Headphoneus Chaoticus
Aug 26, 2007 at 5:35 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 17

Kees

Headphoneus Supremus
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Hi,
I just thought this is the right sort of occasion to put some of my thoughts in writing about my experiences with High-end, headphones and any other topics that happen to pop up.

It may give some context to the loose remarks and posts I have made in the period I spent here.

It has no real purpose or structure, just skip it if you’re bored.

It is not going to be some sort of evaluation or ranking because I find I can thoroughly enjoy all kinds of headphones or other equipment no matter what their quirks or faults are. On the contrary, some are more fun because they are not perfect (same goes for some women I’ve known, but that is another topic altogether).

I have been dabbling in HiFi (High end did not exist back then yet) since I was very little (which is a long time ago). I took my first radio apart when I was four (I accidentally pulled one of the legs from under the cabinet, quite spectacular) My dad convinced me never to do that again, but I was hooked to audio no matter what.

Since I have always lived in apartments, headphones have always been a part of my audio setup. My first really high-end headphones where the Yamaha HP-1 I think. I used them with a Yamaha CA810 amp and a Thorens TT (I don’t remember the model, I’ve had several). I was more into speakers, but I also owned some pretty (Jecklin Float) good headphones too.

A lot of Speaker-Fi years passed. I learned a lot about amps and speakers and especially about making the right combination. And I think I built a mighty impressive sounding speaker setup.

Then came Head-Fi.

Well.
I now own 15 pairs of headphones and eight headphone amps. Every single one of them enjoyable for some reason or other.
Every new pair of headphones is a new adventure, looking for the right amp to go with it and rediscovering music while searching and comparing.
I even started experimenting and modding some. I reterminated my stock HD650 cable to balanced, recabled and reterminated my K81DJ, did some really nice sounding mods on my SR325i and played some with my DT990s and cardboard. Great fun.

Among my headphones I do have favorites. Favorite combinations I mean, but they can change with my mood. Different moods and different music call for different phones/amp combinations.

I also have different setups for different places. A main setup, with my speaker system where I can use my Marantz CD12/DA12 or Linn LP12 as source, a desktop/computer setup and a portable (luggable) rig with an iAudio X5 as source.

I am a member of Team Source First.
Garbage in is garbage out. Very well amplified garbage through excellent phones sounds like amplified garbage. There is nothing down the line you can do to rectify that. Your source is the main limiting factor for your setup. If it is good, your setup can be equally good, if it is bad, your setup will be equally bad at it’s best, no matter the quality of your amp or phones.

Difficulty with selecting the best possible source is that you can only detect its merits by listening. This involves introducing the rest of the chain: amp and transducers. The only way I know of to filter out the effect these have on the sound of the source is by comparing the same source with as many different amp/transducer combinations as possible, and doing that, looking for the common denominators: the elements that keep coming back.

Source also includes the format of the input when using a computer or DAP: MP3 vs. lossless. I did extensive listening sessions (on my main speaker system) and found that I could hear minute differences between virtually all formats. Based on that I decided to do all my digital sourcing using only WAV and FLAC. My main reason for using the iAudio X5: it has a 60Gb HD and supports both WAV and FLAC.

I can understand that for most people it is very difficult to hear these differences. I think almost anybody can hear them, but you have to train yourself, you have to actually take a lot of time to find out what to look for. This has nothing to do with being able to hear insanely high frequencies.

What you actually hear is produced by your brain, not by your ears. The signals put to your brain by your ears are only the triggers for hearing sound. Your brain does some extensive filtering, compensating and filling in before you actually perceive sound. This process is different for different people and it can be trained. It goes way to far to go into this here, if you are interested look up the research in your library or on the web.

I am sure this also largely accounts for what some people call the placebo effect. There is, besides this, some self-deceiving convictions people tend to have, often concerning the justification of expensive purchases.

In the case of a listening experience: what you think you hear is what you actually hear. And since it is (yet) impossible to objectively measure what is actually heard, I would never call something someone claims to have heard placebo.

Back to headphone setups.

Beside the importance of the source there is the synergy of the system. For me that means primarily the right combination of the amp and the transducers (headphones).

The interaction between these two components makes or breaks the sound of the phones. Without an amp that can deliver both enough voltage and current at the right speed for the specific phones, the phones can never sound their best.

I am not an EE. I can not in any detail explain how it works for specific combinations, but my experience tells me that getting this combination right makes by far the most noticeable audible difference to me.

This also explains that relatively cheap transducers can come up with an awesome performance when coupled with an (expensive or not) amp that caters in spades to their needs.

It never works the other way around: transducers, no matter how good or expensive they are, that are not met with their needs by the amp they are plugged in to, will never sound their best, most times even pretty poor.

Cables.
They make a difference. Sometimes quite a big difference. I have never so far found any meaningful link between price and performance. At the moment I use a home made braided construction of Cat-5 usb cable for speaker cable that performs a whole lot better than the $3000 Siltech I also tried.
I am convinced that in another setup, with another amp it might very well be the other way around.
Different materials and construction make an audible difference, but the effect is quite different in different systems and between different components.
Don’t ask me why, I just noticed it.
I now have a wide range of ICs using different materials (silver, copper, silver/copper alloy) and I just try and find out what sounds best when I change components.

What is good sound?
I find it hard to define good sound in specific requirements. It is easier to define bad sound as it is easier for me to find aspects that annoy me than to describe what would please me.

