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1st Post, sorta kinda disappointed, request guidance.

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

Howdy folks!  

 

I'm fairly new to this fancy headphone world.  I've been reading up and learning for a bit over the last year.  I am an adult and have a somewhat limited budget.  

 

Music listened to is fairly varied.  Last few albums have been Peter Gabriel's Us, DJ Spooky's Riddim Warfare, Bill Evans/Jim Hall's Undercurrent, Kendrick Lamar's Section 80....so yeah...I'm all over the place.  Music is all burned to my laptop at 320kbps mp3.  I do have most ablums in CD hardcopy tucked away.  At some point I'll get around to reburning FLAC.  I'm NOT a computer wiz...so it's a labored process.

 

Currently, I have two sets of phones.  Grado SR80i, and Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium 250Ohm.  For a dac and amp I have the Schiit Modi/Magni pair.  Grados are modified by myself with 4 of the driver holes vented, grill cloth removed, and generic L-cush  pads added.  I have decades of experience with hand tools.  The mods are as near perfect as matters.  Both sets of phones have over 100 hours of play.  

 

 

Here's the problem.  I'm not *thrilled* with any of it.  I listen approx 3 hours a day.  (Usually at night, after the family goes to sleep.)  I have no basis of comparison...so I'm not sure if it's an issue with my setup, or my expectations.  I can remember one time in my youth when I walked into a high end audio store and was treated to an audition of a $20,000+ stereo system.  I felt like I could walk around the stage, viewing each musician in his spot.  Every bend on the guitar neck, the tiniest variance in keyboard strike.  The rotation of the Leslie.  Each rim shot.  While my headphone setup is MUCH better than anything else I own...it offers NONE of this detail.  I expected limitations based on my budget...but it's WAY off.  I feel like there's a fairly limited dynamic range, that entire sections of the music are muddied, and separation is little improved.  In short, it's mostly in the area of timber that my "new" headphones are improved over my other listening options.  Which is great...but doesn't exactly encourage me to blow a ton more funds on this hobby.  

 

 

So, in short...am I expecting too much?  Or is there a "fatal flaw" in my setup that I could upgrade and expect significant changes?  Am I already into the realm of gradual ones...that point of greatly diminishing returns?

 

Thanks so much for your time, audio nerds!  I look forward to any assistance you may offer.  :)

post #2 of 18
I think you're expecting too much from headphones.

Also, you may not be enjoying your music. Try more music out.

The recording is really what matters.
post #3 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by clyw View Post
 

Here's the problem.  I'm not *thrilled* with any of it.  I listen approx 3 hours a day.  (Usually at night, after the family goes to sleep.)  I have no basis of comparison...so I'm not sure if it's an issue with my setup, or my expectations.  I can remember one time in my youth when I walked into a high end audio store and was treated to an audition of a $20,000+ stereo system.  I felt like I could walk around the stage, viewing each musician in his spot.  Every bend on the guitar neck, the tiniest variance in keyboard strike.  The rotation of the Leslie.  Each rim shot.  While my headphone setup is MUCH better than anything else I own...it offers NONE of this detail.  I expected limitations based on my budget...but it's WAY off.  I feel like there's a fairly limited dynamic range, that entire sections of the music are muddied, and separation is little improved.  In short, it's mostly in the area of timber that my "new" headphones are improved over my other listening options.  Which is great...but doesn't exactly encourage me to blow a ton more funds on this hobby.  

 

You're expecting too much of headphones - for one, unlike speakers, they're just right there by you ears, and the left ear cannot hear the right headphone driver (and vice versa) and cannot recreate the same spatial/positional cues.

