A complete noob's guide to Amps/whatever DACs are.
Dec 1, 2008 at 5:15 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 36

Raez

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Alright, here here's the deal. I've owned two nice pairs of headphones (well, 1 really, 2nd one coming in 4 days) and on my first set (HD 595s) I really never got in to the whole audiophile business. Now that my second pair is coming (ATH AD700s), I'm looking into this whole 'amping' business for the first time.

My problem is, I couldn't tell a headphone amp from a microwave oven if it was labeled "I'M A HEADPHONE AMP". I truly don't understand amping.

So, what I'm asking for, I guess, is an explanation on what AMPS/DACS do, and how they work ect. I'm also interested in learning price ranges ect. for AMPS/DACS.

Also, on a personal note, for my ATH AD700s I'll be getting a XONAR DX soundcard, so I'm wondering if that works as an amp or whatever a DAC is.

If it doesn't, I'd much appreciate being pointed to a fairly entry level amp (no need to be portable as 99% of the time, I'll be using my headphones at my PC). Again, I don't know the price ranges of these things.

Hopefully this thread will help not only me, but other nubs to come, because this is truly a confusing consumer market.

Thanks to all that help.
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 5:27 AM Post #2 of 36
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Have you ever owned any hi-fi? Even a cheap boom-box or radio?

Do you know what volts and amps are?

I'm thinking there's something you might already know that will help you understand here.
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 5:35 AM Post #3 of 36

Nubster

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Same boat here although I used to play with car audio that was years ago and the technology is a bit different. I guess some of the stuff is the same but not enough that I really understand what I am looking at when I read the various headphone/amp threads. I look forward to any info anyone can provide on the subject(s).
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 5:40 AM Post #5 of 36

1Time

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Nubster /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Same boat here although I used to play with car audio that was years ago and the technology is a bit different. I guess some of the stuff is the same but not enough that I really understand what I am looking at when I read the various headphone/amp threads. I look forward to any info anyone can provide on the subject(s).


This is a headphone forum. I suggest reading and posting in the source and amp forum.
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 7:24 AM Post #6 of 36

TopPop

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Nubster /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Same boat here although I used to play with car audio that was years ago and the technology is a bit different. I guess some of the stuff is the same but not enough that I really understand what I am looking at when I read the various headphone/amp threads. I look forward to any info anyone can provide on the subject(s).


Some of the basics are the same.

You know those two cables you run between the deck and the amp? Not the remote wire, but the other two that plug into the red and white jacks on the amp? Those are your signal wires for the left and right channels. They sent a signal from your source (deck) to your amp. When you move the volume knob on the deck, the voltage level that the deck sends to the amp is changed. All the amp does is take whatever voltage it sees and, well, amplifies it. Then you run speaker wires from the amp to the speakers, and the amp will send a variable amount of wattage to the speakers, which changes with respect to whatever voltage input the amp receives from the deck.

-Headphone source (CD player, DVD player, computer, etc.) = car deck minus volume knob (i.e. it just sends a signal, but doesn't change the volume, in most setups)
-Headphone amp = car amp + volume knob (i.e. it receives the signal from the source, and changes the internal voltage, and thus, the volume)
-Cable attached to headphones = speaker cable
-Headphones = car speakers


Some of that may be wrong, but the gist is there. I don't know if that was more confusing then helpful, now that I read it. It's late here. Sorry.
redface.gif
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 8:07 AM Post #7 of 36

scytheavatar

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DAC = Digital to analog converter. Something that allows you to connect to the PC so that you can listen to music on your PC with something better than onboard sound.

Amps = gives the power to your headphones. Generally it goes computer->DAC->Amp. Some DACs come with inbuilt amps, some don't. For those that don't have an amp you'll need to get an amp, for those that do have an amp you might still want to get a better amp.

Xonar DX = Soundcard. Besides being able to do what DAC does and have a decent inbuilt amp the DX can do a lot of fanciful stuff which shouldn't matter if all you care is your headphones.

The thing about amps is that it affects your headphone sound greatly, a bad amp can easily ruin a good headphone. On the other hand, a lot of the super expensive amps (which I will not name) are blatant rip-offs and barely is an improvement from the much cheaper amps. Also, saying that an amp is 'good' is often misleading as the synergy between an amp and a headphone is very important, an amp that sounds great for a HD650 might sound terrible for the RS1 cause it makes the treble too bright. Spending money on better sources is an easy way to waste your money as you get caught up in the favour of the month effect and spend money on something that doesn't significantly improve your sound.

