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What should I hear with an amp vs. my current equipment?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Could someone describe the difference in sound I might get from a headphone amp like the Schiit Magni (apart from maximum volume, I don't need any more of that), compared to any of my current equipment? Or if the Magni is not an appreciable improvement, what sort of amp would be? Here is a list of the current equipment that I have available to me which I can use as a reference point:

 

Logitech Z-2300 headphone output (I believe it is amped because the level goes higher than the source, and it doesn't work when the system is not powered)

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Extreme Audio front panel headphone output (it's built into my P6N Diamond motherboard. The rear outputs are broken so I can only use the front)

iPad 2nd gen

PreSonus AudioBox USB

M-Audio Fast Track USB interface

 

My headphones are the Grado SR125i. I am aware that they are meant to be pretty good without an amp. I am trying to work out if I should hear any difference in any of my gear, and if upgrading anything could be worthwhile for me. I like the idea of having an amp, so I'm not concerned whether or not it is the most cost effective way of improving my listening experience as long as it has some positive and noticeable impact. I feel like there may be more/tighter bass when I use the Z-2300 as an amp to any of the other sources, but I can't be sure that I'm not just imagining that because of my expectations. I know the Z-2300's headphone output is probably an afterthought in their design so I'm hoping that a proper amp would have a similar effect, but better and more noticeable.

post #2 of 10

A Sound Blaster Z sound card ($85) should offer audio quality improvement over the Xtreme Audio, for both headphones and speakers.

The SB-Z's CS4398 DAC chip should be a fair bit better then the Xtreme audio's DAC chip.

And the SB-Z comes with a separate amplified headphone jack and separate line-output for the speakers.

 

Technically the Schiit Magni is a better headphone amplifier, then the SB-Z's.

But you would have a better "over all" improvement going with the SB-Z.

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for that info. What about the Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB? I would prefer to have something that sits on my desk to plug the headphones into. They will not easily reach directly to my computer (it's behind my desk to keep the LEDs from lighting up my room) and I would gladly pay an extra $15 for that convenience assuming it's at least similar in quality to the SB-Z.

post #4 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by MindsMirror View Post
 

Thanks for that info. What about the Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB? I would prefer to have something that sits on my desk to plug the headphones into. They will not easily reach directly to my computer (it's behind my desk to keep the LEDs from lighting up my room) and I would gladly pay an extra $15 for that convenience assuming it's at least similar in quality to the SB-Z.

 

The Sound Blaster Surround Omni 5.1 USB sound card is newer then the X-Fi HD.

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

I don't think newer necessarily means better in that case. The HD has more features that I would use compared to the Z, and the specs of the HD seem better, or the SNR is at least.

 

Just another update, I also have access to (just for listening comparisons, they're not mine so I cant use them to replace any part of my setup) a Harman/Kardon AVR 146 receiver, and an Onkyo HT-R430 receiver. Should either of their headphone outputs have a noticeable difference to my Extreme Audio?

 

I'm asking because almost all of my gear sound pretty much the same to me, except maybe the M-Audio Fast Track which I think sounds worse than the rest. I know none of it is hi-fi or designed specifically for headphone use, but I would at least expect to hear something in this range of equipment. If I don't hear any appreciable improvements between any of my equipment, does that mean that I would have to spend a few hundred dollars on an amp or DAC for it to be noticeable?

 

Is there some specific feature of the sound that I should focus on when listening to and comparing this sort of equipment to make it easier to notice any differences? Are there specific songs that would be good to use for comparisons? I usually listen to Pearl Jam for that because I listen to them all the time am most familiar with their sound.

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

I don't think newer necessarily means better in that case. The HD has more features that I would use compared to the Z, and the specs of the HD seem better, or the SNR is at least.

Just another update, I also have access to (just for listening comparisons, they're not mine so I cant use them to replace any part of my setup) a Harman/Kardon AVR 146 receiver, and an Onkyo HT-R430 receiver. Should either of their headphone outputs have a noticeable difference to my Extreme Audio?

I'm asking because almost all of my gear sound pretty much the same to me, except maybe the M-Audio Fast Track which I think sounds worse than the rest. I know none of it is Hi-Fi or designed specifically for headphone use, but I would at least expect to hear something in this range of equipment. If I don't hear any appreciable improvements between any of my equipment, does that mean that I would have to spend a few hundred dollars on an amp or DAC for it to be noticeable?

Is there some specific feature of the sound that I should focus on when listening to and comparing this sort of equipment to make it easier to notice any differences? Are there specific songs that would be good to use for comparisons? I usually listen to Pearl Jam for that because I listen to them all the time am most familiar with their sound.