 

That said that does not mean they absolutely have no sense of space; at the very least the best of them do that to scale, meaning instead of regular sized humans that a speaker in a large room will mimic, the soundscape headphones can make are more along the size of those toy bands that start moving/grooving/playing when it detects music.One of the easier factors to circumvent is their relative position to your ear canal. Sure it won't be the same as speakers, but on some headphones they design the driver and the chassis such that the driver will not be directly over the ear canal, slightly forward, and angled - like the angled pads on the AKG K701 or the mounting on the HD800 and T1. Some software or hardware crossfeed filters (basically a selective crosstalk trick) should also help a little bit to minimize the strong L-C-R with weak sounds between L-C and C-R, introducing some sound normally reserved for one side to the other side to simulate left hearing right (and vice versa).

post #4 of 18

Get the CD ripper at http://www.dbpoweramp.com/ I think the free trial is three weeks, plenty of time to burn your CDs to FLAC. It's very easy to use.

 

Not to be insulting but your headphones and rig are relatively inexpensive.

 

You wouldn't expect the most luxury ride from the cheapest car on the lot, right?

post #5 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trunks159 View Post

I think you're expecting too much from headphones.

 

There it is. Time to invest in a decent speaker setup.

post #6 of 18
Thread Starter 

Not insulted at all.  But I'm wondering *how* much more to expect.  :)

post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 

Yeah, I knew that I was never going to get the degree of soundstage that I had with that rather high end stereo system.  But I *did* expect a higher degree of separation.  So...to put it as delicately as possible...why do you folks put so much energy into a medium you don't seem to have that much respect for?  Are headphones more about convenience than high fidelity? 

 

I'm not willing to give up on this just yet.  :)  Where, in your individual opinions, do I stand to see the biggest improvement?  Headphones, dac, amp, or source?  

 

Thanks folks!

post #8 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by clyw View Post
 

Yeah, I knew that I was never going to get the degree of soundstage that I had with that rather high end stereo system.  But I *did* expect a higher degree of separation.  So...to put it as delicately as possible...why do you folks put so much energy into a medium you don't seem to have that much respect for?  Are headphones more about convenience than high fidelity? 

 

I'm not willing to give up on this just yet.  :)  Where, in your individual opinions, do I stand to see the biggest improvement?  Headphones, dac, amp, or source?  

 

Thanks folks!

 

I think to me headphones are a convenience item that I want to have perform to the best of their abilities. I also have the DT880s. The only improvement I would like would be a more detailed soundstage. I think some headphones do provide that, but in relative terms. Do not try to get anywhere near the experience you had with that $20,000 stereo setup. My friend had one which blew me away. He could not get me away from the thing. But IMO headphones will simply not suffice. If you want significantly better results, I would put the money in a speaker system.

 

Bob Graham


Edited by r010159 - 2/16/14 at 6:13pm
post #9 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by clyw View Post
 

But I'm wondering *how* much more to expect.  :)

 

I never realized how handy 2mins each on MSPaint would be, but once again I'm posting a few diagrams I've been using to better describe soundstage on headphones. Triangles are lead vocals, rectangles are electric guitars, circles are drums (oval is the kick/bass drum); other instruments not included for simplicity, as each recording tends to have a little bit more variance in where the synth, choir and symphony are.

 

I. Meier Corda Cantate.2 (using its own PCM2702 USB DAC) and Sennheiser HD600

 

II. Meier Corda Cantate.2 (using its own PCM2702 USB DAC) and HD800; notice how the sound sources are pushed a bit farther and out from each other, but not necessarily worth $1,200 for me

 

III. Just to throw a monkey wrench into it - here's the Marantz CD5004 (and to a lesser extent the NAD C545) on the Cantate.2 and Burson Soloist driving the HD600. Reed Richards joined Dream Theater and had Sue Richards suspend the drums over the audience, and he hits the drums hard. Too hard. Similar issues in the Cambridge 340C and 651C, with the bass drum in front of the vocals. The Cantate.2's USB DAC and even the $100 Ibasso D-Zero has a more natural soundstage to them. Needless to say, why would I spend $500 or so when I already have a good USB DAC that Dr. Meier already built into my amp?

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by clyw View Post
 

So...to put it as delicately as possible...why do you folks put so much energy into a medium you don't seem to have that much respect for? 

