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Are top line headphones wasted on a portable system?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Hi, just joined Head-fi recently, definitely one of the best forums I've seen - on any subject matter.

 

just getting back into audiophile world after many years.  Lots has changed. so many options its making my head spin.

I share my home office (iMac based) with my wife, and I can't fit a comfortable chair to fully relax.  (this will change maybe next year - not my wife ;-),  but might be able to dedicate a room to office/listening).

 

For now, I thought I'd begin with portable device + dac/amp and great headphones (maybe JF13 IEM, maybe Audeze phones). That way I could find a quiet room, with a nice chair , for more critical listening. plus it might help me audition products in stores, etc.

 

Some have said that a portable system won't due justice to top rated IEMs and planars, and either build a proper desktop system to support them,  or spend a lot less on IEM/phones.    OK, I get it.   Out before I try to imagine a different strategy, budget and compromises, I thought I'd ask you folks to chime in.  

 

After all,  there are a lot of reviews (like Jude's) that seem to indicate portables can perform well with Audeze, et al.   Also, I'd like to reduce the number of upgrade cycles that I will likely go through.

 

Advice requested:   Put the priority on the desktop, good sealed phones, and a chair?  or  portability with phones that are more "matched" to say a HiFi M8,  RSA or other quality portable products? 

post #2 of 10

I'm sure this is likely to start a flame, but I find the conventional wisdom that the best cans out there can't be properly driven my mid-fi or portable equipment to be somewhat misleading.  I frequently plug my Sennheiser HD650 straight into my iPad, which sits upright on my work desk, right next to my monitor and desk phone.  Sure, I've got several very decent amps I could alternatively jack into, but sometimes I'm in a hurry or too distracted to care. You know what? I never cease to be amazed at how good they still sound and how enjoyable the music still is - even minus an additional $2,000 worth of gear that many would have you believe is a necessity.

post #3 of 10

+1 To what was said above. The HD800, which to many , is an endgame headphone is said to have great synergy with the $200 Matrix MStage amp. You can find an amp/dac combo for around $300 that would meet the needs of most. To find a markedly better sound ( subjectively) you'd have to spend over $1000. My first amp was a Fii0 E9i, simple headphone amp with the integrated ipod dock. It sounds fine and has more than enough power and features to drive any headphone I'd want. The weak point there is the Ipod IMO. Not bad by any means but could benefit from an external DAC. I'm leaning toward an iStreamer from HRT for that job. Playing from an Ipad is a bit of a different story as I have an older Ipod, I think the Ipad is a superior device.

 

That being said I think high end headphones can be well driven from a portable setup. The problem , as I see it, is that people spend big bucks on a "portable audiophile setup" that looks like a damn homemade explosive with a $500+ audio player, external Amp/DAC all wired together and attached with velcro or elastic bands defying the idea of portability altogether. I've never heard such a setup but I'd bet that while there is a jump in sound quality, for the music I listen to, it wouldn't be worth it. I listen to high quality MP3s and have a small FLAC collection. A lot of my music is modern rock, metal with some jazz and vocal oriented music in the mix. Frankly that stuff is pretty compressed and seems to be mixed for use with portable devices/crappy headphones ( no offense to the artists). I hear a difference when running from my iphone 5 vs my Macbook pro=> FLAC through BitPerfect=> optical out to Fiio E17 but it's not mindblowing and I'm sure that rivals a good portable setup.

 

This seems to be more of a rant than anything helpful so far. My motto is "The right tool for the right job". I'm not going to build a portable setup just so I can power my home cans on the go. I get a decent set of "on the go" headphones that work well with the device I have on me; generally my iphone. I chose a mid-fi IEM for portable use as they're easy to pack and are sensitive so the work well with the Iphone. When I'm on the go, usually background noise is an issue so I don't need the be all end all in resolution because it's impossible to really do critical listening. For this I use Shure 535LTDs, Sennheiser IE80s and TripleFi 10s.

 

I personally dump my money into my home setup. This is where I can kick back, relax and appreciate my favorite music with heaphones that would be grossly inappropriate for portable use. When my setup is complete it'll honestly be about $500 + whatever I spent on headphones. Ipod/Ipad=>DAC=>amp to my earballs. It'll be MP3s (usually 256k or greater). I'm under no illusions, my hearing is probably $#!* after years as a musician in loud bands and 10 years as a flight paramedic ; a $10,000 setup would likely be wasted on me. I don't listen to a lot of orchestral or audiophile recordings. My setup will be good enough for the headphones I have, the music I listen to and the busted up ear drums they're pumping that noise into.

 

Sorry about the length...


Edited by benthughes - 5/10/14 at 6:34pm
post #4 of 10

Just curious. Is a set of closed headphones a necessity for your home setup? It'd help if you're trying not to disturb other people or your house/listening area is noisy. Otherwise I'd recommend a good set of open cans for home use if it's feasible. They're generally much more enjoyable and realistic sounding and some of the newer open headphones can definitely bump like a closed can. 

post #5 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by qveda View Post
 

Hi, just joined Head-fi recently, definitely one of the best forums I've seen - on any subject matter.

 

just getting back into audiophile world after many years.  Lots has changed. so many options its making my head spin.

