Mid-fi dilemma; To amp or not to amp?
Mar 23, 2013 at 2:48 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 7

Electro-Static

New Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 7, 2012
Posts
34
Likes
10
Hello, everyone I just bought a pair of audio technica M50's and am quite happy with them except for one thing. In order to get full detail out of my music I need to crank to volume up to bring out the mids.
While I know that many people prefer loud music, I like to music as quietly as possible to avoid damaging my hearing. After hearing about the wonders of portable amps I now wonder what they can do for me, as claims of their capabilities vary widely. 
 
My situation is as follows: 
 
I have allocated $100-150 for  new amp, however for that price I could also buy a pair of more mid-centric cans with a wider sound stage. Although I would prefer just to keep using my M50's for now as they are closed back and I am almost never at home anymore (college student, long hours studying on campus). 
 
I plan to buy a pair of HD600's in the future which would make a pair of mid-centric cans redundant. The HD600's however require a powerful amp to sound better than the mid fi cans (so I have heard).
 
My dilemma is:
Do I buy just a new pair of mid fi cans, or do I buy an amp?
 
If I buy an amp, do I buy a small cheap one (Like a JSD labs cmoy BB, or a fiio E11) just for my M50's, and just buy a cheaper desktop amp (Like a JSD O2) for the HD600's when I buy them, or to I splurge on the portable amp and get something like a used RSA hornet or little dot MK1+ amp so that I do not have to buy a desktop amp to get started with the HD600's an a quality improvement from my M50's?
 
To complicate matters even more I am dizzied by the choice of amps, both for inexpensive and expensive, I like the look of the JSD labs BB, but it looks like a pain in the ass to keep powered, buying 9V batteries will add up over time, eventually making it more expensive to own than a higher end amp, and the rechargeable NIMH model looks like a pain in the ass because not only do I have to shell out extra for the charger, but it takes 12 hours to charge the batteries, and there is no cut off circuit to prevent over charging. While the fiio E11 has it beat in terms on convenience, I've heard that it affects SQ because it hisses, which I do not want. 
 
This is all pretty confusing for me, and I would appreciate any advice or suggestions that you guys could give me. 
 
Mar 23, 2013 at 7:51 AM Post #2 of 7

Bill-P

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jan 24, 2012
Posts
2,108
Likes
341
Having been there and done that myself, my advice to you is... to go out and buy a different midrange-centric pair of headphones. That'll solve your problem. In the $150 price range, the most immediate choice for midrange is the Audio Technica ESW9. It's closed-back, so you won't have to worry about sound leaks either.

IMO, amping is not an absolutely requirement for every headphone. Sure, some headphones eat extra power for breakfast (orthodynamics or high-impedance Beyers being some examples), but those are for when you absolutely must extract every bit of information possible from each of your song. If it's for pure enjoyment, you only need a good pair of headphones that's relative easy to drive.

Also, an amp won't correct whatever shortcoming you may notice with your headphones. It's mostly used to "amplify" the good points IMO. Unless you love the sound of a pair of headphones to death, there is little sense in trying to amplify them.
 
Mar 23, 2013 at 2:37 PM Post #3 of 7

Electro-Static

New Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 7, 2012
Posts
34
Likes
10
Quote:
Having been there and done that myself, my advice to you is... to go out and buy a different midrange-centric pair of headphones. That'll solve your problem. In the $150 price range, the most immediate choice for midrange is the Audio Technica ESW9. It's closed-back, so you won't have to worry about sound leaks either.

IMO, amping is not an absolutely requirement for every headphone. Sure, some headphones eat extra power for breakfast (orthodynamics or high-impedance Beyers being some examples), but those are for when you absolutely must extract every bit of information possible from each of your song. If it's for pure enjoyment, you only need a good pair of headphones that's relative easy to drive.

Also, an amp won't correct whatever shortcoming you may notice with your headphones. It's mostly used to "amplify" the good points IMO. Unless you love the sound of a pair of headphones to death, there is little sense in trying to amplify them.

 
I've been looking at a few pairs of mid-fi cans The ATH700, FA-003/HM5, and the sennhieser HD25P II. The ESW9 seems to be a bit out of my price range at around $220 on amazon.
 
If an amp could drag full detail (of the ATHM50) out of my cans without me having to crank the volume up (As I have to do now with an ipod, not so much with my clip) I would be satisfied as I rather enjoy the low reaching bass of the M50. Although the claims of a neutral presentation and decent sound stage of the Fa-003/HM5 do fascinate me as they are also a closed can which I can grab and go to school with.  
 
Down the road however, I'd like to buy a pair of cans like the HD600, or the DT880 that would allow me to listen to music critically, as detail is one of my favorite sources of enjoyment from music, (my first experience with higher-fi was a pair of ER6i's that a friend gave to me because she hated the lack of bass so go figure) hence the desire to buy an amp now to prep for future purchases.  While the choice of the M50 as my current set of cans seems strange, everything that I've owned before was quite bass-shy so I wanted to get to know that element of my music better. 
 
Mar 23, 2013 at 2:55 PM Post #4 of 7

Bill-P

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jan 24, 2012
Posts
2,108
Likes
341
Dang... that's a sign that they're starting to limit ESW9 stocks.
 
They used to go for approximately ~$160-180 a short while back. You may want to check out the marketplace here and see if anyone would be willing to let their pair go.
 
As for your query... having to crank up volume in order to hear details means your source music has high dynamic range. You can try to compress dynamic range using software (thus an amp is not necessary), but then you'll lose contrast between instruments. See "loudness war":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ
 
I know health warnings and such generally advise against listening to music at loud volumes... but... for certain music, you can't do any differently.
 
Mar 23, 2013 at 7:42 PM Post #5 of 7

Electro-Static

New Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 7, 2012
Posts
34
Likes
10
An interesting note is that the problem with the detail as related to volume does not seem to present itself when using my Sansa Clip, only on my iPod touch. A while back I realized that different sources sounded different with the same song even with my low fi stuff. Which is why I am curious about amps.
 
Mar 23, 2013 at 8:56 PM Post #6 of 7

Bill-P

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jan 24, 2012
Posts
2,108
Likes
341
Well, I haven't heard the Sansa Clip in order to make any comment about that. But I know the iPod and iPhone are quite good at producing music (for portable sources, that is).
 
If you can hear a difference between sources like that, then yeah, I think you can also hear the same with amps. If you'd like to try amping, then I'd say... go for a CmoyBB first. The opamp of the CmoyBB can be swapped, so you can experiment with different opamps, and see which ones you like specifically. Later on, when you go and purchase another amp, you can just look at the opamp and guestimate the sound of that particular amp.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top