 

Because my room's acoustics suck. There are only two rooms I can use as an audio room in my house, an one of them is too small. The other room has a sloping ceiling on one side, so that has to be the back of the speakers, but even so the speakers end up with one next to the exterior wall (concrete, plus windows) and the other along an interior dry wall (plywood). It just doesn't sound even no matter what room tweak I did to it.

 

Then again I'm not really putting "so much energy," I just sit down and put the headphone on my head and enjoy the music, literally speaking; basically I'm at a point where I can just enjoy it all instead of absolutely sweating out each detail. That said, the total cost of my headphone system is still a bit cheaper than my old stereo system's MSRP.  As I posted above, I personally don't think paying another $1,200 for about an inch wider and deeper soundstage and slightly more precise imaging is worth it. If for example you show me a headphone system that costs $10,000, I'd probably ask why not just spend $3,000 on acoustics treatment and get a speaker system with a real soundstage, unless of course it's a flat or an attached house that would cost more to isolate the sound from it than to just deal with reflections.

 

In the long run when I build my own house (this was my parents' and they got a new one, so I got to keep using it) I'm building my audio room inside another room, like the library. The antechamber will hold books, toy collections, CDs, backup HDDs, etc, and then the inner room will use a split-type AC for ventilation and is otherwise isolated from everything outside of the outer room or antechamber. Basically if my room will suck anyway I'm stuck with headphones, but I'm not going to blow $5,000+ on just the headphones (like Stax) when the speakers I like cost half that (Aurum Cantus Volla at $3,000, plus $400 stands).


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 2/17/14 at 1:57am
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by clyw View Post
 

Yeah, I knew that I was never going to get the degree of soundstage that I had with that rather high end stereo system.  But I *did* expect a higher degree of separation.  So...to put it as delicately as possible...why do you folks put so much energy into a medium you don't seem to have that much respect for?  Are headphones more about convenience than high fidelity? 

 

I'm not willing to give up on this just yet.  :)  Where, in your individual opinions, do I stand to see the biggest improvement?  Headphones, dac, amp, or source?  

 

Thanks folks!

Some people don't find soundstage to be the most important factor. I like both headphones and speakers, they're just different. Ultimately though, headphones won't be able to give you a hi-end speaker experience.


Edited by elmoe - 2/17/14 at 1:21am
post #11 of 18

I prefer headphones because of convenience, but also because it's something I can keep going with for hours, while I feel that I need to have full focus when I listen to speakers.

That's probably a bit strange; I could imagine others thinking the exact opposite, but those are my 2 cents

post #12 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by clyw View Post
 

Yeah, I knew that I was never going to get the degree of soundstage that I had with that rather high end stereo system.  But I *did* expect a higher degree of separation.  So...to put it as delicately as possible...why do you folks put so much energy into a medium you don't seem to have that much respect for?  Are headphones more about convenience than high fidelity? 

 

I'm not willing to give up on this just yet.  :)  Where, in your individual opinions, do I stand to see the biggest improvement?  Headphones, dac, amp, or source?  

 

Thanks folks!


DAC and amp, but that's an opinion that I'm certain many will argue.  Really, as someone else mentioned - there is a movement that's been going on for a long time around here, perhaps it's a symptom of the economy: people who want to declare that $100 DACs and amps are the end game and that there's nothing measuring substantially better.  (Never mind that the entire spectrum of measurement is rarely used in this context.)

 

Anyway - some are correct that you won't get the same spatial cues with headphones that you get with speakers ... perhaps.  Yet, you are never going to get the micro-detail, dynamics, and intimacy that exist with a really great headphone setup.  Further, the headphone setup will always be less expensive than a comparable speaker setup.  You have the DT880 - up until a couple or three years ago, it was one of the big three: Senn HD600, AKG K701, and DT880.  So, something is wrong if you are this dissatisfied in your existing setup.  What is feeding the DAC?  Are you using mp3's or FLAC or something else?  Those are some of the questions you may need to ask yourself.  You may also consider that real stoundstage improvements are often provided with tube amps.

