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So what the heck do protable amps do?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

Hi everyone,

 

As you can probably tell by the title, I am pretty much a noob when it come to audio equipment.  I've been thinking about buying a portable amp for a while now, but I have no idea what it actually does and whether buying one would be a worthy investment for me.  I've tried to look it up on these forums but haven't really found anything conclusive - some people say that SQ dramatically improves, while others just say it makes the music volume louder.

 

FWIW, if I did get an amp, I would mostly be looking to use it with my Logitech UE6000 headphones - I've heard people say that these headphones benefit from an amp, but again, I don't know how much of a difference it will make, especially most of my music files aren't lossless.  I'm considering the Fiio e6 or e11 simply because of the low cost to performance ratio, but again, I want to now if such an investment would be worthy at all.

 

Thanks for the help!

post #2 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by redme View Post  I've been thinking about buying a portable amp for a while now, but I have no idea what it actually does and whether buying one would be a worthy investment for me.

 

Wait, you don't know what it does but have been considering buying one for a while now?

Do you have money you need to get rid of, or just feel compelled to make an audio purchase?

 

What will it do? . . . . weight down your pocket and lighten your wallet. After that YMMV, but it is unnecessary.

post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NiceCans View Post
 

 

Wait, you don't know what it does but have been considering buying one for a while now?

Do you have money you need to get rid of, or just feel compelled to make an audio purchase?

 

What will it do? . . . . weight down your pocket and lighten your wallet. After that YMMV, but it is unnecessary.

Haha, yeah...I guess I just wanted to know how much effect an amp would have on SQ, if at all

post #4 of 15

That's really subjective, and solely up to the individual's ears.

Some claim to hear a large difference, others hear little or none.

 

Personally I am of the no amp for portable camp.

post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NiceCans View Post
 

That's really subjective, and solely up to the individual's ears.

Some claim to hear a large difference, others hear little or none.

 

Personally I am of the no amp for portable camp.

Thanks for the input!  Anyone else have additional opinions?

post #6 of 15

If your headphones don't get loud enough, get an amp.  If they need a bit more power get an amp.  If your device has support, get a DAC for better SQ.

 

IEMs for example probably don't need an amp, and IEMs are generally made to be more portable, so why use something bulky for them.

 

I for one couldn't get the volume levels high enough on my Galaxy S4 and I wanted to bypass the built in DAC for a bit more audio quality so I decided on a DAC/AMP.

 

Is it a huge difference in quality, not really.  Is it nice to have, yes.  Plus it charges my phone and gives me ability to use coaxial out if I care to connect it to certain devices.

post #7 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by redme View Post
 

Hi everyone,

 

As you can probably tell by the title, I am pretty much a noob when it come to audio equipment.  I've been thinking about buying a portable amp for a while now, but I have no idea what it actually does and whether buying one would be a worthy investment for me.  I've tried to look it up on these forums but haven't really found anything conclusive - some people say that SQ dramatically improves, while others just say it makes the music volume louder.

 

FWIW, if I did get an amp, I would mostly be looking to use it with my Logitech UE6000 headphones - I've heard people say that these headphones benefit from an amp, but again, I don't know how much of a difference it will make, especially most of my music files aren't lossless.  I'm considering the Fiio e6 or e11 simply because of the low cost to performance ratio, but again, I want to now if such an investment would be worthy at all.

 

Thanks for the help!

 

1) your headphones doesn't get loud enough for your typical listening level, get an amp

 

2) the amp of your source is of low quality and audibly degrades the sound, get an amp

post #8 of 15
Also, if you buy a balanced amplifier you can enhance the sound if you recable the headphones with balanced cables.
post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by redme View Post
 

Hi everyone,

 

As you can probably tell by the title, I am pretty much a noob when it come to audio equipment.  I've been thinking about buying a portable amp for a while now, but I have no idea what it actually does and whether buying one would be a worthy investment for me.  I've tried to look it up on these forums but haven't really found anything conclusive - some people say that SQ dramatically improves, while others just say it makes the music volume louder.

