Headphone amp/DAC + sound card for surround sound.

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by Kol12, Aug 14, 2017.
  1. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Since you're into car audio here's a very rough guide on what sounds like what to give you some kind of an idea, although I haven't been checking car audio these days (I've been using Uber and catching up on sleep). Assume proper amplification, installation, and no EQ fine tuning unless otherwise stated.

    HE400i/HE400 - Imagine most cars tuned for EMMA SQ, but the vocals aren't very clearly forward; 10in sub somehow installed up front or in the center console with a lot of air space (or sub requires very little) but gain tuned to just catch the roll off at the low end

    HD600/HE400S - Focal Polykevlar midwoofers with TN90 tweeters, with more bite on the electric guitars on the Sennheiser; sub in trunk in compact box

    HD650 - Focal Polykevlar midwoofers with Vifa tweeters, running full active and set the preamp gain and amp gain for the tweeter channels lower.

    LCD-2 pre-Fazor - DLS MS6 with a 12in sub in a sealed box, equalized sub gain

    LCD-2F - DLS UR6.3 with 12in sub in a sealed box, equalized sub gain

    K701 - Dynaudio 6in set with 8in sub in a sealed box with not a lot of power from the sub amp in the trunk

    K702 - Dynaudio 7in set with 8in sub in a slightly larger box and more powerful amp

    Grado SR225 - Focal Polyglass with powerful amp but getting low imaging scores for crappy install

    Grado SR325 - Focal Polyglass with powerful amp but low imaging scores and tweeters really bouncing the treble off the windshield


    What do you mean, over the ear? The earpads go around the ears, earcups are on "top" of the ears.

    That still depends on the size of your earlobes though. And why Sennheiser made some headphones oblong (HD580/6xx series) and newer headphones enormous as they grew longer downward and wider forward (HD800 and HD700).


    As far as I know, yes. The plug on the headphone or rather the part of the cable near the plug is where it usually breaks, unlike older Sennheisers that easily break the locking mechanism on the socket.


    I actually would get the HE400i for the newer headband. I only brought up the HE400 in case you're buying that used but maybe you can wait for it to come back on Massdrop.


    I wouldn't use "underspec'd." That sounds like taking a current system and hamstringing it, like how older Streetfighters were basically the Superbike without fairings and then they put torque-priority cams in the engines and a flatter seat (unlike the Ducati Streetfigher, which is literally the 1098 Superbike without the fairings). More like they necro'd an older product.
     
  2. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Since you're into car audio here's a very rough guide on what sounds like what to give you some kind of an idea, although I haven't been checking car audio these days (I've been using Uber and catching up on sleep). Assume proper amplification, installation, and no EQ fine tuning unless otherwise stated.

    HE400i/HE400 - Imagine most cars tuned for EMMA SQ, but the vocals aren't very clearly forward; 10in sub somehow installed up front or in the center console with a lot of air space (or sub requires very little) but gain tuned to just catch the roll off at the low end

    HD600/HE400S - Focal Polykevlar midwoofers with TN90 tweeters, with more bite on the electric guitars on the Sennheiser; sub in trunk in compact box

    HD650 - Focal Polykevlar midwoofers with Vifa tweeters, running full active and set the preamp gain and amp gain for the tweeter channels lower.

    LCD-2 pre-Fazor - DLS MS6 with a 12in sub in a sealed box, equalized sub gain

    LCD-2F - DLS UR6.3 with 12in sub in a sealed box, equalized sub gain

    K701 - Dynaudio 6in set with 8in sub in a sealed box with not a lot of power from the sub amp in the trunk

    K702 - Dynaudio 7in set with 8in sub in a slightly larger box and more powerful amp

    Grado SR225 - Focal Polyglass with powerful amp but getting low imaging scores for crappy install

    Grado SR325 - Focal Polyglass with powerful amp but low imaging scores and tweeters really bouncing the treble off the windshield


    What do you mean, over the ear? The earpads go around the ears, earcups are on "top" of the ears.

    That still depends on the size of your earlobes though. And why Sennheiser made some headphones oblong (HD580/6xx series) and newer headphones enormous as they grew longer downward and wider forward (HD800 and HD700).


    As far as I know, yes. The plug on the headphone or rather the part of the cable near the plug is where it usually breaks, unlike older Sennheisers that easily break the locking mechanism on the socket.


    I actually would get the HE400i for the newer headband. I only brought up the HE400 in case you're buying that used but maybe you can wait for it to come back on Massdrop.


    I wouldn't use "underspec'd." That sounds like taking a current system and hamstringing it, like how older Streetfighters were basically the Superbike without fairings and then they put torque-priority cams in the engines and a flatter seat (unlike the Ducati Streetfigher, which is literally the 1098 Superbike without the fairings). More like they necro'd an older product.
     