 

See if there are any headphone meets in your area.  If someone has a pair of Stax - take a listen (preferably an SR07 or SR09 with a Blue Hawaii).  That will let you know what's truly possible with headphones.  That's an end game, for sure, but there are many other combinations possible in this hobby that can yield results to almost 90% of that kind of quality.  

post #13 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by TDB Jaster View Post
 

I prefer headphones because of convenience, but also because it's something I can keep going with for hours, while I feel that I need to have full focus when I listen to speakers.

That's probably a bit strange; I could imagine others thinking the exact opposite, but those are my 2 cents

 

When it's the opposite, the concern are the earpads. You wear them out a lot more, you sweat and itch more, etc; whereas speakers used for ambiance are just there. You don't even need to pull them off your head when you have to get up and go to the kitchen for example.

 

That's not to say the opposite shouldn't be done. If you heavily invested in a good 2ch speaker rig for example and you can invest on a portable headphone or IEM set-up that you bring to work, use on public transport (including long-haul jets, trains, buses, boats), you can also lug this one around the house wherever you feel like working in for example even with other people walking around.


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 2/17/14 at 7:16am
post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomb View Post
 


DAC and amp, but that's an opinion that I'm certain many will argue.  Really, as someone else mentioned - there is a movement that's been going on for a long time around here, perhaps it's a symptom of the economy: people who want to declare that $100 DACs and amps are the end game and that there's nothing measuring substantially better.  (Never mind that the entire spectrum of measurement is rarely used in this context.)

 

Anyway - some are correct that you won't get the same spatial cues with headphones that you get with speakers ... perhaps.  Yet, you are never going to get the micro-detail, dynamics, and intimacy that exist with a really great headphone setup.  Further, the headphone setup will always be less expensive than a comparable speaker setup.  You have the DT880 - up until a couple or three years ago, it was one of the big three: Senn HD600, AKG K701, and DT880.  So, something is wrong if you are this dissatisfied in your existing setup.  What is feeding the DAC?  Are you using mp3's or FLAC or something else?  Those are some of the questions you may need to ask yourself.  You may also consider that real stoundstage improvements are often provided with tube amps.

 

See if there are any headphone meets in your area.  If someone has a pair of Stax - take a listen (preferably an SR07 or SR09 with a Blue Hawaii).  That will let you know what's truly possible with headphones.  That's an end game, for sure, but there are many other combinations possible in this hobby that can yield results to almost 90% of that kind of quality.  

 

I agree there is room for improvement. If I had a better DAC/amp, that would probably make a noticeable difference. I am looking up tube amps. I also will need to go to a headphone meet to see what is possible. That is an excellent recommendation to the OP. I am just finding it difficult to believe that headphones can provide the experience I had with my friend who also had a $20,000 stereo system. That was a transcendental experience for me. But I honestly do not know what is possible if one places enough money into their headphone setup. How much of a noticeable difference will there be, without placing the listening experience under a carefully considered analysis, a microscope? Still, for the money, what I have has impressed me, and I see myself as a better critical listener than your average person. I think this ends up being a process. As my critical listening skills improve, I am sure I will be searching out that endgame setup.

 

Bob Graham


Edited by r010159 - 2/17/14 at 10:35am
post #15 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by r010159 View Post
 

 

I agree there is room for improvement. If I had a better DAC/amp, that would probably make a noticeable difference. I am looking up tube amps. I also will need to go to a headphone meet to see what is possible. That is an excellent recommendation to the OP. I am just finding it difficult to believe that headphones can provide the experience I had with my friend who also had a $20,000 stereo system. That was a transcendental experience for me. But I honestly do not know what is possible if one places enough money into their headphone setup. How much of a noticeable difference will there be, without placing the listening experience under a carefully considered analysis, a microscope? Still, for the money, what I have has impressed me, and I see myself as a better critical listener than your average person. I think this ends up being a process. As my critical listening skills improve, I am sure I will be searching out that endgame setup.

 

Bob Graham

Even the best headphone setups do not compare to hi-end speaker setups. It's a completely different experience.

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