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Can anyone recommend a more science-friendly headphone forum?

post #1 of 39
Thread Starter 

I'm new to this hobby and enjoy it very much. But as I plan my next purchase I am struggling to make decisions on peripheral components, like DACs and amps. On the one hand I regularly read that the headphones I am intending to buy are notoriously finicky with regards to amp selection, are better served by tube amps and generally require a very expensive amp. On the other hand I look at sources like the Sound Science forum's "Testing audiophile myths and claims" thread and Audio Critic's "10 biggest lies in audio" which seem quite convincing in saying that I needn't spend any more money than what will get me an adequately built piece of equipment. 

 

So, are these people telling me otherwise, based on their experiences, imagining things or are they hearing intentionally components that have been intentionally coloured by the manufacturers (and are they right that I will need such colouring in my own rig)? I do not have enough technical knowledge nor experience to sort this matter out for myself, and I cannot audition equipment because there is nowhere around my area where I can.

 

I think that a forum that didn't outright ban mention of ABX and so implicitly encourage people speaking from placebo would make it easier for a newbie like me to sort the wheat from the chaff. Can anyone recommend an alternative forum, where I might finally start learning what the facts are with regards to the common purchasing decisions we have to make as a part of our expensive hobby?

 

Thanks!

post #2 of 39

Try Hydrogen Audio http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/ 

post #3 of 39

The reason for bans of certain types of subject matter here on HeadFi aren't born out of any desire to keep meaningful and intelligent conversation out, but stem from the past problems that have resulted.

Many times these discussions have deteriorated into meaningless fighting and insults.


Let me lay down a few observations that I've made over the past 5 years in which time I have had the opportunity to listen to a wide variety of gear.

 

Observation 1.)   In my experience with the Millet Starving Student and the Bottlehead Crack, I can say with absolute certainty that any well designed amp even if assembled at home using a shoebox as a case will sound great if care is taken with regard to soldering each circuit component and taking care to ground properly.  So are the high-dollar amps a rip-off? Absolutely not.  You pay for a good amp design, built with quality parts, enclosed in a nice, aesthetically pleasing case, backed by a company (usually) that will stand behind the product.

 

Observation 2.)   There is very little difference in DACs these days.  The basic format of digital audio is almost unchanged since it's birth, but there have been some new developments in compression algorithms.  Audio processing however has come a very long way, to the point that even the least expensive processing chips do a really good job.  Again, a good design that is decently implemented will give you 95% of what the higher-end offers.   I'd like to sight a review from a non-audiophile website.  It's from a very controversial photographer named Ken Rockwell. You may have heard of him. Given the fact that he is not in the audio business and has a background in engineering I tend to give his review a fair bit of credibility. Here is a link to his Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus review.  In it he gives measurements and commentary on what they mean and even tells you what equipment was used to take the measurements. I wish we saw a lot more of this type of review.

 

Observation 3.)  Measurements don't lie, people do.  Anytime you see a claim of "drastic improvements" or "night and day difference" in sound with regard to things like cabling, be very skeptical.  These sorts of products never seem to offer any type of measurable scientific data to back up their claims.

 

Observation 4.)  Hype.   It's extremely common for new products to come out and anyone with a couple of dollars in their pocket all of a sudden becomes an equipment reviewer.  They gush on and on, sometimes without even bothering to offer a comparison with a competing product (although that is not as common these days, thankfully). But again, we rarely see any type of objective, scientifically meaningful data or repeatable measurements.  We just get bombarded with emotionally charged rhetoric.

 

 

The hifi audio enthusiast, or audiophile, dates back to a time when there were no hifi products to be had. I'm talking back to the 1950's and 60's.  These folks were actually audio hackers.  They ended up modding or building a lot of their own gear.  Then in the late 60's and 70's companies saw a market and began to manufacture things for this segment of consumer.  Once high-end audio took root there have been all sorts of snake-oil products that are nothing more than barely disguised cons to separate people from their hard-earned money.  And what's worse is that the hifi audio media is on their payroll and in the guise of providing objective information they are simply paid spokesman for these fraudulent products. 

 

Unfortunately there is quite a bit of hype and rhetoric concerning audio gear her on HeadFi.  But it is also a great community of people that share not only their enthusiasm with gear but the reason for the gear, that being music.  I would say definitely browse the internet for more reliable, objective and scientifically documented information, but don't write off HeadFi altogether.


Edited by cswann1 - 1/25/14 at 11:54pm
post #4 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post

 ...