I generally will advise you not to care about amps for now and just get the Xonar DX, which is very cheap at the moment and sounds good. Many headphones need a good powerful amp to sound good enough, and the ATHs are not one of them. So I'll advise you to take full advantage of the AD700's strengths and bother with amps when you get a better headphone.

Also, you might want to consider the Zero DAC, another cheap DAC/Amp solution. Or the Emu 0404. Both are portable solutions that might be better if you want to bring your source to your local headphone shop to test the headphones.
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 1:41 PM Post #8 of 36

Raez

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Quote:

Originally Posted by scytheavatar /img/forum/go_quote.gif
DAC = Digital to analog converter. Something that allows you to connect to the PC so that you can listen to music on your PC with something better than onboard sound.

Amps = gives the power to your headphones. Generally it goes computer->DAC->Amp. Some DACs come with inbuilt amps, some don't. For those that don't have an amp you'll need to get an amp, for those that do have an amp you might still want to get a better amp.

Xonar DX = Soundcard. Besides being able to do what DAC does and have a decent inbuilt amp the DX can do a lot of fanciful stuff which shouldn't matter if all you care is your headphones.

The thing about amps is that it affects your headphone sound greatly, a bad amp can easily ruin a good headphone. On the other hand, a lot of the super expensive amps (which I will not name) are blatant rip-offs and barely is an improvement from the much cheaper amps. Also, saying that an amp is 'good' is often misleading as the synergy between an amp and a headphone is very important, an amp that sounds great for a HD650 might sound terrible for the RS1 cause it makes the treble too bright. Spending money on better sources is an easy way to waste your money as you get caught up in the favour of the month effect and spend money on something that doesn't significantly improve your sound.

I generally will advise you not to care about amps for now and just get the Xonar DX, which is very cheap at the moment and sounds good. Many headphones need a good powerful amp to sound good enough, and the ATHs are not one of them. So I'll advise you to take full advantage of the AD700's strengths and bother with amps when you get a better headphone.

Also, you might want to consider the Zero DAC, another cheap DAC/Amp solution. Or the Emu 0404. Both are portable solutions that might be better if you want to bring your source to your local headphone shop to test the headphones.



Great post. If I could +rep you I would. Just one last question, what does Digital to Analog mean? I mean, like, I know it's Digital to Analog, I just don't know what that does/is? See what I mean?
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 2:12 PM Post #9 of 36

moogoob

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Digital to analog takes raw digital sound data (called a bitstream) and converts it into an analog fluctuation that can actually be used to drive headphones, speakers etc. A better DAC usually does a better job of this than a cheaper one.
smily_headphones1.gif
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 3:12 PM Post #10 of 36
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A DAC takes the 0's and 1's that are stored on a CD or your computer and turns them into a continuous flow of analogue sound. As music stored digitally is imperfect, people who spend a lot of money on headphones and amps here make a big deal of which ones give the most detailed or most natural sound. People consider computer sound cards as being the worst DACs, and the "best" might cost as much as a luxury car.
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 5:07 PM Post #11 of 36

Happy Camper

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Some people enjoy the music and others want to hear the overlaying of tracks and pick used. Hearing so much detail in music can bring utter amazement or disappointment. You are either magnifying the music or the defects. If you are interested in the music, you can get a pretty nice sounding system for a modest investment. If you want to hear every nuance of sound in the recording, you can spend much more than you intend to get there.

I'm in-between. I want to hear the lips being licked and the creaking of the stools and I want to be able to feel the passion and emotion of the artist. Trying to figure out how far to go to gain what I believe will be satisfying is the challenge.

Synergy of components is a mystifying statement. What factors are considered in this "synergy"? There are no formulas or numbers to use to come up with a system. That is very frustrating for new hobbyists. Most of us don't have the money to cycle through several multi-thousand dollar components, trying to find that synergy. I read somewhere on here that the best way to find good information is to find people who listen to your musical tastes and see what they did. Look at the past gear and what they have now. Ask them how they came to the equipment they have.

Before investing, you should try to go to meets to hear the components of interest. When buying, unless you know exactly what you want, get equipment with a 30 day return. If you know exactly what you want, the f/s forum, ebay, audiogon, etc. will let you pay less (sometimes by half) for used gear. Most equipment is treated well because most of us are particular on who and how our gear is treated.

Buying new may not bring you the best investment. Older gear still has good value. About the only thing gaining in design is digital equipment. And because it changes so frequently, it's not worth the investment. It's obsolete after a year or two and there are no major improvements in performance. That's why most of the top end systems are built around analog components. There are exceptions to everything said and it's up to us to find those exceptions.

