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Pathway of progression advice.

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Just wanted to say first that I have been reading/researching this forum over the past few days and wow! the shear amount of info is staggering. I've read the headphone guides and reviews of DAC's i've been looking at but I guess what I want to know most is how to get the most appreciation/value for this hobby I can. From what i've gathered, it seems that the mid-level priced over-ear headphones are really great but are you better suited getting a cheaper set with a proper amp? For use-case im looking at open-back headphones with a portable USB DAC/AMP. This will be running out of a Win8 laptop and a mix of CD/Streaming uses. Also, being I spend a lot of time streaming Spotify will the quality of the signal be worth starting with a higher grade/Impedance set of headphones or is that just a waste? The primary set of headphones that I am most interested in is the Grado SR80i. The portable DAC/AMP I have been looking at is the NuForce UDAC-3. My Budget is flexible but I don't want to buy something that's akin to driving a sports car in 5 o'clock traffic. As for styles of music I listen to instrumental rock, prog rock, some techno/house and live sets of various artists. I have a pair of Sony in-ears that work well for my electronic music so im more leaning towards open-ear for the "Sound-Stage" aspect. With this in mind, are there better suited combinations for my needs? Also, thanks for the info and research all of the members have done on this site!

post #2 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by simplynicholas View Post
 

Just wanted to say first that I have been reading/researching this forum over the past few days and wow! the shear amount of info is staggering. I've read the headphone guides and reviews of DAC's i've been looking at but I guess what I want to know most is how to get the most appreciation/value for this hobby I can. From what i've gathered, it seems that the mid-level priced over-ear headphones are really great but are you better suited getting a cheaper set with a proper amp? For use-case im looking at open-back headphones with a portable USB DAC/AMP. This will be running out of a Win8 laptop and a mix of CD/Streaming uses. Also, being I spend a lot of time streaming Spotify will the quality of the signal be worth starting with a higher grade/Impedance set of headphones or is that just a waste? The primary set of headphones that I am most interested in is the Grado SR80i. The portable DAC/AMP I have been looking at is the NuForce UDAC-3. My Budget is flexible but I don't want to buy something that's akin to driving a sports car in 5 o'clock traffic. As for styles of music I listen to instrumental rock, prog rock, some techno/house and live sets of various artists. I have a pair of Sony in-ears that work well for my electronic music so im more leaning towards open-ear for the "Sound-Stage" aspect. With this in mind, are there better suited combinations for my needs? Also, thanks for the info and research all of the members have done on this site!


Welcome!

 

First off, I want to clear up a misconception that you have, which is that higher impedance headphones = higher quality, it does not. Your priority needs to be headphones, and then the DAC/AMP. Have you heard the Grados? I didn't really like the sound signature, it's definitely a headphone that needs to be listened to. The Q701's I've heard are pretty good for rock, so consider those as well.

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the Quick reply! I read about the AKG's but i'm a little unsure about what kind of amp it would take to get the most out of them. As far as Impedance goes The higher the OHM level of the headphone, the more powerful and AMP needs to run them is how I understand it. I will do some more research on those AKG's thought thanks! 

post #4 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by simplynicholas View Post
 

Thanks for the Quick reply! I read about the AKG's but i'm a little unsure about what kind of amp it would take to get the most out of them. As far as Impedance goes The higher the OHM level of the headphone, the more powerful and AMP needs to run them is how I understand it. I will do some more research on those AKG's thought thanks! 

Kind of. Let me explain a few terms:

 

Sensitivity, this is the volume that will be output at a certain wattage, usually @1mw. For example, that Q701 has a sensitivity of 93db/mw, meaning you get 93db with 1mw of input.

 

Impedance is the resistance of the headphones, which is 62ohm on the Q701's, so for example, lets say your amp can output 100mw@32, it can only approximately output 50mw@64ohm, which is adequate for most situations, but as decibels are logarithmic, it takes a lot more power to go louder. So you are technically right when the higher the ohms, the more power the amp needs to be, past a certain volume...

 

The easiest way to see if an amp is needed is to run the headphones without one, and if they are too quiet, or the dynamics are bad, then an amp is needed.

