Differences between portable players
May 31, 2015 at 1:30 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 25

Tail

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I have a good hearing (also due to my age, but generally I checked it quite a few times) and I always tested those smartphones and players well, in silent room (those players I've tested in isolated studio room of the dealership used for testing gear), also tested them with fairly easy to use headphones but pretty high end, like Sennheiser IE80 I own, NAD Viso HP50 and several other, usually ~300-400$ price range.
 
I was just wondering... are people hallucinating or something.. I've heard several players including AK100, AK120, X3, X5, all iPod classics, quite a lot smartphones etc... differences were miserable and between many players there even wasn't any differences in sound to me. Do people lie so much or what? I read reviews some people saying about how imaging, perception of something, depth, separation bla bla is good with certain player... what? Do they lie because they got review unit for free so they have to say nice things? 
 
May 31, 2015 at 8:12 PM Post #2 of 25

cel4145

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Once dacs/headphone amps reach a level of low distortion where the distortion is inaudible, then many people find that there are no discernible benefits spending more for something that measures even better. Moreover, science suggests that expectation bias can come into play: if you expect to hear a difference, then you may hear one even though it's not there. And certainly, the difference may seem more significant if you believe it will be, too (such as if other people tell you the difference is there). Finally, unless you level match the volume exactly, simply having one setup a tiny bit louder than the other can make it sound better. So lots of reasons why people hear differences that you might not find to be there or not significant.

On on the other hand, sometimes people are comparing DAPs using difficult to drive headphones. So there may be a benefit in going to a higher level DAP that has a more powerful headphone amp in that circumstance.
 
May 31, 2015 at 8:17 PM Post #3 of 25

anetode

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People hear what they want to hear (whether consciously or otherwise). Most people who invest lots of money in boutique audiophile products are expecting some sort of audible change, if not outright improvement.
 
May 31, 2015 at 8:19 PM Post #4 of 25

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Once dacs/headphone amps reach a level of low distortion where the distortion is inaudible, then many people find that there are no discernible benefits spending more for something that measures even better. Moreover, science suggests that expectation bias can come into play: if you expect to hear a difference, then you may hear one even though it's not there. And certainly, the difference may seem more significant if you believe it will be, too (such as if other people tell you the difference is there). Finally, unless you level match the volume exactly, simply having one setup a tiny bit louder than the other can make it sound better. So lots of reasons why people hear differences that you might not find to be there or not significant.

On on the other hand, sometimes people are comparing DAPs using difficult to drive headphones. So there may be a benefit in going to a higher level DAP that has a more powerful headphone amp in that circumstance.

Yeah thought so, but still was really surprised at most of the reviews and descriptions of players. I have heard quite a few but never heard that those things they were describing.
 
May 31, 2015 at 8:27 PM Post #5 of 25

cel4145

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Yeah thought so, but still was really surprised at most of the reviews and descriptions of players. I have heard quite a few but never heard that those things they were describing.


I feel like I can hear a difference at times, but I don't find it to be significant in the way that people often describe. And to me, that's what's important. We know we can get significant improvements from better headphones or speakers, but the rule that there are diminishing rates of returns over spending more on electronics really seems to be true.

But to be fair, there are some people in the hobby of collecting and listening to audio equipment. So then what you perceive as a 1% improvement is maybe 10% for them because they are always after that better bit of equipment.
 
May 31, 2015 at 8:48 PM Post #6 of 25
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My suggestion would be to take everything with a proverbial grain of salt. If you do follow reviews, find someone with similar tastes to your own, who describes a piece of equipment you both have experience with similarly to how you would.

As to you original comment on reviewers - I agree wth Cel - the differences are usually fairly small. I find it better to follow reviewers who try to mix a little objectivity to their subjective opinions. In my own reviews, I try to level match with an SPL meter, and often get my wife or kids to help me blind A/B pieces of gear, as I know my human perceptions are often unreliable when trying to focus solely on sound (I have to try and eliminate visual or other factors).

As a reviewer though, I will state that I do get the occasional free unit - but I always offer to pay for the goods, or pay for their return. This may not be standard practise for everyone - but I do offer it. Most manufacturers are pretty good, and allow me to keep loaner units for future evaluations and comparisons - but I am under no illusion that the gear is mine. A lot of my current DAPs I have actually paid for though.