Besides that, good sound for me does not consist of an accumulation of aspects like “detail”, “frequency extension”, “bass impact” , “soundstage” , “imaging” “balance” etc. They can all be good and still render a poor overall performance. These terms can be useful to pinpoint certain characteristics of the sound, but I find I have no real benefit from reviews that solely consist of a list of these terms with a score. It doesn’t paint a picture for me with any real meaning. It is very useful for comparisons though, but then I must at least know one of the components to get something out of it.

I personally prefer to describe my sentiments of a particular sound with a mood, because my mood usually decides what sound signature I would like most. I like the use of words like “relaxed”, “laid-back” , “exciting” , “lively” , “dark” , “light”. They are less precise, but have more meaning for me.

Tough act for reviewers. I don’t have a ready solution for the problem how to accurately describe something that is very subjective and personal either.

As in most cases: communication is the problem to the answer.

To conclude a few remarks on some of my favorites and some disappointments.

HD650:
Nice laid-back, warm, full bodied sound. Especially the full body is important to me. A lot of phones are too airy for my taste. I like the laid-back aspect: they present the music in front of me instead of stuffing it in my ears. They also make a nice integrated picture of the whole sound spectrum.
On a scale from 1-10 they score a 7 with any ordinary (almost adequate) $300 amp.
With a Graham Slee Solo they score an 8.
With an RSA Stealth and some nice tubes they score 8.5.
Balanced from Rudistor NX33 or RPX-100 they score 9.

JVC DX1000:
Very detailed, and spacious yet friendly and warm sound, with an inane amount of bass that needs to be controlled properly by an adequate amp. I never heard anything I could call “honkiness” in the midrange. Best matched amp I found so far: Meier Corda Prehead.
I am absolutely in love with the sound signature of these phones, but I find them too relaxed for more energetic (rock) music. They are my favorite easy listening, jazz and female vocals phones.

L3000:
Absolutely fabulous one-trick-pony. I drive them balanced from a Rudistor RPX-100. Not the phones I use most, since rock and up-tempo music is not the music I listen a lot to. But if I want to rock the L3000 are it.

PS1:
I am still looking for an amp to match them properly. The RPX-100 does the best job so far. The Stealth is ok with the right tubes, but manages only barely to provide enough current. No soundstage. The music is pumped straight into my ears. Little detail in the bass. Others may call them exciting, I am still underwhelmed.

HE60:
With the HEV70 they are pretty good, but not exceptional.
Matched with the Rudistor Egmont and very nice Sylvania tubes they are spectacular.
They have more speed and detail than the HD650, but give the same “wholeness” to the music. They paint a complete integrated picture of all elements of the sound. They are also much more exciting than the HD650 if the music calls for it (although the balanced HD650 does not lack in that respect either). Only drawback could be the bass: it does not go down very low. Quality is excellent though.
These are my most used phones at the moment.

Darth Beyer:
Fun. Deep bass. Nice. My very favorite desktop phones. I plugged the holes in the rim of the housing (suggested by Towert7) and that was very nice improvement. I am using them with my Pinkie X-can V3, which is good, but I am considering to get my Prehead on my desk for them. But only if I find the right tubes for the Stealth to keep my DX1000 going 100%. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet.

Ultrasone 2500/750
Love/hate. They do a lot of things extremely well, but they have one or two annoying traits that I find difficult to live with. Over-emphasized highs (almost, but not quite sibilant) that also are a bit flat-sounding. And an overall metallic/plastic/artificial feeling to the sound. This also makes them sound extremely fast and articulate and detailed, but I just don’t like it.
Best matching amp with them is the Rudistor, hands down.

SR325i
I love these. I spent a lot of time modding them, and thus could tweak them to get some decent soundstage, bass and be a little less forward. They are still real Grados though and after wearing them for more than an hour they get pretty tiring.
They go perfectly with the Pinkie X-can V3.

One more(I won’t go over all of them, you’re probable bored to sleep by now, but I do requests
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):

Yuin PK1:
My biggest surprise so far. They are really very good. I use them in my portable setup with the iAudio X5 and my Headroom Micro/desktop amp. They have the sound quality of real full sized high quality headphones.

[size=medium]Most important:
Thanks to all who made these discoveries possible for me and who provided all the info and insight that made it possible for me to have so much fun with headphones. .[/size]

I think I’ll be enjoying myself here for quite some time to come yet
eggosmile.gif
 
Aug 26, 2007 at 6:11 PM Post #3 of 17

F107plus5

Headphoneus Supremus
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Wow! Is this part of your thesis toward your next degree?! It should be! Don't tell me; you started writing this as soon as you passed 1000?

All kidding aside(except for the part about your next degree!)beautifully written summation. A lot of us can see a lot of us, in there!
smily_headphones1.gif


....it is fun; isn't it.
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Aug 27, 2007 at 1:42 AM Post #11 of 17

GlendaleViper

Yep, words.
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Quote:

Originally Posted by F107plus5 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
A lot of us can see a lot of us, in there!
smily_headphones1.gif


....it is fun; isn't it.
biggrin.gif



Indeed! Great 1500th, Kees. Just thought I'd mention that you officially average 1 new headphone per 100 posts!
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Aug 27, 2007 at 3:30 AM Post #13 of 17

slwiser

Headphoneus Supremus
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Excellent post OP.
 

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