 

If you do end up going with the Q701's and need an amp, take a look through this thread. Though the Schiit Magni/Modi or O2+ODAC are almost universally recommended on here as good starting points.

http://www.head-fi.org/t/582276/q701-appreciation-thread

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

Ok, so for the sake of metaphor one could say it's like the power on a car yeah? First gear might start of fine but without proper power output your not getting to fifth or sixth gear. The more I read about the Q701's the more I like :)

post #6 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by GaryWA View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by simplynicholas View Post
 

Just wanted to say first that I have been reading/researching this forum over the past few days and wow! the shear amount of info is staggering. I've read the headphone guides and reviews of DAC's i've been looking at but I guess what I want to know most is how to get the most appreciation/value for this hobby I can. From what i've gathered, it seems that the mid-level priced over-ear headphones are really great but are you better suited getting a cheaper set with a proper amp? For use-case im looking at open-back headphones with a portable USB DAC/AMP. This will be running out of a Win8 laptop and a mix of CD/Streaming uses. Also, being I spend a lot of time streaming Spotify will the quality of the signal be worth starting with a higher grade/Impedance set of headphones or is that just a waste? The primary set of headphones that I am most interested in is the Grado SR80i. The portable DAC/AMP I have been looking at is the NuForce UDAC-3. My Budget is flexible but I don't want to buy something that's akin to driving a sports car in 5 o'clock traffic. As for styles of music I listen to instrumental rock, prog rock, some techno/house and live sets of various artists. I have a pair of Sony in-ears that work well for my electronic music so im more leaning towards open-ear for the "Sound-Stage" aspect. With this in mind, are there better suited combinations for my needs? Also, thanks for the info and research all of the members have done on this site!


Welcome!

 

First off, I want to clear up a misconception that you have, which is that higher impedance headphones = higher quality, it does not. Your priority needs to be headphones, and then the DAC/AMP. Have you heard the Grados? I didn't really like the sound signature, it's definitely a headphone that needs to be listened to. The Q701's I've heard are pretty good for rock, so consider those as well.

 

All things being equal, a higher impedance phone has drivers that have less mass.  That means better performance.  Yes, it's true that modern headphone technology pretty much means that most lower impedance phones sound just as good or better, but the physics still govern - a lighter voice coil is going to have less metal in the wiring, thus greater resistance (impedance).

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by simplynicholas View Post
 

Thanks for the Quick reply! I read about the AKG's but i'm a little unsure about what kind of amp it would take to get the most out of them. As far as Impedance goes The higher the OHM level of the headphone, the more powerful and AMP needs to run them is how I understand it. I will do some more research on those AKG's thought thanks! 

 

It's only because the cheapest amps use more solid-state circuitry.  Solid-state circuitry is biased toward low-voltage, high-current.  Higher impedance phones don't do as well with the "commonly cheap" amp, because it's almost always optimized for current rather than voltage.

 

Power really has little to do with it.  It's whether the amplifier has been designed to produce more current or more voltage.  Higher impedance headphones want more voltage, but those are not necessarily agreeable with solid-state designs.

post #7 of 10

The following is quoted from the 2014 Ultimate Headphone Guide:

 

“Matching Headphones with Amplifiers”

 

“Plug just about any headphone into a headphone jack and it will make sound. But getting the best performance from your headphones requires a headphone amplifier and an understanding of the relationship between your headphone amplifier’s output impedance and the headphone’s impedance.  In general terms, the headphones should have ten times the impedance of the headphone amplifier output impedance in order to be able to drive the headphones with authority.  This ratio is called the “damping factor”.  For example: if you have 100 Ohm headphones, you should get a headphone amplifier with an output impedance of 10 Ohms or less.

 

            If the damping factor is too low, the headphone’s bass response will lose its tight, punchy sound and become loose sounding.  Unfortunately, headphone amplifiers manufacturers rarely publish output impedance specifications.  We encourage customers to call the amplifier makers and request this information, and ask that this specification be published, as it’s very important for pairing an appropriate headphone.