Am I influenced by being a reviewer and having access to the latest and greatest? I'd be a fool to say I'm not - but for reasons stated above, I genuinely try to remain objective. I do hear minor differences for example between the Fiio X1, X3ii, and X5 (and I can tell each apart in a volume matched blind test) - but the differences are far smaller than some other reviewers state. Whether that is truth or simply the limitations of my own hearing is debatable and a factor I'm willing to take into account :wink:
 
May 31, 2015 at 8:56 PM Post #7 of 25

inthere

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The most important thing is the source file-64k is not sounding good on anything. Usually if everything is 192 and higher it's going to be extremely difficult to tell a difference between players without one having special processing.
 
May 31, 2015 at 10:35 PM Post #8 of 25

ProtegeManiac

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  I have a good hearing (also due to my age, but generally I checked it quite a few times) and I always tested those smartphones and players well, in silent room (those players I've tested in isolated studio room of the dealership used for testing gear), also tested them with fairly easy to use headphones but pretty high end, like Sennheiser IE80 I own, NAD Viso HP50 and several other, usually ~300-400$ price range.
 
I was just wondering... are people hallucinating or something.. I've heard several players including AK100, AK120, X3, X5, all iPod classics, quite a lot smartphones etc... differences were miserable and between many players there even wasn't any differences in sound to me. Do people lie so much or what? I read reviews some people saying about how imaging, perception of something, depth, separation bla bla is good with certain player... what? Do they lie because they got review unit for free so they have to say nice things? 

 
The more important part is the amplifier than the DAC. Sometimes the 5mW out of some smartphones has audible distortion, or maybe some kind of EQ effect programmed into its audio chip. For roughly 95% of IEMs out there however you won't even get to audible distortion with any of them. In some cases however even an efficient IEM can have some kind of issue - my Aurisonics ASG-1.3 has boosted bass response and it sounds boomy if not outright flabby on my SGS3 and this affects not only the tonality but the imaging (the bass drums get pushed forward) vs the Fiio X1 and AK100, however, I have to note two other things. First, the more noticeable benefit is the more precise volume control. Sure, 125db/1mW is very efficient, but on the ten button presses the SGS3 gets from mute to full volume, that means it can go from "almost there" (3rd button press) to "TURN IT DOWN!!!" (4th press); the X1 has about six to eight clicks between those. Second, admittedly, there's a mix of laziness and necessity: I have to carry a second piece of equipment, and when I got off the train, I had three missed calls. Using the SGS3 means the first call would have already interrupted the music and I can answer it. Second, the bass and gain issue is something I can fix on NeutronMusicPlayer's DSP - wideband -3db cut on bass (the X1's EQ can't match the flexibility of this parametric EQ) and then -4db on ReplayGain.
 
That said however if anyone ever asks for a dedicated player because answering calls ASAP isn't as important to them personally or profesionally I'd always recommend the X1 given its price point and, well, would you seriously use anything but an IEM on the go anyway? I like the volume knob on the AK players but I'm not going to blow that much money just because I don't like buttons.
 
In any case with those subtle differences the problem with subjective evaluations is that they go both ways: people singing to high heavens are probably hallucinating at some point, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, soundstage perception can vary based on a number of factors, including the listener. I have a lot of tone-deaf friends who can only tell the difference in sound if they have Grados on, but even my former bandmates who can tune a guitar more accurately than a cheap auto-tune unit can't perceive soundstage depth - as long as they can tell the rhythm and lead guitar they're satisfied, and it wasn't until I took them to a hi-fi show and sat them in front of Focal Stella Utopias in a large room where the drum roll is realistically rendered close to a 1:1 of the size of an actual drum set did they notice that you can actually hear the drum roll moving left to right, which is one of the things that are problematic on personal audio given the isolation between left and right channels.
 
 
 
May 31, 2015 at 11:23 PM Post #9 of 25

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Recently I also wanted to understand the differences between portable players... largely driven by not having enough storage on my phone.  
 
I tested Fiio and AK players back to back, and came to the conclusion that a Fiio X3 2nd gen simply provided me with sound quality that i was more than happy with.... and that the differences in the AK units did not warrant spending double or triple the price.  I tested these players with Shure 535s.
 
It's easy to get caught up in constant comparisons of reviews... ultimately i've found the quickest way to settle on a purchase is to head to my local store, who fortunately has an unbelievable range of products ranging from low to summit-fi, and just try out options.
 
Jun 1, 2015 at 2:46 AM Post #11 of 25

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What phone is that? Androids have microSD slots and both iOS and Android have wireless portable HDDs for use on the go.
 

