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Amp/Source question

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

So I just purchased a new set of Audio Technica phones (ATH M50s) after seeing the many positive reviews here and on other sites (thanks!), and I had a few questions regarding getting the best sound out of them.

 

First, I notice that they are quite sensitive and have low impedance (99 dB & 38 ohms respectively), does that mean it would be rather pointless to drive them through an amp?  If I don't get an amp they'll just be running through my onboard sound which uses the ALC892 audio CODEC if that makes a difference.

 

Second, If I did get an amp, would it be worthwhile also getting a DAC?  How much difference does this make for music files being played from a hard drive?  I don't have anything on CD these days, it's all MP3, ranging from medium to reasonably high quality, none of it is lossless though.

 

Thirdly, if I got an amp, would it also be an advantage to get an upgraded soundcard like a Xonar DX?  I'm a bit confused as to whether I'd get any additional benefit out of a soundcard if I have an amp, or amp/DAC.  I won't be wanting more than 2 channel sound if that helps.

 

Lastly, I'm also considering getting a regular stereo amplifier, I've read multiple threads answering questions about using a stereo amp for headphones but can't find a good answer - are there some solid stereo amp picks at various price points that are also known to produce good sound through headphones?  If there are, I would appreciate being pointed in the right direction because I'd like to cover all my sound needs in one solution if possible.

 

Thanks!

post #2 of 6
Unlike some harder to drive 'phones, an amp isn't absolutely required for the M50, but an amp can help fill-out the response and give it a bit more at both ends.

Think of the DAC as a music soundcard. When you use an external DAC, it is doing the conversion of the digital music file to an analog signal for the amp. There is no need for any other soundcard. HOWEVER, a music DAC doesn't replace all the features of a gaming or home theater sound card. The music DAC doesn't process multichannel DD/DTS digital or do any of the fancy spatial stuff that some gaming cards do. In geek speak, the music DAC does only PCM-encoded digital.

Will the DAC help? The best answer I can give is maybe. Most onboard audio isn't great - and amping bad sound makes everything louder - both the music and the noise.

My own opinion is that *if* the onboard audio is at least decent (and most of them are at least decent), then the largest improvements can be made in this order:

1) Different headphones - you want to change the sound? Change the headphones.
2) A headphone amp - this is especially true if the headphones need more power
3) DAC - I have always thought that most people that hear a big difference after changing the DAC are actually hearing the effect of bypassing the internal amp rather than the new DAC itself.
4) Cables - I'm not convinced cables do much of anything - but that's a whole different can of worms I'm not going to debate here.

I haven't got an opinion either way of headphone amps vs stereo receivers for headphone listening.

YMMV...
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the response billybob_jvc - that cleared up my confusion on the soundcard/DAC issue.  I presume then that if I was to get an integrated stereo amp (with a headphone jack of course) that it would negate the need for a sound card due to the fact it would have a dac built in?  I don't want any fancy gaming features or surround sound etc, I'm just after good pure 2 channel sound.

 

Cheers!

post #4 of 6

I use a stereo amplifier for speakers on headphones. It's not really a good idea unless you have planar magnetic headphones. If you tried to use the M50s on a speaker amp, you would probably get a lot of hiss/ background noise, and the volume knob would be very sensitive to small changes (e.g. it will get way too loud past 8 or 9 o'clock or so on the volume knob). 

If you are talking about a stereo receiver with a headphone jack on the front, the headphone jack is usually internally connected to the speaker outputs with resistors in between to reduce the maximum power. The resistors will increase the output impedance of the amp, making the headphone jack unsuitable for low-impedance dynamic headphones such as your M50. It will work, but the damping factor will be messed up and you might get boomy bass. 

post #5 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ghark View Post
 

So I just purchased a new set of Audio Technica phones (ATH M50s) after seeing the many positive reviews here and on other sites (thanks!), and I had a few questions regarding getting the best sound out of them.

First, I notice that they are quite sensitive and have low impedance (99 dB & 38 ohms respectively), does that mean it would be rather pointless to drive them through an amp?  If I don't get an amp they'll just be running through my on-board sound which uses the ALC892 audio CODEC if that makes a difference.

Second, If I did get an amp, would it be worthwhile also getting a DAC?  How much difference does this make for music files being played from a hard drive?  I don't have anything on CD these days, it's all MP3, ranging from medium to reasonably high quality, none of it is lossless though.

Thirdly, if I got an amp, would it also be an advantage to get an upgraded sound card like a Xonar DX?  I'm a bit confused as to whether I'd get any additional benefit out of a sound card if I have an amp, or amp/DAC.  I won't be wanting more than 2 channel sound if that helps.

Lastly, I'm also considering getting a regular stereo amplifier, I've read multiple threads answering questions about using a stereo amp for headphones but can't find a good answer - are there some solid stereo amp picks at various price points that are also known to produce good sound through headphones?  If there are, I would appreciate being pointed in the right direction because I'd like to cover all my sound needs in one solution if possible.

Chances are you would improve audio quality investing into better headphones, then a DAC/amp.

Audio Technica ATH-A900X headphones, maybe used off eBay.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Audio-Technica-ATH-A900X-Headphones-/231134537510?pt=US_Headphones&hash=item35d0b12726

 

The ATH-M50 do fairly well plugged straight into a motherboard.

The most I think you would want to trying spending for improving the ATH-M50's audio quality is the Asus Xonar DG sound card, $30 and there is a $10 mail in rebate this month.

post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks heaps for the replies, it looks like I'll stick with using the integrated amp (when I get it) with just some speakers, and get a soundcard for my computer and use the headphones through that.  Next time I'm buying headphones I'll look for something more suitable for the amp (higher impedance), lots to learn!  Appreciate the fast responses.

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