The hifi audio enthusiast, or audiophile, dates back to a time when there were no hifi products to be had. I'm talking back to the 1950's and 60's.  These folks were actually audio hackers.  They ended up modding or building a lot of their own gear.  Then in the late 60's and 70's companies saw a market and began to manufacture things for this segment of consumer.  Once high-end audio took root there have been all sorts of snake-oil products that are nothing more than barely disguised cons to separate people from their hard-earned money.  And what's worse is that the hifi audio media is on their payroll and in the guise of providing objective information they are simply paid spokesman for these fraudulent products. 

...

 

 "Audio as a hobby is dying, largely by its own hand. As far as the real world is concerned, high-end audio lost its credibility during the 1980s, when it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal. [This refusal] is a source of endless derisive amusement among rational people and of perpetual embarrassment for me".

- Stereophile magazine's founder J. Gordon Holt, interviewed by current Stereophile editor John Atkinson.

post #5 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Hills View Post
 

 

 "Audio as a hobby is dying, largely by its own hand. As far as the real world is concerned, high-end audio lost its credibility during the 1980s, when it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal. [This refusal] is a source of endless derisive amusement among rational people and of perpetual embarrassment for me".

- Stereophile magazine's founder J. Gordon Holt, interviewed by current Stereophile editor John Atkinson.

 

 

That's effing awesome!  Although, with the explosion of new products and new companies related to headphone audio in the last 10 years, I'd say audio as a hobby is still doing well.   And even though the explosion in popularity of home theater has certainly dented the popularity of the 2 channel audio system, I think there is still a fair number of people that just like to kick back to some music, even if it's just the front two speakers in a seven speaker surround system.

 

As long as we, the consumer, buy responsibly and hold manufactures to some sort of accountability standards then we'll all benefit.  The snake-oil salesmen will move on and look for other suckers, and the companies that do use sound engineering and scientific data will thrive and we'll end up getting more for our money which will lead to increased confidence dip our toes in the high-end of things.  I actually think we are getting better, as consumers.  Look at how well Little Dot and Audio-GD have done overseas and Schiit here in the states.  The Asian companies are doing what Asians do (and Schiit seems to be following their example).  They do it better for cheaper. That's why Honda, Nissan and Toyota dethroned Ford, Chrysler  and GM.  The big American giants got fat and lazy and next thing you know they're going belly up and standing on the steps of Capitol Hill like

Oliver with his empty bowl saying "Please sir. May I have some more". 

 

 

EDIT:   On the J. Gordon Holt quote....I wonder what exactly he means when he said "...it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor....".    As a magazine they can do whatever they want with products that they buy.  Other magazines do it all the time.  They send a guy to the store, on a company expense account he buys some competing products and they run them through the ringer to see who's widget is the best.  Performance PC parts are a great example.  With every new generation of processor, memory, hard drive, graphics card or whatever, you can find a dozen different websites reviewing them with industry standard benchmark tests.   Maybe I just don't understand how Stereophile did business back in the day.  Was it a situation where the companies said "if you print any scientifically objective analysis of our products we'll pull our advertising"?  That seems crazy to me.


Edited by cswann1 - 1/26/14 at 12:49am
post #6 of 39
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the recommendation, nick_charles.
 
Cswann, really great to read your impressions of this area. I've only been looking up headphones online for a month or so now and it's really interesting to see the experience of someone who has been into it for a while. How's your wallet after all this time? ;)
 
I just learned about the Bottlehead Crack yesterday, and the Miller Starving Student now. Admirable ventures. I wish I could hear one.
Having not had a chance to test ANY amps yet, when you say these items sound great, do you mean to say you suspect that any difference in sound quality produced between them and a $5000 amp would be either non-existant or negligible? I ask because, having just decided on my first expensive headphone purchase and needing to make my first headphone amp purchase, I have seen people in threads and in the store where I demoed the headphones telling me I had to spend a significant amount of money to get the most out my future HD 800s.
As someone who has no technical background nor practical experience in the matter, it seems to me that it should be a simple method of determining whether the differences that occur in sound production between various amps are a result of component quality or some kind of sound colouring akin to EQ. Yet going online to try and learn and seeing that there are two camps, and have been for decades, makes it anything but simple. Frankly, when I see lists of published evidence using double blind/ABX testing protocols suggesting that generally people can't differentiate between different components when tested in controlled circumstances, it makes me think this is a superstitious hobby full of people who don't know what they're talking about. The idea of getting advice from them is pretty freaky, yet I'm not confident I can/would learn all of the required science to be able to make an informed decision for myself... it seems a big ask just to buy some audio equipment.
 