IMO

HC
 
Dec 1, 2008 at 6:21 PM Post #12 of 36

Nubster

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This thread has been a huge help. It has really clarified several things that I was not really understanding, especially the DAC. But is also makes me realize that to get the most from my music and my headphones I need to at the very least upgrade my source or get a DAC. I hate to spend $100 on headphones just to hear crappy sounds coming from my PC better than I was hearing them when using cheapy headphones...lol
Thanks for the info. It is really doing to help as I venture in to the source and amp sections of this website. I would even vote for a newbie sticky at the top of the page with this thread being one to include.
 
Dec 2, 2008 at 1:40 AM Post #13 of 36

Raez

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Currawong /img/forum/go_quote.gif
A DAC takes the 0's and 1's that are stored on a CD or your computer and turns them into a continuous flow of analogue sound. As music stored digitally is imperfect, people who spend a lot of money on headphones and amps here make a big deal of which ones give the most detailed or most natural sound. People consider computer sound cards as being the worst DACs, and the "best" might cost as much as a luxury car.


So, here's a question for ya:
Would leaving the integrated sound and buying a DAC/AMP combo be the same thing as having my sound card interpret the 1s and 0s? As in, when you have a sound card, does that like change the way your computer puts downs the 1s and 0s in the first place? If the first one is true, would I maybe be better off leaving integrated and buying an external DAC/AMP?
Quote:

Originally Posted by Happy Camper /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Some people enjoy the music and others want to hear the overlaying of tracks and pick used. Hearing so much detail in music can bring utter amazement or disappointment. You are either magnifying the music or the defects. If you are interested in the music, you can get a pretty nice sounding system for a modest investment. If you want to hear every nuance of sound in the recording, you can spend much more than you intend to get there.

I'm in-between. I want to hear the lips being licked and the creaking of the stools and I want to be able to feel the passion and emotion of the artist. Trying to figure out how far to go to gain what I believe will be satisfying is the challenge.

Synergy of components is a mystifying statement. What factors are considered in this "synergy"? There are no formulas or numbers to use to come up with a system. That is very frustrating for new hobbyists. Most of us don't have the money to cycle through several multi-thousand dollar components, trying to find that synergy. I read somewhere on here that the best way to find good information is to find people who listen to your musical tastes and see what they did. Look at the past gear and what they have now. Ask them how they came to the equipment they have.

Before investing, you should try to go to meets to hear the components of interest. When buying, unless you know exactly what you want, get equipment with a 30 day return. If you know exactly what you want, the f/s forum, ebay, audiogon, etc. will let you pay less (sometimes by half) for used gear. Most equipment is treated well because most of us are particular on who and how our gear is treated.

Buying new may not bring you the best investment. Older gear still has good value. About the only thing gaining in design is digital equipment. And because it changes so frequently, it's not worth the investment. It's obsolete after a year or two and there are no major improvements in performance. That's why most of the top end systems are built around analog components. There are exceptions to everything said and it's up to us to find those exceptions.

IMO

HC



Awesome, post, thanks so much for the help. +rep if I could.
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nubster /img/forum/go_quote.gif
This thread has been a huge help. It has really clarified several things that I was not really understanding, especially the DAC. But is also makes me realize that to get the most from my music and my headphones I need to at the very least upgrade my source or get a DAC. I hate to spend $100 on headphones just to hear crappy sounds coming from my PC better than I was hearing them when using cheapy headphones...lol
Thanks for the info. It is really doing to help as I venture in to the source and amp sections of this website. I would even vote for a newbie sticky at the top of the page with this thread being one to include.



Good to know there are indeed fellow nubs around here. I agree with the sticky, I assume quite a few people have the same questions about these things when first starting.
 
Dec 2, 2008 at 2:46 AM Post #14 of 36

mambo5

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Do you have to have both an amp and a DAC?
Can i just use my computer with only a DAC with headphones?
Can i just use my computer with only an amp with headphones?
I'm confused now.
 
Dec 2, 2008 at 3:29 AM Post #15 of 36

scytheavatar

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Quote:

Originally Posted by mambo5 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Do you have to have both an amp and a DAC?
Can i just use my computer with only a DAC with headphones?
Can i just use my computer with only an amp with headphones?
I'm confused now.



Remember, the set up goes PC->DAC->Amp->Headphone. You need a DAC to convert the mp3 files to an analog signal, which then goes to the amp, which then can come out of the headphone. Most DACs including Zero, ibasso D2/D3, Pico and the soundcards come with an in-built amp which is often more than decent enough for use. So you don't need to buy another amp. But many people still get another amp as they feel that the high-end amplifiers perform better than the in-built amps.

So if you don't know what to get, just get one of those DACs that already have a good in-built headphone amp, and get a seperate amp when you feel the need to do so.
 

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