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Some amp advice for a new member please.

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Hello All -

 

I'm a brand new member here.  I have what I’d consider an above-average sound system, but hardly what many members here would consider truly audiophile. I do have a pretty good ear, however, as I have been playing jazz piano for over 40 years (and trumpet now for about 8).

 

My stereo system currently contains a CJ-6 pre-amp, a Perreaux PMF1150B amp, a pair of Maggie III-b speakers, all connected by MIT cables.  When I got a Samsung Smart TV last year, I bought an Oppo BPD-103, which I’m now using also to run my stereo, as I don’t have room for my old Sony CD player, and the technology of the Oppo is certainly a lot newer.

 

About 99% of what I listen to is instrumental small combo acoustic jazz (which is also what I play).  I have a decent size collection of CD’s, which I’ve converted to lossless and stream to my stereo via my Logitech Squeezebox (why did they stop making this?!). But also, in the last couple years, I have started to gather a collection of HD Tracks, primarily 192/24’s.  (I don’t get why they even bother with 44.1/16, but that’s a whole other discussion).

 

These downloads reignited my interest in improving my listening experience.  So a couple months ago I picked up a couple SACD’s.  Better than lossless, but IMHO, not close to the HD downloads.  Around Xmax however I took a flyer and bought some XRCD24’s, which thus far I’m enjoying even more than the HD Tracks.

 

As you can undoubtedly tell from my components, I put this system together (except the Oppo) some time ago. As I’m now semi-retired, I may start looking at upgrading my stereo system generally.  But presently, all I want to do is get a headphone amplifier so I can listen to my music without disturbing my wife.  The plan is to attach it to the Oppo, which lacks a headphone jack, to drive my Grado SR225’s (which I bought years ago mostly to listen to my iPod when traveling. I imagine that might be my next upgrade, after a little more time exploring the Forums).

 

I’ve looked at a number of the top rated amps here, and at this point, I’m leaning strongly toward the Matrix M-Stage. But in looking at the listings on eBay, it looks like there are different versions released about every year.  Can someone explain (in simple terms please) what, if any significant differences there are between the different vintages? 

 

Also, I see some models appear to have a dial that tunes between 44.1 and 192.  Does that really work?  If I got a model without such a dial, what would I be missing?

 

I guess while I’m at it, I should ask if there’s any reason why the M-Stage, whichever iteration, wouldn’t be a good match for my Grados, given my musical taste, etc.

 

Thanks in advance for any assistance.

 

post #2 of 8
I'm not sure what devices you are looking at on ebay with the "dial" - but no - you can't just "dial-up" the bit depth and resolution. Whatever that dial does - it's not that. In addition, are you looking for a DAC/Amp or just a DAC? What output on the Oppo will you be using - a digital out or an analog line-out?


Edit: Let me clarify - yes, you *could* upsample the digital music file - but I see no reason to do so.
Edited by billybob_jcv - 1/31/14 at 7:30pm
post #3 of 8

I suggest you just get a great headphone amp and plug it into the RCA jacks on the Oppo, for a start.  Mapletree is a bit expensive, but is a sterling example of a transformer-coupled headphone amplifier. There are few that pair better with Grados.  (I sell one, but I'm not trying to shill.)

 

That will keep you satisfied with headphone listening for quite a while until you read up a bit more on digital streaming, USB, SPDIF, etc.  Billybob is correct that a DAC is not going to be able to modulate completely between one sample rate to another.  It's probably just a switch that allows one to take advantage of the higher bit-stream, if it's available.  Typically, USB is limited to 16bit,48KHz.  Higher bit-streams usually need a SPDIF (coax or optical) to support something like 24-bit, 192KHz.  The Oppo most likely has one of those (SPDIF coax), but you'd need a DAC in addition to the amp.

 

Oppos generally have incredible quality to start - might as well take advantage of that in the fastest way possible while you're studying up on the rest.  A Mapletree would not be wasted.  If you purchased a DAC that was capable, it would still just take the SPDIF output from the Oppo and then feed the headphone amp through RCA jacks.

post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 

Billybob and Tomb - Thanks for the quick responses.

 

Billybob - The Oppo runs my stereo, so I assumed it had a DAC.  Am I wrong?  I thought the M-Stage was an amp only.  Am I wrong there too?  And if the M-Stage has a DAC, might there not be conflicts with the Oppo DAC?  that at least was my thinking on going for an amp-only unit.