 

FWIW, if I did get an amp, I would mostly be looking to use it with my Logitech UE6000 headphones - I've heard people say that these headphones benefit from an amp, but again, I don't know how much of a difference it will make, especially most of my music files aren't lossless.  I'm considering the Fiio e6 or e11 simply because of the low cost to performance ratio, but again, I want to now if such an investment would be worthy at all.

 

Thanks for the help!

 

First - the UE6000 can either be run with active noise cancelling on, or without it.

 

With it on - it's using it's own built in amp (in the noise cancelling circuit).  An add-on portable amp will not help.

 

With noise cancelling off - the cans are 50 ohm and 97 dB SPL/Mw - ie not hard to drive and pretty sensitive.  Long story short - an amp is unnecessary and will add nothing but bulk and cost.

 

BTW - beware of people suggesting this sort of thing:

Quote:
  I've heard people say that these headphones benefit from an amp

 

Check their inventory, their experience, and ask if they've ever done a volume matched blind test.  Chances are that none of them have.

 

Forget the amp.  Buy more music :) 

post #10 of 15

For example, Sony Walkman HD5 is old. But I love how it looks and price...

 

Talk about driving over-ear can and portable can....it sounds "akai ok". But come to in-ear and earbud...I can audible background is not dead-silent. I dont feel good to listen to noise.

 

But I know HD5 has an line out, and the sound quality is quiet good (because i try with my full size amp many times). So I decide to buy an portable amp to drive the little one and maybe...improve the sound quality of on ear and portable can.  I go with C5....line out hd5 is clear-clean....and c5 is clear-clean...everything is good now. And also i can tell c5 is improve image and sound stage a bit as well. 

 

This is my story. :)

 

You may need other reason to buy an portable amp...or...if you don't need it...dont buy it :)


Edited by conheo - 11/15/13 at 8:53am
post #11 of 15

Portable amps, particularly if they have a built in DAC can do wonders for laptop users as they replace the computer DA conversion and provide much better amplification. For casual listening and on the go, the weight of even a small portable system (iPod type device plus amp) makes it unwieldy. I have gone through many versions, starting back with iPod 1 15 years ago and used various systems. I'd consider getting a small portable amp and see how you like it not just for sound but also for how it affects or doesn't affect your lifestyle (how you carry it etc.).

post #12 of 15

There's a few more things to take into account...

 

- Perceived Sound Quality: Sound Quality vs. Sound Signature

 

In my opinion, it's all about perception of sound quality. We are all different and have our own taste in music. Better "technical" sound quality (as in SQ by the numbers, measurements and such) isn't always perceived as better. Even the most expensive, technically perfect amp can be blown away by a cheapie china special if the sound signature of the cheapie matches your personal preferences better. Think of it as listening to music on a perfectly tuned setup in a laboratorium vs. going to a live performance. By the numbers the lab setup will sound better, but you're missing out on the ambiance and other factors of the live show that (can) add to the total experience.

 

 

- What kind of output will you be using with the amp?

 

If you plan on using the headphone out as the input signal for your amp, a lot of the comments are correct. There won't be any increase in SQ, it'll just go louder. Depending on the SQ of the headphone out, it could even sound worse, as an amplifier doesn't just amplify the good, but also the bad. The "crap in, crap out"-principle. Look for info on "double amping" here on the forum, you'll find plenty info. The headphone out on some players is quite good, the headphone out of a Rockboxed Sansa Clip+ at 0dB is considered 'near line out' by some folks.

conclusion: When using headphone out, SQ will not improve, Perceived SQ on the other hand, can improve.

 

If you are planning on using a line out from your source, the effect on the SQ can be much more dramatic. As the internal (and for many devices quite terrible) amplification is bypassed, the signal going to the amp can be of much higer quality. Line out on a portable player isn't a very common feature. Examples of players that do have it are the Nationite S:Flo 2, Fiio X3, iBasso DX50 and some of the really high end players. Other players provide line out functionality via a LOD (Line Out Dock, which isn't always an actual docking station, it can be a cable as well), examples of these are (some) iPods, (some) Sansa players, (some) Sony players.

conclusion: When using line out, SQ can improve. How much depends on the differences between the external amp and the internal amp of the player.