 

            Again, in general terms, tube amplifiers have high output impedances, and you should use headphones with well over 100 Ohm impedance.  Most home solid-state (transistor-based) headphone amplifiers have between 0.2 to 10 Ohms output impedance, and work well with headphones from 20-100 Ohm impedance. Balanced armature in-ear headphones with multiple drivers will often have very wide impedance swings, sometimes dipping below 10 Ohms.  This wildly swinging impedance will result in significant tonal changes if the portable headphone amplifier output impedance is too high.  If you are using this tube of headphone, it is very important to have a headphone amplifier with an output impedance of on Ohm or less.”

post #8 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by RFrey View Post
 

The following is quoted from the 2014 Ultimate Headphone Guide:

 

“Matching Headphones with Amplifiers”

 

“Plug just about any headphone into a headphone jack and it will make sound. But getting the best performance from your headphones requires a headphone amplifier and an understanding of the relationship between your headphone amplifier’s output impedance and the headphone’s impedance.  In general terms, the headphones should have ten times the impedance of the headphone amplifier output impedance in order to be able to drive the headphones with authority.  This ratio is called the “damping factor”.  For example: if you have 100 Ohm headphones, you should get a headphone amplifier with an output impedance of 10 Ohms or less.

 

            If the damping factor is too low, the headphone’s bass response will lose its tight, punchy sound and become loose sounding.  Unfortunately, headphone amplifiers manufacturers rarely publish output impedance specifications.  We encourage customers to call the amplifier makers and request this information, and ask that this specification be published, as it’s very important for pairing an appropriate headphone.

 

            Again, in general terms, tube amplifiers have high output impedances, and you should use headphones with well over 100 Ohm impedance.  Most home solid-state (transistor-based) headphone amplifiers have between 0.2 to 10 Ohms output impedance, and work well with headphones from 20-100 Ohm impedance. Balanced armature in-ear headphones with multiple drivers will often have very wide impedance swings, sometimes dipping below 10 Ohms.  This wildly swinging impedance will result in significant tonal changes if the portable headphone amplifier output impedance is too high.  If you are using this tube of headphone, it is very important to have a headphone amplifier with an output impedance of on Ohm or less.”


"general terms" is the key phrase here.  For the majority of the buying public, this may be reasonable advice.  It doesn't mean that it holds in every case and I'm sure Tyll would agree.  The issue here is that the greatest prevalence of "pure" tube amplifiers are OTL.  For OTL, this type of advice may hold.  However, output-transformer tube amps are an entirely different animal.  They may have output impedances much higher than the typical solid-state amp.  Yet, it doesn't mean that they can't drive lower impedance headphones with the best of them.

 

Just an FYI, but my Torpedo headphone amp (output transformer topology) drives my Etymotic ER-4PT's just fine.  There is no noise, with plenty of tight bass and detail, to boot.  Further, some output transformer tube amps can drive Grados to their best performance.  One would think a headphone with 32 ohms impedance would suffer with a relatively high-output-impedance tube amplifier, but they don't.  Try ECP Audio's L-2, Mapletree's amps, or many others with output transformers.

 

P.S. I'm not sure my copy of this guide has butchered that last sentence as much as presented here: "If you are using this tube of headphone, it is very important to have a headphone amplifier with an output impedance of on Ohm or less." ???

post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thank you guys for such detailed information about this! I have done a bit more research on this and it seems to me that finding the right amp is really about first matching the correct amount of mW output relative to the Ohm rating of your given headphones. Also in reference to Tube based amp's are the tube's reliable for daily use? I've looked into some of the pages it seems people like them for their "warmth" and how they "color" the sound. The more I learn about this, I can see why people get so invested in this hobby!

post #10 of 10

Good God, you are right.  I apologize.  I did make a complete abortion of the last sentence.  I made a two typographical errors  It should read: "If you are using this type of headphone, it is very important to have a headphone amplifier with an output impedance of one Ohm or less."   I usually would have scanned the page, but the contrast in the periodical was insufficient to allow that.  But seriously, you need to light up.  Since you have a copy of the guide, then you know it was a typo. Why not just correct the sentence?

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