 

In light of your question, I looked again at the eBay photos, and think it's just indicator lights, not a dial. My mistake.

 

I have the Oppo connected to the TV via the optical cable, and to the CJ via the RCA.  Looks like a lot of the M-Stage units have both optical and coaxial digital, and some have USB.  Tomb's comments reassured my assumption that USB would be inferior.  So I would expect to use the coax.

 

Finally, please excuse my ignorance, but your comment about upsampling the digital music file, and there not being a reason to do so, is completely lost on me.  Please explain.  This is all very new to me.

 

Tomb -   The Oppo has an 8 jack 7.1/5.1/Stereo Analog Audio Output unit.  Oppo tech support told me which RCA jacks to use to connect to the CJ. But that's only 2 of the 8 jacks.  I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that the remaining 6 jacks weren't wired to pass the whole stereo signal.  Is that right? Or could I plug the headphone amp into 2 of the other jacks.

 

Another thought occurred to me.  If I can only use the 2 jacks I'm currently using to connect the Oppo to the CJ, could I run the Oppo to the headphone amp and then on to the CJ, or would that overload the CJ or otherwise cause problems?

 

Your comments also suggest I need a DAC despite my assumption about the Oppo doing the job already, and that running the signal from the Oppo thru another DAC might cause problems.  Please explain.  I seem to be misunderstanding a lot here about what the Oppo is doing and what I need to drive my head phones. 

 

Also I like my Grados, and may look into higher quality models - even other brands - as I learn more.  But if you have suggestions about other amps, I'm open to suggestion.

 

I'm clearly way over my head.  Thanks again!

post #5 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by jocar37 View Post
 

Billybob and Tomb - Thanks for the quick responses.

 

Billybob - The Oppo runs my stereo, so I assumed it had a DAC.  Am I wrong?  I thought the M-Stage was an amp only.  Am I wrong there too?  And if the M-Stage has a DAC, might there not be conflicts with the Oppo DAC?  that at least was my thinking on going for an amp-only unit.

 

In light of your question, I looked again at the eBay photos, and think it's just indicator lights, not a dial. My mistake.

 

I have the Oppo connected to the TV via the optical cable, and to the CJ via the RCA.  Looks like a lot of the M-Stage units have both optical and coaxial digital, and some have USB.  Tomb's comments reassured my assumption that USB would be inferior.  So I would expect to use the coax.

 

Finally, please excuse my ignorance, but your comment about upsampling the digital music file, and there not being a reason to do so, is completely lost on me.  Please explain.  This is all very new to me.

 

Tomb -   The Oppo has an 8 jack 7.1/5.1/Stereo Analog Audio Output unit.  Oppo tech support told me which RCA jacks to use to connect to the CJ. But that's only 2 of the 8 jacks.  I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that the remaining 6 jacks weren't wired to pass the whole stereo signal.  Is that right? Or could I plug the headphone amp into 2 of the other jacks.

 

Another thought occurred to me.  If I can only use the 2 jacks I'm currently using to connect the Oppo to the CJ, could I run the Oppo to the headphone amp and then on to the CJ, or would that overload the CJ or otherwise cause problems?

 

Your comments also suggest I need a DAC despite my assumption about the Oppo doing the job already, and that running the signal from the Oppo thru another DAC might cause problems.  Please explain.  I seem to be misunderstanding a lot here about what the Oppo is doing and what I need to drive my head phones. 

 

Also I like my Grados, and may look into higher quality models - even other brands - as I learn more.  But if you have suggestions about other amps, I'm open to suggestion.

 

I'm clearly way over my head.  Thanks again!


What we're talking about is digital to analog conversion, period.  The Oppo is a CD player.  CD players have laser/mechanical CD readers that translate the CD's motion and CD structure into a digital audio stream.  After that, the Oppo has a digital-to-analog converter.  Just thing "analog" equals "music" and you'll be able to keep everything straight.

 

That said, high-quality audiophile CD players also have "digital-out" features so that you can plug them into an existing DAC (high-quality Digital-to-Analog converter).  The reasons for this are many, but consider the typical super-hi-quality audiophile reason: a single component, completely dedicated to the function needed in the audio reproduction string.  These days, a DAC is such a component and may very well be superior to the Oppo.  That said, the Oppo does nothing very superior in terms of reading a CD.  A $50 CD player will be able to do the same.  The difference comes in the digital-to-analog data stream. More about that later ...

