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Best Setup for 128k - Under $2,000.

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Hi,

 

I've been an occasional lurker on Head-fi.org for about 5 years and have lurked at one meetup. So, I'm a bit of a noob and flirting with going further down the rabbit hole. However, I don't really see myself getting into lossless formats, at least not now. I mostly listen to streaming audio from eclectic alternative stations like KCRW as well as electronica on Spotify. Most of what I listen to is 128K. I understand that some of the stuff on Spotify is 320K, so I guess I'm getting that sometimes. I have a pair of VSonic IEMs as well as an Onkyo TX-8050 with Mission M71s, so you get the picture -- I'm interested, but haven't gone too deep.

 

What I'm looking for is a "better" sound experience. I'd love to get some of that warm tubey sound out of a pair of nice headphones without being too muddy or dark and a nice sound stage. My current setup isn't doing it for me and I can't have a sound room in my house or alter things too much, or spend too much, so I'm looking at getting some nice headphones. I've somewhat arbitrarily chosen a budget of $2,000 for everything. I can go open or closed cans - I can appreciate the benefits of both. If I need a DAC and an amp, please, I'd appreciate recommendations for those as well. I realize that I may be way over budget for 128K, if that is the case, I don't want to spend money that I don't need to. I'd be much happier spending $400 for everything, for example :)

 

Thanks for your recommendations!

 

Aaron

Washington, DC

post #2 of 11
If you are willing to spend 2000 on audio equipment i assume you could also use a part of that budget to buy the music you listen on cd?
or at least download it in 320k (you wont hear the difference anyway)
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
I am not ready to commit to lossless formats. I also like the convenience and experience of listening to music programmed by others.
post #4 of 11

Then you should forget about spending 2000usd on a proper setup. If you're unwilling to spend 15 bucks of a CD, there really is no point to spending 2k on gear aimed at better sound quality.

 

What makes the most difference is always going to be the first thing in your chain: the music. If you can't be bothered to go beyond 128kbps even to 320kbps which is vastly superior in terms of sound quality, there is pretty much no reason for you to invest in expensive gear.

 

If you're unhappy with your current music quality I suggest you start with buying music of better quality first. If you're still unhappy after that, then you'll have a reason to spend that kind of money. Since you don't want to spend money that you don't have to spend, this is my recommendation.

post #5 of 11

You should be able to get a very good setup (DAC, AMP, HPs) for $2000 or less. You can also blow it all on just one of those; don't worry no need to do that :)

I'm afraid I can't recommend a good amp for tubey sound simply because I don't have enough experience in that area. But, I do know there are at least a handful of relatively cheap maybe $200-ish tube amps others can recommend.

 

What I suggest is to at least pick up the very capable ODAC & O2 amp either separate or combo as an affordable reference source & amp (under $300 @ jdslabls.com; basically no coloration or sound signature... gets out of the way of the music or however you want to say it). This combo will also give you the freedom to use both low and high impedance phones without worrying about "bad synergy" i.e. poor performance due to amp limitations revealed by headphones having particularly high, low, and/or largely varying impedance. Also with this combo you can truly appreciate the sound signature of any tube amps you happen to pick up against the uncolored sound of ODAC/O2. 

Assuming you spend $300 on the ODAC & O2, you can pick up 2 or 3 affordable tube amps and be around $1000 (recommendations anyone?)

 

For $1000 or less headphones, I can personally recommend (discontinued) Denon D5000, and D2000 by association. Price-wise... I think I saw D2000s go for $300-$400 ish. More for modified D2000 & D5000 but I haven't seen any for sale so it's hard to say. I won't go into a review here but I can listen to those for hours. I know there will be lots of other recommendations for Sennheiser, AKG, Grado, & more. There are LOTS of quality HPs in the $1k or less price range. You have a daunting task ahead of you. It would really be best to buy 2 or 3 and sell off the ones you don't like... that is if you find ones you don't like :)

I think the biggest impact on sound will be headphones. so if you were to experiment, I think you may get more bang for your buck sticking with ODAC/O2 & experimenting with different headphones vs different amps. Choice is yours though.

 

Finally, I will not criticize your commitment to 128k but I really recommend reading NwAvGuy's blog (use google; he actually designed the O2 amp under a creative commons license as a sort of gift to the audio community & polite f.u. to his critics... stuff for another thread), and I recently came across

http://www.thewelltemperedcomputer.com/

Both are fantastically interesting sites (to me, anyways). If you you truly take an interest to those sites, then at least you will either long for higher quality music files, or stick with your 128k with the conviction of some technical understanding.

