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Head-Fi Buying Guide (Portable Amps, DACs, & DAPs)
Last edited: 11/28/16
Compared to nothing (in the way of noise cancelling) these are better than that. Damning with faint praise? Yeah, I guess so, but really what can you expect for the price. Sony makes a product...
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Cheap vs Expensive (portable) Amps - Page 2
Gear mentioned in this thread:
Vkalia that is the point. I got so lucky with the grado sr80i, the sound for the money was phenomenal. The problem now is the access to good music. That's where I could use a good guide to understanding all this new technology. I really would hate investing into equipment that isn't compatible with each other. All the different file formats out there is not a matter of being a purist but rather having access to what I want to hear. For instance my CD's that I purchased legally were getting scratched so I down loaded them on my music. I put them on flash drive to preserve them it worked fine but when I got a new player now I'm running into proprietary issues. Im just now learning that while lossless file for some music is wonderful for bringing back the original sound vs remasterd some of the old albums are so bad that the remastered are for the best. I guess what I'm saying is that there is so much snobbery out there that it is very difficult cutting through to the chase. I really appreciate your honest approach to this problem. I've been reading up for weeks trying to find a value priced DAC for the open stage and sound of the Grado's with the ps500 in the future. But for all my reading I don't seem to be getting any closer to knowing what I need to build on as I can afford to practice. I am however learning that it would be very easy to get caught up in over kill if not right out getting into very costly mistakes.
I know what you're saying, Jim - but sadly, the only answer I can think of "you gotta listen for yourself".
In terms of whether it is worth buying remastered albums - I havent really bothered with most of my CDs. The only albums where I have sprung for remastered/high-res are my absolute favorite symphonies. Maybe that is one route to go.
But a more systematic approach would be something like this:
The first question you need to ask yourself is - are the high-res files available at sites like HDTracks worth it? They have a sampler there - download the songs, and then use a program like XLD or a Windows equivalent to convert it to 16/48 lossless, 320kbps MP3 and 256kbps MP3. And listen to the songs and see if you can notice a difference (a) under regular listening conditions and (b) when you strain to hear.
Then take those same songs to an audio store and listen to gear at various price points - absolute top of the line, stuff you have to stretch to afford and stuff that you can easily afford. That will help you figure out approx performance levels at various price points.
Based on that, then you can start narrowing down to specific choices.
There are 2-3 places you might end up:
1/ Grados, 256-320kbps MP3s --> this is a budget rig but dont let anyone tell you that leaves a lot on the table. In my admittedly biased view, replicating rock music is relatively easy, as to a large extent, personal preferences play a big role in what sound you like. With classical music or jazz, where the sound of the original, unamplified instrument is the reference, it is harder - yes, personal preferences do color this somewhat, but ultimately, you want a violin that sounds like a violin, whether you prefer a front-row sound or a back-row sound. With music that is mixed in a studio, what is the "reference"? Nothing other than your ears/preferences. I dont mean this in an audiophile-snobby way at all (I am listening to Metallica's Fade to Black at the moment)
2/ High-end golden ear --> this is where you can hear audible differences between various bits of high-end gear, including cables (nevermind that measurements, which are more precise than human ears, cannot replicate these differences) or what-have-you. If you are here, you are on your own. Maybe you can truly hear those differences - and even if they are not real, if you think they are and they enhance your enjoyment of music, it's a win.
3/ Mid-priced gear, MP3s or FLACs --> Here, you'll probably want to spend more than a budget rig, but not necessarily pay for performance that is just as likely to be a placebo as real. This is the "real world high end", IMO and this is where I stay, mainly b/c I can hear an appreciable difference in the sound quality between the components here and in the budget category, and no appreciable difference (to my ears) between components here and in the really expensive price range. Of course, this area covers a HUGE price range - anywhere from $350-1000+ a component.
From what you describe, you are currently in #1, you are quite unlikely to end up in #2 an there is a possibility #3 might be for you. First start by figuring out which type of listener you are and how sensitive you are to various levels of quality (real or perceived). Then you can start to figure out the best components for you.
Until then, no one can tell you whether you'd be happy with a budget, mid-end or hi-fi rig.
Hope that helps.
from the old wide band radio to the HiFi stereo worked it's magic in the '70s. I'm fully taking in all the ingredients to the sauce. I never snub my nose at all the advances in
audiosound. IIt's mastering the aplications of all these wonderful advances that get challenging to my aging and out of time mind that my grandkids pick up so naturally. The genious is in using all thess file formats just like the great conductors use the acoustics of the building they are performing in. But to stay in line with the forum its not the cost of the equipment but overcoming the prohibitive cost ofsome of this equipment to the financially challenged like myself. People like Joseph Grado got it
Edited by jimr101 - 1/18/14 at 11:03am
I think you are making it more complicated than it is, to be honest. You can just selectively upgrade those albums which you dont like too much at present and enjoy the music with the Grados (which are damn good phones - I used to have the 60s back in the 90s and still have fond memories of them).
If you do want to upgrade your gear, start with headphones. Then build the upstream components accordingly. The DAC is, IMO, the least important bit to upgrade if you just want good music and arent sitting there getting eargasms when you hear someone in the audience sniff. These days, most DACs in most competent players are good enough.
Set a budget, ask for advice.
As a starting point, here is my recommendations & budget for gear that will pretty much tick all your buttons for enjoying music.
- $350 - 500 for a powerful desktop amp for ortho speakers
- $200-300 for a DAC (hell, start with those $60 jobbies from HifimeDIY and upgrade later, if need be)
- $400 for a portable amp (Alo National, CLAS Duet/Theorem, Meier Quickstep)
- Use a LO to connect your portable player to this
Spend the rest on cans. Different headphones will make a MUCH bigger impact on sound than the minute differences between upstream components. And more music.
Matt thank you so much. My grammar is horrific as I went to french Belgian schools up to 9th grade. My syntax is as lengthy as the french language. Being dyslexic on top of things I'm having a difficult time aligning the linear technical information that is feed to us in massive quantities by our computer age with the esoteric nature of the cosmic aspects of music. My ancestral ties to native americans have made up for my learning disabilities in exchange for being able to visualize music. What I'm going thru right now is negociating the accuracy of the music files with the marvelous sounds technology brings to us. The magic HiFi stereo added to the sound stage coupled the cosmic alignment of music and the universe. Such hard and complex audio hardware decisions. The Best Of Neil Young in 432hz was the sound I was looking for. Even the buzzing of the Marshal tube amps in the backgroung added to the magic of the experience. But just as I thought I figured it out. It only worked for that recording. Then I listened to the Led Zepplin in 432hz and it was awful. Lossless is wonderful when the original recording is superior and terrible when it really needed remastering. From that I learned I need access to most file forms. I'm partial to my open 32 ohm cans so I guess I'm making progress even if so slow.
Happy to help Jim :), audiophiles gotta stick together! I agree with you that some files certainly need to be remastered, otherwise lossless audio basically undermines itself. Van Halen is another group that although classic, their recordings are less than stellar.
One other suggestion, when the day comes to get new headphones, it might be worth trying something other than Grado's. Grado's are superb cans, however it never hurts to try a different sound signature, a la Sennheiser, Beyerdynamics, Hi-Fi Man, and Audeze to name a few.
Either way, enjoy your music!
- Cheap vs Expensive (portable) Amps
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