 

I would say not to use the receivers to drive your Grado SR125i headphones, the SR125i are low impedance (Ohm) headphones and chances are the receiver's headphone output impedance is high :(

If you had 250-Ohm or 300-Ohm headphone, then the receivers might be more useful.

 

Removing the Xtreme Audio and replacing it with the X-Fi HD should improve audio quality, for both the headphones and the speakers.

(connect the Logitech speakers to the X-Fi's RCA outputs).

You could plug the headphones into both the Logitech and X-Fi, see if there is a noticeable difference.

Can't say there is any music that is better for testing sound quality, your own ears are the best judge about what plays your music the best.

Maybe Classical would be something to use to compare sound quality.

 

X-Fi HD $87.99.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?gclid=CK_Iv-jo274CFdRj7AodZCgA6Q&Item=N82E16829102032&nm_mc=KNC-GoogleAdwords&cm_mmc=KNC-GoogleAdwords-_-pla-_-Sound+Cards-_-N82E16829102032&ef_id=UWNo7gAABPUA7xYt:20140602182743:s

 

 

post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 

I listened to the receivers today and they don't sound noticeably different to the Extreme Audio either. Are the differences just more subtle than what I am listening for? Is everything that I've listened to just equally bad? I would expect to at least hear some differences in the range of sources I have. Even if one is not strictly better than another, I would expect them to have different sounds in some noticeable way. I'm probably going to head to my local hi-fi store and audition some of the really high end amps and DACs because I'm really not sure how much difference there is to be had, or how much I'd have to spend before I will hear it.

 

I'm kind of disappointed and a little frustrated in my inability to distinguish between them. I mentioned before that I've read the SR125i is meant to be pretty good without an amp. Is that more true than I would have thought?

post #8 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by MindsMirror View Post
 

I listened to the receivers today and they don't sound noticeably different to the Extreme Audio either. Are the differences just more subtle than what I am listening for? Is everything that I've listened to just equally bad? I would expect to at least hear some differences in the range of sources I have. Even if one is not strictly better than another, I would expect them to have different sounds in some noticeable way. I'm probably going to head to my local hi-fi store and audition some of the really high end amps and DACs because I'm really not sure how much difference there is to be had, or how much I'd have to spend before I will hear it.

 

I'm kind of disappointed and a little frustrated in my inability to distinguish between them. I mentioned before that I've read the SR125i is meant to be pretty good without an amp. Is that more true than I would have thought?

 

The SR125I should sound good with out an amplifier, but i would assume a lot of SR125i owners plug their headphones into a portable audio player or smartphone, which chances are would technically have a least a low powered headphone amplifier.

Both receivers are more low end stuff (really low cost DAC chips) and receiver headphone output jacks usually have high impedance, so I would not think they could bring out the best in the SR125Is.

If you had a nice iPod around (or modern smart phone) to plug the SR125Is into, I think you would notice an improvement (better then the Xtreme Audio)

Chances are the iPod's headphone output has less power then the receiver's headphone jacks, but the iPod would have a very low output impedance, like around 5-Ohms or less

post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 

I have my iPad 2nd gen like I mentioned in my first post. Are you saying that should be my best sounding source? I have compared it to the Extreme Audio before and didn't notice anything. Maybe I will try giving them a more thorough comparison.

 

When comparing them, should I be switch between the sources frequently to notice specific details and differences, or should I listen to one for a while and then switch to the other to get more of an idea of the overall character of each? I feel like if I didn't have them side by side, I would never be able to tell any differences.

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

I have my iPad 2nd gen like I mentioned in my first post. Are you saying that should be my best sounding source? I have compared it to the Extreme Audio before and didn't notice anything. Maybe I will try giving them a more thorough comparison.

When comparing them, should I be switch between the sources frequently to notice specific details and differences, or should I listen to one for a while and then switch to the other to get more of an idea of the overall character of each? I feel like if I didn't have them side by side, I would never be able to tell any differences.

 

I'm just making guesses about what the SR125i will sound best, with your current hardware, I'm not sure about the audio hardware in the iPad.

Right now I'm thinking you should replace the Xtreme Audio with an Asus Xonar DX or D1 sound card (used, $60).

The Xonar DX/D1 CS4398 DAC chip should offer better sound quality, plug the Logitech speakers into the Xonar card and keep plugging the SR125i into the Logitech.

 

I'm not sure what DAC chip is used in the Creative USB sound cards.

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