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What part of the signal chain makes the most difference?

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 
I've gotten good results from my Sony V6 from the headphone out of my Pana 570, adding my JMT CMOY via Markertek interconnect improved the sound somewhat, but not enough for me to strongly recommend using an amp with these headphones and portable.

But when I connected my CMOY to my JVC DVD player with a Kimber Kable, WOW! The sonic improvement was more than merely noticeable. When listening to Kind of Blue, I could distinguish between the sound of the brass of the cymbal and the sound of the wood stick striking the cymbal. The notoriously narrow soundstage of the V6 opened up more, though not dramatically.

The basic upshot of this post is...it seems that the order of importance in the headphone chain is: cans, source, amp, interconnect. Each segment of the chain has to be good for one to get good sound, but I think improvements are greatest first in headphone selection, then in source, etc.

What do you think?
post #2 of 34
For me it's always been headphones first and then amp in a not-so-distant second, but I don't think it's really possible to say that any one part is always the most important. It all depends -- and even when there's no obvious weakest link or overkill component in the chain, it still depends on system synergy and just the overall set-up to decide which part is most important. Even interconnects can sometimes make the biggest difference, as you suggested, and that just goes to show that it makes little sense to have people vote on the one component.

That said, I vote for headphones.
post #3 of 34
In my own experience, it's been the output, speaker or headphone, followed by the amp, followed by the source, than cabling. The first two dramatically change and shape the majority of the sound, the other two tweak the sound. IMHO.
post #4 of 34
Generally, I would say for headphone listening:

1. Headphone
2. Amp/Source
3. Cables

But, If the quality of recording is considered part of the source then I'd have to vote 'source'... easily.
post #5 of 34
A great headphone is useless if the signal going into it is crap.
post #6 of 34
Quote:
A great headphone is useless if the signal going into it is crap.
Yes but a great source component is useless if the signal ultimately flowing to the ear is crap...

Everything is of course important, but what I think this question really asks is: which of these components is most affected by the addition of more money...

With CD players if you spend $400, the difference over something costing $50 is significant, but it's not nearly the difference you'll find between $400 headphones and $50 headphones.
post #7 of 34
I couldn't vote . My answer would be the weakest link which can be any of the above at any given time in any system. IMHO.
post #8 of 34
Yup, most people seem to think it's headphones > amps >= source > cables. And in general, I agree. There's always going to be rare exceptions, like the crappy stock cable on the Sennheisers, though.
post #9 of 34
Quote:
"If you ask me, Interconnects make a HUGE difference! Just try listening to your system without any and tell me if you like the sound!" - Rotareneg
post #10 of 34
Source.
post #11 of 34
you should add "recording" to your list. without a good recording it doesn't matter if you have fabio's stereo system, it'll still sound poor.

i'll go with the herd on this one: #1 headphones. it's where the rubber hits the pavement.
post #12 of 34
Quote:
Originally posted by jude
Source.
I'm with Jude here. Source.
post #13 of 34
I don't think the question is sufficiently well-defined.

I would only agree with "source" if you're talking about this kind of scenario: 8 track vs. cassette vs. am radio vs. fm radio vs. cd vs. whatever... a difference in source format.

In that case, I'd agree, for example, that upgrading from cassette to CD will probably be a bigger improvement than upgrading from Sennheiser MX-400s to Grado SR-80s. I'm sure there are others who would disagree with the particulars of this example, but the point stands.

However, I voted "headphones" because I'm assuming we're not talking about differences in format. i.e., you've got (say) a cheap Sony portable cd player, a cmoy, and a pair of sportapros, connected with rat shack standard grade cabling. What will make the biggest improvement in the system? The "source" crowd would (probably) say upgrading the CD player to a Sony ES model, or a Rega Planet, or somesuch. And while it would provide an improvement, I don't think there's any way it's going to be a bigger improvement than going to a pair of Grado SR-225s or Sennheiser HD-580s.

IMO.
post #14 of 34
On the cheap side I have RadioShack CD-3904 ($40) -> Radioshack gold mini-mini ($10 or so) -> DIY "47" amp ($30) -> KSC-35 ($15)

On the more expensive side I have Cambridge Audio D500SE ($350) -> DIY Interconnect (probably equivelant to $100 interconnects) -> Corda HA-1 ($325) -> HD600 ($220)

So if I could just add one component from my expensive system to my cheap one in order to make the most difference in sound, it would be the HD600. I've tried it too. Not even a close contest.

In my price range it's the headphones that make the most difference. I would definitely take my HD600 with my cheap front-end over my KSC-35 with my more expensive front-end. At other price ranges it could be a different story perhaps.
post #15 of 34
Quote:
Originally posted by Russ Arcuri
I don't think the question is sufficiently well-defined.

I would only agree with "source" if you're talking about this kind of scenario: 8 track vs. cassette vs. am radio vs. fm radio vs. cd vs. whatever... a difference in source format.

In that case, I'd agree, for example, that upgrading from cassette to CD will probably be a bigger improvement than upgrading from Sennheiser MX-400s to Grado SR-80s. I'm sure there are others who would disagree with the particulars of this example, but the point stands....
Good point, Russ. And that's why I answered what I answered -- source. The question reads:
Quote:
What part of the signal chain makes the most difference?
Taken as it is, there is no other answer in my opinion. I think most people interpreted the question as something more like:
Quote:
Assuming the same source format, where can one generally get the most bang for the buck in terms of sonic improvement?
But, again, taken as the question is currently worded, I'd like to see someone gild an 8-track tape lily by somehow connecting it with Nordost Valhalla interconnects to a Sennheiser Orpheus setup. That glorious amp/headphones combo would still sound like, well, an 8-track tape.

As the question is currently worded, someone took it even further back in the chain to the recording. And that's a good point. I have a CD with music that I enjoy by a band called Neko Case and her Boyfriends, but the recording is just awful. It is what it is, and assuming the master tape is also bad, there's probably no easy way to fix it (if any way at all) -- certainly not with a good source component, good interconnects, good headphone amp, or good headphones.

Re-word the question and my answer might be different.
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