I've read jude's rationale for banning mention of DBT/ABX and I appreciate that it is a decision the community seems to support and that evidently it has resulted in a stronger, more cohesive and co-operative community. But from the point of view of an ignorant newbie like myself, I think it's frankly shameful. Can you imagine if this was a forum discussing which cancer treatments were good and the admin ruled that talk of peer-reviewed results were banned because it made all of the fans of reiki energy healing very unhappy? I know my analogy is a bit melodramatic, but my point is that banning discussion of DBT/ABX testing isn't some 'nobody wins' compromise. It's doing EXACTLY what one party wants at the cost of the other party's ability to respond using a widely accepted scientific methodology. The practical result of the ban is that it greatly increases the chances of a newbie like myself being convinced that they need to spend $2000 on an amp for their headphones when this may be nothing but superstition or an appreciation of EQ/colour. Frankly, I don't even know if it is ******** that I will need an expensive amp with my HD 800s or not: all I know is that there are pages of tests saying I don't, and hundreds of experienced users saying I do, and that the most obvious means of bridging this gap experimentally is discouraged from being discussed.
 
You've suggested that there will be a natural weeding out of the frauds and phoneys over time as the community puts their money into worthwhile products, but what I see as a newbie is an industry where marketing successfully trumps performance, where reviewers are paid off in free products, where forums host ads, get invites and free products, where discussion of measurable performance is discouraged and where there is an unquestioned acceptance of vague, flowery prose and sentiments when describing the performance of a product and a religious rejection of logic wrapped up in the seeming legitimacy of a philosophy called 'subjectivism'.
 
I am acutely aware that not only do I not know anything but that I really know nothing. My frustration comes from asking myself how am I to learn under these conditions, except to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to acquire experience in an area that ultimately is not magical, is ruled by simple physical laws and should be largely explainable by theory alone. 
 
Anyway, I'm sorry for the bitter rant. And I hope you don't think I'm attacking you. I'm responding to you precisely because, based on what you wrote in this thread, you seem like you would understand my type of thinking and my confusion and I hoped maybe you could come along and save me from it :) It might be easier to take a note from your avatar and forget about audiophilia and head down to live in a van down by the river. Either way, thanks for the reply. I enjoyed the responses in the thread very much.

Edited by audioops - 1/26/14 at 3:40am
post #7 of 39

I'm a scientist by training, an engineer by trade and a skeptic by nature. Like you I was surprised by the 'no DBT rule.

 

It seems so obvious to try and find definitive answers to questions that are amenable to logical analysis. Some of the things people come out with make you tear your hair out with frustration.

 

However I now fully support the all opinions are valid not DBT rule if sensibly moderated. 

 

Thing is most of the really contentious issues have been done to death. Sensible folk have already made up their minds. The information is there if you are prepared to sift through the opinions. So all you are left with is the people who are looking for a fight. Lowers the tone and actually makes matters worse not better.

 

It is instructive to note that HA is the polar opposite of this site. They still have to have a rule. Only theirs is that you cannot post any opinion at all unless you can back it up with evidence of some kind. They don't have a DBT free forum at all. At least we can be objective here in Sound Science.

 

HA is a great forum. Good synergy  with this site. Here is a bit more lively. There is more objective. You don't have to choose one over the other. Both are free. What's not to like?.

post #8 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by RonaldDumsfeld View Post
 

The information is there if you are prepared to sift through the opinions. So all you are left with is the people who are looking for a fight.

 

Nice point, hadn't thought about it like that. Sounds like HA is the kind of place I want for recommendations, and head-fi for lengthy discussions. Thanks for the response.

post #9 of 39

No apology needed.  

 

Before I answer your amp question, let me preface it by saying I freely admit to not being the recipient of any higher education in either music or engineering, but consider my hearing health pretty good.  A couple of years ago (I'm 42 now btw)  I went for an early morning walk while visiting my mother who lives in a rural area.  Twice during that walk I heard some deer before I saw them.  Both times the deer were more than 50 yards away. I took that as an indicator that all those years as a teenager with a couple of hundred watts of stereo power in my Chevy S10 pickup weren't permanently damaging.  So having said that, I also want to quickly mention that hearing is a really funny thing.  If you listen to a song with a horribly slow driver that murders the higher frequencies and someone says "now listen to those symbols" your mind focuses on those symbols and all of a sudden they come to the forefront of you attention and all of a sudden those slow headphones have "marvelous upper register retrieval and delicacy".   That is some of the emotionally charged rhetoric I mentioned earlier. People don't do it intentionally I don't think, but when a guy (or girl) gets a new headphone and says "OK I'm going to write a kick-ass review for all the great folks on HeadFi to read" then he queues up a track sits down with a notepad and starts making notes about what he hears when he focuses his (or her) mind on some arbitrary facet of the music.  That's why your typical gear review, at the end of the day, is of much more entertainment value than real "does this help me make a decision" value.

