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General purpose (PC) headphones, necessary "extra equipment"?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hello folks!

 

I recently went to a music store and tried the Beats Studio headphones, and while I didn't really like the excessive "booming", I was shocked at just how incredibly comfortable they were. So I set out to find some cheaper alternatives, and stumbled upon myriad posts suggesting various alternatives to the hyped headphones I had tried out. After many hours of reading reviews and forum posts, I've decided that the Audio Technica ATH-M40x may just be the headphones for me, but I'm still a bit unsure, so I was hoping that maybe some of you could help me shed some light on some of the things I don't quite understand fully yet.

 

First of all, I plan on using the headphones as "general purpose PC headphones", but mostly for listening to music (primarily rock, no hip hop, rap, techno, etc.). I don't do a lot of gaming, but when I do, it's usually with friends on Skype (I have a separate microphone that I can use). I assume that the flat tuning and supposedly neutral sound of the M40x would make them perfectly fine for voice communication, but of course, I'm not at all sure. The second use case would be for long commutes (mostly by train or plane), but I have no real interest in spending the extra money on active noise cancellation (I also read that it's a bit of a hit-and-miss thing).

 

In wanting to use the headphones for my PC while still retaining the option of switching to my speakers, e.g. for watching movies with other people, I would like a setup that doesn't require a lot of plugging in and out (I'm also freakishly paranoid about wear and tear on audio ports). Ideally, I'd like to just plug the headphones into a USB port, and the simplest solution seems to be one of those tiny USB adapters for < $10, but would they just completely destroy the purpose of good headphones? From what I've gathered, the chip that converts from digital to analog is quite important here, but will the cheap adapters be any worse than the chip on my PC's motherboard (ASUS P5Q-E)? Would I need a dedicated DAC to get any decent results from the headphones? And if so, is it impossible to get decent results with something like a smartphone that only has the 3.5mm jack?

 

Finally, I've seen mentions of amps here and there - is this a necessary piece of equipment for headphones like the M40x, or only for a very specific type of headphone or non-PC, non-smartphone audio source?

 

Cheers,

mule

post #2 of 9
The M40X would be a great first headphone. If you search around Head-Fi, you'll also find other headphones in its price range that you might consider. smily_headphones1.gif

For a low budget USB DAC/amp, many Head-fiers start with the HIFIMEDIY SABRE USB DAC. I'm not familiar with the differences between the models, but if you search around Head-Fi you can learn more about them.
post #3 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post


For a low budget USB DAC/amp, many Head-fiers start with the HIFIMEDIY SABRE USB DAC. I'm not familiar with the differences between the models, but if you search around Head-Fi you can learn more about them.

 

I'm pretty sure those are just usb DACs, and so you would also have to buy an AMP to go with them. Since they would bypass the internal AMP.

 

You might want to consider getting an M50 instead of an M40x. While it wont have a detachable cable, it will probably be a better deal. The x isn't justified in price imo. And upgrading to an M50x or other headphone would probably be better than investing in a DAC. You should probably wait until you get a headphone that needs AMPed until you get a DAC and AMP, and that series of headphone doesn't need amped.

 

I wouldn't worry about wear and tear on audio ports. One of mine is broken from a headphone cable being accidentally yanked out of it, and yet I can still use it and it sounds exactly the same as the one that is in perfect condition. All it has to do really is transfer an electric signal, and all you need for that is metal properly touching. You should only want to go with USB if you want more ports (or if you are going to use a DAC), since USB can have more noisy power and sound worse.


Edited by adisib - 7/3/14 at 12:20pm
post #4 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by adisib View Post

I'm pretty sure those are just usb DACs, and so you would also have to buy an AMP to go with them. Since they would bypass the internal AMP.

You might want to consider getting an M50 instead of an M40x. While it wont have a detachable cable, it will probably be a better deal. The x isn't justified in price imo. And upgrading to an M50x or other headphone would probably be better than investing in a DAC. You should probably wait until you get a headphone that needs AMPed until you get a DAC and AMP, and that series of headphone doesn't need amped.

I wouldn't worry about wear and tear on audio ports. One of mine is broken from a headphone cable being accidentally yanked out of it, and yet I can still use it and it sounds exactly the same as the one that is in perfect condition. All it has to do really is transfer an electric signal, and all you need for that is metal properly touching. You should only want to go with USB if you want more ports (or if you are going to use a DAC), since USB can have more noisy power and sound worse.