I share my home office (iMac based) with my wife, and I can't fit a comfortable chair to fully relax.  (this will change maybe next year - not my wife ;-),  but might be able to dedicate a room to office/listening).

 

For now, I thought I'd begin with portable device + dac/amp and great headphones (maybe JF13 IEM, maybe Audeze phones). That way I could find a quiet room, with a nice chair , for more critical listening. plus it might help me audition products in stores, etc.

 

Some have said that a portable system won't due justice to top rated IEMs and planars, and either build a proper desktop system to support them,  or spend a lot less on IEM/phones.    OK, I get it.   Out before I try to imagine a different strategy, budget and compromises, I thought I'd ask you folks to chime in.  

 

After all,  there are a lot of reviews (like Jude's) that seem to indicate portables can perform well with Audeze, et al.   Also, I'd like to reduce the number of upgrade cycles that I will likely go through.

 

Advice requested:   Put the priority on the desktop, good sealed phones, and a chair?  or  portability with phones that are more "matched" to say a HiFi M8,  RSA or other quality portable products? 


You're really shot gunning the forums tonight. ;)

 

Just an FYI, but I never said a portable system won't do justice to top-rated IEMs.  I said just the opposite, as a matter of fact.

 

As for planars with portables - yes, you got that right.  You're also being exposed to the many contradictions in this hobby with some of the posts above and what you've seen from Jude.  All I can say is that in the one case, yeah - if you have all the amps you need and are perfectly satisfied that you can hear the best in critical listening, then sure - plugging into a portable occasionally because it's more convenient might be fully acceptable.  In the second case with Jude, he tries his best to support all of his sponsors.  Needless to say, someone manufacturing a portable amp would like that product to have the widest appeal possible.  Saying it's inadequate for expensive phones would be just the opposite of supporting the sponsor.

 

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Can a top-line portable compete with a top-line desktop with medium-to-difficult-to-drive phones? No.

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

As for planars with portables - yes, you got that right.  You're also being exposed to the many contradictions in this hobby with some of the posts above and what you've seen from Jude.  All I can say is that in the one case, yeah - if you have all the amps you need and are perfectly satisfied that you can hear the best in critical listening, then sure - plugging into a portable occasionally because it's more convenient might be fully acceptable.  In the second case with Jude, he tries his best to support all of his sponsors.  Needless to say, someone manufacturing a portable amp would like that product to have the widest appeal possible.  Saying it's inadequate for expensive phones would be just the opposite of supporting the sponsor.

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Can a top-line portable compete with a top-line desktop with medium-to-difficult-to-drive phones? No.

Tom, are you suggesting that I would say or post that something sounds good that I don't think sounds good, due to a sponsorship? If you are, that's absurd, and you're wrong.

I've addressed this before, and here's a link with some of what I've said:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/197776/sennheiser-hd650-appreciation-thread/10905#post_9180061
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 

thanks for chiming in, Jude.   BTW,  I really enjoy your videos - very helpful and well done !  

post #8 of 10
If you find a portable setup that makes your cans sound great, go for it. There's lots of really stellar portable setups nowadays. That's my humble opinion, and while I realize the value of non-portable setups, I've heard some really stellar ones. I've also heard lackluster desktop setups. Find what sounds good to you and fits your needs. That's just my humble opinion!
post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ThePianoMan View Post

If you find a portable setup that makes your cans sound great, go for it. There's lots of really stellar portable setups nowadays. That's my humble opinion, and while I realize the value of non-portable setups, I've heard some really stellar ones. I've also heard lackluster desktop setups. Find what sounds good to you and fits your needs. That's just my humble opinion!

Hi,  Much of the time you get more or less the quality you pay for (allowing for arguably diminishing returns as price goes up).    Can you give some examples of portable setups that you felt were on par with desktop systems in the same price range?    e.g.  Hifi M8 (portable dac / amp) vs similarly priced destkop products from  Audio gd, Schiit, et al ? 

post #10 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by qveda View Post

Hi,  Much of the time you get more or less the quality you pay for (allowing for arguably diminishing returns as price goes up).    Can you give some examples of portable setups that you felt were on par with desktop systems in the same price range?    e.g.  Hifi M8 (portable dac / amp) vs similarly priced destkop products from  Audio gd, Schiit, et al ? 
Very true!
The O2/ODAC combo is technically portable (can use batteries) and is quite similar to the Magni Modi combo. The ALO International and continental are both quite good. (Continental is discontinued I think?) the Ray Samuels Amps are stellar, though a little picky. The need for a DAC can really depend on your source. A good source means you can cut out the DAC part of things possibly, and then your choice of amps opens up considerably. The FiiO E12 is a decent sounding amp for the price, though not suited to more sensitive cans. I heard a Ray Samuels setup with some Grados that a guy was using as his "portable rig" (I believe PS500, and Ray Samuels Intruder I think? I don't recall the exact model)
And it sounded great! We plugged the cans into a desktop setup and the sound signature was different, but one was not clearly better than the other. I use a pair of Grados with a FiiO E18. Best combo ever? No, but it sure is a lot of good sound in an affordable package, and it's quite portable. As long as the phones are getting good power that they need, and the amp has been implemented well, you're going to get at least halfway decent sound. I think that until you start talking big dollars, the input and sources (quality of your music) are going to be the really important part. It all depends on what you're willing to spend, and precisely how portable you want to be.
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