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Introduction and a few noobie questions

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Hey everyone,

I'm Omer, 22 years old from Israel. I mostly listen to Rock (Pink Floyd, Tame Impala, Arctic Monkeys - just to give you a perspective), Trip-Hop & Chillout (Portishead, Zero 7, J.Viewz) and Dream Pop every now and then (Beach House, Melody's Echo Chamber).

 

Now I don't bump into audiophiles a lot around here. Most of the people I know use their personal phones as DAPs, and don't have any gear worth mentioning to listen to music at home. I guess it's a matter of culture here - no one is actually AWARE of the possibilities of how to improve your music-listening experience, and don't really seem to care. Well I personally always lacked that experience, and being somewhat an audiophile meant a whole other thing to me in terms of listening standards. To give you a clue - up until today I used a COWON iAudio 9+ along with AKG IEMs (can't remember the model) and always downloaded my music straight from YouTube using those YouTube to MP3 sites, which results in very low bitrates and quality in general, as you probably can imagine. I used to think of that set-up as the ideal music listening experience, besides vinyl and high-end home systems. I never heard of Headphones-amps up until a few days ago, and I was exposed to the whole hi-res music world just recently.

I still have a few questions unanswered, so I'd be glad if you could take your time to answer them :

1. Are headphone-amps meant to solely compensate for lack of volume? Or do they change the way the music is played into your ears and thus giving you higher quality music?

2. Should I invest in a high-end DAP such as the FiiO X3, as someone who uses it mostly for traveling purposes?

3. If the answer for 2 is yes, would that require me getting a headphone amplifier? Or to be more exact - going to my DAP's higher volumes would cause any damage to the quality (aka distortion, clipping, etc.) unless I get an amplifier which does that smoothly?

4. What would generally be better - mid-tier headphones and an amp, or just high-tier headphones?

5. What's the difference between an headphone amp and a DAC? I know any DAP has a built-in one, but those devices that I see people have strapped to their DAPs - aren't they being used as a DAC as well?

6. What's the most basic thing I can do to improve my home-gear on a budget? I currently have 2 okay speakers and a sub.

 

Thanks in advance.

post #2 of 7
Cowons are well known to be very good DAPs. I wouldn't rush to replace it.

DAC stands for digital analog converter. Everything that has digital audio that you can hook headphones or speakers to has one: your phone, your computer, your Cowon, an audio/video receiver. The DAC converts the signal to analog so it can be used by a speaker or headphone amp. The goal of a DAC is to accurately reproduce that signal, and so if a DAC has pretty good output, upgrading it will, at best, provide minute improvements in sound.

Some headphones can be difficult to drive with an audio device, either because they are not a good impedance match or because the headphones are insensitive and need more power. Some portable audio devices don't have very strong headphone amps, so you are right. Another benefit can be that you need more volume, although in cases where you just have enough volume, you might benefit from a headphone amp because of the improvement in headroom for dynamics. And of course, a very good headphone amp can offer some small amounts of sound improvement over a very cheap one.

Since you have a very good DAP, new headphones or IEMs could easily be a better upgrade than an X3. What AKGs do you have?

Home audio setups? Upgrading home audio equipment can be expensive. Cheapest sound improvement comes from improving placement of the speakers/sub. For instance, make sure you have your speakers aimed at the listening position with the tweeters aimed at your ears. Subs interact greatly with the room, and even moving a sub a couple of feet can change it's performance. These are some of the basics.
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

Cowons are well known to be very good DAPs. I wouldn't rush to replace it.

DAC stands for digital analog converter. Everything that has digital audio that you can hook headphones or speakers to has one: your phone, your computer, your Cowon, an audio/video receiver. The DAC converts the signal to analog so it can be used by a speaker or headphone amp. The goal of a DAC is to accurately reproduce that signal, and so if a DAC has pretty good output, upgrading it will, at best, provide minute improvements in sound.

Some headphones can be difficult to drive with an audio device, either because they are not a good impedance match or because the headphones are insensitive and need more power. Some portable audio devices don't have very strong headphone amps, so you are right. Another benefit can be that you need more volume, although in cases where you just have enough volume, you might benefit from a headphone amp because of the improvement in headroom for dynamics. And of course, a very good headphone amp can offer some small amounts of sound improvement over a very cheap one.

Since you have a very good DAP, new headphones or IEMs could easily be a better upgrade than an X3. What AKGs do you have?

Home audio setups? Upgrading home audio equipment can be expensive. Cheapest sound improvement comes from improving placement of the speakers/sub. For instance, make sure you have your speakers aimed at the listening position with the tweeters aimed at your ears. Subs interact greatly with the room, and even moving a sub a couple of feet can change it's performance. These are some of the basics.

