end setup, you need to know what it will take to properly drive your headphone before you buy. That said, an entry level to mid-tier DAC is fine. The amp needs to be relatively powerful, as in around 800mw~1.5watts at the 50ohm impedance range. That's merely my recommendation. It will play with less. And many of us use a lot more than that. But in general, I tend to recommend that range for the big orthos (exceptions: HE-4, HE-6). You can get that with an Audio GD series dac/amp setup. You can get that with a Schiit amplifier. You can also get way more than that with speaker amps. This is a whole other topic though. In general, I will say that the best bang per buck and ease of use, the NFB series by Audio GD is the easiest and least expensive way to go for the amount of power you're getting (like Audio GD NFB 15.32, or upwards of the 10SE3 fully balanced setup). Or if you want, the Schiit Lyr is a great way to start too and is USA based if you care about that. You can pair it with the Modi or Bifrost if you want to keep the design similar, and of that, I honestly didn't think the Bifrost was any different sounding ultimately than my other DAC's, which is why I just recommend the lesser Modi as it's less expensive and does the job).
3. Know how an amplifier even works. The Dac just, again, converts 0's and 1's to analog signal. Done. Nothing else. The amp behaves differently at different stages and at different work load levels. I'll try and simplify but try and read up on this as it will help you know what you're buying and why. Basically, the amp will have a peak level of output at a work load level. That work load is the impedance of the headphone. The higher the impedance, the less current that passes by. The lower the impedance, the more current that passes by. Sensitivity is where current comes into play. The less sensitive a headphone is, the more current it will require to achieve volume. The more sensitive it is, the less current it will need or it will be too loud. This changes when you look at OTL tube amps (they don't play well in general with low impedance headphones due to design). This mainly is a general view from a solid state amplifier point of view. How to apply this is that the LCD2 is only 50ohms, that's relatively low impedance, so it doesn't need a lot of voltage, but it is not the most sensitive headphone, and really needs a good amount of current. So the amplifier should be able to deliver high output to a low impedance range. This is why I was recommending 800mw~1.5w at 50ohms as a working range to be "very comfortable." There's more to this. But this will get you started.
4. You don't need fancy cables, or pad swaps, etc. Keep it simple. Change "accessories" when you are comfortable with the actual headphone and know you want to keep it for a "the long run." You're getting caught up in details that people pick over as they comb the last 1~2% of their "preference" from a setup.
5. Sound quality will entirely depend on the music quality you feed this circuit. Keep it lossless or near lossless, the recordings themselves need to be high quality, even a lossless level recording that was poorly done or poorly mastered sounds like dookage and is embarrassing to hear on a higher end setup. This means you'll be a lot more picky on albums and a lot more picky on looking for the best recordings you can to listen to. I tend to suggest people listen to something from HDtracks.com and compare an MP3 they have to get an idea. This takes a lot of patience and a lot of combing through to find great albums. But the reality of audiophilia starts with the recording. Not the gear.