 

So, here's what I have to say about amps.  At the Austin HeadFi meet last weekend I heard a $450 Bottlehead Crack+Speedball upgrade and a $3000 Cavalli Audio Liquid Fire. Granted both weren't using the same source or headphones but honestly I much preferred the Crack.  It was a similar story 5 years ago at my first HeadFi meet in Dallas when I listened to Pete Millets original, homemade Starving Student.  There was a lot of nice, and expensive gear at that meet and I thought the Starving Student sounded as good as anything else there, if not better.  Three days before that meet in Jan 2009, I had placed an order for a Little Dot MKIVse.  It's a nice amp and I still have it and use it today.  Would I have bought it after having heard the Starving Student?  Probably not.

 

Now here's what I have to say about the HD800.  It's a very resolving headphone that gives very good sense of space (soundstage). It's very bright (heavy on the treble) and lean on bass.  I cannot imagine that ever in my life, even if I won the lottery tomorrow, would I  buy an HD800 at retail price.  Almost everything it does, I think my Stax SR404 does as well or better for a third the price.   Now a lot of folks say "Well the HD800 needs this or that amp to sound it's best". Personally I can see why they say that, because of the resolving nature of a fast driver.  But really It's also kind of a way to make excuses for the headphone.  People said the exact same things for the AKG K701 for exactly the same reasons years ago and honestly I don't want to own any headphone that requires special amplification to sound it's best.   If you want a HD800 because you really like the way it sounds, fantastic, get one and enjoy it.   I don't knock anyone for liking what they like, but I'm with the group that thinks the HD800 is too bright and analytical and giving up some resolution and soundstage is worth the $1000 I would save by going with any of several other, very good mid-priced headphones that don't have these drawbacks. 

 

 

I really admire you for seeking some honesty and trying to get some information you can use.  So I'm going to give you some of the best advice a person can get on this forum.   Don't make any major purchases until you can get to a HeadFi meet.   That is bar none, the single best thing a person can do who is new to headphone audio.  There will be all sorts of people with everything from their Koss Portapros and a Fiio amp, to the guys with more money in their headphone rigs than their cars.  There will likely be vendors there too with some of their products.  From what I've seen they're pretty cool and don't try to sell you on their stuff too much. They're there to demo their products and answer questions primarily.  So, go to a meet with an open mind and let your ears tell you whats what. 


Edited by cswann1 - 1/26/14 at 6:03am
post #10 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post
The hifi audio enthusiast, or audiophile, dates back to a time when there were no hifi products to be had. I'm talking back to the 1950's and 60's.  These folks were actually audio hackers.  They ended up modding or building a lot of their own gear.  Then in the late 60's and 70's companies saw a market and began to manufacture things for this segment of consumer.  Once high-end audio took root there have been all sorts of snake-oil products that are nothing more than barely disguised cons to separate people from their hard-earned money.  And what's worse is that the hifi audio media is on their payroll and in the guise of providing objective information they are simply paid spokesman for these fraudulent products. 

 

My name for the writers and editors of the various high end audio publications is clowns. Back in the mid 1980's I can under the sway of these magazines and became a proud card carrying audiophile. But slowly, as I spent more and money while caught up in the endless audiophile upgrade cycle, I started to realize that many of these so called 'upgrades" did not "improve" the sound of my audio system in any meaningful way. Some equipment changes yielded noticeable improvements, such as new speakers, but for the most part the differences between one $200 interconnect and another $200 interconnect were impossible to hear. Then around 2005 or so I began to get seriously into computer based audio after I bought my first Squeezebox music streaming player. As I began more experienced and knowledgeable in the area of computer based audio I started to notice that the clowns over the audio rags were writing things that were and are patently untrue. Now the audio press no longer dwells in the real world and their private little fantasy world requires two things that I am not willing to give: 1) the suspension of most scientific principles and beliefs and 2) a very, very, very fat wallet.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Hills View Post
 

 

 "Audio as a hobby is dying, largely by its own hand. As far as the real world is concerned, high-end audio lost its credibility during the 1980s, when it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal. [This refusal] is a source of endless derisive amusement among rational people and of perpetual embarrassment for me".

- Stereophile magazine's founder J. Gordon Holt, interviewed by current Stereophile editor John Atkinson.