 

So, we've learned that a CD player, no matter how high in quality, still contains two distinct devices in the audio stream: 1) a source media mechanical-to-digital conversion system, and 2) a digital-to-analog converter.  These days, source media exist in many different formats, not just CD's.  So, the actual digital-to-audio converter mechanism has multiple uses and a market outside of just CD players.  Therefore, a digital-to-audio converter may exist (DAC) in a component that is of much higher quality than the combined function in a CD player.

 

So, with the Oppo you have a couple of choices - 1) use the Oppo as is, with its mechanical media source reading and its DAC, or 2) simply use the Oppo as a CD drive that feeds into a separate DAC component.

 

All that I said in my post was that the Oppo is a pretty dadgum good mechanical + DAC device.  So, you might shortcut all of the questions you've been asking and simply connect the analog-out (RCA jacks) portion of the Oppo directly into a headphone amp.  Why would you want to do that?  Because headphone amplifiers have been designed around super-high-detail and low noise analog response.  As a whole, they are vastly superior to speaker amps and other devices in powering a headphone.  The only thing you really need to complete the high-quality analog signal string is a great source.  I'm saying the Oppo is great enough as a source - as is - to keep you happy for many iterations of headphone equipment upgrades.  So you technically don't have to worry about the majority of your questions if you go that route.  It gives you ample time to enjoy the music while learning about the rest of it.;)

 

As for which jacks, I don't know - you need to talk to Oppo, read the manual, something similar, etc.  If you can find a spare set of RCA jacks on the Oppo to connect directly into a headphone amplifier, that's the thing to do.  Anything else strung through the pre-amp, or whatever, is going to have a degraded signal and hampered performance.


Edited by tomb - 2/1/14 at 5:31pm
post #6 of 8
Quote:
As for which jacks, I don't know - you need to talk to Oppo, read the manual, something similar, etc. If you can find a spare set of RCA jacks on the Oppo to connect directly into a headphone amplifier, that's the thing to do.

Yup - this was what I was thinking too, and it's why I asked what output jacks on the Oppo you were planning to use. If you were planning to use an available Red+White RCA (analog) audio output jacks, then you would use a headphone *amp*, not a DAC. On the other hand, if you were set on using a digital output (optical or coaxial) from the Oppo, then you would need a DAC to convert from Digital to Analog audio. Ultimately, you need a stereo analog signal for the headphones, so whatever you do, that has to be the final result.

I absolutely agree with tomb - if I were you, my order of preference would be:

1) If you have a headphone jack on the front of the Oppo - try it! If that sounds good, then you could be done!

2) Use an available pair of Red+White RCA audio output jacks on the Oppo to feed into the line-in jacks of a dedicated headphone amplifier.

3) More complicated things that will involve using the digital out of the Oppo and a headphone DAC/Amp with the appropriate inputs.

I would only do #2 *if* #1 wasn't possible or #1 didn't give me the volume on my headphones that I wanted. I would only do #3 *if* #2 wasn't possible, or I had learned a whole bunch more about how this stuff works.

beerchug.gif
post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 

It didn't occur to me that the Oppo's DAC didn't play into the digital outputs.  Boy, do I feel dumb!

 

The Oppo unfortunately does not have a head phone jack, and when I hooked up the stereo, Oppo told me which RCA jacks to use.  I don't know if I can use a second pair of the set of 8, but I'll ask.  Otherwise, I'll be looking at at DAC/Amp combo.  Too bad.  I agree, the Oppo is pretty high quality as is.  Kind of reinventing the wheel if I can't use the RCA's.

 

Looks like it may be a while before I'll figure out what to get and can actually use my Grados.  But I'm glad I asked the questions - or it would have been a lot longer, not to mention more expensive, if I'd just gone ahead and bought an amp.  Thanks, guys!!!

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
one last question. I heard from Oppo tech support and I can't use a second set of the RCA jacks to connect to an amp. I'd have to use Y-connectors to use the same RCA jacks to connect to both my stereo and a headphone amp. So do you think I'm better of splitting the analog signal with the Y-connector approach, or do I go with a digital connection to a DAC/headphone setup?

Thanks again in advance. You guys have been an enormous help.
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