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Amp for a low volume listener?

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

Hi all,

 

I knew I was a low volume listener but I confirmed it with a SPL meter :P To be honest I wasnt sure. So my equipment and my question to you all:

Test songs are Prodigy because they are loud and squashed with dynamic compressors. (extreme case) My usual songs are more soft/minimal, like burial and deadbeat.

 

Equipment: iPod5gVideo, Note2, iMac 2011. AKG K240Mk2, Senn HD25-1II, Westone 4R (on the way).

All music is mp3-320 and some v0 maybe.

 

1) in the office: iMac 2011 + AKG K240Mk2 at work which I always use just one click of 'apple volume', barely measuring 65db with a heavily squashed song like Prodigy. with the AKG I need at least 4 clicks to touch the range of 72-76db which I dont even use once every month. HD25s are 2-3db louder with the same setting but never used in the office.

 

2) on the go Im between the Note2 and my IpodVideo that I recently revived. I currently use the HD25 with them. Same volumes here, I stick the SPL meter right in the can touching the foam that covers the speaker and the 20-30% of the Note2 volume a dont even hit 70db...

Ill use the Westone4Rs with this setup a lot!

 

It generally seems that 70db is my party level after all in cans. (speakers is another story!! db there are always NOT enough!)

 

Well the question that is troubling me is if I need an portable amp (200usd max lets say), primarily with the portable setups and in case of an dac/amp, maybe for the iMac too.

 

Is the amp mainly for volume? or the extra 'current' will help the cans behave better? More tight bass (pull back will be sharper?)? A bit better quality in the full freq spectrum?

 

Amps I've checked in the forum: FiiO e18 (works with the Note2 and is a dac too), JDS amps maybe from the thread about 'sub-200 portable amps'.

 

Thanks

T

post #2 of 23

At 70db, the amplifier would have to be bad enough to distort due to lack of current (or voltage, gain, etc for that matter). On universal IEMs for example I've never encountered one that needs a good amp; even the Westone 4 needs a better seal more than a better amp, and that includes the Galaxy S-line's too warm sound (for portables anyway I'd rather err on warm than get stuck on a plane with too sharp treble coming out of my IEMs). On my laptop I need only 2/100 (background music, but enough to drown out every sound in from outside the room) to 8/100 (headbanging listening) on Windows volume control on the ASG-1.

Headphones on the other hand are a bit farther from my eardrums, plus there's a bit more ambient sound leaking in, so I listen a bit louder, and a bit louder still on my favorite tracks. Still, the thin is, if you're great with 70db, I doubt an amp would help. A better DAC might have some improvements, along with a cleaner headphone driver, so look into getting a device that has both.

 

 

Disclaimer though: I haven't used an SPL meter on my stuff, but I'm guessing that I'm far enough past that considering I need High Gain, 10:00 on the dial on my Cantate.2 driving HD600s. My IEM listening would be a lot closer to 70db though.


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 11/14/13 at 8:45am
post #3 of 23
Thread Starter 
So depending on the source the next step will be to see if a combined amp/dac will give a bit of better quality because of the dac part of it. Right?

Ipod5gVideo is a bit hard to get digital out for a dac so note2 might be a option.
The other thing is to need an amp if i get a better headphone and i need to drive it even in low volumes.

T
post #4 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Varoudis View Post

So depending on the source the next step will be to see if a combined amp/dac will give a bit of better quality because of the dac part of it. Right?

 

Basically, yes. Another thing to note about the performance of "regular" DACs (computers, laptops, soundcards, etc) vs hi-fi DACs is that not all of them are that bad, but don't take any critique saying they're all the same. What such extreme positions ignore is that, first, some of them can measure properly, ie, a flat response from 20hz to 20khz; second, that they can measure as such on a measuring tool that does not adequately simulate the next piece of equipment downstream, which includes the input impedance of amplifiers or as is more often the case, the actual impedance-frequency parameter of a headphone/IEM.* The advantage then of a DAC-Amp design (take note they all have advantages and disadvantages) is that the signal just stays in that box, maybe doesn't even leave the board, and given how many DACs and portable players are non-Redbook standard (ie, lineout signal is below 2v), a properly designed desktop DAC-Amp isn't as problematic a design as people who want separate power supplies for each equipment claim they are.

 


*Quoted nominal impedance for such are just that - nominal. A  low impedance, high efficiency headphone may be easy to drive, but part of the difficulty in overall audio system design is how to make drivers respond flat. That's not just their actual frequency response, but also their impedance - if a strong enough bass note can make its impedance swing far enough from the average, that's how you end up with too little or too much bass, and why sometimes you can easily notice a difference between an iPod and a good desktop amp. To immediately the dismiss the amp as having an artificial bass boost on account of the iPod having measured flat doesn't take into account whether the amp measures flat too and the iPod does have some difficulty driving a given headphone. At a minimum, the listener needs a volume level that the iPod or a smaller amp distorts at already, but also take into account it doesn't necessarily mean your headphone amp must be the size of a standard speaker amp to get the power you need.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Varoudis View Post

Ipod5gVideo is a bit hard to get digital out for a dac so note2 might be a option.
The other thing is to need an amp if i get a better headphone and i need to drive it even in low volumes.