 

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

First of all, I guess I haven't clarified that I LOST both my DAP and my IEMs. I'm looking for new ones to purchase immediately, and along with my latest discovery of high-res formats, it made me think I should start with the X3 right off the bat. Am I wrong to make such conclusions? It is a bit expensive but I'm willing to go for bigger budgets as long as I get the value I'm looking for in that one purchase FOR GOOD. I'm not going to start a quest of searching for the perfect gear and getting involved with the audiophile community for long, I just want to make this one purchase right.

 

I don't think I'll jump right into upgrading my home setup, but I at least want my times of traveling (which is a good few hours a week) to be filled with non-mediocre music listening experience - that's why I need a DAP that has lots of storage (my recently lost Cowon had 16GB, which is cool but not enough considering I'm willing to store most of my music on it. It was enough when I had music downloaded straight from YouTube with very low bitrates), a friendly UI and would provide a good listening experience without hurting the quality of high-bitrate (and sometimes lossless) music.

post #4 of 7
Here's a great budget DAP suggestion: a Sansa Clip Zip or Clip+, with the Zip a better choice only for a bigger screen (same DAC/amp in each). Many people describe them as having the sound quality on order of iPhones and the Cowons, although if you used BBE with the Cown, that gives the Cowons an edge. The Clips take microSD cards, so easy to upgrade the storage. Also, most of us Rockbox the Clips for the extra features like PEQ (which can give the edge back to the Clips over Cowons if you know how to use that) and the ability use 64MB microsd. I even use my Clips with my AKG K550s around the house; sounds great! So the Clips would leave you more budget for your new IEMs or maybe some portable headphones smily_headphones1.gif

I know from reading other threads that headphones can be expensive in Israel. I suggest you look into the Chinese/Asian brand thread and ask for recommendations there. Many of the IEMs are being ordered straight from China and other Asian suppliers, which means you can probably get the same price/performance value as others. For instance, I have used Penon Audio and MP4Nation, both good places to buy from. See if they have reasonable shipping to Israel, and then you should be able to get some good deals.
Edited by cel4145 - 5/17/14 at 8:44am
post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

Here's a great budget DAP suggestion: a Sansa Clip Zip or Clip+, with the Zip a better choice only for a bigger screen (same DAC/amp in each). Many people describe them as having the sound quality on order of iPhones and the Cowons, although if you used BBE with the Cown, that gives the Cowons an edge. The Clips take microSD cards, so easy to upgrade the storage. Also, most of us Rockbox the Clips for the extra features like PEQ (which can give the edge back to the Clips over Cowons if you know how to use that) and the ability use 64MB microsd. I even use my Clips with my AKG K550s around the house; sounds great! So the Clips would leave you more budget for your new IEMs or maybe some portable headphones smily_headphones1.gif

I know from reading other threads that headphones can be expensive in Israel. I suggest you look into the Chinese/Asian brand thread and ask for recommendations there. Many of the IEMs are being ordered straight from China and other Asian suppliers, which means you can probably get the same price/performance value as others. For instance, I have used Penon Audio and MP4Nation, both good places to buy from. See if they have reasonable shipping to Israel, and then you should be able to get some good deals.


I'm seriously considering the Sansa Clip+ together with a 32GB MicroSD and Shure SE215 IEMs, but I have to clarify something - isn't this entry-level DAP a total compromise on sound-quality? I can pay a little more if it means an improvement in that part. I'm no perfectionist, but I wouldn't like to be missing nuances and overall have an average-at-best sound quality.

post #6 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blade686 View Post


I'm seriously considering the Sansa Clip+ together with a 32GB MicroSD and Shure SE215 IEMs, but I have to clarify something - isn't this entry-level DAP a total compromise on sound-quality? I can pay a little more if it means an improvement in that part. I'm no perfectionist, but I wouldn't like to be missing nuances and overall have an average-at-best sound quality.

Sansa clip is a fantastic little audio player! Highly recommended and you won't be compromising sound quality unless you are attempting to drive some fairly high-end headphones.
post #7 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by sinnottj View Post

Sansa clip is a fantastic little audio player! Highly recommended and you won't be compromising sound quality unless you are attempting to drive some fairly high-end headphones.

Yep. What I said about it how it compares to iPhones and Cowon players is true. I got one for my teenage son. After listening to his a little bit, I ordered the Sansa and stopped using my Cowon D2+. My Galaxy Note 2 is known for having good SQ as a smartphone. The Sansa is just as good if not better.

The Sansa is an excellent piece of audio engineering, and it proves the point that the most expensive DAC chips are not what it's all about. The engineering design which implements the DAC in a player and the headphone amp that goes with it is WAY more important.

But if you want to make certain, ask in the 215SE threads. I'm sure there are Clip users there:
http://www.head-fi.org/t/542003/new-shure-se215-first-impressions
http://www.head-fi.org/t/560430/review-shure-se215/30
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