 

Another option that was already mentioned is digital out from the player, this could be coaxial (Fiio X3, iBasso DX50), optical (some older iRiver players), USB (some smartphones or tablets), proprietary (Apple does this). It could be something else, but these are most common. This can have the biggest impact on SQ, as the player will only be a transport and you can choose an external DAC and amp that match your preferences. This will allow for the most flexible setup with separate player, DAC and amp, but going this route usually ends up very expensive and you often go from portable to transportable.

conclusion: When using digital out, SQ can improve. Keep in mind that just an amp will do you no good here, you need a DAC/amp combo or separate DAC & amp.

 

 

 

No headphones benefit from an amp alone, there has to be a source as well. Maybe you can tell us more about your total setup, what player are you using? What connection options do you have? And ofcourse, how much do you want to spend? With that information we might be able to give you a nudge in the right direction.

post #13 of 15
Some amps introduce their own colouration to the music which some people prefer. Sometimes the colouring amp can compensate for deficiencies in a low-quality source or idiosyncratic headphones.

(Note that people tend to divide in to two camps: loud listeners and quiet listeners. Loud listeners tend to be more sensitive to frequency spikes in audio-reproduction, since they are near the limit already, and so prefer flatter audio reproduction. For example, the Superlux HD681 phones have two large, sharp spikes at 8000Hz and 12000Hz plus an overall 10db treble lift. No good for loud listeners. Meanwhile the HD681F (for flat) has no spikes just a treble uplift which can easily be corrected, though it also needs a bit of bass boosting I find. )

Assuming a neutral amp like the E6, it can do various things:

1)the obvious: increase max volume where it's too quiet, which can be an issue for ipod loud-listeners (max .25V output) with lower sensitivity phones
2)correct output impedance issues
3)provide 'headroom' for where you have high dynamic range music with large transient peaks
4)provide headroom for bass boosting
5)provide a bass boost of their own
4)less likely case: avoiding max-volume distortion

For example, with my superlux HD681 the impedance is 32ohms and the sensitivity relatively low. On the .5Volts clip+ I'm right at max volume before I'm happy, which gives me no overhead. I can't get the volume on an iphone; I would need an amp. I listen quieter now, but before as a loud-listener I needed to go +6db over the max volume (in to clip+ distortion territory) which rockbox permits. (as an aside, a lot of reviews on this site are by quiet listeners and they really don't apply to loud listeners.) I would definitely have issues with your phones as they are so-so sensitive with highish impedance.

If you want the best reproduction in terms of volume then really you need 3 to 10dbs of headroom for transients. This is more important to jazz and classical since most other music is relatively compressed and doesn't have such transients. If you are equalising-in extra bass then the same applies: you need overhead. With rockbox, boosting bass lowers overall volume and so may require an amp.

Output impedance is an electrical property of amping. The mini amp in your source (unless it's a pure DAC) can cut corners by having a bigger resistor at the output (for safety reasons). Output impedance will change the volume of the frequencies, especially low bass and highs, ie a bump at around 100Hz, causing boominess and overwhelming very low bass. Ideally you need an output impedance of 1/8 of the impedance of the phones to avoid noticeable changes. Also, with dynamic phones, too high an output impedance loosens the electrical tensioning of the diaphram and causes the bass to be woolley or not tight. If you are using a Samsung S2 or 3, for example, you will have this problem unless you are using the noise cancellation (as mentioned by another poster). Even worse is the 2011 Nexus 7. With an impedance of 50 your phones mostly won;t have this problem, which in any case goes away when noise cancelling is switched on. Seach for nwavguy output impedance for more on this. He also has a review of the E6's predecessor the E5.
post #14 of 15
The portable amp usually does not amp the volume large enough but will change the sound to some extent. The sound change is noticeable if you can compare them objectively. Whether the changed sound is to your taste is very subjective. So you better try it before you make your purchase. If you can try many amps simultaneously, you should do it although you might get disoriented. If you have enough money, you may just buy them for fun and experiment.
post #15 of 15
A protable amp is one that one prots with.

However, few outside of the League of Extraordinary Protters even know what protting is, let alone the dictionary.

My advice to you, my friend, is to avoid the issue of protting entirely, as you may open a Protora's Box, or a can of prots (depending on one's education).
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