 

Too bad the only thing that Stereophile has done to try and correct this situation is publish some equipment measurements along with the otherwise totally subjective equipment review. The measurements are made by the current Stereophile editor John Atkinson and are performed after the reviewer has submitted their review so is little, if any, correlation between the reviewer's opinions and the measurements.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post
 

EDIT:   On the J. Gordon Holt quote....I wonder what exactly he means when he said "...it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor....".    As a magazine they can do whatever they want with products that they buy.  Other magazines do it all the time.  They send a guy to the store, on a company expense account he buys some competing products and they run them through the ringer to see who's widget is the best.  Performance PC parts are a great example.  With every new generation of processor, memory, hard drive, graphics card or whatever, you can find a dozen different websites reviewing them with industry standard benchmark tests.   Maybe I just don't understand how Stereophile did business back in the day.  Was it a situation where the companies said "if you print any scientifically objective analysis of our products we'll pull our advertising"?  That seems crazy to me.

 

I believe that you hit the nail squarely on the head with this line: "if you print any scientifically objective analysis of our products we'll pull our advertising" since objective analysis is anathema to all high end cable manufacturers and high end cable manufacturers are the among the biggest advertisers in these high end audio rags.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post
I really admire you for seeking some honesty and trying to get some information you can use.  So I'm going to give you some of the best advice a person can get on this forum.   Don't make any major purchases until you can get to a HeadFi meet.   That is bar none, the single best thing a person can do who is new to headphone audio.  There will be all sorts of people with everything from their Koss Portapros and a Fiio amp, to the guys with more money in their headphone rigs than their cars.  There will likely be vendors there too with some of their products.  From what I've seen they're pretty cool and don't try to sell you on their stuff too much. They're there to demo their products and answer questions primarily.  So, go to a meet with an open mind and let your ears tell you whats what. 

 

I was going to write something similar but cswann1 beat me to it. Great advice and hopefully you will get the chance to attend an upcoming head-fi meet in the near future.

post #11 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post
 

I really admire you for seeking some honesty and trying to get some information you can use.  So I'm going to give you some of the best advice a person can get on this forum.   Don't make any major purchases until you can get to a HeadFi meet.   That is bar none, the single best thing a person can do who is new to headphone audio.  There will be all sorts of people with everything from their Koss Portapros and a Fiio amp, to the guys with more money in their headphone rigs than their cars.  There will likely be vendors there too with some of their products.  From what I've seen they're pretty cool and don't try to sell you on their stuff too much. They're there to demo their products and answer questions primarily.  So, go to a meet with an open mind and let your ears tell you whats what. 

 

^^ This!

 

(Off-topic, but I modded my HD-800s and they are now nicer with a lot more gear. I do think that grating treble pre-modification did make them more likely to emphasise unpleasant distortion in a lot of equipment, but that's another discussion.)

post #12 of 39

I don't see how being able to hear a deer is a setup for anything other than an unverified anecdotal subjective impression. "Granted they weren't using the same source or headphones, but..."

 

If the OP wants an answer based on science, don't ask for advice. That's just asking people to decide for you. Do the legwork- look up some specs, figure out what the numbers represent in terms of sound, compare them to the well established thresholds of human hearing, and always be skeptical- there's a whole lot of road apples in the road to audio heaven.


Edited by bigshot - 1/26/14 at 11:23am
post #13 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post
 

EDIT:   On the J. Gordon Holt quote....I wonder what exactly he means when he said "...it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor....".

 

He meant that instead of exerting control over the variables that could affect the outcome of tests, they threw up their hands and made no attempt to do objective testing at all. They hired reviewers who sat down and listened and gave impressions colored by how many glasses of wine they had just drunk or whether they liked the music being played.

 

Good sound is measurable and can be described accurately, but you have to try.

post #14 of 39

try this forum...

post #15 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
 

I don't see how being able to hear a deer is a setup for anything other than an unverified anecdotal subjective impression. "Granted they weren't using the same source or headphones, but..."

 

 

 bigshot I know you like to argue and I'm not about to be drawn into one. I'm going to say this and be done with it.   I think it's completely unreasonable to take two things I said, in two entirely different paragraphs that were on unrelated subjects and put them together as if I went directly from one statement to the next.

 

I mentioned the deer only to illustrate that I think my hearing health is still ok for a middle aged man.  

 

The OP was trying to get a feel for what I thought (per the 4th sentence in post #6) about inexpensive vs. expensive amps.  So it's pretty much understood that he was asking for an opinion. I don't think he expected me to provide a bunch of performance parameters and their figures, charts and graphs.  

 

I have some respect for your opinions when you are talking about things in your realm of understanding but it looks like you are just trying to call me out and pick a fight. You'll need to find someone else to play, because I'm not interested. 

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