You are right about the HIFIMEDIY being a DAC, but one setup for using with headphones. For the price point, seems to be the most popular choice smily_headphones1.gif

Good point, too, about the M50. For a little bit more, the M50 is the higher tier headphone.
post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 

Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post


For a low budget USB DAC/amp, many Head-fiers start with the HIFIMEDIY SABRE USB DAC. I'm not familiar with the differences between the models, but if you search around Head-Fi you can learn more about them.
Originally Posted by adisib View Post

 

I'm pretty sure those are just usb DACs, and so you would also have to buy an AMP to go with them. Since they would bypass the internal AMP.

 

I've been reading a bit up on the DAC/amp stuff, but I'm still a bit confused about impedance and whether or not an amp is required or not. The M40x headphones have an impedance of 35 ohms, which seems to be in the high end of "very low impedance" from what I've gathered. Does that mean that without an amp, the headphones will be very quiet? If I just stick a Sabre DAC in my computer and plug in the M40x headphones, I'll hear nothing?

 

 

Originally Posted by adisib View Post

 

You might want to consider getting an M50 instead of an M40x. While it wont have a detachable cable, it will probably be a better deal. The x isn't justified in price imo. And upgrading to an M50x or other headphone would probably be better than investing in a DAC. You should probably wait until you get a headphone that needs AMPed until you get a DAC and AMP, and that series of headphone doesn't need amped.

 

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something, but that last sentence seems to be contradicting what you said in the beginning about bypassing the internal amp. If they don't need an amp, wouldn't DAC-only be sufficient?

 

I've already placed an order for the M40x, but I was considering the M50 for a while. I decided on the M40x because of the detachable cables and supposedly more neutral sound. Should arrive at the end of next week, I'll report back with my impressions. To be honest, I probably wouldn't be able to truly appreciate the differences (yet), since they're my first pair of decent headphones anyway.

 

 

Originally Posted by adisib View Post

 

I wouldn't worry about wear and tear on audio ports. One of mine is broken from a headphone cable being accidentally yanked out of it, and yet I can still use it and it sounds exactly the same as the one that is in perfect condition. All it has to do really is transfer an electric signal, and all you need for that is metal properly touching. You should only want to go with USB if you want more ports (or if you are going to use a DAC), since USB can have more noisy power and sound worse.

 

That's both good and bad to hear! :P I'll probably just plug directly into my computer, possibly with an extension cable so I can switch between speakers and headphones easily (instead of having to reach behind the computer all the time). I once had a little device that allowed me to switch between speakers and headphones at the press of a button, but it introduced so much noise I stopped using them. My primary reason for wanting to plug into USB is making it easier to switch. Do you have a suggestion as to how I could make switching easy, but without introducing (too much) noise?

 

 

Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

You are right about the HIFIMEDIY being a DAC, but one setup for using with headphones. For the price point, seems to be the most popular choice smily_headphones1.gif

 

So you're saying that an amp wouldn't be necessary for the M40x?

post #6 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by garbagemule View Post

So you're saying that an amp wouldn't be necessary for the M40x?

I'm saying that in that budget range, the Sabre would probably give you the best SQ. Going with an external DAC/headphone amp to improve upon it would cost you more.

However, since you have a PC, you could also try a Xonar DG soundcard. smily_headphones1.gif
post #7 of 9

By not requiring an AMP, I mean not requiring an external one. All audio devices, from PCs to Ipods have small AMPs in them. Some AMPs deliver more power than others; for some headphones there are some external AMPs that don't give enough power. Internal ones aren't designed to give a ton of power, but there is a reason all audio devices have one. A DAC simply isn't designed to not be paired with an AMP, and the lack of power might possibly make the sound worse than it helps, depending on the headphone.

post #8 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks so much for the help, guys :)

 

I'm gonna hold off on getting any more equipment until I've received the headphones and tried them out with the onboard sound chip. I also have a Lexicon Omega and a (borrowed) Steinberg UR22 that I can try out, but I have no idea how good their internal amps are (all I know is that the Lexicon Omega is near useless for recording voice/vocals without a microphone preamp).

post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 

Just a follow-up (and a question) after a couple of weeks with the M40x.

 

The headphones sound absolutely amazing, both when plugged directly into my laptop, but also when plugged into my Steinberg UR22 on my desktop. I don't hear any noise or anything, even with the gain turned almost all the way up (at which point I'd probably go deaf from actually putting on any music). I have yet to try plugging them directly into my desktop, but for now I'm enjoying this setup (also using the UR22 to drive my condenser mic).

 

One issue I've found with wearing the headphones for a longer period of time is that they press a bit too hard on the frame of my glasses, specifically behind my ears where the frame ends. It's so bad that I have to take the headphones off after a while, because the frame really pokes at my head. Do you guys happen to have any tips for how to either soften up the ear pads a bit more (even though the velvet earpads are already fairly soft), or avoid the issue entirely (contact lenses is not currently an option)?


Edited by garbagemule - 7/22/14 at 4:45am
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