Just a 16gb iPhone.  
 
I actually had a wireless setup like that at home... using my iPhone or iPad connected to a wireless NAS drive.  
 
In the end I just found it a bit too clunky, and decided a dedicated player would be the way to go.  
 
Now i'm extremely happy with my Fiio X3 v2.
 
Jun 1, 2015 at 3:18 AM Post #12 of 25

Tail

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Am I influenced by being a reviewer and having access to the latest and greatest? I'd be a fool to say I'm not - but for reasons stated above, I genuinely try to remain objective. I do hear minor differences for example between the Fiio X1, X3ii, and X5 (and I can tell each apart in a volume matched blind test) - but the differences are far smaller than some other reviewers state. Whether that is truth or simply the limitations of my own hearing is debatable and a factor I'm willing to take into account
wink.gif

Yeah I was thinking about the same thing, I even checked hearing and it seemed to be fine, doctor said I hear very decent even tho I'm using in ears at least 3 hours a day. 
I returned my AK100 when I tested FiiO X3 in store because honestly I couldn't hear a difference... I'm sure I'd hear at least some small difference if I used that a/b switch and matched volume right but if I didn't hear any the way I tested, then it can't be that big difference even if it existed. 
I was just quite a bit surprised when I read some reviews (not only here but anywhere, including YouTube) that people are blown away by the "depth, separation, impact etc". I was really starting to wonder what is going on here: I hear good, I care about music, I tested most of those players in isolated room concentrated on the sound and with most hear I couldn't even hear the differences with those that I could differences were very small and I wasn't even sure which sounded better, it was just a bit different...
 
 
Quite a few replies! I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks this way...
 
Jun 1, 2015 at 4:01 AM Post #13 of 25

uchihaitachi

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Yeah I was thinking about the same thing, I even checked hearing and it seemed to be fine, doctor said I hear very decent even tho I'm using in ears at least 3 hours a day. 
I returned my AK100 when I tested FiiO X3 in store because honestly I couldn't hear a difference... I'm sure I'd hear at least some small difference if I used that a/b switch and matched volume right but if I didn't hear any the way I tested, then it can't be that big difference even if it existed. 
I was just quite a bit surprised when I read some reviews (not only here but anywhere, including YouTube) that people are blown away by the "depth, separation, impact etc". I was really starting to wonder what is going on here: I hear good, I care about music, I tested most of those players in isolated room concentrated on the sound and with most hear I couldn't even hear the differences with those that I could differences were very small and I wasn't even sure which sounded better, it was just a bit different...


Quite a few replies! I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks this way...


The fiio x3 measures better with low impedance earphones than the AK100.
 
Jun 1, 2015 at 4:05 AM Post #14 of 25

uchihaitachi

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Yeah I was thinking about the same thing, I even checked hearing and it seemed to be fine, doctor said I hear very decent even tho I'm using in ears at least 3 hours a day. 
I returned my AK100 when I tested FiiO X3 in store because honestly I couldn't hear a difference... I'm sure I'd hear at least some small difference if I used that a/b switch and matched volume right but if I didn't hear any the way I tested, then it can't be that big difference even if it existed. 
I was just quite a bit surprised when I read some reviews (not only here but anywhere, including YouTube) that people are blown away by the "depth, separation, impact etc". I was really starting to wonder what is going on here: I hear good, I care about music, I tested most of those players in isolated room concentrated on the sound and with most hear I couldn't even hear the differences with those that I could differences were very small and I wasn't even sure which sounded better, it was just a bit different...


Quite a few replies! I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks this way...

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/high-end-pc-audio,review-32894.html

Great article, worth reading.
Note the comment about sponsors.
 
Jun 1, 2015 at 4:45 AM Post #15 of 25

Tail

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http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/high-end-pc-audio,review-32894.html

Great article, worth reading.
Note the comment about sponsors.

Just read it, I wasn't surprised at all... I was on Hi-Files show 2 years ago where we did blind testing to see some Pioneer gear vs Audio Research (that costed over 20 000 $ in total, without the cables) using Rockport Atria speakers ( 21000 euros here in Serbia, which is around 25k $) and EVERYONE failed to distinguish Pioneer from AR, guess was always very near to 50% which is random guess...
 
Not to go too much off topic, I'm quite sure that can be reflected on portable audio players as well, at least it did in my experience and if I'm not wrong with the experience of people that commented here at least to some point.
 

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