 

Good luck!

post #6 of 11

Man, it just dawned on me you may just be looking for tubey sounding headphones instead of actual tube amps? If that's the case I would say get the ODAC & O2 amp & be done with it; it's a small piece of your potential $2k and hard not to recommend & will allow you the freedom of trying many different headphones without worrying if your DAC/Amp are up for the task (avoid the scenario where you ask yourself if the headphones suck, or the amp is not "synergizing" with them).

 

Then prepare to start trading in used headphones. It's really tough because tubey sound just seems so subjective to me. I still recommend reading those sites & trying the Denon D5000s if you can pick them up... they have a very comfortable sound to me and I love the way they do bass. You should have ample cash to try out a bunch of phones and sell off the ones that you don't like. I guess look for reviews with "lush" "warm" & "laid back" in them. But honestly you own ears are the only way to know.


Edited by pixelcity - 5/20/14 at 8:02pm
post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your detailed comments! Yes, that tubey sound I'm thinking of is what I thought is called "warm and sweet" but I might be wrong. Anyway, my brother has a tube amp and some great speakers. The music is so velvety - that's what I'm after with headphones.

post #8 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by elmoe View Post
 

Then you should forget about spending 2000usd on a proper setup. If you're unwilling to spend 15 bucks of a CD, there really is no point to spending 2k on gear aimed at better sound quality.

 

What makes the most difference is always going to be the first thing in your chain: the music. If you can't be bothered to go beyond 128kbps even to 320kbps which is vastly superior in terms of sound quality, there is pretty much no reason for you to invest in expensive gear.

 

If you're unhappy with your current music quality I suggest you start with buying music of better quality first. If you're still unhappy after that, then you'll have a reason to spend that kind of money. Since you don't want to spend money that you don't have to spend, this is my recommendation.

 

+1

 

I simply don't see you ever getting your money's worth from a $2K setup if the highest quality encoding you'll be feeding it is 320k.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by pixelcity View Post

...

 

What I suggest is to at least pick up the very capable ODAC & O2 amp either separate or combo as an affordable reference source & amp ...

 

...

 

I agree that the O2/ODAC combo will have a much better cost/performance ratio for your setup.  I'm personally running an O2/ODAC in my office rig with NVX Audio XPT100 headphones.  This combo could be had for under $400 and I think it may give you the sound you're looking for.  The XPT's are quite warm and laid back, but the neutrality of the O2 helps to open up detail without making them the least bit harsh or aggressive.  Their soundstage is quite impressive for budget closed cans as well.

post #9 of 11

Don't get offended man, but this is a ridiculous request. It's as if you asked us what was the best TV set you can get for under 2000 dollars for watching 240p resolution material on it, because you're not ready to go into 1080p content.  You'll never get great sound with 128k or even 320k, in fact, chances are sound will get worse as you get better gear.

post #10 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by aaronhirsch View Post
 

Thanks for your detailed comments! Yes, that tubey sound I'm thinking of is what I thought is called "warm and sweet" but I might be wrong. Anyway, my brother has a tube amp and some great speakers. The music is so velvety - that's what I'm after with headphones.

 

 

 

Look for a cheap tube amp then, something like Little Dot MkIII or MkIV, spend 300-400 max on your DAC and amp though if you're not gonna get lossless content.

post #11 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by derbigpr View Post

You'll never get great sound with 128k or even 320k, in fact, chances are sound will get worse as you get better gear.

While I agree that 128K results in a lot of sound quality loss, 320K (depending on the encoding) often has only insignificant or no difference at all from lossy. Granted, it gets a little easier to hear the difference with very higher end equipment. But I think you could still very much enjoy some headphones in the $300 to $500 range.

I agree that the O2/ODAC could be a good amp and dac to get. However, is your listening setup with your Missions and Onkyo? Have you been running the sound straight from your computer jack to the Onkyo? If so, I would suggest getting a headphone amp and DAC (either separate or one unit) that has preamp output so you can run the sound from your DAC to your speaker setup, too. You should get better sound from them that way. For example, get the standalone ODAC and then if you have room for it, the Matrix M-Stage headphone amp. Or this Audio-GD DAC/pre-amp/headphone amps. Or the Emotiva XDA-2, which is also a DAC/headphone amp/pre-amp.

For headphones, check out Innerfidelity's wall of fame lists. Each headphone description leads to a longer review. If isolation and sound leakage are not an issue, look at the open headphones in the list. Those will have a bigger soundstage than closed headphones. Also, check out the most highly rated headphones in this battle of the flagship set of reviews.
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