  3. Kol12
    Thanks for the car audio comparisons and some nice car audio brands mentioned. One thing I know about car audio is that it is very difficult to get a flat response with all of the obstacles and various materials the sound bounces off. I find your comparisons quite interesting considering the headphone is a completely different environment. I personally have CDT CL-62's and will hopefully soon have one of CDT's new ACD 4090 amplifiers. After much positive research and discovering they were available in NZ I was sold and I even got to know the distributor.

    The HE400i with the forward sounding sub as I understand is how you want your sub tuned for car audio, you do not want it to sound like it is in the trunk... I personally do not have a sub in my setup at this stage and I only began the build last year. I do not fully understand the differences between underseat subs and subs in the trunk, I touched on it it briefly but not for a while. Does the 10 inch sub comparison in the HE440i lead to a less powerful sub response or just that it sits more forward in the mix? Based on your comparisons the HE400i do have the more balanced mix. I notice you did not make a speaker comparison for the HE400i... When I researched car audio Focal was described to have harsh sounding tweeters that some do not like but I can not remember which tweeter and type it was from their range. CDT CL-62 have silk dome tweeters which have a mellow sound and I run them at -3db from the crossovers.


    The HE400i are some big looking cans so I was curious as to how the earpads sat, whether they were an on the ear or over the ear...


    Well that's ok then, that might be serious QC issue otherwise for an expensive hifi headphone...


    I like the HE400i headband too, the HE400 does look more vintage. Is HE400 the one they sell on Massdrop? How would the HE400i be for a smaller head? Tight enough for comfort?


    So it's sort of like a reissue of the HE400 that HifiMan and Massdrop have agreed to make and sell? Is the HE400 end of life?
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2017
  4. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Which is why in car audio installation matters even more than the equipment, plus the processor. There was an EMMA event a few years ago here where $25 tweeters and midwoofers (as in all four, plus a crude crossover) plus a $25 subwoofer (same brand) dominated the budget category as the budget allocation (as per SRP) was mostly the //////ALPINE receiver (which was one of those models that had the high current amp module, 3-way crossovers, 6-way time alignment, etc), and then they installed everything properly.

    That last bit was primarily so they can deal with every acoustic issue as much as possible, such as proper toe in angles to get the center image as close to the center as possible even without time alignment applied, which also includes managing the dispersion patterns so sound from the tweeters don't keep bouncing off the windshield. If you can get the image within a couple inches dead center and high up without time alignment, you're basically operating with minimal reflections off the windshield and dashboard already (somebody even lined his dashboard with black towels so they won't register with the same price as acoustic foam). A second benefit of the installation was aesthetics - the same result can be achieved by basically just screwing everything in but they fiberglassed everything (but only basic spray paint over the panels) - because if the tweeters were just screwed into the A-pillars you will get decked a few points (also they're not supposed to stick out towards the windshield as per the driver's line of sight).


    Just note that these are rough approximations. On top of that, how tight or how loose they are on each listener's head can affect tonality and even imaging (ie tighter can make brighter, imaging tweeters far out to the flanks).


    I didn't just say tuned to sound like it's coming from the front - I literally said "somehow installed up front," since the spaces limit how large the sub and enclosure volume can be, which makes for different compromises.
    [​IMG]

    Depending on acoustic limitations, you can use a slightly larger enclosure in the trunk and get a box that reaches lower, and as long as it isn't too big (or ported), the response will be fairly smooth. Overall system response will depend on gain and EQ+acoustic factors, and then imaging depends on crossover and time alignment. Basically, this is generally the most common set up for a number of reasons: easier to give up a bit of trunk space than gut the interior or give up legroom, plus the larger enclosure allows the user to switch over to EDM or even crunk and then just crank up the preamp voltage on the subwoofer output (or have a remote gain control for the subwoofer amp).

    By contrast, putting the subwoofer out front or in the cabin can be very different. Inside the cabin but behind makes it seem loud while inside the cabin. For SQ purposes this makes it easy to localize, and if the sub is behind the driver (like in a coupe) it can be just as problematic (feeling the thump on the seatback makes the perception of where it's coming from even worse); up front and you have better chances and be almost independent of time alignment, but you will severely limit enclosure volume (or use freeair, which has its own problems), so while there is a sub to fill in past where the midwoofer trails off, you have to boost the very low bass or crank it up and then EQ out the response of hte sub above its own -3dB point (which effectively cuts its sensitivity and thus overall loudness). For SPL purposes, the limited airspace barring a really extreme installation (like a van with a wall of subs). Basically, in-cabin subwoofers are really more for getting to either extreme.