 

If you get a DAC-Amp that has variable gain settings and a reasonably powerful output to give you some reserve power when you upgrade. You don't need too much power nor would it cost too much. Check if AudioGD products for example are compatible with your Note and Mac, then look up reviews for those.

 

BTW, grab one of those third party Note docks from Amazon and an OTG cable, so you can set-up your phone as a digital music server like this (that's an S3 though):

700

 

You get home, clean up, then sit down, switch on the amp, (remove case if necessary) and dock the phone. Insert can be taken out to accommodate some cases, but I got a two-layer case (rubber inner and plastic outer) that makes removing both layers easy and at very low risk for scratching so I take them both out.

post #5 of 23

A lot of people forget that amps also changes the frequency respond of a given headphone, so it is not just for getting more volume.  This is why people use high impedance adapters with amps.

post #6 of 23
Thread Starter 

Excellent posts thanks!

 

Now a question. Based on my hardware:

Equipment: iPod5gVideo, Note2, iMac 2011. AKG K240Mk2, Senn HD25-1II, Westone 4R (on the way).

All music is mp3-320 and some v0 maybe.

 

What would be a first step up?

 

something like JDS Labs C5 or Leckerton Audio? ?

 

Thanks

post #7 of 23

The C5 is a very good start and I have the W4R myself.  What kind of budget are we talking about?  You may able to get a good DAC/AMP combo instead of just an amp.

post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrSheep View Post

The C5 is a very good start and I have the W4R myself.  What kind of budget are we talking about?  You may able to get a good DAC/AMP combo instead of just an amp.

I see my limit, for this first exploratory phase, as 200usd.

Ive been looking at the c5 and uha4 from the sud200 post and the arrow 3g that refurb is 199 now.

What do you think? Missing something?
T
post #9 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Varoudis View Post


I see my limit, for this first exploratory phase, as 200usd.

Ive been looking at the c5 and uha4 from the sud200 post and the arrow 3g that refurb is 199 now.

What do you think? Missing something?
T

No, and the C5 is good.  However, I won't get the 3G just because it is now cheaper, as you might regret it later for not going for the 4T or 4N.

post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrSheep View Post

No, and the C5 is good.  However, I won't get the 3G just because it is now cheaper, as you might regret it later for not going for the 4T or 4N.

If we say that 4t/n is not a option. What do you think about c5 and 3g?
T
post #11 of 23

I personally think the C5 is slightly better, but either one is good.

post #12 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrSheep View Post

I personally think the C5 is slightly better, but either one is good.

I think this is the one i think too. I remember reading that people with iems have some small issues with low volumes, on the other hand they seem to say that the bass boost is a bit more tight in the 3g.

I use my rockboxed ipod5g lately and i like the 3db bass boost i use.
I think im going to do the diymod trick soon!
T
post #13 of 23

As a fellow low level listener, my opinion is that the amp is not the most important part for low level listening - its the headphone. I can tell you in my search that not many of the headphones I have tried are good with low level listening. Obviously, the IEMs have an advantage of great isolation allowing you to hear more into the music without outside distraction, but the really good ones usually take power and volume to perform to their best.

 

The only headphone that I tried that truly holds its sound stage, instrument scaling, slam, and realism at low volumes is my HD595 which I listen to every night to fall asleep. Most people wouldn't describe the HD595 as having slam, but at low volumes compared to other headphones at the same volume, it does. Because it performs so well on its own, it really doesn't get much improvement out of an added amp unless you are looking to add additional slam at louder volumes.

 

Forgetting everything that i just said, an easy amp for me to recommend for getting better low volume performance out of my other headphones is my $100 BH2. It provides full rich sound at lower volumes for my harder to drive headphones like my NT6 Pro or my LCD2. If dynamic range is what you are looking for, pair the BH2 with a $100 C3 (if you can handle the simple UI) replacing your iPod for outstanding fuller and richer plus lifelike sound quality still within your price range. This pair still beats my DX50 on its own, but I think that DX50 would scale better when I decide to purchase a little higher end amp like the Pico Power. In the meantime, the BH2's rich euphoric sound and 80 hour battery life will serve me well. You can read more about it in its appreciation thread.


Edited by Barra - 11/15/13 at 4:39pm
post #14 of 23
Thread Starter 
Bh2 seems a bit hard for me as i can only find it from china, not within US.

This is why i focused ont he jds c5 the uha4 and the arrow 3g. Fiio e17 is another option too but posts here place it lower that the other 3.

What do yout think?
T
post #15 of 23
Got mine off amazon. It did ship from china and took a couple weeks, but it sounds spectacular. According to what i read here, it keeps up with or surpasses amps twice to three times it's price. However, the others you are looking at get good reviews as well.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A2QJSBO/ref=wms_ohs_product?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Edited by Barra - 11/16/13 at 9:35am
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