    The HE400i is more like the latter example. You can get it flat, but it's not going to be loud anywhere. Great for objectively hearing at least part of the range as the engineer mastering the album heard it, not so great for perception. Except of course how having a 10in sub in the passenger footwell can at least help with the chest thump.


    Less powerful but in terms of car audio, still forward, as opposed to localized to the rear which in car audio terms, means "coming from the trunk;" in terms of home audio, it's imaged to the rear, which in this case means "behind the vocals."


    From 10hz to 1000hz it's flat, but above it, the response is a little worse than, say, the HD650's in that same range. That said, the overall response is what general impressions of the sound are based on, and the skewed response of the HD650 that is stronger from 40hz to 1000hz vs above 1000hz is what makes people feel it has a "veil."



    Because it was about the tuning, and if you go an event and listen to the top cars, chances are they all generally sound similar owing to how they're all aiming for flat response.

    Again however there's the exception that the HE400i vocals aren't pushed forward as with Grados that have a boost in the response in the midrange or how speakers with proper toe-in depending on quality will either push the vocals forward like Grados (ex Focal Chorus at home, Focal Polyglass or whatever the current replacement line is in cars) or push the instruments far behind the vocals (Focal Stella Utopia at home).

    At the lower tiers speakers (and in some cases headphones) sound more distinct across different brands for two reasons. First, this is where more compromises are made, so engineers have to go with a lot of the compromises they'd rather have if they can't make something that is closest to flat. Second, and specific to car audio, apart from using these speakers, chances are the cars might not be using 15-band EQs with individual Left and Right channel settings.


    Which is why I differentiated between the TN45, TN47, TN90, etc. Lowest tier sounds most artificial but barring reflections isn't sharp; there's a midrange one that gets really sharp but another one that has the peak lower (so if they come with the 3-way set the tweeters are playing above their spikey range).

    I use Focal Polyglass 165VR midwoofers but paired them with a Vifa BC25TG tweeter, crossed at 2500hz, 6dB/oct low pass and 4000hz, 12dB high pass, with -6dB preamp gain on the tweeter channels from the processor (and the gain knob on their amp set to 0). This basically has the gain structure dealing with the inherently higher efficiency of the tweeters.


    As best I can tell, it's the HE400. They won't confirm exactly what drivers but graphs look more similar to HE400 than HE400i. And the headband is the same used on the HE400 and other older HiFiMans.


    That's one way to put it.


    It has been since the HE400i. It's the HE400S that isn't a replacement but an alternate driver design that was focused on high efficiency.

    I like wearing headphones a little loose. Just tight enough to stay in place with some movement but otherwise too loose to headbang with them on. 7 3/8 hat size if my hair is thin (if I grow it out it's not just thicker, but it's stiff...like a less curly 'Fro).

    I can't make any extrapolations as for fit for you but I generally don't see any problem as for being too loose to be unusable, save for toddlers with very short haircuts.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2017
  5. Kol12
    There certainly is a lot more involved in getting good sounding car audio and it is a lot of work! Right now I am amp-less as I recently sold to upgrade to CDT's new ACD4090. I need to get in touch with the distributor again to see when the next shipment is due because I am missing my car audio so much. When I have the new amp I will re-evaluate and see if any changes are needed. CDT also have upstage kits that the distributor swears by. I have my tweets up in the corner of the dash, I thought about the A-pillars but it would have been a difficult job, I also could not fabricate the factory tweeter covers into anything workable. Another option is in the door panels but I will re-evaluate first.


    Yeah that's fine, I still found it very interesting.


    I kind of get what your saying but not fully. I think what your saying is sub frequencies are imaged well in the HE400i but not very loud is that right?

    As above...

    Interesting, makes sense.

    I think this makes sense. So I guess where the HE400i does have slight peaks they can easily be EQ'd out?

    Nice, so your into car audio also? I recall the Focal 165VR when I was looking and I think it was on my shortlist.

    I need to sign up to this Massdrop to see what it's all about. I am becoming very keen on the HE400i though.

    I hope you don't headbang with HE400i or similar! Yeah I'm sure fit should be fine, I do find the longer I have headphones on that I need to keep tightening more though.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2017
  6. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Sub frequencies are reproduced faithfully as far as measurements are concerned but perception, particularly when one's reference is speakers - whether live or playback - is another matter.


    They're short enough you might not even need to.


    Still my favorite midwoofers until now.
     
  7. Kol12
    Well thanks a lot Protege, I've certainly learnt a lot over the last five pages of our discussions and you've steered me in the direction of some great looking gear. Soundcard, headphones, amplifiers and speakers are a lot to swallow at once and I will most certainly be doing thing's in stages. There are an absolute mint looking pair of HE400i for $350 NZD and I am so tempted because the price is a steal but I am also very anxious about getting the AE-5 which could arrive in NZ very soon or that I can purchase from Creative AU. Guess I have some thinking to do. I will definitely keep you informed as the upgrade moves along. :)

    So has another midwoofer taken your fancy?
     
  8. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    None so far. Though I might not move the Polyglass VR into my next car, I'm thinking of sticking with Focal. if the last gen Polykevlars are still on sale by then i might get them - they're going for $450 for the component set right now and I can just use the tweeters they come with.
     
  9. Kol12
    I received this the other day, the AE-5...

    [​IMG]

    I had some trouble getting any sound output to begin with, faffed around and then figured I needed to set it to headphone mode in the software. I actually played around with the lighting before listening to it!

    This is the second day I've had it, I've set it to Direct HP mode for listening to music but I'm very disappointed that EQ can't be used in that mode. Direct HP mode bypasses all of the DSP so a straight through signal... It appears you only get control of the EQ in the 7.1 HP mode. There is a flat EQ preset so maybe I can turn all of the DSP stuff off in 7.1 mode to be able to us the EQ...

    Initial impression is quite a clearer and punchier sound vs the onboard I'd been using but I am not sure I am in pure audiophile land just yet. I think the limiting factor is the headphones I have, they're just not audiophile quality. The sensitivity is high and they get loud quick, Takstar Pro 80 (60ohm). They do sound pretty good but I'd like to hear better. I find the highs in some music to be a little harsh. I'm using the Normal 32-149ohm output gain from the AE-5.

    I've only briefly demoed the surround DSP for gaming but I have to say it does sound amazing. I can the hear the details of effects and footsteps, rain etc like nothing before.

    One big let down is that I appear to be hearing latency in the form of pops and crackles, mostly when switching between music tracks and stop/starting. I though the latency was supposed to very low professional audio in/out quality on these? Maybe I have not configured something correctly? Latency should be handled in the driver right? I know ASIO is compatible with this card but isn't ASIO exclusively used for DAW in/out recording?
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
  10. ProtegeManiac Contributor

    That's exactly what Direct Mode does on HT receivers and integrated amps, no different on a soundcard.


    Direct Mode is just the quickest way to get a pure signal but if you want access to EQ what you need to do is disable virtual surround so it doesn't use that feature when you're just listening to music. It's not going to take that much longer, it's just a few clicks.


    The Sennheiser HD660 just came out so the price of the HD600 might drop soon, or a lot of people will sell them to upgrade.


    Make sure it's not a software issue by removing all related software/driver for the on-board audio then do a clean install of the soundcard drivers and control suite.
     
  11. Kol12
    Edit: It's possible I'm mistaking that pop for a sample skipping type noise. I know the noise but I'm not sure if you call it sample skipping. Sometimes it will sound hissy or as though the sample is scrambled...
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2017
  12. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Hissing would be more typical of electronic noise from the hardware on the playback system or the recording.
     
  13. Kol12
    On further listening over the weekend they are definitely pops or little blips. They seem to occur on some sort of pattern, for example say every 4th time I skip through the waveform and on almost every track skip. It is definitely a pop you would associate with a latency issue. I've looked everywhere but can't find any settings to adjust the latency. Have you any ideas?

    On a side note is it best to set the device's sample rate closest to the source material you will listening to? I was having a chat to someone and they briefly mentioned how the device has to work a lot harder to play lower sample rates when set to a higher sample rate. Do you have much knowledge around sample rates? I realise it's a complex subject.
     
  14. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    AFAIK this tends to have a lot to do with software than hardware nowadays. Maybe email Creative as they might not be aware of it on the systems they used them on so they can figure out if it can be addressed by driver updates.


    Different sample rates require more processing power. In theory a higher sample rate will result in a cleaner and clearer signal, but there was a white paper from around the mid-2000s that basically figured out that what accounted for the clearer sound as per qualitative observations was that the process was generating more high frequency noise. Most of the noise is beyond audibility but it's still going to affect how the drivers move. In any case, it's not really hi-fi if you're adding noise. AFAIK this also contributed to the sales boom of non-oversampling DACs.

    Also, regarding the noise and pops, check if you have the same sample rate settings on Windows and the soundcard, and if Windows can be set to do whatever the native resolution of what media is playing happens to be.
     
  15. Kol12
    Creative suggested resetting the Sound Blaster Connect software, disabling the onboard audio via Device Manager or the BIOS and using high performance power mode but I still have the pops. As per their request if these did not help I have sent through an MSINFO32 file and also answered some more questions about the nature of the problem.

    Regarding the sample rate Creative must believe in the higher sample rate as the higher sample rates are only usable in direct mode which generally would be for serious audio...
     

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